Distinguishing Between an Influencer and a Guest Looking for a Free Weekend Stay
By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited
On one of the properties for which I help in an asset management role, I've recently had to assume more of the public relations responsibilities. As the entire senior team is constantly overloaded and with no budget for top-tier public relations firm, we needed a way to quickly sort through media requests.
The issue here is not just the comped rooms and meals, which still add up to a significant line item on the marketing budget when all is tallied at the end of the year. It's the time required to manage these individuals - both in upfront communications and negotiations prior to arrival as well as the interviews and glad-handing once they're onsite. Once you sum the physical costs and the hours of labor, most of these media requests don't generate any meaningful throughput offsetting this investment.
Hence, we worked on developing a clear-cut policy to quickly and decisive separate the wheat from the chaff so that as the requests filtered in, we would have an easy way to filter out those media or influencers who were serious about giving the property some support versus those who were just looking for that free weekend stay.
Not surprisingly, this simple protocol, which involved only a few basic steps, helped to reduce the hours required to vet each individual by more than three-quarters. Although the number of influencers we approved also dropped sizably, we didn't see that as a loss because it allowed us to divert marketing dollars to more effective channels like digital advertising direct to the consumer.
The first step for us was to draw a hard line in the sand regarding weekend stays - that is, no tolerance - and the reasoning here was twofold:
First is that the resort's weekends are its bread and butter for revenues, and during the high occupancy Friday and Saturday nights we often lack the staff to properly service our paying guests, let alone 'babysit' these so-called VIPs.
Second is that if a reporter or influencer is serious about their job, then they are doing it all the time and will be amenable to work with your policies. For this, we always offer them a media rate, a nominal discount off the nightly rate for the intended weekend, or to politely shift then to an adjacent Sunday or Monday arrival where, again not surprisingly, we seldom hear back from those who were just fishing for freebies.
By the way, these responses are automatic and pervasive, which we send out prior to any sort of evaluation of the newspaper or magazine being solicited or the number of followers an influencer has. If they pass the weekend litmus test, then and only then do we conduct a more thorough evaluation.
The next phase to weed out the charlatans is to set your clear and specific expectations for the outcome of any comped stay. Anything left to ambiguity will inevitably be abused. So, for traditional media personnel, this means having a thorough brief on how many words, what aspects of the hotel will be covered, what issue the appearance will be and any ensuing photography ( an supplemental use by the hotel of the photography). For social influencers, this includes have a statement addressing a specific number of posts, Instagram stories, tweets and so on as well as the timing of release for each and the corresponding tone of the image or caption.
Lastly, you should arrange with these reps to have at least one interview per each comp - for instance, one with the GM for the free guestroom, another with the executive chef for the free tasting dinner and a third with the spa director for comped massage. By now if they've been amenable to the first two stages of this process then they will be more than agreeable to meeting with a variety of characters from your senior team. This part I stress because we have seen far too many media visits whereby the content produced is simply a verbatim copy of what we have on the website instead of something with a unique perspective that can only stem from direct correspondence.
While I'm sure you may already be in a position where you have a PR firm to manage this process, please understand that we had to develop a concise way of sifting through the multitude of requests we receive because we didn't have a spare $5,000 per month to pay for a third party to do this for us. If you find yourself in a similar situation, then feel free to adapt these policies to your operations, or chime in with your own methodology for expediting these requests.