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11 Public Relations Tips for Travel & Tourism from PRSA Travel 2016

11 Public Relations Tips from PRSA Travel 2016

Public relations professionals in the travel industry flocked to Houston for the Public Relations Society of America’s 2016 Travel & Tourism Conference and left with a playbook of PR tips from reporters, editors, filmmakers and brand journalists. Whether you want to relive it or you missed it and wish you could have been a fly on the wall, we’ve got good news – we took notes (like any good reporter would tell you to do)! Here are 11 public relations tips from PRSA Travel 2016.

1. Include photos with your press releases.

“I think it’s really great if you can include images in a press release,” Kaitlin Ahern, editor of Parents.com told the crowd at her session, “Dig Deep into Digital.”

She explained one embedded photo in a press release gives her a visualization of what the story will be, and tells her you have access to photos.

“Knowing you have access to photos that you can share with me, that makes me want to work with you because I know that it is going to be easy,” said Ahern.

Her co-presenter Max Hartshorne, editor of GoNomad, added that photos on your press release provide a visual back-up to what you’re trying to say. He recommended putting images at the top of the press release so they are easy for reporters and editors to see.

“Don’t make it grey and boring,” he added. “Reporters only have a limited amount of time to open press releases.”

The third presenter, Matt Meltzer, a staff writer at Thrillist, warned the crowd against attaching big photos to emails because they take too long to load. Other presenters throughout conference sessions echoed the same idea. Instead, we recommend adding a link to a password-protected gallery that makes it easy for reporters to view and download photos, like LEGOLAND Florida.

2. Share stories of authentic characters.

In an adventure panel hosted by Nat Geo Adventure, filmmaker Ben Masters explained how a film that, as he described it, started out like a home video and ended up on Netflix. Unbranded is the story of how Masters and three friends adopted 16 mustangs that had never been touched, trained them and rode them from Mexico to Canada in the most backcountry route in the US.


The story caught the attention of Nat Geo Adventure’s director of adventure editorial, who explained that she is always on the lookout for stories with authentic characters. Now, Masters is partnering with Nat Geo Adventures to produce more stories of amazing characters he and his friends met out west, like Ray Knell.


Every destination is filled with wonderful, authentic characters. Take the time to meet the unique people in your destination and uncover the stories worth telling.

3. Tease your stories.

When Ben Masters launches a piece of content on social media, he rolls it out slowly to generate excitement. He starts with sharing photos, and every photo he shares is better than the last. Then, he launches a 30 second teaser, then a 90 second teaser, and so on. By the time the film is released, his following can’t wait to watch the final product – which is exactly what he wants them to do.

Check out this Facebook post teasing Masters’ new film, Charged:

4. Connect with media outlets on Instagram

Wondering how your destination can catch the attention of Nat Geo Adventure? Mary Anne Potts recommends connecting with the brand on Instagram.

“A way to get immediately into our channels is to share your photo with #natgeoadventure,” said Potts.

The brand’s social team is watching the hashtag and reposting photos from fans almost every day.

“It’s a great way to get your destination in front of the adventure community,” she said.

5. Share organic stories in real time.

On an ordinary day, a 6 year-old boy waved at a Southwest plane. He was so far away that to the pilot, he might’ve looked like a speck. But this ordinary moment turned extraordinary when the pilot noticed the little boy waving, and stopped his plane to wave back. Even more amazing? The boy’s mom captured the moment on camera, shared the photo with Southwest, and less than a week later, the boy and the pilot were reunited for a tour of the plane.

This video is far more magical than anything a brand’s video team could have cooked up with a script and a cast of actors. The story is the perfect combination of authenticity, heart and fast-action. We caught up with Brooks Thomas, Social Business Advisor for Southwest Airlines, after his keynote to hear a bit more about why speed was key to telling this story.

“As time grows, so too do people forget how they felt, so I think it’s really important for us to have a listening center – a team that’s paying attention – because if we’re not listening to these moments they go unrecorded,” said Thomas. “They happen without us doing our due diligence. So you saw the video of the 6 year old boy who got a wave from a pilot – if we’re not listening to Facebook, we never see that moment, we never appreciate that moment, we never try and figure out who the pilot is – from that point, we never reunite the two.”

The takeaway here is to make sure your team is listening. Stories are unfolding every day. Listen closely, and be ready to turn stories around quickly so you can share them with your employees and your fans.

6. Curate your history.

In his keynote speech, Travel Channel host Brian Unger stressed the importance of curating your destination’s history. He shared the story of how a new episode of his show, Time Traveling with Brian Unger would have been impossible to make if it weren’t for one historical photo that gave the story authenticity and immense value.

“It’s so critical to curate these photographs,” Unger told the crowd. “We can’t tell stories without them.”

In a video interview after the keynote, Unger told our team why visual media is crucial to storytelling.

Learn more of Unger’s insights and tips for public relations teams in our full video Q&A.

7. Look to the future with VR technology.

There’s no doubt about it – virtual reality is a hot topic in the travel industry.

As Editor in Chief of Travel Weekly Arnie Weissmann told the crowd at the final session, “virtual reality and augmented reality are exciting because they remove the limits of time and space.”

One travel brand that’s getting ahead of the trend is the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA), which recently launched a VR app. The app allows you to choose from a dozen different experiences, from flying down a zip line over the Strip to taking a gondola ride at the Venetian. Check out this promo video to see some of the sights:

8. Build an online newsroom to share content with the media.

In a session on online newsrooms, LVCVA Communications Manager Amanda Arentsen shared that an online is a critical part of her team’s media outreach.

“In Las Vegas, we have nearly 7 billion archived images of Las Vegas history that our Las Vegas News Bureau is able to share with the media,” explained Arentsen, “so we really need a website that’s easy for them to access, so they can get their photos and get them into their stories as quickly as possible.”

The Las Vegas News Bureau has been collecting images since 1947. Every day, camera crews are capturing photos and videos to share with media around the world. Arentsen says an accessible media library is critical for the organization’s media partners.

Need help setting up an accessible visual media library? Get tips from digital asset management expert Peter Krogh in our Up and Running series.

9. Try out “hometowning.”

If you work with a brand news bureau that’s been around since 1947, you probably have a few tricks up your sleeve. Arentsen shared a tactic she uses in Las Vegas called “hometowning.”

Here’s how she explained it:

“If you have a special event that’s happening in your destination, go out there, take some photos of people having fun, and if they’re from a smaller market or a feeder market to your destination, you can send photos to publications in that area and say ‘look how much fun Mr. and Mrs. Smith were having when they were in Las Vegas,’ or wherever your destination may be. So it’s a great way to get exposure and it’s not something that’s too difficult to take on.”

This is a great way to get started with visual storytelling. It’s simple and easy, plus, it’s organic! You’ll be telling real stories of people who’ve traveled to your destination, which is sure to delight media partners and social media fans.

10. Write informed, concise and engaging pitches.

In a spin-off of NBC’s The Voice public relations professionals from across the country went head to head in The Pitch. Kim Jamieson, PR Manager at Discover South Carolina, won over the judges with her pitch for Columbia, SC. Her advice for the perfect pitch? Keep it short, do your research and have fun!

11. Follow Shedd Aquarium’s recipe for viral content.

Shedd Aquarium regularly puts visual content in the spotlight. The aquarium has in-house photo and video production teams that document the organization’s conservation and rescue work.

The communications team has struck gold more than once, and several of the aquarium’s videos have gone viral. And before you shake your head and say, “that’s just because everyone loves animals,” let me stop you and tell you there are other factors at work here (besides, if there weren’t, my Instagram photos of my dog would have totally gone viral by now).

Here are some tips from the Shedd Aquarium team about how to set your content up for success:

  • Share bite sized content.
  • Always include a youtube link that is public, live and embeddable in your press releases.
  • Give your media partners easy download access so they can make it their own.
  • If the footage you’re sharing is rare, make that clear. (Case in point, this “Leech-nado” video captured by one of Shedd’s field workers.)
  • Tell media partners why they should care. What’s the hook?
  • Include strong captions to make sure the right messaging always accompanies your content.
  • Meet with your key stakeholders on a regular basis. Your team members in the field might capture something unexpected. Let them know you’re looking for story ideas!
  • Invest in resources and equipment (e.g. a GoPro) for your teams in the field.

“Viral videos at their core are moments in time,” Mick Swasko Communications & Public Relations Coordinator for Shedd told the crowd.

If your team is prepared to capture and share unique moments in time, your video content just might go viral!

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