Monday, August 18, 2008

The problem at the heart of travel PR

Fantastic guest post from Neil MacLean, author of the Travel PR Blog:

The marketing blogosphere is navel-gazing again, this time about the current state of PR.

No surprise there then. Every few months somebody declares PR dead and a bevy of PR’s write about how the world would go to hell in a hand basket without them.

Eventually the whole thing settles down until yet another A list blogger gets hit by a hundred irrelevant pitches.

It makes me wonder though about the state of the travel PR business, particularly in the UK where I personally lobbed press releases into waste bins for the best part of 20 years.

Is the UK travel PR business dead?

Not totally. It just smells like it.

The problem is the business still swivels on traditional media relations.

Scan the PR’s own pitches and you’ll find all the emphasis on cosy relations with journalists and the "ability to control press coverage on our clients' behalf".

It doesn’t take a PhD in fragmented media to know that model is about as up to the minute as Mr D’Arcy’s breeches.

Sure, some travel PR’s make noises about new media and getting down with Facebook, but many still gaze at email with the wonder of war-time kids setting sight on a banana.

They’ll protest - ok, I’ll protest for them - that they have had great success getting, I don’t know, three regional hacks out to Barbados to cover the Deck Chair festival.

But travel companies increasingly find those sums don’t add up anymore. It’s just not worth it.

I know a travel company which scored a four page spread in a Sunday broadsheet and only received one call about the trip next day.

Besides, traditional press coverage is like a sugar rush. The returns are short-lived and you have to keep on doing it over again.

PR needs to be more closely tied with results. It must be seen to generate measurable revenue for the client. It needs better strategies to generate long-term benefit.

For that it needs to speak directly to the public as well as hacks, build relationships with customers, treat Google as vital media, drive search traffic, communicate the benefits of the product to anyone with a broadcast voice, official or not. In short it needs to go where the market is and go online.

Here are some of the skills a modern PR agency needs - online copywriting, web monitoring, SEO, search marketing, basic web dev, multimedia content creation, web analytics.

The alternative? Marketing money will continue to shift to the people who already pitch this stuff and therefore can provide truly measurable results: the search marketing companies and digital agencies.

And then what will be left for the poor travel PR’s? A few quid for organising cocktail parties at WTM.

PR in this country needs a travolution (that’s not trademarked or anything is it?). [That's enough "'lutions" - Ed]

Neil MacLean, Travel PR Blog

[Neil MacLean writes the Travel PR Blog and provides online media services. A former journalist, he wrote travel features for the Sunday Times, edited the Daily Mail travel section and was launch producer of Expedia in the UK]

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Ex-PR said...

Finally a post that summarises the ridculous notion that travel PR works. I worked for a medium-size agency a few years back and realised that results for us as an agency were very different to results for the client.

James Brooke, rooster said...

As the MD of a so called 'travel PR agency', I couldn't agree with you more. However, I'd clarify you're definition of 'travel PR' as you're clearly talking about yesterday's approach of five star press trips in exchange for double page spreads in the travel sections of the nationals. Times have moved on - we're an agency with clients in the travel sector but that's where the comparison stops. We deal with all media and 'digital communications', 'online PR' or whatever you choose to label it, is at the centre of our service offering - if it wasn't, we'd never be hired. That being said, there will always be room for good old fashioned networking and relationship building with traditional media, but only as one part of an integrated approach.

Travolution Blogger said...

James: thanks for your comments. would be interested to learn what kind of requirements your clients are asking for in this modern age of marketing/PR?

Alex Bainbridge said...

One comment I saw recently was that you should only hire a PR company when the INBOUND requests for pr comments is too much to handle internally. (rather than the convention to use PR go generate initial interest)

As a company we don't have a PR agency any more (about 5 years ago we used Rooster)... however I do "blog" (gawd I hate that word) - which I believe delivers a better return (although I have to spend a great deal of time on it myself, rather than just paying a cheque to a PR agency). Anyway, at least with me blogging people see the real me... which is either a good thing.... or bad.... but I *think* I pull it off OK (even though I flunked English at school and historically have been bad at writing anything more than an email)

Neil MacLean said...

It's great if travel people like Alex can handle blogging but my experience is most companies miss out on the benefits because they don't have time, don't see the point, don't have the skills or fail to budget for it seriously.
Most of those PR firms which have some sort of grasp of new media love the idea of consultancy. "Here's your blog, now off you go and play."
That's rarely enough.
James, your friends at Baltic Travel haven't posted anything on their blog for months - and that's all too typical.
PR's need to accept content creation as a key part of their comms strategy and roll up their sleeves and just do it.
They have always been paid to produce press releases. Now they should be paid to create an ongoing conversation with the market to the client's measurable benefit.

JX said...

Yes!! No;, we do and don't have some Banana's!?)}

Jennifer Cox said...

Good travel prs were never 'paid to write press releases' - they were paid to create and execute an effective strategy to bring their company to the attention of the public. Generally, but not solely, via the media.

Every industry has its 'unnovators'. And most industries are co-dependent on another. Travel Hacks have always hated prs because they know they need them - the good but sometimes even the lazy ones too.

It seems that in a time of innovation, some things at least remain unchanged.

onliner said...

Agree with Neil's comment. Most PRs start dabbling in social media but can't keep it up - for want of a phrase.

I gave a presentation on social media to an eager travel PR company yesterday. I hope they'll take the suggestions I made onboard and research the links I gave them (including some of yours...guys :}) but my guts tell me little will happen. I set a blog up for them a year ago, it lapsed after barely two posts.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the irony... a rant against traditional PR from someone selling a more 'modern' approach.

Travolution Blogger said...

Anonymous: Who are you referring to? MacLean, Onliner or Travolution?!?!

jim said...

Wow! Great post. This would surely be of great help to our business and also to us travelers. Thanks!!!


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