When it comes to public relations, timing is key. If you want to get a 4th of July package into a magazine, let’s say, you need to begin working toward that around January. If you want to get a special event happening at your B&B into a local weekly magazine, you might have to submit that information exactly two-weeks in advance on a Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday (depending on the publication). And if you want to catch the interest of a local newspaper, you might have to begin your outreach about a week or so in advance. It’s all varies per media outlet, per city, and per editor. It’s hard to keep it straight.
So, this year, as you look forward to ringing in 2017, put pencil to paper and make a plan. Print out some pre-made calendar pages, buy a large calendar, or create your own but it shouldn’t be a digital planner – not at this stage. Right now you want to be able to see your full year by flipping pages. It’s important that you start in pencil and make sure you have an eraser handy.
Everyone has their own approach to planning their year of press outreach. Even before you begin, it’s difficult to know how things will unfold. You might have the perfect February all sketched out and then something major could happen in the news, in your town, that presents a stellar opportunity for you to jump on that media bandwagon and get coverage for your property – completely ignoring your meticulously crafted press plan.
Still, creating a PR calendar helps you to mostly stay on track. It also helps you to seamlessly promote your other channels – like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. By having an idea of what you were planning to promote, you can inspire new ideas, or use your calendar to fall back on in a pinch. Moreover, with various time release tools, you can ‘set and forget’ most of your social media posts and they'll likely match your other, larger, campaigns. You’ll still have to respond to comments and engage with people in a timely manner of course, but you’ll rest assured that within 30-minutes or an hour, you can create your online footprint for the month and move on to other tasks.
When we make our calendar for clients we break it down into the following steps:
- We scour national holidays (big and small) and jot down dates that are in line with the particular inn for which we’re building the calendar.
- We search locally to see what’s happening in the area and make note of the more interesting events.
- We identify the top 10 places we want to ascertain for the year, then we go online to see if those outlets have an editorial calendar (here's Travel + Leisure's from 2016). If they do, we print that as a resource. If they don’t we go back, as far as possible to figure out what they ran last year, and when – and try to gauge by when that content was likely pitched. We also write down the names of journalists that wrote the types of stories we want to be featured in; as well as any new names we may not recognize so that we can introduce ourselves and our clients.
- We analyze and edit what worked well and what was not as successful as we would have liked it to be to see what to keep, what to improve upon, and what to discard.
- We create a spare page where we begin to write down everything and anything that comes to mind, e.g. potential package ideas, cute slogans, potential package elements, possible partnership opportunities, social media tie-ins, etc.
- We create a full draft of the paper calendar in pencil, then re-create it on a computer (usually in Excel with one tab for each month).
- We schedule a phone call and discuss with the innkeeper and make a few revisions until we finalize the calendar.
- We print the calendar as large as possible and handwritten deadlines on it. So, if we have a great package for December, we’ll handwrite a reminder in June to pitch to long-lead media (e.g. national magazines), then in September we’ll have another note to pitch regional media (e.g. county magazine) that same December package. Another scribble will appear in November, reminding us to go after more local media as the holiday countdown is underway. Basically, there’s the printed calendar, then there’s the chicken scratch we write on the calendar – and both are equally important to stay on track.
- We remember that ‘final’ is fluid despite the many days it took us to reach this point with our ‘masterpiece’ of a calendar. Things change and we have to be flexible if we want to maximize our coverage -- but this is a great roadmap and also a fantastic default for those months when we may have otherwise forgotten about National Oatmeal Day.
Here are some places to look to get ideas for dates that you might want to put on your calendar:
- National Holidays (big and small): http://www.nationalwhateverday.com/whatever-days/
- National Food Holidays: http://www.tfdutch.com/foodh.htm
- Special Causes: If an innkeeper has a cause they hold dear, maybe it’s breast cancer, we’ll research specific dates or milestones for which we could create a package for breast cancer survivors or their families, or plan an initiative to raise funds or awareness, or perhaps sponsor a runner with Race for a Cure or similar who is staying at the inn. We’ll look at national breast cancer organizations, local chapters, study timelines, interact with local support groups, etc.
- Local websites: The chamber of commerce and visitors bureau and great starting places. Also check out events at local museums, theaters, specialty shops, etc.