Young travel professionals know full well that travel agents suffer from an image problem. The key to changing that is to “be as visible as you can be” – including by getting covered in the media.
That message was delivered by Ryan McGredy, president of ASTA’s Young Professionals Society, during a YPS Summit at ASTA’s Global Convention in Miami last month.
To drive home the point and provide guidance for YPS members at the summit, the group invited a marketing and communications specialist to share her advice and ground rules for getting press coverage.
Getting coverage in the media isn’t all that difficult, Lynne Farber, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Florida International University, told the audience. “The media needs your information.”
Farber, whose career spans more than 25 years in corporate public relations, laid out a few ground rules to help agents gain visibility in the media.
1. Figure out which media outlets are relevant for you. Depending on your target audience, this might be local newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets, regional or national travel publications, etc. Print media is often the easiest place to get coverage because editors need to fill space, Farber advised.
2. Develop and maintain a list of journalist contacts at your targeted press outlets (travel editors, business editors, etc.). Be sure to keep the list up to date.
3. Begin getting to know the reporters and editors at your target media outlets by reaching out to them casually. Farber urged agents to pick up the phone to call journalists and introduce themselves, then suggest getting together over coffee or lunch. (Buying lunch for a journalist is not a breach of ethics, Farber said.)
4. Figure out what type of news will be of interest to your targeted media outlets. She suggested agents ask themselves a few questions before contacting an editor with news or a story idea: Is it interesting? Unique? Will it affect a large group of people? Is it something that has never been done before? “You can’t just send out stuff and think it will stick. The important thing is, is it news-worthy?”
5. If you have a news item or announcement, it’s appropriate to send a short press release to a number of news outlets. However, if you are pitching a feature story idea to an editor or reporter, don’t send it to competing news outlets. Start with one, then go down your list of contacts until you get a positive response.
6. When sending a press release or idea for a story provide as much information to the reporter as possible. The easier you make it for the reporter or editor, the more likely they’ll be to run your story.
7. Find out how each reporter likes to be contacted. Some prefer to be contacted by phone, while others prefer email.
8. Cultivate relationships with journalists over time so they will respond when you reach out to them with information or a news tip. “You need to get to know these people and they have to get to know you,” Farber said. “As you build these relationships, they’ll begin to believe in you and they’ll come to you for stories and in a crisis.”
9. When reporters reach out to you for comments or information, “you need to respond quickly and accurately,” Farber advised. “You need to be on top of what’s going on in your industry.” If there’s a travel-related crisis or disaster, be prepared to answer questions about how you would handle it.
Farber said that in the course of her career in public relations, it was her strong relationships with journalists that resulted in the media coverage her organizations were looking for. “They also kept them from eating me in a crisis,” she said.
“The media can be your best friend, and then when something bad happens, they are on you, big time,” she warned.