Why Hoteliers Need a PR Strategy



Jessica Gillingham, CEO of Abode Worldwide, talks with host Robin Trimingham on the key differences between a strategic marketing plan and a PR campaign and why a hotelier really needs to employ both.


Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript

Jessica Gillingham: Reputation is not a one off event. It’s something that needs to consistently be maintained so PR can help maintain that reputation by, for instance, consistently having the C-suite mentioned in industry press with really insightful opinions about what’s going on in the industry. Or it might be about consistently having news out there around new openings or whatever it might be. It’s a consistent maintenance of the reputation of a brand going out. 

Robin Trimingham: Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine with weekly thought provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators. Welcome to the innovative hotelier brought to you by HOTELS Magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham. In today’s competitive hospitality industry, standing out from the crowd and effectively reaching the desired target audience is paramount for success. However, while many hotels focus on marketing and advertising efforts, one of the often overlooked avenues is harnessing the power of public relations. Today, I thought it would be interesting to explore the range of benefits that working with a PR agency can offer to hoteliers, including increasing brand visibility, product differentiation, attracting new customers and establishing a strong position in the hospitality and travel industry. My guest today, Jessica Gillingham, is the CEO of Abode Worldwide, and she’s here today to offer her perspective on creating and implementing an effective PR strategy. Join me now for my conversation with Jessica. F.O.H is a global food service and hospitality company that manufactures smart commercial grade solutions. Headquartered in Miami, the company designs and manufactures all their restaurant and hotel products. They have showrooms and distribution centers located throughout the globe, and their products are always in stock and ready to ship from any of their distribution centers worldwide. Welcome, Jessica. Thanks so much for finding time to chat with me today. 

Jessica Gillingham: Thank you, Robin. Thank you very much for having me on the podcast. I’m excited for our discussion. 

Robin Trimingham: Yeah, me as well have written the odd press release in my past. I know how hard it is because you’re basically starting with a blank slate, but some of our hotel listeners might not be as familiar with what you do as we would like. So let’s start off by asking you if you can explain the basic difference between a PR campaign and a strategic marketing plan and why you would say that a great hotelier really needs both. 

Jessica Gillingham: Absolutely, Robin. And firstly, I’m going to talk about the difference between being strategic and tactical. Actually, before we go into the difference between marketing and what public relations is. And being strategic means thinking about where you need to be and why you need to be there. So why you would be doing any kind of marketing or public relations campaign. What’s the purpose of it? What do who do you need to influence? What is it you’re doing it for and why? And then the actual campaign is how you get there. How do you actually get where you want to be? So those two things we do separate and I certainly separate the strategic thinking and the tactical thinking. Now, if we think about the difference between marketing and PR marketing in a really simple way is about telling others how good you are. So it’s about saying, here we are, this is what we sell. Well, this is why you should be our customer. Come and be our customer. Or it might be, This is why you should join our company, whatever it might be. Whereas public relations, what we’re doing with public relations is we’re building a reputation around a brand. We’re building that halo effect of trust and influence around a brand. And we’re doing that by getting others to talk about the brand rather than our own channels. So it could be a podcast or a publication, or it could be an influencer or shared widely across different social media channels. But public relations is really about building that reputation, that halo of trust around a brand by getting others to talk about it. It’s that earned content and that’s the sort of the difference. So you need both because you obviously need to be able to say, Here I am, come and buy me. But then also having that ability to have others build that reputation in the awareness, the influence that you have that is often intangible as well. It’s not always easy to really quantify how do you quantify trust and reputation, but that’s essentially what public relations does. 

Robin Trimingham: I was going to use the word intangible myself because I think that’s absolutely the perfect way to explain this concept of how you spur others to think in the way we would like them to think and then hopefully take some action as a result of all of that. Help me out here. Is there any data to illustrate the effectiveness of a PR campaign in building awareness and driving sales for hoteliers or maybe hotel technology suppliers? 

Jessica Gillingham: So it’s a really good question and it’s one that PR has always suffered from because it’s not as easy to quantify the exact. So if you do a pay per click campaign, you know exactly how much it costs to get someone’s eyeballs on your website or other kinds of metrics that you can use in marketing. So firstly, what anyone who’s doing a PR campaign needs to think about why they’re doing it. So what’s the objective? And sometimes it’s about getting customers and that. But there are actually other reasons why you might be doing a PR campaign. It could be about influencing the local community where your hotel is and you’re wanting to change the perception of your operation there. It could be about influencing talent to come and want to be part of your brand. So if you’ve got a PR campaign going on in order to attract the top talent to your business, that might be an objective. It might be about investors and getting investors and funding to come into your business. Or it might be changing perceptions with strategic partners. But also obviously at the end of the day, it is all about money coming in as well. 

Jessica Gillingham: So it might be about converting a lead quicker or finding better potential customers or going into new markets. So there’s all those different objectives. And when it comes to actually analysing the data, for one thing, it is very difficult to analyse. How do you put a value on trust? How do you put a value on your reputation? It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. So there are metrics that hoteliers can use or the hotel industry can use or anyone can use who is implementing a PR strategy and a PR campaign. And that might be looking at website traffic, looking at organic traffic, asking where people have heard about the company, seeing whether better leads or better relationships are coming on board. But the key thing is to figure out what is it that you want to measure, what is it you’re doing the activity for, and then setting the KPIs against that, but also knowing that some of it like that halo effect cannot be easily measured. 

Robin Trimingham: So you mentioned twice now the idea of using a PR campaign for attracting talent, which I would suspect is an idea that’s really never even occurred to most of our hoteliers who are listening to this podcast. So if they’re intrigued by this idea, because let me tell you, every single one of them is having trouble attracting enough of the right kind of talent at the moment. Supposing you’re a start up or a boutique operator and you’ve never worked with a PR agency before. How do you start to figure out who to contact? 

Jessica Gillingham: So shall I answer first about the attracting talent and about how that’s potential? Because there’s two questions in there, so I’ll answer that one first. If we think about our audiences as a brand, we have stakeholders and audiences, and they might be current employees, potential employees, current customers, potential customers, investors, strategic partners, the community that we operate in. These are all different stakeholders that a business deals with. And if we think about PR as being changing perceptions and creating that influence and trust, one of those stakeholders are potential talent. And the reason I brought it up is because it is a huge problem for the industry right now. So one, just in a really simple way, everybody wants to work for a brand that others are talking about that has a good reputation. That actually is what we most of us want to be part of, something that has a purpose as well. So by using public relations, a hotel or a tech startup or whatever can communicate its purpose for attracting talent just in the way that they might attract customers. But obviously the messaging would be different. But really it’s about wanting to be part of something that others see as being of value, but also something that shares a purpose. So that would be the talent kind of question. But the other question that is about where do you start? So the first thing is you do need to have a bit of a clear idea again what those objectives are. But most companies don’t really know. When they start the conversation, they don’t really know what they want. They just know they need some help. For some reason there might be a challenge that they have which could be attracting talent, or it might be that they’re wanting to go on that funding journey, that investment journey, or it might be that they want to open in a new market or they just want to attract better customers or they want to convert those customers. 

Jessica Gillingham: So having an idea or there might be a sort of a reputational crisis that’s going on. So firstly, it’s to have those objectives in mind and then it’s just starting to have conversations with potential partners and that might be ones that are specialist in a way, or it might be ones that are local to your market. So it’s figuring out what your need is. And then there are huge amounts of potential partners out there and what I would always say is you want the ones that can do that strategic piece, but also be really tactical and just get great results. And one of the key ways is sifting through who’s right for you are the ones that understand your business And the way that we know if someone understands our business is if they show interest in it, if they’re asking questions, they’re asking good, relevant questions, and they’re really getting to understand or have some understanding. And if they don’t understand your individual business, they understand your challenges, they understand your audience, your stakeholders, and they’re asking the right questions. That would be a really good kind of beginning point for me. So it’s knowing it’s having a bit of an idea of what you need and then finding someone that can help you work out actually what it is you need. 

Robin Trimingham: Established in 2002 is a woman owned global food service and hospitality company that manufactures smart, savvy commercial grade products, including plateware, drinkware, flatware. Hotel amenities and more. Driven by innovation F.O.H. is dedicated to delivering that wow experience that restaurants and hotels crave all while maintaining a competitive price. All products are fully customizable, and many are also created using sustainable eco friendly materials such as straws and plates made from biodegradable paper and wood and PVC free drinkware. F.O.H. Has two established brands. Front of the house focused on tabletop and Buffet Solutions and Room 360, which offers hotel products. Check out their collections today at A lot of what you’re saying is good common sense, and I’m sure our listeners will be able to appreciate that. But I also think there may be a bit of a challenge here because particularly a big brand is going to be saying, Well, I already have a social media manager, I’m all set. How do you feel about that perspective? 

Jessica Gillingham: I think having social media is just one aspect. So social media is amplifying and sharing content that’s out there, but what a brand, what’s really value and that obviously is a very valuable thing to do. And I always advocate that social media should really be in house. Absolutely it should be in house because also social media is part of customer service. There’s a real relationship building that happens with social media. But what you if you’ve got that, what you aren’t looking at is how are you being the thought leader, the influencer, the conversation starter piece that a social media manager just can’t do? They can amplify that, but you but in order to really influence conversation, looking at your public relations, often getting outside perspectives is something that is different from being a social media manager, for sure. 

Robin Trimingham: So in our insta world, if you will, where people think, oh, I’ll just send out a tweet or Oh, we’ll just have an Instagram post, which is very immediate and very, very reactive. Why would you say that? A well crafted press release is still one of the best ways to get the message out? 

Jessica Gillingham: I’m going to talk about press releases, but I’m going to caveat at it first by saying that a press release is just one element of public relations. It’s a tactic. It’s not public relations. And I know that quite often people get confused. Pr Press release. But PR actually means public relations, which covers media relations, thought leadership events, awards, the whole kind of shebang. About your reputation and the big picture. Exactly. Now, a press release is a tried and tested and very historical way of disseminating information from a brand to media. And it actually hasn’t changed over the years. It continues to be the way the best way to provide information from a brand to a journalist or a publication. So a press release is just a tried and tested way of making sure you’ve got the whys, the hows, the what’s of interest to the journalist. However, PR is also about pitching individual stories, pitching thought, leadership, writing, op eds, all sorts of other things that aren’t just this is some information for you. So it’s just one little part of the puzzle of doing public relations. Well. 

Robin Trimingham: I think that is a very helpful answer because you’re right, you were naming some things and I’m sitting here going, Oh yeah, of course, awards and reputation and all of that other good stuff. It’s not just the press release, okay. Because we are in the underworld. There is a really big temptation on part of hoteliers because I’ve seen it myself. I’ve experienced it to just pimp the amenities. We’re going to have picture over picture of our beautiful swimming pool. What’s the difference between highlighting what is unique or newsworthy about a property or a brand and simply pimping the amenities? 

Jessica Gillingham: That’s a good question and I so pimping the amenities. So it’s all about what? So with the pimping, the amenities, what you’re doing is you’re instantly connecting with your potential guests by sharing something that you feel that a hotel feels they’ll connect with and they’ll want to be part of. And actually in a way that’s sharing the experience as well. So a good insta story isn’t just, let’s say, saying this is the swimming pool. It’s actually what does it feel like to be sitting around that swimming pool? What’s it feel like to be staying there for the day and living a little bit of a lifestyle that you wouldn’t have at home potentially if you don’t have a swimming pool like what is? So it’s really about the emotion of that. So that’s something very different from how a how a hotel brand might want to position itself in the industry or how it might want to position itself to to its competitors or within the community that it’s operating in or with potential investors. So these are different things. The Insta thing is, and again with Instagram, just because you get a like and a share does not mean you get a customer. Most of that or a lot of that is vanity. It’s not actually about really building your reputation. It’s part of but it’s not the full picture of what you’re offering. What you’re offering in your purpose is. 

Robin Trimingham: All right. So you just mentioned the pivotal word reputation. So let’s chat a little bit. What’s the difference between reputation management and, say, crisis management? Big incident at a hotel? And how can a properly executed PR campaign enhance a hotel’s reputation by clarifying misconceptions? 

Jessica Gillingham: Absolutely. So a crisis management or a crisis campaign is a one off event. So it’s dealing with something that has happened that you have no warning about that just needs to be dealt with. So that’s something different. However, if you deal with crisis as well, that really enhances your reputation. So if you don’t deal with a crisis, well, as we all know, it tanks your reputation and it can have long term implications and impact on your brand. Now, reputation management is an ongoing thing that a brand has to do. And reputation is not a one off event. It’s something that needs to consistently be maintained. So PR can help maintain that reputation by, for instance, consistently having the C-suite mentioned in industry press with really insightful opinions about what’s going on in the industry, or it might be about consistently having news out there around new openings or whatever it might be. It’s a consistent maintenance of the reputation of a brand. 

Robin Trimingham: So it’s a consistent drip feed of the key points that we want everybody to embrace. 

Jessica Gillingham: Yeah, just can I add one more point to it is that we all the other thing is we notice if we don’t hear about or read about a brand in, you know, on social media or through publications, we often say to ourselves, I wonder what’s happened to that brand. They don’t seem to be around very much anymore. Or maybe they’re having a little bit of trouble at the moment because they’re just not there. We’re not seeing them there in the public eye being written about by our favourite publications. Et Cetera. So again, if you’re not consistently out there, questions can be raised about what actually is going on. 

Robin Trimingham: You know, and that’s a good point because when you’ve had a lot of success or when you’re Uber big, there is some tendency to rest on your laurels because the engine is working fine and we’re just trucking along, doing our thing. But if you’re not top of mind, you can go from the hot property to someplace nobody wants to go it in an instant before you realize it’s even happened. But it all comes down to money and ROI for hoteliers, and especially when we’re thinking about embarking on new projects in an area where we might not be comfortable or we have no experience. So we need to help our hoteliers a little bit. How would you say a hotelier or a tech sector hotel supplier can set realistic expectations that will enable them to maximize and measure their ROI when they invest in a relationship? 

Jessica Gillingham: So firstly, PR is often the most cost effective form of marketing. It actually tends to be less than lots of the other areas. The investment in conferences, the investment in pay per click, the investment in other parts of marketing that hoteliers might do. Pr is actually usually a very small part of that, but with a big bang. So the other thing is the results, the outputs of PR activity tends to be evergreen. It’s constantly lasting. It’s not something that if you’re not putting money into it, that it just disappears. It’s there consistently, whether it’s articles online or that reputation piece. Obviously we did just talk about how you need to consistently keep looking after your reputation, but if you think an article that is published about you will be online potentially for years and years and years, whereas a social media post disappears pretty much after someone’s seen it, goes down the feed or an advert disappears the minute you stop paying for it. So it’s evergreen in that way, and really it’s finding the right partner just with anyone else. Anything else that you do, It’s somebody that you trust, working with a company that you trust, a company that understands your business, understands what you need to do for your business, what those objectives are. And together you’ve worked out what the KPIs are and what the measures of success are. 

Robin Trimingham: I think that is a good way to approach all of this. We’ve got a couple of minutes left here. Question I’d like to ask everybody. What’s your key message for everyone who views this recording? 

Jessica Gillingham: So I think my key message is to understand that PR is not just about press releases, that there is absolute power in having that halo effect around your brand, that it’s also something that is strategic, not just tactical, because it’s really what’s more important than the reputation of your brand and what’s more important than being able to communicate your purpose to your customers and your other stakeholders. So really to look at public relations as that it’s a relationship that you have with your public. It’s not just about the press release or the insta post or whatever else it might be. It’s actually much bigger than that. It’s about trust and reputation and influence. So that would be my takeaway, is to view it in that way rather than just the tactical parts and elements of the activity. 

Robin Trimingham: Does God think? You’ve given our listeners quite a bit to think about. You’ve been listening to the innovative Hotelier. Join us again soon for more up to the minute information and insights specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry. You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by HOTELS Magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders. 

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