Turning 37,000 acres of Montana wilderness into a luxury resort is no easy feat.
But then add positioning the property - with no name recognition and no celebrities behind it - as a must-visit destination for wealthy families and outdoors types, and that makes it even harder.
The Lipson family, owners of Paws Up, realized they had an uphill struggle when they opened the resort in mid-2005. They turned to Laura Davidson Public Relations (LDPR) to raise awareness in key travel and leisure outlets.
"We really felt PR had to do the heavy lifting," explains Larry Lipson, Paws Up owner and director of brand development. "We needed that credibility that comes from the press."
The team decided on a targeted approach focused on high-end audiences in New York and LA.
"Not only do New York and LA have a lot of great travel reporters and outlets, but a lot of the early guests were coming from these two markets," says Laura Davidson, LDPR president.
While Montana is not known as a tourist destination, Paws Up had several things going for it, including a lot more amenities and activities than similar resorts, so Davidson could craft out specific pitches for various media outlets.
"If we were meeting with somebody at Gourmet, we could talk about the food; if it was Luxury SpaFinder, we could talk about the Spa Town at Paws Up; if it was Men's Journal, we could talk about Tent City and excursions into the wilderness," she says.
Eschewing a traditional press kit or any sort of big press event, Davidson and Lipson instead embarked on a series of desk-side briefings with key outlets.
"I had no experience, but LDPR did a great job of preparing me for the interviews," explains Lipson. "I found a beautiful leather binder and filled it with all kinds of gorgeous images and then basically just told the story. As the owner, I was able to give insight on what the property was about, and the journalists could tell how passionate I was about Paws Up."
Davidson also cites the Paws Up Web site, which has photography highlighting the scenery, amenities, service, and activities, as another great hook for both the media and the public.
During Paws Up's first summer season, June to September 2005, placements in The New York Times, Food & Wine, and LA Times alone were linked to 137 reservations that resulted in more than $400,000 in early revenue.
According to the resort, occupancy this year is up more than 40%, and it's adding more tents.
Additional coverage has included Travel & Leisure, CondŽ Nast Traveler, Robb Report, Gourmet, Outside Traveler, Town & Country Travel, Food & Wine, Men's Journal, The Boston Globe, and The Dallas Morning News.
Broadcast also showed major interest in Paws Up with segments on the Food Network, CNBC, NBC, and CBS.
All told, LDPR has generated an ROI of 50:1, Davidson says.
LDPR continues to work with Paws Up and recently secured a placement in the LA Times putting the resort's Tent City at the forefront of the new "glamping" (glamorous camping) vacation trend.
"We still have an uphill climb in terms of awareness, but all of the metrics we used to measure brand and Web traffic continue to rise," says Lipson.
This is a great example of how old-school PR - in this case, desk-side briefings using a low-tech binder filled with great images rather than a PowerPoint or DVD presentation - can still do a great job of delivering not just media placements, but also bottom-line results. It shows the value of investing in great visuals to tell a story and in doing so face to face.
Also key was targeting a distinct high-end audience, and using those visuals to create compelling story angles specific to each outlet aimed at that audience.
PR team: The Resort at Paws Up (Greenough, MT) and Laura Davidson Public Relations (New York)
Campaign: Glamping/High-End Outdoor Holidays
Duration: September 2005 - ongoing
Budget: $72,000 annual retainer