In the game: 4 PR pros who are exploring the travel and sports fields

August 1, 2012

Tactics spoke with four PRSA members who work in the travel and tourism, sports marketing, and food and beverage sectors of public relations. Here, communicators from the University of Maryland Athletic Department, the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, MSLGroup Americas Food & Beverage and Never Stop Traveling shared their thoughts on their experiences in these specialty areas. Here, they discuss building their brands, keeping audiences engaged and how social media is changing the profession.

Doug Dull, associate athletic director – media relations, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.

What role does public relations play for the athletic department?

It’s tremendously important, especially in the Baltimore-Washington market with a relatively large and aggressive media contingent. I [tell] our staff that these sports media folks work in the same building as those who cover Congress, the Pentagon and the  White House, so they tend to be good. 

We have made a strong commitment to integrate external operations functions — development, marketing, tickets, video and media relations — to present a unified message to our publics.

We think of our shop as an internal PR agency with our student-athletes, coaches and staff as clients.  We try to serve all roles you might imagine a normal PR agency [would].

What is the best way to keep fans engaged?

Keeping sports fans engaged doesn’t seem to be a problem. Channeling engagement and turning passion into positive results is more the challenge.  You can go from positive to negative to positive impressions in a matter of minutes in the middle of a game.

Why did you decide to start your own consultancy for college sports?

My 23 years in the industry have given me the skills and experience to provide leadership and value to a department.  Athletics departments at every level seem to have dwindling resources that prevent them from taking strategic looks at what they’re doing communications-wise from a 30,000-foot level. My goal will be to provide college media relations staffs the help they need to get home a little earlier every night.

What social media initiatives has the athletic department implemented?

Since media relations has been an information-pushing operation, we’re responsible for  Twitter. Our marketing office uses Facebook to turn fans into friends. Our video services office is best suited for giving us a presence on YouTube. 

We are listening and monitoring constantly.  Any time we post a news article on our website, we’ve tried to provide a link on Twitter, and strategically consider a post on Facebook depending on the content. Most news cycles last as long as it takes a reporter to type 140 characters, so we’ve concentrated on being more nimble and prepared.

How do you decide who are credible sources and what type of access they get?

We have developed policies, in coordination with our university attorney’s office, that give us guidance on which outlets to credential.  We engage bloggers that represent major regional or national outlets, but don’t have the resources to provide that level of service to private bloggers. We mirror some of the credentialing guidelines the NCAA uses for its postseason tournaments, which seems to work well.

What trends do you see on the horizon for sports public relations?

More exposure (more TV and Internet opportunities for college sports) means the necessity for more training and consideration of PR tactics and fundamentals. It’s not just the revenue sports that need media training.  As college athletics becomes more oriented toward revenue production, we need the core message of providing great educational experiences for our student-athletes to be more prominent and consistent.

Lindsey Brown, director of marketing and public relations, Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Houston

What does your job entail?

I love my job because it involves so much — media relations, website content, media and marketing strategy, outer-market events, social media and more.

What role does public relations play in building the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau brand?

Public relations factors heavily for our brand.  The PR team works hand-in-hand with the advertising team to ensure our messages complement each other, developing the brand of a large, cosmopolitan city that’s a leader in arts, food and fashion. 

This strategy is based on years of research. So when visiting journalists write about the city, they end up telling a similar story, strengthening the brand and growing Houston’s image. 

How has outreach developed as the media landscape has changed? What are the challenges of reaching audiences and tourists from different backgrounds?

We’ve developed strong relationships with our research partners. Our message to the national media is different than our regional one, and the international market is completely different.

The international market is looking for Western heritage, so we play up events like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. For our culinary audience, we created “Where the Chefs Eat” tours.  We’ve generated nearly 200 articles and segments about our culinary scene as a result. People are looking for authentic experiences, and we’re finding and cultivating those to create buzz for the city. 
How have social media and real-time news changed how you reach your audiences?

It’s harder to reach consumers today — they are overwhelmed with messages! Our PR team is constantly connected to social media — to respond to breaking news, answer questions from a visitor via Twitter or Facebook and keep our fingers on the pulse of what’s happening around the city.  We also use our social media channels to increase the reach of traditional media stories, ad campaigns and other initiatives.

What social media initiatives has the organization implemented?

Our most successful social media initiative is an online concierge called Ask  Veronica. Veronica has answered more than 3,000 questions from potential visitors and locals about the city. In a follow-up survey last year, 98 percent found her answers helpful, and 95 percent took her advice. In addition, we have a Facebook account (12,000 fans), Twitter account (14,000 followers), Pinterest page (272 followers) and YouTube channel.

Do new technology or sharing platforms benefit tourism or engagement?

We’ve found that strong photography tells the story of Houston best, and Pinterest is a great way to show off our city. Pinterest is an excellent example of a platform geared mostly toward women — our key visitor is a woman between 35 and 54.

Steve Bryant, managing director, MSLGroup Americas Food and Beverage, Seattle

What is your day-to-day job like working in the food and beverage specialty sector?

This is an incredibly rich field because it’s so multifaceted. In a single day, any of our five dozen food and beverage specialists might be addressing any of the major drivers of consumption: culinary, nutrition, visual, culture, referral and reputation. It’s a stimulating blend of art, science, business and innovation that is rewarding. Consumers eat three to 10 times a day, so every one of those occasions is a business opportunity.

Offering this range and caliber of service demands both scale and efficiency.  That might mean launching a product in partnership with a chef one morning and addressing a food safety outbreak later that week. Or developing a cause marketing campaign for one brand, while building a Facebook community for another. For some brands and commodities, we handle their entire marketing mix.

What social media platforms do you incorporate into your marketing efforts?

We just completed a major study with The Hartman Group called Clicks & Cravings to examine the incredible influence that social and digital media is having on food culture. It’s clear that online engagement is the dominant way we acquire information about foods and beverages.

Moms no longer have the sweeping influence they once had in setting our food tastes. Now, we’re crowdsourcing our preferences. Visually rich social channels have a big edge in food communications.  The other opportunities were the huge number of consumers who are engaged with social media while eating.

Media favors intimate connections — brands are mostly welcome for two assets they can offer: deals and recipes. Recipes are a much more intimate basis for relationship building online, so we’ve spotted recipes as the most neglected opportunity in social media.

How have social media, real-time and 24/7 news changed how you deal with crises related to food safety, nutrition and packaging, and evolving tastes?

We’re advising major brands to deploy close monitoring that allows [a] reaction to a social media outbreak at a moment’s notice. Our study asked what consumers were most interested in when using social media sites and over 10 percent named “foods and beverages to avoid” and “alerts about food safety.” Do the math and you discover the potential for food fears — real or imagined — that could spread to millions overnight.

How has outreach developed as the media landscape has changed?

Food remains a top interest of consumers whether in traditional or social media — it drives a lot of eyeballs and clicks. Unless you’re marketing to a young audience, where online media have become dominant, it continues to be important to communicate across a number of media channels. Many remain influential and should be incorporated in the mix.

Your work also extends to Latin America, Europe and Asia — what are the challenges reaching audiences of different backgrounds?

Regional considerations are fascinating and a hurdle to most truly global campaigns.  Taste and traditions have been guided by local culture and genetic factors.  A lot of food and beverage marketing must be calibrated on a market-by-market basis.

Sure, there are some universals tied to our biology, as well as common themes like love of family. But we heavily depend on the expertise that our global network of specialists can offer.

Jim Ferri, editor, Never Stop Traveling website, blog and newsletter, Miami

How did you get your start in journalism and public relations?

Since childhood, I planned to be a freelance magazine photographer and after I got out of the Army, I stayed in Europe to develop my portfolio.

When I returned to the States, editors liked my photography but had no stories to go with them. I had to learn to write and studied every rewrite of my early articles.  After 10-plus years freelancing, I [went] into public relations because I was traveling so much I wasn’t seeing my daughter grow up.

What role does public relations play in building the Never Stop Traveling brand?

Public relations is critical in positioning the brand as an upscale product and credible source, and in creating awareness among consumers and the industry. You could say we even use employee communications in our dealings with writers and other bloggers. I utilize every PR tactic I would recommend to any client.

How has outreach developed as the media landscape has changed? What are the challenges of reaching audiences of different backgrounds?

It’s a two-way street.  The landscape presents new opportunities to reach a broader audience, but also presents the consumer with opportunities to look for content elsewhere. On the other hand, it helps overcome challenges in reaching a broader international audience since our blogs and articles are now read all over the world. One article we ran on Sweden had almost 30,000 hits online from people in Sweden alone.

How have social media and real-time news changed how you reach your audiences?

Whether you publish in print or online, people still look to you for information and entertainment. Social media has made the editor-reader relationship much more intimate — more one-to-one than ever before — and has also made it easier to reach on-the-go consumers because of its portability.  The challenge is to stay on top of what is happening in social media and technology to better use both to your advantage.

What social media initiatives has Never Stop Traveling implemented?

Since the intended target audience is 50-plus years old, Facebook has always been important. But since we’re now seeing a following in the 35-plus-year-old market, Twitter and Pinterest have become important to the mix.  All are helping draw consumers to the site.

What advice do you have for a young person who is looking to get into these fields?

Whether you’re in the media or public relations, you need to know how to write and the more you do it, the better you get.  Always look at everything from a new perspective and be opinionated, which will make you stand out. When you go for a job interview, tell the interviewer that you want the job and will do anything to get it.  Those who are intelligent, engaging and energetic —and actually ask for the job — are often moved up the list.

What do you think makes good writing?

Good writing titillates the imagination and draws the reader further into the story. From an editorial perspective, [it] also means writing concisely and engaging the reader in as few words as possible. Reread anything you’ve written recently and you’ll be surprised as to how much you can shorten it.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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