Your travel practice needs champions to assist in spreading the word about exactly how great you really are. As we have seen in this week’s articles, existing clients, friends, family and referral networks are all potential evangelists for your work as a travel planner. You can also generate buzz about your travel planning practice through consistent and well-planned public relations in your community. A good PR campaign is an important tactic, but one that is typically time intensive. The truth is consumers tend to have very short memories when it comes to positive information about travel consultants (they can remember a horror story until the end of time, however, but that’s another article). For this reason, efforts at generating word of mouth “at large” need to be consistent, planned and on-going.
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The secret to casting a wide net with community word of mouth is to locate and utilize “hubs of inflence” – community segments that form small “tribes” within the community. Churches are a “hub” as are social clubs, charities and civic organizations. Ethnic communities often form loosely knit hubs as do seniors and groups with political agendas. Choose your hubs with care. There must be an internal dynamic that holds the hub together. Thus, an apartment complex is probably not a sufficient “hub” for most word of mouth opportunities, but a local chapter of the VFW may be. Local radio, newspaper and television stations are also hubs, but fall under the more specific public relations topic of press releases which we will cover at another time. Finally, online communities are also hubs of influence.
At the center of any hub is typically one or more individuals who are the chief “influencers” of the hub. The influencer may hold that position by virtue of an office, for example, he may be the club president or a pastor. Or, the influencer may hold that position by virtue of charisma – a natural talker. In either event, it is the influencer that you have to incorporate into your word of mouth campaign. Once the influencer is convinced of the value of your travel planning practice, he will tell others in his hub community and the other members will follow his lead and begin talking as well.
Engaging the influencer of a hub is where the hard work begins. You must enroll the influencer in your story. A good approach is to involve the influencer in your product – need a group leader? Another approach is to offer your services to the hub…perhaps as a speaker. If you have a successful “story” in your arsenal already, perhaps a great trip you planned for a group or individual with characteristics similar to the hub, tell the influencer how you accomplished your earlier success. Find common ground with the influencer and build on it. Once you have established a rapport with an influencer, it is important to keep your relationship active. The spark will die quickly without constant attention.
Be enough of an opportunist to spot connections in your practice with hubs in your community. Did you just send a couple on a trip to the Holy Land? There’s an event, a story, that you can take to a hub such as a church. Look to the hobbies and interests of your clients and see where you can identify potential hubs to approach. A marketing mindset is continually looking for such opportunities, and a good word of mouth campaign depends on active engagement of hubs and their influencers. Stimulating conversation begins with you and extends out through “influencers” into hubs.
Let’s get some people talking.