Sunday, 11 December 2011
As any Public Relations expert – Hospitality specialist or any other – knows, media is the veritable best man, the strongest ally and one of the most powerful tools in the PR toolkit. Nobody can deny the usefulness and power that the media mix holds over a PR person’s overall role. So much so that in many companies and PR agencies, the efficacy of a PR person’s performance is measured by media presence garnered for the company represented.
Today, a PR person is spoiled for choice, between the old and new media and within their ambits. Some like me, are from the old school of thought and still hold the old media in a prominent place while warming up to the idea and prospects of the New Media. There are others who are fans of PR 2.0 so much that they make the mistake of ignoring the traditional media, of course at their own risk. But the wisest are those who hold both kinds in esteem and continue to reap benefits out of the two.
Yet, there are distinct qualities that set one apart from the other and enjoy brownie points over the second when brought to comparisons.
One of the best arguments in favour of the old media is that it provides credible Third Party endorsement. To be endorsed by media such as eHotelier, Hotels, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Washington Post, The Guardian, National Geographic, BBC, CNN, Travel & Living, Condé Nast and several others – all giants in their own genré – is a prominent yardstick that assesses your level of success, your quotient of acceptance or degree of aspiration amidst your consumer and is also a scale that measures a PR person’s effectiveness and deliverability in performance. To appear in such publications means you have arrived, are worthy of being talked about in these pages and are sought after as a Brand. To get coverage in such publications proves that the PR person knows his or her job and is a performer.
The second important point is that sizeable coverage in the traditional Press-of-prestige immediately ups the profile of the Brand featured. Isn’t it a fact that hotels frame recognition from high profile publications (especially awards & certifications) or share such information with their guests via vehicles such as the Hotel newsletter?
The third point of significance is that coverage in the old world media-of-might ensures that the Brand manages to reach its target audience effectively. It is a given that your current and potential guests read such publications and it brings in guest loyalty by being featured in these publications.
This brings us to the virtues of the New Media. While it offers several opportunities, it also expects you to acquire and own new set of skills. This in itself – the need to be a better writer, or to be more technology savvy, or to learn new methods of communication or to become such a manager who learns to handle the media mix well and judiciously – is ample scope for keeping one’s role challenged and exciting as it provides a plank for horizontal growth in the area of PR work.
The real-time value of New Media is unsurpassed. Everything in it happens in the realm of “here and now.” Your news is as new or old as your last post or blog or tweet.
A lot of the power has shifted to you – the Communications specialist – from those on the journalistic side. If you have proved your worth and your Brand is considered of significance, then even the journalists are becoming fans of your Facebook page, following you on Twitter or linking up with you on LinkedIn.
You get to decide what, when and how much you wish to share with your target audience through your blog posts that link neatly with your parent website (thereby also increasing footfalls on your website), your Facebook updates, your tweets and YouTube plug-ins.
You get to learn instantly whether your Brand is ‘trending’ or is being given the cold shoulder by the online traffic.
While the old media and your story in it had the misfortune of being retired to the waste paper basket or sold to the ‘Raddi recyclist’ (Scrap paper dealer) or of reappearing as a wrap for snacks sold by the street vendor, there is no such danger with the New Media. Of course the biggest fear in the New Media is to go completely unnoticed by those very eye balls that you wish to catch as news and information flash by in high speed across the information freeway, yet the New Media has this great propensity to go Viral in the biggest way possible. Imagine the circuitry your story can create – from your company website or blog to LinkedIn to YouTube to Facebook to Twitter – with innumerable swaps in between - to a large river of search engines on which your story continues to appear.
And often with proper Search Engine Optimization it would appear in the initial few searches itself. This brings us to the importance of skills such as business writing for technology driven platforms as verbose as blogs or as crypt and concise as the 140 character Twitter. The other skills to be polished would be intelligent use of keywords, learning to link up well, using such tools as hash tags, bing, klouts, RSS, Social media alerts, tickers, Feedjits and the like. But this is a subject matter of another article which we may get into another time.
With New Media, you have the advantage of creating your own community that follows you, likes you and becomes a fan or a member. Your article that is liked or viewed by ‘X’ number of people has actually been read by those numbers without any wastage in the count and as a bonus has also been shared with their respective networks. Your Brand that is followed by a certain number of people enjoys loyalty from this number which has the potential to grow into a large population. Think about the online hits that certain features / stories invite on the internet and you will instantly know that this population can grow to a size of millions or more.
The New or Social Media is also an excellent platform for networking widely with larger demographics or pointedly with chosen focus groups. The networking and linking up chances with the like-minded groups on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook help you increase your audience base taking you beyond the geographical boundaries within which your company exists. There are hundreds of Groups for Hoteliers, Travel professionals and other such defined categories with which you can network and share your information.
With an avenue like Wikipedia you can be your own Editor and create a User page or article for your Company. If it has universal significance then you will be easily inducted into the Wiki pages and enjoy easy searchability and wide readership.
With Social Media everything happens in the present so much so that the stories are listed every second and every minute of the day and through the night. The World Wide Web never sleeps and to make matters worse the Social Media keeps it on its toes at all times, there are no lunch breaks or pit stops on this information highway. Hence you need to be consistent and constant with your messaging. The rise in the relevance of New Media has caused a decline in the attention spans, therefore there is a greater need now than ever before to be pertinent and prime in your ‘newsability,’ otherwise your input will remain popular only amongst employees, family and friends.
With New Media you can reinforce your message with the ease of clicking a button. Simply press share or retweet and your story comes alive once again. But you must learn to do this prudently and in the right time span lest you become a social media outcast. With so much of information threatening to deluge their mind space your guests do not wish to be bored with old news or annoyed with repetitive nuisance.
All forms of New Media present wonderful options for inter-linkages. So your official blog piece or website page can be tweeted or shared on LinkedIn, Facebook etc. simultaneously with just a couple of clicks and you get to showcase your product amidst a large number of users of these sites with so much ease that it makes a kid’s play appear difficult.
One of the biggest boons of New Media is that it is absolutely free and adds admirably to your profit protection strategy. View this point in the light of big dollars earmarked for the annual media plan covering advertising and other media spend including Press FAMs and individual Press Trips for media coverage on your Company. Virtual Property Tours with exciting 360 degree views that have been traditionally put up on the website can now be uploaded on You Tube or tweeted or shared through LinkedIn, Facebook and the like for free and to multitudes who just need to have an access to a machine and the medium of Net. This, however, does not reduce the importance of the human touch, the impact of relationships with the media and the power of experiencing a property for real.
With these huge benefits come the bad lemons too as is a given with almost anything in life; with everything there always being two sides. Opening up to a wide readership and onto instant news platforms such as these also calls for immediate feedback. Your guests are at free will to tweet back or post a negative comment or deride your new sub-product or product in the same open, world-wide medium that you use. The onus lies on you – the Newsmaker - and your Company to be more responsible, meaningful and noteworthy.
With you as the Communications Chief, New Media also allows for much greater engaging and involvement of the employee base that can be part of the news making process, thereby developing a stronger bond and belongingness with the Company they represent. While not everybody can be allowed to post or tweet – given the crucial baseline of adhering to the Company profile and Brand Standard, but they can send their submissions to you, who as the Chief Brand Custodian can play the editor to the hilt and include the appropriate ones on to the forums. Seeing one’s tweet or post feature in the virtual world, gives almost the same high as seeing one’s article in print, well almost, and is especially true for the non-writers.
While the importance and significance of the old Media cannot be ever denied, the New Media is all too powerful, in your face, productive and result-oriented so as not to be taken lightly. It is not a fad and needs to be fashioned out sensibly into your media strategy.
Here is a quick snapshot of the Top Five pluses and minuses of both kinds of media –
OLD, TRADITIONAL MEDIA –
TOP FIVE +es –
1. It is the best form of credible and creditable Third Party Endorsement.
2. To appear in a top notch publication immediately ups or reinforces the profile of your Brand in the minds of the significant publics. Think Condé Nast, WSJ, New York Times, The Guardian and you get the picture.
3. To be written about by the renowned reviewers / writers of these publications is a major achievement in media presence. Imagine getting first class rating by the likes of Mary Gostelow, Lynn Middlehurst, Jeff Weinstein and see how proud and pleased the owners, management and the guests are.
4. Mention in traditional media has a sense of permanence to it. The news report can be filed and archived and can easily be dug into when it needs to be referenced again.
5. It is easier to control what is being written about you (either through your Press Release or on account of your established relationship with the media representative) and form opinions in the traditional media as compared to the information circus that exists in the New Media.
TOP FIVE –es –
1. It faces the danger of getting dated and being lost in the annals of time.
2. The negative review hits the Brand hard, going by the same logic of appearing in a top notch publication and written by the high profile reviewer.
3. In today’s times of excessive information being delivered to your desktop, laptop or palmtop every second, it may face the risk of getting lost in the deluge.
4. With new information coming up every second, your article in traditional media can become old news sooner than you think.
5. Because of the timelines it adheres to and the inherent gap that exists between sending of your press release or a journalist reviewing your product and the actual appearance of the story on account of a backlog of stories in hand with the media or something of more importance coming up at short notice, many a times your news report gets printed as a post event publicity and that is half the battle lost.
NEW / SOCIAL MEDIA –
TOP FIVE +es –
1. You can control what is being said about you through your blog, pages, updates and tweets.
2. You have a direct access to your guests and reach them with ease in relation to your news, offers and promotions.
3. Instead of just one media platform, you have the ability to turn your news into a viral phenomenon and see it appear in several media planks simultaneously.
4. You have the opportunity to send out more information about yourself. There is no restriction on how much you want to or can share.
5. The power publications and the publicists that pack a punch are also on the New Media and can not only continue to write about you in the online editions but can also do so in their personal spaces of blogs, twitter page etc. which also enjoy additionally huge following.
TOP FIVE –es –
1. You have less control on what people say about your product through their blogs, pages, updates and tweets.
2. In the New Media, just about anybody can turn a writer or opinion maker and send their comment into the Social Media whirlpool. This can and does include your guests who can make direct comments on their experience. The realm of news does not just belong to the journalists any more.
3. You must ensure that your news is meaningful and useful to the guest for it to be lapped up and for it to be something that your guests look forward to. Otherwise, it is very easy for you to become an irritant and face the risk of being unfriended, unfan-ed or unfollowed.
4. It is difficult for you to control the vehicles where you wish to appear, keeping in mind your Brand personality and profile. Through the channels of New Media, your brand can find presence even in those media outlets in which you do not wish to appear.
5. It is hugely difficult to grab the attention and enjoy readership penetration as the window of appearance and presence has been sizeably shortened in the flux of all that information that floats in the world of Social Media World be it Blogosphere, Twitterdom, Facebook zone, LinkedIn Groups, YouTube or innumerable others.
And a final comparison – to have my piece or property featured in a publication of repute is a prominent feather in my cap. But then the Social Media opens up a whole new world with its wide reach, focused penetration, advantages of “viralability” with sharing and re-sharing and being followed by the key groups of audience that we wish to address. Going by this measure, Social Media is several notches up as compared to the traditional tactical vehicle of Direct Marketing, wherein companies often lamented whether the expensive mailer was being read by the CEO or his secretary and if the pricey, glossy flyer was managing to hold the interest of the end user for the right amount of time, ensuring grasping of the offer that you wished to sell.
I am from that group of people who believes that we will always get to hold and feel the crispiness of newspaper with our morning cuppa, that we will still leaf through glossies and not just at salons or clinics and that in spite of the up surge in the demand for Kindles we will still get to hold and smell the mustiness of paperbacks and hardbounds, at least in our lifetime. I also belong to the set that uses the Socially relevant New Media optimally, intelligently and with such mastery that it reaps rich dividends for the Company we represent.
In my PR scheme of things, both the media have their place, position and prevalence and both need to be used effectively in order to enable me to stay on top of my game and you on yours.
Picture courtesy - Google Images.
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
I entered the hospitality industry in the Summer of ’97. I remember being selected majorly on the basis of my strong media contacts. Of course the other bits and pieces of qualification mattered too, but this was the most important clinching factor. And I was nervous as hell. I was coming from the hardcore nuts and bolts PR background with strong foundation in media strategies and practices and had been frequenting hotels as a restaurants and room guest but now I was going to be entering the world of glitz and glamour and all that sparkle and shine as an insider. The first person I called for help and guidance was a friend who was at that time the Head of PR for the Australian Tourist Commission in Singapore but had been an old hotel hand. And the first lesson she imparted was about MARCOM and Brand Management. She was absolutely right about her advice that a Hotel PR responsibility encapsulated the area of Brand Management and Marketing Communications with strong shades of Marketing within its fold. Hence, to my base of Corporate Communications and Public Relations skills, I had to add the aspects of Marketing Communications and Marketing and thereby began my tryst with producing internal and external publications, hotel brochures and sales collateral. With hotels I got into conceiving and seeing through marketing alliances with like-minded partners for a win-win outcome that directly impacted the bottomline.
My years of experience in the Public Affairs department of a Diplomatic Mission concretized the knack of dealing with and pitching for a wide array of media talents. On one day I may have been the Media manager for an aboriginal artist or historian, on the other I would be on the media team of the Foreign Minister visiting the country and on yet another occasion I would be devising a media plan for a scientist from the Health industry. This trained me to look at anybody in a niche position with their unique skills as a prospective media talent. This hands on experience also enabled me to transport this attribute to the hotels and I began looking at not just the General Manager and the Chefs – often the usual suspects, but also Housekeeping, Engineering and Security Heads, Horticulture Managers, Sommeliers and Technology Team Leads as wonderful media talents who I could effectively leverage in order to garner extensive media coverage for the hotel I worked for.
Working in international hotel chains of repute adds the aspect of celebrity management to the PR person’s portfolio. We must know how to be an integral part of the briefing that involves the security issues and larger mandate about the dos and don’ts while hosting the high profile guest. As a PR person, the most important thing is to be the perfect foil and know when to be graciously tight lipped about the hush-hush stay or be gung-ho and manage the media interest well in the case of a willing guest. This, indeed, is a tight rope walk that you need to balance yourself well on; as you cannot afford to annoy the special guest or put off the media either; hence delicate, judicious and intelligent handling of the visit is paramount.
With respect to dealing with external publics in an industry like hotels, there is a wide spectrum of people you deal with and they range from a perfectly coiffeured and haute coutured Society Star to the brusque son-of-the soil vendor, both important and integral to the PR playfield. Hence, it becomes imperative to understand the fine cultural nuances and relate with people at their level to, not just take out optimum work, but also establish strong relationships.
You will often hear Management Gurus and Life coaches telling you to dress the part you want to play in work and life. As a PR Professional with any kind of organization, you ARE the brand
custodian for the company whose personality you represent through yours and whose profile you work endlessly to up in the minds of its significant partners. Hence, learning to dress in accordance with my work milieu with appropriate representation of the Brand traits has also been an invaluable lesson in the course of my career.
With hotels, a very very important (cannot stress enough how important it is and hence the usage of the redundant double word) aspect of your responsibility area centers around Crisis Communications and Issues Management. Each industry type brings in its own brand of crises and they deal with it in their time-tested methodology, either through a specialized in-house cell or through an outsourced Agency or both. In hotels, you are the pivotal point in the Crisis Communications team and often, along with your CEO, the face that addresses and the voice that responds to such a situation. In my decade and a half long experience with the Hotel industry so far, I have had the opportunity to handle a disparate bunch of crises ranging from a staple pin stuck in the crab cake of a food writer to the untrained housekeeping attendant leaving the dust cloth along with dust in the suite reserved for a renowned Hospitality Editor who was coming to do a special feature on the hotel for an international publication of repute to a well-known TV personality jumping to his death from the tenth floor terrace. The key here has been to devise the most appropriate crisis communications strategy, put together the right team, issue out the most effective press statement and be available 24X7 to answer questions and corollaries, dispel rumours and rectify incorrect grasping of the case.
Even when I was in college and University I was naturally veered towards interests that involved people. So, whether it was being a Quiz master for a handful of seasons or running a weekly column in and sub-editing a Regional Newspaper I was always engaging with people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. Later on, as a freelance Feature Writer with several mainline dailies, I got to meet really interesting people who had carved a niche for themselves. Besides being exciting assignments, what all this pointed out strongly to me was that I had a natural affinity towards dealing with people and through my well-honed communication skills – written and verbal – I was easily forging strong relationships and getting the task done in the most effective manner. I guess that’s where the idea of getting into Public Relations germinated. Anybody who is a somebody in Public Relations will tell you that a liking for people and the ability to communicate with them are the two most relevant prerequisites for a career in Public Relations. Though not just it, as there is a lot more to Public Relations, these two do form the basis of a good foundation.
As a pleasant offshoot, the multicultural environment I have been working in has helped me to assimilate some of the best practices from different corners of the world. Besides the advantage of having worked with some of the strongest hotel brands, I have had the distinct challenge and privilege to reposition an old Hotel brand as a contemporary, top of the line hotel in India and Asia. This by far has been one of the best experiences in my eclectic career path that has enabled me to develop a 360 degree view of the PR & Communications profession and span out my learnings, skill and knowledge to the utmost optimum level. The point I would like to drive home is that you should welcome professional challenges and tasks that are high up on the difficulty quotient with open arms and be open to change management; adding to your professional weaponry quite admirably in the process.
With hotels you work with a lot of different departments and therefore different functions and business units much more closely than I would think in any other industry. Hence learning about these other functions will also stand you in good stead. One important lesson is to never pass up an opportunity for internal or external training, whether it is a Sales or Guest Services module being presented by the in-house training manager or attending a Summer University being put together by a panel comprising faculty from established institutes. The academic and learning interlude is not just a pleasant breather but also equips you with attributes to be an emerging professional in a global work environment.
Having enjoyed, thus far, every moment of a more than 15 year long breathtaking roller coaster ride with nail-biting challenges and pleasant-as-a-pie experiences, may I take this chance to share some of the fine things I have picked up in the course of working with great brands and a greater set of minds and present herewith my 25 golden rules of Public Relations -
2. Easy accessibility - with technology in your palm and on your fingertips, there is really no excuse.
3. Reliability - you owe it to yourself, to the identity you have carved for yourself and to the brand you represent.
4. Exchange information relevant to new ideas - nurture the media, be nurtured by their exposure to a wide range of issues and develop a winsome two-way information & knowledge sharing street.
5. Give complete information - Tailor make it and often go beyond the brief.
6. From reporter to senior editor, treat everyone with respect - Today's cub reporter will be tomorrow's editor.
7. Adhere to timelines, however acute they may be - this may just be the single most important reason that keeps you in news and your competition out of it.
8. Be genuinely friendly and not falsely flattering - believe me when I say that people can see through the sham.
9. Be professional - would you like to be any other way!
10. Always be interested - in people, in issues, in the news, in your job. The six inquisitive men are, then, your best friends for life.
11. Out of the box – Bring a sense of uniqueness to your role, put forth new ideas, look at things and issues from a new angle, develop new approaches – all, mind you, within the overall Company Profile and the defined set of P&Ps; for that is what defines your brand.
12. Brand Image - In all aspects that define you – your physical personality, your ideation, your work ethics and professionalism, your communication skills – be the best brand ambassador of your Company that you can be.
13. Idolize - Develop mentors along the way – your immediate boss, a person you have a dotted line to, the Company CEO, an industry champion, an international whiz kid in your chosen field and keep on injecting doses of inspiration in the course of your work day.
14. Mentor others - Be a mentor to the people you manage or who are junior to you in experience. Be a friend, guide and philosopher to others. Set fine examples and get emulated. You will be remembered for years and in the most positive fashion.
15. Become tech-savvy – Today we live as much in the virtual world as in the real. Every day some other new technology or a gadget is added to the already exhaustive list. Learn new software, befriend a new gadget. Stay on top of the game.
16. Web 2.0 – Make this one of your strongest ally. Be seen, be heard, be read 24/7 and what’s more, be able to control what is seen, heard or read about you. Tailor-make, monitor, regulate and police what appears about your Company on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, YouTube etc.
17. The written word – Learn to write well. Being in Public Relations, you are often the in-house writer of Press Releases, Speeches, Backgrounders, Talking points, Newsletters etc.
18. The spoken word – Hone your oratorical skills. Blossom out behind the mike. There will be several occasions where you will be asked to present yourself on the podium. Make yourself and your company proud by shining out there.
19. Be a perpetual learner – Graphic designing for those in-house design jobs, photography or styling or power point presentations or more – keep adding to your skill set.
20. Become a part of the larger pie – somebody wants a business letter written or needs help with their resume, offer your services; the telephone operators need training on English language skills, pronunciation and pre-set statements, get out there and help; another department needs a hand on their manuals or presentations, be that hand and so on.
21. Tune in the Trainer in you – Media train and nurture the media talent within your organization – your CEO, the chef, the F&B Head, even the Chief Engineer, the Executive Housekeeper and the Security Head. When media come calling for a wide range of stories, guess who gets asked for the perfect sound bytes!
22. Need for Knowledge – know your industry well; learn about the functioning of the other departments. Being in PR all this information comes in handy when developing your communication capsules.
23. Network – Take part in Industry seminars, forums, panel discussions. Become part of Public Relations Societies, network with relevant trade bodies, club out with Alumni or Ex-employee associations.
24. Get buck-savvy – Learn to understand the balance sheets, study the annual reports, bring in element of profit protection in your area, negotiate well with the outside agencies when contracting them for PR work.
25. Superman-ly – learn to multi-task (that’s the exact nature of your role after all), wear different hats, learn to beat the stress without allowing it to impact on your efficacy, deliver under pressure and be a positive team-player. The sub-title is misleading – this is not superman-ly at all. It is all in a day’s work.
These 25 Rules have stood me in good stead regardless of the fact that I worked in Indian or International companies and had the opportunity to interact with a multicultural, multiethnic and multinational workforce that brought its novelty and work practices to the arena.
I am of the contention that, added to your unique set of experience in your defined work area, these 25 golden rules will at best be guiding factors in your work or at the least be pertinent points to ponder over.
PS - Picture courtesy - Google Images