Industry Update
Opinion Article 8 September 2017

How to Count Hotel PR Successes

By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners

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Two facts have upturned how hotel marketers and public relations experts count successes and a reality is that we are not going back to the simpler time we used to live in. That's good for a big reason: we now are much closer to truly seeing how powerful smart PR can be. Especially in the travel business where story and imagery and video - the building blocks of travel PR - obviously can deliver results.

Here are the facts that have changed everything. First: we increasingly see hotel executives - both GMs and DoSMs - with at least some business school background. And b-school people love metrics. They want to measure and, initially at leas t, some PR people howl but they eventually buckle up. The more we measure, the more powerfully we prove our worth.

The second fact: the old way of measuring - so-called advertising value equivalents (AVE) - has been pretty much universally tossed on the rubbish heap. It just doesn't work. It certainly does not work for many of the new tools in the PR toolbelt. But, really, it never worked.

The AVE idea was that you'd take a story placed by PR, measure it (literally with a ruler in many cases), then calculate how much the same amount of advertising would cost. And PR would blow trumpets that its work had resulted in, oh, a $100,000 worth of New York Times coverage.

Good as that sounds, it's nonsensical. For one thing, in buying an ad, the advertiser gets lots of power - sometimes right down to exact placement and certainly the choice of image and the exact wording. When a story is about you, you get none of that.

AVE also glossed over the reality that different stories deliver different values. What's the worth of a tepid hotel review? Are those eight inches worth less than eight inches of praise? Of course. But how to calculate?

In 2010, a collection of PR measurement experts gathered in Barcelona and one of the things they did was toss out AVE. They also came up with new ways to measure results.

In 2015, PR practitioners issued a fine-tuned collection of ideas referred to as Barcelona 2.0.

There's still debate about how to measure but there's no debate about AVE. Don't listen to PR practitioners who preach it and don't ask your PR practitioner to calculate it.

What to use instead?

Out of Barcelona come big ideas:

Start by setting goals. What is the desired outcome of a PR campaign? This is where the magic of measurement gets traction. Measurable goals are the key.

Measure the effect of PR on outcomes rather than measuring outcomes themselves. Does PR produce sweeter outcomes? More heads in beds?

Measure the effect on business results wherever possible. This is where the pedal hits the metal. Know the desired results and calculate the effects of PR.

Analyze possible impacts of media placements. Get analytical. Definitely dig deep into publications' media kits to gather insights into readership/viewership. While you are at this, be scrupulous about determining how well a particular publication's demographics align with the hotel's.

Social media must be measured - and big outlets such as Facebook offer insights into the results they get.

PR measurement must be done in ways that are transparent and replicable. If shrouded with smoke and mirrors, run.

The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication offers lots of resources to help implement Barcelona 2.0.

Here's the bottomline: hotels want and n eed to measure PR results and the reality is that results can be measured. It takes analytical thinking. But the results are within reach.

Should every account be measured? Definitely, every sizable account deserves it. What about the smaller accounts that now are common in hotel PR - I'm talking under perhaps $5000 per month.

In those cases, my advice is to do this simpler. Let's say we agree with a client that in the first year we will seek to secure four substantial placements in top 20 newspapers as well as eight placements in leading magazines and websites (with that list agreed upon).

How hard is it to then decide if the year was successful?

We also need to look at the question - did the placements produce the desired business results?

If yes, year two probably would mean pursuit of more of the same. If not, it's time to rethink targets and, honestly, PR targets are in a period of enormous flux as traditional big h its see lessening importance and newcomers are claiming center stage roles.

But, yes, let's measure. Let's know that PR indeed produces measurable results. And let's also stay very flexible about the best targets and the results we hope to achieve.

Babs Harrison

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