Fascination can be a negative and positive, and in this case – it’s both. Part of running a travel site means interfacing daily with the people that represent the world’s leading airlines, hotels, apps, websites and travel brands, and every day is an adventure for better and worse. Sometimes it’s clarification, sometimes it’s crickets and sometimes it’s downright confrontational. Here’s why I am amazed daily on both sides of the travel PR coin…
My first fascination with travel PR or communications people is in regards to the cold shoulder. There are airlines, hotels and other travel brands I’ve never, ever heard from, because they think I am too critical of their business. They won’t even respond to emails, when asking for clarification on a story. I find this to be perhaps the dumbest tact in the history of tacts. I’ve had more than one travel brand, where I’ve been less than impressed with their direction, but after someone from the brand got in touch, my opinion changed. I’m not talking payouts, comps or anything to sway favor, but rather just someone with the guts to say, “I appreciate where you’re coming from, but you’re wrong”. I’ve had my opinion changed of various products and services over the years when people lay out the counter argument, or show the numbers behind the plan of action. Simply disengaging with me, or any other writer or blogger, because we haven’t kissed ass and towed the line is just plain stupid. If you want better coverage, give better information, and perhaps – access.
Example: I give Delta and United a hard time, maybe even American Airlines too. That’s because I think they are trying to ruin air travel, by taking away so many amenities that people have no choice but to pay up to higher fares or not travel at all. I’ve literally never, ever heard from anyone in any of their communications teams. I know bloggers with 1/100th of the following of this site are on their A-list! Why wouldn’t someone want to try and change my opinion by showing me what they see and why I *could* be wrong?
Another fascination I have in the travel PR and communications game is with “on points”, versus the “no points”. There are certain brands, both big and small that seem to be instantly aware of any mention of any kind. It’s incredibly impressive. It’s the kind of thing where I write an article at 10AM, publish at 11AM, and at 11:15AM, it’s been retweeted by the brand and or a note has been dropped into my inbox either thanking me for the mention, or asking me to clarify a point I may have failed to properly address in their eyes. Knowing that stuff is being seen, and digested is instantly impressive. It means someone is actually parsing through the internet and finding the sites big and small that write about them. I don’t want or need this about every article, but a one time acknowledgement of communication or hello goes a long way. We’re not CNN, but with more than a million readers in a month, we’re not talking peanuts here either. On the other hand – there are so many brands I’ve written about countless, countless times, emailed countless times asking not for favors, but just an answer to a complex question or asking to be included in news blasts and never, ever heard back from. It makes me wonder if there is a PR team, and if there is – if there are any braincells to be found there. As mentioned above, I know some are very vindictive and will simply blacklist anyone who ever says a negative thing. I can’t stress how idiotic I find this policy.
Example: Last week I flew Finnair’s A350. I’ve never spoken to their communications department in my life. I had a truly enjoyable flight, and within 15 minutes of tweeting my review, it was retweeted by the official Finnair twitter handle. I see this as brilliant, proactive, third party validation for organically earned media. I know many companies have very strict guidelines about sharing content, but any “hey, we saw this, thanks its awsome” always makes my day. In general, in no particular order, I find: Marriott, Hyatt, British Airways, Finnair, KLM, Etihad, Crowne Plaza, IHG rewards Club, Virgin Atlantic, Hipmunk, 25hour hotels, Iberia, Air New Zealand and a bunch of boutique hotels around the world tend to have well above average communications and PR departments.
My absolute favorite emails tend to involve huge swings and misses. Like… tips for finding cheap flights. “Hey Gilbert, reaching out on behalf of (some website) with a really informative guide for your readers on how to book cheap flights. Would you be able to link to this guide?”. If anyone took more than five seconds, or had actually ever read an article on GSTP, they’d have seen that we are one of the premier information sources for great flight deals, how to find them, the best sites to find them and even the future of finding them. Why would we want to link to someone (who may have just re written ours in the first place)? I get hundreds of emails daily, all under the guise of benefiting our readers, where people want a link to something useless they’ve made, which is something we’ve already made. On top of that, they follow up about 10 times. FAIL.
Example: I’ll spare the 100’s of mindless pitches I receive daily here. Just read the site, figure out what we do and either (leave us alone) or get in touch with things that are mutually beneficial, and not just designed to improve your SEO.
I’d like to consider myself a creative thinker, perhaps with a knack for tapping into the mindset of the general public. My “free private jet” experience was one example, and the “catch me if you can” campaign is another. When I successfully took a free private jet ride on JetSmarter, by using their promotional codes to my advantage, I made repeated attempts to contact their PR department after the fact, because I thought it could be a fun story, I was going to try to pitch it out there, and I thought maybe they’d like to help. They ignored me entirely. That is, until I was on the front page of many news sites, and about to go on Good Morning America. Their PR people suddenly wanted to offer me a helicopter ride to one of their big jets to tape the segment, and started throwing out all sorts of hypotheticals about how I could get a free membership and become an ambassador and all this crap if I plugged the living hell out of their service on TV. They ignored me when it counted, so I ignored them when it came time to do television. I never took anything and taped the segment in my living room, without directly mentioning them. And naturally, all the promises disappeared immediately.
I don’t think communications is as complicated as it’s made to be sometimes. Give people info, give people resources, be expedient in returning emails and strike up a relationship. As much as any writer/blogger/journalist wants to pretend it’s not true, at least 1% of them is affected when writing about something, if a preexisting relationship exists. It’s not easy to trash someone you consider a personal friend, even if it must be done. Any good PR person will understand why you feel the need to, but will also do their very best to change your perception, change the focus and defend the move, or at least feed . Even if you disagree, you move on, and continue dialog. Going radio silence or blacklist is the only option that will continuously bite you in the ass.