New Ways to Promote Your Oregon Coast Biz
By Andre' Hagestedt
(Oregon Coast) - Marketing and promoting is often the most difficult thing for those who have entered the wild and crazy world of having a business on Oregon’s coast. Their forte is understandably more in the realm of hospitality and probably bookkeeping (both are things I’m not good at). Between my years of promotion work in various entertainment fields, being a publicist for numerous tourism entities, a web geek and being a journalist, there’s a lot you see done wrong by these folks – and a whole bunch of things that could be done that are missed.
From press releases, news tips and getting coverage by local and regional tourism media, to the things you need to know about promoting yourself on the Internet if you're a restaurant or a lodging – there's still a bunch of territory to explore. This is all relevant to lodgings as well as restaurants, and much can be applied to inland businesses too.
Press Releases: Why and How
One of the big things most coastal business owners don’t understand is that the squeakiest wheel gets the grease: in other words, the rightly worded press release or news tip to media can work for you big time. Granted, not everything about your biz is something they’ll write about or care about – but knowing what works is more than half the battle.
Simply doing it is the other half.
What works? There is no short answer to that question. As a publicist, it’s really helped that I approach releases in a very newsy way – from my experience as a journalist. I received – and still receive – sometimes a dozen releases a day, and there’s a lot of misfires. There’s a lot of stuff sent my way that has nothing to do with whatever media I’m working with at the time: whether that was as a music writer, business writer or tourism journalist.
Essentially, is there something new or different about your biz? New businesses just starting up have a good chance at getting written about. Have you drastically changed your menu? Added a bunch of new rooms to your lodging? Do you have a special event?
These things don’t happen every day. Granted, many local media on the coast will care less about the lodging and dining examples above, and tourism media or daily newspapers from outside the coastal region probably won’t find that earth shaking enough to print, except maybe in the business news section. But give it a try.
However, events can get you a good deal of free publicity. Is your area hosting a major festival that you can somehow be a big part of? The bigger the role for you the better, as major events are often quite well covered.
In many cases, it’ll take you to create something the media will care about.
How you write a press release can be just as important. There’s a lot to this, but it helps enormously to have it written professionally. Stay away from terms like “we,” “the best,” or other blatantly self-serving language that’s more at home in an advertisement. Remember, we’re trying to appeal to editors and journalists here, not the public. So you have to think like a journalist a bit. Stick to the straight facts.
Good grammar is important. Excellent grammar, style and a seriously professional writing job are even better.
Some publications take your press releases and print them verbatim, especially in smaller towns. Having it well written will make all the difference in those cases. Most media from larger cities will not outright use them, but you still need to appeal to their journalistic sense. Is this something the public will care about? You’re essentially pitching a story to a media organization about a development at your place.
Handling the Media
Another really kooky gray area is getting your place reviewed by tourism media. Getting a mention in Sunset Magazine, Portland Monthly or Conde Nast can bring enormous attention your way, as well as getting placed in guidebooks like Best Places to Kiss or the myriad of others that exist.
If you’re some really unique B&B, lodging or upscale or interesting restaurant, send off some sort of press release/tip, letting them know you exist and why they should check you out. What makes you stand out in your area? What makes you different or unique to the traveling public?
Also, don’t get ticked off that you’re not getting covered and then throw attitude at media representatives that come your way. It does you no good. Simply try to get attention in a professional manner, and then move on.
The biggest gray area here is offering freebies to media folks and writers to come and check you out. This differs drastically from organization to organization. Some writers are strictly verboten to accept freebies if reviewing or on a writing research jaunt. Others, it makes a big difference. Many writers are struggling financially, even if only a little, and this enables them to go ahead and research a trip thoroughly.
If you can reach an individual travel writer, do so. The best rule of thumb is to offer politely a free stay at your lodging, or a complimentary meal, if they come out to the coast. Maybe get together with a few friends in similar businesses and send off package offers to various publications.
The other side of that rule of thumb is if they decline and tell you they don’t accept freebies – then don’t push it the free stuff. Simply try to explain to them why this could make a great story and the writers should come unannounced, if they want.
Internet Hints for Lodging
Long ago, the lodging world figured out it wasn’t getting anything out of print mediums, and that the Net is the way to go. Restaurants are discovering that now too, although coastal diners are way behind the curve on this compared to their inland brethren. But more on that later.
Most lodgings have figured this out by now, but things like Trip Advisor or Yahoo Travel allow all sorts of members of the public to post their likes and gripes about you – like crazy. Are you paying attention to what public reviewers are saying about you online? There’s more than just the two mentioned above. Many more. It’s a good idea to do a search for your lodging’s name and see what comes up. Keep going beyond the third or fourth page of results too. I’d suggest checking all first ten pages deep.
Do different incarnations of your business name as well, like Starfish Point, or “Starfish Point, Newport,” “Starfish Point, Newport Oregon,” for example.
Where to advertise yourself online can be a big deal. Do you keep seeing certain websites all the time when it comes to various coastal searches? Do they have a big presence in other ways you may not be familiar with? You may have to ask around about that one. There are some surprises.
Does a certain website come up high on searches for lodging in your area? That also depends on the way you search your area too. If you do a search on “seaside lodging,” it will be sometimes drastically different from a search on “lodging in seaside, Oregon.” There are many ways people search for things relevant to you. You need to know that.
There’s a mythology about sites that deliver reports of your hits to you. It’s not always the best way to look at your marketing. If you’re not looking at your own statistics program, then frankly you’re not doing your marketing correctly. Don’t depend on people you pay to advertise you to tell you how good you’re doing with them. You should know this yourself. And if your statistics – or hit counter – doesn’t tell you where your hits are coming from, then get a new one. Xtreme Tracker has a free version that tells you remarkable details.
It’s even a little more accurate to look at it on your end than have someone send you their report about how you did.
You need to analyze that traffic beyond what your paid ad media are telling you. You’ll see trends and get ideas on how to improve what’s already working, and maybe what doesn’t.
Also, there’s a kind of mythology about Google ads, Yahoo ads or the like. Some claim these work great, and that could be, so I’m not going to say don’t try them. But mostly, in order to compete with everyone else, you have to bid pretty high, often much more than a dollar a click-through. If you’re getting something like 20 hits a day at more than a buck a click, you need to keep options open for other kinds of advertising that make you pay only once a year or something in that order. The pay-off is probably greater.
My own experiences with click-thru has been bad, but that could be the nature of a media site like this. The traffic can be good ok at times, but then always drifts off. It never has staying power like the publicity I do for my websites, or the ways I have of getting links to them.
Yahoo has a fabulous feature for checking how many people link to you. It’s invaluable to tell how you’re doing. For example, go to yahoo.com, then do a search on linkdomain:www.beachconnection.net. Punch that in the search field. When the page comes up, there’s a button that says “inlinks” – punch that. It gets rid of all of the pages in our own site (some 2000). You’ll see some 5,000 people or so link to our site. Pretty awesome. Yup, I’m good.
You can do that with your own, and do it with those in your area. You’ll get a sense of how to promote yourself, or whose advertising is really working for them. In yahoo, punch in linkdomain:www.starfishpoint.com. Then punch the inlinks button.
Then, go back to yahoo and punch in “linkdomain:” with your own website. You’ll learn things.
Oregon Coast Restaurants Online
The big mistake most coastal restaurants have made is clinging to print advertising, or even the phone book. Now, it’s not nice of me to bag on other competing media, I know. But the fact is more people now look up restaurants online than anywhere else.
And yes, it means you need a website. Actually, you needed one long ago.
Like lodgings, there’s lots written about you online and you probably don’t even know. Check TripAdvisor.com or Yahoo Travel, or anything else. Yelp is a big one for restaurants.
Do a search for your restaurant’s name, as described above – various incarnations of it.
I had a friend in Manzanita who kept looking up his restaurant as only “Terra Cotta.” He kept getting New York results for some restaurant there. I’m assuming he did as I told him and looked up “Terra Cotta Manzanita.” Make sure you do the right search.
Here’s some interesting statistics from our site alone.
Approximately two to three hundred people a day cruise around our dining content. At least half (and I’m admittedly not sure how much more than half) are doing these searches from your area. We realized about 150 people a day are looking for restaurants – just on our site – from their hotel rooms while on the coast. Who knows what the actual total of dining searches per day is? We’re only one option.
That means a huge portion of the folks looking for places to eat on the coast are not looking at the menus in hotel lobbies or publications lying around.
That means you don’t exist to them unless you show up on searches relevant to your area, like “seaside, Oregon dining” or “Oregon coast restaurants.”
The sizable majority of people don’t look in the phone book anymore for eateries while at home. Why would they do that on the coast?
And then there are those planning their trips to the coast. They do all that planning online – not in regional newspapers or slick magazines. It doesn’t happen. They have no way to know about you while in Kansas, Utah or even Washington or Oregon - except on the net.
So what to do?
I’m not suggesting you drop all print or whatever advertising you use – it has its uses. But be more discerning.
Online advertising is often way cheaper than anything else. BeachConnection.net is typical, charging around $200 a year for a basic package, and we come up high on dining searches you’d want to be a part of. Do those searches for dining in your area and then contact those advertising mediums that come up high for their rates.
And, for heaven’s sake, get a website already. Even just a landing page with a menu. Village Bistro and Deli in Newport utilized our inexpensive service for that. People want to not just look up what options there are to eat at in a certain town, but they want to make decisions on the food and especially the cost – with the economy the way it is. They want to know more about you.
There’s also a lot of highly beneficial marketing info you can get from your own website stats. You don’t know which hits turned into a sale, but you can see who is looking at your site and from where, how many times, and from what sources it’s being discovered.
To Sum It Up
Don't be afraid to do press releases – they can really work, and way better than regular ad dollars too.
Check for yourself online – what they’re saying about you – whatever kind of business you are.
Finally, if you’re restaurant, you need to be looking at the online world. Actually you need to have done that years ago. Portland, Salem and other bigger cities have been doing it for years.
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