Using Holidays to Generate Awareness of Your Property
By LeJane Carson, Principal, Carson Stoga Communications
Reporters are always looking for news pegs, and holidays or annual events provide just the opportunity to write about your property. Start at the beginning of the year and determine each monthly holiday and consider how your property might be a good "fit" with that holiday.
Travel writers aren't the only ones interested in writing about hotels. Restaurant and food writers, as well as family and lifestyle reporters are all good sources to keep in touch with. They don't receive as much information from hotels as travel reporters and are sometimes looking for something to add to a story on those not-so-popular holidays they are covering.
Coordinate a planning session NOW with your public relations firm, if you have one; if you don't; gather a group of creative people from your staff that would be up for an afternoon brainstorming session. Quite often, the most creative people are the ones you'd least expect. Draw from departments like accounting, PBX and convention services. You will be pleasantly surprised at the ideas that come from staff members who do not typically get the opportunity to be involved with more creative activities.
Grab a calendar and start through the year. Don't wait until you have a need month to panic and develop an activity or package at the last minute, as it will be destined to fail. Most daily newspaper reporters work weeks in advance and national monthly publications prepare two to three, sometimes even six months in advance. Keep that in mind if you are hoping to gain coverage in the media.
Let's take January, while everyone is recuperating from the Christmas season. The end of January or early February is that once-a-year event when everyone is a football fan...Super Bowl Sunday.
Leading up to the big event, why not host a Chef's Table for local food writers and serve a variety of party foods perfect for a Super Bowl party that were created by the hotel's culinary team? Then, involve a charity and host the Best Super Bowl Party ever in the ballroom. Show the game on oversized screens and invite guests to sit in cushy recliners provided by a furniture store also interested in participating in an activity for charity.
Romance is always in the air in February. Instead of just creating a Valentine's Day weekend, promote the entire month as Romance Month. Have the romance special available each weekend.
February is also the month for President's Day. Since kids have the day off, why not create a special "Cabin Fever" package for the kids and their parents? This could include tickets to a local kid-friendly play or museum, sledding or another outdoor activity, warm cookies at bedtime and other amenities that spell F-U-N for kids.
March brings St. Patrick's Day, the perfect opportunity to showcase any Irish dishes your chef might create. Why not promote your Irish whiskey selection, or better yet, develop a signature drink perfect for celebrating Irish-style?
Spring Break kicks into full swing during the month of March as well. Consider creating a package for families to "get away" to your property without breaking the bank or having to use up additional vacation days. Reporters are always looking for close-to-home and "good deal" packages.
April, of course, brings Easter and Easter brunch. In addition to the traditional activities, consider hosting a children's charity to bring to the hotel and dye eggs. Contact food writers about egg specialties the chef can create and provide recipes.
Although May is synonymous with Mother's Day at most properties, why not let yours be known for Kentucky Derby Day? The Derby is always held the first Saturday in May; check with Kentucky alumni groups in your state to get started planning your soiree. Pitch food writers about creating the perfect mint julep. Again, reporters are always looking for that different hook and this may be one that fits the bill.
June is traditionally Dad's Day. Host a BBQ brunch and consider providing Dear Old Dad with a cigar. If you are a resort property, consider offering a 9-Hole special for Dad and the kids.
In addition to the Independence Holiday, July and August are great months for Summer in the City packages. Collaborate with your local CVB on tickets to local attractions, tote bags and other items to create an exciting way to explore your city.
What else is happening in August? Kids are getting ready to go back to school. Why not develop a Last Blast of summer package? If you live in an area with great shopping, create a back-to-school shopping weekend, complete with discount certificates or giveaways from local retailers.
While September is Labor Day weekend, perhaps it is a significant month in the history of your community. Check with your city to determine special days that the property might be able to expand upon to create a unique offering. Perhaps it's a Founder's Day Celebration, a sports team opener or world class event - use it to your advantage.
Although October is traditionally Halloween, why not create an activity around the lesser-celebrated Columbus Day? Host a group of prominent Italian Americans at the property. Create a Columbus Day weekend package, focusing on all things Italian. Since kids have the day off from school, more and more families are taking advantage of this long weekend in the fall, so capitalize on it.
Veteran's Day is in November. Although not a big hospitality holiday, consider making it one. Invite local veterans to the hotel for coffee and rolls. Develop a special weekend rate package for anyone who has served the country. Consider making a donation to the USO or another veterans group during the month of November for all weekend packages booked.
That brings us to December. Having served on executive committees, we know what that means: Mary from PBX is busy changing the holiday phone greeting, Chef and his team are working frantically to finish the gingerbread village, Tom and his engineering staff are outside putting up the Christmas lights and Kim in catering is working nearly 24 hours a day on holiday parties. AHHH! The winter holiday season in the hotel business.
We are all veterans of promoting the standard season packages like Thanksgiving Buffet, Shopper's Packages, Breakfast with Santa, Christmas Brunch, and New Year's Eve. And, as we all know, a good New Year's Eve can make or break the entire year.
But aside from the typical holiday offering and packages, try some additional activities that not only reach out to a variety of audiences, but impact the bottom line, as well.
For example, reach out to small businesses. Even though extravagant Fortune 500 holiday parties are big time catering business, don't forget that small businesses make up a significant percent of the American business community, and that this is a segment that should not be overlooked. Consider a simple, well-written letter sent from the general manager directly to the president or human resources director with an appealing offer - perhaps a complimentary cocktail reception, a free weekend or a credit for food and beverage to be used later in the new year.
Since the holidays are high season for office lunches, provide door-to-door shuttle service for holiday lunches so that guests don't have to drive. Promote this service along with your tempting holiday menu, speedy service and good cheer to businesses within your immediate area.
Make your property the gift. Don't overlook weekend packages, spa packages, and food and beverage certificates as the perfect "gift" to promote for those who seem to already have everything.
Consider hosting a cookie exchange in the kitchen with the chef providing some signature cookie recipes. Have the beverage manager develop some "hot" specialty holiday drinks to encourage friends to gather in the lobby. Provide those recipes to food writers.
Plan Ahead... Time's A-Wastin'
Regardless of the time of year, there is generally a holiday that can work to your benefit... and sometimes the quirkier the better. The news media is always happy to report hotel packages and events, but it is often easier to get their attention by doing something out of the norm. That's why you see so much publicity about crazy Valentine's Day hotel packages that cost $20,000 per weekend and include a private flight to Paris for breakfast. Planning ahead and being creative takes time but can pay off and stretch your marketing dollars when you achieve unexpected publicity through the year.
So what can you do with Grandparents Day in September? Groundhog Day? Cinco de Mayo? Let the fun begin!
LeJane Carson is a principal with Carson Stoga Communications, a Chicago-area public relations and marketing communications firm. The firm is committed to developing and executing personalized, integrated communication programs for its diverse client roster, which includes boutique hotels, golf and spa resorts, restaurants, consumer products, architects and interior designers. Ms. Carson received a BA in telecommunications from the University of Kentucky and a MS in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Ms. Carson can be contacted at 847-884-0000 or firstname.lastname@example.org Extended Bio...
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