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Hoteliers: Your Public Relations Cheat Sheet

Here’s how to better relate to public relations by understanding
the misconceptions and the benefits.


By Jennifer Rodriques
June 2010

There is something to be said for integrated efforts of PR, marketing and advertising.  In fact, these distinct disciplines are so interconnected that they are often practiced by the same staff, and governed by the same aims.

Nowhere is this more evident than in hotels.  In lodging operations, where every resource is (properly) devoted to the generation of room sales, public relations, marketing and advertising are often lumped together.  There may be different personnel titles and different codified duties, but the fact is that most hotels don’t have truly separate marketing, advertising and PR departments, they have one large ‘outreach’ department.   Integration is good; arbitrary homogenization of this sort is not.

Partly, this is a function of uniform aims: If the goal of any initiative – be it PR, marketing or advertising – is to increase room sales, there is a natural inclination to categorize and treat each in a similar manner.  But this approach is short-sighted, and does not capitalize on the individual virtues of the disciplines.  Moreover, it often fails to give PR its due.

Some of this derives from a misunderstanding of what public relations actually is, and some of it stems from a blurring of the line between PR and marketing.  Hoteliers tend to view marketing efforts as direct and measurable, and PR initiatives as soft and nebulous.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Public relations is, at its core, about generating awareness and visibility for an individual property, hotel chain or brand.   It’s about telling a story – a compelling story – that will generate interest and enter into the consciousness of potential guests.  It’s about gaining recognition and mitigating negative attention.  It’s about defining who and what a hotel is.

These are fundamental concepts for any going concern, be it a hotel or a hot dog stand, and if they’re neglected, it only means that they will manifest outside of management’s control.   And that, in turn, means that other sales generation efforts – like marketing – will be working against public perception instead of in concert with it.

Building a solid public relations strategy isn’t as daunting as the industry’s lack of participation might indicate.  Unlike marketing or advertising, PR is not resource-intensive; there are no media buys or direct mail blitzes associated with it. Just stories – good stories – that come from the best aspects of a hotel’s operations.

There are a few key components to an effective PR strategy for hotels, and they are separate and apart from those strategies that might provide for a successful marketing or advertising campaign (though there may be some overlap).  Here are the five most important:

Relevance
Newsworthiness is one of the most confused concepts in PR.  What seems notable to a hotel insider is not necessarily news outside of that hotel.  Unless you’re the Hyatt or the Hilton, lowering your rates by 10% – though it may be a big deal to the front office – isn’t going to pique the interest of the New York Times, or of the average individual in your market.  That rate reduction may be of interest to someone contemplating a stay at your property, but that’s a marketing function, not PR.

For PR purposes, the fact that your staff does great charity work with underprivileged children is a better story.  So is your property’s upcoming milestone anniversary.  Or even its occupancy rate over the last six months compared to other properties in your comp set.  Being cognizant of the difference between what’s newsworthy to the general public and what’s important to management – and emphasizing the former – is fundamental to good PR.

Put your best foot forward
PR’s unique slur – the concept of “spin” – is actually a legitimate aspect of the practice.  For hotels, this manifests as emphasizing your best assets.  While this may seem like common sense, the purpose of PR is to define your hotel’s image positively in relation to your competitors.  Every property has something that distinguishes itself – put it on display.  If yours is a historic hotel, make that known.  If your hotel is preferred among business travelers, write op-eds and expert commentaries on attracting and retaining business guests.  If you run a brand new boutique in an up-and-coming area, talk about being first to market and the revitalization of the neighborhood.  Even though you’re selling your property, PR should never sound like a sales pitch.

Know your audience
Odds are, the audience you most want to reach is comprised entirely of people who will want to stay at your hotel. But other audiences can be just as fruitful.  The trade media in the hospitality and tourism industry, for example, is particularly robust; leverage this to your advantage.  Build a buzz within the industry and it will carry over into the general public.

Likewise, business media has much crossover appeal.  People who read stories about hotels’ financial health or day-to-day operations tend to travel, and creating awareness among this audience can pay immediate dividends.  Stories that appear in the local nightly news or in the New York Times can be few and far between, but trade and business stories can recur often and in multiple outlets.  Widen your net and you’ll catch more fish.

Manage expectations of PR’s magic
PR, as we mentioned, is not marketing.  Though its results can be palpable and measurable, it is, by its nature, not direct sales outreach to potential clients.  Metrics like ROI and incremental cost can be applied to PR, but rarely will there be a direct, moment-to-moment correlation between PR initiatives and sales.

In that same respect, expectations as to what PR efforts can deliver apart from sales must also be managed.  No PR campaign can guarantee front-page coverage on the New York Times every month.  Instead, look for the longer-term impacts of PR on your hotel, including how your hotel is perceived locally and nationally (and internationally), and how levels of awareness of your property change in different markets.

Solicit advice
There’s no imperative to create an internal PR department from the ground up.  Certainly there must be an appropriate internal level of engagement – and likely, your hotel already has this in your catchall ‘outreach’ department – but there are many PR firms around that can understand your goals and work with your hotel.

For many hotels – far too many in our opinion – public relations is either an afterthought or a luxury, and either way not a central aspect of the hotel’s operational strategy.  If more hoteliers understood the benefits an effective, comprehensive public relations strategy could confer on their properties, PR would shed its stigma as an expendable line item in the sales and marketing budget and emerge as a key aspect of a hotel’s operations.

A strong public relations strategy is achievable for every hotel, and there is a good argument to be made that PR actually is more beneficial than a muddled ‘outreach’ program, or a strict marketing and advertising strategy.  The keys to making PR work for a given property are to understand PR, develop and put forward newsworthy programs and initiatives, manage expectations and define a target audience.  Any hotel can do this, and in doing so, can reap the benefits of PR.

Reprinted with permission from Hotel Interactive.

About the Author:
Jennifer Rodrigues, Visibility Development Manager with ThinkInk and TravelInk’d, is a seasoned public relations professional with a passion for the hospitality industry, which is expressed in her role at ThinkInk’s travel division, TravelInk’d.  At TravelInk’d, she is responsible for developing cost-effective and creative public relations and marketing strategies for clients in the travel and tourism, airline, lodging, cruise and meeting/event sectors.  For more information on TravelInk’d, please visit www.travelinkd.com or contact Jennifer at jlr@travelinkd.com.

 
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Contact:

Jennifer Rodriques
TravelInk’d
www.travelinkd.com
jlr@travelinkd.com

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