In several columns in this space over the past few years, I’ve briefly pointed out the value of public relations as one valuable tool that can contribute to your business success. But public relations is so cost effective and brings so much credibility to you and your business, it’s worthy of its own, more in-depth column. Here are some ways you can leverage this valuable tool.
Understand what PR is: It’s not advertising. You can’t control if or when you’ll be quoted or if the journalist has any interest, even though your significant other thinks your concept is ground breaking. A journalist’s interest will be tied to a topic or a story, not to how great your travel agency is. So you need to have a realistic expectation of what PR will produce, because over time—and it does take time—it can be highly beneficial to you.
Know who you are dealing with: The New York Times aside, you will almost always find that the travel editor of a newspaper or magazine is also the editor for automobiles or something completely unrelated. That person likely has little to no formal “travel background,” though he or she likely has had some travel experience, even if it’s almost entirely their own vacations. Don’t just reach out to them or keep sending them press releases that have no relevance. Do your homework and be a regular reader or viewer. Know what they tend to report on and get to know their apparent interests and hot buttons. When you do contact them, tell them how you might be able to further extend what appears to be an interesting topic to them.
Invest in building relationships: Just as you are continuously in communication with your customers—you are doing that, right?—you need to be regularly in touch with your media contacts. You don’t need to have a story concept to touch base. Just touch base. Use alternating methods (email, in person, phone calls, etc.) unless the person has advised you they much prefer a single means of communications. At least occasionally, ask if you can stop by their office or 10 minutes or offer to meet at Starbucks. And when your 10 minutes is up, leave. If they want you to stay to chat more, they’ll tell you. If they’re busy and need to get to work, they’ll appreciate and respect the fact that you did what you said you would. And as with all interactions, be authentic.
Make sure it’s a collaborative process: In years past, “pitching” was the commonly used verb when approaching a reporter or editor with a story line. To me, the word has the connotation of trying to hard sell something to someone who may not have an interest or the need. Today’s savvy writers and reporters will appreciate your approaching them as someone who will work with them to extend or further develop a topic. Treat what you’re doing as a collaborative exercise that will benefit the reporter, not just you.
Get to the point quickly: Time is the ultimate commodity. When you speak to a reporter or editor, deliver a short, powerful, well-thought-out overview of your concept. Reporters tend to be intrigued (or not) very quickly and most will offer no pretenses of interest if you don’t hook them almost immediately. You’ll hear it in their voices or see it on their faces. Ask me how I know.
Be responsive to journalist’s needs: When you’re the one receiving the call or email, the writer or reporter is frequently under a very tight deadline. If you’re going to set yourself up as the expert, you’ll have to be responsive and that may mean dropping everything for three hours to get them what they need. It’s just the price of becoming a great contact for the media. This is arguably the single most important “rule.”
Deliver consistent and reliable information: Just like selling to the customer, you’re not going to “score” on every try, but it’s important to consistently be out there with relevant and interesting topics. Give the reporter an exclusive or do something that will make it more intriguing to him or her. But remember that sometimes the topic is just not that interesting to that reporter or their focus is elsewhere. Accept the “no thanks” graciously and thank them for considering your idea. Again, it takes time and effort to build relationships with the media, so don’t get discouraged. Effectively leveraging of public relations and media relationships takes time, energy, homework, relationship building, responsiveness and creativity, but the benefits can be huge. Go for it and make it work for you!
Jack Mannix, CTC, is head of his own consulting firm, Jack E. Mannix & Associates (www.jackemannix.com). He also serves as chairman of The Travel Institute. You can reach him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is adapted from one set to appear in the September 2013 issue of Agent@Home magazine.