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Hosting the media at your spa could be just the ticket to positive publicity and promotion.

In today’s social media driven world, spa owners are turning to influencers and journalists as a proactive way to spread the word about their spas. By providing complimentary treatments in exchange for publicity on a writer’s website, blog, Facebook or Instagram, spa owners can capitalize on a unique form of advertising. Though it isn’t exactly “free marketing,” offering a comped treatment to a writer so they can spread the word about your business is an easy way to attract new customers.

“It’s like word-of-mouth marketing,” says Tanya Gerber, spa manager at Oxford Club Spa in Denver. “These influencers have a wealth of readers and followers who trust their judgment and will really buy into what they post.” In other words, if a writer or social media savvy individual shares about a fabulous experience at your spa, their readers may be inclined to seek you out. Inviting digital influencers to the spa is a cornerstone of the marketing strategy at the Four Seasons in Toronto. “It’s hugely important for us,” says the hotel’s public relations director Halla Rafati. “The power of word of mouth far exceeds other types of marketing strategies, so when you engage social influencers, you’re seizing upon that power.”

Rafati points out that consumers are typically unwilling to take chances with something as intimate as a spa treatment. “People love their regular technicians and therapists,” she says. “Before anyone will even consider switching over and trying a new facility or esthetician, they look closely at peer to-peer recommendations.” And that, says Rafati, is where social media influencers come in. Abby Brennan, owner of Brennan Massage and Spa in Brookfield, Illinois, agrees that it’s important to get your spa’s name into local blogs, social media and in print. “If someone writes about a business, it gives that business more of a foundation and solid roots in the community,” she says.

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Patrons With Potential

Spa owners have successfully used various methods to attract members of the media into their treatment rooms. After the Oxford Club Spa completed a major salon renovation, the staff invited 20 bloggers and lifestyle magazine writers to a “sparty” that showcased the new space. “We offered appetizers and drinks, and provided hair and makeup touch-ups,” says Gerber. “This gave them the opportunity to build relationships with our team and ask questions. These partnerships are of paramount importance.” That sentiment proved true—several articles about the spa subsequently ran in Denver Life and Colorado Homes & Lifestyles magazines.

When the Four Seasons Toronto opened in 2012, the hotel and spa invited dozens of bloggers to experience and write about signature treatments; the staff continues to host five or six per month. Blogger Catriona Smart, who writes at cocoandcowe.com, has partnered with the spa for four years. “When we bring her in, it’s always for a specific treatment,” says Rafati. “We know that after she highlights that service, we’ll get several phone calls from people wanting to book that same offering.”

Brennan has also invited magazine and newspaper reporters to Brennan Massage and Spa for complimentary treatments in exchange for stories; the blogger at mommysanest.com also wrote an extensive article about the spa that included a Q&A with Brennan. The spa owner adds all such stories to her spa’s press page, which she says helps attract new clients.

Similarly, a large part of the marketing efforts at Waynesboro-based Tennessee Fitness Spa is done with the aim of garnering media posts. The long-term value of forging partnerships with the media, says marketing director Teena Fuller, is in the lasting link. “In pre-internet days, if you didn’t catch an article or an advertisement in a magazine, it was gone for good. But now, as long as the publication has an online presence, I can post a link to the story and it will stay there indefinitely.”

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Recently, the spa hosted a local television anchorwoman and a blogger from England. “The blogger was really adorable and funny, and had a great accent,” Fuller explains. “She created a really well-done video that people love, and now it lives on our website’s press page!”

[Image: Coutesy of Oxford Club Spa]

Making the First Move

So, if you’re interested in hosting writers, who exactly should you approach—and how? To reach a broader demographic, Rafati seeks out different types of social influencers, from beauty and/or fashion experts to those who focus on lifestyle. She always asks to see their site or social media metrics, which enables her to perform a cost-benefit analysis.

“If you’re selling a $200 massage, you know what percentage of that is your actual hard cost versus what percentage is your profit margin,” she says. “Most social influencers do have media kits that include rates for digital offerings, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and blog posts, much like a magazine does. In Toronto, the current going rate is between $500 and $750 per Instagram post, for example,” she says, although she notes that typically a spa provides a comparable service in lieu of payment.

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There are many ways to find and reach out to local media. First, build a list by researching local newspapers, television and radio stations. Then, determine (either by looking at their website or by calling and asking) who to contact to write a piece about your spa. When sending pitches, use a news “hook”—something new for the writer or influencer to feature—in a short, individualized email to each contact. Start a list of local bloggers by searching Google (try “your city” + blogger) and then expand it by seeing who they follow; most will have a “blogroll,” or list of other blogs they follow. If you want to create a professional list, consider subscribing to a public relations service such as software provider Cision.

It’s equally important, says Rafati, to outline expectations before the guest arrives at the spa. “You might off er a spa treatment in exchange for one blog post, one Instagram post, one tweet and one Facebook post, or whatever combination you prefer,” she says. Rafati relies on an honor system, and doesn’t always make the influencer or writer sign a contract. However, having the agreement in writing—even just within an email exchange—can be helpful if the influencer or writer doesn’t deliver as promised, or to establish a procedure in case the visit doesn’t go as planned.

Indeed, how do you ensure an optimum experience for the invitee? Some spas place the media personality with their best stylist or therapist, or gift them product goodie bags. But what if, despite your best efforts, they still have a bad experience? For starters, apologize and ask for specific feedback. “I would invite them in again for a second chance,” says Rafati, who adds that thankfully that has never happened at her spa. “If they don’t want to come back, then I’d suggest you just let it go.” She says that if a writer has a negative experience, it may be best not to ask them to write about it. “It’s preferable that they post nothing rather than post something negative,” she opines.

A Worthwhile Expenditure

At the Oxford Club Spa, Gerber’s staff keeps a lead source report. “Our spa concierge team asks every client how they heard about us, and they often answer that they read about us in Denver Life. We keep track of guests’ responses to analyze the revenue we’ve seen as a result of coverage in a certain publication,” she explains.

Fuller notes, however, that it can be difficult to quantify the return on such an investment. “It’s hard to tell exactly when the guest made the decision that our spa was the one they wanted to visit. It might be our location, our price point or a testimonial—or a combination of all three,” she says.

Another potential way to track these clients is by giving a social influencer a coupon code for their readers to use, suggests Rafati, which can then be monitored. “To have an exact quantifiable amount in terms of how much revenue was produced from that one visit is extremely difficult,” she says. Regardless, Rafati believes that the value of having journalists and influencers write and post about your spa is practically priceless. “I can’t stress how important it is to integrate top influencers into a marketing plan,” she says. “When you create that digital awareness, people really will start reaching out to you.”

–by Lelsie Lang

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