In the old days (I’m talking 6-7 years ago), if outdoor brands were media savvy, and had a good story to tell, they would pump out press releases to editors and journalists to entice them to write about their product or destination. The story would appear in a magazine, newspaper or tv show and reach their audience. It was known as earned media. It was predictable and the system (mostly) worked.
Now things are different. The media landscape has become a convoluted, cratered place you need a moon rover to navigate. It began with the Great Recession of 2008-2009, with the death of print, then accelerated a few years later with the release of Google’s Panda update. The algorithm favoured websites with valuable content and penalized those with keyword stuffing, bogus links and other blackhat SEO tricks. If brands wanted to do well in search rankings, they needed great content. The easiest way (though it’s not easy) was to tell their stories through owned blogs and social media. As a result, traditional media became less relevant. But even with larger brands, content distribution was still a challenge.
As magazines and newspapers waned, brands began looking elsewhere as new channels came online. For destinations, first it was any blogger or twitter user who had a certain number of followers. Lately it’s been Instagram, with brands and destinations are going all-in, tripping over themselves to attract top Instagrammers. Destination British Columbia’s latest promotion is typical of what many tourism boards are doing right now. Top travel bloggers and social media influencers are being wooed like never before. But the real reason has little to do with the stories, photos, or video. It has everything to do with the eyeballs attached to these mediums. An Instagrammer with 500K followers is seen as a distribution channel, like a magazine with a circulation of 500K.
These new media pros own their channels, like an oldschool publisher, and can extract large sums from brands and destinations for access to their followers. With traditional media, journalists may have gotten a free trip, but they were payed by the publication, not the destination or tour operator. ‘Pay to Play’ was verboten. That’s not the case with new media.
Many of these influencers understandably justify this because they don’t get paid from a magazine and can’t earn enough from online advertising. But with this model, editorial integrity suffers since their channel is both an editorial and advertising department rolled up in one. The good news for brands is most millenials don’t care. With a caveat, I’ll say most people can still recognize quality content, and if brands are producing it in a not too salesy way, viewers will consume it.
The problem most brands and destinations now face is navigating this network of new media and influencers. Klout scores have proven useless, twitter followers are worth little and Instagram followers are (currently) worth a lot. At the same time, some bloggers with tiny but near cult-like followings can drive more bookings than massive media outlets. Finding, qualifying and reaching the right travel media are key. But how? The answer lies in being niche, knowing your audience and your story, and then finding those valuable channels that complement your brand like a fine wine (or energy drink if you prefer). But don’t put all your eggs in one sexy new media basket or overlook traditional media; the right mix can pay big dividends in telling your story and reaching your core market.
For help with developing your story and reaching both new and traditional media, drop me a line.