This article is featured in O'Dwyer's July '16 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine
Helping launch a new player — or helping an existing one with the rollout of a new program, service or amenity — is an exciting part of our job. That said, launches can also be one of the most challenging. Coming to market with something new gives you an edge, but with that comes the challenge of not having built in brand equity or awareness. In addition, the travel industry is now seeing new brands, products, services and technologies launching almost daily. We’re seeing a competitive landscape like never before, so you definitely have your work cut out for you.
Deciding to hire an experienced, passionate PR firm is the first step. If you’ve done that, you’re already ahead of the game. But that doesn’t automatically make your launch a success. In order to make it a success, I believe there are three core phases that should be incorporated into any launch plan.
Phase one: research & analysis
Suggested target media segments or tactics are fine, but if your PR firm offers a recommended plan of attack immediately after you engage them, run! Conducting the proper research and analysis is critical. Before we start developing any new launch PR program, it’s imperative that we have an understanding of how our client stands out from the rest of the pack. We need to know how crowded your space is, how your key competitors are promoting themselves. We need to identify possible areas of opportunity and ensure we have our finger on the pulse of what the media are saying as it relates to your business.
Once our research is complete, and we’ve shared our findings via a competitive landscape audit, we work with our clients as a strategic partner to map out a dynamic, tailored launch plan. You’re only new once, so when introducing your new brand or offering to the public, it’s important to take a calculated approach. It’s not always about going big or spending a fortune. While many companies come to us to execute a creative stunt or global blitz, the situation doesn’t always call for that. Sometimes, the best way to launch is to offer an exclusive coverage opportunity to a well-respected media outlet. This can lead to a better story or even the coveted cover. Challenge your agency to think about the end goal and find the smartest, most cost-effective way to get there.
Phase two: creating powerful assets
Simultaneous to developing a launch plan, we begin crafting a suite of powerful assets that we can use to tell a client’s story. When companies come to us from another firm, the first question we ask is “can you please send us your press kit?” Time and again, we get a similar answer: “we don’t have one.” It never ceases to amaze me how many agencies and companies miss such an important step.
This is especially important when it comes to launching a new company or a new offering from an existing travel brand. Before we can ever begin reaching out to the media to tell your story, we have to have compelling messaging, background information and creative assets to share. The travel press is inundated with news daily. What’s going to make them take notice of you instead of the other guy? Avoid putting the cart before the proverbial horse and spend time working with your agency to develop materials that will make journalists’ lives easier. It will pay dividends and they will appreciate the legwork you’ve done.
You also want to be creative and remember that times have changed. The standard fact sheet or FAQ will no longer get the job done. This is the travel industry, so have fun! Incorporate facts, figures and visuals into your media collateral.
Phase three: media relations
Now that you have a plan and materials to provide to the press, it’s time to get aggressive. Whether you launch with a high-impact stunt or take a more grassroots approach, the most important things are a) having the right targeted, yet extensive media list, and b) consistency. If you’ve hired an agency that brings strong media relationships to the table, this should be easy. No matter what, it’s important to get creative and find unique angles to get your story in front of the right editors and producers, and follow up consistently until the job is done. The right PR agency will know who to target, and how to target them — in some cases, because you’re selling something new, attaching your story to a larger trend — and they won’t take no for an answer.
So, your brand is launched, you’re out in the marketplace and you’re built momentum. It wasn’t easy to get to this point. As important as your launch media relations program was, however, what’s even more important is developing your post-launch news pipeline. You’re not new anymore, so you’ll need to find new ways to remain relevant. And it’s hard to stay relevant if you don’t have anything new to say.
A strong PR agency partner will master your launch, getting your news everywhere you want for it to be, but they will also work with you to develop a series of creative story angles to keep things moving. They won’t rest on their laurels, letting your story die on the vine. They will attach your brand to industry trends. They will think about what’s timely and how you fit into the mix. They’ll monitor what the media is covering and proactively, tirelessly, pursue consistent coverage.
The right PR agency will also understand the power of social media, ensuring you’re well-positioned in digital channels, bringing new ideas and engaging on your behalf. It’s incredible how many people get their news through Twitter and Facebook today, or how many choose their next vacation destination by searching photos on Instagram or Pinterest. Don’t forget to make social media part of your launch strategy, as well as your ongoing plan, or you’ll miss out on millions of potential consumers.
Trust your agency and have faith in the process. If you have an agency on your side that understands the industry and your business, has a proven media relations track record and is fun to work with, don’t give up when times get tough. The media may not always latch onto your desired story angle, but if you have the right players onboard, success will come. It might be a challenge, but from my perspective, anything worth doing usually is!
* * *
Samantha Jacobs is Founder and President of Hemsworth Communications.