And now for something completely different, as the Pythons used to say. The next profiles will be of graduates of our Public Relations degree program, and first up will be a hotel manager. What is unique about this subject is the role his writing must play in communication with readers looking for the “best deal” or who are negotiating with the manager over money matters. Tone takes on considerable importance—word choices and carefully constructed sentences. Take a look.
The subject is a general manager for a budget hotel located near a large outlet mall, one that draws customers from as far away as Canada, often via bus tours. His writing samples included recommendations for staff pay increases, a customer evaluation of service form, a travel coupon, a promotional letter, a letter to the outlet mall staff regarding the Friday following Thanksgiving, two dunning letters, and a letter to a lawyer concerning an outstanding account. As the samples suggest, the subject writes for a variety of audiences, including a public of potential and current customers, and the material is unavoidably persuasive in nature. On the survey, the subject had checked “no” for seeking a readership beyond fellow employees and social acquaintances, but both his samples and our discussion indicated he does seek a larger readership, a “public.” “I went bus to bus during the busy seasons over there and talked to all the drivers and found out who I had to send the information to. There’s always a secretary or lady that likes having something addressed to her. This one [the promotional letter] was a generic one, but this is basically what it was.”
Throughout the interview the subject was focused on the demands of writing and research concerning legal matters. At one point he had to write a law firm representing a business supplying room safes for the hotel, about an outstanding balance. Because of the divorce of the couple who owned the hotel, a transfer of ownership “from husband and wife to husband” had delayed the payment of outstanding accounts. “So they contacted an attorney and they sent me this beautiful letter, and it was very well written and very eloquent and it was great. So I had to come back with something. So this was the best that I could think of. But it had to be short and sweet; you had to be very cautious of how you word everything.” The letter sought to place the outstanding balance in the context of a “change of ownership,” suggesting that delays in payments were common in such instances. Moreover, the letter reminded the safe supplier that they had been “alerted” of the ownership transfer. “I use the word alert. That’s kind of like a red flare to me, like an alert, like I really want to make sure that you understand that there’s this big process going on and that’s why things are kind of twisted in the neck right now.”
Despite the care the subject said he took with his response, two sentences contained usage problems: one an unneeded preposition (“in which will keep guests coming to our hotel”) and the other a subject-predicate agreement error (“We have been working on clearing the numbers and information that has haunted this changing of hands.”). We discussed the difference in tone between this letter and one he sent to a customer who was also in the hotel business and who had left the subject’s establishment unannounced, and with an outstanding bill of well over a thousand dollars. In that case, the subject consciously sought to induce shame and guilt in the reader. (“I wish no hard feelings about this matter. I expect you to understand as you are in the same business as we are and are sure that such a total would not be tolerated if the roles reversed.”)
A different kind of care and precision was required of writing aimed at promotion and customer good will. The room evaluation forms that were “standard for Microtel” were, according to the subject, “too wordy,” with “too many options and questions,” so “people weren’t filling it out.” His solution was to place the form on good paper and to reduce it to the “basic four questions that I really actually look at.” The ease of filling out his revised version has resulted in a higher number of completed forms.
With the sale coupon, the subject struggled to get down what was special about the hotel in an unambiguous way that would prevent the customer from interpreting an item in a way injurious to the business. “Oddly enough I spend more time editing and checking this thing out for mistakes and problems and rewriting it. No matter what you forget, there will be at least 50 to 70 people that will find every loophole within this square. Whether it’s a day, or if you forget to put how many people, …I guess it’s always about thinking ahead of how you would try to beat me.” Towards the end of the interview, the subject said he found it effective to think of a potential reader as “somebody that doesn’t like you. …If it ever came to the point where it turns around that these people don’t like you any more, can they use anything that you said against you? And that sounds bad, but sadly it’s the truth; it’s business; that’s how it works.”