Good Evening Count - Do Come In!

Without insinuating they are all a load of blood suckers I believe that inviting the press to listen to you is akin to inviting Count Dracula around for a nightcap. You want the experience to be worthwhile and enjoyable but there is a chance you will have a pain in your neck and the need for a transfusion afterwards.
Never could this more true than in the corporate travel business as recent events at an ACTE conference testify. They willingly invited journalists in to their sessions, tried to slap down an 'off the record' mandate and then may have been mortified when the press did their job. You cannot hold a very public and very large conference and then say everything (bar what we tell you) is a secret.

Reading about this furore got me thinking about my career as a senior in a travel management company and the experiences I had with the press. They were many and varied and I think they highlighted some of the things that are right and wrong in this particular industry. As a result, here are a few thoughts to ponder on.

Who in the travel industry needs the press? We all do yet we go about fulfilling this need in strange ways. You can take it as a given that unless you deal with them right you can get into trouble. Deal with them properly and you will get all that you desire. Bullshit, dictate or threaten them and you get what you richly deserve. Ignore them and you can start wondering why nobody knows about you.

On the other side the press needs you or they have nothing to write about. Simplistic I know but this is something often forgotten. So if you want to be a player in this industry you have to help them and not throw obstacles, smokescreens and dictates in their way. You also need to tell them something useful, not just the samey releases and platitudes that make you yawn let alone them!

I have never known an industry so selectively secret than our own. Many corporations won't tell you what TMC they use let alone anything about their travel profile or philosophy. Suppliers only want to talk in sanitised cliches about new products and services but become very reticent when it comes to evidence and case studies. Hardly surprising as very often such products are in their early stages or even a hurried reaction to a competitor's announcement. Hence the so called 'smoke and mirrors' syndrome we have encountered over recent years, Just ask yourself how many of those super duper announcements five years past have ultimately turned into anything worth having.

My own experiences with the press were many and varied and I must admit some of them gave our PR departments kittens. But I can honestly say they were both useful and rewarding to me and the companies I worked for. Why? Because I told them' like it is' but in a way that gave us credibility and, hopefully, respect. There is nobody better to have on you side than a journalist who believes in you and nobody worse than one who feels patronised and used.

What advice would I give? The following might help:

• Never give a journalist a story and expect him not to use it. It is not in his nature.
• Never give them something unsubstantiated and boring and expect publication.
• Treat them as the valuable marketing tool they are not as a company stooge.
• Stop being so darn secretive. If you got it then flaunt it.
• Never treat them or their readers as idiots (American Airlines take note).
• If you invite them around do not let them bite your neck! I suggest you try providing high quality 'blood bags' of information that are digestible and tasty!

This post was republished with permission from the blog of former managing director of HRG UK Mike Platt.