I am thrilled to be speaking this fall at the International Public Relations Society of America annual conference in Boston. I’ve spoken at many venues and events but this is my first time speaking before an international PRSA audience. The topic of my talk is using communication and PR tactics to build brand, gain trust and define market: reintroducing Portugal to the American travel market.
Basically, looking back at a national campaign built with pennies and not dollars to launch Portugal to the place it is today as one of the hottest destinations for American travelers - but it wasn’t always that way. Going back - we started with around 150,000 Americans a year visiting Portugal - and today where coming close to 500,000. When we started things weren’t as easy as they might seem now. Market recognition according to our initial communication audit was low. In fact there were no brand characteristics to be found in the many articles we scanned and often Portugal was lumped as a side trip with Spain. So we set about using public relations to build a simple brand - we had for values that Portugal was real, authentic, close, distinct and safe. If you can spend a lot of time and money to go to Europe you want to go to someplace different - which also happens to be a value and close to the US.
Without any type of advertising and the PR work having been done by previous firms lacking, we had a big lift. The web available from Portugal for travelers was not at all in anyway designed for the US market.
The slogan at the time was “go deeper,” whatever that means and there were no social media assets.
So first order business, after conducting a communication audit, was to come up with a plan. We started by creating a news blog where media could find the latest happenings in Portugal . We know that dozens of new hotels were opening as were new restaurants and attractions - but none of it was making the jump from Portuguese to English - so most US media had no clue.
We took the news flow, and did the translation work from Portuguese, which is often long and formal, to US English, which was short, and to the point. It went up in our blog, and in our newsletter.
And, that new monthly newsletter went to 3500 media telling distinct and unique stories about Portugal and the people and places that most writers and media had never heard of. It drew an image of Portugal as a unique destination place you go, to be there and not just as an add on as a side trip.
We then scheduled face-to-face meetings with editors in the top media markets of New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Boston to talk to the key players about why this was the next hot destination. And, we did this several times for a handful of years. It culminated last winter when Portugal was named Travel + Leisure’s destination of the year.
So with all those new articles we got written through face-to-face meetings, our newsletter and our news blog, we soon became the world’s best fact checkers - always promising and anonymity to the journalist - and working hard making sure that every fact in the story was correct, everything was properly spelled every reference was actual.
Fast forward to today: Lisbon is one of the hottest destinations in Europe and Porto is not far behind. So many people are talking about the Alentejo and the Azores and there are direct nonstop flights from more than seven US cities to Portugal - more than double what we had when we started.
You can build a brand with PR – and YES - you can do with PR something that advertising can do, but it takes much longer and a lot more money I am proud of our work establishing Portugal as a top destination and that the work benefited not simply the hotels, restaurants and attractions but the people of Portugal whose economy completely turned around over the last four years and now leads the EU in growth.