Teresa Delaney and Nichole DiBenedetto
Teresa Delaney (L) and Nichole DiBenedetto co-authored this article.

As everyone chases the “next, next” social channel or hottest influencer, it’s important to remember that the foundation of any public relations effort — print, digital or social — is relationships. 

In travel PR, even more so than other industries, relationships are critical to driving success at every level of a campaign. Whether it is the client/agency relationship or that between the PR professional and the journalist, the fundamentals of building trust and creating human connections should lay the framework for all endeavors.

We consistently underscore the importance of relationships with our team and work with our newest members to help develop their skills to become adept at building rapport with both clients and the media. Here’s why.

O'Dwyer's Jun. '18 Travel & Tourism PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jun. '18 Travel & International PR Magazine

The client / agency bond

At its best, the connection between agency and client is absolutely seamless. The agency becomes an extension of the company. We act as external team members that live and breathe the client’s culture, infusing it into every aspect of our public relations effort. This type of strong understanding grows from a constant flow of information and open, two-way communication.

Beyond the schedule of monthly conference calls, there should be ad hoc discussions as relevant topics arise and before key decisions are made that will have an impact on PR. Timing here is, obviously, critical. Being continually informed translates into having the time to properly plan and execute a well thought out media strategy, thus ensuring success.

As an extreme example, we had a client who called us almost daily on his drive to the office while he sat in Los Angeles traffic. On these morning drive-time chats, he discussed his plans and ideas with us, both the big picture and the small details. In return, we gave him our thoughts from a PR and marketing perspective. This casual and familiar style between us belied a true brilliance. It meant we always knew what was on the horizon, and it informed our thinking and every media interaction we had on his behalf. The end result was an intimate knowledge of his company, his goals and future plans. We could literally get in his head and think like this CEO. This made us incredibly successful when we pitched him as a subject matter expert enabling us to land him interviews and placements in highly sought-after media outlets.

What this client understood, more than most, is the competitive edge that’s gained from a strong relationship and the subtle nuances we picked up from our conversations. Quite often, this was the tipping point needed when pitching him and his company in a cluttered marketplace.

A media / agency symbiosis

The relationships we develop with journalists are some of the most valuable we have. As PR pros, we cherish and nurture the ones we’ve established, while constantly working to expand our networks. For those of us who’ve been in the industry at length, we’ve witnessed first-hand the editorial assistant we met in our 20s rise to the top of the masthead at an influential outlet in their 40’s. And, that connection is as significant as discovering a freelancer that contributes to a magazine that’s at the top of your client’s wish list, and then reaching out to form a new bond.

The approach we cultivate with our publicists is to go beyond one-way pitching and a continual flurry of press releases. We want our team to become a trusted media resources and teach them that it’s about being responsive, communicating honestly and gaining a grasp on the writer’s particular style, personal likes and preferred topics. We remind them that journalists are bombarded daily by someone just like us, sitting behind a computer, sending pitches in the same way we are. So, when journalists find PR people who have done right by them, they become a reliable, trusted source whom they will come back to when it’s time to bounce story ideas or validate trends.

These are the types of relationships that cut through the clutter. When asked how many emails they receive a day, most journalists will respond flatly: “hundreds.” So, it’s not surprising that some of our best-crafted pitches may never even receive a glance. However, when trust has been established, they’ll open it, read it and usually respond, even if it’s brief. They do so because they know that the person sending the email has proven themselves and, perhaps most importantly, not wasted their time.

This may seem a like a back-to-basics approach, too simple for today’s ever-changing media landscape. But that’s precisely why it’s critical. In every aspect of life, we rely on those we trust to help us navigate and point us in the right direction.

Our suggestion? Step away from your computer and build authentic relationships with your clients and your journalists. Remember that a simple, endearing gesture can go a long way, such as remembering birthdays, special anniversaries, and the names of their loved ones. Send thank you notes (handwritten is even better) and flowers. Read a journalist’s article and tell them how you liked it, even when your client is not mentioned. Pick up the phone and call that writer you’ve been cultivating a relationship with on email or better yet, meet them for a coffee. Sometimes you need to make it less about the work and more about the relationship. It will set you apart from the rest.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the allure of new media and following the hottest social influencers, the basic principles of public relations don’t fall away. The most basic of all is fostering and maintaining relationships and it is more important than ever as the world moves at increasingly faster speed.

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Teresa Delaney and Nichole DiBenedetto are Principals of D&D PR.