I spoke at PRSA Travel & Tourism conference in Aspen last week, as part of a panel entitled “Reaching Key Influencers Where They Live (Online).”
I felt lucky to be included in that definition. Of those of us on the panel, which included Kara S. Williams of The Vacation Gals, Johnny Jet and Rich Beattie of Travel + Leisure.com, I definitely have the smallest audience, even if I had the most traditional media experience.
As I wrote earlier in the year, my relationship with public relations professionals has evolved over time. I came away from the conference believing that the public relations community has embraced new media at a faster clip – and more enthusiastically – than the traditional media community. There are a lot of journalists out there who would be stunned at how sophisticated online marketing has become
Of course, from a blogging point of view, things look a little different. For those who have become successful in the blogging world, the outreach efforts that PR people have made seem haphazard at best, and occasionally insulting at worst. The “push” model that dominated interactions with mainstream media for years simply doesn’t work with bloggers, who value relationships and conversation more.
Here are a few takeaways off the top of my head from the conference. I’d love to hear other people’s take on the issue.
For PR professionals:
1. Educating your clients has to be the priority. During the conference, I talked to several professionals who would love to work with bloggers, but the powers-that-be on their accounts still don’t see the value. Some of the presentations at the conference proved that real-life success stories are out there. Educate, then emulate, perhaps on a smaller scale so you have some results to bring into meetings.
2. Realize that the economics of freelance writing has changed. A few people voiced concerns that it seems that bloggers are just out for freebies. The reality is that print outlets have cut back their freelance budgets, and the amount of money that writers are receiving for stories has diminished (Demand Media, which now provides travel content to USA TODAY, pays its writers between $10 to $15 a story. That’s less than you can make at a temp job). So even established freelance writers are angling for better comps, if only to make their work financially viable.
3. Blogging is niche marketing in the extreme. Kara made the point that not all blogs are created equal. It’s so true. There are so many blogs out there, each with a different focus and a different audience. That’s a tough research hurdle, but it also means that you can target your outreach very specifically to consumers who might actually stay at your property or visit your destination. And remember that blogger content lives on in SEO for a long time.
4. Focus on the environment and the conversation, not the numbers. I asked one PR rep why she had invited me on one particular trip, as my blog is on the newer and smaller side. She told me that she liked the look of the blog, as well as the atmosphere that I had cultivated with the comments (the fact that many of my readers are other media types was also a factor). This is why you should always READ the blog thoroughly before starting a conversation. (Not reading someone’s blog is the number one complaint that I’ve heard from other bloggers).
5. You can influence the reach of online content. Bloggers love it when you repost, tweet or stumble their posts. Many of the PR people who are active on Twitter, such as Angela Beradino (@CoTravelGirl) and Meg Nesterov (@thenotoriousmeg), and Facebook (props to Amy Walters Weirick) understand this. More eyeballs on my blog is good for me AND you, if I’m writing about your property or destination. It’s a perfect place for bloggers and PR people to work together.
1. Bloggers still have a reputation for amateurism, which in some cases is well deserved. I’ve witnessed some behavior from bloggers on press trips this year that would make your hair curl. The more professional we become, the more seriously people will take us. So please think twice before you indulge in counterproductive – or illegal – behavior.
2. It can’t just be about the freebies. Keep in mind that ROI rules the day in the PR world. Your foremost question when you go into a trip should be, “How are you going to add value to the equation on behalf of your readers?”, not “How much swag can I get?”
3. Understand how the old model worked. Yes, the world has changed. Traditional media is less relevant (irrelevant?). The old way of doing business doesn’t work. Blah blah blah. You still should be aware of what came before, if only so you understand where the PR people you are working with are coming from. At the largest news organizations, freebies still aren’t allowed and it can take up to a year for a short and breezy placement. Consider how scary it can be for a destination to encounter bloggers who speak their mind, who post and tweet their immediate impressions and elaborate on the smallest details. It’s much harder to control that kind of message so PR people are taking a leap of faith when they enter the fray.
4. Marketing needs to be more sophisticated. Gary Arndt of Everything-Everywhere , which garners the highest audience by far of any independent travel blog, has drawn up a marketing PDF for his blog that rivals the rate sheets put out at a magazine. It’s professional, sophisticated and written in language that PR professionals understand. He’s speaking at TBEX next month, and I hope he talks more about it.
5. Continue to organize and push the envelope. I was still at USA TODAY last year when Kim Mance organized the first TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference in Chicago. I remember reading the tweets and thinking that we at the paper could learn from the entrepreneurial mindset that drives the blogging community. I can’t wait for the second TBEX in New York later this month. Even though travel blogging will remain a secondary career for me, I know that I’ll learn a lot from the bloggers who are leading the community – and that their innovation will appeal to PR professionals as well.
My full presentation can be found at slideshare.net, another tool that I discovered at the conference.
This is a conversation that should continue, particularly as we head into TBEX, so please leave your thoughts and insights below.