Hotel Public Relations: Inside, Outside, or Inside-Out?
By Didi Lutz President, Didi Lutz PR | May 06, 2010
In the midst of daily operations - preparation for arrivals, room inspections, hosting private events, and countless other details - there is a small department that devotes its efforts solely in establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between the hotel and all its publics. The term "publics" generally refers to any group attempting to influence an organization, and within hospitality, examples of publics include of course guests, VIPs, unions, activists, government, community leaders, and employees only to name a few. The public relations team leverages the hotel's mission and goals to reflect its interests to these publics and acts as a communications liaison. But the public that occupies a communication manager's time the most are the all-powerful, the invincible, the almighty Media.
Choosing the right people to tackle the mood changes of the press is crucial. Many hotels are torn between spending the extra thousands to hire agencies which outsource their professional services. Outside public relations agencies have an enormous advantage: for the most part they have experience within the industry and know influential people in it. They have established relationships and have worked with many editors in the past and therefore are more confident to leave voicemails knowing that they will get a call back. And they usually do.
In addition, agents are able to act as seasoned representatives for their client in events, fundraisers, networking parties, and participate in all the glitz and media glamour in order to get their message out to everyone. But, attending high-profile events will not necessarily get the hotel the publicity it needs. Agencies usually have all the tools necessary to create appropriate messages. Typically, they have a graphic designer on staff responsible for updating and maintaining the client's website, designing collateral material such as brochures, fliers, promotions and advertisements, among other things. Agencies are also experts in preparing General Managers and/or executives to handle reporters in public appearances, press conferences and other types of interviews.
But this elite service will cost you plenty, as most agencies work on a monthly retainer fee. Depending on the nature of the hotel, there are some months that are "dead" from a press perspective. For example, Boston is very slow from December through March which makes publicity during those months highly competitive. Agencies will still charge the retainer fee during those months, since they are reaching out to editors regardless of results, although agencies generally guarantee exposure to their clients over a certain period of time.
Question: What is the difference between having your own gourmet kitchen and going to a fine dining restaurant? Hmmm... Along with price and service there is another variable to consider: You can prepare meals in the kitchen, the way you want, whenever you need to, and at any time. You're flexible. A similar philosophy applies to in-house public relations staff. More often than not, especially for small hotels, this is a more economical alternative. The on-site public relations professional works from an office in the hotel and manages media requests and pop-ups fast. While the agency handles multiple accounts, the in-house person has only one focus, and therefore outreach can be far greater. Also, there is more time to develop editorial relationships like the ones the agency has, and focus on pitching various story ideas.
What's more, the in-house professional is always available to give walk-in press tours (agencies work with appointments only), therefore maximizing publicity potential. Since the on-site professional is a hotel employee they tend to know the property and its functions in greater detail than the agency will. This fact provides an additional advantage when exploring new editorial angles. For instance, there may be a special feature in a guestroom that maybe small, a VIP cat food amenity for instance, but significant enough to capture an editor's attention. And this leads to yet another fact: simply because a relationship is established doesn't always guarantee placement in an issue. The pitch is definitely essential, but it is the quality and timing that need to match the outlet's editorial focus and audience. Some publications take a different approach and ask you to spend thousands to advertise, and then, maybe, they will write a small blurb to give you the third party endorsement you were looking for in the first place.