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Attendees of this year’s American Society of Travel Advisors’ (ASTA) Global Live got a lesson in working with local media, including learning how to reach out to reporters, present themselves professionally on-air and communicate their message effectively.
The virtual training, which drew approximately 100 attendees, was part of ASTA’s Grassroots Media Globalization Effort, which encourages travel advisors to spread awareness on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their businesses and on what they need to see from Congress in the next federal relief package. (Congress is currently in a recess until mid-September.) The session was led by Erika Richter, senior director of communications for ASTA, and CBS News’ Wendy Gillette.
“Congress taking a break is simply unacceptable to us,” Richter said. “We need your help to take our message to the airwaves. It’s easier than you think it is, but it’s important to hone your message and have a strategy in place.”
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Dr. Jasmien Lewis, CEO of Travel Life Services in Cleveland, Ohio, and a member of ASTA, has been the “resident travel advisor” for her local networks since 2016. And since the COVID-19 outbreak, Lewis has been interviewed by members of the media a total of six times so far.
“During the pandemic, there has been a slight increase in getting travel advisors in the media for their thoughts on travel, as travel has been one of the most affected areas, and people are looking to travel when it is open and safe to do so,” she said. “It is going to be helpful for advisors to have adequate media training, which can help them get in [front of] the media and help them represent their businesses in the best light possible.”
It is going to be helpful for advisors to have adequate media training, which can help them get in [front of] the media and help them represent their businesses in the best light possible.
Here are 10 things to keep in mind when engaging with local news affiliate networks in the coming weeks, according to Richter and Gillette.
Opt for television networks over local newspapers.Members of Congress have returned to their home districts and are watching the local news to “get the pulse on their own community,” according to Richter and Gillette, noting that many newspapers have turned their attention to national content.
Additionally, broadcast packages better convey the emotional message of a story.
“When you see the visual images and hear the emotion in someone’s voice, sometimes that can be a more powerful message than reading about what they’re going through,” Gillette said.
When choosing which network to work with, go with what you know.“It can be very overwhelming when pursuing a broadcast television opportunity in local market,” Richter said. “Pick stations where you watch the news. Just pick three, and start there.”
“Think about what shows have the best ratings,” Gillette added. “Or, [consider] a particular anchor who is popular and trusted in your community.”
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Reach out to anyone at the network — not just the anchor.When reaching out to a television news network, you don’t need to know the on-air reporter personally. In fact, a call to a local newsroom will most likely connect you with the assignment desk editor, who may be able to direct the call to the appropriate person.
However, if you do want to reach out to on-air reporters or anchors, Richter suggests first following them on social media and commenting on their previous news packages so they begin to recognize your name.
“Pay attention to previous stories they’ve run, and what they are covering,” she said.
Time your initial correspondence carefully.Do not ever contact a network during a live newscast, warns Gillette. Rather, time your pitch for mid-morning hours (after the first newscast) or when there isn’t any urgent breaking news in the community.
“You have to be cognizant of what’s going on in your community; reach out when nothing is really going on,” she said.
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Keep your pitch short and sweet.Think of a catchy subject line (if sending the network an email) that’s not too long, and “cut through the clutter” by keeping your message focused and to the point, according to both Richter and Gillette.
“Tell your personal story, and say why it matters to the community,” Gillette said.
Tell your personal story, and say why it matters to the community.
In an email pitch, you should also include any relevant photos and videos, keeping in mind that broadcast interviews often pair one-on-one interviews with additional visual storytelling elements, such as photos and video.
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If the interview is virtual, keep background distractions to a minimum. When conducting a broadcast interview through Zoom, keep the computer at eye level (by stacking the computer on a box or books). Keep your background as blank as possible, removing clutter from the space and ensuring the area is free of distracting elements, such as rotating ceiling fans. Don’t use virtual Zoom backgrounds.
Gillette recommends to buy a ring light if the room’s lighting is too dim, as well as to clean the computer’s camera so the frame is free of smudges.
Dress the part.“Anytime you’re on camera, you need to remember it’s a visual medium,” Gillette said. “You want to look neat and polished.”
In general, solid colors work well, while garments with patterns and distracting jewelry such as dangling earrings should be avoided. Be sure to iron or steam clothing beforehand.
Speak in sound bites.Richter reminds advisors to keep in mind that the interview will be cut down significantly, so advisors should aim to “talk in headlines” to make it easier for the editors who need to cut the interview down.
“And don’t be afraid to repeat your points several times,” Gillette said, adding that advisors should keep a couple central ideas in mind that they want to get across.
“Prepare — go into it knowing what you want to say,” she said. “And practice, but don’t over-rehearse. Have an outline in your head.”
Practice, but don’t over-rehearse. Have an outline in your head.
Another way to practice, according to travel advisor Heidi Theis, an ASTA Global Live attendee, is to record yourself and watch it back.
“Play it back two ways: silently, to catch weird habits or gestures, and then with your back to the screen so you can hear weird [talking habits] and distracting pauses,” she suggested.
Do not make the interview a commercial for your travel agency.Although it may be tempting to use the media’s platform to promote your business, stick to the main message. In this case, that encompasses highlighting how the pandemic has affected an agency’s business and urging Congress to push certain priorities in the next round of federal relief.
“It’s not a commercial,” Richter said. “Always stay focused, and most importantly, answer the questions they are asking.”
It’s not a commercial. Always stay focused, and most importantly, answer the questions they are asking.
Reach out to ASTA ahead of an on-air interview for additional guidance.ASTA encourages any advisors who schedule a media interview to reach out to ASTA beforehand. ASTA will be able to help prepare interviewees with key talking points.
Additionally, Richter invites advisors to reach out to her if they are interested in being added to a database of advisors across the U.S. who are interested in working with the media. That way, they can be called upon if needed.
“We want to have travel advisors in every state talking about travel advisors, and helping to revive our industry,” Richter said. “At a local level, they don’t want to hear from me — they want to hear from all of you.”
Editor’s note: In addition to this ASTA Global Live module, ASTA members will have access to a media training toolkit prepared specifically for the current travel climate under COVID-19. The organization’s Verified Travel Advisor certification program also includes a media training, with Gillette serving as narrator.
For advisors looking to reach out to print publications rather than television stations, ASTA has created a Letter to the Editor campaign in its advocacy center. Here, advisors can send a pre-written letter to a local newspaper’s editorial staff.
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