Comment: Play to your strengths and you'll weather the storm

 Luxury travel PR expert Sarah Richards of Sadler&co shares her top tips for weathering the storm


Having worked in the luxury travel sector for over a decade, and grown up with a travel PR doyenne for a mother, I have witnessed my fair share of industry challenges over the years. However, nothing could have prepared us for the seismic shift that the current pandemic has created in our industry, in a few short weeks. 


Only in January, I was joined by the editor of this very magazine on the beautiful island of Bequia, an island where the concept of social distancing is a way of life, but little did we know the challenges that were about to unfold. 


Working for a small, family-run business specialising in privately owned and managed luxury hotels, we’ve had to adapt our outlook and approach quickly. Many of our clients don’t have the safeguard of global brand machines with deep cash reserves and so have turned to us for strategic advice and insight, across every aspect of their business. 


As the light starts to glimmer at the end of the tunnel, we hope that we have managed to help our clients weather these past few weeks, which have been challenging to say the least, let’s be honest!  Here's my tips for weathering the storm.


1. Play to your strengths and stay consistent

With the abundance of information available, which has been changing on a daily, if not hourly basis, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of commentary and chatter. We’ve tried to focus on our clients’ strengths and not overcomplicate their communications strategies. Everyone has been learning as they go, so it’s important to stay humble, share insight and adapt quickly.  


For instance, our luxury tour operator client, Carrier, was very conscious that they shouldn’t be overly ‘selling’ to their clients during this time, and so we put together a communications plan based around their Stay Curious campaign, with stories that focused on ‘at home’ and ‘inspirational’ travel, serving as a reminder as to how travel can provide enriching experiences and joyful moments.  


Every Friday, we send an update e-mail to our clients that summarises policy developments and provides a list of relevant news articles. This roundup of industry-related information helps us keep our finger on the pulse and plan effectively. 


2. Plan and forecast. Then plan and forecast again

Our 2020 PR plans soon went out the window when we realised the significance the pandemic was going to have on the travel industry. We had to start again with all of our planning and strategy. Each of our clients now has a new three-month PR plan which is reviewed bi-weekly and is adapted as and when government advice is announced. Sadler & Co is determined to ride the storm and come out of this as a success story, and so we have become meticulous with planning, budgeting and forecasting. 


3. Be transparent. Honesty is the best policy

This is something we have tried to enforce both within the team and with our clients. Some difficult conversations have had to happen and it’s important to remain human and not try to coat tricky topics with a PR gloss. 

Despite working from home, our team has a daily morning video call where we run though everything - budgeting, finance, coverage opportunities, journalist insight, current affairs and everyone’s to-do list. 

We have a new lockdown puppy in the team who normally joins for some entertainment, along with my eight-month-old whippet Ivy who snoozes in the background. On Fridays we have a virtual drink and either do an industry quiz or gossip about our lockdown trials and tribulations. My team has been unwaveringly supportive and adaptable and I am trying to be as transparent and open with them as possible, so they know that we are all in it together. 


This transparency and camaraderie is proving a winning formula and we are seeing some fantastic results, not only with coverage, but also with our clients’ website traffic and booking enquiries. Our client Zannier Hotels has recently advised us that, in the last two months, the UK is now their primary website traffic driver and certain articles that we have generated have resulted in direct enquiries. 


4. Timely communication is better than too much


We have some clients who are still figuring out the intricacies of how their post-pandemic offering will look and are hesitant to broadcast too much before they are ready. I think some brands feel compelled to communicate something, but unless there is something meaningful, helpful or significant to say, my advice would be to wait. 


Clients and media will appreciate an honest approach during this time, and if decisions are yet to be made, then don’t worry about taking your time. However, do prepare your strategy and plan behind the scenes, so when your client is ready to go with their re-opening communications, you can hit the ground running with confident and robust messaging. 


5. Take a deep breath, and smile!


PR professionals are sociable by nature and the luxury travel industry is a fantastic community of intelligent, inspiring and passionate people. The lack of socialisation, networking and sense of fun, that we all love so much, will unquestionably be leaving a void. 


There is no shame in admitting that it’s been a stressful time and staying positive can be easier said than done. Take time to have some fun with your clients and colleagues too, even if it’s only virtually for now. 


Dream about the future - perhaps of your first team social or a fabulous event for one of your clients. We might have had our wings clipped for now, but it won’t be long before better days will be here, and it will be all the sweeter when travel bounces back. 


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