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  • Babs S. Harrison

Where Does Traditional Media Fit in the Marketing Plan of a 21st Century Hotel?

It's 2019 and of course you know that social media rule in resort and hotel marketing but then there is the secret known by the smartest properties who are using strategic traditional media to help fuel and direct the social media outputs. Think of it as powdered sugar sprinkled on top of chocolate ganache (and isn't that yummy and visually captivating). What's old is new again and it also has tremendous power precisely because so few still get that these tools deliver extraordinary results when pursued by adept practitioners who understand the media and their needs.

Right now every hotel marketer is seeking to optimize presence on social media (last year Facebook, this year Instagram) and many are pursuing influencer relationships. All to the good but, listen up, traditional media just may be the OG influencers, the originals, because back in the pre-Internet era where did travelers look for, say, advice on restaurants? In the leading newspapers and some city magazines because there they had good, informed journalists covering the food scene.

And who hasn't flipped through the deliciously rich New York Times Sunday travel section in search of ideas about where to go next? The big newspapers and a dozen or two magazines and websites are where many of us turn when we want information, advice, suggestions on where to travel and what to do when we get there.

Where do you think Facebook posters, bloggers, influencers get their big ideas from? Traditional media is the right answer. Just look at how many Facebook posts are links to stories in mainstream media outlets. Ditto for Tweets. Both channels now are major sources of readers for the best outlets and that also is why those outlets encourage their reporters and contributors to maintain active presences on the key social outlets.

Social and legacy media have an undeniable symbiotic relationship, they play off each other, to mutual benefit.

While we are at this, who doesn't pay attention to a sprinkling of the admittedly too many "world's best" lists focused on hotels, resorts, and spas? I have worked with a number of clients named world's best in major publication lists and, I assure you, such an honor is a cause for celebration because being named as such wins notice from potential guests, past guests (who may decide on a return visit), and also - crucially - travel agents. We all may sniff at some "best" lists - not all are prestigious - but some carry enormous prestige and weight. Making one of those is a PR home run and smart PR people know the steps to take to optimize chances of selection.

When your property is on the cover of a national magazine that is on newsstands, don't say that isn't exciting - and that you don't pop into stores and supermarkets just to gaze at that cover. You do, we know you do. Everybody does. Especially in travel.

Of course there have been changes - fundamental changes - in traditional media. Most notably, paper is plunging out of favor and digital is rising. There also is a much faster news cycle. 24/7 rules and yesterday's "news" is old indeed. And there also has been a rise in the importance of very untraditional outlets such as YouTube - a markedly effective tool for many resorts because if a resort is not a visual feast, what is it?

Don't think inside a narrow box when contemplating what media to pursue. Think of what your guests and potential guests read, watch and listen to (podcasts anyone?). And, definitely, I know some outlets that I believe only PR people read and those are ones I urge clients to ignore. Easily won clips are worth no more than the effort it took to garner them. Next to nothing is next to nothing.

How to get started anew in a pursuit of traditional media? A foundational building block is: focus only on the outlets that matter to you. Ignore everything else. Build a list of key outlets and, trust me, if your list is more than three dozen, inclusive of print, online, TV and radio, you are not holding to high standards.

But listen to your PR professionals. Outlets that had real heft a decade ago may no longer matter. While new outlets - ones you may yet to have heard about - perhaps have emerged and won substantial notice. A PR pro is your guide through this wilderness and a good one will show you the path to big wins.

Pessimistic about the possibility of wins? You may have given up pursuing the premium outlets some years ago because you got bupkis for results. Think again, think new. Many in PR have ceased pursuing top outlets, or they delegate such tasks to green newbies, and thus they have few results. Such efforts do not count as significant competition for media notice. They are simply going through the motions.

Professionals who know the properties and also the media can score great successes because the field is uncrowded, certainly as regards real professionals with solid ideas, knowhow, and a feel for what kinds of stories appeal to which media. Media applaud these ideas because they help them fill their space with quality stories. Top PR works hand in glove with media; that's what produces results.

Aren't all media "fake news" with little credibility? Nope. Research out of Arizona State University's Cronkite School found that only 19% of us in fact associate the word "news" with "fake." That's fewer than one in five. Only 3% associate local news with "fake," by the way. 61% say it's easy to distinguish between news and opinion.

PR professionals, most of them, know that media relations remain worth the effort. Just 4% said no, in a recent survey. 84% said if PR professionals adjust to the current environment media relations are well worth the energy.

PR trade Bulldog Reporter offered this box score of publications and their trust scores: The New York Times (88 percent); The Wall Street Journal (88 percent); The Washington Post (87 percent);The Los Angeles Times (86 percent); The Boston Globe (86 percent); USA Today (85 percent); The Chicago Tribune (84 percent).

That means that readers of leading newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post trust much of what they read and for marketers and PR executives the take-away is plain: focus on outlets with a high trust factor.

What about traditional media and comped travel? That question matters and the answer is that outlets - and policies - are all over the map. The New York Times explicitly bans stories resulting from comped travel. Many outlets have more flexible policies. Ask the media directly. That's the only way to find out because, at many outlets, travel policies are in flux especially as budgets have tightened. Just ask. It's the only way to know.

The next step in a smart traditional media campaign has to be strategy: what are the strategic goals you want to pursue and, understand, filling rooms next weekend isn't strategy, that's desperation and it also is a task more suited to social media where immediacy is the coin of the realm.

Do not pass GO until you enumerate the strategic goals. These are what will decide if a campaign has succeeded or failed.

What are strategic goals? Positioning resort A as the go-to wellness destination in Bali, for instance, or positioning cruise line B as the premier culinary voyage, or winning notice for a new hotel as the high-end place to stay in northern Arizona. Word of advice: in setting strategic goals, always adhere to realism. If you know your hotel's F&B is widely mocked on Yelp for its failing, aiming to be recognized by the media as a gastronomy hub is a stretch too far. They read social media, too, and reporters and writers will hesitate to go out on that limb. Honesty and truth are bedrocks for media campaigns that flourish.

Work with your PR experts in setting strategic goals - if they voice doubts about the credibility of a claim, listen - and stick to two or four goals. Unless your monthly budget is in the high five figures, setting a PR team to pursue 10+ strategic goals is an exercise in fragmentation. Nothing good comes of such diffuse efforts which generally devolve into randomness. Stay tight, stay focused and insist your PR people do similar.

Also work up a tight list of target media. Dream big but strive for realism. A tiny three-star in rural Kansas isn't going to get a feature in the New York Times travel section (and if your PR people tell you different, flee). Hone the list. Make it outlets that really will make a difference to your property.

Rarely will a property have more than three or four dozen outlets, total, on its hit list.

Always keep the strategic goals and target media in mind. Always.

Some in PR practice what I call "hyena PR," meaning there is no focus to their efforts and, like a hyena in the savanna, they pounce on whatever prey is convenient. That fills out their work reports but at what benefit to the client? Know what you want and insist on getting it. If you order filet mignon in a restaurant you aren't going to applaud the arrival of "your" chicken thighs. When you want steak, and have paid for it, get it.

What to do if a request comes in from media not on the target list? The biggest and best brands certainly consider such requests - is this an outlet we overlooked and should be paying attention to? - but disciplined brands usually still say no thanks. It might be easy but that does not make it worth the effort. And attention even in a small outlet sometimes will persuade a big, high prestige outlet to pass on a story because it is "old and overdone."

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