You’ve got a great adventure travel product. Your newest tour is proving to be a huge hit with your customers. You’ve put in the effort and now you deserve some great press. So how do you go about getting the attention of journalists and editors?
These days, tourism marketing and Public Relations are so intertwined, you can’t think about one without the other. So when it comes to your PR strategy, go back and look at your overall adventure marketing goals. This usually begins with knowing your ideal clients, who they are and what inspires them. What kinds of stories would they read? Do they subscribe to certain newspapers, magazines or blogs? Make note of these and begin to create a hit list of your top editorial markets.
Most working travel writers receive a dozen or more press releases every day. Editors at top-tier publications may see ten times that number. Sadly, most not only miss the mark, they’re not even close.
“You often get a PR firm pushing a golf resort to a winter ski writer,” says Robin Esrock, former adventure writer for The Globe and Mail, and bestselling author of The Great Canadian Bucket List. “Targeting is key, as well as helping me find the hook. New hotel opening up somewhere doesn’t cut it. What makes this compelling, different, interesting? Too much thought goes into the information, too little into the inspiration.”
“PR people need to build relationships with key media—and get to know their needs rather than just send out blanket press releases,” says John Lee, an award-winning travel writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The Boston Globe and BBC.com. “The only time it happens is when a PR person has got to know me over the years and suddenly comes across something that might appeal to me—and sends it over rather than writing a press release and sending it out to everyone.”
That key difference can lead to the placement of a story that reaches your target audience. Most publications and their writers have their own niches and value highly targeted, relevant pitches. But that requires getting to know journalists, curating (not purchasing) a list of key contacts, and tailoring tight personalized pitches for them. It’s hard work. But the returns from reaching out to a few key media, with strong story ideas will beat a blanket press release every time.
When it comes to media pitches, there’s no such thing as ‘one size fits all.’ Instead, think of different niches you can reach and find stories for each. For example, let’s say you’re a bike tour operator. Obviously a story about bike tours for bike media would be relevant. But challenge yourself to see your operation through many different lenses. Are there regions that you visit with interesting art and architecture? Then try crafting a pitch around that and targeting an outlet that might be interested in that story. What about unique foods and beverages? Then craft some stories for food writers. Are there newsworthy, cultural or historical components? Then create pitches around those.
But of all the story angles you can conjure, one reigns supreme: ‘trends’. If you’re doing something that is trend worthy and can back it up and prove it, editors will take notice. Think of green travel 10-15 years ago, or the farm to table movement more recently. If there’s something going on in your niche, and you’re at the forefront, then that’s probably your strongest story.
Your actual pitches should be no more than one or two paragraphs long, and 500 words max. If you can’t say what you need to say in that amount, keep tightening it. Elements of a great pitch include simplicity, novel or unexpected ideas, supporting facts and references, feeling and emotion, and storytelling. One of my favourite marketing books is Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, and I always try to use their SUCCESS framework as a checklist when creating pitches for media.
When you’re reaching out to media, make sure to tell them what you’re offering, and I’m not talking about money (seriously, never pay a journalist to write about you). If you can offer a two-day low season trip on certain dates, let them know. If you’re looking for coverage, but can’t offer a trip, let them know. Many times you can get great press without even hosting a journalist.
But above all, when writing pitches, consider who you’re crafting them for. To have any chance of being considered, your story must be of real value to that publication’s reader, not you, or your prospects. If your pitch is self serving, it will die a quick death, and your next email to that editor or journalist likely won’t even be opened. Always consider the reader first.
If you’re working in the tourism sector, chances are there’s a Destination Marketing Organization, or DMO, in your region. Part of the mandate of these organizations is to promote tourism for their members. They typically attend a handful of travel trade shows each year where they meet with media. They also often do media blitzes where they’ll visit cities they want visitors from and invite out local media for lunch. So, find out where they’re going and feed your DMO with article ideas for different niche writers, like adventure, foodie, cultural, arts etc. If your DMO knows you’re media savvy they’ll happily promote you.
Many DMO’s and tourism boards also have budgets for visiting media. These are known as FAM trips (short for familiarization) and they will usually pay for a journalist’s flights, hotels, rental car and anything else up to the point he or she reaches your doorstep. Then it’s up to you to host or ‘comp’ the journalist. If you do a good job, that press can have digital marketing SEO value for years to come, improving your Domain Authority, and positioning you as an expert with your best prospects. In fact, great travel media coverage can be valuable not only at the awareness stage and make a difference further down the marketing funnel as well.
When pitching media, it’s best to play the long game. Often you won’t get much (if any) interest when you first start. But as you go, you’ll start to see results and, more importantly, begin building relationships with key media. Just like a good customer who comes back again and again, and refers you to others, it’s the same with a good journalist. Often, one story can lead to many and over time, the dividends from an effective tourism PR program can be significant.
NOTE: For those in the Vancouver Area, please check out my in-person workshop PR on a Shoestring for Tourism Businesses, Friday, November 29, 2019.