Written by Sarah Redfern on 2nd Nov 2017
According to the CIPR, 99% of press releases go straight in the bin. That’s a pretty staggering number. So how do you determine if a press release is indeed the best way of communicating your hotel or destination’s news? And, if it is, how do you ensure it’s in the lucky 1% that captures the reader’s attention?
Mark C. O’Flaherty, writer for the Financial Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, Elle, Tatler and Harper’s Bazaar has some light to shine on the topic:
“I think the press release for the vast majority of consumer PRs is done and dusted, and has been for a long time. As a writer and editor, I bulk delete around 150 press releases by email every day. The only thing that catches the eye is an event or an invitation. The exception is when it’s from a personal contact – and it’s a very targeted one on one, an exclusive or something that the PR is pretty sure I will respond to because they know my interests and what I’ve written in the past and what I might like to write in the future. The whole strategy of PR has had to change. The exception is, of course, where a press release is the stuff of dynamite – political or world changing stuff. But the world isn’t waiting with bated breath for news about a new spa in the Indian Ocean or a new cut of jeans…”
And trust me, Mark is definitely not alone in this point of view.
On the other side of the table, communications company Cision explain that:
“every seasoned PR professional understands the inefficacy of the “batch and blast” approach to pitching. Yet, 80% of journalists and influencers still complain that they receive irrelevant pitches from brands. Knowing who to target is just step one; PR pros need to understand how these influencers like to be pitched to and what messaging will work best for them.”
This is definitely true in our experience. Working closely with UK luxury travel journalists, we have become increasingly aware of the lack of desire and time/energy available to read lengthy releases. Our conversations with them revert back to the same points time and time again:
In a world of 24/7, 360-degree communication, it’s more important than ever that our communication is attention-grabbing and incredibly relevant to the luxury travel and lifestyle journalists we communicate with daily. Otherwise, we’re just not going to cut through the noise.
In our experience, there are four main misconceptions around the press release, which results in them being requested by clients:
As PR professionals, it’s our job to educate our clients and help them understand and get on board with what’s going to drive results. And sometimes that means challenging what they ask of us.
Yes, there was a time where press releases worked brilliantly, but continuing to do something based on success in the past is not enough – times have changed and the ways in which we communicate need to evolve as well.
Building reliable, meaningful relationships with individual journalists and publications is essential. Having a relationship where you’ve earned a journalist’s trust and respect will allow effective communication about our client’s destination or resort which will result in larger feature coverage, heartfelt reviews and repeat articles, especially if the journalist writes for multiple publications.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to generating great press coverage. Different platforms speak to different audiences in different ways. The ability to grab attention with different audiences is key, and this is where your PR agency’s value truly lies; they should advise you, offer best practice solutions and tailor their approaches based on your business goals.
As Mark mentions, the strategy of PR needs to change, whilst it may be hard to quantify initially, a PR agency who spends time tailoring individual news to journalists they have built real relationships with is worth their weight in gold (or a slightly higher retainer).
In our experience, these are the most effective ways of communicating our clients’ news:
Sometimes considered by clients to be simple and not worth paying for, pitches are actually far more time-consuming than a press release. They require a detailed understanding of what each journalist is interested in, insight into a client’s audience and will be much more personal than a generic release; at Lemongrass, we will take the time to find out information including whether our contacts have pets, or perhaps they have a particular affinity for adventure holidays or relaxing spa breaks. This means we can target our pitches, and select the best journalists to pitch our client’s latest “dog pampering package” at their hotel.
Press trips are expensive and can’t be done all the time, but nothing is more effective for building solid brand relationships, effective coverage and larger features. We’re lucky enough to look after our clients’ PR and sales needs which means we’re more likely to get flight support for press trips from the tour operators we work with on a daily basis, but this support has dwindled dramatically over the past 10 years. If you’re planning to promote a long haul luxury hotel to the UK market, make sure you budget for flight support too!
No event should be held without clear objectives, journalists are busy and will only accept relevant invites. But when done right, events can be a great opportunity to build brand relationships and celebrate with the people who matter most. We hold an annual press day which is becoming increasingly popular amongst journalists and which resulted in 20 press trips and 76 articles for our clients last year.
Increasingly important, communicating via agency and hotel/destination social media accounts can be a great way to stay front of mind, and quickly engage with the right journalist, at the right time.
Award-winning travel and lifestyle journalist, author, lecturer and copywriter Lisa Gerard-Sharp says; “Press release or direct pitch? Just sell us the story, however you do it. Write a killer headline. Target me. Tell a story. Clever PRs can pitch us in the `personal sell’ preceding the press release. The mantra is memorability. Focus on smart storytelling, personalisation, newsworthiness, topicality and relevance. Dare to tease, to add a twist, to write less and think more. If you care, so will we.”
Your agency should utilise their experience and knowledge of the local market and journalists they are working with to best advise you on the communication channels that will achieve the most appropriate results for you.
As our journalists point out, there are times when a release is relevant. But before picking up the phone to your agency or starting to type, you should ask yourself the following questions:
What might seem like news to you, because you live and breathe your brand on a daily basis, is not necessarily the type of attention grabbing, column filling news our journalists here are eluding to. A new pool or new Director of Sales & Marketing are not interesting enough to warrant a release and will struggle to result in coverage.
We are talking big, never heard before news – a ground-breaking development in medical research that’s lead to a spa treatment you can’t receive anywhere else in the world, or a destination uncovered by a modern day explorer inhabited by a rare breed of panther… okay that’s extreme, but this is the type of stuff we’re talking about.
A good photo speaks more than a thousand words. Have you got good imagery to accompany a release? We often find that we can secure better coverage for a client if we pitch a stunning photo, supported with three key facts, than a lengthy release without an image.
It’s important you have a target in mind, if it’s travel journalists in the luxury sector, then a generic release to 100s of people is probably not going to get much interest and sadly, the interest it does achieve is likely to be from lazy ‘journalists’ who copy and paste the release, adding no editorial value whatsoever. Consider your niche and what works well for them.
You might be looking for the maximum amount of exposure possible, the most engaging content targeting the right people for your business, or tactical placements that will increase your web traffic, brand awareness and ultimately affect your bookings.
At Lemongrass we believe a direct pitch is far more effective and as such advise our clients on a ‘less is more’ approach when it comes to releases. We devise strategies that work best for our clients’ goals, whether that’s larger features, best sector roundups or weblinks to increase bookings and drive traffic. Just be prepared, sometimes you will be told “no… this just won’t work for the UK market” and providing that expertise and direction is ultimately why we are here, and what you pay us for!