Public Relations at Large Parks – Strategies to Manage Real Time Reporters and Professional Fans

June 1, 2012 No Comments

Walk around almost any large park and you’ll likely see a relatively new phenomenon, the real time reporter at work.  Packed to the hilt with recording equipment, camera phones and loads of other high-tech gear, the real time reporter represents a shift in how park information is shared.  Indeed, it’s quite easy these days to quickly upload images, sound and video to the internet, so much so that the gap between a writer witnessing a new attraction or show and when that writer submits their article can now be essentially reduced to nothing.
The exciting opportunity that real time coverage offers in quickly spreading news about your facility must be balanced with the fact that not every real time blogger has an audience worth seeking out.  The trick is to figure out which of these social media reporters warrant your time and attention and which ones are just hobbyists hoping for a new form of access.
This issue, the Large Park Report examines three strategies for deciding which real time reporters offer real value to your facility and which ones should stick to the price of admission.
A Social Media Reporting Strategy
If the opportunity to report on theme park news was limited to professionally degreed reporters, then many columnists and commentators (yours truly included) wouldn’t make the cut.  Fortunately, that’s not the case and, for a variety of reasons, the amusement industry is covered by many people with different writing backgrounds.
Even so, the ease of access to posting articles on the internet has created a new army of “professional fans” who write blogs, post to twitter and publish podcasts from an almost endless array of websites, discussion boards and the like.  Some of these have large audiences with strong influence over vacation decisions.  In the big picture, though, these are rare.  Instead, most online reporters, while filled with good intentions and committed to hard work, simply don’t have very significant followings.
This leads to a growing challenge for public relations departments throughout the industry, that is, how to determine who to provide media support for and who to avoid.  While this might sound somewhat cold-hearted, the reality is that PR budgets for almost all amusement facilities continue to face fiscal challenges.  Combine that with reduced staffing and the result is that responding to media requests from online reporters can become a challenging process.
After discussing this matter with several industry public relations veterans, it’s clear that even the largest of parks and resorts don’t have a clear line of defining which online reporters warrant attention.  They do agree, however, that several strategies should be carefully considered when making this decision.  Let’s take a look at some of the more common ones:
Measure the Audience Size and Type
When it comes to deciding whether to offer free tickets or other coverage perks to online reporters, a key issue is to ascertain the audience size and type for the website.  Several firms such as Alexa, Compete and SEMRush offer data ranging from free reports on website visits to customized analytics of web traffic.  These can be useful in culling out websites that, while they may look highly produced and attractive (which, with relatively basic software, is pretty easy these days), actually attract very few eyeballs.
Industry leaders like Disney and Universal actually employ individuals that focus on these very factors since web traffic can be a much more challenging piece of information to accurately obtain than traditional circulation counts for newspapers or magazines.  While you may not be able to dedicate a single employee to this effort, your public relations department, whether in-house or a contracted third party, should develop a strategy for monitoring this important metric.
A word of caution though in focusing strictly on raw website visitor numbers: one industry expert was quick to note that audience size shouldn’t be the only factor considered, because some less trafficked websites might still have a very high-spending audience.  If the website’s demographic fits with your facility well, a smaller audience might be offset by a great fit.  Universal Orlando has become a master at this strategy by focusing on Harry Potter fan websites that may have a smaller overall audience but that are very likely to attend and spend at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter part of their park.
If all of this sounds daunting, just remember that the only legitimate reason to provide coverage support is to garner more revenue and increased goodwill for your facility. Ultimately, if your resource investment is greater than the coverage reward, then it’s a bad overall investment in almost every way.
Investigate the Writer’s Motives
The unfortunate fact is that a certain segment of online reporters write primarily for “freebies.”  Whether it’s a free ticket, merchandise or free meals, there is a general feel among some of these industry vets that certain enterprising writers aren’t reporting for anything more than these complimentary benefits.
One way to get a better feel on this is to actually meet with the online writer in person or by phone before extending any offers of coverage support.  Experienced public relations professionals can often get a general sense in the seriousness of an online writer’s intention to grow an audience that could potentially visit your facility by asking a general set of background questions.  These could range from a discussion of editorial calendars to how the writer intends to cover information.
While this is certainly not a full-proof method, when combined with web traffic research, it can present a pretty accurate profile of the motives behind the writer’s decision to start a website or other online media outlet.
Don’t Stop Re-evaluating
Even if you’ve decided to grant access to an online outlet, almost every industry public relations vet stressed the importance of re-evaluating that decision on a regular basis.  After all, starting a website, discussion board or podcast requires a significantly smaller capital investment than a traditional media outlet.  While an online outlet might start gang-busters, the initial excitement of writing articles on a regular basis can become a real grind for many writers, even those with large audiences that you would like to tap into.
Most large park public relations departments keep lists that rank which media outlets and reporters are the most useful to provide coverage support for.  However, these are not one time lists that, once you’ve made, means you’re permanently set.  Instead, the lists are reviewed on a regular basis (it could be yearly or even monthly in some cases) to determine if the audience remains a good fit and the reporting remains accurate.
Oftentimes, culling online reporters and outlets from your media support list can be an important way to make sure that you invest your PR resources in the sites that best offer your facility the opportunity to attract new visitors or increase spending from existing ones.
(Reach Contributor Chad Emerson at chaddemerson@gmail.com.)

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