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Using Public Relations As a Complement to
Your Hotel Advertising Campaign

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By Tory Parks, Director of Sales & Marketing, Benchmark Hospitality at Del Lago Resort, January 2004

Adding public relations into an advertising campaign is a no brainer, although many people in the hospitality industry and industries alike may not realize the benefits.  Implementing a public relations effort to complement an existing advertising campaign can create top of mind awareness with audiences that you wouldnít be able to capture with your advertising budget alone.  Advertising will always be an integral component within your marketing strategy, but relying on advertising as your sole communications vehicle will not provide you the overall results you seek. 

A hotel or resort really has nothing to lose when beginning a public relations campaign that is, unless your property boasts a 100 percent occupancy year-round and your outlets are over-flowing with too many guests! 

How to Put PR to Work for You

Benchmark Hospitality at Del Lago Resort is very fortunate to have a team of PR professionals at Pierpont Communications to help us craft stories and uncover opportunities.  But you donít necessarily need a PR firm to garner results.  What you do need is a commitment from your team to dig down deep to figure out what your property, revenue centers or employees do well.

Every organization has topics that could result in a news story worthy of attention.  Brainstorm with your staff and management team to uncover story ideas that you might have overlooked.  Often something that seems second nature to your property could be extremely interesting to those outside the organization.  An example of creating something to talk about is Del Lagoís Manager On Duty (MOD) program.  This is a very positive story about something that our resort is doing that makes our customer service stand out, but this isnít a program we would normally tout in the form of an advertisement.  Further, during tough times there may not be room in the advertising budget to launch a new ad campaign but there may be an opportunity to create something to talk about from a media standpoint.  In these cases, public relations can often times be more cost effective than placing an advertisement. 

Public relations has the ability to cut through the clutter, as it is the one medium that has the least likelihood of being tuned out.  When the media does a story on your property, it serves as an independent third-party endorsement.  The potential guest reading the article, listening to the radio show or watching the TV news, knows that you didnít pay for the story, which automatically elevates you to a higher level of interest and importance.  In addition, a hotel or resort can also gain media coverage in markets that they could never afford to advertise in or markets that normally wouldnít be targeted.   For example, if Del Lago were to advertise in a corporate planning magazine, the average leisure traveler most likely will never see the advertisement, but they may see an article in the Houston Chronicle about the Del Lago golf course.

No matter what the size of the city your property is in, there are newspaper and magazine writers, television and online reporters and radio personalities who are all looking for interesting stories to cover.  Use this to your advantage to impact your property awareness.

Media relations can also play a major role in educating the resort staff of things happening at the property level.  In addition, each article published communicates to employees how the management team at the resort or hotel wants the resort to be positioned.

Paramount to being prepared in the hospitality industry, the media relations process is especially important during a crisis situation.  Handling a crisis is something no one ever wants to deal with, but with a well-thought out crisis communications plan, your public relations firm can be of great assistance during a crisis.  The public relations firm can act as spokespeople for the resort or hotel when staff may not be qualified to speak to the media. 

Benefits to adding a public relations campaign component

The biggest benefit of adding a public relations component to your existing efforts is economics.  Public relations is a value add and very cost effective.   As mentioned earlier, an integrated approach is ideal, but you may not have the resources to launch an entire campaign.  Public relations can be utilized first to build the buzz, generate awareness and lay the foundation for your program, at a fraction of the cost.  Once the foundation has been laid, and the resort or hotel has experienced good media coverage, advertising can then be implemented to specific target audiences to promote community events, special room packages and the resort or hotel itself. 

Another public relations benefit allows you to move around in various markets cost effectively.  Capitalizing on media opportunities in several targeted markets is a sure fire way to build awareness for your property without spending a lot of money.  Once the media stories appear and people begin to recognize your property, an advertising insert in the local publications would be a natural next step, but you have spent your money wisely through understanding the different target markets without the huge dollar expenditures utilizing the public relations process. 

Many hotels overlook public relationsÖ WHY?

Many hospitality executives overlook public relations because they donít understand the process of implementing PR into their marketing mix.    Some hospitality professionals donít have the time for the ramp up period when hiring an outside public relations firm, or some properties may not have the budget to hire a public relations firm to work on their behalf.  Additionally, if an organization is inexperienced in working with a public relations firm, they may not fully understand how a PR campaign can complement an advertising program or the results they can garner in generating awareness.  Essential to the success of integrating an advertising and public relations campaign to gain the biggest bang for your buck  - INVEST YOUR TIME UPFRONT!

When starting a public relations plan from scratch, it takes a lot of time and effort.  During the start-up phase you must prepare.  The team, including the PR firm, advertising agency, and key executives at the property must develop and create key messages, fact sheets, bio information, press kits, hire professional photographers to take media photos and much more.  Key to your overall marketing success is to initially strategize and develop messaging that is consistent in your efforts as they relate to advertising, public relations, and direct sales.  This may sound daunting, but in the long run, spending the time and effort upfront by planning your big picture goals and strategy can pay off in huge dividends down the road. 

Public Relations vs. Advertising

Although public relations and advertising are both very valuable to a company, they do have their differences.  Public relations plays a key role in crisis management and in helping achieve consistent internal and external communication objectives, lending credibility and focusing on a more diverse target audience.  The ability to reprint media placements and make it work for direct selling is a very useful tool.  A reprint of a third party article is often more impressive and absolutely more credible than an advertising reprint.  Public relations is affordable!  We do not incorporate television or radio into our advertising budget at Del Lago, but we use public relations to market to those viewers and listeners.  For example, we had our Executive Chef create an ice carving at a television station as part of a holiday news segment.  This was a free third party endorsement for the resort, and it showcased our Chef.  Because we include proactive media relations in our overall PR plan, this kind of coverage helps us develop relationships with key media making them more likely to contact us when theyíre working on similar articles or stories in the future.

Advertising is very targeted, meaning advertisements can cover areas that public relations cannot.  One advantage of advertising is the placement is a sure thing.  You pay the money and the insertion is confirmed and in the publication.  You can also decide on the time that is best to place a particular ad and plan accordingly.  For example, an advertisement about your Memorial Day festivities can be scheduled to be included in the publication the month prior to Memorial Day.  Timing can be relevant as well in considering the editorial content of the publication during the period you want your advertisement to run.  If a national publication is focusing itís editorial content for a certain month to be Texas Conference Resorts Ė Del Lago would consider making an advertising placement due to the relevance.  Overall, advertising also helps to consistently brand your property and creates general awareness. 

Bottom line, public relations works

Although often viewed as an intangible asset, an organizationís reputation and corporate brand must be leveraged to its fullest extent in order to ensure future success; and whether you agree with it or not, the media drives corporate reputation.  Properties who have mastered media relations by integrating their advertising and PR efforts have created top awareness within their target audiences, which results in increased revenues.  When the media endorses your property, you canít place a dollar figure on that type of support.

Because of our public relations efforts, Del Lago has enjoyed very positive media coverage of our property over the past three years.  It took time in the beginning to plan our campaign, but we have realized that public relations is a very cost effective tool, and I am confident weíre getting a great return on our investment. 

Tory Parks is director of sales & marketing for Benchmark Hospitality at Del Lago Resort, a 300-acre self-contained retreat nestled along the shores of Lake Conroe.  The all-suite resort is an IACC approved conference center and features more than 300 guest accommodations, including the 21-story Tower, 35 Golf Cottages and 13 Lakeside Villas.  For additional information call 1-877-627-2414 or email Tory Parks at Tory@dellago.com

Benchmark Hospitality, an independent hospitality management company based in The Woodlands, Texas, operates resorts, conference centers and hotels both domestically and internationally.  For locations of Benchmark Hospitality properties and for additional information, visit Benchmark's Web site at www.benchmarkhospitality.com.


 
Contact:
BENCHMARK HOSPITALITY
The Woodlands, Texas
www.benchmarkhospitality.com

 Ken Ellens
KEN ELLENS COMMUNICATIONS
201-758-2864 / 201-758-2865-Fax
KenEllens@aol.com


 
Also See: Keeping Valuable Hotel Employees and Improving Staff Tenure / Tory Parks / October 2003
Online Training as a Cost-Effective Supplement; Hotel Staff Training Can Make or Break a Hotel / Tory Parks / April 2003
Performance-based Sales Compensation Strategies for the Hospitality Sales Professional / Tory Parks / February 2003
Never Underestimate the Power of PR / Tory Parks / December 2002
Sales & Conference Planning - Teaming up to Maximize Sales / Oct 2002
Safety & Security Issues Surrounding MOD Programs / Aug 2002


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