How to: Turn bad news into good PR

A few weeks ago, Travel Weekly columnist Maureen Hill wrote how she’d been confronted with a potential customer whose pensioners’ club tour had descended into chaos due to some lost false teeth.

“I’ll sort everything,” she said, as she cheerfully attempted to get his next booking. As her regular readers will know, nothing troubles Maureen.

But what’s brilliant about her column is that everyone can identify with her. Agents across the country are having weird and wonderful encounters with clients every working day.

Maureen was making a valuable point: the reassurance of an agent is a great benefit for holidaymakers. Similarly, the protection offered by an Atol-bonded package is so valuable, as the XL collapse in 2008 and this year’s ash cloud crisis have proved.

In the past, if you asked industry bosses why they didn’t promote this more, the answer was always similar: “It’s a negative thing to campaign on; we just don’t want to highlight that things sometimes go wrong.”

Well, guess what, folks? Times have changed. The ongoing uncertainty caused by volcanic ash and striking airline crew has undoubtedly been a big headache for everyone in the travel industry. But it also presents some great opportunities for positive public relations.

Big or small, agent or operator, all should be looking to talk up the benefits they can offer to customers who might otherwise consider a DIY booking.

Big companies are already making the most of this opportunity, in particular, Tui. Its Thomson Sport arm recent put out a press release explaining how it saved the day on a celebrity climb of Kilimanjaro when flights were cancelled because of ash.

When things go wrong, agents and suppliers can really show their worth. And for maximum impact, you should learn how to publicise your worth.


Identify your story

TV and newspapers love travel delays because angry punters are always available to make their feelings known. Likewise, happy customers are your greatest resource.

Putting a positive spin on trouble is all about identifying your story. How have you pulled out all the stops for a client in need? Did you get a couple to their Caribbean wedding despite an airline strike? Or maybe you’ve got someone back after the volcano crisis for an important job interview?

Your calm head and expertise won’t have gone unnoticed by your client, which is great news because it means they are much more likely to want to participate in any media interest.


Approaching the media

Local newspapers and radio stations offer a fantastic route to future customers because they are incredibly well-trusted. Unfortunately, people are often frightened by the prospect of talking to journalists. You shouldn’t be – they’ll be grateful to hear from you if you’ve got a good tale to tell.

Get the facts of the story straight in advance. Jot them down. Reporters like to run through stories in chronological order and will need the contact details of all concerned so they can get a good selection of quotes.

Check with your clients that they are happy to talk to reporters and have their phone numbers to hand. A PR firm can help here. Having a press release written and distributed can save you time.

Oh, and don’t be shy. If you get the chance, agree to a photograph – news stories with pictures take up more space and make more impact.

Finally, remember that you are highlighting your positives. Don’t be too modest to say that your exemplary customer service and protection is what all customers can expect.

An additional benefit is that any online coverage that includes a link back to your website will help with your search engine optimisation. Make a specific point of mentioning your web address to boost your Google ranking.

Marketing materials

Could you use the story as a case study for a leaflet or e-shot to your existing customer base? A good local graphic designer can help here, and rates can be surprisingly low. For under £200 you could get a nice piece of direct mail.

Your creative efforts should focus on the emotional side to the story – how you saved the day in three or four simple sentences. Drive readers to you by including a phone number, email address and website address.


Neal Baldwin is head of news at Siren PRNeal Baldwin is head of news at Siren PR

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