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Public Relations for Travel Industry

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Some public relations firms specialize in travel accounts, particularly some of the smaller, "boutique" agencies. Public relations play a vital role in the marketing process but have a very different purpose from advertising. The object of public relations is to cultivate positive image and awareness of a client, to generally inform the public. The message usually has higher credibility than an advertisement since it is written by a third party, the reporter.

Public relations professionals handle press inquiries, write releases, use their contacts in the trade and consumer press to encourage reporters to follow up on stories, set up interviews and press conferences, and frequently arrange and conduct press trips. Even large companies that already have a public relations staff frequently go to outside agencies for additional support.

Generally, public relations agencies try to hire people who are already doing public relations for a travel entity. Sometimes, they try to hire from among the reporters for the trade press. "It is possible to be a public relations practitioner who happens to have travel accounts," said Lynne Rutan, "but I personally feel I am part of the travel industry." Rutan entered "travel" as an account executive with AC&R Public Relations, handling the Greek National Tourist Office account. She next became the public relations officer for the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the leading trade association, which put her solidly in the throes of industry issues. She then went back to a public relations agency, and eventually found her way to a position in Paris.

There are some unique aspects to representing a travel entity. For example, a public relations executive is more likely to be involved with press trips and will probably travel in conjunction with these trips. When Rutan worked on the Greek account, she spent about three to five days a month traveling for two years. When she worked at ASTA, she did not expect to travel but had to travel to regional and national conferences. She also wound up producing a film and had to travel around the world for two months to handle the shooting.

Promoting travel is also unique because the markets-the audience-and consequently the potential media in which you can place stories are so much more varied than, for example, products such as computers, soap, or cereal. The same client can generate a story for trade, consumer travel, food and wine, lifestyle, news, or financial editors. Then, there are the broadcast media. It is challenging to a public relations person to think of the various story placements and how to "sell" the story to a skeptical editor who may not be in tune with travel.

Public relations require writing and verbal communications skills, organization, capability to take a campaign from conceptualization to implementation, and also salesmanship (to sell the concept to an editor). People skills, particularly in handling clients and editors and reporters, are also important.

Public relations agencies are set up differently and specialize in specific aspects of the field. Some are more promotions oriented; some are more marketing oriented. In some agencies, "you are pigeon-holed into doing just one thing for one client; in others, you do everything. It depends on the size and organization of the agency," said Rutan.

Public relations can be frustrating, as well. "You may have what you think is a terrific story, but the timing may be off or the client may not be willing to present the product in such a way as to interest an editor. Also, it is frustrating to explain to the client that the presentation should be kept as objective as possible, that it is not a sales piece."

The publicist may have to tell the same story over 50 times to various editors and then start over with the reporters. "But that can be fun, too, tailoring the pitch to the audience, picking out what is new and exciting."

Getting into public relations is not cut and dried. For many, it is a matter of luck, or falling in. Many public relations people specializing in travel come from trade publications or travel companies such as hotels and simply move over to an agency. Some get in by doing clerical support or interning.

Public relations can be lucrative as you move up; it is certainly better paying than the trade publications. Not all areas pay the same; an account executive handling a bank's account is likely to be better paid than one handling a travel account because travel accounts tend to be smaller and not pay as well.

Travel Writing Trade Press

One of the best ways to enjoy the excitement, dynamics, and glamour of the travel industry is to join one of the many trade publications. The trade press is generally easier to get into than the consumer press, which has greater visibility and prestige. Trade publications tend to be low paying but afford an opportunity to take on more responsibilities and to advance more rapidly. Trade reporting usually has more depth than the consumer press; readers rely on trade articles to keep them abreast of latest developments, and these articles directly influence decision making.

Since staffs tend to be small, there is considerable opportunity to do many different kinds of reporting and have many different "beats." Also, great satisfaction comes from being able to put "faces" on the readership-you meet some of your readers at industry meetings and conferences and may wind up interviewing them. Trade reporters frequently become well known in their field and are often invited to speak at functions. Indeed, trade writing can frequently lead to positions in the industry, in public relations, marketing, consulting, or advertising.

Trade reporting is intrinsically different from consumer re-porting. There is little in the way of on-the-spot flowery descriptions of sunsets, swaying palm trees, and powdery sand. Although there is some coverage of destinations, most of the articles are hard news accounts of developments in the industry, reports about companies, or articles on legal and business issues. While most of the reporting is done via telephone or face-to-face interviews, there are frequent opportunities to travel. And, due to the importance of travel and tourism to the economic vitality of nations and states, it is not uncommon to be in the company of presidents, prime ministers, and monarchs at major industry conferences.

There are scores of travel trade publications for each specialty, including travel agents, aviation, hotels, incentive travel, corporate travel, meetings, and motor coach travel. Among the major travel industry publications are the following: Travel Agent, Travel Weekly, Travel Management Daily, ASTA Agency Management, Travel life, Travel Trade, Travel Age (East, West, and Mid America), Tour & Travel News, Business Travel News, Corporate Travel, Jax Fax, Meeting News, Meetings & Conventions, Successful Meetings, Lodging, and Aviation Weekly.

It is best to start in travel writing when you are right out of college, preferably with an internship. Trade associations can supply you with the names of leading publications. Publications regularly advertise for help in local newspaper classified sections.
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