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Packing the PR Punch

The Power of Public Relations Is Now vs Later


 
By Carol Baetzel - November 9, 2009

Over the past 18 months, one of the many casualties of cost cutting, downsizing, and elimination in the hotel industry, has been the commitment to comprehensive, strategic, creative, and proactive public relations communication. Much of the public relations activity in recent months has been reactive or related to dealing with the many perils and fallout of a struggling industry. Reduced travel, spiraling rates, image adjustments tied to consumer perception anxiety, crisis management with defaults, receivership, and trying to stay one step ahead of the next wave of bad news. 

Now, more so than ever before, hotels should be focusing on resurrecting their commitment to public relations and focusing on implementing well crafted and well orchestrated PR initiatives.  The very same programs that helped maximize profitability during strong, economic times are the very same practices that will help maximize profits and minimize losses during weak economic times.  The key is in maintaining consistency and not losing focus.

Look at boxing for example - boxers use every opportunity they can to pack a strong punch, and do it consistently.  But the minute they turn their head and lose focus, their opponent has the upper hand.

Rebuilding the Momentum

If hotel occupancies are expected to remain relatively flat in the coming year and rates are predicted to drop due to the unmitigated competition, the inherent need for a creative and consistent public relations campaign is critical in differentiating a brand from its competition and generating as much visibility and awareness as possible.    Those hotels and resorts that were fortunate enough to maintain their public relations efforts through the downturn will have a definite advantage moving forward. 

For those properties that were forced to cut public relations from their budget, NOW is the time to bring public relations back to the forefront to help rebuild tarnished images and implement creative and visionary public relations programs that can generate revenue and have an immediate impact on the bottom line.

One of America’s most recognized, honored and respected front-line travel news journalists and Travel Editor for CBS News, Peter Greenberg, had some very definite thoughts on the role of public relations and the importance of a hotel’s commitment to PR – especially now. 

When asked if hotels and resorts should resurrect their commitment to an ongoing, strategic PR effort to differentiate them from the competition, he said, “Absolutely. If hotels want to be ready for the economic turnaround, they have to be ready now, stay ready, and they can’t get ready later.”  Point well taken.  Public relations cannot be an afterthought – especially now.  It is a process that requires consistency, continuity, commitment and creativity.

According to Carrie Zimmerman, owner and president of The Zimmerman Agency, an award-winning marketing communications firm headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida, “What will become apparent once the economy is beginning to thrive, is that rebuilding enthusiasm and an emotional connection with a brand is much more difficult than having kept its momentum during the lean periods.  Public relations dollars will be expended three fold to regain consumer confidence and brand engagement.”

Carrie also noted that many of their clients, including destinations, hotel brands and individual hotels actually shifted dollars from advertising media buys to a more focused public relations effort for the simple fact that advertising costs are more expensive and reflect a much larger portion of the allocated marketing dollars.” 

Lauren Kaufman, vice president of Spring O’Brien, another award-winning, highly regarded advertising and public relations firm in New York, couldn’t agree more, noting that one of their clients, Air Tahiti Nui dropped all of their advertising and is solely relying on Spring O’Brien’s strategic public relations efforts to drive the company’s message and maximize exposure. 

“In times like these, it’s imperative to stay in front of travelers to keep heads in beds or fill airline seats.  Hotels are slashing prices and relying too much on tactical offerings.  They’re putting great emphasis on pricing and have pushed branding aside which, in the long run, will be problematic,” said Lauren. 

Although Lauren believes lower prices will beckon some travelers in the short term, without a clear focus on what makes a hotel special and continuing to create exceptional experiences for guests, brands could very well get lost in the shuffle when the economy rebounds.  This is why it’s imperative to have a strategic public relations effort in place – one that will effectively deliver and control the right message to the right audiences.

Driving Revenue – The Power of PR

The power of public relations doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.  And when tactically tailored and implemented, can drive money to the bottom line.  Case in point:  In March 2009, Lauren and the Spring O’Brien team landed a resort client in Costa Rica that was forecasted to lose thousands of dollars by year end.  To spur bookings, Lauren and her team created an attractively priced, value-packed spa package, which was promoted solely via press releases, tailored pitches and editorial placements.  No advertising.  The package has since garnered $80,000 in bookings to date, as a result of Spring O’Brien’s tailored PR campaign. 

Finding the Value of PR When It’s Integrated with Marketing

Public relations is a core component of a well crafted and integrated marketing effort.  When public relations is incorporated among the other key marketing elements of advertising, E-commerce, guest history management, revenue management and sales, its value will be maximized tenfold.  Ensure your public relations agency or in-house professional works closely with these entities and partners with a clear understanding of what they’re doing and how it affects the big picture.  By creating this synergy, it allows your public relations person or agency to implement appropriate initiatives that are actually “in sync” with the company’s overall sales and marketing objectives, thus being able to effectively deliver and position the company’s mission, vision or message.

Creating an Experience and Avoiding the Gimmicks

Often times, hotels are either unable, or, don’t make it a priority to invest time and money into developing programs, amenities or services that would garner quality media coverage.  They want the publicity and the exposure without doing anything to substantially earn it.  Instead they might introduce quirks or gimmicks like an all-organic mini bar or a suntan lotion butler. 

“These are things that generate a lot of little mentions in the media and build buzz for a short while, but in the end, don’t motivate anyone to make a reservation,” says Andrea Cohen, senior account executive with Spring O’Brien.  “When hotels and resorts invest in quality programs and services that fill a need their guests can relate to, and create a truly unique hotel experience, those are the things that garner quality media coverage and drive business,” she added.

Peter Greenberg concurred. “What makes a package or promotion newsworthy is if it’s relatable to the audience to begin with,” he said.  “It’s all about value, value, value, plus options.  The true definition of luxury travel is when we get to keep our options.  It’s not about rate or discount.  It’s about the process, not the product.  It’s about participating and the experience.”  Peter further commented that what he’s seeing across the industry are stunts based on rates or discounts that aren’t very visionary.

There’s obviously a dire need for creativity and creating a memorable guest “experience” in the marketplace for both leisure and group travel.  Although business travel has sharply declined, there is still a great need from the hotel and meeting trade editors to receive group meeting packages or offers that tout true value. 

“Hotels need to get their message out even more in a down economy than in a prosperous one,” said Terri Hardin, former Destinations Editor for Successful Meetings and Editor-in-Chief for Meeting News, and now “The Diva” at www.meetingsdiva.com, a social community platform for planners, hoteliers and PR professionals.  “Prospects need to know that you’re still in the game and as far as meetings are concerned, no one is doing a particularly good job reaching out to this sector.” 

Experts in the field are in agreement - there couldn’t be a better time than NOW for your public relations effort to pounce on these opportunities for group and leisure travel and set the stage to create unique experiences and programs for your guests that actually put value into the deal, drive business, and take attention away from pure rate consideration.  If your hotel’s best package is a bed and breakfast or stay and play golf package, then you’re in dire need of a creative and pioneering PR program. 

PR = Passion

To be truly effective, your PR effort requires passionate consistency.  In addition, it requires the support, commitment and involvement from owners, corporate officers or executive teams in the chain of command.  Those hoteliers, who ultimately recognize, embrace and understand the power of public relations and packing the PR punch, who have successfully integrated public relations into the core of their culture will prosper in the long run.
 

About the author 
Carol Baetzel is a public relations and communications advisor, consultant, and authority, with over 25 years of upscale resort, spa, restaurant and golf experience. Her career includes corporate positions with Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Tiburon Hospitality, The Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa and The Fairmont Scottsdale. She can be reached at (602) 931-5422 or at cbaetzel@cox.net.

Many thanks to the following contributors: 
 

Lauren Kaufman – Vice President
Andrea Cohen – Senior Account Executive
Spring O’Brien
212-620-7100
www.spring-obrien.com

Carrie Zimmerman
The Zimmerman Agency
850-668-2222
www.zimmerman.com

Peter Greenberg
www.petergreenberg.com

Terri Hardin
www.meetingsdiva.com

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Contact: 

Carol A. Baetzel 
CBPR
Office 602-569-3074
cbaetzel@cox.net.

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