Writing press releases and stories about travel is a proven way to promote your travel agency with little or no capital outlay. However, many travel agents fail to do the preliminary groundwork necessary to ensure that their press release or article will be noticed by local or national media. Good marketers are continually seeking out and developing relationships with the media gatekeepers – reporters and editors. Within almost every community you will find newspaper reporters, researchers for television and radio stations, bloggers and specialty magazine journalists. These are the individuals who decide what stories make the cut. Typically, these writers and reporters work under terrific deadline pressures and welcome good ideas for stories. Your efforts at public relations will be greatly enhanced if you are on a first-name basis with the writers and news room and media staff. Making yourself known as a credible and reliable “go-to” resource with a well-defined set of opinions and positions can make it easier to be picked from the crowd when a reporter needs a local voice.
Smart travel agents that know how to get their name in the paper know how to find a unique angle for their story ideas and to fashion and time the story to the needs of the press. By developing an awareness of trends, timely events and other cultural influences, you are more likely to find the public interest inherent in your story that reporters seek for their articles.
A crucial mistake is to approach a reporter or a press release with bare information on your services or on client product. Writers look for “angles” and for human interest. Writers and reporters are interested in stories that advance their reader’s interests, not your business. Don’t write your PR copy by listing the features of your agency or a mere mention of a recent company development. Good writing in a marketing context always talks to the benefits. Even if you do list a feature, you want to couch it in the context of the benefit to the client. So, for example, if you recently took a destination certification course, phrase the press release in terms of how local readers will benefit from your new status. Your press release or article cannot read like an advertisement. Reporters are quick to spot even cleverly disguised sales jobs from business owners. The story must have a unique twist that the reporter will judge to be of immediate interest to readers. Your mission as a good travel agency marketer is to find the “sweet spot” where the features and benefits offered by your agency intersect with the interests of readers.
An excellent way to properly time your PR campaigns is to take a look at the editorial calendars of your area’s local magazines and print publications. Most publications produce an editorial calendar – a list of themes for upcoming issues- to provide advertisers with an advance awareness of good issues in which to place an advertisement. However, editorial calendars also give the smart travel consultant insight into opportunities to have local media feature their travel planning practice in an article.
Let’s look at a couple of examples that might assist you to better understand the process of developing good copy. Let’s say that a few weeks ago, you wanted to start a public relations campaign designed to explain the customer service and relationships your travel agency has over the years cultivated. A press release explaining how many years you had been in business, how large your agency is, where your offices are and a copy of your mission statement to “be the best, blah, blah, blah…” is going to put every reporter in any newsroom fast to sleep. Instead, you need to find a twist on the story that presents a unique angle. Do you have a client that has traveled with you for 10 years? One that has been to every continent? One that is taking their first cruise? One that is traveling to visit a lost relative? These are the human interests stories that can serve to demonstrate the intersection of what you want to promote with what the public wants to read. That intersection is the PR copy sweet spot.
You can also generate the necessary reader interest by directly addressing current events and news. Put a local spin on national news. In fact, there is probably no better way to demonstrate your usefulness to the media than to help local reporters better understand the impact of current events. The dollar is off, the economy is bad. An airline declares bankruptcy, stranding travelers. A couple books online only to arrive at their destination to find no hotel room, ruining their honeymoon. A travel agent is jailed for defrauding a group on a cruise that did not exist. Crime, drugs, the flu [fill in the blank] devastates travel to Mexico. Left unanswered, the headlines at times such as these convince some not to travel at all or to ‘do it themselves”.
Do not allow news like this go unanswered in your community. Bad headlines provide the perfect opportunity for a strong travel consultant to step up and do their job: help the public understand the travel industry. When the news is bad, offer your local news outlets, social organizations and clients an explanation. Write articles for the newspaper and letters to the editor. Use your insight into the industry to assist the public to understand how to mitigate the impact of these events:
- Yes, Europe is in turmoil, so now is the time to see Mexico or use B&B’s in Ireland or to see Europe without crowds;
- Yes, the airline declared bankruptcy, which is why you advise your clients to use a credit card to book;
- Yes, the couple booking online needed the assistance of a good travel agent – here’s why;
- Yes, the public is concerned about the flu, but here are the facts and here is what you are advising your clients;
- Yes, the public should investigate the credentials of their travel agent – here’s how to do it.
Rather than ignoring these events, use them as opportunities to act as the expert you are. The next time bad news about the industry pops up in your community, consider how you might use it to your advantage. Offer your services and be heard. Those who listen will be potential clients. Those who do not will be potential victims for the next travel headline. Better yet, reporters will be turning to you for advice, information and insight.
Exercise: Make a list of your local newspapers, magazines and media. Now, under each outlet, list your contacts. Don’t have any? You have work to do. The groundwork of introducing yourself to local media is vital to your business if you want to grow a public relations campaign. Start now! Begin developing a network of media contacts. If you advertise locally, ask your advertising representatives for introductions. Chamber of Commerce events often attract local writers and editors. Review the articles and news stories of your community’s media for stories you find interesting. Obtain their 2014 – 2015 editorial calendars for story ideas.
Next, make a list of ideas for articles and press releases. Think first of the things that most interest you – perhaps you are a dog lover, a tango fanatic or a coin collector. Maybe you are going to put together a trip for the World Cup or the next Olympics in Brazil. Fashion article ideas that have a local, human interest and put your agency in the background of the article, not the foreground.
If writing is a marketing tactic you choose to use, commit to it and then begin thinking about what and when.
If you don’t do it, I assure you your competition will.