By Mark O’Toole, TravMedia North America
We’re not talking about starting your own newspaper, or broadcasting or cable network here. Rather, we are talking about a world of public relations opportunities that can come from building and nurturing a fantastic media network.
Your travelers come to you for the value of your experiences and networks – the growth of your business is balanced by meeting the needs of your consumers by nurturing, expanding and managing the network of influencers that make your offerings stand out. The media will come to you for many of the same reasons. And if you take the time to get to know the reporters and editors who should know about your organization, the benefits will just keep growing.
Everyone needs a network—whether for business development, career development or personal reasons. In fact, everyone has a network, whether they know it or not. But not everyone knows how to build or use one, especially when it comes to the media.
My kids have more than 50 names in their Webkinz (if you have kids, you know what these are) contact list. They are building a network now, and no doubt some of those friends will remain in their network for years to come. And this is encouraging, because online communities are wonderful tools that allow today’s kids to become tomorrow’s stellar networkers—to a point.
To create a usable, expandable and vibrant media network, you must nurture it. Some of that can be done via e-mail, but much of network building and maintenance comes from getting out, getting together and getting on the phone.
A personal network-builder take the time to correctly develop a network by getting to know contacts individually, taking the time to reach people on their terms, supplying relevant information and seeing “targets” as people. While distributing press releases via e-mail, TravMedia or other services is an important part of sharing your news, that’s not exactly relationship-building. Merely mailing or e-mailing some pretty brochures to a list of names of prospective customers likely does not generate your best customers. Treat the media like another kind of customer. Actually treat them like a colleague, customer and sales channel wrapped into one, because the right story resulting from your efforts can reap great rewards.
Here are a few tips to build your own powerful network of media relationships:
- Networking happens everywhere: Anywhere people congregate and share interests can be fertile networking ground. A neighborhood cookout, school committee meeting, black-tie gala or walkathon can be just as appropriate as a planned “Networking Luncheon.” Members of the media – and in today’s world of bloggers, social networkers and website contributors, that universe is rapidly expanding – can be anywhere. Make sure to find out if media will be at the event you’re attending and get to know them.
- The best networkers help others build their networks as well. The smoothest networkers are also the most sincere—they look for opportunities for other people that make sense. Just as media relationship-building means occasionally giving non-client-related story ideas or sources, so does personal and professional networking mean helping others that may not directly pay off for you. A great way to build a long-lasting media relationship is to be there as a reference even when there is no direct value for your company.
- What goes around, comes around. This may sound trite, but it’s true. Networking is often little more than doing the right favor, making the right recommendation or offering the right connection for the right person. Remembering someone’s need, and helping him or her to fill it, will position you as a problem-solver as opposed to an opportunist. And people do remember—and repay—favors. Sometimes a simple thank you note or a positive e-mail to a reporter commenting on a story or award they may have won can start a great relationship.
- Use technology to your advantage: We’re all busy, and the best intentions of getting face time or even phone time sometimes fall by the wayside. It’s not possible to call or see everyone you’d like to, but you can stay in touch via e-mail, instant messaging, Blackberries, PDAs, etc., providing you keep your database clean and current. Use technology and tools provided by associations such as ATTA to develop new contacts and keep in touch with existing ones. If you don’t have a great database, try services like LinkedIn to help you create, manage, organize and track your own contacts. I keep a list of media on my LinkedIn profile and that gives me a nice glimpse into the makeup of their networks. Finally, interact with your technology providers, especially those immersed in the industry such as TravMedia, to share insights.
- Have your elevator pitch down cold: We’ve all heard this before, and it’s true. If you can’t verbalize what you do, you can’t expect the media to be interested in what you have to offer. So be able to succinctly describe your company, its products and services, and your role. And listen carefully to your counterpart’s pitch—otherwise you might miss a chance to make an important connection. Adventure travel is an exciting industry, but it can feel like a crowded one if you can’t express your differentiators.
- Extend your media network: While a good PR program ensures media get your relevant news, new tours and other information, and ideally write about them, it’s your skill at building a media network that gives you opportunity to have a real dialogue with the media about your company. Invite media to your events or industry get-togethers. Have them into your organization to meet your staff and hear how you can best work with them. “Hang out” where they hang out—that could be at local business events or online at TravMedia. Meet them at the Adventure Travel World Summit. Media want to be engaged, for the most part, by the people and groups they cover.
- Be yourself: We can all smell phoniness, opportunism and disinterest a mile away. Don’t let your new media contacts smell that on you. They are being sold, pitched and hassled much of their day. Most reporters will tell you they receive literally hundreds of pitches and press releases every day. People with whom we network best—those we invite to events, pass contacts along to, do favors for— are, not surprisingly, the people who give you back the most.
Networking is an art, and must be developed like any other business skill. The first step is being aware that you’re building something fluid, lasting and vital. And you’ll be amazed at how it can grow with a basic level of nurturing and support. Only you can make the difference between meeting your network and knowing them.