Present tense: A look back at the future of travel PR

by Neil MacLean

By way of yanking this blog back out of hibernation, I thought I would recap a guest post I wrote for Travolution last year.

It pretty much sums up what I thought then and still think now of traditional travel PR.

For the sake of our clients we need to totally rethink travel PR in this country. And by the way, signing up for a Twitter account just doesn’t cut it.

The Problem at the Heart of Travel PR (from Travolution)

The marketing blogosphere is navel-gazing again, this time about the current state of PR.

No surprise there then. Every few months somebody declares PR dead and a bevy of PR’s write about how the world would go to hell in a hand basket without them.

Eventually the whole thing settles down until yet another A list blogger gets hit by a hundred irrelevant pitches.

It makes me wonder though about the state of the travel PR business, particularly in the UK where I personally lobbed press releases into waste bins for the best part of 20 years.

Is the UK travel PR business dead?

Not totally. It just smells like it.

The problem is the business still swivels on traditional media relations.

Scan the PR’s own pitches and you’ll find all the emphasis on cosy relations with journalists and the “ability to control press coverage on our clients’ behalf”.

It doesn’t take a PhD in fragmented media to know that model is about as up to the minute as Mr D’Arcy’s breeches.

Sure, some travel PR’s make noises about new media and getting down with Facebook, but many still gaze at email with the wonder of war-time kids setting sight on a banana.

They’ll protest – ok, I’ll protest for them – that they have had great success getting, I don’t know, three regional hacks out to Barbados to cover the Deck Chair festival.

But travel companies increasingly find those sums don’t add up anymore. It’s just not worth it.

I know a travel company which scored a four page spread in a Sunday broadsheet and only received one call about the trip next day.

Besides, traditional press coverage is like a sugar rush. The returns are short-lived and you have to keep on doing it over again.

PR needs to be more closely tied with results. It must be seen to generate measurable revenue for the client. It needs better strategies to generate long-term benefit.

For that it needs to speak directly to the public as well as hacks, build relationships with customers, treat Google as vital media, drive search traffic, communicate the benefits of the product to anyone with a broadcast voice, official or not. In short it needs to go where the market is and go online.

Here are some of the skills a modern PR agency needs – online copywriting, web monitoring, SEO, search marketing, basic web dev, multimedia content creation, web analytics.

The alternative? Marketing money will continue to shift to the people who already pitch this stuff and therefore can provide truly measurable results: the search marketing companies and digital agencies.

And then what will be left for the poor travel PR’s? A few quid for organising cocktail parties at WTM.

PR in this country needs a travolution (that’s not trademarked or anything is it?).

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