Ms. Dietrich

Social Media & Relationship Marketing

Maximizing Your Hotel Communication in an Uncertain Market

By Gini Dietrich, Founder & CEO, Arment Dietrich Inc.

Is the unstable economy throwing shadows over your sunny vacation destinations or business travel hot spots? In these uncertain times, you are undoubtedly re-evaluating your business plans, sales strategies and of course, ways to cut costs. Often when budgets are cut, marketing is the first thing to go, but now is not the time to stop talking. In fact, it is more important than ever to be out there communicating with your current and potential customers and the people who play one of, if not "the" most crucial role in promoting your brand - your employees.

The mistake that many companies make across all industries is when business gets tough, all communication becomes price driven. Don't get me wrong, the right pricing strategy can make or break a business, but if price is the only message that is communicated, then what you offer guests becomes a commodity conversation and that is a scary place to be and an impossible position for growth. When the dust settles, organizations that build up their identity and brand emerge the winners.

Public relations is one of the most effective and economical communication strategies. Not only does it build awareness, it builds trust and let's face it, that is hard to find in the current economic climate. When a reporter "chooses" to interview you, when a leading organization "asks" you to speak, or when a well-know blogger "engages" you in a conversation, it sends a message that you can be trusted and have something useful to say. So how do you go about building relationships with these key influencers?

Transcend Commoditization

Two major challenges afflict the hotel industry in tough economic times - smaller budgets mean less travel and hotel sales become price driven. In tough economic times, hotel stays become a commodity rather than a service. Business travelers and vacationers search online for the least expensive stay. When your brand touts its quality and experience rather than its prices, stand out from the competition using communication in a down market.

Think of ongoing communications during uncertain economic times as an investment in the future. It is analogous to being the first hotel on an island. You invest more capital upfront in the development of roads and sewer systems, but in the long run your business stays ahead of the game providing rooms for travelers while your competitors are still under construction. Maintaining strategic public relations through rough economic times gives you a competitive advantage and keeps you ahead of your competitors in the long run.

Media Outreach

Not only is media relations cost effective during hard times, it also positions your company as a thought leader. Unlike more costly direct marketing or advertising, there is an inherent believability in public relations messages because the mouthpiece usually is a third party source consumers deem credible. When audiences read or hear about your business in the news, awareness and name recognition increase, leading to more sales, revenue, and a better bottom line.

Establishing relationships with key reporters is an inexpensive yet extremely effective way to promote your organization. How do you build these relationships? The same way you establish relationships with your customers - be relevant. Think about the stories you read in the newspaper - there is often a common thread - reporters look for problems and solutions. So when you approach the media, it's not necessarily just telling your story, it's considering what problems you solve and how your hotel makes life easier for travelers.

News is easy to find. In fact, as an hotelier you are a front line observer and offer a first-hand, pertinent view of how the economy is affecting consumers and businesspeople. You hear their stories you see their behavior. Think about the kind of advice and insight that travelers need during these tough times. Reporters ultimately try to connect with readers and bring value to their lives, so the best way to get their attention is to offer unique perspective and help uncover trends as they begin.

The key to establishing long-term relationships and securing larger, more powerful stories is to be selective and streamline your stories to the right publications. Don't give the same story to everyone. Get to know the reporters who you feel are most influential and understand what interests them and their readers. Reach out to each reporter with a unique angle. Today, many stories are about the down economy. If you can help a reporter find compelling stories or emerging trends you establish your hotel as a long-term resource with that reporter. In turn, travelers and prospective guests read about your hotel and your leadership as an industry expert making your hotel a more attractive experience for their next visit.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • How is the behavior of travelers changing with the economy?
  • Are there significant changes in the types of travelers staying in your hotel?
  • Are visits shorter or longer?
  • Are they enjoying your dining rooms, bars, and extra amenities or are their visits more bare bones?
  • Is your business changing to address travelers' needs during these challenging times?
  • Is your hotel experiencing an uptick in local travelers just getting away for the weekend as budgets tighten a people seek out one-tank getaways?

When thinking about what to communicate, consider the challenges business and leisure travelers face and how can you be a resource. How can you help businesses be more efficient and effective, especially with their event planning and off-site meetings? Spending money for businesses and consumers is more stressful in tight economic times. What is your hotel doing to lessen that anxiety? A recent story in USA Today looked at how health clubs and spas are changing their branding statements with potential guests. Rather than positioning trips to the spa as indulgences, they are instead a necessity for stress relief. And according to the article, more and more gyms are focusing their marketing and advertising on the money saving realities of being in shape.

Engage in Conversation about Published News

Have you ever picked up the paper and thought why wasn't I interviewed for this article? Or said, "That person got it all wrong!" Response campaigns are great ways to engage in conversations with reporters, potential guests, and the general public on a limited budget. Response campaigns also help you build relationships with reporters who you hope will write about your organization. Reporters are people too and like most of us want to know someone is listening and reading their stories. Feedback is good!

Most leading publications now give readers the opportunity to voice their opinions. More often than not, reporters respond to some readers' posts and a conversation gets started. Think of commenting on relevant news articles as an introduction to a reporter who you want to get to know.

As a way to stay aware of hot topics in the news, ask one of your employees to set up news alerts and monitor key blogs and stories from reporters with whom you want to connect. Comment on the articles when you can add value with insight and tips. Your comments can spark conversations from other readers and drive Web traffic. When my company began our response campaign our Web site traffic nearly doubled.

A more traditional approach to the thought leadership campaign involves writing letters to editors. When reading your industry magazines on the plane to your next business trip, or thumbing through your morning paper at the kitchen table, jot down notes in the margins whenever you start to get fired up. Most of the time editors publish letters when they are written with passion.

Whether you're responding in print or online, avoid being too self-serving in your comments. If you are overly promotional, your thoughts won't be published or it can damage your credibility. Continuing the conversation and positioning yourself as an expert and resource is your ultimate goal.

Speak Out

Speaking engagements in a down market, especially when supported by a strategic public relations campaign provide many advantages. They offer opportunities to network and build relationships, enhance your reputation as an expert, and increase your visibility. There is no better way to meet key business decision makers face-to-face and develop direct relationships with potential guests. If you prove yourself to be charismatic and knowledgeable, speaking engagements lead directly to sales.

Think first about the audience. While speaking to your peers at an industry event helps you build credibility, in slow economic times, it makes the most sense to be speaking at forums where prospective guests hear your message. Consider events that draw business travel decision-makers, travel agents, or groups of leisure travelers.

Think outside of the box. For instance, if your hotel enjoys extremely high employee satisfaction numbers and you implemented a unique employee engagement program, perhaps speaking to an audience of human resources executives makes sense. Many business travel decisions are actually made in the human resources department, so it's not really that much of a stretch. Preaching to the choir won't fill the collection plate in tough economic times.

In addition to the immediate audience attend the events, organizers usually hope to draw publicity and your organization can benefit from these efforts. The coordinators of these events typically put a media relations plan in place so be sure to ask them how to get involved and request a copy of their media list. Don't be afraid to generate your own publicity. Think about the kind of news and tips you can promote to the media in conjunction with your talk or presentation. Reach out to the media list and any relevant local reporters to set up interviews prior to or during the event. The best way to pique the interest of reporters is to define or introduce a trend.

Promote Open and Honest Internal Communication

Your employees are your living brand, talking to your guests every day. It is safe to assume an uniformed employee is actually a misinformed employee. Employees follow economic events as rigorously as you, but unless you create a context for that news specific to your company, they are uncertain about the state of the hotel and the security of their jobs.

Have you ever read an article with the phrase "no comment?" People's immediate reaction to "no comment," creates an overwhelming sense that someone is hiding the truth. Saying nothing to employees is the internal version of "no comment". The unknown in a working environment causes distractions and discontent, which translates to a negative experience for your hotel guests.

To keep your employees up to date and engaged in the issues important to your company, engage in regular communication through on-site meetings, newsletters, emails and any communication channels that help you keep employees in the know. Share updates with employees so they know how your hotel is faring in these uncertain economic times and allow them to ask questions. Always make the effort to meet with your employees face-to-face for these discussions whether you announce good news or bad.

Also look for ways to help employees weather the storm. For instance, financial planning seminars or other money saving tips and tools offer additional value to your workforce. Small efforts can go a long way in inspiring loyalty among employees and ensuring they deliver the best possible customer experiences.

By continuing to communicate in tougher economic times your hotel maintains the visibility necessary to succeed while remaining economically sound. While other companies cut back on communication due to budget restraints, if you are strategic, you can build a distinct presence in the media and increase brand awareness. By growing your presence in the media, you preserve your long-term strategy and set your business up for immediate sales and longer-term results as the economy rebounds.

Gini Dietrich is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc. Arment Dietrich, Inc. is a Chicago-based, integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of the book, “Spin Sucks”, and co-author of the book, “Marketing in the Round”. She is also co-host of Inside PR, and founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Ms. Dietrich’s blog, Spin Sucks, is the number one PR blog in the world. Actively engaged in social media and blogging since 2006, Ms. Dietrich has advised many clients on how to incorporate digital media into a larger, and more integrated, marketing program. She can be found on Spin Sucks, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and Instagram. Ms. Dietrich can be contacted at 312-787-7249 or gini.dietrich@armentdietrich.com Extended Bio...

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