Travel PR agencies need to rethink their thinking

Is infobesity jeopardizing your travel PR message?

Infobesity; the constant urge of people to gather and share information. With a 24/7 online presence and continuous social snacking, it has led to a phenomenon called FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out – a compulsive worry that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction. Although widely prevalent amongst youngsters, it seems that we all suffer from it. Some even classify it as a disease! Is our brain going to protect us from the present overabundance of information? And an even more important question for us PR agencies: Can we still effectively deliver the travel and holiday messages of our clients in this information overload era?

We human beings have our limitations and boundaries. Let me give you an example: I can lift 20 kilos but lifting 150 kilos is not going to be possible for me. We don’t only have physical boundaries, our brains are not inexhaustible either. With the introduction of internet, our mind has to endure even more challenging tasks. On a daily basis we already receive tonnes of (un)wanted information, but with the arrival of the digital highway we now rise and go to bed with an avalanche of information each and every day. Just as is the case with a full hard disk, our brain cannot deal with the enormous amount of info and messages poured out over us. With the constant flow of information in todays’ world, the brain can get too much overstimulation resulting in reverse effects. When the sponge is full, it stops absorbing water. Selfprotection.

Gaining the consumer’s attention has become a true battle between hundreds and hundreds of industries. It’s a worldwide million-dollar business and thousands of companies are vying for your attention every day. Consumers are blasted each and every day non-stop with messages via print, radio, TV, outdoor advertising, brochures, fairs, web, mobile and what else.

95% of these ‘Please-listen-to-me-because-I-want-to-tell/sell-you-something’ messages will be lost in the deluge of (commercial) PR and advertising puffery that is discharged over us consumers day in day out. Wrong message. Bad timing. Just irrelevant. Not of interest. There are many reasons why these messages don’t come across. Our brains are smart. They know right from wrong and enough is enough. What is news for you is often advertising puffery for media (and consumers!). Every day we receive hundreds, if not thousands of (commercial) messages and our brains have to process approximately 100.000 words each and evry day. Did you know that this figure equals about 34 gigabyte. To protect ourselves from going into overdrive we forget. Full stop.

The travel industry too is bombarding the consumer with enticing tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts, banners, ads, broadcasts, brochures, podcasts, articles, displays, and other promotional tools. Spray and pray your message will hit a few targets. We PR-agencies are also partially to blame for this flood of information as this is the nature of our work. We owe it to our clients to start rethinking about this. After all, our clients use our services to get their message across and make their destination or product stand out in the crowd. Cheap prices. Yes, that is still an effective way to get the consumer’s attention but to me this is the least attractive option as the travel industry needs to earn money. No, where a good PR agency should stand out today is originality – coming up with fresh, creative, unusual ideas and angles so your story angle is remembered by the consumer, whilst the other 1000 messages he received that day are forgotten.

With the rise of social media over the past decade and the increasingly popular smartphones, we are now a 24/7 gateway for information. Every industry wants to get its share of attention. As a PR-company we want to share the latest news of our clients and promote your destinations and products to the consumer via news sites and travel communities, preferably in the most unique way possible of course. Sadly enough, so does the rest of the world so the over-consumption of information means it slips of the mind of the consumer like water off a duck’s back.

While the travel industry is a perfect industry to swoon the reader with beautiful photos and dream inspiration, when your main summer holiday interest is a walking vacation in the mountains of Southern Europe, the multitude of a thousand other holiday messages is lost on you. Despite all of this, social media – one of the major causes of infobesity – also offers some great opportunities for direct business to consumer contact. Take for example the webcare team of our own airline KLM. They have a team of customer service specialists that reply to complaints, questions and remarks 24/7, 7 days a week and in 10 different languages! One-to-one communication 24 hours a day. A PR dream come true.

I think it is time for a new mind-set. We’ve got to stop catapulting the public, the travel trade, the media and bloggers and start to think about what we really want to say. Selectivity is key. Mass communication is becoming old-fashioned, micro communication the challenge. Target the individual, the couple, the family, the group and senior citizen on the right moment with the right message. Perhaps it is time to put those marketing plans aside for a while and read up on how the human brain works and how activity in the brain gives rise to thought, emotion, behaviour and action. And it is here that a travel PR company can indeed be very valuable to our business.

So we are changing our work approach slightly again. Like going back to the ‘old-fashioned’ roadshow along media titles – visiting the offices of newspapers, magazines and websites together with our clients for face-to-face meetings to hear what subjects / topics / angles the editors / journalists / bloggers are looking for. They love it. And yes, picking up the phone again to call instead of this eternal emailing. They love it. And for example stop calling press releases press releases as the messenger has become everybody.

We have become experts in organising press events like our annual ‘Travel Pressentation’ (organised for the 19th time this year) and thematic media events like the Winter Sports Press event and our City Breaks Press Events, the latter so successful that we are now also organising outsde the Benelux countries. Workshops where participants talk face to face to media, resulting in amazin amounts of free publicity, press trips, cooperations, campaigns etc.

So in the months to come, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be in the library flipping through books on the human brain. Because here lies one of the answers to getting the messages of our clients across even better. And in the meantime, our slogan in the office has become FOMO! – ‘Focus On More Originality’!

Marcel Baltus

Baltus Communications