Is PR still relevant in a digital world?

PRMedia used to be simple. Print (newspaper and magazine) and broadcast were the primary sources of information for the traveler. Here, anyone could find advice on where to stay in most every price category.

Hiring a public relations agency was an efficient way for hotels to distribute information to these media. Good agencies have vast rolodexes of media contacts, as well as knowledge of the latest editorial schedules. Through agency’ auspices, articles could be both generated and placed. There were even measurement tools that could be used to evaluate the return on PR fees. The system worked!

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It’s different today. Viewership moved to digital outlets, driving down traditional media circulation. Reduced circulation led to a reduction in advertising support, which in turn resulted in less effort devoted to travel. The ability of PR agencies to get their share of this remaining space has become more challenging – your property is now competing with destinations, cruise lines and attractions.

So, can PR agencies still garner eyeballs for your property in the era of new media? First, know that almost all traditional print and broadcast outlets have digital editions. These digital versions offer much, if not more, content than their physical counterparts.

But importantly, readers’ behaviour has fundamentally shifted. Viewers stumble upon hotel write ups as they flip through their traditional magazines. Digital works differently. There is no flipping of pages, as search is direct, thereby rendering a large portion of the PR agency’s role obsolete. The critical mass of eyeballs in new media is simply much harder to attain.

Should you disband your PR efforts? Hardly! Rather, you need to re-examine your PR agency (and/or in-house team) and its objectives. My recommendations are as follows:

1. Focus efforts locally

If you desire a PR agency, select one that is on-the-ground in your area, knows all the local writers and editors, and can be on-property for media arrivals/FAMs.

2. Question cost/benefit of broader efforts

Public relations that targets national publications used to be the gold standard. With those available feature slots drastically reduced, you may end up paying a lot in fees for that once-in-a-lifetime feature. Ask yourself if that multi-page spread appearing only once is justification of a monthly fee that could go on for years.

3. Think F&B

The soul of your hotel is your kitchen. Your restaurant is one of the best places to demonstrate your capabilities because food has universal appeal. Make sure your PR team understands food and can deliver reviewers from the appropriate sources.

4. Cautiously consider influencers

Social influencers can be tricky when rationalizing the ROI because their core audiences don’t necessarily align with yours. Just because Miss X has stayed with you and put up an Instagram photo is rarely a single compelling reason for anyone to consider a stay with you. While there are some exceptions in departments like spa, weddings and dining, and with many influencers not asking for fee, don’t forget the total operational costs of supporting these activities.

5. Event expertise

PR agencies are usually experts at getting the right people to your event. Want to introduce a new chef or menu? Your PR agency is a good bet.

6. Remember the need for crisis communications expertise

A bad review used to be a handwritten guest comment card. Nowadays, a problem can be amplified immediately through social media. PR agencies can provide leadership in these difficult situations.

7. Rethink your entire PR program

Ensure that they have produced a detailed strategic document to guide their day-to-day efforts in line with your corporate business goals. Ask them what they recommend as being a realistic approach under the current media circumstances. Ask them to define the anticipated return for their efforts and make sure you agree before you commit.

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