Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How Do You Tell YOUR Story?

Every business, like every person, has a unique story. It is what defines you and motivates us to want to do business with you.  Do you tell the BEST story or are you missing it completely?

Here’s an example of overlooking a very easy opportunity….

About a year ago, I learned that a favorite author purchased a hotel. Yesterday, I received an email from the property which left me speechless.

Here is an establishment owned by a popular romance novelist, and yet the email evoked no sense of romance. The focus was about the new hotel manager and her recent relocation woes involving a 60-foot moving truck.  If that doesn’t kill the romance, I don’t know what does.

I clicked through to the property's website.  While each guest room was named after a famous couple in literature — apparently there was some attempt to be romantic — this is where the effort ended. The website did not show flattering photographs of the rooms or promote a fantasy, the copy was sterile, and one would have never known this was a hotel owned by a successful novelist whose books promise romance and passion with each turn of the page.

As a fan, I wanted to read about how my husband and I could tuck ourselves away in this hotel and enjoy a seductive fireplace and breakfast in bed. I wanted to be enveloped by the Egyptian cotton sheets and fluffy down comforter and know that the complimentary iPod would play a soundtrack of love songs in the background. This is what would have sold me on planning a stay — even if it was in a location I might not ordinarily visit.

While you might think the novelist wanted to play down her tie to the property, the sender's email address address boldly featured her name.  The disconnect between who the novelist is, what she sells to millions of readers worldwide, and how she promotes her hotel is striking.  And yet, I suspect she probably isn’t even aware of it.  It’s a perfect opportunity to sell another story — but maybe she is too close to actually see how she completely misses the mark.

Oftentimes we are so busy managing the urgent business needs of today and tomorrow, we forget about the bigger picture. We are mired in the day-to-day struggles so even the simplest yet most important marketing opportunities are overlooked.

It's absolutely imperative to make time at least once a week to take a step back and look at your business from the OUTSIDE in. And if you unable to achieve this — and many of us are — bring someone in to help you see the easy opportunities you might be overlooking in order to properly tell YOUR story.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • Identify your unique story.
  • Make sure every aspect of your company communicates that story.
  • Check in at least once a week to see if you are missing opportunities to be a great storyteller.

                                                                                                                                     
NEED HELP DEFINING YOUR STORY?

If you just don't have the time to come up with a story about how to position your product or service, contact me and we'll figure it out.  Send an email to Jane@JCCommunicationsllc.com or call 917-930-0062.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Feeding The Social Media Beast

I spend a good amount of time on social media committee calls with clients. We usually “meet” monthly to determine appropriate content for Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Invariably there are one or two individuals — usually responsible for hotel catering and sales — who see Facebook, in particular, as a direct sales tool. They talk about posting their lengthy group or wedding flyers on the page or invitations to VIP client events or pitches to book proms.

If you get nothing else from this blog, remember this: Facebook is NOT a place to post your ads, sales flyers, or invitations to exclusive events. You shouldn't even post price points or packages there unless you are a deal-oriented company and people look to your social media outlets to alert them to your latest short-notice deals.

Facebook was designed as a means of engagement — originally for college kids to keep in touch, but it evolved for commercial use as a way to share information and ultimately define your brand. Sure, there are definitely ways to leverage social media to increase revenue, but you need to do so in a more circumspect manner.

Whenever I am asked for recommendations on Facebook content — JC Communications’ actually prepares monthly content calendars for a number of name brand hotels and tour operators — these are often my simple “go to” topics for social content:

  • Weddings: If you want to sell weddings at your hotel, talk about wedding trends.  For example, Radiant Orchid is the Pantone Color of the Year for 2014.  Brides everywhere are incorporating it into their wedding in some way, so show examples of how brides are achieving this for their wedding at your hotel through flowers, colored gobos, linens, etc. It’s basically a soft sell to highlight how you are on top of today’s trends and what your ballroom looks like dressed up for a wedding. Trust me…your fans are smart enough to connect the dots.
  • Meetings: Want to communicate your meetings prowess?  Highlight a “Cupcake Bar” as a trending afternoon coffee break option with photography or feature a photo of your ballroom set with sofas and easy chairs to demonstrate your forward-thinking, flexible meetings services.
  • Human Connection:  Has your bellman been at the hotel for 25 years? Do you have a housekeeper everyone loves? We recently posted a photo of an omelet chef at a hotel who had been doing her job for 30+ years and fans went wild because it was someone they knew, liked, and wanted to recognize her.
  • Celebrity Sightings: If you sell tours to France, talk about a celebrity couple who may have just honeymooned or vacationed there. The popular "set-jetting" trend is always a great way to promote a destination you sell by simply talk about a fun fact surrounding a movie that was filmed there.
  • Organic Postings: Today's snowstorm touched many people. Showing a photo of your engineering staff helping guests clean off their cars is a great way to engage and display the human touch of your hotel.
  • Service-Oriented Tips: If there is a new museum in town, a great comic book store that rivals the one on "The Big Bang Theory", or a popular exhibit that's not to be missed in your destination, share news about it with fans. They will look to you as a trusted information resource, share a fun post, and continue to be a fan.
If you don't keep your social media outlets fresh, fun, and engaging, sooner rather than later, you're going to start losing fans. They will quickly decide you have nothing important to say or share with them, and when your competitor catches their eye, you may ultimately lose a customer in the long term.

                                                                                                                                     

TRENDING TIP OF THE WEEK


Think twice before you engage with a company that wants you to buy likes for your Facebook page.  After watching this informative video, you may want to also revisit the effectiveness of Facebook advertising.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Are Selling Rooms Via The OTAs Really Worth The Social Media Backlash?

By Jane Coloccia, President & Chief Creative Officer, JC Communications, LLC


Whether you like it or not, social media is going to have a significant impact on your business in 2014. Hotels and travel companies are realizing that all of this Tweeting, Pinning, and online critiquing just isn't going away and, as such, they're going to have to embrace it as an integral part of their sales and marketing culture.

Many organizations are now, in fact, tying performance ratings into how they are perceived by guests and customers — and what is being said about them on everything from TripAdvisor to Twitter.  Now here's the rub....

If you are a hotel that allots a certain number of rooms to the Online Travel Agencies like Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, etc., so that you can put heads in beds during need periods, you have to recognize this may impact your online reputation.  The same can be said for tour operators who sell their tours at a fraction of the cost via Groupon and Living Social.

Because the reality is that consumers who get a great deal on your product via these companies probably wouldn't normally pay your full rate and thus aren't your ideal customer anyway.  And now you have someone staying in your hotel or taking your tour and reviewing your product on TripAdvisor, Facebook, or Twitter and quite possibly saying things that may negatively impact your reputation.

Suddenly guests who got a $50 room on Priceline are complaining they are overlooking the parking lot instead of the ocean. Or lamenting that breakfast, Internet access, and parking ARE NOT included at this four-star hotel and it's simply not worth the money to pay for these "extras" which are included at the motel across the street. These travelers don't get there is a trade-off for paying such a low price and that hotels have different price structures for a reason. While you would hope that other consumers who read these reviews would realize this, it's not always so evident and thus a bad review lives on as a negative in your online reputation world.

Studies on these consumers show they are not loyal to any brand — except perhaps for Groupon, Living Social, or Expedia — and will go wherever the cheapest price takes them. They are vocal, have high expectations, and don't really see intrinsic added value. They are all about the bottom line and if you don't meet their very high expectations, they are going to share their dissatisfaction with the world at your cost.

Perhaps this is why a number of travel companies just refuse to sell a room via Priceline or Expedia and will not promote a deal on Groupon. They have high ratings on the top social media travel sites, have a good influx of business, and as a result, don't often need to advertise.

They have made a choice to protect their rate and reputation and attract the guest who understands the product they deliver, the price they charge, and the value proposition.  And while they may still get a negative review here and there because of an unfortunate lapse in service, in most cases they aren't getting reviews or posts by people who want everything for nothing and unleash a social media firestorm when they don't get it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Don't Think Local...Think Global!

I spend a lot of my time talking with hotel and travel marketing executives about public relations.

The one misconception I frequently come across is that many executives believe the PR firm they hire must be local. This is quite surprising to me, because in reality, the majority of the hotel or company's guests are going to originate from OUTSIDE of the local area anyway.

Sure, some portion of the business will come from the surrounding community — local corporations with inbound executives, local meetings, weddings and other social affairs, etc. — but, in reality, most of the overnight hotel guests will originate from outside of the immediate metro area.

While you might want a local agency for an on-site restaurant, even that isn't a necessity.  An agency's established media connections and the ability to put a creative and interesting spin on story angles SHOULD be the primary focus and that can be done from anywhere in the world. I should know...I've done it.

If the ability to call someone in on a moment's notice to sit across the desk from you for a face-to-face meeting is your top priority, you might want to rethink that in terms of what you are probably sacrificing.

The key in selecting a PR agency, is to find one which has relationships with national media contacts, international media contacts if your city attracts a global audience, regional media contacts, and, of course, media contacts in your city.

An agency which operates globally is always going to be a better choice because it serves to expand your own local sales effort and help you target audiences you didn't originally have on your radar and couldn't possibly reach without an extensive sales team and advertising budget.

The world has changed. Technology has enabled us to communicate more efficiently whether it be with our colleague in the office right next door or someone on the other side of the world.  So give up the need to have someone sit across the desk from you in return for someone who can actually bring the world to your door.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Do You Deliver What You Promise?

My husband and I recently returned from a voyage in the Mediterranean with Windstar Cruises.  For those of you who may not be familiar with the company, they position themselves as a "luxury cruise line" with a tagline that promises "180 Degrees From Ordinary."

What caught my eye in selecting this itinerary was the view of the lavender fields in Provence — which Windstar uses as its "hero" shot in its brochure and on the website.  One of my "bucket list" getaways has always been to visit Provence, see the lavender fields, and simply immerse myself in the region. And so we signed up for just one of two cruises through this region which departed on July 13th or 20th.

To say that this cruise was "180 Degrees From Ordinary" would be a complete lie. It was 100% ordinary and not one bit "luxury."  Consider the fact that lunches consisted of a choice of hot dogs, hamburgers, and burritos; the dinner wine list (while cruising through the South of France) featured not one French wine; the dress code for many diners was quite often shorts and flip-flops — and no one was turned away from the dining room; and not one daily excursion included the lavender fields — simply because there weren't any at this time of year— the only time, in fact, when Windstar WAS offering this itinerary.  If this isn't a classic case of over-promise and misleading the guest, I don't know what is.

Like you, I live and breathe travel marketing every day.  I am continually counseling my clients to make sure they deliver what they promise, don't over-promise and under-deliver, and don't mislead the customer simply because it will be next to impossible to get them back. "Walk the Talk" at all times.

What drove this philosophy home even stronger was when reading a story today in Entreprenuer Magazine by Sir Richard Branson about crafting your mission statement. I couldn't agree more with his comment that "Some companies are not actually able to carry out their mission."

So what is YOUR mission?  Take some time during these slower days of summer and review your mission statement, check in to see if it is actually doable, and more than anything, make sure you deliver what you promise.  Because in this day of social media and blogging, your misstep will indeed be heard 'round the world.

Friday, May 31, 2013

If You Are A Hotelier Trying To Outwit, Outplay, Or Outsmart TripAdvisor Ratings — DON'T!

A story first came to light yesterday about someone from Accor Hotels & Resorts posting good reviews on TripAdvisor for its own properties and bad reviews on its competitors. Today we find out the individual in question was Accor's Director of Communications for the Asia-Pacific region who supposedly "acted on his own," and is now on a leave of absence pending further investigation.

This reminds me of a situation a few years ago when my sister and I took my father on a trip to Italy as a respite from his caregiving for my Alzheimer's-afflicted mother.  At a hotel in Florence he was given a horrible room — one that had a single window overlooking an air shaft.  The room was quite warm, there was no way to turn off the heat, and if you tried to open the window, an offensive odor came in from the dark shaft.  We asked the front desk staff if we could get another room and they refused.  Upon check-out we asked for a manager to address some type of refund for a "deluxe" room that turned out to be anything but, and were told that the manager in charge was on holiday and we could contact him in two weeks!

Needless to say when I returned to the States, I posted a negative review of the property on TripAdvisor.  I had no immediate intention to do so, but the hotel's complete inability to address my situation prompted this response.  I still attempted to secure a refund for this room and when the general manager finally got back to me after weeks of trying to reach him, I was told point-blank that he would only issue a refund if I took off my TripAdvisor review!

As someone who manages TripAdvisor reviews for a number of clients, none of us likes to see negative feedback, but if we look at what the guest has experienced and talk to the operations team about the complaint in question, very often there is an opportunity to address a service or facility issue we may not have been aware of — or perhaps didn't want to see.  Granted there are guests who have petty complaints, but in the majority of cases, some of the issues reported definitely warrant a closer look.  And when someone takes the time to post a review in this age of social media where everyone tells everybody about everything, you want them to feel heard.  Ignoring these reviews is NOT the way to go.

Those of us who work in the PR and communications field are always trying to enhance the image of our clients; however, to do so at the expense of the competition or in a way that bends the rules isn't really a smart move when you consider what may happen — and in this case most certainly did — if your methods aren't completely above board and get noticed.

Is it not better to focus on doing things right than on putting so much time and effort into cleaning up the mess AFTER the fact?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When One Plus One Equals More Than Two

When you are doing sales and marketing for your hotel or travel company, sometimes you have to lift your head up from your desk and computer and take a good look around. Are there any companies trying to reach a like-minded audience that you might be able to partner with and reap the benefits of a dual effort?

I've been doing PR for a resort in Florida.  A local museum down the road just reopened after a major renovation and is hosting an exhibit that is gaining a lot of buzz because of its uniqueness. So the hotel became the only property in the area to partner with the museum and create a package around the exhibit. The goal was to offer the Florida vacationer something more than just a beach vacation. Why not add in a little culture and education too?

And then came the PR element. We did a press release for the package which was sent to national and local media. The first of many major hits:  Travel + Leisure's Hot Deals Newsletter which goes to 600,000 travelers and provides an equivalent ad value in excess of $10,000.

We also contacted the museum's marketing staff and asked how we could partner with them. They were doing a media day for the launch of the exhibit and we offered to host the press in the hotel. They also featured our press release and package on the museum's website and have implemented a print and broadcast radio campaign in other parts of the state that promotes the exhibit AND the hotel's themed package for those coming in from out of town.

The bottom line is that it didn't really cost the hotel much to increase exposure to a wider audience of both regional and national travelers. And it was able to provide a value-added element...something more than just a stay at a beach resort. And by showing initiative and partnering with the museum, not only did the hotel have something to promote, but it got a free ride on the museum's ad budget. What could be better than that?