You've probably seen other agents on television being interviewed during a busy travel period, such as Christmas or Mother's Day. How were they chosen? Chances are, it wasn't by accident.
Someone from that agency likely proactively informed the local TV station assignment editor that he or she would be happy to be a future "source" for travel stories. You're an expert in selling travel, so why not do this for your own agency?
Today, the news departments of local media outlets—both print and broadcast —seek specialist sources for stories about flight delays, high gas prices, cruise ship issues, vacation destinations close to home, travel trends and how to get the best value for your travel dollars, particularly overseas. They love "evergreen" sources they might call on the spur of the moment.
Foot in the Door
In addition, "most cities have at least one local radio station with a travel show, and some even have local TV travel programs," says Cary Haskin, owner, Cary on Travel (www.caryontravel.com) in the San Francisco area. He has a strong marketing and advertising background and says that if agents can feel comfortable in front of a camera or microphone, they might send out a brief one-page letter to local broadcast stations including cable news stations. Avoid those with controversial formats.
Explain your credentials. Mention your desire to be quoted as a source. And briefly mention professional affiliations, travel specialties (i.e., cruises, golf or all-inclusive resorts), years in business, professional certifications or other factors that show you are an expert. Enclose two business cards. Be upbeat and enthusiastic.
You could be called weeks, months or even years later. Be available when, and if, they call. Saying "not today but maybe next time" to an interview request is a lost opportunity. You may not be called again. An interview can deliver extensive free publicity that you literally can't buy. Viewers who see or hear you repeatedly may call you when they have travel needs.
A former broadcast journalist in Florida and Washington D.C., Michelle Duncan is now president and CEO of home-based Odyssey Travel (www.odysseytravelinc.com) of Centreville, VA. "When a media reporter calls to interview me," she says, "I ask their full name, what media outlet they work for and when the article or interview will appear?"
She also asks about the key points that the interview is supposed to convey. And she asks about timing. Most media are on tight deadlines; they may want an immediate answer. Journalists tend to look for other sources if their first choice is unavailable. It's nice to have some time to prepare, but if the opportunity is immediate, "then take a [pause] and really think about your answer," stresses Duncan.
I concur: From my personal experience, it's fine to ask the journalist to hold just a minute or two on the phone while you tie a few loose ends up and you'll be right back with them. If they show up unexpectedly at your office, ask them to wait five minutes, go in your office, shut the door and collect your thoughts. Write down three to four points you hope to make in the interview. Then get back on the phone or invite the reporter into your office.
If a camera crew is heading to your office or, if you're meeting them somewhere, you may have a bit more time. Practice answering potential questions until they arrive. Ask yourself whether you're doing a good job of getting your points across?
In interviews, stick to the facts. "Think local and think 'relevant,'" says Haskin. It doesn't matter what the trends are in Europe or even nationally. What are the trends you're seeing with local consumers in your own area?
Use colorful language and examples about real-life client experiences, but never reveal a client name. Don't slander any travel suppliers. Be factual, professional and upbeat. Leave anger out of an interview. If you don't know the answer to a question, just say so. Or, simply say "I'm probably not the best person to answer that question."
Don't embellish the story or throw in half-truths. Do more than answer the questions—provide perspective. Even after the cameras have stopped rolling, you may have an opportunity to shape the story. If they've come to ask you about the safety of cruise ships, chat with the reporter about the hundreds of thousands of people who have sailed safely. If they ask about security delays, explain how customers can check on flight delays by visiting the TSA website.
Avoid self-promotion. This isn't the time to explain how your agency gives better deals than a competitor does. Those comments will be cut from any interview. Worse yet, the reporter may never call you back. Your goal is to showcase your abilities as a travel expert with generic advice for viewers or readers.
Don't answer negative questions by repeating the negative in your answer. If asked, "Isn't Europe an awful choice for a vacation right now price-wise," avoid saying "Yes, Europe is an awful way to vacation right now" or "No, Europe isn't an awful choice, but..." Alternatively, you might say: "Right now the currency exchange rate between the dollar and euro is poor. To avoid sticker shock, consumers might consider booking a European cruise, which includes food and entertainment. Best of all, the fare is booked in U.S. dollars."
Be kind, be courteous but take control of your answers. Never joke or assume anything is off the record. Assume everything and anything you say is quotable—even casual conversation—from the time the reporter walks in your door until he or she leaves. The same goes for a phone interview.
When answering questions in a television interview, don't talk to the camera. "Look at the reporter and remember to relax and that you're just having a conversation with this person," notes Duncan, who adds, "if you do that, you are talking from the heart and it comes off better.? Maintain eye contact throughout the interview. "
Avoid glancing down or looking away, as it gives an impression of shiftiness. If standing, let your hands relax naturally at your side. Make gestures only for emphasis. Don't play with your hair or fidget with your clothes or jewelry. If seated, keep your hands rested in your lap.
In the Limelight
Turn any cell phones off. And if the journalist is interviewing you in your office, "the office should be a neat, uncluttered work space area," notes Duncan. After all, potential clients are assessing you on the tube. If the office is messy, they won't want to bring their business in the door.
If seated, your worst enemy may be the swivel chair. I was horrified early in my career to watch an interview in which I swiveled back and forth. Plant both feet firmly.
Appearance-wise, "be properly dressed with a nice suit or dress, with not too much make up," advises Duncan. "Certain camera angles or lighting can make too much make-up look splotchy." Make sure your hair is clean and out of your face. Avoid white shirts; plain pastels are good. If possible, avoid clothes with huge patterns including flowers, stripes or polka dots. Remove jewelry that clangs or dangles.
Relax, smile and seem open and friendly. Then you'll look like a professional that viewers might want to consult about their travel plans. It gets easier each time you appear. Let the interviewer know if you're nervous. Usually reporters will help you through the process. Also go online and search for "tips for television interviews." Professional business groups, at times, offer media training to their members.
After the Interview
Never ask to see the story before airing (you'll be dropped as a source) but offer help with any follow-up questions. Most reporters strive for accuracy. If the piece that runs is accurate, you've done a great job in giving the reporter perspective.
If something minor is incorrect, don't make a fuss. It's the look and feel of a news story that viewers remember, not every little detail. Viewers don't care if there are 10 airlines flying from your airport and the reporter mentioned only nine. That doesn't change the public's overall perception.
But if something major is inaccurate, it's fine to point that out to the reporter. The emphasis, though, is on the word "major." Make sure any discussion is friendly, helpful and nonjudgmental. Say "I just thought you'd like to know for next time," not "you didn't do a good job." It's a good idea to wait one day before you call.
The thing to keep in mind as a potential source is that your ultimate goal is to help educate local reporters about travel issues, to help shape a story through your expertise and to cultivate a positive long-term relationship with local broadcast outlets. The dangling carrot for your agency is tremendous marketing exposure. That may deliver many new clients—and for free.
—Susan J. Young