7 ways Hotels.com gets more mileage out of press releases

Learn from the headlines the media use. Watch trends in social media. Include video. Here are some smart ways to get noticed.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal RaganTraining.com. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

As pro football’s AFC championship approached in January 2014, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning kept mixing the word “Omaha” into his audible play calls at the line of scrimmage.

Searches for the word “Omaha” went up on Hotels.com, presumably from people wondering where the heck that was, says Taylor L. Cole, who heads up public relations and social media programs for Hotels.com.

The travel site cranked out a press release saying it would offer a coupon to anyone heading to the Nebraska city if the Denver quarterback said the word 50 times in one game, leading to an AP story and jokes by funnyman Stephen Colbert.

“Football has nothing to do with hotel rooms, but we just found a way to tie it in,” Cole says. “It was a lot of fun.”

The era of text-only press releases—and of ploddingly pushing your message at your own pace—is long gone, she says in the Ragan Training video “Boost your messages with interactive news releases that generate buzz.” In today’s interactive landscape, communicators must surf trends and offer multimedia press releases that amplify the message.

Here are a few other tips from her talk:

1. Learn from the way the media cover your topics.

Hotels.com launched a “Vacation Equality Project” campaign trying to get Congress to pass a law guaranteeing paid vacation time, as exists in many other countries. Hotels.com topped its press release with the headline, “Americans receive half the amount of vacation time as Russians,” Cole says.

The Los Angeles Times caught the playful spirit of the campaign with its headline: “Need more vacation days? Consider a move to Russia.”

Cole advises, “Instead of that one headline that we think tells the story, look at what the media picks up.”

2. Provide video—or else.

You know the times we’re operating in. Major newspapers and news sites are cutting staff and resources, including photographers and videographers. Cole says a Huffington Post editor told her he now insists on video.

“If I don’t have a video with whatever my announcement is, it’s not going to get published,” she says.

3. Offer an image.

Ninety percent of the information transmitted to the brain is visual, and we remember only 20 percent of what we read, Cole says. Visuals are shared 12 times more than links and text posts combined.

Hotels.com noticed that searches on its website for Denver destinations shot up by 120 percent when Colorado liberalized its marijuana laws. It created a simple infographic that reaped coverage nationwide.

“This got so much coverage from Mashable to NBC to CNBC, CBS, ‘The Colbert Report,'” she says.

The Vacation Equality Project mentioned above included a video that got more than 500,000 views for what amounts to an animated infographic.

4. Create tweetable headlines.

“When we start to look at headlines for my team, we actually count the number of characters,” Cole says.

Reporters may not wait for the press release or your fax or email to come through. They look on Twitter. If you can summarize your announcement into something tweetable, they might just grab it.

5. Cut boilerplate from your ledes.

You know what good writing is. Your evil bigwigs, however, gum up your ledes to read like this: “XYZ Corporation, a leading global provider of world-class, end-to-end cross-platform scalable enterprise cloud solutions designed to deliver comprehensive process-improvement outcomes … in 112 countries with 89 native custom applications, today announced…”

Yup. Coyote ugly. Plus (and it hurts us to break this to your execs) reporters will immediately delete such garbage.

So push back with your poobahs. Point out that they don’t dump empty champagne bottles and half-eaten tubs of caviar off their yachts (we hope), so they shouldn’t dump press release trash on your friends in the media.

Announce your news, and trust reporters will scroll down to the boilerplate where it should be: at the end of your announcement.

Incidentally, the fake boilerplate above is a facetious example from Cole, but if we may: There’s no excuse for that kind of writing anywhere, even in boilerplate.

6. So your bigwig’s excited? Big whoop.

Dump the quotes about how thrilled your honchos are about your product. Of course they are pleased—otherwise they wouldn’t have signed that billion-dollar contract and you wouldn’t be issuing the press release. But why should anybody else be thrilled?

Says Cole: “There’s something else we could’ve done better with that executive time other than talk about how excited he was.”

7. Pinpoint trends—but do your research.

The Bronco quarterback’s “Omaha” call is one such example. But research first, and beware of hashtag bloopers. Don’t attach your brand to the wrong trending topic because you didn’t do due diligence.


Topics: PR


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