Over the last five years, the travel industry has been roiled by a perfect storm. On one hand, travel changed from something you did to something you are. It became a lifestyle choice, an announcement of who you want to be, just like a luxury watch or car. It was a seismic shift that shook the travel landscape, altering it in meaningful ways. The media began covering travel the way it covered fashion, with stories about celebrity getaways, enriching experiential activities and bragging-rights destinations.
On the other hand, travelers began consuming media in new ways, mostly on their social networks. This perfect storm, the collision of two climactic forces, changed the face of travel PR, blowing away its established conventions and forcing it to adopt a constant stream of new technologies. Constant change is the new normal. It’s a Darwinian world in which only the fast adapters will survive.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '17 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine
Today’s successful PR agencies look nothing like they used to even five years ago. We have moved from feeding facts to telling stories. Long gone is our tight focus on print magazines and newspaper travel sections. Now our strategy meetings are all about high-tech and new wave, loud with talk about multiplatform, integrated opportunities that create dialogue with our clients’ brands. Our campaigns are rigidly timed roll-outs that pluck from an ever-expanding arsenal of social strategies, influencer marketing, custom content, digital/broadcast, brand partnerships, and yes, there is a place still for those traditional media strategies on which our industry is based.
Let’s take a look at two areas that are on the forefront of our PR world: social media influencers and sponsored content:
Social media/influencer marketing
The greatest change in the way we tell our clients’ stories is the everywhere-you-look, everywhere-you-go availability of social media and the influencers who drive it. Over the last five years, social media has gone from something ungainly, ungovernable and unquantifiable to an indispensable powerhouse, delivering impressive results in an almost immediate timeframe (do you remember those days when we placed winter stories in July?).
Laura Davidson Public Relations produced extensive digital content during one of Sydney’s largest events, Vivid Sydney.
Our agency has a dedicated social media manager and team. For our larger PR programs, we partner with a specialized social media agency (Gather & Grow) that extends our reach still further. Working with influencers is a priority, with new names popping up in unexpected places like daffodils in the spring. In the same way that we evaluate the suitability of a magazine’s readership, so we vet influencers to ensure they and their followers are the right fit for our client’s brand image.
While most people on the outside think that social media has made our work easier (more outlets, right?), we have found the contrary is true. Yes, the PR machine is driven by the same old engines — time, effort and legwork — but, if it’s precisely calibrated and intelligently steered, the rewards can be truly extraordinary.
With the right influencer partnerships our agency has increased the target audience for its clients by as much as 100 percent. Since many of our influencers are ambassadors, not just for travel, but also for clothing, jewelry and other like-minded lifestyle products, we mine their demographics as well. To expand the customer base of our Watch Hill Inn client in Rhode Island, we partnered with a brand ambassador for Anthropologie, the distinctive clothing and accessories retailer with over 200 stores worldwide. As a result, Watch Hill Inn’s Instagram following grew by nearly 40 percent, yielding more than 8,000 likes and 143+ comments over the course of five days. Many of the comments from the posts reflected inspirational trips to the Watch Hill Inn, followed by several direct messages leading to actual bookings.
The shifting travel landscape has also led PR companies into the blurred world of sponsored content (a.k.a. native advertising). At the end of the day consumers want quality content that helps build a relationship with a brand. Successful PR drives that kind of authentic content creation and storytelling. Our agency frequently uses this strategy on behalf of our destination clients.
As part of a marketing partnership between our client, Destination New South Wales/Sydney and Qantas Airways, we proposed a range of sponsored content opportunities with regional and national media. Working with one of Travel + Leisure’s travel influencers we produced extensive digital content during one of Sydney’s largest events, Vivid Sydney. This outreach included a series of social media posts direct from the festival that reached T+L’s 1.9 million Instagram followers. More recently, we partnered with LA’s top morning program, KTLA Morning News, and American Airlines to send its entertainment reporter, Sam Rubin, to report live from Vivid Sydney. This effort garnered over a dozen segments and teasers and a trip giveaway component that brought in over 77,000 entries.
The good news is that there can be stability even in a world of constant change. It seems to me, a PR veteran with over 25 years in the trenches, that a new maturity is sneaking into our business. The more successful agencies have matured; they are less reactive than they were even a few years ago, less prone to abandon the tried-and-trusted practices and run like a giddy child after the next shiny new thing. The key is the same as it has always been: recognizing that every client has a unique set of goals and requires a different mix of tools, both old and new. If you get that mix correct and remain nimble — don’t stay too attached to the long-term PR plan — then the new travel world can be your oyster.
Laura Davidson is President of Laura Davidson Public Relations (LDPR).