You're tired. You're busy. You're got so many things on your mind. You really want to get away. You need a holiday.
So you go online to find somewhere to visit (after lockdown), a good place to stay. And very quickly you feel completely overwhelmed.
There's so much choice! It makes you feel even more tired.
Every place promises 'so much to see and do', 'home from home comforts', 'warm welcome'... you get the gist. Bland. Boring.
One or two places look pretty awful so you can immediately ignore those. But what of the ones that look quite good? How will you make a decision?
Some destinations look a bit more intriguing than the others. There are long lists of things to do. But even those lists feel overwhelming - how do you know which to choose? Which will meet your needs? The places to stay look great and promise 'high quality' but after a while all those pictures of shiny kitchen surfaces, comfy sofas and beds with a towel or rug folded on them merge into one. It's so difficult to choose.
We need to make it easier for visitors to choose our destination, our attraction, activities and accommodation. We need to stand out, in a way that's much more memorable.
That's where a good story comes in.
There are essentially three ways to compete:
1. On price (but there'll always be some one cheaper and someone more upmarket than you).
2. By being better than everyone else. A good idea but it can be expensive as you may have to constantly upgrade. Even harder - how do you convince people that you're better than everyone else?
3. By being different. This is by far the easiest. If you have a good story...
What makes a good story?
So what do I mean by a good story exactly? It's anything that sets you apart and makes you more memorable. It could be your story, something you do that's different. It could be that you're fantastic at doing something. It could be the story of your building, something interesting inside your building, something from your local area. It could be one big story or a combination of many. It could be something dramatic or a collection of small details.
It has to be something that sets you apart. It has to be memorable. It has to be something that other people will want to talk about. Ideally it will even make travel writers want to write about you, which will also help with your search engine optimisation.
The key thing is to create a connection with other human beings. To show, not just tell.
I recently posed a question on twitter to some travel journalists: what would make a holiday cottage more interesting to stay in & write about? Their responses came immediately:
@WillHide: The hook would have to be something you could do from there. The actual cottage itself would unlikely be the reason for the story but you could bring it into the piece.
@SallyShalam responded with lots of advice, based on her very extensive experience of writing about destinations and accommodation: It’s important to identify what your target market is likely to read. This way, you can be clearer about courting publicity from the most suitable publications. It really matters.
Be clear on what the stories are about your place and aware of different types of article. Does your property warrant a full article in own right? Eg, Is there sufficient material to fill a couple of pages (historic house, major renovation, end of a long labour of love, and why do we need to know about it now, etc)? Or does it work as a base for a wider destination piece? (What’s the story about the region? Why now? Is there a critical mass of good things to visit within reach?) Or, would it work well in a themed round-up (best bluebell walks, region for seafood, new heritage opening, or somewhere to test your eyesight, etc).
Now put those two together - stories plus target market - and it will be easier to see which writers or editors will appreciate hearing about you most.
Finally but oh-so-crucially, photography. It simply must be factored in to your marketing plan. Editors reject places purely on the basis of poor images. Editors beg me, when I’m speaking at regional tourism events, to ask you for decent pictures. You need a professional set of shots. If your property is a heritage/interiors story then you need an interiors specialist.
My anecdote: A property owner asked me repeatedly to review her cottage so eventually, despite having reservations, I agreed. When I got there, it was tiny (which is fine) and furnished entirely from IKEA (not fine, what am I supposed to say about it?) Which left me with the problem of filling the other 650 words. A property which would have worked fine as a short entry in a round-up theme such as coastal cottages simply didn’t stand up as the main event in a review.
@LottieGross: Sally makes some excellent points. A house isn't enough of a story on its own without a great human angle (interesting historic resident? Or are current owners a story in own right?) A USP is essential. And hot tubs don't count as a USP! (USP = Unique Selling Point)
Amanda Brown PR has just published a podcast on this very topic, speaking to another travel journalist about 'why we all need to hark back to our childhood and re-learn the art of storytelling to reconnect with visitors and guests". You can listen to it here.
In a future blog I'll offer some ideas for stories you can tell, even when you think you don't have a story. Sign up here to make sure you don't miss out.
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs