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Need PR and Marketing Help? Ask Away!

Oct 14, 2009

Oct 14, 09 | 1:59 am
By Jennifer Rodrigues

Q: What are the first steps in implementing a PR campaign for my hotel?

A:  First, it’s important to establish what you are looking to accomplish with your PR campaign?  Are you looking to raise awareness about your property?  Or to change the public perception of your brand/property?  Or to launch a new brand? Increase bookings?  Each type of campaign will be different, so it’s very important to determine the outcomes that you’re looking to achieve – before starting the output!

Second, work out what messaging you want to communicate.  Is it a message of value, novelty, or perhaps both?  What distinguishes your property from others in your destination?  Why should travelers chose your brand over others?  Starting a PR campaign without thinking though what your key messages are is like flying a plane with all engines working  – um, not a good idea!  You will find that the more preparation that you do before launching your campaign, the more successful it will be overall.

Third, figure out who your key media audiences are.  For example, if your goal is to raise awareness of your property, you will most likely want to reach out to a consumer travel media audience, meaning the journalists who write about travel for consumer-focused publications, like local/national newspapers and glossy magazines.  But it’s also important to raise awareness of your property among industry experts so it is important to also reach out to industry publications like ehotelier.  By being included in industry publications, you position yourself as an expert in the industry and develop more credibility for your property/brand.

Fourth, create a comprehensive media list.  The easiest and most effective way of generating a media list is using online programs like PR Newswire’s MEDIAtlas or Cision, where you can search by topic, location and hundreds of other criteria to create a targeted media lists, although you do have to pay for these.  But caution: do not spam reporters with irrelevant or mass press releases.  They’ll blacklist your very quickly!

Another, much more difficult (and extremely time-consuming) way to create a list is by research alone. This method requires that you be very familiar with the media that you’re going to be contacting. Put together a list of the publications that you want to contact and then search either through Google or on each publication’s website for the appropriate contact person. In general, you’ll want to pitch either the Editor or Reporter that covers the specific topic that you’re pitching them on. So for most hotel PR campaigns, the journalists who write about hotels are the travel, hospitality or commercial real estate writers.  For each contact, you’ll need to have their phone number and email address because at various times, you’ll be emailing information and then calling to follow up, and follow up, and follow up.

 

Q: I’m considering establishing a loyalty program for my customers, in the hope that I can bring in more repeat business.  What are your thoughts on the efficacy of loyalty programs and what’s the best way to implement them?

Loyalty programs are a great way to encourage repeat business, especially in today’s value-driven travel market.  Anything that you can do to make your hotel more attractive to value-conscious travelers is a good thing.  There are a few stipulations though.

In the past, hotels would give out points generously but when a customer tried to redeem them, they would find out that it was practically impossible to do so.  With blackout dates and extensive restrictions, these loyalty programs actually worked to the hotels’ detriment because then the consumer would feel cheated and lose the very brand loyalty that these programs were designed to create.

So again, I do think that establishing a loyalty program in today’s economy is a great idea, as long as you don’t make your customers jump through a bunch of hoops to redeem them.  If you are worried about giving away the house (or hotel), make it a little harder – but not appear impossible – to earn points and easier to redeem them.  In this way, you don’t have to give away the perks as often, and even then only to customers that really do visit your property frequently.

Now to answer your next question, how do you market your new loyalty program to your customers and how to do you get them to sign up?

All of your property’s marketing materials should invite your customers to sign up for the loyalty program.  You want to capture their data by making your offer(s) desirable.  In addition, every booking channel should also invite the customer to sign up. Whether they are calling your reservation line or booking directly through your website, before completing the reservation ask them to sign up for your loyalty program.  A sure fire way to get them to sign up?  Give them a small discount, even $10-20 off the stay that they are currently booking if they sign up for the program.  The nominal amount that you’ll be giving up will reap wonders for your hotel in the long run because you will be developing your email/mail database and will be encouraging repeat customers and brand loyalty.  I call it a double-whammy!

When signing them up for the loyalty program, make sure that you take all their information – email address, mailing address, cell phone number, gender, interests and hobbies, age, even if they children – so that you have a complete database to use for your future marketing efforts, be it through mail or text message.  These customers are going to be your most lucrative asset, so you’ll definitely want to keep them informed of promotions, sales and other news related to your property. Just be sure to include a permission message!

Another hurdle that you might find is that although people will sign up, they choose to opt of the loyalty program after awhile.  You want to avoid a high churn rate, so try offering bonuses to customers on their anniversaries with the program – 100 extra points on your one-year anniversary, 200 points on your two-year anniversary, or if points are about to expire.  In this way, you’ll be incentivizing long-term participation in the loyalty program.

Redemption: As I mentioned earlier, make it easy for customers to redeem their points or rewards.  Think about offering customers the ability to use their points towards whatever they want – their room, on-site food and beverage, extra perks like free WiFi, or retail items available for purchase.  It may actually cost you less and it makes guests feel that you really do care about what they want and what matters to them.  That feeling will go a long way toward continuing to build that relationship of trust and loyalty between your property and your repeat guests.

 

Q: I’m spending a lot of money paying commissions to Expedia, Hotels.com and other OTAs.  Is it absolutely necessary for me to list with the OTAs?

This is a question that we run into over and over again and the simple answer is YES!  Today’s consumer is looking for the best deal and knows that most often, their best deal is found online with these OTAs.

 

“But I have a website for my property, so wouldn’t that do the same thing”, you’re probably thinking. It’s not the same thing and here’s why….  Think about the last time that you booked a flight.  Did you go to each airline’s website separately to find out their rates or did you just go to Expedia or Orbitz or SideStep to compare the different options, rates and book, all in one easy step?  I’m pretty sure that you did option #2.  And it’s the same for most consumers booking hotels.

Consumers use the OTAs as a Google for travel.  In some destinations, there are hundreds of hotels to choose from and there is no way that a consumer is going to know all the options, or spend the time searching through each site separately to find the best deal.  So if you don’t have a presence on those sites, you are losing out on valuable booking opportunities and valuable revenues.

Did this information help you?  If you have other questions, I’d love to hear from you – please don’t be shy!  Send an email to jlr@travelinkd.com.

And don’t forget to check back twice a month for more PR and Marketing Q&As.

About Jennifer Rodrigues
Jennifer Rodrigues
Jennifer Rodrigues, Visibility Specialist with ThinkInk Communications, is a seasoned public relations professional with a passion for the hospitality industry, which is expressed in her role at ThinkInk’s travel division called TravelInk’d. At TravelInk’d, she is responsible for developing cost-effective and creative public relations and marketing strategies for clients in the travel and tourism, airline, lodging, cruise and meeting/event sectors. Jennifer’s work with several high-profile national and international accounts has focused on crafting coherent messaging and creating wide-scale media exposure with the end result of creating new business opportunities and increasing revenues.

Before assuming her role with ThinkInk, Jennifer worked for a variety of other companies in the hospitality industry and at various agencies throughout North America.

Jennifer graduated with honors from the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto, Canada and is currently completing a post-grad certificate program in creative writing at the University of Toronto. She also dedicates a generous portion of her time to working with non-profits, particularly in the fields of breast cancer research and awareness.

Jennifer can be contacted at jlr@travelinkd.com.

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