Traditional PR still drives bookings
30 JUNE 2014 6:17 AM
Social media might have changed the marketing game, but traditional public relations campaigns should not be forgotten, sources said.
GLOBAL REPORT—Social media, review sites and online travel agencies have transformed hotel marketing, completely revolutionizing the way operators connect with their customers, but traditional public relations is by no means on its way out. Rather, it is becoming an increasingly important way for many hoteliers to portray the unique personalities of their properties, thereby encouraging direct bookings.
“There’s a lot of buzz around social media in the industry at the moment, and a number of hotels are investing significant resources in this area,” said Katrina Jones, VP of corporate communications, EMEA, Hilton Worldwide Holdings.
Yet Hilton still employs more traditional methods of engaging with guests and encouraging bookings.
“Traditional PR remains an important part of hotel media activity, and it is important to ensure that the two work in tandem in order to achieve success and meet objectives,” Jones said.
Ulrike Birner, VP of communications, EAME, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, a group which engaged in nearly 3 million social media interactions with its guests in 2012 alone, shared a similar sentiment.
“The value of editorial press coverage—whether traditional print articles, online features or blog coverage—cannot be underestimated and continues to be very important for us. There is huge value for us in having our story told by a credible travel, business, lifestyle, beauty, food or trade writer.”
At Best Western in the United Kingdom, it’s a similar story.
“Social plays a role in inspiring our customers directly, but the advocacy and reputational value of working with a fairly small group of key influencers in traditional media is still really important to us,” said Kate Auld, head of communications at Best Western Hotels GB. “Yes, social media means everyone has an opinion, but equally we know that phones ring off the hook when a hotel features in the Daily Mail.”
PR on the up for boutique hotels
For many boutique and independent hoteliers, traditional PR is actually becoming more important than some of the online marketing channels.
At 23-room Tudor Farmhouse Hotel & Restaurant in Gloucestershire, U.K., for example, owner Colin Fell has tried to reduce his property’s reliance on OTAs over recent years, instead concentrating on marketing his business as a destination.
Working with specialist hospitality marketing and communications agency Custard Communications, he’s set up partnerships with other local businesses and encouraged journalists to come and stay at Tudor Farmhouse, where they can make the most of the many outdoor activities on offer in the region.
“When using OTAs, it can be difficult to communicate your message, the things that make you different. That can be lost,” Fell said. “We’re trying to really increase our presence across the board with PR—getting out a consistent message and trying to get a sense of place across in everything we do.”
“Traditional PR sells experiences really well,” said Petra Clayton, managing director of Custard Communications, who has worked with Fell to develop the hotel’s “Try something new” campaign, which aims to inspire people to visit Tudor Farmhouse because of the wider appeal of its location, the Forest of Dean. So far, the campaign has been running for approximately four months and has resulted in a huge uplift in bookings, she said.
“If you get a good journalist that comes to stay who can write about all of those things in a very unbiased way, that’s not something you can get through purely using OTAs,” she said.
Integrated campaigns: essential
That said, traditional PR is not the be all and end all. “Try something new” spans many marketing channels in an integrated way—from traditional media to Facebook, something Clayton believes is crucial to successful marketing.
Jones champions a similar approach at Hilton.
“It’s all about integration to amplify visibility and reach,” she said. “It’s also important to strike a balance between paid content, owned content and the Holy Grail that is earned content, which spans print, broadcast and social—from a journalist reviewing your hotel for a national newspaper, through to a star-studded launch making the evening entertainment news, to online user-generated reviews and social endorsements such as ‘likes,’ ‘pluses’ and shares.”
“Some of the most successful campaigns neatly combine both social media and PR,” Birner said. “Now more than ever, our PR and marketing teams have to work hand in hand to share our brand and hotel stories across all our channels.”
There’s no perfect balance, sources said.
“It’s important to remember that different types of activity will warrant a different balance. The approach taken for a hotel opening will of course be notably different from a corporate story around our visa strategy, for example,” Jones said.
Know your audience, know your angle
When developing a PR strategy, there are two things hoteliers must have clear in their minds before they get started: who their audiences are, and what their angles are.
“The first step is always to understand your audience. Who are they and what media (traditional and social) do they consume? How do they like to be communicated with, how frequently and in what tone of voice? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is their key motivation?” Jones said.
“It’s crucial to have a story, which is true to your hotel or brand,” Auld said. “We’re a unique model; we don’t own a single hotel, so we rely on the individuality of each hotel and celebrate it. We’re fortunate that our strapline ‘Hotels with personality’ rings true, and, having sent journalists into our 276 hotels, we know we have thousands of stories to tell.”