It’s common knowledge in business circles that marketing can make or break a company. The more people hear about your products and services, the more opportunities you have to build a solid customer base. So, how do you get the word out about the value that your agency brings to travelers?
One way is to position yourself as the go-to travel resource for your local press. The internet and social media have shaken up the way companies handle their marketing overall, but tried-and-true publicity is still an important part of any good marketing program. It’s effective and it’s free (when you do it yourself).
“Working with the media can be rewarding for your business in that it gives your business credibility,” said Effie Beshere-Walthall, a travel agent at Orlando-based OnDeck Travel. “For a while, I was doing pretty frequent segments for Fox 35.”
But where do you start? Here’s a primer on getting your agency into your local press.
Find the right media outlet
First off, know that the news media is always looking for good stories to tell. Whether it be online or print newspapers, regional lifestyle magazines, local radio stations, local TV stations, blogs, or podcasts, they all have pages and pages of text to fill for readers and untold minutes of dead air to make exciting for listeners.
Editors and producers have a constant need to find interesting stories, tips, commentaries, and opposing opinions from local experts. They want to hear your ideas.
Start by paying attention to the news cycle, to what your local media is covering. You don’t have to read everything - just scan the headlines. It helps you stay current on trends that you can tie into. For instance, if your local TV station regularly runs segments about the diminishing health of American workers, you might pitch a story about the health benefits of taking a vacation. If they often talk about multigenerational challenges, offer a story about the five best travel experiences for families to do together and bond. If there are repeated stories about crime in tourist destinations, pitch a story about how important travel insurance is these days and how, as a travel agent, you’ve helped many travelers out of jams, getting them home safely.
Once you make a connection with a local news outlet - and you do a great job providing them with compelling information for their audience - you just may find yourself with a regular press gig.
John Morrison, a travel agent, and agent engagement team lead at Travel Planners International, has appeared multiple times on his local Fox affiliate as a travel industry expert and for a semi-weekly “Travel Deals” segment. He said, “I was suggested to a single producer and have been asked back now almost a dozen times from that one meeting.”
For Beshere-Walthall, Fox 35 needed someone to do a segment on cruise ships going to Cuba. They reached out to her. After that, they continued to call her whenever they needed someone to speak about a travel-related topic.
But don’t wait for them to find you. Start by making a list of your local media outlets. Everything you need is online.
Identify the best contact
Next, identify the best contact for your travel stories. For TV and radio, look for the producers. For publications, look for editors, assignment desk editors, travel editors or lifestyle editors. Most of this can be found online, but sometimes you have to call and ask for the most appropriate person.
Another excellent resource is HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which is a website listing journalists who are looking for experts on specific topics.
Ta-Tanisha Thomas, creator of exceptional experiences, at Officially Crowned Travel, in Tennessee, said: “I keep my eye open for leads through a daily list-serve from reporters seeking assistance with stories.” She’s a certified autism travel professional specializing in multigenerational family, romance, and luxury international travel - and she responds to stories that are aligned with her areas of expertise.
Create story pitches
This is the fun part - and it’s where you, as a travel advisor, can really shine. What are you an expert in? What travel niche(s) can you talk about at length without running out of material? Most importantly, what excites you? - because, rest assured that your passion (or lack of it) will come through in your interview and quotes!
As you’re crafting your pitches, always tell a good story. Give interesting anecdotes, with real-life examples (of course, no customer names, please).
Focus on the benefits to the audience. Lists are always good, such as: 7 ways to reduce travel stress, or 5 places you have to see before it’s too late, or 7 reasons why Millennials are embracing river cruising.
Morrison suggests: “Make it relevant to the local area, local consumers. Keep it topical to stories that the media outlet is already covering. Make it heavy on the offer to provide knowledge and insight, light on the sales pitch - they have paid advertising for that.”
Beshere-Walthall also has practical advice about pitching: “Focus on the topic you want to pitch in the subject line. Get to the point. Don’t make the pitch too wordy, keep it short. And, always allow enough lead time.”
What’s more, she said: “Don’t give up! Just because you pitch one time and you don’t receive an email back or call back, try again. Pitches rarely get picked up on the first contact and follow-up is necessary in most cases … Follow up!”
Avoid doing this at all costs
The agents-in-the-know that we spoke to also gave some tips on what to avoid, at all costs, when pitching the press. Keep these in mind - and don’t do them:
- Don’t make the pitch too long.
- Never pitch like you are selling something.
- Don’t wait too long to follow up on your pitch.
- Don’t lie or stretch any story or expertise. (Just be authentic).
- Don’t ever ignore a call or email from a press person, or they won’t contact you next time. (Respond as fast as possible to them.)
- Don’t be unprepared! (Get your bullet points ready ahead of time and practice them. Keep it conversational, or it will sound scripted.)
Tell your customers all about it
Let’s fast-forward. You took on the challenge, you pitched, and you won … you got featured as a travel expert in your local press. Now, be sure to tell your customers all about it. Put a link to the news coverage on your website, in your customer enewsletter, on your social media pages. Even tell them over the phone, “Did you hear that our agency was on the local NBC station last week? We were so excited about it!”
Just do it
Thomas had one more bit of advice to share with her fellow travel agents: “I want to encourage my colleagues to go for it! In our roles, we serve as a wealth of knowledge and subject matter expert on a range of all things travel, from packing to best destinations to money-saving travel tips and even getting the best value for your time, you name it! I want them to trust their story and share their experiences!”
Morrison concurs: “Don’t be afraid to just do it!”
FROM THE SPONSOR: At Travel Planners International, you’re more than just a travel advisor. You’re a small business owner who is curating experiences that have an impact on the people you serve. For the last 30 years, we’ve believed in, guided, and championed the small business owner – and we have no intention of stopping. So, along with competitive commission plans, profit-generating marketing programs, and access to cutting-edge technology, we give emerging entrepreneurs the tools, guidance, and confidence to be successful and to harness their entrepreneurial spirit. Plus, with our #BetheCurator campaign and Tourism Cares, our 2019 Signature Charity, we’re elevating our 3,750-plus community of agents to a platform where they can truly change the world around them. But, don’t just take our word for it. Visit travelplannersinternational.com and let’s get you where you want to be.