Pre-Event Stress Can Be Eliminated With Airtight Planning

CrisisWho of us hasn’t awakened the night before an important event we’ve organized, the success of which might influence our company’s reputation in the business community, and laid awake thinking about everything that could go wrong. Maybe we flash on a half-forgotten task, terrified that it might have slipped through the cracks. Or, we’re gripped by paranoia, uncertain whether a crucial agenda item was completed, because we forgot to double check.

This is the stuff that nightmares are made of. The fact is, almost all potential problems in special-event planning can be anticipated and avoided. The following check list highlights critical problem-prone areas, and ways to deal with them.

  • Assemble a reliable committee, and thoroughly discuss the framework for the event. Prepare a check list of everything that needs to be arranged, then assign responsibilities.
  • Second-guess everything that could go wrong, and brainstorm solutions.
  • Never assume that the media you invite will attend. You can increase the chances, by holding the event in a central location on Tuesday or Thursday, and avoiding rush hour. Before you calendar the event, check with your local chamber of commerce and convention and visitors bureau to identify events that could compete and dilute turn-out. Don’t forget to check published date books. If your event is on the same day as the anniversary of a historic international commemoration, schedule it another time, or devise a clever tie-in.
  • If publicity is involved, meet with your public relations representative, and set measurable publicity goals. Clearly identify your company’s markets and the media that reach them.
  • Hold a photo planning session with your committee before the event. Decide what pictures you want taken, and of whom, and the publications most likely to use them. Your publicist can then be specific in telling the photographer what to take, so that important opportunities aren’t lost. Most editors keep photo files, and it is particularly true of trade publications that they will use topical photos if they’re of good quality.
  • Hire a professional photographer who can bring along a photographic assistant to take names. It’s excruciating to pour over photos and try to put names to faces after the fact. A good publicity photographer can process photos the next day so that the temporal news aspects are not lost.
  • Prepare a tight script, and do a walk-through several days ahead. You will be surprised how many problems can be anticipated and corrected. Your script should contain the framework for the event, as well as a timetable, and where everyone, including speakers, should be at the proper time.
  • After the affair, put together a scrapbook that includes photos, news releases, guest lists, invitation, feature stories, and published news accounts. Don’t forget a copy of your budget. That way, when you plan your next event, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.
  • Last, do a postmortem while the experience is fresh in your mind. List everything you would have done differently, and why. Include this in your scrapbook for future events.

Even with the best-laid plans, things sometimes go wrong. But with careful planning, you can create an event that is memorable for its accomplishments, not its disasters.

Travel Scams Surface During Tough Economic Times

While most travel writers are well respected, hard-working professionals, the recent economic recession has produced a bumper crop of people purporting to be travel writers, whose stories are never published. They ask to be included on media tours; they want complimentary hotel accommodations; airline tickets, or other considerations; and all too often, they receive them just for the asking.

Recently, a public relations executive took a call from a writer who had heard about a media tour being conducted to a destination resort that featured air transportation and accommodations. Her noscamzonecredentials were excellent. As proof, she provided at least six photocopies of recent by-lined feature articles from major national magazines. For all appearances she was the kind of writer for whose attention public relations people vigorously compete.

Why, then, did the executive decide to call the magazines’ editors to verify the stories? Because the writer made two suspicious claims. First, she stated she had been assigned to take the trip by a well-known magazine, which reputedly will not accept stories from travel writers who take free trips. Second, she claimed she had an assignment from an in-flight magazine for an issue that followed the media tour by two months. The fact is, no in-flight editor will accept a freelance story that close to the publication date.

After contacting the editors to verify the “writer’s” stories, it was revealed that on at least one, she had deleted the real author’s name, stripped in her own by-line, and photocopied the article.

Every hotelier and travel industry public relations professional has such stories. They range from instances in which a “writer” submits a photocopy of a falsified editor’s “letter of assignment,” to unwitting invitations to people who adroitly position themselves as writers, regularly take media trips, and never produce a story.

By observing a few simple screening procedures, you’ll be able to identify the writers worth hosting:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for references. If you conduct a media tour and receive expressions of interest from writers you don’t know, ask them to name two or three PR representatives with whom they have worked. Then, call the representative, and ask if he or she was pleased with the writers’ efforts. If a freelance writer claims to be on story assignment, ask for an original letter of assignment from the editor. It’s not always a guarantee that the story will be published, but it authenticates the writer.
  • Watch out for people claiming to be newspaper or magazine staff writers and editors, who in reality are advertising sales people. Advertising is a crucial channel of marketing, but it should never be confused with editorial. When conducting background checks on writers, always ask for original tear sheets of their stories. Remember the photocopies with the stripped-in by-lines. If you receive a request for free accommodations from someone claiming to be an editor, don’t be shy about calling the publication to verify that the person is indeed on staff, or is a contributing writer
  • Suggest that your PR representative make a study of those publications that allow staff or freelance contributors to take free media trips for story-gathering purposes. It will make the screening process so much easier. By knowing how to cull the professional travel writers from those who aren’t, you’re certain to see more than just the promise of a story.

Partnership Between a Business’ PR Counsel is Essential for Optimal Results

prcouncilOf the multi-channels of product and service marketing, public relations seems to be the one most often misunderstood to the degree that it’s sometimes viewed as an amorphous promotional device, a little like ectoplasm that occasionally takes solid shape as media stories. Some corporate marketers see it as the stepchild of advertising, and still others find it so mysterious, that they adopt a laissez-faire policy with their PR people until it’s time for them to account for how they spent the PR budget. This is fine if the company and its PR people could read minds, and since that’s not possible, the next best thing is verbal communications.

The corporate marketer must communicate goals and objectives, and the PR representative must advise client or employer of how it intends to fulfill those goals and quantify results. Information sharing is at the core of a successful PR program. This means that the company must provide the tools for PR, including feedback and a budget commensurate with the level of PR activity. It must dedicate time for brainstorming story angles, and above all, approve content in a timely manner:

  • Explain your goals and objectives thoroughly to your PR representative. He or she should prepare an annual plan that meets each goal with strategies and tactics for achieving it. Included in the plan should be clear methods for measuring the outcome. One way to measure publicity is to arm your PR counsel with a dedicated 800 telephone number or code they can use in their press releases. This way, callers who read a published article can refer to the code, and you can trace back the call to publicity. Unless the company product or service is brand new, upscale, and/or unusual, which endows it with a virginal message to editors, on-going development of story hooks is essential. Set aside face or telephone time each month to explore story ideas with your PR counsel. Story hooks can be hinged on lifestyle and behavioral trends, providing fresh media fodder.
  • Approve press releases and kit materials, quickly. Many small PR agencies cannot afford errors and omission insurance, which is why they insist on written approval of their press releases. The sooner you approve the material, the sooner your stories are published.
  • Budget for results. Your PR people cannot provide $5,000 a month in services if you have only budgeted $2,500. It must assign staff to the account, and because the process is service-intensive, press kit reproduction, media request fulfillment, media clipping services, long distance telephone and other costs have to be billed back. If you are keen on keeping down costs, make a deal with your agency that if they refrain from marking up the bills, you will pay within 30 days.
  • Give your PR people enough time to produce. It can take up to a year and beyond to plant stories, because media lead times are getting farther out. If an editor promises a full-page feature but the results are only a quarter page, it is likely that more advertising space was sold that month, eclipsing editorial space.

Marketing Your P.R. Services to The Tourism Industry

PRRalph Waldo Emerson once said that “if man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs to sell, or can make better chairs or knives … than anybody else, you will find a broad, hard-beaten road to his house, tho’ it be in the woods.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all it took to win new business in today’s competitive environment was just being the best at what you do?
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always apply anymore. Nowadays, it’s not just how well an advertising or public relations agency performs its craft but how well it markets the service.

With tourism one of the fastest growing U .S. industries, more agencies than ever are competing for travel -related accounts. The good news is that the outlook for growth in domestic U.S. travel is optimistic, which means that more tourism-related services and products will require marketing programs.

DO SOME HOMEWORK

Agencies prospecting for travel industry accounts will improve their chances of winning the business by analyzing who their competition is, and becoming acquainted with trends, changing demographics and consumer preferences.

Those new to the industry will find that an agency’s location can be a pivotal factor in whether or not it gets the business. For example, a Los Angeles-based agency bidding for a Hawaii resort account, may lose out to a New York agency, or to a Hawaii agency with a New York affiliate even though California is the primary market for Hawaii, and Los Angeles one of the country’s major media centers. It’s a manifestation of the popular belief, particularly among larger chains and independent hotels west of the Mississippi, that an East Coast agency can do the best job because of its New York media strength.

There are ways around this, of course. One of the most important is education. An agency must demonstrate to the prospect that he can expect the same hi-coastal media clout minus the cost of long distance communications, or the inconvenience of having to bridge time zones. He will benefit from regional media opportunities that no “long-distance” agency can be privy to.

Before preparing a new business proposal for a travel-related prospect, consider the following:


Economics and Logistics

Economics and logistics play a role in landing an account. The advantages to a prospective client of hiring an agency relatively close by, are obvious: expenses associated with the account are usually lower, and response times to both client’s needs and to regional media opportunities is much quicker. A California-based agency, for example, should emphasize to prospects who draw most of their business from California, that there are nearly as many productive freelance writers in California as there are in New York, and that skilled, experienced travel industry counselors know the key New York media just as well as they know those in their own city.

More editors than ever are assigning local freelance writers to stories in their own geographic region, which means more local opportunities for national media coverage. Many eastern editors can no longer afford to pay travel expenses for a staff or freelance writer to cover a story out west. Fewer newspaper travel editors have the budget for staff travel, and increasingly, publishers are adopting a policy that forbids staff or contributing freelance writers to accept press invitations. Further, most freelance writers don’t have the money to pay their own expenses.

If location is still an issue with prospective clients, consider forming an alliance with a New York agency. Nurturing such relationships can pay dividends in shared business opportunities.

Read Trade Publications

Read the trade journals for leads. Hotels and travel trade journals are excellent sources for new business. Travel trades announce the opening of new hotels and resorts, which can provide new business leads. Watch, also, for appointment stories about directors of marketing; they’re often the ones who make decisions about public relations counsel. Clip the article and send it with a note of congratulations. It’s a great lead-in.

Become Active

Become active in travel councils. Memberships in travel-related organizations such as Travel and Tourism Research Association, Travel Industry Association, and state hotel and motel associations, offer plenty of opportunities for networking and new business. Becoming active on a committee helps create visibility, and often referrals.

Creativity

Demonstrate creativity to your prospect. A Western-region public relations agency was recently awarded the contract for a Los Angeles luxury hotel, in part, on the strength of a promotion it conceived in cooperation with one of its product clients. The hotel’s director of marketing was so impressed with the creative approach and ensuing publicity, that there was no question about: who would win the account.

Ask for References

Ask for references and referrals. Prospects sometimes rely on respected travel writers to recommend the best public relations agencies. The premise is that writers are in the best positions to recognize an agency’s capabilities. Media friends are often glad to make referrals if they respect an agency’s work. While some of the foregoing concepts pertain exclusively to the tourism industry, most are fundamental marketing strategies, the need for which serves as a rude reminder of the transitory nature of public relations accounts.


A final word of tourism-related business. The first thing that many hoteliers cut during hard times is the marketing budget. This is only true of some members of the lodging industry, however. The far-sighted ones do not take their names out of the marketplace in tough times. They weather the storm, and maintain their advertising and public relations programs as a hedge against loss of market share and as a smart investment in the future.