de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). Steering the foreign media. LMD. June 2009. Page 69. Volume 15, Issue 11. ISSN 1391-135X.
Practical tips on cultivating the foreign press.
In a previous article of LMD I discussed some of the key aspects of how to get the best out of foreign media, for carrying positive stories on Sri Lanka. The three key aspects I discussed were learning to wear the shoes of the journalist, researching and presenting credible stories and the need to be flexible in time management. There are many more facets to this, but in this article I will look at how one gets to meet the media.
For anyone working in tourism at a senior level, cultivating a broad range of press contacts is invaluable. I am sure the same applies for many other sectors in industry as well as government. It continues to surprise me how little many people in industry realize the value of good international press relations. This is true even for those in tourism who are so dependent in the brand value of the destination as a whole. I suspect the feeling is that it is someone else’s job to spend time and money doing the press relations.
When you work for one of the larger player’s in an industry, the argument that it is someone else’s job has little merit. Over the last few years I have actively cultivated the foreign media to promote the business of my group as well as the destination. In fact the two objectives are inseparable and to promote one’s own business in tourism one often has to do it vicariously through promoting the destination.
One of my most successful strategies was to start a series of ‘Drinks with Media’ initially in London and then expanding to Paris, Frankfurt, Kula Lumpur, Singapore, etc. The format has refined over the years and become simpler. In August 2003, after the British Birdwatching Fair I found it efficient to invite a group of journalists for drinks to the Victoria Park Plaza in London. It saved me an enormous amount of time that would otherwise be spent in multiple meetings.
Subsequent to the first of my press sessions, Jean Marc-flambert was appointed the Director of the London office of what was then the Sri Lanka Tourist Board. I invited him for the press drinks and he was used the opportunity to the hilt to network with the media. With his usual flamboyance, he acted as co-host although he was not sharing the tab. Rather than being miffed, I realised there was an opportunity here. Jean-marc was a natural at playing host at an event like this. But because of government procedures, it would be difficult for him to navigate the paper work for something as simple as buying drinks for media at the bar. Budgetary approval would require him to stage a far grander event for which finding time and money would be difficult. This would leave him back at Square One. So instead I suggested that he become the official co-host at such events and invite press who are in touch with him over forthcoming press visits to Sri Lanka or had just returned from one.
Starting with my next visit for the British Birdwatching Fair, I began this format with the Director of the tourist board as the co-host whilst we paid for the event. It worked like a dream. TC crews and travel writers who had just got the go ahead for a visit to Sri Lanka began to arrive at the drinks to pick our brains. I had been careful to positions myself as someone from the tourism industry who represented both the hotel side and tour operator side of one of the leading companies. I also carefully scripted a brief bio for circulation which highlighted my parallel role as a writer and photographer. The media saw four for the price of one as they could obtain story leads from me as well as potentially have access to the logistical support and patronage of a strongly branded and resourced group. Not surprisingly I was able to convince many print and TV media about the richness of stories available on Sri Lanka. Where it fitted with the logistics, I was also able to steer them to our hotels. International television coverage which no company in Sri Lanka could afford to buy, began to come our way even more as print and TV personnel used our hotels as bases and wrote stories which were within an excursions’ distance from our hotels.
I did this for a couple of years with Jean-marc and the results were very clear. After a while, I rolled out the template to using other foreign offices of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau in Germany and France. We increased the frequency of these when I began to attend the Destinations consumer travel fair in London with my former colleague Sanjiva Gautamadasa.
In January 2009 I traveled to Bali. I noticed war coverage on Sri Lanka in the Asian Edition of the Wall Street Journal. On the same day, I noticed that Incredible India had a full page advertisement in the Jakarta Post. India has the money to buy positive coverage to offset negative press coverage such as the Mumbai Terror attacks which had happened recently. Sri Lanka does not have the budget but can gain millions of dollars of positive coverage by networking with the foreign press. It does not cost much. A few rounds of drinks in a London bar is very little compared to what other countries pay to obtain positive coverage. What we need most is a willingness by the private sector to work with people from state agencies for a common good. The tourism industry has been fortunate in that for many of the past few years we have had very good people in the tourist board in our overseas offices. More of our private sector should be leveraging this for the common good.