We recently took a look at the question of why hotel PR professionals fail to their news published, but now it’s time to see the other side of the story and find out what PR pros have to go through on a daily basis.
The numbers are provided by Muck Rack, whose survey of PR specialists comprised 43% agency professionals, 31% from brands, 19% from non-profit organizations, and 7% sole practitioners. The deeper insights are then added by experts in the hospitality PR field.
You may be wondering what keeps these PR pros so busy all the time. Socializing? Dining with media? Apparently not – 98% report spending their time on emails, 87% with documents, 58% with spreadsheets, and 34% on presentations.
The most commonly used tools are media databases (used by 69%), followed by monitoring tools (53%), and wire services (19%). A further 17% claim not to use any kind of tools at all.
The top challenges for PR professionals are measuring business impact, quantifiable measurement, and journalist relationships. Among the survey respondents, 72% said they had difficulty measuring business impact, while 65% cited the lack of quantifiable measurement as a challenge, and 61% reported that finding and engaging journalists while working on tight budgets had become a problem in their work.
Muck Ruck noted that 98% of PR pros were at least making some attempt to measure their PR activity, with a majority tracking traditional metrics like coverage and audience reach, social media impact, and website impact. Fewer than a third considered sales impact, possibly because of the difficulties in measuring the impact of sales in certain contexts.
Nick Day, Corporate Marketing Communications Manager of Siam @ Siam Design Hotels explained why PR is not the easiest activity to measure. “You can look at column inches and ‘PR value’, but this is far from an accurate representation of the value of some coverage, and it turns into comparing apples with oranges when things like social media mentions get thrown into the mix,” he said.
“Often, it is more of the marketing department desperately trying to justify its work to senior management than being an accurate representation of how much value some coverage has generated.”
“In my opinion, the best thing to measure when it comes to PR is overall brand awareness and salience – how likely your brand comes to mind when a potential guest thinks of the specific need you fulfill. However, very few companies are actively measuring this, and changing brand awareness depends on much more than just PR activities, so it’s very hard to attribute something like this to specific PR activities.”
“Digital marketing owes a lot of its popularity to the very clear quantitative metrics that it provides, which allows a fairly accurate measure of its effectiveness. However, just because PR can be hard to measure doesn't mean that it isn't having an impact. There's a famous quote by William Bruce Cameron: Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
Ainslie Cheung, Founder of the Qi Communication Asia, agreed that the issue of measurement has been a longstanding industry bugbear, adding that “unless you’re prepared to pay big bucks for sophisticated metrics which form part of the marketing mix to measure trust and sales, which most clients don’t have, then you’re stuck in the dinosaur age with AVEs, audience numbers, clicks and so on. However, there is a sea change in the digital age with our ability to ‘social listen’ and humanize our brands and conversations.”
“If we all remember that PR starts with reputation – building trust in a brand, then our metrics are built from here. A lot of PR folks are going to hate me for this but if your stories don’t successfully sell for you, then you probably shouldn’t be in brand PR.”
Ainslie goes on to offer some more direct advice. “We set clear goals from the beginning with realistic expectations. If you don’t lay the foundation of your campaign architecture, then you are setting yourself up for an unnecessary accountability battle later, whether it’s heads in beds, stuff flying off shelves, people talking about you, and getting the right people to talk about you to reach your customers. Pick your metrics and stand by them – the business correlation is there however indirect it might be. Pick your weapon, and preferably more than one – it’s good to go to war armed to the teeth in our business: sales statistics, lead generation, spikes in social media reach, positive (or negative) engagement on social media, social shares, media impressions, brand mentions, and keywords. And definitely use some sort of proprietary measurement tool.”
“PR rarely operates in a vacuum – you’re working with direct sales teams, owned assets, partners, and a range of on and offline channels, so stripping out the exact measure of PR is understandably harder. The question is, how will PR amplify these other efforts? The results should be obvious if PR is the only discipline leveraged. Educate your stakeholders but make sure you also add value to the bottom line.”
“The hardest metrics to evaluate are loyalty and boosted reputation, but we link this back to how brand messages are being heard, and engaged with. This is a valuable insight that offers a good indicator of how a customer’s view can impact a company’s bottom line. There are tools for this. In the old days, it was the tedious job of an accounts executive to count and measure the brand mentions in an article, identify prominence on the page, and the tone of voice.”
“If you’re running a campaign with no agreed business metrics, they why do it? I’ve run PR campaigns where we’ve clearly had an impact on lead generation, and sales targets have been exceeded by an order of magnitude. I had one new independent hotel client start from zero to 70% plus occupancy at a decent RevPAR inside four months. We put our money where our mouth is and said we could get them to 50% inside that period from a standing start.”
“As an industry, we all still struggle to measure direct correlation between eyeballs, influence, and resulting brand awareness, trust, and sales or the tools to measure real levels of influence. I’ve had clients and companies I have worked in come back and say PR works on sales and opens the doors to get the business noticed. For hotels, the PR staff should spend as much time as possible with the revenue management team – you have to identify where you need to focus your efforts to achieve the right business impact.”
While showing business impact and the need to measure success will keep many PR pros awake at night, another significant concern is the threat of budget tightening in the future. According to Muck Rack, budget allocations can be broken down as 25% on outside agencies, 18% on media databases, 13% on monitoring software, 12% on events, and 8% on press releases. To be more precise, brands are the biggest spenders on outside agencies, while agencies have the highest spending on media databases.
Ainslie Cheung offered some thoughts on the use of databases. “I haven’t ever bought a database though we might see if they add value in the future. Our own highly-segmented contacts database cultivated over the years and meticulously updated or crowdsourced through trusted sources has proved extremely reliable. We know our closest media friends very well – in quite a few cases down to shoe size.”
“You need to be efficient in any PR organization and manage your workflow and your media and supplier relationships. While we don’t spend directly on a third-party database, our own is designed to manage those relationships as effectively as possible. The upshot is – find a CRM tool that your staff can use efficiently and quickly so they don’t feel like they’re learning a new tech just for the sake of the job, so it actually makes their lives easier and more productive.”
Press releases are an interesting subject since Hotelintel.co always gets more of those than are ever needed – including the infamous mooncake promotions, for example. According to Muck Rack, around 13% of PR pros make heavy use of the newswires for their press releases, while 82% said they used them to some degree.
However, Muck Rack also noted that “mass distribution from newswires is synonymous with ‘PR spam’,” although for brands, 61% considered press releases important to generate coverage, while 50% claimed that press releases satisfied their management teams, and 45% said they helped with SEO.
The 50% figure for ‘pleased our management team’ is both hilarious and depressing. It's literally the worst reason to send a press release, but Hotelintel.co can confirm from experience that it is often very true. It’s a sign of marketing departments trying to keep senior management happy, but also signals a weakness within the management team who lack the authority to tell their senior management that sending out such press releases will actually harm the company. Sending out a press release just because it keeps management happy will invariably irritate journalists and make them less likely to open your press release the next time you send one that actually might be valuable. It’s the Boy Who Cried Wolf effect.
It can be argued that the best philosophy on when to send out press releases is that of Scott Stratten of UnMarketing: Don't send out a press release because you want to say something, send out a press release when you have something of value to share.
In contrast, using press releases to generate coverage and help with SEO are both justifiable reasons as long as the first criterion of having something valuable to say is met. As Nick Day pointed out, “many PR people don't understand the value of SEO, and many digital marketers don't realize the value of PR.”
From the perspective of agencies, as opposed to brands, press releases were favored by 53% because they help with SEO, while 51% cited the coverage generated, and 42% said it pleased their management teams.
Ainslie Cheung had specific ideas on press releases, stating they should be written “for only one reason – to collate messages and to tell the story in one recognizable easy-to-distribute format for our media friends. In Asia-Pacific, the press release is still an important tool but use it sparingly – not everything needs one – you’re wasting someone’s valuable productivity which can be better used to support your business in another way. As part of the marketing team of a client, we would ensure that key SEO terms are included along with all the necessary information that would allow media to get the client’s story told quickly and easily. We don’t get to write press releases to please management – we’re happy if they like the results of a carefully pitched story, of which the press release was a part.”
Finally, Muck Rack offered insights into the top three social media strategy channels for PR pros: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Nick Day was firmly in favor of Twitter, citing it as “definitely No. 1 as it’s where many journalists go to find the latest breaking stories. The nature of Twitter is that it’s perfect for the rapid distribution of news. If you see something big on Twitter you will likely see it on Facebook six hours later. If you want to stay on top of things, like journalists do, then Twitter is the place to be. If that is where journalists are, that is where you should be too. However, like SEO, many old-school PR professionals don't properly understand Twitter,” he added.
However, Hotelintel.co’s Wimintra Raj begged to differ. “I found the opposite in Asia,” she said. “Sometimes it takes months for hotels to reply, or like, or retweet guests’ tweets. I’ve had that experience first hand. B2B news is usually seen more on LinkedIn and posted by C-suites positions rather than PR professionals or communications managers.”
It can also be argued that the choice of channel will depend on your market and your brand demographics. Ainslie Cheung noted that Facebook remains very important. “It’s still the biggest player in the room by numbers outside China. You only have to look at the number of news outlets and brands who still put out information on Facebook to know that it’s still valuable. Look at the live streaming world – Facebook and YouTube dominate, though IG live and stories are an important part of the way our customers communicate and share what they love.”
“In our part of the world, depending on client needs, you cannot ignore Weibo and WeChat in China which require nuanced localized strategies, and the same goes for country-specific channels in South Korea and Japan. It might be worth adding that as a way of finding out what the press are interested in, the topics that push their hot buttons, and who they are following, then social media channels are a great way of initiating a conversation and showing interest in what they do. It’s been a successful long-term strategy and respectful DMs get answered – especially on Twitter and LinkedIn,” he added.
In conclusion, real PR work isn’t just inviting media to your restaurants and expecting them to cover it. You invite them as part of ‘building a relationship’. Furthermore, real PR work isn’t just sending press releases to every journalist you know, because that’s called ‘destroying a relationship’.
You, as a CEO of a hotel brand, VP of communication, or GM of an individual property need to understand PR work and the challenges they face to bring you the results you demand. A lack of understanding can see pressure placed on your PR professionals that leads to counter-productive activities, as highlighted by the stat suggesting that half of PR pros are busy doing things that please management at the cost of achieving the right results.