Curtis Zimmerman
Curtis Zimmerman

It’s difficult to analyze a travel trend, read an article about marketing or overhear never-ending insightful tidbits from consultants and not read about COVID, Post- COVID or the indefatigable impact of the remote workforce—due to COVID. Today, I read an article proclaiming that companies—once again, due to COVID—that had a more digitally mature consumer experience performed better than those that didn’t during 2020. I’m guessing that no one reading this article would be startled by that information.

What may surprise you, however, is that the article you’re reading now has nothing to do with the pandemic, the effects of the pandemic, our economic recovery or the under-employed workforce.

As marketing professionals in a highly PR-influenced world, we’re charged with helping travel clients plan, execute and report in the form of annual marketing plans, public relations plans, quarterly reports, dashboards and customized forms of reporting. Without debating the difference between a goal and an objective, I would argue that our industry is often so caught up in the aspects of measurement and reporting that it becomes easy to lose sight of the importance of revenue in the mix.

Certainly, impressions, mentions, page views, engagement and impact on digital channels are critical to measuring public relations’ performance. But, if you give a client a choice between a significant increase in website visits, or a 15 percent increase in bed tax collections or RevPar growth—or, even more valuable, the prospect of exceeding the projected budget for room nights or rooms-related revenue—they’ll choose the numbers more closely aligned with the bottom line.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's July '21 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

Today, data sciences play an important role in the entire spectrum of marketing and communications. Presumably, for good reason. I would argue, once again, that the real reason for this should still be associated with revenue. Gone are the days when having the ability to segment an audience by demographics, geography or lifestyle characteristics is differentiating.

Through individual data sources, we now have the ability to drill down in an effort to understand and identify the individuals that have the greatest propensity to spend dollars with hotels, resorts, cruise lines, rental car companies, destinations and literally any company operating in the travel space. Why target adults ages 35-49 with a household income in excess of $100,000 if fewer than 20 percent of that particular audience would ever consider spending money with you or your clients?

Measurement has evolved, so why not the truest measurable objective of our collective efforts? The majority of public relations firms utilize similar tools as a measuring stick of our efforts. If you take a few minutes to review the features and benefits of the leading providers, you’ll find similar claims: benchmark versus the competition, capture content across all channels, share of voice, measure earned media, sentiment, reputation. They’re all valid—and critically important—metrics to determine if public relations is performing. But, where’s revenue in the measurement mix?

The truest measure of our collective efforts is our ability to generate room nights, meetings, reservations, ticket sales, bookings, visits, arrivals, bed tax, economic impact and any other form of measurement that has a dollar sign attached to it.

We must be diligent in our efforts to demonstrate there’s a proving line that connects our efforts to revenue. It’s not easy. And it’s a question that’s asked with growing frequency. But it can be done. This year, Omnicom introduced omniearnedID, the first analytics platform to connect earned media to sales. It’s a powerful tool and a reflection that the industry understands the growing pressure to ensure there is a return on the public relations spend. Other holding companies—and public relations firms—will follow suit.

What role does the client play in this equation? We all believe that the success of marketing communications is a collaboration that requires equal participation by the client and the agency partner. In the travel category, the majority of clients have key performance indicators, budgeted goals or simply revenue metrics that must be met. Many of them have salaries or bonuses that are tied to their ability to make the numbers work. And many of them hold their public relations staff or agency partners accountable. But, once their goals are established, it’s hard to argue that the same measurement and monitoring features that we require from the tools that have been established as industry standards are enough. That quandary is likely what led to Omnicom to develop their platform.

As new people come into the industry, or seasoned professionals carry on as they have for many years, there’s an opportunity for a paradigm shift from accepted practices and a battle of technology to reengineering the relationship to connect goals. At the risk of sounding old school, at the center of the client’s world is revenue. And, we must earn a seat at that table.

We’re fortunate as an agency to have relationships that have lasted the test of time. And, while we have certainly performed to make those relationships endure, the truth is with each of those clients they have consistently achieved their goals for financial growth.

It’s no secret that clients are more likely to seek a new agency partner when there are objectives that are not being met. Yes, some of those may be specific to the performance of their PR firm, more often than not the search for a new partner is associated with a decline in revenue, new competition or a need to refresh a brand—of course, to gain new revenue.

Yes, we need technology. Yes, we need incremental measurement of our efforts. Yes, we need to focus on the performance of our people, media, influencers and every channel that generates earned and owned media. But perhaps the biggest innovation we can introduce is a return to a focus on the same form of measurement that has existed since the beginning of the exchange of cash for services: revenue.


Curtis Zimmerman is Co-Founder of The Zimmerman Agency in Tallahassee, FL.