Destinations: Is your public relations company sabotaging your reputation to writers?
Poor public relations -I see it all the time. Restaurants, destinations and brands pay a public relations company a hefty fee for promotion. The ones that do it well, certainly earn their keep. But so many do a poor job and make a destination look sloppy. Here are some tips to work with writers and bloggers that could benefit public relations companies from a recent experience I had from a public relations company promoting a destination's oysters as an attraction.
Note: The image above is on a press trip to Oxford, MS featuring a fabulous representative from the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The trip was organized by LRC Media.
1. If you send out a press release to a blogger about your client’s destination, be prepared for them to, drumroll….ask for a hosted visit.
No we are not going to just copy and paste your release into a blog post. We need to experience a destination, taste the food at a restaurant or try the brand's product in order to write about it in our own voice.
My recent experience with a public relations company promoting their client’s oyster trail was quite disorganized somewhat unpolished. It was as if they had never hosted writers before. Most restaurants had no idea I was visiting and were completely unprepared for my visit. Though I enjoyed most restaurants, they missed the mark on an opportunity to highlight their restaurant.
We need to experience a destination, taste the food at a restaurant or try the brand's product in order to write about it in our own voice.
2. Vet writers BEFORE pitching
This particular company took the al dente approach (toss it out there and see what sticks), ie, maybe some writers would just share information inside the press release. After I took the bait and asked if they could host me for a visit, the vetting process began. Could I send more information about my site? Are there any well known publications I could include their client in?
While I understand they must report to their client, this is why you hone your pitching to select writers instead of the shotgun approach. C’mon do your homework, people of the PR world. What a headache to prove myself, especially given the fact that they reached out to me. The same goes for when we ask of a product sample for something valued at under $100.
3. If you want bloggers and writers to come to your destination, you’ll need to provide lodging.
When I brought this up to the destination's public relations company, their response was as if they’d never had this request before. Luckily, this destination is where my in-laws live so we had a place to stay (otherwise I wouldn't have been able to experience the destination). I've had countless visits to festivals in different countries, cities, etc wanting coverage but claiming no budget for a stay.
4. Prep the destination on how to provide a positive experience for us.
Hint: It's mostly common sense like letting them know we’re going to be promoting them so they should put their best foot forward. The publicity company and the convention and visitors bureau should have worked in tandem to make sure a visit went smoothly and they both dropped the ball.
Me: I was instructed to pick up gift certificates for various restaurants at the convention and visitors bureau. A value of $20 barely covers anything. I experienced everything from unfriendly service to restaurants being out of their unique items (the very items touted on their press release!). To add insult to injury, I was given gift cards to the cheapest spots too. No high end restaurants were included in my visit.
In another experience with a restaurant pr rep, bloggers were invited to a media dinner, told to order "whatever you'd like" then given bills at the end of the meal (no one ordered anything excessive with several sharing a dish between them). The pr rep then proceeded to harass several in the group about their remarks on our dining experience when it wasn't glowing enough for his liking. I told them to stop inviting me to their "media dinners."
5. Follow up and be helpful.
I received no follow up from the my publicity contact after my visit, as far as answering questions, etc. After sharing my article (turned around quite quickly I might add and 100 percent positive), I followed up saying I’d be back soon and would love to visit one more spot but never got more than a thank you acknowledgement from the company. Sad as this could have been the beginning of a great relationship had it been nurtured correctly.
What's even worse is when a publicity company is just too big for their client load. Here's what happens: an email blast is sent and no one EVER responds to follow up questions. Even the biggest brands can fall victim to this. The company that represents The Ritz-Carlton properties in and around Atlanta, Georgia, J Public Relations, has never followed up with me despite phone calls and follow up emails for articles and even invited me to the restaurant and never responded.