How to hire the right PR

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Hiring a good PR company is crucial to ensuring the right message gets out about your hotel. Not just there to fire out press releases to wide range of journalists, an intelligent PR bod will be a creative machine when it comes to spreading the word about everything you have to offer potential guests. Lysbeth Fox, founder and owner of Fox PR, advises how to separate the men from the boys and match up with a PR company that ticks all the right boxes for your brand.

The power of public relations is well proven; it’s far and away the most cost-effective way to promote a travel product, establish third-party credibility, get your name in front of the trade industry and publications, and of course, connect with the all important public. The increase in social media gives the hotel/travel product a direct conversation with their audience, but it must be managed and communicated effectively. PR is an integral part of the marketing mix that ultimately drives sales and revenue for your hotel.

A journalist’s endorsement provides significantly more credibility and impact than expensive traditional advertising. And if the PR firm is as good as they ought to be, you can expect a return on your investment anywhere from two to fifteen times what you pay them.

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When it comes to choosing a PR company, in all honesty, what makes a relationship with a PR agency work is no different from what makes any great relationship work: the right chemistry just has to be there. They need to ‘get’ what you’re trying to do, and just because they’re able to prove past success in past relationships doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right for you. It needs to be a good fit.

But before you even think about hiring an agency, you need to have a clear sense of what you are looking for – and don’t be afraid to get specific. It’s not just about getting your name in print and out there socially (although that’s always nice). It needs to be more strategic than that: What is your key demographic and the fundamental message you want to get across? Think about what you want to achieve from this PR campaign, who is your target audience? Feel free to put some KPI’s in place – key performance indicators – what you expect to achieve, goals/targets for the PR to achieve and work towards.  What is the reason for hiring a PR company? To generate more room sales? A refurbishment? The opening of a new restaurant or SPA? What budget do you have to put towards PR? A guideline is to spend 10% of your turnover on your marketing & PR budget. For a PR professional to do their job, you need to be upfront and honest about your business right from the beginning.

What things should an hotelier look for when choosing a new PR company?

Read the press and check social media and see who’s getting their clients out in the media, achieving the awareness you would like for your own hotel. Then you can think about which PR company will suit you. Ask journalists for recommendations; after all they are the ones who have to deal with PR’s so they know the good ones first hand. Find out about the company’s retention rate and the reason that clients left the agency and of course why others stayed!

Our friend Google is always an option. Search ‘Luxury Travel PR agencies’ or Travel PR agencies, and study their websites. Do they sound professional; are there testimonials from clients and press praising their work? Study their client list; do you know any of their hotels? Have you read about their clients in the press? Do they have case studies on the website you can read and see what they’ve achieved previously for their properties?

When you send your intro email or call them, tell them what you are looking for and ask them if they’ve had previous similar experiences; in my experience, you will sense rather quickly if they are up for the job.

I would probably call about 5-10 different agencies, and based on that narrow it down based on who seems keen to work with you, and whom you resonated with. The next step of course is to send them a brief and ask them to send you a PR Proposal (what they would do/how they would get you maximum PR coverage) and then select those you feel best suits your needs and more importantly with whom you think you can work well. So many prospective clients are afraid of putting a budget down, I beg to differ and highly recommend you do.  The PR company will then be able to tailor the proposal according to the fee you are happy to put aside for PR, otherwise it’s a bit of a stab in the dark, too high a fee and it will put you off, too low a fee and you might not be getting what you set out to achieve.

What are the different types of PR available?

A boutique agency is going to be very flexible and nimble. They’re normally up-to-speed on changing trends and they wear many hats. As such, you’ll likely work with everyone from the CEO to the junior account execs. A mid-sized agency is where it begins to specialize. They’ll have a team of specialists working with you and you’ll begin to see the CEO less as their business grows. A large agency has the capability to work with other offices or sister agencies with a long reach, but remember that the teams tend to be more junior that you work with on a day-to-day basis.

What should an hotelier expect to get out of a good PR company?

Publicity! Ultimately our job as a PR agency is to dramatically improve your bottom line, bring you new customers, and persuade a potential guest towards your hotel over your competitor.

You should expect the PR company to come to you with ideas. I hear time & time again from clients who’ve experienced previous agencies expectations for them to come up with their own ideas to promote the hotel. It astounds me. A GM or sales & marketing director is there to run the hotel or drive sales, not come up with PR ideas, that’s the PR’s job! PR is a creative industry; your PR company should be able to come up with creative, as well as realistic ideas that will drive newsworthy media coverage where you want to be seen/read about. Too creative an agency and you won’t be able to implement the ideas, uncreative and you just won’t get those column inches.

They should be professional too. Just because we are a creative bunch it doesn’t mean we can’t deliver reports on time, efficiently and consistently. It’s a good idea to ask what office administration procedures they have in place, do they issue monthly reports, offer clients PR Plans outlining what they are doing and when? Are there typos in their emails to you –a BIG NO NO! Don’t forget that ultimately your PR agency is a reflection of your hotel. At Fox PR we see ourselves as our clients’ ambassadors – and as our clients are based all over the world, it’s important that here in the UK the hotel is reflected well.

What can an hotelier do if a PR company isn’t performing, or they realise the company isn’t the right fit for the hotel?

Fire them! Seriously though if it’s not working, get out and find a new agency. You’ve learnt your lesson and this time you’ll look for what was lacking in your previous agency and won’t make the same mistake again. I am shocked by how some companies remain with their PR companies even though they aren’t happy with them. The PR & hotel relationship can be great, make sure you are getting the most out of your PR agency, after all they are the ones putting the face of the hotel out there to the public, it’s probably your customer’s first engagement with the hotel – make sure it’s the right one. Ultimately, public relations demand a professional with the experience, writing skills, and media relationships to take your business to the next level or three. Good public relations requires a poised and polished, articulate professional who is dedicated to this wonderful and occasionally crazy discipline. Indeed, the time, knowledge, organisation, creativity, talent and contacts required to pull off a successful campaign takes both years’ of experience and a rather large amount of savvy.

One final word: once you have chosen your agency, trust their instincts. You’ll get far more out of them if you carefully consider their advice and suggestions, especially as they will have significantly more experience working with the press. After all, if you don’t trust that they know what they’re doing, it begs the question, just why did you hire them in the first place?

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