Does Your Hotel Properly Leverage Public Relations?

Learn why this tactic is as timeless as your hotel brand
By Anne Robertson, Managing Director, Public Relations

Hoteliers: do your rooms feature the trendiest mattresses? Are you located in a bustling urban setting or tucked away with a relaxing vibe and pastoral views? Maybe you employ the best Cajun chef this side of the Mississippi or have an award-winning vegan chef onsite. Perhaps you offer exceptional customer service, right down to referring to each guest by name and leaving pricey mints on the pillow.

As enticing as each of these sounds, no one will talk about your hotel or resort in connection with your amenities unless you start the conversation. Let me repeat that. It’s up to you to tell your story—and keep telling it. Otherwise, you risk not being heard.

Public relations is the premier vehicle for hotels and resorts to craft and share timeless stories, allowing them to survive—and thrive—even in today’s highly disruptive hospitality market.

Let’s take a look at just how influential public relations can be for hoteliers and the hospitality industry marketers they depend on.

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Your hospitality industry competitors use PR

Public relations is a proven strategy for putting heads in beds. Taking a cue from current hospitality industry disruptors such as Airbnb, that means having a PR plan for your content, social media and earned media.

Thanks to ongoing public relations campaigns and the resulting media coverage, for example, everyone’s talking about Airbnb and its competitors. Millennials in search of authentic experiences and business travelers who desire a more home-like setting have been quick to try them in lieu of booking a room at a popular resort or hotel. In fact, it seems as if one cannot pick up a hospitality publication or do a search online without coming across a mention of home sharing or its impact.

Hospitality industry insiders, however, have long known about the practice of renting out homes to vacationers. It had its own quiet niche. Creative PR campaigns in recent years put a shiny bow on it, making the Airbnbs of the world appear to be on the cutting edge.

The public relations campaign approach is working, as at least a dozen startups have popped up and are encroaching on the traditional share of the hospitality industry enjoyed by hotels and resorts.

Additionally, a new threat is appearing in the form of driverless vehicles set up as hotel rooms on wheels for busy business travelers. For those who want to effortlessly travel while they eat, sleep and work, it might seem appealing. It isn’t yet on the road, but it will be soon. Once live, expect the PR push behind it to go into full gear.

Doing nothing puts your hotel at risk of being overlooked by the media, social media and other social influencers. If they aren’t hearing your story, it isn’t being reported, shared or retold to your current and potential guests.

Meanwhile, these same influencers are consuming and sharing your competitors’ stories across a variety of social channels and within their social networks. From home-sharing services to your traditional competitors who also market hotels or resorts, they all use public relations to get stories out.

Every hotel or resort needs a public relations firm

Always have a PR firm on hand for a crisis. Always. While it’s unlikely most properties will ever face anything remotely as horrific as the tragedy at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, no hotel is immune to the need for crisis management.

It is impossible to predict when a guest will slip and fall poolside, making your world-class resort appear unsafe. Even media coverage of hikers who are staying at your hotel or resort being rescued because they failed to carry enough water can present your hotel or resort in a poor light. Your fault or not, it can look like the hotel didn’t prepare them for the trail.

A good PR firm such as LAVIDGE will be prepared to handle media relations in a crisis. Knowing what to say, what to release and to whom can keep an unfortunate event from escalating into a costly public relations nightmare.

The best time to hire a public relations firm is before the crisis hits. Having a pre-existing relationship with a PR firm can mean the difference between hitting the ground running when disaster strikes and falling flat on camera when reporters begin to show up or call. A PR firm will have a lot more cleanup to do in the second scenario, making their job to keep your brand out of an unwanted spotlight much more difficult.

Leverage PR to sell the hotel experience

People tend to assume the next shiny thing is the best thing. That’s not always the case, and it’s your job to help the public understand why booking your hotel or resort is still their best option. Otherwise, you could lose many of your guests forever.

Case in point: the advent of home video gave movie-goers reason to pause before buying a movie ticket. Why spend more to fight traffic, sit in a sticky seat and eat stale popcorn when they could pop in a rented VHS tape? Of course, video streaming soon put an end to physical video stores. And as home television screens and sound systems became more advanced, there were fewer reasons to step outside one’s home to enjoy a film—until the theaters fought back.

The movie audience returned to theaters when they made it less about the film and focused more on the experience. They installed stadium seating and began offering full dinner menus with order and delivery available through mobile apps. They also beefed up special events for opening weekends and added other visual enhancements such as 3D made possible by today’s technology.

Bookstores experienced a similar loss of foot traffic when digital books went online, leading to the addition of coffee shops and a variety of non-book inventory such as stationery, games, bookmarks and such to keep customers walking through their doors.

While some bookstore chains are gone and others trimming back, the independent stores are coming back. Bookworms who missed the tactile experience of holding and smelling a new book and the option to browse through the aisles have made it clear that the tried-and-true, traditional bookstore model still has life in it.

Hoteliers, from those with a boutique business to those overseeing hotel chains, can take a page from these two industries by promoting the guest experiences available at your hotel or resort that are unavailable or unmatched elsewhere. What makes staying with you special? Why is your brand a cut above?

Tell those stories, and tell them well, and travelers will stick with you.

Hire PR to craft a timeless story

Every brand has a story, but some are more enduring than others. To survive marketplace challenges your hotel’s story must be timeless. Does your story convey what makes it special—in lasting, ongoing ways?

If not, a good public relations firm such as LAVIDGE can help you craft one. A timeless hotel brand story goes beyond this season’s marketing campaign. It must have perennial appeal. Thinking in terms of ageless values goes a long way toward developing a story that can withstand changing trends and disruptions. Whichever way the wind blows, it should still matter. Anything less can be easily uprooted by competitors both within and outside of the traditional hospitality industry.

PR keeps your hotel top of mind year-round

Public relations campaigns are not meant to be limited to promoting your hotel or resort during vacation season. You’re probably not going to have a problem booking in March. It books itself. You do, however, need to let people know about your off-season specials. Create a fun staycation package, a cowgirls retreat or a romantic newlyweds bundle including a few extras like chocolate strawberries and champagne.

Work in partnership with your PR firm to develop these types of ideas. Then hand it off to them to get the word out.

A PR campaign is also a great tool for releasing details about hotel renovations. Announce upgrades, additions or restorations, and why they matter to your guests. Having an ongoing PR strategy gives you an opportunity to tell those stories as they unfold.

If you’ve recently hired an award-winning chef, consider using PR to pitch a personality profile about them and their cuisine. The same holds for spicy drink specials served up cold in the heat of summer or a seasonal dish being served onsite.

You get the idea.

Leverage social media, public relations campaigns and other forms of publicity to promote public awareness of each of these types of stories, maintaining visibility all year round.

Use PR to spotlight your leadership team

Your leadership team isn’t there to turn down beds or greet weary guests at the front desk when they arrive. That doesn’t mean they aren’t in the spotlight. When your company releases quarterly or annual reports, planned expansions or closures, their names could wind up in the news without much effort.

In today’s disruptive hospitality market, however, it makes sense to put your thought leaders in front of the public more often. And it also makes sense to have them promote more than your hotel or resort brand. Your thought leaders’ marketing strategy should also promote the hospitality industry.

This is important because, as previously noted, the disruptors are getting press. Industry leaders must take back the podium. In a way, your historical competitors who also operate hotels or resorts have become your allies. Sticking together to praise the merits of why traditional accommodations are still the best way to go can assure that you’ll be able to compete with each other for years to come.

If you’re not sure how to get your thought leaders in the public eye, consider having them submit articles to travel or business publications. Make them available to provide quotes to industry journalists and writers who need quotes. Being available on deadline builds goodwill, making it more likely media outlets will call again. And being featured in their publications or programs also builds brand awareness.

Don't overlook social media influencers, either, as part of your media strategy. Recruiting brand ambassadors can lead to increased sales and revenue. If your thought leaders can build a following of their own, all the better.

In addition, ask your PR firm to help you book members of your leadership team as guests on local television segments, and so on. Provide background information to help them identify the best placements to ensure that it is a positive experience for all parties.

Bottom line: will you survive this disruption?

As hoteliers know, the hospitality industry cycle tends to ebb and flow every 10 years. We’re on the cusp of a slight dip (with slower but continued growth) heading into 2020.

How you choose to prepare between now and then can make a significant impact far into the decade to come.

Not sure where to start? We can help. LAVIDGE is a full-service marketing agency and PR firm with more than 35 years of experience—much of it focused on telling the stories behind extraordinary hotels and resorts. Our client roster, past and present, includes international, national and boutique hotel brands. We’d love to tell your story, too.

Anne Robertson
Anne Robertson
Managing Director, Public Relations
With 25+ years spent in publishing, journalism, corporate and agency Public Relations, Robertson manages the agency PR and Publicity departments. Since 2007, Anne has provided strategic and team management for a variety of PR clients in the healthcare, private investment, hospitality, education, consumer product, senior community and book publishing sectors. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from St. Lawrence University and a Master of Arts in journalism from NYU.

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