What’s a “newsworthy” animal experience in tourism?

June 20, 2022

In our role as PR counselors, we’re often asked how to make things newsworthy, and tourism animal experiences are no exception.  It’s a valid question because the answer requires more than just adding discounted zoo tickets to a hotel stay to create a package.  To be newsworthy, there must be something extraordinary, unique, unexpected, or timely about it.

Before I review some examples to illustrate the point, let’s just be clear on this:  being “newsworthy” in ANY subject is not easy, nor is it often achieved passively.  You have to pursue it deliberately, and in most cases jump through some hoops to make it happen.  Proactive investments are usually required, whether financial, creative, or both.  Risk – often high risk – is usually involved.  And a thoughtful runway of time and planning is key.

This means that, as a tourism marketer or owner/operator, you must have both vision and patience if you want to create concepts that are newsworthy.

And these folks did.

Here are four illustrative examples from around the world of newsworthy animal experiences in tourism:

Jamala Wildlife Lodge

This hotel is set within the National Zoo & Aquarium in Canberra, Australia. And by “set within,” I mean the accommodations are organically nestled into the entire experience, not a stand-alone hotel that happens to be located on the grounds.  Rooms and suites offer exclusive viewing perches, or share glass walls with animal habitats, allowing guests unrestricted viewing from the privacy of their own space, like so:

A woman taking a bubble bath while watching tigers prowling on the other side of a glass wall is a highly newsworthy tourism animal experience at Jamala Wildlife Lodge.

 

From jungle bungalows to giraffe treehouses and rooms that put guests up close and personal with sharks, meerkats, capuchin monkeys and more… it’s no wonder the website prominently features a “join the waitlist” option.

What elements make this a newsworthy tourism animal experience?

  • The financial and architectural investment to create unique accommodations that offer rare 24/7 access to animals.
  • Only a small handful of hotels like this in the world provide such an atypical experience.
  • Dramatic, unexpected photos/video to promote the experience.

 

The Biosphere at Treehotel, Sweden

The entire concept at Treehotel is extraordinary and newsworthy… a collection of dramatic, high-design treehouses distinctively different from each other.  But one – The Biosphere – takes your breath away both visually and experientially:

A photo of a hotel room suspended in the air from a tree, adorned with 340 birdhouses on the outside is a newsworthy tourism animal experience available at The Biosphere at Treehotel in Sweden.

 

Adorned with 340 birdhouses attached to its exterior, guests enjoy a front row seat to some of the most spectacular birdwatching possible.  The Biosphere’s design is meant to protect and foster the local bird population.  But lordy, it manages to be a showstopper in the process.

What elements make this a newsworthy tourism animal experience?

  • Well, 340 birdhouses to start (duh). Pretty sure it’s the only accommodation in the world with THAT distinction.
  • It’s visually arresting, and photos of it stop people in their tracks, even when mindlessly scrolling on social media.
  • The bold, complex design earns news attention for both its financial and creative investments.

 

Caiman, A Brazilian Ecotourism Retreat in the Pantanal

The Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland, and its 42 million acres spans across Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay.  Caiman Ecological Refuge, with 18 lodge rooms and two private villas, is within the Pantanal in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.  The 150 miles to get there from the airport are fraught with dirt roads that have no internet or GPS access, but it’s worth the drive because this:

A photo of a jaguar with mouth wide open, showing sharp teeth, is part of the newsworthy tourism animal experience guests can have at Oncafari and the Caiman Ecological Refuge in Brazil.

 

One of Caiman’s conservation partners, Onçafari, is dedicated to the conservation of once-endangered and now near-threatened jaguars with research, protection, education, and repopulation.  Guests can go out with guides to learn more about these elusive animals through up-close interaction.  Nocturnal guided exploration is also an option for those feeling brave.

What elements make this a newsworthy tourism animal experience?

  • The confluence of the Pantanal, jaguars, and deeply meaningful conservation efforts.
  • The Caiman Ecological Refuge itself, which offers guests education and interaction with many other options for sustainability education…from livestock ranching to conservation projects for endangered and illegally trafficked birds.
  • The remote location. There’s no convenient airport shuttle and no public transportation.  You need a special kind of car that can take the dirt roads or a turbo-prop aircraft to get there.  Basically… you have to really WANT to get there.

 

Natural Habitat Alaska Bear Camp

It’s true there’s no shortage of “bear viewing” experiences in the tourism industry, especially in British Columbia and Alaska.  So it takes an unusual one to stand out.  Once again, we lean into the “hard to get to” element here.  With Natural Habitat, you fly in a private bush plan over volcanoes, glaciers, and icefields to get to this remote Bear Camp:

An aerial view of the Natural Habitat Adventures Bear Camp, which is a highly newsworthy tourism animal experience.

 

The weatherproof tent cabins are surprisingly designed for comfort, with climate control, lighting, hard floors and a solid door.  It’s not glamping…but it certainly ain’t “roughing it.”  The three days you spend at the camp gives you extraordinary up-close access to Alaskan brown bears with experienced Expedition Leaders who both educate and safeguard you.  This is no “quick tour to a viewing platform” so you can take a selfie and prove you were there.  This is a full-on bear immersion.

What elements make this a newsworthy tourism animal experience?

  • The remote location. Any place “only accessible by plane or boat” already piques media interest.  The harder one must work to get there, the more interesting it becomes.
  • The layout and design of the Bear Camp. Just one spectacular aerial photo (as shown above) is enough to capture a traveler’s imagination and interest.
  • The collaboration with World Wildlife Fund (WWF). There’s no denying that such respected brand recognition adds credibility to the experience.

These four experiences aren’t all newsworthy for exactly the same reasons, but two things are certain with all of them:

  1. They’re not “news-washing,” which is when a business tries to put a slick bow on something to make it seem newsworthy, without making the under-the-hood investment needed to give the angle true, credible substance. When a program, package, or experience focuses more on “looking good” than “being good”… a credible journalist can sniff that out in a heartbeat, and it’s a turnoff.
  2. They all have extraordinary photo/video opportunities to help tell their story…and the business has invested in capturing the BEST photography/footage at likely a hefty cost to them.

Investing in “hero shot” photography is essential to developing a newsworthy story, as you can see with these tourism animal experiences shared here.  Journalists NEED photography, and it’s only natural that they’d want to use ones that tell the story visually, in just one glance…and that cut through the clutter to get people’s attention.

For more tips on this crucial news element, see these tips on the secret to a great tourism photo.

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!

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.

 

The brilliant branding move of Angry Birds.

December 14, 2011

Actions sure do speak louder than words.  And Teija Vesterbacka just proved it.

Teija’s husband Peter is the chief marketing officer of Rovio, the Finnish company that created the insanely addictive game Angry Birds.  Last week, the couple attended an event at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki to honor the country’s Independence Day.    Here’s what Teija wore:

Now…many media outlets have been crucifying – sometimes affectionately, sometimes cruelly – this “fashion nightmare” since the moment the photo was distributed.  Words used include hideous, ridiculous, the ultimate style sacrifice, and “no one else would be seen dead in this.” 

To all of these stinky-at-the-party journalists and bloggers, I say:  Damn, she sure got YOU.  Here you are wishing to shine the spotlight on what you consider to be her poor taste and yet…you’re shining the spotlight on her.  Do you honestly think she wore this gown because she thought it was high fashion couture or is trying to start a trend?  And had she worn a “normal” gown, would you have run her photo or written a single word about her attendance that night?  Doubt it.  So, basically…you played right into her hands, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that her husband is the chief marketing officer.  My little branding-and-PR-oriented heart is giving her a huge hug right now.

Think about it.  In a media interview, Teija could have said:

  • I love my husband and I am so proud of him
  • Finland takes such pride in the creation of Angry Birds that I can wear this dress to the Presidential Palace with honor
  • I am playful, and don’t take myself so seriously…just like the whimsy of the Angry Birds game
  • My husband doesn’t just “talk the talk” on brand integrity and marketing…as a family, we join forces to “live the brand”

And yet, if she had merely said all of this…who would have cared?  And who would have believed her?  Instead, she wore the dress and she didn’t have to say a word to get her point across.  Brilliant.  That she’s sporting a serious face…not grinning constantly like a mischievous idiot…only increases my respect for her in the branding department.   

Brava, Teija.  The branding enthusiasts of Redpoint think you’re the cat’s meow.  Can’t wait to see what you wear to the company picnic.

Check out this earlier post to see how our friends at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater showcase THEIR brand integrity when people talk or text during a movie.  Sometimes, good branding makes us crack up.

Cyber Monday 2011 proves: brand it, and they will come.

November 29, 2011

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and now Small Business Saturday. Can you say "baaa baaa?"

Ever heard of Small Business Saturday?  No?  Don’t worry.  Within the next two years, not only will you know about it, but you will feel magnetically drawn to shop at small, independent retailers on the Saturday after U.S. Thanksgiving. 

This past November 26th was only the 2nd Annual occurence of this made-up-by-retailers holiday (in this case, American Express), and yet, its Facebook page already has nearly 3 million “Likes.”  Impressive, considering that’s the equivalent of the entire population of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Watching the evolution of retail consumer behavior patterns tied to the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend is a fascinating lesson in branding and the combined power of internet-and-the-media.

Just look at Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday:

The term “Black Friday” first officially emerged as a moniker for the Friday-after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy in the 1960’s, but it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that it gained widespread consumer awareness and participation.  And in fact, it wasn’t until 2002 that it became the season’s biggest shopping day each year, as confirmed by market research firm ShopperTrak.  That’s nearly 40 years from launch to goal line. 

In stark contrast:  Cyber Monday was launched in 2005 by a group called Shop.org as a way to boost online sales and encourage tech-shy consumers to become more comfortable with online spending.  (Note:  those were “prehistoric times”…high-speed internet was more readily available at businesses than residences…hence, the Monday strategy).  By 2006, online spend-tracking firm comScore Inc. reported Cyber Monday as the 12th biggest online spending day of the year.  Care to guess when it scored the top spot?  2010.  Just five years from launch to goal line.

This acceleration of consumer acquiescence bodes well for Small Business Saturday.  It is worth noting that Black Friday didn’t have the power of the internet at its inception, and Cyber Monday (while it obviously had the internet) didn’t have the power of social media or “apps” at ITS inception.  But Small Business Saturday has all of these lightening-speed marketing tools in its debut arsenal, and with that, I give you…nearly 3 million Facebook fans and counting in just its second year.

So, how does knowing about this acceleration pattern help your OWN business?  Three ways:

  1. Branding something – an annual sale, event, festival, start-of-season opportunity – turns it into a “rallying point” to create excitement, secure partners, and get consumer and media attention.  You can do this with ANYTHING, from planting your annual tulip bulbs to the day the first sand castle of the season is erected on your beach.  Brand it, create deals and events around it, promote it online and through email blasts, and soon…people will be trained to anticipate it.  It provides a “reason to buy.”
  2. Harness the internet to spread the word:  post it on calendars, optimize search terms, get partners to extend your email/website/social media audience, do some strategic online advertising, blog about it, send press releases to online media, and more.  What used to take decades to gain traction now can take mere months, or even weeks, and with far fewer marketing dollars than ever before.
  3. Ride the coat tails of this massive Thanksgiving weekend shopping power:  do you have a deal for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or (perhaps?) Small Business Saturday?  Don’t let all that marketing equity (built on someone else’s dime) go to waste.  Be ready to join in the frenzy next year.

Of course, you may not have the marketing clout – and budget – of American Express behind you like Small Business Saturday does, but with a bit of focus and a dash of creativity, you can make an impact in your own way.  Think that’s not possible?  Redpoint made a business-building opportunity out of mud for the New England Inns and Resorts Association.  And if money can be made out of mud, surely it can be made out of anything.

Yeah…sometimes, we PR people play dirty.

Note:  Lots of research was done to gather information for this blog post, but special thanks goes to Time and the Columbus Dispatch for their very clear and succinct historical articles on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Extra virgin olive oil gelato, mud, and elk bugling: essentials for a PR toolbox.

July 21, 2011

Who could walk by this board without at least looking at the first flavor?

The sign next to the L’Arte del Gelato cart stopped me in my tracks.  Extra virgin olive oil gelato?  Really?  While the thought of it didn’t actually make me salivate, anyone with a spirit of adventure (and Italian heritage in her DNA) would not pass up the chance to try this odd-sounding flavor.

The verdict after a sample taste?  Let’s just say that I won’t be forgoing hot fudge for olive oil any time soon.

But that one little taste was all it took to seduce me into buying a cup of Madagascar vanilla – $3.25 for a tiny cup that became a memory in 3 minutes – and, while waiting, studying the flavor menu committed me to a return visit (who wouldn’t go back for Nocciola delle Langhe?).

Curiosity prompted me to ask the server if the EVOO gelato is a popular flavor.  His answer:  “everyone comes in to taste it…and then they order something else.”

Hats off to L’Arte del Gelato, then, for a spectacular use of “intriguing weirdness” as a marketing hook.  The flavor gets top billing on the menu board, and they produce it regularly, knowing full well that very few people are really going to order it.  And damn if that gateway drug doesn’t transition people right into getting addicted to “the good stuff.”

The moral here?  When done tastefully (no pun intended), a little weirdness can be just the lure you need to cut through the clutter and grab people’s attention.  When Redpoint launched Mud Season Packages for the New England Inns & Resorts Association, we heard from several member properties that consumers who inquired about the quirky mud experience usually converted to a more “traditional” package booking (but they booked).  And when we created Elk Bugling packages for Gateway Canyons Resort, the same thing happened…media loved it and consumers were intrigued by it, but the increase in bookings had people rafting, biking, and horseback riding…NOT mastering the obscure art of elk bugling.

Business owners and brand managers often resist creating a package, product, or service that they know isn’t really going to sell, but the PR value alone can achieve an enviable ROI just by drawing eyes (and click-thrus) to the brand.  As long as it doesn’t cost too much to create, or require intense operational resources, a notably unusual offering can earn its keep just by luring in potential customers…and the rest is up to you.

And to the creative marketing folks at L’Arte del Gelato?  I see your EVOO gelato, and I raise you sundaes topped with insects, people chewing glass, and the spiritual benefits of shrinking your enemy’s head.  Ha!  Didn’t know that Redpoint represents Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square, did ya?  Thanks to Ripley’s – the nirvana of odd things – we can pretty much take anyone in a “Quirky PR Throwdown.”

PR 101: “Spin” is free…6,000 red capes are not.

April 27, 2011

And did we mention the graphic design fees?

I would love to have been in the room (with a gong) when Workforce Central Florida decided that creating the cartoon character “Dr. Evil Unemployment” — and spending $14,000 on red satin superhero capes to hand out to the unemployed — was a fabulous idea.  True, hindsight is always 20/20, but how on earth could they have not forseen the misery this PR stunt was going to unleash upon them?

Unemployment is a serious issue that does not lend itself well to frivolity.   Sure, some people who collect unemployment are just lazy slackers abusing the system.  But for those people truly desperate to get a job…you’re looking at folks who are stressed out, struggling to feed their families, plagued by feeling unworthy, and seeking avenues to earn back their self respect.  Are these people likely to don a red cape in the hopes of “vanquishing” Dr. Evil Unemployment and take a picture thusly attired for the website photo gallery?  I think not.

Other elements of this $75,000 program include a Facebook contest and quiz (no joke:  “What Superhero Are You?”), photo opps for the unemployed with life size foam cutouts of Dr. Evil himself, billboards, and more.  Is it any wonder the campaign faced such criticism that they had to cancel it after the first week?  (For more details, here’s the original Orlando Sentinel story from April 15, and the Orlando Sentinel blog post from April 20th announcing the cancellation.)

The PR lesson to be learned here?  Do not use goofy, comical PR stunts to draw attention to grave issues…even when you’re the good guy who’s trying to solve them.  Now…if you’re a hotel company trying to showcase your fun side, and want to offer programs like, say…dogs cutting a record at a famous music studio in Nashville or learning to surf in San Diego…well, THAT’S ok.  Even the Today Show would approve of that (click here to see the clip…and yes, Redpoint masterminded this crazy – but successful – program).

But this doesn’t mean that serious issues like unemployment are off limits to PR people.   They just need to be treated with respect.  Take McDonald’s, for instance.  They made headlines in early April by announcing their intention to hire 50,000 people in the U.S. on April 19th.  Sounds amazing right?  Well, guess what?  They hire that many people every April anyway.  But some enterprising PR person in the McD’s food chain looked at that statistic and said, “Hey!  If we link this annual hiring spree to a specific day in April, we could probably get some positive press out of doing our part to reduce the unemployment rate!”  And voila:  they did.

Brilliant.  No cost, confessing to a little spin in their campaign (preventing the media from “exposing” it), and repackaging something they’re already doing to make it sound fresh and unique.  I love it.  Way to go, Mickey D’s.  You’ve done my profession proud.

Want a laugh?  Check out more examples of crazy but successful PR campaigns – including the Instant Gourmet Kitchen, the launch of the Department of Romance, and Playing Dirty During Mud Season – at redpointspeaks.com/results/case-studies/.

Why publicists don’t feel the love on Valentine’s Day…

February 4, 2011

Being a publicist on Valentine’s Day is a decidedly unromantic job.

Every year, we have to dissect and exploit the theme of love in new ways that garner media attention for our clients.  And while chatting over coffee last week, my Redpoint partner Vickie and I walked down memory lane on all the crazy Valentine’s Day promotions we’ve orchestrated for clients over the years, and…damn, if we didn’t end up feeling like romance mercenaries.  Some highlights…

  • Couples jumping over fire in Armenia for Tufenkian Heritage Hotels.
  • Wife-carrying contests in Finland (the man wins the wife’s weight in beer…how romantic).
  • “Sex at Sea” Survey for Royal Caribbean International, proving why “it’s better on the water.”
  • Do Not Disturb packages at Hyatt Resorts, based on our survey that found that intimacy is the number one reason couples put that sign on their door.
  • Search for the Greatest Romantic for Princess Cruises, a contest to award a free cruise to a person who could prove worthy (with a potentially viral video, of course) of this lofty title
  • “Puppy Love” packages at Loews Hotels:  who needs a man?…spend the holiday with your dog (cue cuddly visual below).  See related post about dogs surfing at Loews…we publicists seem to do an equally good job of “exploiting” pets too.

The lesson we learned here?  Publicists – and marketers – simply don’t get to be seduced by the magic of this “Hallmark holiday” like normal people.  We’ve peeked behind the curtain far too many times to swoon when romance knocks at our own door on Feb 14. 

I mean, really…what can the poor guy do?  We see a bouquet of flowers and we think:  Couples’ flower arranging classes at The Crillion…intricate rose petal patterns on the bed that spell out Will You Marry Me at La Casa Que Canta…exotic flowers arranged in bento boxes for sushi lovers…etc.  We see a box of chocolates and we think:  sensual chocolate wrap spa treatments in Maui…a diamond ring hidden in a Godiva gift box…48 hours of chocolate in New England…etc.

You get the idea.  Please don’t judge us for it…it’s an occupational hazard.  And truthfully, we’re all highly romantic and affectionate people here at Redpoint.  Just not on Valentine’s Day.

So this year, we’re going to declare February 15th “Love Your Publicist Day.”  Feel free to send us flowers, chocolate, jewelry, mushy cards…any traditional Valentine’s Day gift you wish.  Our romance-mercenary brains shut down for a while starting that day, so we’ll be quite receptive to anything you send.  But don’t wait too long past that date…magazines have long lead times, so we’ll be flipping that mercenary switch back on around July, already thinking of the newest outlandish idea to exploit love for next year.

It’s a tough job, but we do it because we ♥♥♥♥ our clients.

Musicians that play vegetables? Yeah, that’s AP-worthy…

December 13, 2010

If Associated Press (AP) has ever mentioned your (positive) story, then you know how seductive “syndication” is in the PR world.  With just one pitch or interview, your news is showcased in hundreds – sometimes thousands – of media outlets.  Talk about bang for your pitching buck and skyrocketing click-throughs to your website.

But how do you score such a home run media placement?  Surprisingly, it’s pretty simple…if you have the right story.  We recently spent 15 Minutes With… AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz to learn exactly what it takes to catch her attention with a pitch.

Q:  How do you decide what stories make the cut for distribution over the AP travel news feed?

A:   Well, you have to remember that the AP is first and foremost a news organization, and therefore we take a “news journalism” approach to our story selection.  Even quirky, lighthearted things are almost always anchored to a major news angle, and many of the stories I assign or write are already being covered in the news some other way.  With the British Royal engagement announcement, you’ll be seeing a lot more stories about London…around the recent World Cup, we showcased several different story angles on South Africa…when new air travel regulations are passed, we might focus on the effect it will have on upcoming seasonal travel or how travelers can adapt to the situation.  Any event, announcement, or circumstance that puts a destination in the news gives us an opportunity to extract a story for the travel feed, and the angles we select have to somehow be of interest to travelers all over the world, not just locally.  Keep in mind that half of the stories I select for the feed come – not from PR people or company representatives – but from other AP news desks in the U.S. and around the world: business, entertainment, etc.  (click here  for more AP travel pitching tips)

Q:  If someone doesn’t know you, how can they get your attention to review their pitch?

A:  I read all my emails, even from people I don’t know, and it takes me just a few seconds to decide whether or not the pitch is of interest.  A straightforward email that just says “hey, I’ve got a cool thing that might work for you” is best…there’s no need to try to be clever about it.  The subject line and first few sentences of the email should give me a snapshot of the key points, highlighting what makes your story different, quirky, or of interest to readers everywhere.  Things that make people say “wow,”…things I haven’t ever seen or heard of before…things that are unexpected…all are reasons I might possibly be interested in a story.  Case in point:  Indianapolis recently had a big annual civic festival with this year’s theme focusing on food.  Well, food festivals are a dime a dozen now all around the world, but at this one?  They had a musician performing that actually played instruments made entirely out of vegetables (if you’re interested in learning more…click here).  It was the perfect inclusion for a round up of fall events, and I also tweeted about it.  I run very few deals (i.e. “third night free”) and packages (i.e. “Blissful Spa Getaway”) so people shouldn’t waste their time pitching me on those, but I do keep an eye out for packages that are tied to events already in the news (i.e. “Eat, Pray, Love Packages” or “Harry Potter Packages” launched in conjunction with the movie releases).

Q:  How much detail should someone share in a pitch?

A:  Well, I get hundreds of emails a day and craft only a half-dozen or so stories per week.  It’s fine to send a whole press release, because it doesn’t change the amount of time it takes me to decide whether or not I’m interested.  I’ll still just spend a few seconds scanning the gist of the story to decide if it has merit for AP.  Generally speaking, the shorter the better, and if what you send is newsworthy and I want more information…I’ll ask for it.

Q:  What annoys you most about being pitched?

A:  Follow up calls.  Especially repeated follow up calls.  I do look at all my emails, and if I’m not getting back to you, it simply means I’m not interested.  I try whenever possible to respond with a “no thanks” if I’m not interested, but that’s not an invitation to ask why I don’t want it or hear the angle spun in another way.  With the flood of emails and phone calls I receive each day from PR people and others pitching stories, I don’t have the time to explain to everyone why I’m not interested.  If I send a “no thanks” email, people should just be glad they received closure.  Sometimes, however, I will respond with further instructions for the person to contact me at a later date to revisit the story…and I don’t waste people’s time with stuff like that.  If I ask for that, I mean it.  And one more thing:  I don’t normally do “general, informational interviews,” especially in person.  PR people often pitch me that their client’s CEO is in town, and can they come by my office for a chat?…or try to get me to spend some phone time with a client on a get-to-know-you kind of call.  To me, it’s rare that these types of interviews have a point.  I will do interviews when a particular angle is on my radar screen, but otherwise, I don’t often go on “fishing expeditions” for other news stories.  So many timely and relevant stories land on my desk every single day that I have no need to spend my time in this way.

Q:  How do you decide when you can write a story “from your desk” and when someone needs to go out into the field to experience things first hand?

A:  We try to give coverage to things long before they happen, which gives travelers the opportunity to plan a trip to experience them.  In the Indianapolis example described above, it was more important that we cover it BEFORE the date, than to go experience the festival and write about it after the fact.  But when we’re doing a destination or neighborhood story, or something that’s a perennial or seasonal story, it’s always my preference to send a reporter and photographer to experience the story first hand.  In the case of the “Mud Season Getaways in New England” story you pitched me on a few years ago, I could have just done a round-up of the hotel packages offered, but the unexpectedness of the story seemed worthy of a broader perspective.  You don’t think of mud as a reason to travel – more like a reason to stay away – so it was the “man bites dog” aspect of the pitch that attracted me.  It was worth my sending in a regional AP stringer/photographer to explore the larger story.  When I have the resources and a local AP person to tap for on-the-ground research, I always prefer that to “desk stories.”

Last Q:  So, what’s one thing that’s on your radar screen right this very moment?

A:  Ireland.  I’m swirling around the idea that “Ireland is the new Iceland,” so I’m open for any and all story ideas about Ireland right now.

Want to try your hand at pitching Beth?  Email her at bharpaz@ap.org, and follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AP_Travel.

 

Worth 1,000 words…and every penny.

August 2, 2010

There is a reason the phrase “A picture is worth 1,000 words” came into being.  And in the PR and marketing world, there’s a twist on that old adage:  “A cool photo shoot is worth every penny.”

When Redpoint launched a Learning Vacations for Pets program at Loews Hotels, we dutifully wrote up the details in a compelling press release.  But you want to know what got the most attention from journalists?  This…

Journalists — and “regular people” — love arresting visuals.  If you’ve got fabulous news to share…don’t cut corners by skimping on the photo shoot.  You can maximize your spend by using the photos in other ways beyond PR…on your website, in email newsletters, on Facebook and other social media sites, and much more.

The cooler the photo, the more likely it will command the attention you seek.  So, when a visual will help tell your story better than words can, bite the bullet and spend the money.  People will remember it long after your words are forgotten.