Behind the Headlines With Caroline Michaud

In a global environment, every word matters – – and must be catered to each language, platform and culture intentionally.

Caroline Michaud, Vice President of Corporate Communications and Public Relations at PHG Consulting, says to be competitive, clients must determine their specific brand and strategically position themselves in the marketplace.

In this interview, Caroline sat down with us to discuss travel and tourism brands and how they must adapt as media rapidly changes.

What is the most important lesson about communication you’ve learned throughout your career with PHG Consulting?

Words matter. When you are working with different cultures, different languages and different platforms, it’s essential to communicate with the appropriate tone and verbiage for each client and each target audience, whether you are captioning an Instagram post, crafting an email to a journalist, or writing press conference scripts for your client. As a communications professional, there is no excuse for being sloppy or unintentionally informal, which when directed to some cultures can be offensive. Appropriate wording has the ability to make your message an immediate “yes” or an immediate “moving into spam” — so choose your words carefully.Check your own work and ask for someone else to read something, if necessary.

What are some of the biggest PR challenges travel brands and companies face? How can they overcome them?

The rapid proliferation of social media platforms and the continuous adaptation of traditional media thanks to digital innovations has dramatically shifted the way consumers obtain information about travel companies and destinations. Today’s consumers research destinations by taking in bite size perspectives provided by their peers on channels such as Snapchat and Instagram, by media through traditional channels, and directly from the destinations themselves through blogs and other digital platforms. Therefore, it’s vital that travel brands are visually represented on the channels where the majority of consumers are looking for them — balancing social and digital influences with editorial endorsement — to ensure they have a strong, visual presence to stand out in a cluttered marketplace.

What are the biggest PR and marketing mistakes you have seen these brands make? Are there ways to avoid those pitfalls?

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen travel or tourism boards commit is trying to appeal to every type of traveler, rather than identifying their true “brand” and strategically positioning themselves within the marketplace. Without a strong, clear identity, a destination can easily become lost and blend into the ‘sea of sameness.’ To avoid this, a strong integrated public relations and marketing campaign should be developed and executed focusing on the key audiences with whom the destination will resonate the most. It’s also important to ensure that the destinations’ tourism assets are aligned with those audiences in the most appropriate way. An easy comparison is social media. It’s more important to identify the key channels on which the destination’s target audience is most active and put strong efforts into a successful campaign there than being on every channel without a consistent investment or purpose.

How has the PR industry changed in relation to travel companies over the years? What are brands doing differently today? What has stayed the same? And what can they all do to stay ahead of the curve? 

The rapid change in digital media and how consumers gather information has necessitated the largest shift in how publicists craft and execute client plans. Given the variety of platforms that are openly available today, anyone can be a journalist, influencer, or expert! Therefore, it is vital to craft campaigns that engage individuals who have the strongest target audience for each client’s brand and in whatever fashion resonates with them — whether that’s pitching via Twitter, hosting press conferences via Facebook live, or going old school with an SMT. Publicists can no longer just stay abreast of news and emerging trends within the travel industry, but rather have to stay attuned with the new platforms and resources that are building hype and commanding consumers’ attention to ensure their outreach strategies are properly balanced. Despite the abundance of new outreach methods, the core principles of a successful PR campaign have remained the same — making sure that the client remains relevant within the industry through the promotion of a valuable story that speaks to travelers’ aspirations and interests, thereby creating excitement and buzz that will result in exciting placements and ensuing consumer visits.

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Have you ever had to deal with a major brand crisis for any of your clients? How did you handle it? 

You are going to jinx me here, but, *knock on wood*, none of our clients have experienced a major brand crisis during our time working with them. However, based on past experiences and with the foresight that anything can happen at any moment, we do have a crisis management plan that outlines steps and best practices which would then be personalized and implemented for individual clients in the case of prospective crisis.

PHG Consulting has worked in public relations in a variety of countries worldwide, including your new partnerships! Is there a difference in how you approach communication across countries or across cultures? How do you tailor them to each market?

Working for a global company that handles clients in countries across every region has been an eye-opening educational process. The way that media want to be communicated with varies greatly by country and culture — from the tone of the writing style or the delivery format of information (i.e. press release, pitch, or phone call) to the formality of in-person meetings between clients and journalists and the set-up of group events, such as press conferences. The only way to navigate the cultural differences successfully, to ensure that every outreach is well received, is to take the time to learn the intricacies of the local media within each country — specifically how they operate, prefer to receive information and produce articles.

Some of the more profound differences I have experienced are related to working with journalists in Asia, where the perception of public relations is very different than in North America, which stems from the involvement of government within the media. For example, on behalf of one of our Chinese destination clients, we handle public relations for the campaign in both North America and locally within China.  Much more goes into the pitching efforts then simply translating a press release from English to Chinese, or the reverse. The two media groups have a different eye for the type of story being produced — in China, they typically want the facts and statistics in a straightforward manner, whereas North American media shows more interest in a discussion to learn the facts, but also have the opportunity to discuss personal opinions or gain further insight in order to craft a well-rounded article that gives more for readers to consider. Our in-house team is global, with experts based across the Americas, Europe, and Asia, and we collaborate daily to ensure our colleagues have the latest intel on best practices for success.

PHG Consulting has already launched successful comprehensive brand awareness campaigns for each of your new clients. What is your secret to media relations success?

As many of our clients are considered to be “under the radar,” our secret to media relations success is facilitating first-hand experiences for media personnel with these lesser-known, but remarkable, destinations. We conduct multi-day immersion trips so that journalists can get a feel for each destination and identify exactly what aspects of the experience will resonate most with their readers — hopefully learning something new that gets them really excited! These trips complement the overall education process, creating a personal connection beyond what could be learned from the destination’s interactive website, our comprehensive press kit, intriguing story ideas, or other resources. Hinged on the first-hand visit, the combination of tactics we execute for each client ensures a strong win on the end goal.

Rapid Fire Round

  1. My favorite family tradition is… Going for hikes. It’s a great way to spend quality time truly talking and listening to one another, while accomplishing a feat as a family unit — whether it’s a 15-mile trek in Patagonia or a 4-mile hike along nature trails in Wisconsin. Most recently, my mom and I hiked 8 miles across Monte Subasio along the Franciscan Trail!
  2. If I could join any music group, it would be… Eminem. Love him or hate him, he’s a poetic genius.
  3. If I were an animal, I would be… An elephant.
  4. The best gift I have ever received is… My engagement ring.
  5. Some items on my bucket list are… Going on safari to see the big five, seeing the Northern Lights, and exploring the Galapagos Islands.
  6. If I could master one skill I do not currently have, it would be… Languages! Specifically, the ability to have proficient communication abilities in Spanish and Mandarin.

A winning communications strategy needs a strong foundation. Download our guide Master the Mix: Amplify Your Campaign Results With Earned Media and get a communications framework that will help you develop and demonstrate your value across earned, paid and owned media channels.