A well-placed article that tells an independent hotel’s unique story can have a greater return on investment than an advertisement. But sources said hoteliers need to know how to effectively communicate with media to drive this success.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Many independent hotels have a unique story to tell, and sometimes the best means to tell that story is through journalists, bloggers and influencers. But effectively communicating with the media can sometimes be difficult, especially with fast-paced requests flying in and little staff to support them.
“It’s very important to have a good line of communication with the media,” said Michael Ullman, COO and EVP of the 50-room Sherry-Netherland Hotel in New York City, a co-op property set to celebrate its 90th anniversary this year. “That way, you can manage stories and so misinformation won’t get out there that’s inaccurate.”
Independent hoteliers said a good media relationship can lead to more control when it comes to messaging, and that control can help to drive business.
Write the story and tell it
Although an independent hotel doesn’t carry a flag, Gerry Chase, COO of New Castle Hotels & Resorts, said each hotel is its own brand. New Castle has six independent hotels, including soft-branded assets, in its portfolio of 23.
“An independent in its unique state has to become a brand in its own right,” Chase said. “You can’t do that solely through advertising because it’s expensive, so the best way is through the (public relations) process.”
He said independent hoteliers first should focus on what makes their property unique: Is the hotel a historic property? Have famous people stayed there? Is the hotel in a unique location? Does the building have unique design aspects or rooms?
Once the hotel’s uniqueness is determined, hoteliers should go into branding mode—and public relations is a big part of that. If outside help is employed, he said, the PR firm or manager needs to be intimately involved in the branding process to help write the hotel’s story.
After the story is written, it’s time to construct a multi-strategic plan to get the story out to the press, Chase said.
Sources identified several ways to tell a hotel’s story:
- News releases: PR firms might have contacts they have built personal relationships with or database lists to blast via email. In some cases, a wire service can be used.
- Consistent messaging: The story needs to stay consistent throughout any content that is shared—so don’t overlook the copy on the hotel’s website.
- Blogging: Although independent hoteliers might target bloggers to write about their properties, hoteliers also can blog for their hotel as a way to get their story out to the media.
- Social media: Media and bloggers often will look toward social channels such as Twitter and Facebook to discover information about hotels, so it’s important to share content regularly, making sure the messaging is consistent to the hotel’s “brand.”
- Host the media: Familiarization trips, or fam trips, allow hoteliers to invite writers to experience their property. Sources said don’t always expect a story out of it, but more often than not coverage will result. Sources said a comped room or two is worth its weight if positive coverage comes out of it, and in most cases it is cheaper than buying advertising.
When the hotel’s story is out there, the press will inevitably find it, which will lead to media requests.
Meredith Goldberg, director of marketing and communications at The Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., said she receives a fair amount of requests. But not every request is a fit for the hotel.
“When we get a request, we check on who they are, what they are writing about, their angle and whether it’s a good fit for the hotel,” she said. If the story angle or publication isn’t a good fit for the hotel’s story, she said, there is little benefit from accepting the interview request.
Goldberg and Ullman said independent hotels’ websites also should include a media page, featuring articles about the property, news releases and a clear way for journalists to contact a public relations member.
Ullman said content from journalists and other writers helps to legitimize the hotel and its story. Additionally, a good media page that houses third-party content about the property can boost search engine optimization.
Goldberg agreed that media pages are great for SEO, but she also said it’s important that website visitors find everything they need in one place.
“When guests visit the website, they spend about two and a half to three minutes scrolling through it,” she said. “We want to be able to have that one-stop shop, and that includes what has been written about us. A lot of choices can be made through those recommendations.”
For independent hoteliers, time and staffing resources might be scarce. In that case, it could be wise to hire outside PR help.
“I’m a department of one,” Goldberg said. “PR and marketing are integral parts of hospitality, and you need to have strong messaging to get the word out. That’s where PR is so important.”
Chase said that hoteliers’ focus is on driving revenues, employing people, training people, delivering services and finding cost savings whenever possible.
“That’s a lot of stuff,” he said. “(Hoteliers) might not have a lot of experience in PR, being proactive there and creating a unique message. They just don’t have the time.”
He said he always challenges hoteliers who say they don’t have the money to hire outside PR help.
“We can spend a lot on advertising and targeting the customer,” he said. “One well-placed PR article about the hotel and its uniqueness—if you try to advertise it, it’s 100 times more expensive.” He added that an article can be a form of advertising, but more effective and credible because a third party is telling the story.
Have a crisis communication plan
PR firms also can be helpful when it comes to constructing crisis communication plans, sources said, for when things go awry on property.
“Things happen quickly, so you need a plan in place,” Goldberg said. “It’s important for us to know who those points of contact should be if something happens to get it under control.”
She said forming a plan isn’t as difficult as some might think. If hoteliers don’t have one in place, they should sit down with their key department heads and determine who is in charge of what when a crisis strikes.
Chase said it’s important that hoteliers communicate with their PR firms to make sure they have a thorough understanding of the crisis at hand so they can help construct the message.
“Communicate that (message) to the outside world,” he said. “Be upfront and proactive rather than waiting for the negative to come out in the press that may not be accurate.”