Interview with Spa & Wellness PR specialists, Kim Marshall and Darlene Fiske

What does it take to make your spa famous? Following the success of our client and partner, âme Spa @ JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa and the significant media coverage received since its opening in 2017, we turned to the experts behind that campaign to ask how other resorts and spas could reap similar results.
Kim Marshall of The Marshall Plan (TMP) and her partner, Darlene Fiske gave us some insights into how they garnered more than 145 million media impressions for âme Spa in just eight months and also elevated the spa’s reputation among consumers and the wellness community by achieving status as the #3 Resort Spa in the US by USA Today and as the #2 Resort in Florida in the 2017 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.

Why is Public Relations important for a new or reimagined spa or resort?
Kim: The story comes first. No matter how fancy or new, if you don’t take the time to craft a story that differentiates your business from all the others, it will not get the attention it deserves and in the end, not generate the revenues it was meant to. If you want your spa to be in the news, don’t forget the core word in news is new – and your spa is only new or re-launched once. You will have about a year to capitalize, and then it’s considered “old news”, which journalists are not interested in.

Darlene: I totally agree. So many editors are clamoring to hear what’s NEW, NEW, NEW! Oftentimes, our job is to create news when there is none, so when you have something new to showcase, it’s a major opportunity to get exposure in the media, especially in the first 18-24 months of opening. Print publications have a three to six month lead time and since it takes repeated efforts to get the attention of the media, your outreach needs to start at least six months before your opening date.

What essential steps did you take to get âme Spa @ JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa on the map?
Kim: The spa consultant for âme, Tammy Pahel, who had opened 14 previous spas, had an innovative spa concept that had been percolating in her mind for a number of years. It all crystallized during a day-long Strategic Visioning Session in August of 2016 that included the wellness experts that had agreed to be partners in The âme Collective and the marketing professionals who would craft the look and positioning of the new brand. Each participant had a voice and everyone’s input was captured in graphics drawn on large wall posters. From that initial meeting, we created the “story” of âme and developed a road map of action steps to be implemented by the team in the following months. That gathering was the defining moment in the planning and development of the spa and its identity. We also participated in the ongoing collateral design meetings to ensure that the reality matched the vision. In January 2017, TMP began inviting select media to the spa individually and in small groups. We then organized a press trip themed around one of the spa’s new yoga retreats in March 2017 and later took advantage of the fact that the Global Wellness Summit was being held just 40 minutes away at The Breakers in October 2017. We were able to host pre and post Summit visits for spa & wellness journalists at the spa.

Darlene: First, we only take on projects that have a great story and a point of differentiation. Tammy Pahel created a brilliant narrative, gathering a “collective” of practitioners, vendors, product suppliers, health gurus, chefs, fitness influencers and of course, developing unforgettable and innovative services. The key was to get influential writers to experience the spa first hand. We organized a small press trip around the Art Basel event in Miami in December 2017 and garnered spa coverage around that theme. Due to our established relationships we were able to bring writers from publications including Vogue, InStyle, USA Today, Martha Stewart Weddings and many more. Being able to experience the spa first hand is an absolute necessity, especially in this age of low-trust. Journalists need to touch, feel, immerse themselves in the product and get to know the people behind the scenes – like Sammy Gharieni – the room lights up when he starts talking about the Spa’s partnership with Gharieni Group and his passion is contagious. Another important step was participating in the Los Angeles and New York City ISPA Media Events in May and August. I recommend looking for reputable and established wellness, travel or lifestyle media events to participate in. What’s key is an interactive setting where the right media can come and “sample” what your spa has to offer in a multi dimensional way. At the media events, the âme display/booth had elegant signage that reflected the spa’s on-trend branding campaign as well as a place where media could take a brief heart health test from the spa’s functional medicine experts. The star attraction however was the presence of Gharieni’s Spa Wave table. The media were lining up to sign up to try the experience that took them to Deep Sleep in 10 minutes!

How important was it to have Gharieni Group spa equipment as part of the Turnberry story?
Kim: Turnberry’s new spa had so many features to highlight – they partnered with Gharieni to create a living show room. Having Gharieni equipment here was truly the icing on the cake! Talk about high tech and high touch! And when it came time for pictures, the tables were absolute standouts. You can never forget when doing PR that today we live in a more “visual” society than ever before. What used to be considered a great PR “hit” in past years – a multi-page feature in a magazine with numerous photos with 80,000 to one million readers – has now shrunk to one or two great visuals and a long para-graph in on online magazine with three to 18 million unique monthly visitors. So, great pictures become even more relevant and important. In fact, two of the three most used photos in articles about âme Spa & Wellness Collective in its opening year were Gharieni’s Amethyst Quartz table and Spa Wave Table!

Darlene: Having the largest collection of Gharieni equipment in one place, for the consumer to experience in a “living showroom” has proved to be an incredible PR hook. Nowhere in the entire world can you experience all of these beds under one roof and no other spa can make that claim. We use this information in our pitches and outreach and media always want to know more about them. Even having one or two of these beds give spas something to talk about, as they are so unique and innovative and demonstrate how high tech can have a direct impact on one’s health and well-being. One of my favorite stories on âme Spa & Wellness Collective is the one from InStyle that calls it the “Rolls Royce of spa equipment”.

What challenges are typical in a Public Relations Campaign?
Kim: Now with fewer and fewer ad dollars going to print and with the internet being so fragmented, there are fewer journalists and those still left are doing the work of three people. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get their attention, and when you do, they need answers, pictures and info “yesterday”. Timely response is essential and crucial. If your PR team does not have all the tools needed, then you must appoint someone to react to media requests within 24 hours so you don’t miss a chance for coverage. Also, spas and resorts need to understand that they need credible, wellversed spokespeople available for media interviews. Journalists typically prefer not to interview sales, marketing or PR people. They prefer to speak with the CEO or someone who actually oversees the operation.

Darlene: One of the biggest PR challenges today is companies thinking they can DIY press outreach with a press release using a distribution service. By trying to get the word out on their own, they inevitably miss out on opportunities for big time coverage, especially when opening a brand new spa. I’ve “rescued” several clients after their own failed attempts, or even when they hired a big firm for their launch and received dismal results. Hiring the right team from the start – a company with a deep knowledge of the wellness community and with an established network of journalists who cover this industry is vital to a successful and far-reaching campaign. And another important reality: The better your photos, the better coverage you will reap. Budget for a professional photo shoot done by a photographer with a great portfolio of pics that capture the “soul” of a story.

What do people need to know before hiring a PR firm?
Kim: Ask questions. Always find out their approach and method. Will they be your partners in creativity or just take what you give them and try to make it work? Are you one of many, many clients or will you be given special attention? Will you only meet the senior representatives during the initial meetings and will the bulk of the work be done by very junior staff? Do they know the decision makers at publications? Has anyone on their team ever been a journalist? Can they get your spa/resort/product in front of people who judge industry awards? Do they have the respect of their peers?

Darlene: Kim and I have grown up in the spa industry – literally. I started in this business 20 years ago and have hired several PR firms when I worked onsite at Lake Austin Spa Resort and the biggest piece of advice I can give to someone looking to hire a firm is to find a partner that understands your product. PR can be done from anywhere – the location of the firm is insignificant. Ask for testimonials, have a deep understanding of who will be working on the day-to-day business of your account and mostly, ask for examples of what they have produced for their clients. Actions speak louder than words – and the proof is in the pudding!

Kim Marshall and Darlene Fiske are PR professionals with more than 20 years experience.

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