With the travel industry now back in gear—and even roaring back in most cases domestically—the focus for PR pros in the travel industry has now shifted from keeping clients afloat to helping them stand out in a crowded marketplace. The past two years have also brought a lot of change to the media landscape. So, how should PR agencies move forward and advise clients in the ever-evolving travel industry? With a two-pronged strategy that’s both granular and grand yet always grounded in flexibility and creativity.
We’ve recently seen a lot of changes for those who focus their coverage on the travel and lifestyle sphere. On the ground across NYC and LA, there’s never been such fierce competition for the attention of editors, staff writers, freelancers and influencers. Freed by video conferencing as well as the seismic reconsideration of the office workplace, the media—like all corporate America—has gone virtual or hybrid, and they’re no longer tied to a publisher’s headquarters. This “work from anywhere” mentality has reduced the convenience of desk-side visits, those long-cherished means of spreading news, building relationships and putting clients face-to-face with editors and tastemakers.
While desk sides are still effective, PR reps must be prepared to meet editorial folks where and when they desire. They must also be sure their clients have the goods—impressive news, innovative and genuinely creative programming and industry-shaking trends—that will encourage the media to say “yes” to getting together in the first place.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '22 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine
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There’s a similar challenge with hosting PR-driven events. In April 2019, our team hosted a Spring Hospitality Showcase to dazzle editors with a “one-stop-shop” of client news. Our teams offered news-driven interactive features from clients, from learning to pour a Guinness from the bartender flown in from The Shelbourne in Dublin to Mongolian vodka tastings accompanied by a renowned morin khuur fiddler and a cutting-edge “wellness bed” allowing media to actually test out the trailblazing sleep technology.
From the moment it ended, we couldn’t wait for our next Showcase, but now we must seriously reconsider it altogether. Client events have become risky propositions, with competition high and guest lists prone to shedding. What’s more, many publications are now relying on freelancers who’ve dispersed geographically and diversified to cover myriad topics. Result? With travel now back on the table, travel writers want to experience Guinness in Dublin, which is one of the best—although sometimes costly— ways to showcase your hotel or resort.
Competition is also fierce for securing press trip attendees. It seems every key writer and outlet is being invited to go everywhere! We’ve counseled our clients on creating stand-out itineraries that go beyond the hotel and offer one-of-a-kind access to events, restaurants and cultural happenings, often recommending they partner with other like-minded brands, chefs or operators in the destination to maximize not only the enjoyment of the traveling journalist but also the depth of the resulting coverage.
Meanwhile, with so many travel journalists working freelance, jam-packed press trip itineraries are passé. It’s better to offer at least a little wiggle room in the schedule for them to pursue additional and more in-depth stories. Similarly, flexibility is now necessary for assignments, as many freelancers don’t pitch editors until after they’ve returned home. Clients should be aligned on these new truths with conversations before the trip so there are no surprises or disappointments onsite. But it’s always up the PR representative to navigate these transparent conversations with the journalist and the client alike upfront.
While traditional PR pitches and strategies will continue to deliver results in their own way, we see the future of travel PR through a highly integrated marketing and communications lens. FINN Partners brings together full-service capabilities, specialized expertise and national and global footprint to serve clients across the spectrum, from the start-ups, boutique properties and multinational luxury hotel groups we know so well, to lifestyle brands and large destinations.
Our agency takes a 360-degree approach to developing our clients’ strategies. Simply put, we’re reaching beyond appealing to traditional media outlets by leveraging social media, influencer relations and the development of creative content, like photography and video, to weave their stories together on owned and earned channels. Our communications plans now embrace a diversified range of services to provide connectivity for clients across as many channels as possible.
Take social media: Every PR firm knows its importance, but few are actually positioned to develop and institute social media strategies for clients. Most rely instead on third parties to craft a social strategy that, they hope, aligns with client messaging. Building an in-house social media studio—a team of social media content developers and community experts—has been a much more effective tactic for our team as it enables us to keep costs sensible while putting our creativity and resourcefulness on display.
Now, in addition to PR experts, our agency has an in-house team dedicated to content creation and comprised of bright young talents who are both fluent in social media and thrilled with opportunities to put their personal passions for everything from photography and videography to graphic design and copywriting into practice. By tailoring our own social media services, our agency can shape messaging to resonate with clients’ customers and create personality-driven content via photos and videos that bring the luxuries and experiences they offer to life.
Our social media work also keeps our talent on their toes and engaged in something they enjoy, giving us the expertise to leverage, new angles to develop and services to offer that keep us ahead of the curve. Big pluses all around, especially as we pursue new clients and hires.
Keeping fingers on the pulse of social media and other communications strategies is a lot of work, of course. But as our expertise grows, it opens the door for us to better lavish clients with services including copywriting, influencer relations and content development, as well as to build brand followers by promoting clients as thought leaders. Even given our growth, we still approach client services like the boutique firm we started out as decades ago, enabling us to flexibly maneuver for clients, as well as price services right for brands large and small. And, with so many changes afoot, the travel industry that we love so much can use all the guidance we can give.
Jennifer Hawkins is Managing Partner and NY Travel Practice Leader, Finn Partners.