RELATIONS PRIMER - MAKING THE MOST OF MEDIA RELATIONS OPPORTUNITIES
Jon Boroshok (originally published in the Volume 12, Number 1/2
2005 edition of The Journal of Hospitality & Leisure Marketing).
For a PDF version, please click
While using the
travel and hospitality industry as an example, this article is a
primer on how to conduct media relations in any field or business.
It shows what reporters look for vs. what is often sent to them.
It illustrates the dangers of the marketing or sales team getting
their hands on PR and editorial relationships, and shows how a journalistic
pitching approach is far more effective. There's a Fall harvest
of public relations opportunities for a savvy practitioner in almost
in early 2004 and published in a Spring 2005 edition of The Journal
of Hospitality and Leisure Marketing, this article offers some sound
guidelines to help maximize ROI from public relations. The recommendations
are supported by anecdotal advice, wisdom, and expertise, backed
by a survey of more than 50 print journalists from trade, business,
and consumer publications including Yankee Magazine, the Chicago
Tribune, Nation's Restaurant News, Forbes.com, Gourmet, Travel Weekly,
Meeting News, Bon Appetit Magazine, and Meetings & Conventions,
Gas and jet
fuel prices have taken their toll on airlines and the average traveler.
As they were showing strong signs of economic recovery, the hospitality,
travel, restaurant, and leisure industries began experiencing new
economic pain. Instead of offering reasons for this turbulence,
why not find a way to fly above the rest of the pack? Brands are
built and market share can be established in challenging times.
With the perception
of a smaller market, and reduced revenue streams due to lower sales,
occupancy rates and average daily rates, hotels, airlines, restaurants,
and other organizations (especially those involved in business travel)
have cut their advertising and marketing budgets. The ones who will
recover fastest from this downturn, and who may even gain, are those
who learn to effectively employ public relations management strategies
to help create awareness and drive sales.
and leisure public relations is not just mailing out a press release
announcing a new chef or special Mother's Day getaway weekend. Just
as the industry has experienced lean times, many top-tier publications
have downsized or folded completely due to lost advertising revenue,
resulting in less overall editorial space. Demand for media coverage
has intensified while coverage opportunities have declined. It resembles
trying to book a room for less than rack rate during a major convention
in a city where several top hotels have either shut down or closed
several floors for renovation work. Coverage is harder to get, and
each hard-earned clip will carry that much more weight.
is truly is more of an art than a science and, in tough times, it
is going to be measured by the bottom line. Did it result in media
coverage or not? So what must an organization do to earn that coverage?
goals and objectives. What are the goals of the public relations
campaign? Is it to create additional awareness of a hotel or resort?
Is it to drive new business by bringing in guests with a special
offer? Is it to communicate with repeat customers? Is it to announce
a new sales record to entice potential investors? Is it to take
a stand on an issue? Is it to clear up a misperception or to squelch
a false rumor? There are so many reasons to engage in public relations.
The key is determining why it's being done, and what the objectives
and measures of achievement will be.
to find your audience. It's simple target marketing. This is
the classic Wall Street Journal vs. trade journal dilemma. Many
businesses mistakenly believe that their story belongs in the Wall
Street Journal. However, the Wall Street Journal might not be the
best place for them to earn coverage. The best place for coverage
is wherever your target audience is. Review your goals and objectives.
What is the message you're trying to send, and to whom? What publications
and journalists are most likely to reach that audience? Is your
story, message, or position relevant to the journalist's audience?
more work, but learn a little about each magazine you pitch to and
tailor the information to our market, and your chances of getting
picked up will grow exponentially," says Sue Pelletier, Executive
Editor of Medical Meetings.
It's often more
beneficial to be featured in a large article in a targeted trade
or local publication than to receive a one-line mention that will
go unnoticed in a daily business monolith.
"PR and marketing people should know our magazine's content
and angle before they pitch us anything. Most pitches to us fail
because they read like they could have been written for any travel
publication," explains Jason Cochran, Senior Editor of Arthur
Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine.
company and subject matter. Develop a set of key message points
that make your story relevant for each target audience. Know these
message points, and make sure they are consistently included in
conversations and media pitches whenever possible and appropriate.
Be prepared to explain them in relation to the industry as a whole,
and be ready for tough probing questions, especially those that
address financial details.
If you don't
know the answer to a question, don't bluff. Tell the reporter you'll
have to find the answer and get back to him/her - and then do it!
Never, never lie. Work with the journalist, and try to work without
a script! Scripts make public relations practitioners sound like
telemarketers, and that technique works against earning coverage.
A public relations professional must think critically and quickly.
the right reporter. Fewer journalists are being asked to cover
more stories because publications have cut staff. Journalists are
overloaded and have become less accessible, so it becomes tougher
to quickly identify the right contact for the right pitch.
of the Chicago Tribune covers leisure travel. "The person reading
the travel section on Sunday morning wearing her pajamas is whom
you must keep in mind," she counsels. Stroudt's features include
a "destination," and she will analyze the value of the
trip for the consumer. A business hotel in Chicago is not usually
part of her beat. Another Tribune writer covers business travel
from a "getting business done" perspective.
It is time-consuming
- but also critical - to identify the right reporter at the right
publication to avoid a quick trip to the wastebasket. When you read
a related article and want to contact the writer, it's still time-consuming
to find a way to do so, as e-mail addresses and telephone numbers
change often and are not always readily accessible. Do not cut corners
Make it relevant
- make it newsworthy. Is what you are pitching really news -
or just news to you or your boss? Don't just think about what your
organization will gain from the exposure - think about what the
readers of the publication will gain from your information. Is your
story a good fit with the types of issues that particular publication
tends to cover?
tell you we look for unusual, new, fresh angles in guest service
as it pertains to families with young children," says Andrea
Messina of Parenting. "We occasionally interview hotel directors,
kids-club managers, and so on for their expert perspective."
Do you have
something newsworthy to report, or are you really looking for free
advertising? "Most people do not go to a hotel. They stay at
a hotel because it suits their needs at a destination. Too many
hoteliers are of the impression that travelers are falling over
themselves to stay at their lodging. Nothing could be further from
the truth unless the particular lodging is a famous 5-star operation,"
reminds Bob & Sandy Nesoff, Travel Editors/Columnists for Metro
Publishing Group/Metro Features.
and press releases for trivial things, and don't send one out every
few weeks for the sake of keeping your hotel's name out there. Many
reporters will treat your organization like a "spammer"
and may ignore future emails, including those that may have been
Is your story
compelling to the publication's audience? According to Elaine Richard,
of Gourmet magazine, "We get many pitches from people for whom
the process of opening a restaurant was, for them, interesting,
but in fact is pretty much just a variation on the same old story,
especially in family situations. Someone starting out completely
out of the blue or from some other background can be of interest."
Be honest, skip the hype, and avoid embarrassing oversights.
Using jargon and buzzwords in press releases is taboo. The media
has grown skeptical, cynical, and tired of hype-filled releases.
Some have installed filters to screen and trash email press releases
laden with buzzwords.
While hype and
opinionated superlatives are appropriate for advertising, sales,
and marketing materials, they are inappropriate for press releases
and media pitches. Make sure any photographs of guest rooms are
"typical" of the property, rather than the one-of-a-kind
"best room." An accurate representation is imperative,
under penalty of negative media backlash.
Make sure you
avoid embarrassing oversights. If launching a national promotion,
make sure the person answering the telephone at the local property
is fully aware of any special codes and rates and can fully explain
the terms and rules to customers. It's not unusual for the public
relations person to call a hotel to conduct a "spot check"
to make sure that the promotion is being implemented smoothly and
appropriately. This one extra measure of quality control can help
avoid bad press.
private - size matters. It is a fact of the business world that
larger chains and established properties are going to earn the lion's
share of coverage. According to Arnie Weissmann (title) of Travel
Weekly, "It has to do with the real estate of pages. We have
a finite amount of room in an issue. If a hotel has an interesting
story, but one reader in 10,000 will ever be able to take business
action on the news, we have to really weigh whether it's worth the
space. If Starwood hiccoughs, everyone wonders what it means, and
we try to find that out as well. Likewise, in the cruise arena,
almost anything Carnival does will get reported. Small but interesting
would probably have made it in more frequently in the heyday of
If the story
being pitched isn't about a large hotel chain, some reporters just
aren't interested. But there are others who feel quite the opposite.
"In some ways, being small and new is a stronger selling point
than being just another big box hotel. So many press packets cross
your desk, and many just blur together. We focus exclusively on
New England, and what excites me these days are the places that
don't fit the cookie-cutter mold of the New England Inn or the Wanna-be
New York Boutique Hotel," says Amy Traverso, Food Editor of
Yankee: The Magazine of New England Living. "Places with a
quirky sense of style, a great background story, a solution to some
of the hassles of traveling (i.e., B&Bs that let you have breakfast
in your room rather than having to get dressed and make conversation
with strangers at 8 a.m.), exceptional dining, a remarkable location...those
will get more attention than anything else."
won't cover a property or restaurant they have never heard of. Does
this mean they're willing to jump on the bandwagon and take their
cues from better-informed competitors? In some way, yes. "The
things I look for in a hotel or restaurant that does not yet have
a high profile and wants to build one, are first and foremost, local
reviews of the place. Particularly with restaurants," says
Tanya Wenman Steel, New York Editor for Bon Appetit Magazine. "If
the local restaurant reviewer--one that I know has a solid reputation--is
enthusiastic about the restaurant, then that is enough of an impetus
for me to follow up, by sending a reviewer, editor or talking to
the local reviewer."
practitioners must walk a fine line of prodding reporters to ferret
out the smaller, lesser-known properties, take some risks, and cover
something readers don't already know about, while having to explain
to our hotels and other properties why reporters will resist such
the box. While that expression is about as cliché as
the ideas it tries to surpass, a creative approach is one way to
stand out from the pack.
Hawaii Chief of Travel Weekly looks for something unique. "Are
they doing something nobody else is doing? Special location, new
twist on an old idea (not the same menu restructured)." She
offers examples: "A cultural tour, kids go to camp free, pack
up your breakfast in a free cooler and send you off to the beach
in the morning as part of your hotel stay. When I see 5th night
free at a hotel I just delete it. Soooo stale."
creativity's sake isn't enough - the idea must still be suitable
for the audience of a particular publication.
Back in October
2003, the Florida Marlins eliminated the Chicago Cubs en route to
the World Series. In a critical inning with Chicago cruising toward
victory, a Cubs fan at Wrigley Field touched a foul ball that a
Cubs outfielder might have otherwise caught for a key out. The Marlins
went on to have a big rally that inning, and the foul ball incident
was considered by many to be the turning point in the series.
the interfering Cubs fan would be blamed for the loss and made quite
unwelcome in Chicago, a number of southern Florida businesses (in
the heart of Marlins "territory"), including a five-star
condominium hotel, immediately put out a press release offering
that fan six months of free rent at properties offering incredible
beach views, round trip airfare, and help finding a job should he
decide to make his stay in Florida permanent.
While this was
certainly a creative idea, its business value is questionable. What
publications would pick up the story, and whom would it reach? Would
it drive new business? Odds are pickup would be limited to local
business writers, whose readers are already in the area, and therefore
less likely to need five-star accommodations near home. Even if
the offer received national attention, what could be the end result?
Was there really anything in the promotion for anyone other than
the Cubs ran that ran afoul? It might have been humorous, but it
also looked like an attempt at free advertising.
idea with more "meat" enjoyed some coverage in Boston
media a few weeks later. WCVB television reporter Heather Unrah
filed a story on several area restaurants that started "serving
up choices to satisfy Atkins dieters." The story profiled several
restaurants, their Atkins-friendly menus, and the chefs behind the
dishes. Whether Unrah was pitched the idea by a savvy public relations
practitioner or not is immaterial - it's simply a fine example of
a quirky, different type of story that impacts a particular audience
and focuses on a very current trend. While it would not be reasonable
to expect a stand-alone article or review, being included in a roundup
story with other innovative or trendy dining spots certainly can't
issues and trends. Look at issues being covered in the types
of publications you want to earn coverage in. Are there any trends
or topics you can comment on using your organization as an example?
Current "hot buttons" for editors include health care,
security, value, employment, and the down market for traveling.
Don't be afraid to offer the contrarian viewpoint. If you're in
a city that is trying to pass anti-smoking laws, be ahead of the
trend and point out that rather than losing business, your lounge
looks forward to an increase in business from new customers who
don't normally go see live entertainment because of the smoke-filled
Make your organization
stand apart from the pack by positioning your company as being on
the leading edge, but think through the implications and potential
reactions of the readers (and your customers) before you speak.
It's great to be first or at the forefront, but having other organizations
starting to follow suit helps legitimize your claim. In this sense,
you need your competitors, as it often helps to offer the media
additional organizational contacts that are part of the trend you're
trying to pitch.
calendars and know editorial lead times. Editorial Calendars
are an important media relations tool, but they are not the be all
and end all. Many offer a road map for upcoming stories, but others
are the figment of the advertising department's imagination. Sometimes
they offer key contact information. Other times, the contact person
has no idea about the article until a public relations person calls
to pitch the story. Or, in some cases, the person listed has actually
left the publication. Don't let an obvious match slip by without
an inquiry, but be proactive and create/find your own opportunities!
Weekly and daily
publications, along with Internet and broadcast media, usually have
short lead times. What you tell a reporter during a telephone call
now could be public knowledge in as little as 15 minutes. On the
other hand, monthly magazines and trade journals often have lead
times as long as 6 months. Knowing the lead time for the media outlet
you are contacting will enable you to properly pitch a story, and
position that story within the timeframes and constraints that particular
journalist faces. Many reporters have Thursday deadlines. Unless
you have urgent, breaking hard news, never do media pitching on
Thursday. And always ask if a reporter is on deadline before launching
into a telephone pitch.
at least two months ahead of publication date," advises Karyn
Strauss, Associate Editor of Hotels Magazine. "If a particular
hotel wants to talk about its innovative new breakfast program,
and the editorial calendar says the April food and beverage story
is on breakfast -- the hotel/public relations person would have
to contact our F&B editor by late January/early February for
any possible expectation of inclusion in the article."
When the press calls for information, good, senior public relations
practitioners know that they must return calls or respond to e-mails
in a matter of minutes, not the next day. Reporters work on tight
turn-around deadlines. You can bet that as soon as the reporter
leaves a message, he/she is calling your competition. Whoever replies
first gets in the story. This is not the time to worry about sounding
too anxious - they are already interested in you.
contact information. Any pitch (especially via e-mail) should
offer full contact information (name, title, location, phone number,
and e-mail address). Never assume the media knows you or knows how
to reach you. When you return a telephone call, make sure you leave
your phone number, including area code. Speak slowly and clearly.
PDA batteries can die. Don't send out a press release or post one
on your Web site without including current contact information.
access to information. A hospitality or leisure organization
that seeks to earn coverage should have a Web site with a user-friendly
pressroom linked to the home page. All press materials should be
available online electronically, within one mouse click from main
pressroom. All materials should offer the public relations manager's
full contact information (name, title, location, phone number, and
e-mail address). For details about the online pressroom, see www.techmarcom.com/pressroom.html
A veteran of
public relations and marketing communications, Jon Boroshok is the
president and founder of TechMarcom, Inc. (www.TechMarcom.com), a
Westford, MA-based independent agency specializing in value-based
marketing communications, and its Marcom Outsource division (www.MarcomOutsource.com),
providing project-based public relations services. Boroshok holds
a B.S. in communications from Emerson College and an M.B.A. in marketing
from Northeastern University. He is an adjunct instructor of marketing
communications courses at Emerson College in Boston and Bentley College
in Waltham, MA.
P.O. Box 994 - Westford, MA 01886 - 978-502-1055 - www.techmarcom.com
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