Marketers and mental health: taming stress triggers in the marketing industry

October 13, 2022

In this article on Marketers & Mental Health, we review how to tame four common stress triggers that marketing professionals face:  Proof of ROI, Rejection, Tool Updates, and Never-Ending To-Do Lists.

The marketing industry is a hotbed of stress triggers, which can put a huge strain on your mental health if you’re not prepared to tame them.

Any good mental health expert will tell you this:  if you can’t change the circumstances, all you can do is change how you react to them.  And lordy, that should be every marketer’s mental health motto.  Get a tattoo, crochet it on a pillow, make it your screensaver.  Just embrace it.

Marketing EVOLVES, every single day, in ways that are often unwelcome.  Things that were once free now have a price.  Platforms that were once popular are now passé.  Tracking and targeting for ads now have fences that can shut you out.  New marketing channels pop onto the scene without warning.  Stuff changes all the time.  And change causes stress.  And the stress is relentless.  I’ve heard marketing compared to a never-ending carnival game of whack-a-mole, and it’s not an outrageous analogy.

But marketing can also be exhilarating, rewarding, and immensely satisfying.  Marketers are entertainers.  We are educators.  We are influencers.  And we possess – if we’re good at our jobs – an insightful perspective into what makes people tick and how to push their buttons.

So why are we, as an industry, generally so unsuccessful about managing how WE tick?  We live in triage mode, crisis mode, gearing-up mode, and launch mode. Why aren’t we more conscious of adding a few modes to our professional lives that are kinder to our mental health?

Here are four of the most common stress triggers in marketing, and some thoughts on how you can tame them to foster better mental health.  And it all starts with awareness.

Proof of ROI

The Stress Triggers

Your resources – both time and money – are precious and finite.  Yet the quest to prove ROI for every marketing dollar spent goes unfulfilled.  Should you put your dollars “here” because you can track clicks and trace sales, at the sacrifice of putting them “there,” which is more important but less or not trackable?  These are constant, stressful choices for you.

But more than that…bosses and bean counters demand to see ROI before approving budgets.  Few of them will equate a rise in sales with successful marketing unless you can show a direct link.  And even fewer of them feel comfy with the fact that “increasing brand awareness” is a worthy marketing spend if it doesn’t lead to instant, tangible revenue.

The Taming Method

You need to embrace The Dark Funnel, and you need to educate all your stakeholders on it.  This visual should hit home for any marketer (and hat tip to The F Company for creating it):

A visual showing steps in the dark funnel of marketing, which is a critical solution for taming a stress trigger.

Faith in the dark funnel is critical for every marketer.  Some people still print out travel articles they see and stick them in a “bucket list” folder.  Two years later they visit your hotel or destination from an article in that folder, and how will you know that article was the origin?  You won’t.  But that sort of thing happens all the time.  Faith in the dark funnel is a stance you must cultivate…and champion.  Marketing is a cumulative endeavor.  You can’t just do ONE thing.  A litany of things must be deployed to penetrate awareness and incite action.  You won’t be able to track them all, but they ALL matter.  So educate your stakeholders.  Show this visual at every budget meeting.  Remind them that the leads and sales they ultimately see are only the final step on a long and necessary runway.

And remember:  you can’t find love on a spreadsheet.  And getting folks to love your brand is priceless.

Rejection

The Stress Triggers

Social posts go unopened.  Emails go unread.  Ads get skipped.  Media pitches get ignored.  Shall I go on or is that depressing enough?  We put our souls and creativity into our work and when it lacks response, the feeling of rejection is deflating.  This is doubly true if you’re an agency marketer:  you face rejection by your clients AND you face rejection by your marketing audience.  Lovely.  Why even get out of bed in the morning?

The Taming Method

Cultivate your resilience.  Marketing feels SO personal to you, but to your audience, it’s just one more piece of noise vying for their attention.  Their lack of response is not personal, and we all know that folks need to be told something around a dozen times before it starts to penetrate their awareness.  And they may not even see 10 of those attempts because of clutter, algorithms, spam filters, and other obstacles.

So your job is to give them that repetition.  The more you get up to bat, the more hits you get.  Learn from your strike-outs.  How could you swing differently next time?  Or adjust your stance?  The point is… change your perspective.  It’s not rejection.  It’s all just data collection and a foundation for opportunities to change what you do next.  One of my favorite quotes about resilience comes from the Harvard Business Review:

 

 

Every bit of so-called rejection is an opportunity.  Now you know what didn’t work.  So get up to bat again and find something that WILL work.  It’s just a necessary part of the process.

Tool Updates

The Stress Triggers

Major software or platform updates.  New marketing channels your competitors are already crushing.  System upgrades.  New boss brings new methods to the mix.  It is beyond stressful to keep pace with the evolution of marketing tools.  Even marketers highly specialized in one particular field face this.  SEO experts blow a gasket whenever Google does a surprise update that requires them to shift their strategy, pronto.  Imagine what marketing generalists feel like in that circumstance?  Stressed, overwhelmed, and frequently…frozen.  These things don’t feel comfortable to us, and change is hard to embrace, especially at the pace it’s thrown our way in marketing.  We often view such things as disruptors (and not in a good way) that are hijacking our valuable time away from being productive.  Learning curves and unfamiliarity drag us down.

The Taming Method

If tool updates are putting a strain on your mental health, you need to recast your thinking on what marketing is all about in order to tame this trigger.  Marketing IS evolution.  By its very nature, it MUST evolve because methods get stale and people get desensitized.  You want to break through all that clutter you know exists?  You won’t do it by remaining stagnant and using the same old tools the same old way.  Annoying?  Possibly.  Reality?  Definitely.

Marketers must not only embrace change…they must seek it proactively.  And this isn’t easy because humans like to stay in their comfort zones, where we feel safe and in control.  In our marketing comfort zone, things are predictable:  the time each task will take, the steps each process has, the results we can expect to see.  But y’all…that might feel comfortable but it’s not successful.  To be successful, you need to get yourself into the growth zone:

A diagram that shows the journey from the comfort zone to the growth zone, which is one way to tame stress triggers for better marketing mental health.

As you progress through the fear zone (hardest) to the learning zone (a little easier transition), that next step into the growth zone is where marketing THRIVES.  That’s where new ideas are born, calculated risks are taken, and the rewards are higher.  Find a way to make peace with journeying from your comfort zone to your growth zone and stop thinking of tool updates as disruptions.  They are the lifeblood of marketing.

And if social media updates are your particular nemesis, here are four tips to conquer your frustration when social apps get an overhaul.

BTW, hat tip to whoever created that comfort zone diagram, which I screen-shotted months ago and stuck in a folder in my phone.  It had no credit listing on it and I have no idea where I stumbled across it. See “Proof of ROI” section above…I rest my case, but I wish they had put their logo on it.

Never-Ending To-Do List

The Stress Triggers

Is this category not self-explanatory?  You’re…never…done.  The work generates itself and never stops.  If you’re in PR, there’s always one more journalist to pitch or one more angle to try.  If you’re in visual design, there’s always one more version you know you’ve got in you to create.  And if you’re a department manager or a solo marketer, it’s even worse.  You put it on the website, but then you have to tweet it, post it, email it, promote it, pay for clicks, share onsite, educate staff…and keep doing it.  Do we have the right video?  Was the photo arresting enough?  Is the copy punchy enough?  If it’s not getting attention, how can you spin it a different way so it sounds new?  It’s exhausting.

And here’s what happens:  burnout, 12-hour days, and really stressful Sunday nights as you look at the week ahead.  Also:  to-do lists that mock you, task management software that dings you so much it’s become white noise, and a persistent, oppressive feeling you could be doing more.

But who sets the boundary on where “more” ends?

The Taming Method

You do.  YOU set the boundary on where “more” ends.  Marketing is – while lives aren’t usually at stake – a lot like triage in an emergency room.  Not everything is a heart attack requiring a triple bypass.  And at some point, patients you’ve tended for a long time need to be released. New projects, tasks, and opportunities fly at you daily and you’ve got to make quick judgment calls on what gets attention now, what can wait until next week, and what doesn’t merit a single brain cell of thought.

Let me be crystal clear and super blunt:  you will never do all the things that “could” be done.  So you need to get super choosy about selecting things that “should” be done.  This is about managing expectations, both for yourself and for your boss/stakeholders.  And this is about TIME, the only non-renewable resource in marketing.

Marketers are often people-pleasers and over-achievers, and that makes us want to do it all.  But that’s physically, emotionally, and mentally impossible.  Yet, setting boundaries for ourselves – hours worked in a week, limits on campaign legs to pursue, tasks we agree to take on – is something that many marketers find incredibly difficult.  So, if that’s you, here are a few resources to help you out:

Learn how to stop chronically overcommitting your time here.

Learn how to recast your time to spend it more productively here.

And learn how to embrace JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out – here.

Overall, there’s no denying that marketing can have a strong negative impact on your mental health unless you learn to tame the stress triggers.  Awareness is key:  what are YOUR stress triggers and how can you tame them?  Of course, the four stress triggers explored above are just a few of the most common. Because if I listed them all, that would make this article way too long to read… and that would only stress you out more.  😉

Four character traits that foster good timing in marketing.

September 20, 2022

One of marketing’s most critical tentpoles is timing, and there are four character traits people (and businesses) should possess that can help foster good timing in marketing.  You should know which of the four are your strengths and weaknesses, and then understand how each is impacting your marketing success.

Why?  Because in marketing, you should play to your strengths.  And if you want to execute the kind of marketing campaigns that aren’t a good match for your weaknesses, you’re going to waste time and money…guaranteed.

Do a little soul searching about yourself and your company’s traits and behaviors to see where you stand on these four essential character traits:

1. The Decisiveness to Act Quickly

For some marketing concepts, especially those tied to a trend or current events, you need to act NOW.  The power of social media only heightens this urgency.  Your window for success may only be 24 hours, and even launching something just two days later will fall flat and yield you zero ROI.

A fabulous recent example of this comes from startup coffee company Cometeer.  When investment bank Goldman Sachs announced it was ending the free cold brew perk previously offered in its NYC HQ, Cometeer had a free coffee table set up right outside of the bank’s building just 16 hours after the announcement was made.  Here’s how they made it happen.  Had they done it even just a week later, the news value would have been too low to make it worthy of notice.  It HAD to be linked in time to the announcement that the cold brew perk was being discontinued.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  Steer clear of marketing concepts and campaigns that will be a complete failure without tight, precision timing.  You may want to do them oh-so-badly, but you’ll just be frustrated that they didn’t work as well for you as they did for other companies you envy.  Years ago, on the day American Airlines announced it would now charge a $25 fee for checked baggage (an industry first at the time), we put our client Loews Hotels in the media spotlight by announcing ON THE SAME DAY that Loews would give a $25 credit to all incoming guests who flew American and checked a bag.  That Loews Baggage Buy Back Program was in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and more the moment we pitched it.  Media wanted to share it in conjunction with news about the American Airlines fee.  Had we pitched it a week later, the airline fee story would have been old news, and no one would have cared.

At the time, we had another hotel brand client who saw what we did for Loews and said, “we want an idea like that for us!”  And it’s just not that simple.  That was a client who took four weeks just to approve a simple weekend package press release.  They would never be able to turn around such operational decisions across dozens of hotels (and approve the pitch copy) quickly enough to catch the news wave.  So we’d be doing them a huge disservice and wasting their money if we forced them to try.  A business that can’t make decisions quickly has more success with marketing concepts that have a nice long runway and lots of wiggle room for timing bottlenecks.

2. The Willpower to Wait

OK so maybe you’re awesome at making decisions and acting quickly, but sometimes good timing requires that you have the willpower to wait.  Jumping the gun – before the facts are in, before the campaign is REALLY ready, before details are agreed – can not only tank your marketing ROI, but it can also cause you real harm.  A few examples we’ve seen in our time as marketing and PR counselors:

  • A government official at a destination wouldn’t wait for talking points following a violent hate crime against a tourist. Instead, he insisted on speaking with the press immediately and gave his opinion on the situation without knowing the facts.  Turns out, the facts belied his opinion in a BIG way, and the destination suffered immeasurably for it…not to mention the fact that they had to pay us a fortune in crisis management fees for damage control.
  • I can’t even count the number of times a hotel has pushed us (against our advice, I promise) to launch a package – through PR or an email blast or social post – BEFORE they’ve got all the details finalized on the website and BEFORE they’ve shared it with their reservation and front desk agents. They want to “get it out there and start selling,” but they don’t seem to get how much this harms them.  When consumers want more information (or to book) and can’t make it happen, they get frustrated.  So not only does the hotel NOT get the sale, now they’ve pissed people off.
  • I also recall a colleague being traumatized by the fact that she was “forced” to announce a huge brand partnership in the media and on social channels before the contract was finalized. The owners were trying to secure more hotel management deals and felt it would be a huge feather in their cap to have that cool partnership announced as they were engaging in other negotiations.  When the partnership fell through before the deal even got signed, the harm to their image – and their business – was excessive under the circumstances.  They earned an unwelcome gold medal in backpedaling, for sure.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  This one’s tough, because it’s psychological and personality driven.  You need to be aware that it’s in your nature and admit to yourself that your impulsiveness can do your marketing great harm.  In this case, you need to surround yourself with cool-headed sounding boards who can objectively rein you in when you’re about to go rogue.  And then – sorry if this is super blunt, but I say it for your own good – you need the humility to listen to them.

3. The Resistance to Complicate Things

Lack of this resistance is definitely the most common weakness we see (when it comes to marketing), and often goes hand in hand with not being able to act decisively or quickly.

The more complicated you make something – too many goals for a single campaign, too many decision makers, too many layers in a concept – the harder it will be to nail successful timing.  For some reason, it’s an incredibly common human trait to overcomplicate things.  Part of it is time and resource poverty.  Our resources are so precious that we try to force them to serve many masters at once.

But a HUGE part of it in the business world is the (often misguided) need to get multiple people involved in various projects and decisions.  If I had a nickel for every time we were ready to launch a campaign for a client, and at the eleventh hour someone said “hey, let’s get Jeff’s opinion on this before we flip the switch.”  Inevitably, Jeff has something to add that derails the timeline and – I’m sorry to say – is most often not helpful.  But we made Jeff happy by looping him in so… Politics 1; Marketing Success 0.

There’s a principle called Brooks’ Law that was originally created to address communication challenges among software project teams.  But it really applies to ANY type of team working and making decisions together, like a marketing team and its extended family (executives, operations, etc.).  Visually, it shows lines of communication necessary for various team sizes, like this:

 

One of the four character traits that foster good timing in marketing, this diagram of Brooks' Law shows how larger teams require exponential lines of communication.

 

In associations, governments, and large companies, it’s not unusual to find a committee of 10 or more involved in projects and decisions.  Do you see how complicated those visuals are?  That’s an accurate reflection of the logistics required to get consensus.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that these types of organizations find it hard to achieve perfect timing…it’s just too darned complicated.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  There’s no easy fix for this one, other than to say steer clear of marketing concepts that require tight timing or “drop dead precision launch dates.”  You may not be able to capitalize on current events or hot news topics, but you CAN give yourself a lengthy runway to get ducks in a row long before an important event will take place.  See how we did this for the four provinces of Atlantic Canada, making a social media splash the moment the Canadian border opened during the pandemic.

4. The Discipline to Stay Abreast of the News

Marketing needs to sit well within the context of what’s going on in the world.  Being oblivious to current events can have unfortunate timing consequences, from ill-timed insensitivities to launching a product/service you claim is “a first”…when it’s been done before.

A recent, cringeworthy example of this is when the television show Canada’s Drag Race tweeted “This crown is up for grabs” on the day Queen Elizabeth II died.  Obviously, they meant the drag race crown, but ugh… the tweet was pummeled with criticism and had to be deleted.  This is a helpful lesson that pre-scheduling social posts can be a useful tool, but unless you stay abreast of the news, it could backfire.

Redpoint nearly fell prey to this once with our popular tourism marketing newsletter Tickled Red.  For the March 1, 2022 issue, the subject line was supposed to be “Bubblegum and Tombstones in Tourism.”  Tombstones referred to the brilliant concept of Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard… but the issue’s timing was just after the war in Ukraine started and casualties were piling up.  The newsletter draft was written before the war started, but we pulled that story (and the subject line) the day before it was scheduled to send.  It was not the right time to be celebrating tombstones of any kind.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  If you’re not someone who immerses themselves in news every day, and you don’t have a marketing agency at your disposal to help stay abreast of news, here’s a quick fix for one-off marketing plans.  Just before you’re about to launch something, hop on a social channel like Twitter or LinkedIn and see what news is trending.  Also, do a search online for keywords related to your campaign or concept.  A quick Google search will likely reveal anything glaring that may conflict with your plans.  And then either make your changes accordingly…or have the willpower to wait (see #2 above).

If you’re scheduling social posts in advance, however, then it’s super risky for you to NOT stay abreast of the news.  So if it’s not in your nature to keep up with current events, it’s best to just change your habits:  either stop scheduling posts or start checking the news often.

Folks, the bottom line is…no one is perfect.  You and/or your company may claim some of these character traits as weaknesses and there’s no shame in that.  But you’ll have more success and achieve a greater ROI in marketing if you choose concepts that play to your strengths instead.  It will make timing your friend and not your enemy.  Reflect on these four character traits to see how well (or not) you foster good timing in marketing.

Want more tips on how to get the most out of marketing?  Check out these 20 tips we assembled from our 20 years of experience as tourism marketing counselors.

Six cool examples of marketing.

September 19, 2022

At Redpoint, we geek out over marketing success and recently, we’ve discovered these six cool examples of marketing worthy of applause.

Utterly Unexpected Trade Show Booth

When we were kids, those claw machines at arcades and amusement parks were irresistible.  But as adults?  Imagine BEING the claw, and swooping into a giant tank to grab as many prizes as you can.  Hats off to Squishmallows for this standout trade show booth at VidCon, where fans waited in line for four hours just for their 20-second turn in the Human Claw Machine.

One of six cool examples in marketing, this image shows a trade show booth filled with Squishmallow stuffed animal toys and a person hanging above them ready to grab as many as possible.

Seriously Clever Video Ads

It’s quite reasonable to assume that not EVERYONE will be interested in watching The History Channel’s documentary series about the Roman Colosseum.  But their marketing folks have produced a series of video ads that give it wider appeal and the best possible chance of luring in non-history buffs.  Meet Gaius Falco, head groundskeeper of the Colosseum (by way of New Jersey?), in these two ads.

Brilliant Branding Concept

OK, we can’t even breathe because this concept is so absurdly PERFECT.  Follow me on this:  Heavy metal band Metallica has a famous song called All Within My Hands.  In 2017, the band created a nonprofit organization called All Within My Hands Foundation.  And one of its signature programs is the Metallica Scholars Initiative.  This initiative partners with the American Association of Community Colleges to support scholarships and fund programs for students to learn trades working with their hands, such as welding, electrical engineering, HVAC, construction, and more.  The program supports 32 community colleges across 27 states.  We’re talking millions of dollars in funding here.  BRAVO, both for the initiative and the sheer branding brilliance.

One of six cool examples in marketing, this logo for the Metallica All Within My Hands Foundation shows a light blue hand with a keyhole and guitar neck.

Most Relatable Billboard (possibly of all time)

Score one for “good old fashioned” Timex, who managed – with just ten simple words and a photo – to instantly communicate how their product provides a solution to one of the most popular, gut-wrenching problems on the planet.

One of six cool examples in marketing, this Timex billboard shows a picture of a watch and the caption "check the time without seeing you have 1,269 unanswered emails."

 

Smart…but Creepy?…Product Launch

This product came out a few years ago, but we just stumbled across it recently.  The Shelves of Life product is a bookshelf that can be repurposed into a coffin, so you can be buried in it when you die.  Wait…what?  Indeed, this is true and it can be purchased, and it comes with visual instructions and diagrams for making the shelf-to-coffin transformation.  More about it here, and more about the designer, William Warren, here.

One of six cool marketing examples, this set of bookshelves can be transformed into a coffin when the owner dies.

Video Storytelling That Steals Your Heart

Bravissima, Barilla!  This video tells a story about Izyan Ahmad (“Zizou”), a young tennis player who had a dream of playing against Roger Federer when he was 11 years old.  Watch what happened five years later.

And in addition to these six cool examples of marketing, here’s one of our throwback faves.  When the baker hired Simone, it started a seriously cool chain reaction.

Four tips to conquer your frustration when social apps get an overhaul.

July 28, 2022

When a social media app does a major overhaul of its format and features, frustration ensues.  Most marketers go through six stages of emotional grief:  anger, resentment, resistance, resignation, petulance, and… eventually… acceptance.  This is ESPECIALLY true of DIY or “one man band” marketers, who are drowning in general marketing tasks and have little time to learn the new rules of the game in one particular specialty.

Instagram is on a path to emulate TikTok, and even though it’s been a rocky start, they are committed to getting there. Twitter is rolling out a “notes” feature, which lets you tweet long-form content.  YouTube Shorts was launched in 2021 and yet many brands have been slow to tap its potential (even though the platform gets an average of 15 billion daily views).

A blond woman in a blue dress holds her head in frustration over the latest social media app overhauls.

For marketers, changes like that can be utterly exhausting.  Sure, if you’re an Instagram marketer (for example), and that’s ALL you do… you’ll dive in immediately and figure out how to harness all the new opportunities.  But if managing a brand’s Instagram account is only one of your 100 diverse responsibilities, a dramatic overhaul of the app is a roadblock that can tank your productivity and wring you out emotionally.

Resentment and resistance can only be indulged for so long before results start to suffer.  So give yourself a brief period to pout and then figure out how to embrace the changes in a way that works best for you.

And if you’re NOT a social media specialist whose entire job is to immerse yourself in these apps, here are four tips to help you get past your frustration when social media apps do an (annoying) overhaul:

  1. Divide & Conquer: There are two things contributing to your exhaustion.  One is figuring out what the new features are and if they’ll benefit you, and two is learning how to use them.  Both things take time, which is likely in short supply for you.  So, don’t do it all at once…research first, worry about learning the skills later.  The world won’t end if you don’t adopt the new features quickly.  In fact, if social media is only a fraction of what you do, your presence isn’t likely to be that robust and so your audiences won’t be expecting cutting-edge marketing here from you anyway.  Take your time.  It’s ok.
  2. Do Research:  The best thing about the internet is that someone, somewhere will have written a helpful article within a day of the overhaul.  You can find summaries of what’s changed, how to use the new features, and why they’re useful (or not).  A Google search for things like “Instagram update” or “Twitter Notes feature” (or whatever) should bring you to the latest articles the day overhauls are announced.  Wait a few days and “how to” articles are bound to follow.  You can also check sites like Social Media Today and Search Engine Journal.
  3. Create and Use a Test Account:  Part of the emotional frustration you feel comes from worrying you’ll screw up and not use the new features correctly…and your audience will see it.  This is where having a secret “test account” comes in handy.  Setting up a second account on a channel that’s private, with only you and a few friends/colleagues as the audience, is an easy way to play with all the new features until you get comfy with them.
  4. Watch and Learn:  You may not have the bandwidth to do EVERYTHING a social media app allows you to do, but you can certainly cherry pick features that make sense for you.  So, watch what other accounts do and try to recreate them in your test account.  This means you may need to follow more than just your local or regional competitors, because if they’re in the same time-poverty boat as you, then you won’t learn much by watching their accounts.  Follow BIG brands, that are bound to have expert social media teams using the latest cool stuff.

And above all, relax.  I know it’s frustrating when overhauls like this disrupt your routine.  Suddenly things you finally learned how to do efficiently are no longer efficient to do.  It’s annoying as hell.  But social media apps will continue to evolve constantly…it’s just the nature of that marketing medium.  So if you’re going to have a presence on those channels, this is a necessary evil.

Just remember:  It’s perfectly OK if your social media marketing isn’t robust because you’re spread too thin.  As a marketer, you have to make choices…and as long as you’re choosing to be robust in OTHER areas that bring you a strong ROI, it’s fine for social media to get less attention.  In fact, we flagged that as #17 in our list of Top 20 Tips for Tourism PR & Marketing Agency Clients.  It’s worth a look.

Because really, at the end of the day, success in marketing is about how much time you can spend on it.

20 Tips for Tourism PR and Marketing Agency Clients

March 22, 2022

a red colored lightbulb with illumination marks signifying 20 tips to help tourism PR and marketing clients get the most out of their agency.

We’ve been serving PR and marketing clients in the tourism industry for 20 years.  Big global brands.  Tiny obscure companies.  Obscenely huge budgets.  Shoestring budgets.  Individuals with personalities that range from Type A to Zen.  Doers.  Procrastinators.  Screamers.  Huggers.  Savvy marketers.  Marketing agnostics.  Marketing skeptics.  No two clients are the same…and there have been thousands of them in our history.

So, we’ve learned a LOT about what it takes for a client to get the most out of both marketing and its agency.  Here, drawn from our extensive experience, are 20 tips to help tourism clients succeed in public relations and marketing:

  1. Changing marketing goals too frequently, or lacking them completely, can only achieve short term results for your efforts. Either be ok with that or make a solid plan and stick to it.
  2. If you water down a BIG BOLD idea, adjust your expectations down from BIG BOLD results. All too often, circumstances cause a client to dilute an idea’s execution…but then expect the same powerful results associated with the original concept.  That just ain’t how it works.
  3. If you feel you have to micromanage your agency, they’re not the right match for you. Let ‘em go, even if it’s us.
  4. Positivity works magic in PR. If you have faith it will produce…it will.  If you don’t…it won’t.
  5. It helps results tremendously if your entire organization is aware of your marketing plans. Devote resources to educating and engaging them, and you’ll see a greater ROI in marketing.
  6. Make the time to collaborate with your agency. If you skip meetings, miss deadlines, and sit indefinitely on things awaiting approval, you’re only tapping around 50% of their potential.
  7. If your boss doesn’t understand marketing, won’t leave, and remains skeptical about every campaign… dude, find a new job. We’ve seen it.  It never ends well.
  8. Tourists want visuals. Invest continually in photos and videos…every itinerary, every package, every story angle.  Without them, you’re losing marketing opportunities…which means you’re losing money.
  9. If you have “marketing envy” and always wish your organization could do things as cool as your competitors (or your agency’s other clients), learn what it takes operationally to execute such things. Then decide if your organization can make it happen.  You may not be nimble enough, your pockets may not be deep enough, or the concepts may be the complete wrong match for your brand.  If your organization is not equipped for it, stop being wistful.  Invest your energy in what will work best for YOU.
  10. It’s totally OK to put some marketing initiatives on a steady low flame temporarily (or even permanently) while you focus your resources elsewhere. Just make peace with it and don’t expect them to yield big results.
  11. It is totally NOT OK to turn PR on and off completely. It’s the one marketing medium that doesn’t respond well to fits and starts.  Either do it consistently (at any flame level) or just don’t do it.
  12. Use tailored landing pages for your digital campaigns. Without them, you’re losing a ton of business.  For some organizations, this is a no brainer. For others, it’s like pulling teeth.  Every. Single. Time.
  13. If your guest service and/or guest experience is inconsistent or subpar in any way, marketing will not help change that. In fact, the more guests we drive to your door, the more money you’re going to waste.  The damage those guests will do through social media, review sites, and lack of referrals/return quietly sabotages the positive benefits that marketing brings.  And a business can’t survive on new guests alone, who are more costly to acquire than referrals/repeats.  Fix the foundation, and you’ll see marketing pay off in spades.
  14. You can’t find love on a spreadsheet.
  15. A website should be both beautiful and functional, but if you had to choose where to put more resources…choose functionality every time.
  16. Forget what we said in #15 entirely.  Stop thinking of “beauty” and “functionality” as two different things.  Together they comprise “user experience,” and if your website doesn’t deliver equally in both areas, you’re losing money.  Period.
  17. Social media is more demanding than any other marketing medium. If you want to deeply succeed here, be prepared to staff it fully and keep up with the breakneck pace of ever-evolving rules, features, and channels.  Doing set-and-forget style marketing only taps around 20% of social media’s potential.  It’s fine if you choose to do it that way in the context of your overall marketing plan.  Just expect your notable results to come from other sources.
  18. If your risk tolerance is low, then PR is not for you. Often in PR, the greatest risks yield the highest rewards, but there are no guarantees.  That’s what makes it so exciting!
  19. There’s a reason creative, clever tourism packages and programs get a ton of press and social media love. Boring things just don’t command attention.
  20. Consistent indecision will tank your marketing ROI more than making a definitive poor choice ever will. That sounds dramatic, but history generally proves it to be true.

And here’s a bonus item, since we kinda negated #15.  Be candid with your agency at all times. Issues and concerns can be overcome easily with open communication. A good partner – as all agencies should be – will welcome the candor.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the client experiences we’ve had, and every relationship has helped us grow. And it’s enabled us to help brands of all sizes achieve their marketing and business objectives.  Big shout-out to all our clients for putting their trust in us, and here’s to the next 20 years!

PR is essential in tourism marketing.

February 28, 2022

PR is an essential part of the marketing mix for tourism.  So says Redpoint, and you may think we’re biased because public relations is one of the marketing services we offer to the tourism industry.  But the facts bear out our claim, and it’s largely due to two critical benefits of PR:  reach and search.

Having been involved with tourism PR for 30 years – before the internet was even really “a thing” – I can attest that, like anything, it has always had its supporters and detractors.  Supporters tout its ability to shape and even change a brand’s image, and its success at building awareness, sparking bookings, and mitigating crisis.

Detractors, however, are most often hungry for a more tangible and immediate ROI.  Editorial coverage is never guaranteed, and even when it happens, the direct impact on sales isn’t always traceable.  Someone could read a story about your destination or hotel in The New York Times this week, but not act on it until next year.  So yeah, that story made an impression on them…but you may not be able to PROVE that story was the origin or even a contributing factor.

But while it’s true that investing in PR does require having a little faith in intangible results, social amplification and online promotion by news media reward that faith with some deeply tangible bite.  And you can see the results in your own website stats.

This is all due to the glorious PR benefits of reach and search.  Let’s take a look.

REACH

Let’s say you launch something and promote it on your own channels (email, socials, website, etc.).  Your channels only reach so wide (for example’s sake, let’s say that’s an initial audience of 300,000), and your budget only goes so far to help amplify that story.

Then a high-profile media outlet writes about your story.  And since that media outlet’s entire mission is to get visitors to its website (to attract/maintain advertising budgets with impressive web stats), it shares that story on all its social channels and in email newsletters to its subscribers.  Their initial combined audience may be in the multiple millions, but at the very least is far likely to exceed yours and certainly extends beyond it.  And if that story is picked up by dozens of media?  The amplification grows exponentially.

One Specific Example:  Last February, we helped the New England Inns & Resorts Association score a huge feature story in The Boston Globe.  It promoted “Winter Beyond Skiing” and directed readers to a landing page with packages.  The Boston Globe ran the story online, in print, through email, and on Facebook during the weekend of Feb 5-7.  Here’s what the association’s website saw as a result.

Comparing 10 days before and after Feb 5:

  • Page views to the landing page were up 226%.
  • Direct traffic to the landing page had a 488% increase in users.
  • The hotel with the lead offer in the story saw a 1,000% increase in users visiting its offer on the association’s website.
  • Overall traffic to the site saw new users up 14% and sessions up 13%.

That landing page had already existed for a month prior to that weekend.  The Boston Globe story just turned a powerful spotlight on it, helping extend its reach to both a broader and relevant audience.

Hot Tip Takeaway:  If you want to better track the impact PR is having on your overall marketing success, make use of landing pages for story angles where possible and always check your web stats for spikes after key stories run.  Not only does it underscore some of PR’s immediate and tangible results, it also could reveal useful potential media candidates for spending ad dollars wisely.  If it’s clear a media outlet’s audience finds you relevant, then consider dropping your paid ad line in that pond, where the fish like your bait.

SEARCH

In many cases, media outlets and relevant blogs are likely to have far greater success with search results than your individual business will.  This is due the way search engines like Google rank a site’s authority, which is born of everything from how frequently searches find satisfaction in their site’s search result to volume of overall users.

Search engines are notoriously secretive on their ranking cocktail ingredients.  But suffice it to say, for many types of searches, it’s far more likely that – say – a story that includes you in Travel + Leisure will appear higher in search results than your own website’s blog post.  And even if your own website ranks highly in search results for that subject, wouldn’t it be awesome if you were also mentioned in most of the items on the first three pages of search results?  In that way, a slew of different search results on the same topic will lead to YOU.

And with consistent, widespread PR outreach…they can.  Case in point:  There are plenty of hotels and regional destinations in Canada that offer cool vacations for families.  Yet, with a search done for “cool vacations for families in Canada,” none of them turn up on the first three pages of organic search results.  But look at what DOES turn up:

A page of google search results for cool family vacations in Canada.

A search results page from google showing cool family vacations in Canada.

A page of search results from google showing cool family vacations in Canada.

Parenting travel blogs, media outlets, the blogs of booking sites…they’re ranking higher in search than specific hotels or destinations, even if those places have a blog post on their websites about how awesome they are for families.

Hot Tip Takeaway:  It’s only natural to crave the BIG feature stories in PR, but don’t look down your nose at small mentions, especially in round-up articles like the ones featured in the above search results pages. Editorial stories in media outlets that highlight “the best of this” or “the coolest that” do exceedingly well in search results and could lead a ton of highly relevant visitors to your website.

The bottom line is that, with online and social amplification lending its power to the equation, PR is more essential than ever in tourism marketing.  If you’re not doing it, or doing it inconsistently, you should definitely consider exploring how it can help grow your business.  Because even if you’re not…your competitors are.

A meme showing Leonardo DiCaprio raising a cocktail glass with the text Oh you think PR is just fluff? How nice for your competitors.

Not sure where to start?  Check out our experience and give us a shout.  No strings…we’ll just talk you through it.

The secret to a great tourism photo.

October 26, 2021

Tourism is a highly visual industry.  Photos are a key tool used to tell tourism stories, but there’s a secret behind the great ones that make the biggest impact.  Someone took the time (and often, money) to get it right.

More dramatically put:  someone resisted the temptation to use photos that were easy to get but kind of “meh” in terms of quality.  “Meh” photos serve the functional purpose of photography, but they are completely uninspiring and make no impactful impression on the viewer.  So, yeah…you have photos to put on your website.  Check that box.  But are they seducing site visitors into considering a trip?  That box stays unchecked.

Fear not, there are a whole bunch of “great” and “meh” photo examples down below.  But first…

Sucky (and Silent) Consequences of Using “Meh” Photography

When tourism businesses choose to settle for “meh” photography, it causes much heartbreak.  Throughout my career as a tourism publicist and marketer, I’ve seen:

  • A hotel client who lost a highly-desired Architectural Digest story about their opening launch because their photography wasn’t good enough. (AD wasn’t being snooty…their photography was NOT good enough.)
  • Another hotel client whose online booking conversion rate absolutely sucked…and a website audit revealed that people were leaving the site after looking at the photo gallery. (Tragic, as a photo gallery should inspire people to hit the “book now” button.)
  • A destination client who was included in a syndicated news editorial round-up…and the only one of the eight destinations included without a photo accompanying their blurb because their photo wasn’t “quite right.” (Seven destinations with glorious vibrant photos and only one with just text… which one do you think got overlooked by readers?)

But those are examples where the consequences were traceable and known.  Far more dangerous are the silent consequences of “meh” photography.  No one ever leaves your website unimpressed and without booking…and then calls you up to say, “hey, I was considering a stay at your hotel, but just wanted to let you know that the photos didn’t really sell me on the place so I just left the website without booking.”

So, the bottom line is…you don’t even know how many sales you’re NOT making because your photos are just “meh.”

But trust me.  If they’re “meh,” it’s happening.

Why Is This So Hard?

Why do so many tourism businesses settle for less-than-great photos to use in marketing?  Three common reasons.

  1. They feel it takes too much time and they don’t have the bandwidth to organize/oversee it.
  2. They don’t want to spend the money for a photographer and/or stylist.
  3. They don’t understand the difference in impact between a “good enough” photo and a “great” photo.

It’s a real head-scratcher to me, but I’ve seen clients spend $20-$30 million building a gorgeous hotel, and then fight with me about spending $20,000 on photography for the website, brochures, and socials.

In other scenarios, I get the… “My sister-in-law takes great photos as a hobby – you should see her Instagram.  So I’m just going to have her do all our photography.”

Or the… “I don’t have photos of THAT specific program even though that’s what we’re promoting, so can we just use a general photo instead?”

Or the… “These brochures are really old and our hotel rooms don’t look like that anymore, but that’s all we have so just use those at the trade show.”

To spend all that money building your business and brand, and then NOT spend the money on a professional photographer to produce photos that help you sell it?  That’s fumbling at the goal line.  And it’s sabotaging the ROI of all the money you spent on building the business itself.

What Should a Great Photo Do?

A great photo is like an assist in sports:  it should assist you to close a sale.  That assist might come in the form of (for example)…

  • An Instagram photo that stops thumbs while someone is scrolling and makes them want to explore your entire Instagram profile…and ultimately your website.
  • Photos on your website that evoke emotion, inspire a desire to visit, make them want to check pricing and logistics for a trip.
  • Photos in a magazine that arrest people’s attention as they’re flipping through the pages and make them want to read the accompanying editorial story…which hopefully makes them want to visit your website.

Here’s a great case-in-point.  Years ago, I was in Armenia with a photographer getting shots of a collection of new boutique hotels launching that year.  We had no staff with us (literally no staff – the hotels weren’t even open yet) and no stylist.  It was just her and me trudging around the countryside with tons of photography equipment.  And FYI – while I’m eager and helpful, I know zip all about being a photographer’s assistant.

Here’s what one of the hotels looked like, with a simple “point and shoot” approach.

 

A castle-like building sits beside a rushing river and in front of green mountains.

 

It DOES look like a historic castle, and you DO see it’s right next to a rushing river and nestled in the mountains.  So, it definitely gives a sense of place and is “ok.”

Here’s what it looked like when the photographer got done with it.

A nighttime view of a castle-like building with dramatic lighting, which sits beside a rushing river and in front of a backdrop of mountains. This is the secret to a great tourism photo.

 

Listen, folks.  This was NOT a simple point and shoot.  We had no cell service and no radios to communicate with each from opposite sides of the river, and crossing that river was no picnic either.  Her trying to signal to me which lights to turn on or off, which umbrellas to move slightly left or right, and could I tilt that ONE light on the side to angle more toward the patio?  No, not THAT one.  THAT one.

Getting this shot took HOURS.  Actually days, because we had weather issues intervene.

But look at those two photos.  Which one stops your thumbs while scrolling and which one makes you say “OMG that place looks breathtaking and I want to go there?”

Great photographers do more than just click a button on a camera.  They harness the power of lighting, tone, context, perspective, props, spatial relations, and emotion.  In this case, the photographer studied the situation and said, “what photo…what angle…what perspective…what styling is going to show this building in the best, most seductive, most appealing way?”  And after taking a lot of test shots from various positions at various times of day, this nighttime photo won the honor.  (Should I mention how many design and travel magazines made this photo their centerfold?)

I mean…if your sister-in-law can do all that, then by all means lets hire her.

What’s My Point?

Getting great photography isn’t easy.  It takes time, planning, and commitment.  You may need to invest in props and other items to achieve the objective… flowers, food, drinks, people, and more.  You may need to reschedule (and spend money on a wasted day) because of weather.  If you’re already open, you may need to clear entire public spaces for several hours or a day – losing revenue from paying guests who don’t have access during that time.  You may need to take a shot over and over and over and over again to get it just right.  And damn it, you definitely need a professional photographer and/or stylist to do it justice.

Yes, all that costs time and money.  But the difference between “meh” photos and “great” photos is entirely about MAKING MONEY.  Skimp elsewhere if you must.  But do not skimp on great photography.

To further illustrate the difference, here are a few examples of photos I’ve come across in my tourism work.  Some of these businesses know the secret to a great tourism photo, and some clearly don’t understand what makes an impact.

By the way, there are deliberately no business names here.  This isn’t a commentary on who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong.  It’s an objective look at how photos do or don’t make a worthy impact.

Everything about this charcuterie board screams “dig in.”  Lighting, color, texture, positioning.  This delicious photo was no happy accident.

A charcuterie board of food including apples, cheeses, veggies, crackers, nuts and more. This colorful, vibrant, well-light view is the secret to a great tourism photo.

 

This cocktail gets completely lost in this photo.  It’s a gorgeous color, but sitting on that similar colored surface, the vibrancy doesn’t pop as it should.  Plus the background is super distracting.  If you’re a DIY Instagrammer for your business, and just taking quick snaps like this “on the fly” for posting, at least do this:  take that glass and snap pics of it in in a few different settings, and from several angles – high, low, above, side, etc.  If you take a dozen photos of this cocktail – which can be done in just a few moments – you’ll immediately be able to spot the one that shows the cocktail off to its best advantage.

An orange colored cocktail sits on an orange colored surface.

 

Let’s talk about dramatic architectural features, such as floating pools.  We once had a client that was debuting a floating pool and they fought us like the very devil about getting overhead drone shots of it.  They didn’t have easy access to a drone and didn’t want to pay for it.  But honestly, a straight-ahead shot of a floating pool just sucks all the drama out of that super-cool architectural feature.

To illustrate, here’s a picture at another hotel of their floating pool taken from different angles.  You can see how one showcases the floating pool and in the other, it gets lost.

Left side shows photo of a large, many-windowed hotel, with a floating pool sitting in front of it. Right side shows that same floating pool at night, from an elevated perspective so the light blue of the pool glows brightly sitting inside the dark blue lake.

 

And these folks REALLY did their floating pool villas justice, ensuring their website gallery shows them from multiple angles and various times of day:

This captures the secret of a great tourism photo. A floating pool sitting on the edge of the ocean, with an attached deck that shows two lounge charis.

 

From the perspective standing on a deck looking out at the edge of a floating pool and the Indian Ocean just after sunset.

Standing on the edge of a floating pool at sunset, showing the perspective of multiple villas with their own floating pools stretching out before you. Sunset of bright orange, yellow, and purple.

From the perspective of laying in bed, looking out terrace doors to a deck with table and chairs, aqua colored floating pool, and the deep blue ocean.

 

Food shots need special attention because visuals aren’t necessarily the main sensory trigger for humans when it comes to food.  Taste, sound (sizzling, pouring, sauteing, etc.), scent, and texture all play a role in our emotional connection to food.  And that’s hard to communicate in a flat photo.

Here, capturing sugar in mid-shake on this cannoli gives more energy, life, and interest to the photo than just a static pic of a cannoli.

A person shaking powdered sugar onto a cannoli that's covered with chocolate chips.

 

But these pancakes are nearly unidentifiable in this photo.  In the quest for a close-up to show the dripping, oozing goodness, perspective gets lost here.  If you’re scrolling quickly, you can’t even tell what it is, and that super-crisp piece of bacon on the side doesn’t help… it almost looks like the pancakes are sitting on a wood shelf.  Perhaps backing up the camera to show the whole plate, and catching the moment when the chocolate syrup is being poured onto the pancakes might achieve the objective better.  But – you know what I’m going to say – try it a dozen different ways before deciding which one makes the right impact.

A close up photo of pancakes with bananas and chocolate syrup on them and a crispy piece of bacon on the side.

 

Oh, you’re taking pictures of animals?  NEVER just snap one-and-done.  You take tons of photos from multiple angles in order to get one that will stop people in their tracks.  Like this:

Picture of a baby lamb facing front and smiling.

 

And finally, these folks are rebuilding a really important and historic wall.  But this photo will stop no thumbs.  I’m sure the dude on the right won’t be pleased that his behind is on Instagram, and everyone milling around looking down at rocks doesn’t do the story justice.  A close-up of a volunteer holding up a piece of rock with a huge smile on his/her face… or better yet, faux-kissing it?… could better tell the story of the passionate volunteers involved.  Or have him/her sitting on the wall and get enough context in the shot to see “kissing the rock” and the wall itself.  Or… hey, I’ve got an idea… take a dozen different shots and see what works best.  😊

Five people standing around piles of rocks, some of which are half-formed into a stone fence.

 

So, in conclusion, please do what it takes to get great tourism photos.  There’s really no secret to capturing ones that make an impact… just spend the time and/or money to do it right.

And let me just clarify:  by “great,” I mean photos that achieve your objective of inspiring people to emotion and action.  “Great” is one of those vague words that always need clarification and shame on me for using it so liberally in this post.  See why you should be careful using that word here.

 

How to Develop Creative Tourism Marketing & PR Ideas

October 25, 2021

The tourism industry is a hotbed of juicy, creative marketing and PR ideas.  Who develops them?  Opportunists.

Opportunists are a breed of “idea people” that draws inspiration from anything and everything around them.  And, of the four breeds of idea people we cover here, these are the folks you need in your orbit for creative marketing and PR.  You don’t need to have ALL opportunists on your team, but if you don’t have at least one in your mix, you’re going to struggle in marketing.

Can folks who are NOT opportunists develop creative tourism marketing and PR ideas?  Sure.  But likely not in a steady way that makes ongoing marketing reliable and brand image consistent.

FOUR BREEDS OF IDEA PEOPLE

In my long experience in tourism marketing – working with clients from all walks of life, at organizations large and small – here are the four breeds of idea people I’ve come across:

Opportunists:  Show them anything and they’ll springboard it right into a relevant idea for your business.  They’re the people who say “what could we do with this?” a dozen times a day.  If obstacles arise as the idea takes shape in their mind, they work around them.  If the obstacles become insurmountable, they just take the idea in a different direction.  Creative idea generation is like breathing to them.  These folks are the lifeblood of creativity in marketing.

Stiflers:  They’re not opposed to ideas, but they just can’t give them room for success.  They layer on that one more thing.  Try to get each idea to achieve too many disparate goals.  Add unnecessary complexity. They won’t let ideas get off the ground until they’ve been so overthought and wrung dry that ideas ultimately fall flat when launched.  If you’ve got stiflers on your team, checks and balances are needed to be sure they don’t smother every good idea to its slow death.

Slammers:  These folks basically shoot down all ideas.  This could be driven by fear of risk or change, love of veto power, or just a tendency toward negativity that only sees the downside.  And really?  Some people just like being contrary for contrary’s sake.  Extreme Slammers can’t be reasoned with; every rationale you offer will face an objection.  If you’ve got slammers in a position of power over marketing, be prepared.  Your marketing ROI will always be super low.  Best to move them where they can’t prevent good ideas from seeing daylight.

Obliviouists:  Yeah, I made this term up, but hey…I’m a marketer.  Obliviouists (oh-bliv-ee-ists) are actually the most dangerous of the idea person breeds.  They don’t deliberately generate ideas, but nor do they actively hinder them.  They just don’t see opportunities at all.  They read stuff, watch TV, surf socials, interact with folks…and none of it ever inspires ideas.  These people may have plenty of other talents so it’s not dangerous to keep them around.  But it IS dangerous to rely on them for creative marketing and PR ideas.  They’re just not wired that way.

So, the best way to ensure your marketing is fresh, creative, and interesting is to ensure there are opportunists on your team.  Whether in-house or at an agency, these folks don’t need to be assigned ideation.  Just stand back and let them create.

How do they do it?  Listen, I’m no neuroscientist.  All I can say is:  they just do.  They watch, listen, read…and poof.  An idea is born.  Ask any opportunist how they came up with an idea and I guarantee they’ll say something like “I saw this and thought of that.”  There’s no way to explain it.  If you could, then I suppose anyone could be an opportunist.  “Just follow these 10 handy steps and you too could have big creative ideas.”  It just doesn’t work like that.

To illustrate that point, here are a bunch of marketing ideas seen out in the wild lately that definitely originated with opportunists:

 

Blue ice cream carton with pink band, showing Geico's new Scoop, There It Is ice cream with hip hop duo Tag Team and Mikey Likes It Ice Cream.

Geico made a hilarious TV commercial featuring the hip hop duo Tag Team, which transformed their 1993 hit song “Whoomp! (There It Is!)” into a song about an ice cream sundae (Scoop!  There It Is!).  The commercial was so insanely popular that some clever opportunist said: hey, why don’t we actually make and sell that ice cream flavor?  And thus, the partnership between Geico, Tag Team, and Mikey Likes It Ice Cream was born.

 

Partial painting of woman showing head and bare shoulder, an example of a creative tourism marketing and PR idea from the Vienna Tourist Board.

The Vienna Tourist Board recently launched an OnlyFans channel… you know, that social media platform that allows posts with sexually explicit content to be shown to subscribers for a fee.  Why does Vienna need such a channel?  Because the destination has tons of beautiful art that depicts nudity in its museums.  Photos of such pieces get struck from mainstream social media platforms due to censored content regulations, so some clever opportunist said:  hey, how about we make world news by being the first tourist board to launch an OnlyFans channel as a way to showcase our city’s art?

 

Pic of front and back of business card from Relief, the debt app, who uses the premise of Squid Games to promote their service.

Relief, the debt relief app, absolutely CRUSHED it with this idea, inspired by the blockbuster Netflix series Squid Games.  If you don’t know the show’s plot, people in significant debt are brought together to play children’s games in the hopes of winning a huge prize…but losers die violent, graphic deaths.  Their invitation to the games comes in the form of a business card with three simple geometric shapes on it, and a number on the back to call that lures them in. Relief put their own message on the back of its card, and the opportunist who thought of it should be given a standing ovation.

 

Four golden retriever puppies playing at the Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort in the Puppy Patch, as an example of a creative tourism marketing and PR idea.

Plenty of hotels have a dog “on staff” that guests can walk.  Many hotels also have partnerships with rescue organizations to have an adoptable dog onsite for guests to walk, and maybe take home.  Some clever opportunist affiliated with the Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort said:  hey, why do this with just one dog when we can make a newsworthy amenity/program out of it?  Behold, the Puppy Patch.  Thank you, whoever you are.  I will be petting those puppies at some point in the future.

So, the bottom line is…get some opportunists in your life if you aren’t one and don’t have access to any.  Your creative tourism marketing and PR ideas will improve greatly because of it!

Shameless plug:  Redpoint is full of ‘em.  Mount Rushmore carved into a six-foot block of cheddar cheese to celebrate President’s Day for Ripley’s Believe It or Not Times Square?  It generated the highest-ever holiday weekend sales and visitor count for the attraction. That’s some delicious opportunism right there, y’all.

10 Unexpected (and fabulous) tourism guest service stories.

September 20, 2021

Here’s the way to create indelible tourism memories:  deliver completely unexpected, fabulous, and highly personal guest service.  Also, spoiler alert…there’s a story in this piece about my trip to Spain that’s going to horrify my mother.  (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.  I’m older now and I won’t do it again.)

Tourism businesses – hotels, airlines, attractions, cruise lines, tour companies, etc. – often invest a ton of money and labor developing comprehensive guest service programs and amenities.  And those bring value to the tourism experience, no doubt.  But the simple truth is that PEOPLE create the unexpected, joyful moments that make the most lasting impressions on guests.  Moments like these ultimately transform guests into ambassadors.

I travel for a living because I do tourism marketing and consulting work around the world.  So that means I’ve stayed at hundreds of hotels in dozens of countries and have thousands of tourism experiences under my belt.  Many of these have been utterly outrageous – like the time I stayed at a five-star luxury resort in the Caribbean for a grand total of 12 hours (including sleep) as part of an island-wide site assessment.

At this resort, I had my own butler, who literally unpacked my entire suitcase and pressed all my clothes and hung them…despite the fact that he was just going to fold and pack them all up again 12 hours later.  When I came in from dinner that night, he had decorated the entire bathroom with flower petals and candles, drawn a bath, and had champagne chilling next to the tub for me.  I was tempted to stay awake all night just so I could see what he’d do next.

You’d think an experience like that would be near the top of my “best hospitality experiences” memory list, right?  But no…and not because it was too short-lived to enjoy it.  It’s because there’s nothing extraordinary about that level of service at that type of resort. Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely lovely and I enjoyed every second of it.  But it all followed a carefully planned script that was delivered uniformly to all guests.  Plus, for the price of that suite, it was completely expected.  Indeed, I’d have been disappointed if the service had been anything less.

So no…those types of experiences don’t top my “best hospitality experiences” list.  In fact, all of the experiences that have made a lasting impression on me and turned me into a loyal, enthusiastic ambassador for each organization have just two things in common:  1) they were completely unexpected, and 2) they happened because an employee I encountered went out of their way – and off script – to bring me joy.

And here’s the best part:  most of the experiences cost the business absolutely nothing to deliver.

So here, in no particular order, are 10 of my most unforgettable, unexpected, and completely fabulous tourism guest service experiences.

  1. I was offered a home-cooked meal.

When I called the Torrent River Inn in Hawke’s Bay, Newfoundland to make a one-night reservation that split up a 10-hour drive for me, I asked what dinner options would be available for my late evening arrival.  Turns out, the inn is in the middle of nowhere, AND their restaurant would be closed, AND it was Canadian Thanksgiving that day.  Guess what?  The employee on the phone – who was not the owner, btw – offered to bring me a plate of food from her family’s Thanksgiving dinner when I arrived.  She wasn’t even going to be working that night.

  1. I was sent the souvenirs I regretted not buying.

As I was checking out of the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart, Tasmania, the bellman asked me what I was going to regret most about leaving their beautiful island.  I didn’t even have to think about it:  I had seen a mug at a touristy store in town that cracked me up and was just sooooooo Tasmania.  But not being “that kind” of a souvenir buyer as a rule (I’m more likely to buy a local recipe book or items made by a local artisan), I didn’t buy it.  But as soon as he asked me what I would regret about leaving, not buying that mug was the first thing that came to mind.  When I got home to New York three weeks later, guess what was waiting for me?  A set of four of those mugs, compliments of the hotel.

Picture of souvenir mug that says Send Tassie More Tourists the Last Ones Were Delicious

 

  1. They brought me handpicked wildflowers.

My stay at the York Harbor Inn in Maine began horribly:  the night I arrived, I realized I had strep throat.  It took a bit of time to get the right meds, so for 72 hours I stayed feverishly holed up in my room. Ultimately I even had to extend my stay because I was too sick to leave.  On the day I emerged from the room for the first time, I let housekeeping know I was stepping out for a while so they could go in and fumigate (bless them).  When I got back, besides the room being sparkly clean, there was a jar filled with wildflowers and a note:  “We’re so glad you’re feeling better.  Love, the Housekeepers at the York Harbor Inn.”

  1. They made me a pillow.

In what might just be the greatest guest service experience of all time, this housekeeper made history for me.  At the hotel that has since been rebranded as Hotel Halifax  in Nova Scotia (but don’t worry, the staff is the same and the service is just as exceptional), Sandra the housekeeper recognized that I was using a towel in a pillowcase every night during my stay…and then she started making towel pillows for me on her own. Let me be clear:  I do this in hundreds of hotels and no housekeeper has EVER done anything other than remake the bed with fluffy pillows intact and towels hanging back in the bathroom where they belong. So to discover Sandra’s towel pillow with a special note to me was like the greatest surprise of my tourism life.  In fact, when I blogged about the story, it was shared over 100,000 times and even earned Sandra and the hotel an award from their corporate brand.  Read here How One Housekeeper Won My Brand Allegiance…and My Heart.

 

A note to Chris Miranda from the housekeeper at the Hotel Halifax as an example of unexpected, fabulous tourism guest service.

 

  1. I was given free coffee and treated like a celebrity.

To this day, I still don’t know how she did it.  When I walked into the sundries store at Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont to get a cup of coffee, the cashier told me she knew who I was and the coffee was on the house.  Yes, I was there to deliver the inspirational keynote speech at the resort’s season-opening employee rally.  And yes, it’s not like they had a ton of guests roaming around just before ski season started.  Maybe they had sent around my picture to all staff or posted it in the employee breakroom, or maybe she just figured the one stranger in the shop HAD to be the day’s guest speaker.  Or maybe – could it be? – she remembered me from when I spoke there a year prior, even though we hadn’t met.  But you know what?  I don’t want to know.  It’s way more magical not knowing.  I was just recovering from a grueling, white-knuckle nine-hour drive in a snowstorm to get there, and to be unexpectedly recognized by a random staffer and given free coffee was just the BEST THING EVER.

  1. There was a dog waiting in my room.

While presenting a tourism community workshop on developing hotel packages and experiences at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel in Miramichi, New Brunswick, I jokingly suggested that it would be awesome if hotels could offer a dog as part of a stay.  As there were many dog lovers in the audience, we bounced that fun topic around a bit and everyone learned how passionate I am about dogs.  Turns out, the general manager of the hotel happened to be in the audience for that workshop.  He secretly texted a hotel staff member to quickly go buy a toy dog (It barks!  It moves!).  By the time I finished that workshop two hours later and went up to my room, that dog was waiting there for me…complete with dog bed, treats, and a special note from the hotel.  Tourism guest service doesn’t get more unexpected and fabulous than that.

 

Christina Miranda showing a fabulous and unexpected tourism guest service example while she sits in a dog bed holding the toy dog delivered to her room at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel.

 

  1. I got extra dumplings just because I asked for them.

While at legendary restaurant Buddakan in NYC, my indecision between two appetizers prompted me to order one and then mischievously ask if I could just taste ONE dumpling from the other… just so I’d know for next time.  Imagine my surprise when – in addition to the appetizer I ordered – the server brought out an ENTIRE dish of Szechuan pork dumplings instead of just one…and then told me there was no charge for them. That simple act of kindness (and investment) earned them my loyalty, return visits, and about a zillion referrals.  In fact, I did the math at the time and their ROI for that one gesture was so strong that I wrote about the experience here:  You Can’t Find Love on a Spreadsheet.

  1. I got into a sold-out bullfight in Spain against all odds.

There was not a ticket to be had for the high-profile bullfight happening when I was staying in Madrid.  Watching a bullfight is not for the faint of heart, but I had no intention of leaving Spain without experiencing such a rich cultural tradition.  When I asked the concierge at my hotel, which has since been rebranded as the ME Madrid Reina Victoria, I learned that there was no way I could snag a ticket without giving up my retirement savings.  I went away sad.  Until the next day, when he took me aside at breakfast and told me a family he knows agreed to let me join them, no charge.  TBH, it was like being in witness protection:  I was taken to an appointed street corner on the back of a motorbike by one of the hotel’s dishwashers, met there by a niece in the family, handed off to a cousin in a café near Las Ventas Bullring, and then – no lie – smuggled into the arena by the family.  This incredible group of nearly 30 people shared their food & drinks with me, educated me on the whole spectacle of bullfighting as it unfolded, and introduced me to nearly every person in our section of the arena.  And they wouldn’t accept a dime.  It was truly one of the best days of my life, being embraced by these strangers and immersed into their culture.  It was only the next day that I realized I was lucky that all those witness-protection-style-logistics didn’t end up with me being sold on the black market to a world of unpleasant things.  Ah, to be young and blindly trusting again.

  1. They protected my cupcakes to the death.

When I arrived at the WestJet check-in desk at LaGuardia Airport enroute to Newfoundland by way of Toronto, I had 875 cupcakes in tow.  My goal:  get those cupcakes all the way to St. John’s, NL, in one piece – frosting intact – to deliver as a surprise at a tourism industry speech.  I was a nervous wreck because we all know baggage handlers aren’t always the most gentle caretakers, but there was simply no other way to get these cupcakes there fresh and on time.  Enter Jesse and Alex at WestJet.  They dove right into being co-conspirators on “Operation Cupcake Surprise,” and took personal responsibility for marking the boxes and shepherding them to the plane.  Then, at the gate, they introduced me to the baggage supervisor who personally stacked my boxes on board in a cool dry area, making sure they were all upright.  And they alerted the flight crew of the precious cargo to ensure my cupcakes and I got the same extraordinary treatment when we changed planes in Toronto.  The cupcakes were in perfect condition upon arrival.  PS – they even gave me an upgrade.  #fan4life

Chris Miranda stands between two WestJet employees at the gate in an example of unexpected and fabulous tourism guest service experiences.

 

  1. Someone bought me a hairdryer.

While staying at The Peninsula Chicago, I needed a hairdryer with a special attachment as mine broke during the arrival flight. They didn’t have it at the hotel, so on my way out to my dinner meeting, I asked the concierge for help locating a place to purchase one.  Requirements:  it had to be on my route to/from dinner, open in the evening, and definitely have it in stock.  I told him I was absurdly pressed for time that night, but needed it for 5am the next morning to groom for a big presentation.  The concierge instantly responded to my stress level and just said “go to your dinner, I’ll take care of it for you.”  When I got back to my room that night, the hairdryer was sitting on my bed with the money I gave him to buy it and a note on the box: “This one’s on me.  Knock ‘em dead tomorrow.”

 

You see?  It’s PEOPLE that make the most lasting impressions.  PEOPLE create the unexpected and fabulous guest service moments in tourism.  And those moments become marketable.  They create ambassadors for your brand.

So if you’re a tourism business, the moral of the story here is this:  1) hire kind people who like to make others happy, and 2) give them the freedom – within reason – to put that skill into practice with your guests.

Oh and here’s a tip:  do NOT let ridiculous and out-of-touch corporate policy override guest happiness.  The chocolate chip cookie policy at this resort is another experience I’ll never forget…but not in a good way.

Four Brilliant and Unexpected Marketing Partnerships

September 14, 2021

All good marketing partnerships need to be a win-win for the brands involved.  But brilliant marketing partnerships are also clever, unexpected, and make people say, “ok, now THAT’S cool.”  It’s not just that the benefit to consumers is valuable…it’s that the creation of the partnership itself makes an impression.

The partnership gods must be working overtime lately because I’ve seen four spectacular ones pop up in the past month.  These are worth a salute, plus they offer inspiration and learning opportunities for smaller, less well-funded businesses.

Before we explore them, it’s worth noting that in this context, a partnership is defined simply as two distinctly known brands coming together for a shared purpose.  It doesn’t matter who paid whom, or how the financial outcome gets distributed.  It’s about the brilliance of two brands unexpectedly aligning.  Ready?  Let’s go.

 

Cover of new book by Dolly Parton and James Patterson called Run, Rose, Run.

The Players:  Legendary country music artist/entrepreneur Dolly Parton and prolific author of thriller and mystery novels James Patterson.

The Partnership:  A thriller novel to be released in 2022 entitled “Run, Rose, Run” about an aspiring country music singer with a dark secret. The two are collaborating on plot and story elements for the novel, and Parton will simultaneously release an album of the same name, with 12 original songs inspired by the novel.

Why We Love It:  It’s a completely new idea.  An original book that promotes an original album…that in turn promotes the original book?  Each one draws the power of its distinct audience (Patterson book fans and Parton music fans) to inspire interest in the other. The cross-marketing opportunities are absolutely bonkers on this concept (“bonkers” being a highly technical marketing term for “limitless and insanely exciting”).  The book and the album are organically linked, so as you get vested in the characters and story through one, you are bound to be curious about the other.  And we’re just calling it right now:  there’s a Run, Rose, Run movie or streaming series in all our futures.

What You Can Learn:  Just because something’s never been done before, doesn’t mean it’s not possible.  Don’t just look for your partnership options among the usual suspects.  Can a hotel or destination partner with a band to write an original album based on its history and offerings?  Can a local coffee house partner with a local gardening supply store?  Can an amusement park partner with a haircare products company?  You bet.

 

A picture of the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, which is a vehicle shaped like a hot dog. This includes the signage of the Lyft brand.

The Players:  Food brand Oscar Mayer – well known for its wiener hot dogs – and popular ridesharing service Lyft.

The Partnership:  From August 25-27 in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, riders who hailed a Lyft XL could have been surprised by a pickup from the legendary Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.  Not only did that come with bragging rights and shareworthy content for the lucky riders, but the ride was free and they got swag.

Why We Love It:  First of all…it’s hilarious.  And after the wet blanket purgatory we’ve all experienced from the pandemic, frivolous fun is a welcome change.  But also, it’s a brilliant partnership because it has so many layers.  There are PR opportunities before, during, and after each rideshare blitz. The Wienermobile gets to cruise the streets for three days in four major cities.  Odds are at least some of the riders have decent social media followings and will share with glee.  And highly arresting video/photo visual opportunities exist across a ton of marketing channels.

What You Can Learn:  This partnership is all about providing the element of surprise to guests.  Lyft ride hailers expect a typical SUV to arrive for their pick up… they will lose their minds with joy when the Wienermobile shows up instead.  Where can YOU provide a pop of unexpected joy in what would otherwise be a typical, ordinary experience for your guests?

 

Rap artist Ludacris takes a spoonful of Jif peanut butter from the jar while standing in front of a microphone in a recording studio.

The Players:  Popular peanut butter brand Jif and successful rap artist Ludacris.

The Partnership:  The two teamed up for a commercial that shows Ludacris trying to record a new rap song and failing miserably with each take.  Then, after eating a huge spoonful of Jif in between takes, he nails it…because the way the peanut butter sticks to his mouth and makes him mumble is the PERFECT style for his new song.

Why We Love It:  Whether you love rap or not, it’s a common observation that it’s often really hard to understand what’s being said in a rap song.  And whether you love peanut butter or not, everyone knows peanut butter has the pesky tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth.  So the fact that BOTH brands involved were willing to poke fun at themselves with this collaboration?  Genius.  Whoever thought of this partnership deserves a medal.

What You Can Learn:  Let your hair down sometimes.  People love humor and they love when a brand is both humble and confident enough to admit their “flaws.”  Note that the flaw you cop to can’t be a serious thing or else poking fun at yourself will backfire.  Like, if you’re known for paying poor wages or implementing poor environmental practices, you definitely don’t want to draw scrutiny there.  But if – for example – you’ve got notoriously long wait times at your restaurant, you can certainly turn that into a positive and have fun with it instead of ignoring it.  See how this eatery in Colorado made it work.

 

A picture of a subway foot-long sandwich and the mascot from Bob's Discount Furniture sitting on a blue sectional sofa.

The Players:  American fast food restaurant franchise Subway and multiple businesses in local markets, including Bob’s Discount Furniture.

The Partnership:  As a way to break through the clutter and gain attention for its new menu items, Subway is doing a “takeover” of TV commercials from other advertisers.  Here’s what happens:  a Subway ad listing all its new menu items gets cut off before finishing…and then when the next commercial starts for a different advertiser, Subway interrupts the commercial and takes over the ad.  All the partner advertisers still get to hawk their own products.  The “takeover” commercial is a jointly produced, shared spotlight.  See the Bob’s Discount Furniture takeover ad here and see other Subway takeover ad partnerships here.

Why We Love It:  Lordy, it’s hard to get folks to pay attention to commercials.  But this quirky, untraditional approach is bound to cut through the clutter.  Regular TV viewers who are only half listening and already desensitized to hearing endless Subway commercials and endless Bob’s Discount Furniture commercials are likely to stop in their tracks to see/hear something they never expected:  Furniture mascot “Little Bob” selling Subway sandwiches.  This is true of all the takeover ad partners, like the local personal injury lawyer whose long-standing ad you could recite by heart, or the car dealership whose jingle gets stuck in your head all the time.

What You Can Learn:  Never say never, y’all.  Not only are these partnerships completely unexpected from brands that are completely unrelated, but also…really?  Sure companies have bought ad space from each other before, but it’s usually done so one can OWN the space…not so they can share it with a joint “takeover ad.”  Maybe you can’t afford your own local TV ad spots to allow enough frequency to penetrate consumer awareness, but what if you found a partner or two and created collaborative ads?  And this is not “you take the first 15 seconds and I’ll take the last 15 seconds.”  Rather, it’s more like “let’s marry our messages and have some fun.”  Again, going back to the local coffee house and the local gardening supply company…no one would EVER expect to see them marketing together, so a collaborative TV ad might just snap folks to attention.

These brilliant partnerships all capture the spirit of surprise because no one ever expected these brands to pair up.  And the element of surprise is a gift to marketers everywhere.  People love to be caught off guard with something atypical that’s also positive, clever, and joyful… see how we partnered MSC Cruises with automaker FIAT in a way no one ever expected. Tap that vein of “surprise” marketing goodness whenever you can.

And pssst… this doesn’t just work for partnerships.  Look at how Book Culture surprises its shoppers.