Good travel PR has always been rooted in two fundamental principles. These will always be true, and won’t ever change. Remember that a good story hinges on how it strikes us as humans; social, emotional creatures – with short memories.
The first principle of PR: What makes a great PR story?
There are three main ingredients to a good PR story:
- Relevant to NOW
- Talked about at the pub
- Evoke an emotional response
Ideally you’ll have all three, but that won’t always be possible. Some are harder to get than others. Even without all the ingredients, you can still achieve what you set out to do, with some creativity and forward-thinking. Let’s show you how.
How to make a PR story relevant to now (even if plans change)
For all of our clients, we study Google and Social media for emerging trends. Conversations and searches shift with the news cycle, and within a matter of hours, the best laid content plans can be unravelled by a major story (or a worldwide viral outbreak).
Here’s an example from one of our clients, Lanserhof; a group of high-end medical and wellness retreats, with a global presence.
This actually happened right at the beginning of the pandemic.
Our PR plan for Lanserhof in 2020 was focused on gut health – and we knew many of their clients come to the Lanserhof because they want to lose weight; but as the pandemic developed at the start of the year, weight loss topics became of less concern to audiences. In fact, conversations online were steadily moving away from it.
We’d lost relevance for our plan. But by listening closely to what was going on, we noticed a massive spike in queries and conversations around immune system boosting and how to sleep better (people were worried and didn’t sleep well because of anxiety around Covid!)
This showed us a clear path to take. Not only was there time-relevant demand for information about immune system boosting, we had the client’s expertise at hand to deliver it. And so, we scrapped the weight loss PR plan and went all-in on an immune system story – discussing exercises to do and supplements to take that can bolster the immune system.
We adapted the angle for the client to make it fit with the news cycle and made it relevant to what audiences were searching for.
And with the emergence of long Covid, we adapted the angle again, to maintain relevance. This helped Lanserhof achieve coverage in flagship publications like FT and Tatler, with ongoing mentions throughout the year.
The key to this was adaptation, flexibility and knowing the client well enough to give them a readymade solution. The client didn’t have to change their product or offering – we used what they had already with a new angle.
Emotional response and starting conversations
Besides being meaningful in the time of release, there are two more ingredients: evoking an emotion and sparking conversations. These are tightly linked, but don’t always emerge together.
One of the measures we like to use when developing a story is whether it’s the kind of thing you could hear being discussed by people at the pub.
It’s not wholly necessary – it wouldn’t exactly be expected for a B2B PR story to become the topic of conversation on a night out… but then, it’s not impossible, either. If you found a B2B story that was pub conversation-worthy, it’s likely to be a viral hit – so go for it!
Even with a B2C campaign, making stories like this is exceptionally difficult. We’re talking about breaking into mainstream culture, and that’s no mean feat. The underlying point is that the story evoked an emotional response that was so powerful, it sparked real life conversation and debate.
So when our client Leipzig Tourism approached us wanting to attract more music lovers to the city, we set about trying to find a story that would become conversation-worthy, using the emotional pull of money and wealth.
Leipzig’s most famous resident was arguably Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the most prolific and celebrated
classical musicians of all time. Even if you don’t like classical music, you’ve heard Bach’s work; it’s ingrained in the fabric of culture around the world.
One thing we know for sure about Bach is that he was criminally underpaid in his lifetime, and lived meagrely. By comparison, today’s most well-known musicians are among the wealthiest people in the world.
So, we brought Bach to the future; we analysed his Spotify streams and then inflation-adjusted his streaming royalties.
Here’s what we discovered: Bach is the most streamed classical composer, today’s highest-earning composer and, when adjusted for inflation, has blown the biggest Spotify track of all time (Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You) out of the water for earnings.
Not forgetting the first ingredient to a good PR story, we launched this campaign as Ed Sheeran released a new single – keeping it relevant to now.
Money’s an emotional subject, music is a popular talking point, underdog stories of injustice are fascinating… And this story combined all of them into something conversation-worthy.
The results? Coverage in publications that are notoriously hard to get travel content in, like Classic FM. It went global. We got a lot of praise for it. And the best part of this story is that it’s still working for the client: we can change the angle and pitch it again for major releases and tours from big artists, as and when they happen.
The second principle of PR: Who is the audience?
A story is only going to land if it resonates with those who receive it. In PR, who is just as important as what.
Try to think of audiences like this – the inverted triangle model:
All too often, travel brands focus on that tiny point at the bottom: the core customer. For PR stories to work, you need to venture outside that small triangle, and into the levels above.
But they shouldn’t aim to please everyone, either – that’s a “spray and pray” approach, which results in mostly irrelevant exposure. Unless your story has mainstream appeal, going for everyone isn’t going to yield the best result.
The middle level – your customer and their circle – is the sweet spot. A good PR story will target not just customers, but those who influence them.
You can’t win the same customers again, so think bigger and create stories on the fringes of their interests; ones that spill over into a wider subset of people. Broaden the pool, but keep it relevant. That’s where the most impact can be made.
For one of our clients, a luxury travel brand, we’d secured an opportunity in MSN and on the Daily Mail website, as well as in print. The client was reluctant to see their coverage go outside of their usual audience’s territory, but with our support, they agreed to try it out.
And within hours of the story breaking, they’d had hundreds of new visitors to their website.
Expanding their audience certainly paid off – and while that makes it sound like we took a risk, the opposite is true. The greater risk in these scenarios is to keep plugging away at the same audience; doing the same things over and over leads to the same results, over and over…
And that’s it for what hasn’t changed in PR; we’ll always need great stories, pitched to the right audiences.
But Covid certainly did cause changes – or shall we say, accelerated changes – in travel PR. Let’s take a look at what travel PR looks like now, and heading into the future.
How travel PR changed with Covid-19
A lot of these changes were already happening before Covid landed, but the pandemic sped everything up; thankfully for us, we were already adapting to a new way of working. But not everyone was so fortunate – especially journalists.
There are fewer journalists, who have to produce more work
Teams were already stretched, but the pandemic accelerated the change in working patterns and team sizes. So many journalists lost their jobs. It’s been a tough, anxious couple of years for everyone, including people working in the press.
With job losses comes more pressure on remaining teams to produce the same level of work. The pressure is huge; a journalist from the Daily Mail revealed to us that they’re now expected to produce six or seven articles per day.
That’s a big ask, even if you removed the time taken to research.
So, for PRs, the best thing we can do for time-strapped journalists is to make writing the article as easy as possible for them, with as much detail as we can provide; text to copy and paste, images, quotes, names and titles of spokespeople. And if it’s a digital PR story we always include ALL of the data, plus the methodology so that the journalist knows straight away the data is correct (very important!).
The more we can do to move it along, the easier we make their lives – and the more coverage you can get for your travel brand.
The best way to do this is with a Dropbox link, that contains absolutely everything the journalist could possibly need to cover the story. In the example above for our client Motel One, we’ve packaged the whale thing into quick access folders.
If a time-strapped journalist gets this in their inbox, they’ve already hit the ground running, with a story that’s ready to go.
Personalise EVERYTHING – the subject headline of the email is where you should spend your time on!
Another key change is deeper personalisation – mirroring the language and tone of a publication and a journalist, to give them a story that fits their style.
Why’s that important, if you already have a killer story and all the assets to back it up?
Because journalists get hundreds of pitches a day. Even getting them to open your email is a challenge, because yours will be like a needle in a haystack. So it’s imperative to get the subject headline right. If you don’t get that right and the journalist doesn’t open your email, they won’t ever get to see that killer story.
So how do you get the subject headline right? The key to grabbing attention is to use your email subject line to mirror the language of the publication and deliver the story just as they or their publication would.
We studied the headlines in the Daily Mail, The Times, and The Sun – and found the unique hallmarks of each. By angling the pitch to suit each publication and journalist, you greatly improve the chances of overcoming the first (and often most difficult) hurdle; getting noticed.
Shifting from print to digital
The other big shift accelerated by Covid is more emphasis on digital over print. That was happening long before the pandemic, but this really came to a head when Covid hit.
Digital editors are more concerned with things like dwell time; the longer people spend on a web page containing a story, the better. So what does that mean for travel brands? We know that videos and infographics tend to increase dwell time, so when we pitch to digital outlets, we always try to provide these visuals to make our story more compelling.
Another key metric is clicks – and these are usually driven by search engines and social media shares. “Best of” and “top ten” articles are great for this (as this is how people search BEFORE they have decided on a travel brand). So if you want to acquire new customers make sure you value being featured in “Best of” and “top ten” articles. Don’t be wary of sharing your exposure with others – in fact, actively seek out those pitch opportunities (and make sure you have plenty of “Best of” and “top ten” content on your website, too.) These “listicle” formats are early research-phase information gathering for potential travellers, and can feed a conversion funnel. They’re incredibly valuable to have in your marketing mix!
The travel industry has had very little good news to talk about during the pandemic. Generating stories has been nigh-on impossible with travel restrictions and so much uncertainty – but with newsjacking, some of the coverage we’ve managed to secure has been excellent.
So how do you get coverage when you have no news?
Newsjacking has absolutely exploded in travel PR in particular.
Tools like Google Trends and Twitter are free to use, and can give quick and valuable insight into what people are searching for and talking about. Tools like SEMRush, Exploding Topics and Buzzsumo aren’t prohibitively expensive, but are invaluable when looking for stories to jump on.
For example, Google Trends – are certain destinations trending? What about within their particular vertical? We check Google Trends for our clients daily, and if their destination or niche (or both) spike, we can use the momentum as the basis for a story.
Exploding Topics gives you the edge on developing stories before they hit the mainstream – and this can be very powerful in a world where you can either be the first or the best.
For our client on the Amalfi Coast, Hotel Santa Caterina, we noticed something interesting in the spring of 2021: a 770% increase in UK searches for Amalfi Coast (despite the country being on the red list at that point). This was before the hotel or even Italy itself had reopened for travel – so this was a key indicator that demand was really high for travel to the area.
And that was interesting to journalists, too.
So using that as the hook, we were able to attach Hotel Santa Caterina onto the story as a wishlist destination.
And remember how we reworked our PR plan for Lanserhof at the start of the pandemic? That was all down to using trends data, too.
But that’s not all: with newsjacking, you can even secure TV and radio coverage.
Case in point – our client Chitra Stern, owner of a group of family hotels, seen above on the BBC’s flagship Ten O’Clock News programme.
Months in the making, we approached the BBC News production team with an industry expert (Chitra) to give insightful comments on Portugal’s return to the green list for travel.
At that point, Portugal was on the amber list. And we had no idea when it would go onto the green list, just that it would at some point. And when it did – months later – we would be the first in line to talk about the impact.
And sure enough, when the time eventually came, so did the call from the BBC. Chitra was on the Ten O’Clock News later that day – for a full 5 minutes!
Read more – How to get your travel brand on TV
We did the exact same thing for The Langham, London, as lockdown was lifted in England and London hospitality businesses began to reopen. We secured a live slot on Sky News, alongside celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr and their General Manager.
The death of the press release
A press release is not a pitch. A press release is not a pitch. A press release is not a pitch…
Okay, that’s all a bit dramatic! The press release isn’t dead, but it’s definitely not as useful as many businesses think it is. If you’re opening a new resort, launching a new experience or have something really big in the works – like a world-first exclusive – then yes, a press release is absolutely appropriate as part of a media kit. On the other hand, a press release about an award win will go nowhere – so please, don’t ask your PR agency to write one for you!
Sending out press releases about non-stories like this will only serve to disappoint the receiver, and set you up for a harder pitch when you do have something newsworthy to offer. It’s impersonal, and a little bit lazy to simply fire out press releases and hope for coverage. When in doubt, remember the three main ingredients to a good PR story:
- Relevant to NOW
- Talked about at the pub
- Evoke an emotional response
Are press trips still relevant?
Yes – for big reviews and openings, press trips are still important. Travel since the dawn of Covid is very different; it’s more expensive, it’s riskier, and it’s not always possible. Press trips should be reserved for in-depth reviews and major developments – they’ll be less valuable for roundups.
The BIGGEST change in travel PR after Covid? Digital PR
Here’s what digital PR is not: it’s not online coverage achieved by traditional PR pitching – we’ve already been doing that for years!
And it’s not just link building, which is how many traditional SEO agencies define it.
Digital PR sits at the intersection of PR and SEO.
Read more – Traditional PR vs. digital PR: what is the difference?
Traditional PR defines competition as other brands – while SEO defines competition as websites discovered in search for target phrases. Another way of thinking about this is that traditional PR seeks “fame” and SEO seeks “findability”.
Digital PR aims to achieve both.
When clients join, we ask what they want to be known for; cycling, wellness, adventure travel, family holidays? And
from that, we develop keywords and themes to target in search engines –via PR pitches! We also examine their backlink profile to see where they need to improve, and seek out successful ideas and stories around their topics and themes.
Digital PR has a double-whammy effect that allows us to develop stories which not only get the clippings and notoriety of traditional PR campaigns, but also improve search engine rankings and website traffic as a result.
Digital PR is a huge subject – and one worthy of its own in-depth guide; so stay tuned for more on that later in the year!