I recently met up with my editor to discuss the upcoming second edition of my Frommer's guidebook: Day By Day Seville. I was delighted to be able to share an email with him from the Andalucia Tourist Board offering to fix up trips, organise a hire car and some accommodation if I wanted to get out of Seville and see more of the region.
It's a breath of fresh air. It's clearly easier to get people to help you when you have a finished product in your hand to show them. I've had notably better success with the main Seville Tourist Board this time around. When I first pitched up there, I was made welcome, but the help I got was pretty limited and I had to work hard to get it.
That's not really the point I want to make though... what I just don't get is how hotel owners, restauranters, tourists boards, PRs and all fall over themselves to provide accommodation, meals, tours etc if you are writing a feature for a national newspaper.
Tell them you are writing a guidebook and many of them don't even reply to your emails. To me this is nuts. Why?
A newspaper feature gets published - once (in print) and that's it. Some tour cos I have worked with on features have had awesome response from them. Loads of calls as a result of people reading my piece. Others have had next to none. It's totally variable. It can depend on whether it rains that particular Saturday (people have more time indoors to peruse the travel pages and make a call) what else is in the supplement (there's an awesome competition or whatever) whether it's a slow news day (David Beckham hasn't injured himself).
Compare this with a guidebook. Once printed, it lasts. People use it to plan their trip, they take it with them to their destination, they lend it to friends also planning trips there too. It sometimes gets reused if people return to the same destination. Admittedly guidebooks are printed in far lower volumes than newspapers, but think what a tiny proportion of the 300,000 readers of say the Guardian actually want to go to Seville and so will pick up the phone as a result of reading a feature about the city? Everyone who purchases a copy of my Seville guidebook clearly plans to go there and will certainly act on information printed in it.
My hunch? It's about short term PR and lazy marketing. A PR agency needs to demonstrate the value of its service to its client. The quickest and highest profile way to do this is a newspaper feature. If three years down the line someone books a night in a Seville hotel due to a recommendation in my guidebook, no one will be able to tie that action back to the work of a PR co organising for me to stay in the hotel years previously. Likewise with the hotel's marketing team. Chances are the hotel reception won't even track the fact that the enquiry came as a result of reading my guidebook.
I see this approach as pretty typical for our times. Short spans of attention... give me a bright shiny thing now rather than a more durable dull thing later.
But that attitude runs totally contrary to building sustainable, long-lasting business.
I have relationships with GMs of several hotels that I've struck up personally in Seville. I know them and their businesses well. It's a pleasure to recommend them. They are genuinely excellent. If I was working for a hotel chain in PR, I'd have a programme devised specifically to target guidebook writers. If I was a hotel marketer, I'd make it my job to get to know guidebook writers and to work with them.
These kinds of relationships will far outlast a single hit in a newspaper and - whilst it's difficult to prove with hard data - I'm convinced they will deliver more business over the long term.
What do you think?