By Dr. Peter Tarlow
Almost all tourism businesses, be they attractions, Convention and Visitor Bureaus (CVBs), regional or national tourism offices, or travel providers have to deal with the media. Tourism businesses and offices seek positive publicity or at times react to a news story. Often these news stories are negative and if not dealt with can do great harm to a particular tourism industry.
We can hypothesize that a successful tourism industry or enterprise must stand on four legs, these being:
(1) it must offer a good product,
(2) it must provide good service,
(3) it must have good publicity, and
(4) it must offer the public a safe and secure environment.
Without any of these four “tourism legs” no tourism industry, from the restaurant component to the travel component will long endure. When dealing with the media, always consider the following points:
- The media can do wonders for a tourism industry or it can do terrible damage. Knowing this principle, never go to war with the media and never blame the media for your problem(s)
- Consider with which aspect of the media you are communicating and how you are making your point. The print media is different from the televised or social media. Each have their advantages and disadvantages and it behooves a tourism business to know them.
- Think about the “filters”. Who is disposed to listen to your message and who will discount what you have to say. Then ask yourself what is the importance of your message and who will care about what you have to say.
- Know are effects of your message. Is your message credible, angry or defensive? Will the public be drawn to what you have to say or will your message be counter productive?
This month Tourism Tidbits offers ideas and suggestions on how to write, or produce, a story and ideas on how to get your story into the media.
Before continuing never forget that all promotional materials and all media messages tell a story. If you control the narrative, then your message will be heard and believed. If your competitor or opponent controls the narrative then you might be facing serious problems.
Always develop your story with the following components:
-Make sure that your lead sentence of idea is a catchy one. Ask yourself: Why should anyone want to read/hear about/see this story, or what is special and unique about what you are telling?“
-Present your story in an inverted pyramid. Start with the most important points of the story and then work your way to the least important points or facts. This system is especially true for television coverage that tends to cut out information at the end of a news story.
-Be accurate and sensitive. Ask yourself, whom am helping and whom am I hurting by this story? What unintended consequences may the story have? Am I really being fair to all sides?
-Distribute to the media stories that they will like. For example, a story dealing with sports tourism or some unusual piece of news is probably going to get a bigger coverage in the media than an issue regarding economic data.
-Never forget to gear the news item to the medium of choice. If it is television, make sure that your story is visually action oriented. If you are seeking to get your story on the radio then try to arrange for someone to be interviewed. If the story is for the press, then try to have a photo opportunity ready along with charts, graphs or anything else that will make the story come alive.
What To and Not To Say: When the Media Asks Questions
Tourism is a public business and as such whatever you do or fail to do is open to public scrutiny. The media have the right to ask questions, especially if something goes wrong or if there is a tragedy or crisis in the industry. While you cannot stop a news story, you can respond in a manner that will give you the best chance of winning the reporter’s sympathy. Here is a list of some ideas on how to respond especially when you would prefer that the questions never be asked.
-Be Brief. In most cases a long explanation will be reduced to a sound-bite. There is a good chance that a representative of the tourism industry will receive no more than 10 seconds for a sound-bite.
-Answer only the question asked. Often we are so anxious to demonstrate how much we know, that we get ourselves in trouble by saying more than we need to say. Learn to answer only the question asked and not another question.
-Be Honest. The worst thing for anyone in tourism to do is to lie. It is perfectly acceptable to say you do no’t know, and whenever possible follow up your “don’t know” with a willingness to “find out.” In tourism, the phrase “no comment” sounds as if you are covering up the truth.
–Be cooperative and smile. Don’t forget the reporter has the last word. When dealing with a hostile reporter, do your best to win him/her over and turn an enemy into a friend. Never pass the reporter off to a superior. He/she may well resent your attitude and just use what material he/she already has. Make sure that your facial expressions and body language agree with your vocal communication. Do not say one thing with your words and something else with your body.
–Be clear and specific. Assume the reporter and the public have little or no knowledge about what they are asking. Assume nothing and never use tourism jargon or acronyms. State the entire word. By using clear precise nouns, you lessen the possibility that your answer can be taken out-of –context.
–Return all media phone calls or emails. Even if you do not wish to speak to a reporter, in the end you are going to have to speak with that person or know that the reporter is going to writer the story without hearing your side.