Tuesday, September 21, 2010
By Jennifer Rodrigues
The practice of public relations for hotels, like the practice of public relations for all industries, has steadily evolved over the years. In the last decade, however, change has come much more rapidly. The channels of communication have opened wide, and what was once a single three-branched media river has multiplied (or divided?) into thousands of individual streams. Through these streams flows a volume of information no one thirty years ago could have even begun to fathom, let alone process.
This means there is a wealth of public relations strategies available that leverage the nature of this information delivery delta. For lodging, an industry that sometimes seems hopelessly tethered to past practices, these strategies and tactics can appear daunting, foreign, or even irrelevant. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Hotels are entirely capable- one might even say well-poised – to execute 21st century public relations strategies. Because the core product hotels are delivering is an inherently personal one (the guest experience), it lends itself to well-targeted, personalized communications- which, of course, are the hallmark of 21st century public relations.
So without further ado, here is our list of ten next generation public relations approaches hotels can and ought to be exploring right away. Some may not be revelations in the truest sense of the word (anyone not running a hotel from a cave in Antarctica knows about Twitter and Facebook), but all of these are strategies that hotels in general have not engaged to their fullest potential.
Twitter is the ultimate mash-up of personal and broadcast communication. As such, it is the penultimate 21st century PR tool. Tweeting relevant, gripping information is an excellent way to build awareness and engagement among your followers (hopefully loyal, previous and potential guests). It’s also a way to develop an identity through content, or a way to reinforce an existing brand. Where most hotels get tripped up in Twitter is by being inconsistent tweeters, or slow responders. Create a Twitter strategy, and make someone in the marketing and PR department accountable for monitoring your feed and executing the strategy on an ongoing basis.
In terms of identity and brand image control, nothing comes close to Facebook and its siblings (LinkedIn, etc.). It is a platform to put forth the best aspects of a hotel, and a sounding board for new initiatives and consumer interaction. The same pitfalls that affect hotels’ usage of Twitter apply to Facebook: a lack of appropriate commitment, a lack of relevance, and a failure to foster real interaction. As such, the same remedies apply: install a social media point person, have them feed relevant information into the profile, and require accountability for responding to ‘friends’. Again, this isn’t something that you can do just once or twice a week. Social media is a full-time job and a communication tool that needs to be taken seriously or else you risk wasting time and resources, as well as alienating your friends and followers.
Tell Your Own Story
What the social media tools (and the other tools mentioned here) afford hotels is the ability to tell their story on their own terms. This, however, is not limited to social media communications; indeed, the practice of telling your own story is applicable across mediums. This is certainly not a new idea, but it is a concept that has become much easier to put into practice in the last few years. Hotels must become more willing to craft a story around notable aspects of their operations, and effectively transmit that story through multiple information outlets. Now, a hotel can post any story they wish to their Facebook page or blog, but when it comes to convincing a traditional broadcast media outlet to pick it up, relevance, interest and craftsmanship become important. This is where the distinction between a story and an announcement becomes acute, and where hotels need to become aware that telling their own story in the right way to the right person is the only way to get noticed.
Take an Online Poll
Often, this can be accomplished by upending the conventional wisdom of information dissemination. The natural, knee-jerk approach to spreading news it to ‘push’ it out. ‘Pulling’ methods, however, are often significantly more effective, as any marketer can tell you. And pulling has become much easier in this century. Taking an online poll of regular consumers is just one way of collecting valuable information to determine which stories the public is hungry to hear from your hotel. An online poll can also provide instant, newsworthy snapshot of the state of consumers with regards to your hotel, as well as the basis of a very interesting story for media.
The third screen, a coveted up-and-coming marketing space, is something every hotel guest has on them all the time; why not leverage that convenience and immediacy with a text survey, or another participatory mobile marketing message? Beyond the gathering of information, it also provides engagement with the hotel brand, a valuable commodity in today’s business.
Blogs are also likely familiar to most hoteliers, but are probably also regarded as not necessarily worthy of the time invested in them. After all, a blog provides limited interaction with consumers, and requires a longer time commitment than, say, a tweet. But blogs are the perfect venue for putting forward longer, more nuanced stories about a property or brand. They can become a hotel’s mouthpiece, a counterpoint (or reinforcement) to what is being said about the hotel in the media. Additionally, blogs can help define identity, just like Facebook.
Create your own article
Hotels can sometimes be reluctant to draft their own articles, columns or news pieces, relying instead on reporters and travel writers to experience and interpret their properties in their own way. But as the media landscape has changed, these gatekeepers (the reporters, writers, etc.) are relying more on subject-generated pieces to supplement their own research and reporting. Articles and columns don’t need to be self-serving to be effective in terms of boosting visibility. A piece appearing in a trade publication can raise the profile of the hotel executive who wrote it, and over time, this raises the profile of the hotel. Remember that hoteliers are businesspeople, and as such can legitimately comment on business. Hotels should look for authorship opportunities in business publications, as well as trade publications.
Become an expert
This process- writing articles, becoming a contributor- will lead to a hotelier being perceived as an expert, which in turn will lead to more articles and publications, which leads to more visibility as a hotel. This cycle was once reserved for kings of industry, seasoned veterans with the years of experience to evaluate and comment on trends. In today’s environment, becoming an ‘expert’ can happen much more quickly and easily. At any given hotel there is probably an expert on something relating to the hotel business; the key is getting that person to contribute relevant, interesting items to the right publications.
Explore (and exploit) your niche
Every hotel has a niche, not just niche properties. Effective PR in a fragmented media landscape is often dependent on finding and highlighting those niches. In other words, hotels need to identify what makes their hotel unique, and develop awareness of that aspect. This is decidedly easier in the 21st century, as consumers tend to self-identify with niches of their own, and consume media devoted to those niches.
Abandon the press release
The trend among PR circles has been away from the antiquated format of the press release; hotels looking to engage in 21st century PR strategies must also abandon this outdated format. Unfortunately, many hotels still rely on the familiarity of the release, and associate this particular kind of document with the practice of public relations itself. Sure, it’s easy and time-tested, but the press release doesn’t create the kind of engagement and excitement that any of the strategies above can, and it doesn’t offer the depth of meaning and message that a story can provide, especially when media are receiving hundreds of press releases daily. Make your property stand out by thinking beyond the press release (as we often say here at ThinkInk).
Hopefully, these strategies are familiar to your hotel, and are already in place and being used as the foundation of your property’s marketing and PR program. If not, they are certainly the foundations of PR in the 21st century, so getting onboard with these concepts will be crucial to your hotel’s success in the immediate future. Hotels in today’s fast-flowing, multi-streaming environment need to control as many of those media and communication streams as they can, through relevance, expert positioning, mastery of social media, and good, targeted storytelling. These may not be secrets, but they are the secrets to success in the ever-changing world of hotel PR.
Welcome to the 21st century of PR. Enjoy the ride!
Jennifer Rodrigues, Visibility Specialist with ThinkInk Communications, is a public relations professional with a passion for hospitality, expressed in her newest venture – developing ThinkInk’s new travel division called TravelInk’d. At TravelInk’d, she is developing public relations and marketing strategies for clients in the travel and tourism, airline, lodging, cruise and meeting/event sectors. Ms. Rodrigues’s work with market leaders RevPar Guru, Bookt, Landry & Kling and Airsavings has focused on creating wide-scale media exposure, new business opportunities and increasing revenues. Ms. Rodrigues can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org