Thomas Cook's recent presentation of its corporate strategy provided a lesson in how to win an audience, says Steve Dunne. But first it showed how not to
People in the travel industry rarely agree on anything. But I suspect one thing we all might agree on is the PR prowess of Sir Richard Branson.
It was Sir Richard’s famous quote on managing a PR campaign that sprung to mind as I observed the hullaballoo around the recent unveiling of the Thomas Cook strategy for their future.
The Branson quote I’m referring to was when he said: “Using yourself to get out and talk about your company is a lot cheaper and far more effective than a press release or most advertising.
"In fact, if you do it correctly, it can beat press releases and advertising hands down."
The introduction of the recent Thomas Cook strategy plan was, for me, a game of two halves that showed how you can lose an audience or win it over by the tactical approach you take to telling the story.
And the lesson to be learned by all of us in the industry is a simple one – the more you invest in media relations, and here I mean time not necessarily money, the bigger PR dividend you can receive.
If you cast your mind back to the Thomas Cook announcement you will recall the Cook strategy was released to the media at the crack of dawn one Wednesday morning.
Like many in the industry I was straight on to the internet at 8am as the first reports on the strategy started to reach the news wires and social media platforms.
Within seconds of reading the reports, my heart fell.
Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t disappointed in the strategy itself – that seemed as robust a plan as any. No, what had me shaking my head in frustration was that the Cook strategy was buried in a document full of impenetrable text and clichés.
What exactly did “high tech, high touch” mean? No one knew but it was grabbing the early headlines and portraying an organisation that, to quote the former US President Harry S. Truman, was living the mantra: “If you can’t convince them, confuse them”.
As the day unfolded the news wires and media tweets talked about “drilling down into the Cook statement” and “getting behind the text”. From a PR perspective it didn’t look good.
But as I said, it proved a game of two halves.
The next day Cook chief executive Harriet Green was on the road and talking to journalists. As I followed the tweets, newswire stories and media updates I could see that her passion, drive, and sense of mission were shining through.
The media, universally, seemed gripped and the reporting was upbeat in its assessment of the Cook strategy.
I imagine Harriet Green is one of the busiest people in the industry. I have no doubt that the time spent with the media that day was a huge investment by her – yet it paid off handsomely and provided a huge lesson in PR terms.
Had Thomas Cook hidden behind its strategy document and press release the chances are the media and the industry would have been none the wiser about the Cook story - maybe even downbeat about it.
But by taking on the spirit of Sir Richard Branson’s view on great PR, Harriet Green and Thomas Cook turned a sceptical media - and a sceptical industry - into a supportive one.
So there was a lesson for us all. Invest time in getting out and telling your story personally: answering questions directly and showing your passion will always beat a press release, advertisement or strategy document “hands down” - to quote Sir Richard.
Steve Dunne is executive chairman of travel marketing consultancy – The Brighter Group
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