Jennifer HawkinsJennifer Hawkins

Bloomberg recently reported that Warren Buffett is “pessimistic on the newspaper industry at a time when public relations specialists are increasingly outnumbering journalists.” I can’t say I’m surprised. The six-to-one ratio of publicists to reporters is startling, creating a need for a specialist PR professional to break through the clutter.

The above spotlights both a challenge and an opportunity for independent hotels longing for quality media coverage and for the overabundance of PR professionals tasked with securing it.

O'Dwyer's Jul. '19 Travel & Int'l PR Magazine
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '19 Travel & Int'l PR Magazine.

The upside of our PR profession growing is spotlighting the importance of what we, as PR professionals, provide and do. With increased competition, independent hotels can’t expect that simply opening doors is all it takes to draw guests. While major hotel brands usually have significant budgets to create visibility through advertising and marketing campaigns, independent hotels need a more strategic “in” through earned media coverage, making the case for hiring the right PR agency with talent for targeted outreach as the way to get it.

Creativity is key

Gone are the days when PR agencies were mere order-takers executing plans of in-house management teams. While we still collaborate with marketing teams, the main priority today is thinking and acting creatively to increase the visibility of clients with our own strategy.

In March, Hawkins International stepped beyond press releases, social media blasts and even trade shows to produce our first-ever “Spring Hospitality Showcase” at a venue in Lower Manhattan. Dubbed “It’s All in the Details,” the event provided nearly two-dozen travel and wellness clients a rare opportunity to directly captivate New York-based media and influencers with newsworthy experiences that illustrated their key luxury offerings and selling points.

Our clients were thoroughly engaged: Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa, an independent property based in Sausalito, California, highlighted its recent renovation by displaying a Wellness Bed by Eight offered in its new wellness guest rooms, with a bed-mounted selfie camera for event attendees to snap imagery and share across social media. Nomadic Expeditions, an award-winning independent provider of luxury adventure travel to Mongolia, poured tastings of Mongolian vodka as internationally renowned musician Jigjiddorj Nanzaddorj dazzled the crowd on a traditional morin khuur fiddle. It was truly a special event bringing our clients to life in New York.

Give them what they need

With the ranks of journalists dwindling, it’s important for independent hotels and their PR agencies to be even more cognizant of media’s needs when they’re working on a story. The Bloomberg article on the newspaper industry caused a tweet from a frustrated journalist: “Don’t reach out and ask what I’m working on/what’s top of mind for me right now. That’s popping up in my inbox and asking me to do work when you are the one who is technically supposed to be pitching me. Look up what I write and tailor a pitch.”

There are many ways to get a journalist’s attention, but least effective is bombarding them with needless communications that won’t interest them and misdirected information they’ll never use. PR pitching must be targeted: get to know what a journalist covers before sending a pitch; provide less information rather than more; compose communications in a way that makes them keep reading; always bear in mind the “no photos, no coverage” rule; tempt them with exclusives, if at all possible; and always, always, always be timely — nothing is less useful to a journalist than yesterday’s news.

Authenticity speaks for itself

Along those same lines, PR agencies need to be selective and assured regarding the clients they take on and work with. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that authenticity is its own best asset. If I can get a media-trained client in front of a journalist, they’ll inevitably tell a compelling story themselves with no smoke and mirrors required — and my agency benefits from the trust we gain.

Similarly, independent hotels should be familiar with other clients in a PR agency’s portfolio. Having a diverse client base of a global mix of luxury hotel groups and boutique properties has always been a boon for our agency because it speaks to how we’ve grown our reputation and expertise; we know how to curate what a journalist needs. If they’re working on a story that may not be a fit for one client, we have others to present and give them what they need. We’ve become a one-stop shop for luxury news, innovative hospitality services and trends.

Selective selling points

Comfortable rooms, stylish settings and even celebrity clientele are impressive selling points for garnering media coverage for independent hotels. But what else has a property got? It’s important for hotel owners and their agencies to think broadly and creatively for angles they may not have realized. Those might include bridal, food and beverage, wellness, spa, the surrounding destination, even distinctive personalities working on the property. Hotels are little worlds unto themselves with vibrant personalities that we love bringing to light.

Take, for instance, our longtime client XV Beacon in Boston. An independent property surrounded by major hotel brands with sizable budgets in the heart of town, XV Beacon has consistently appeared on lists of the best hotels in Boston since we helped launch it at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve 2000. Our 20-year (and counting) PR program has focused on the little details that set XV Beacon apart in a highly competitive market: from the hotel’s extraordinary wine collection to its art-bedecked interiors, its contemporary rooms including cozy fireplaces in every guest room to its setting in a turn-of-the-20th-century Beaux-Arts building on historic Beacon Hill. There’s always something new and interesting for us to showcase to the media with an independent hotel like XV Beacon.

Love you, too

Finally, in an age when media is taking a lot of unnecessary heat, it’s vital for independent hotels and their PR agencies to recognize journalists as partners. Treating those who cover the news with respect, providing them what they need and caring about them as people, as well as professionals, pay real dividends and make for life-long genuine friendships.

I’m happy to count many journalists as friends, and I know the feeling is mutual. After all, the tweet about PR people ended with: “Love you bye.”


Jennifer Hawkins is Founder and President of Hawkins International Public Relations.