The coronavirus pandemic has been shocking for the travel industry. Media coverage of the sector has been negative since the first days of the pandemic.
If there is a single icon of all that the pandemic represents, it is the cruise ship. The words ‘floating prison’ appeared in more than 4,000 pieces of news in just the first four months of this year. By contrast, in all of 2019, that phrase appeared in only 123 news stories.
If bad publicity has been a curse for the travel industry, it’s also true that good publicity can be a cure.
Public relations is the cheapest and most effective means for travel agents to stay top of mind with existing customers and to reach new ones. By ‘publicity’, I mean the strategy of arranging beneficial media coverage. Publicity can be much cheaper than advertising, traditional marketing and performance marketing. It can also be more effective.
If you want to promote yourself or your business through publicity, you don’t have to rush out and hire a PR person like me. Big and complex business like Juwai.com, for whom I placed media coverage worth more than US$1 billion in a single year, do require specialised public relations staff. The owner and staff of small or medium-sized business will find they can do much of the work themselves.
Hopefully, the following tips will help you get started:
Know your media
The potential media where you can expect coverage starts with your local paper, magazines and social news, and it extends out to the metro newspapers and TV and radio.
For example, I live in the suburb of Curl Curl on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. When it comes to obtaining media coverage, travel agents in my area have the following choices: the Manly Daily, Peninsula Living magazine, Covered magazine, manlyaustralia.com.au, the free-to-air TV channels (10, Nine, and Seven), The Daily Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian newspaper. Some of these outlets – especially the more local ones – also post one-off items on social media, and there are also social media-only outlets like Northern Beaches News on Facebook.
The easiest way to get started with PR is to think like a journalist. Look at each of your target outlets and ask yourself, “If I was a journalist for this publication, what would I consider interesting?” An excellent way to brainstorm is to search a publication’s website for the words “travel agent” to see what coverage has appeared in the past.
Pitch story ideas of genuine interest
Once you understand what journalists need, you can work backwards to come up with a way to provide it to them.
The easiest route to media coverage is for you or your business to do something of genuine interest. When travel agents gave stranded Aussie travellers exceptional service as the growing travel bans took hold, that was something worth talking about, and it got them into a flattering piece in The Daily Telegraph, written by journalist Melinda Browning.
Look around at your business, customers and network for ideas. Your story ideas can be about you as a travel agent, as an individual, or as a local business in your community. Generally, if something is going on that is so compelling that you feel the urge to tell others about it, it may be a good story.
Check Google News. Right now, the most prominent stories involving travel agents are about consumers who are confused and frustrated. They have had to cancel travel plans, but don’t know if they will get their money back.
If you can help by sharing useful information on what these customers should expect, how they can obtain more details, and how they might get reimbursed, that could well be newsworthy. It would also be excellent content to share with your network via your website, email newsletter and social media accounts.
Position yourself as a leader who generously and expertly provides information that will help others. Don’t try to promote your business directly through your story ideas – that turns journalists off. The fact that your business is in the media should be promotion enough.
Here are a few more story ideas:
- How quickly will people begin to travel again?
- When will flights restart?
- Where will travellers from your area go first, and when will other travellers start to come back to tourist destinations near you?
These are all topics, that if handled credibly, could be of great interest to the local media.
Use Google and social to track down journalists
Once you know what stories you want to pitch, you may wonder how to reach journalists. These days, that is easier than ever.
Search Twitter, the publications and their websites, or Google. You should easily find a phone number, email address or, at worst, a social media account for most editors and journalists.
If you work in the travel industry, you probably aren’t shy. Put that outgoing nature to use by generating some publicity for yourself. When the economy recovers, it could help you begin to earn a profit again more quickly than your competitors.
Dave Platter is a billion-dollar publicist who has placed 10,000 news stories for clients in one year, reaching an audience of 33 billion and an estimated value of US$1 billion.
Featured image: iStock/RichVintage