PR’s Place at the Table: Why It’s More Important Than Ever Before in Telling Our Clients’ Stories

Significant changes in the media landscape throughout the pandemic impacted the way we, as PR professionals, interact with media in order to tell our clients’ stories. These changes have resulted in our role as connectors being elevated and, as a result, we have evolved our tried-and-true ways of communicating these messages effectively to the media.

According to a December 2021 report by Columbia Journalism Review, more than 6,150 news workers lost their jobs during the pandemic, at least 100 U.S. news organizations including Saveur and American Way closed their operations, and another 42 outlets were absorbed by other publications through mergers and acquisitions. Of the newsrooms remaining, many decreased circulation, cut back issues and tightened their budgets to lower overhead costs to remain profitable. This led to smaller staff bandwidths, fewer feature stories and an increasingly shrinking list of outlets with dedicated, in-house travel expertise.

As the connective tissue between travel brands and the media, our job is to serve as the go between for these two critically important travel audiences – investigating, liaising, packaging and delivering travel’s best stories; bringing visitors to long-overlooked and undiscovered destinations; and shedding new light on the well-known ones. Transactionally, it’s about connecting travel brands with credible journalists and platforms that help them reach new customers. However, the most important thing we can offer is more foundational – our relationships, which are more critical now than ever before. 

Stretched thin with fewer resources, our contacts are wearing several more hats than they were two years ago. As communicators, we can make their jobs easier and lighten the load by identifying trends, sourcing spokespeople and locating visuals, for starters. But we can also serve as their advocates while their industry is under attack.

An online trust barometer measuring more than 33,000 respondents in 28 countries reported a continued, general decline in how much people trust the organizations in their lives, namely business, government and media. 

A skeptical public now demands greater transparency and authenticity in its information. This underscores the critical role that earned media plays, helping deliver third-party endorsement through authentic, distinctive storytelling that both elevates a brand and bridges the “trust gap” in ways that traditional advertising alone cannot. 

Press and Influencer Trips and In-Person Media Experiences Are Back

As communicators of travel experiences, some of the most effective ways of telling our clients’ stories to media have been by providing firsthand experiences. 

Press and influencer familiarization trips have always served as an important promotional tool for our clients within travel and travel-adjacent spaces. After all, one of the best ways to market any product is to create genuine brand fans via shared personal experiences. 

While navigating travel in the era of COVID-19 became an extremely personal choice, with far-reaching considerations regarding personal health and the health of family members, both leisure and now business travel have returned and are picking up pace rapidly. In recent months, our clients have begun to experience a boom in press and influencer trips, with many attendees noting that their travel schedules are busier now than even pre-pandemic. In fact, from October 2021 to present, MMGY NJF hosted over 50 media across a variety of individual and group press trips on behalf of our clients. 

So how, in a new media marketplace, do clients navigate the return of the press trip? We’ll start with one caveat before diving into a few insights and key learnings from our team: While we are seeing a steep increase in hosted trips, not everyone is comfortable traveling. First and foremost, it’s important to gauge the comfort levels of potential attendees. This shouldn’t hamper brands from planning press trips, but we have found that extra care and caution has gone a long way in this ever-changing marketplace. 

To do this successfully, honesty continues to be the best policy. Transparency about any entry requirements, coverage expectations, health and safety precautions, and the type of trip – whether group or individual – should be noted in the beginning of the invitation process. 

Gone are the days when group trips reigned supreme. A blended program of both group and individual trips will meet the variety of comfort levels in this new era and ensure that resulting coverage will include a diverse range of traveler experiences. 

Mix full transparency with overcommunication. In this time of constantly changing entry and return requirements for travelers, over-communication is not only necessary but appreciated by media. Many are balancing back-to-back trips with differing requirements for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. Be sure to communicate all requirements – both to get to your destination and while in the destination – within the initial invite, during itinerary planning and again just prior to departure.

Add in extra free time and extra flexibility. Just as group trips are no longer the only avenue to success, doing away with overpacked, strict itineraries can have long-lasting benefits. Doing so will allow attendees to take a more active role in planning what they’d like to see during free time or simply provide them the time they need to catch up on work while traveling. 

Finally, always go off the beaten path. Interest in off-the-beaten-path activities has been on the rise since pre-pandemic years, and this trend isn’t going away. Showing journalists more of the authentic culture and less of the “touristy” spots will help drive deeper destination stories. 

As it relates to media events and experiences, those too have come back in various forms and fashion – largely depending on the location of the event and local restrictions. As restrictions continue to ease, we are planning more media events and consumer activations using the following as our guide and always having a plan B and C in place to accommodate last-minute changes or new restrictions. 

DO create easily accessible and immersive experiences. Gone are the days of attending back-to-back in-person events that fill members of the media’s calendars to the brim. These days journalists are signing on for easy access to information from the comfort of their home or office, saving their in-person calendar for bigger-picture events and more meaningful experiences. 

DO invite media to experience a new restaurant opening or special promotion with a guest of their choosing. It has been proven that journalists attending an event with a group of their choosing helps them not only feel more comfortable but enhances their overall experience and still garners the same stellar coverage that we know a firsthand experience delivers. 

DO utilize indoor/outdoor event spaces when possible to accommodate all comfort levels. 

DON’T subject media to in-person events where mingling occurs with a large group of people without confirmed proof of vaccination or a negative test in order to attend. Comfort levels still differ, so providing a safe environment for your guests is the best way forward.

The reinvention of working with media to provide impactful experiences that motivate coverage continues to shift, making way for a new way of thinking, refreshed standards and enhanced virtual capabilities without losing those personal touches along the way. 

PR can and should be the key method between brand messages and the story we want to tell.  A strong, proactive and targeted media relations program is critical to securing coverage, driving consumer buzz and getting clicks, calls and bookings. If we work to maintain our position as both an extension of the brand and an extension of the newsroom, we will all come out winning.