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Farming, not Hunting

By Katherine Doggrell, Co-Founder for NewDog PR
8 March 2023
5 min read
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Katherine Doggrell, co-founder, NewDog PR, reports from the latest webinar hosted by the ILHA’s EMEA division; Massage your message: How to make the most of PR and communications.

Before being able to tell your story through PR and communications, it is essential to know what that story is.

Emily Newman, co-founder, NewDog PR, said: “An organisation has to have complete clarity on what it is they want and what the messages are – and therefore what it is they want to achieve from PR and communications activities – before going into a relationship.

“We can work with a client to try and define those messages, but unless it’s solid from the outset, the rest of the journey isn’t going to be too smooth.”

Roman Townsend, managing director, Belvera Partners, agreed, adding: “Companies will come to you saying ‘we need PR’, but when you challenge them on who they are trying to reach, who is the audience, it is surprising how often no-one knows. Then you find yourself saying: ‘I don’t think this is going to work because you don’t seem to have any clear objective’.”

Despite the issues around communications before communications could begin, there was no doubt around the importance of spreading that message, once it had been identified and refined, particularly while the sector was in recovery following the travel restrictions of the pandemic.

Mika Bishop, director, Houston, Branscombe Group, said: “The pandemic was a time for business leaders to communicate with clarity as much as they could and to interact with staff while no-one was travelling.

“It was really important for PRs and hotels to come up with creative angles to keep their message out there, such as; chefs offering home baking tips, sports club instructors offering exercises online, all to maintain that loyalty and to keep customers engaged. I think all of the above are still very important post pandemic but there is now a greater focus now on communicating the purpose of your business, the brand values and what your business stands for.

“The importance of narrative can’t be underestimated; knowing who your audiences are, and communicating the benefits of your brand to the consumer and what they are going to take away from a stay in your luxury hotel. It’s getting the consumers to buy into the purpose and the reasons why you why you exist, and what you’re doing and what your purpose is, and engaging with staff as well to create a stronger voice for your brand as well internally.

“Brand partnerships are a great way for luxury hotels to reach a new audience or brand partnership with a lifestyle brand. Elevating your hotel to become not just a player in the travel sector, but a real lifestyle brand.”

Molly Peel, social media manager, The Red Carnation Hotels Collection, commented that video had now come into its own. She said: “A huge part of our 2023 social strategy is video first. We all saw the rise of TikTok during the pandemic – I definitely thought I was too old for it and now I’m obsessed, I don’t go a day without going on it.

“One of the massive elements of a successful social strategy is being adaptable and jumping quickly onto trends. Our audience changes every month, which is really exciting, but it is also challenging. We have 18 different properties around the world, but we can use that and make what we do really exciting.”

The travel sector is flourishing on the back of pent-up demand and with it growth in room rates and a focus on the luxury hotel segment, which has seen all the major branded operators pushing their development teams towards their high-end flags. The attraction of much higher fees and growing demand means that it is the five star rather than economy hotels which are now viewed as the more bankable investments.

Despite this, the panel noted that there was still some reticence around making an investment in PR, tied to the lack of clear KPIs when compared to a bricks and mortar spend.

Townsend said: “One of the challenges we face is that it’s impossible to directly link PR to any kind of ROI. It’s farming, not hunting: the benefits are so far away. And because the link is so weak, people often can’t see it. You can cut your PR today, and you can be fine for six months, or a year or two years. And it’s only when you have a problem that you question what happened, but no one says; ‘oh, it’s because two years ago, we cut the PR’, they’ll say it’s because someone went on TV and said something nasty, or, the public didn’t like something you’ve done. It’s quite hard.

“PR is just stories, it’s narrative. But if you can get it right, you can motivate people way beyond economics. And either you believe in the power of that, or you don’t.”

Newman concluded that flexibility was required on both sides of the relationship to make it work. She said: “The entire PR and comms remit is all about relationships, whether that be with influencers or with press or with the clients and nurturing those relationships requires honest conversations.

“We know companies are under huge pressure and budgets are being squeezed. But we know that maintaining that narrative is a long game. It might be a case of going to an agency and saying; ‘Look, we’re really struggling at the moment. Is there anything we can do to just keep ticking over rather than ending our relationship completely?’ We all believe in a long-term vision.”