Have you ever read a travel story and thought, ‘Damn, that sounds awesome. I’ve gotta go there!’ Great travel writing can inspire us to venture to far-flung corners of the globe and part with thousands of dollars of hard-earned cash. For tourism boards and tour operators, that can be extremely valuable. The question is, just how valuable is it? Editorial coverage is often referred to as ‘earned media’, because, well, you earn it. It also can be thought of as the ultimate word of mouth.
PR reps have long tried to put a dollar value on this coverage, mostly to justify their high fees to their clients. They do this is by using some very fuzzy math. It goes something like this: let’s pretend you’re flipping through the pages of a magazine (or newspaper, or blog) and spot a full-page ad on say, Whistler. You quickly glance at the ad, then flip the page. Later, perhaps in the same publication, you read a travel story on Whistler. Which did you find more appealing? Unless you’re a marketing geek, I’m guessing the latter. How much more interesting was it? Twice as interesting? Five times? Well, to assign a value to that editorial coverage, PR reps will take the cost of a full-page ad in that publication, let’s say that it costs $10,000 in this particular magazine, and the length of the story, which we’ll say was four pages long. Now we’ll say editorial is worth twice as much as advertising, so $10,000 x 4 (pages) x 2 (interest factor) gives us an advertising value equivalency of $80,000. Or was it seven times more interesting? That would give us an AVE of $280,000. Wow!
The AVE has been highly derided by many in the public relations industry for good reason. Was the story really that inspiring? Did it reach the target audience? How many mentions of the destination were there and were they even memorable? For this reason, most PR reps, outside of the travel industry, rightfully shy away from the AVE.
In the good old pre-2008-recession days, most airlines set aside dozens or even hundreds of tickets each year for travel media. These were doled out to tourism boards free of charge to give out as they saw fit. Today, this well has dried up. Most DMO’s and travel boards are forced to pay full-pop for plane tickets to host writers. Add in hotels, restaurants and costly adventure tours like scuba diving, sea kayaking or heli-skiing, and you can see that hosting a travel journalist isn’t cheap. Those footing the bill need to justify an ROI and AVE is the easiest way to do that. A brief survey of some tourism boards and PR firms I’ve worked with told me most are using a 2-4x ad value for calculating AVE, some even higher. On press trips I’m invited on, I’m frequently required to fill out a ‘media profile’ which directly asks for the advertising value. Here’s one from a regional tourism board in Canada, with no mention of what formula they expected me to use. I guess I could just make up my own?
So how should you value a travel story? Does it capture the essence of your destination or tour? Does the photography inspire you? Is it aligned with your branding? Is it a great fit for your target audience, in a publication (or blog) they actually read? Is it searchable online with links back to your website? If the answer to these questions is yes, then that travel story may be truly priceless.