Tuesday, 11 November 2008

#60 – How to get on a press trip

Or all aboard the travel writer junket express.

Guilty secret
The press trip is the guilty secret of the travel writing world, shamefully acknowledged by a small plug at the bottom of many articles. Many travel stories are a result of the most unauthentic experiences imaginable – a group of journalists being shepherded around on a tight schedule, wined and dined and generally hermetically sealed away from anything the tourist board or resort PR people might not want them to see.

No freebie policy
It is for this reason that quite a few publications will not take any stories based on sponsored or subsidised travel. This is often a manifestly unfair policy, for reasons I will go into another time, but a large proportion of writers rely on press trips to reduce their costs and allow them to see places that they ordinarily wouldn’t get to.

Be all and end all
For a small proportion of travel writers (and again, these are the ones that make me wary of calling myself a travel writer), getting on the press trip is the be all and end all. To them, the nice jollies are the entire point of the profession.

Downsides of the group press trip
Personally, I tend to go on group press trips very rarely. I find that they invariably involve countless visits to mundane hotels, no real opportunity to experience any one product or attraction properly, and they don’t tend to be very productive in terms of producing a series of articles. I enjoy meeting up with other writers, I enjoy the nice meals and wine and I enjoy having to shell out very little money for the whole thing. But professionally, they don’t usually give me what I want.

How to get on a press trip?
But for the travel writer just starting out, one of the great mysteries can be how to get on a press trip in the first place. Quite simple really – get a commission from a publication that the PR people want to get coverage in.

Infuriating PR people
One of the most infuriating things that PR people can do is to send out an e-mail to a wide range of writers, inviting them on a press trip. When you e-mail back to express an interest, it turns out that they were just fishing. It wasn’t an invitation after all – they’re just sending a vague conditional bait out to anyone who might be able to get them coverage in one of three or four publications they are targeting.

Guaranteed publication and the blacklist
And frankly, if you can’t guarantee coverage in one of the publications they’re after, you’re not going on the trip. Personally, I blacklist any PR person that does this – if they want a particular publication, they can send out an e-mail to the staff of that publication.

Obtaining commissions
Others are more up front and don’t disguise the press release as an invitation. This is fine by me; they’re merely saying that there is a press trip on the horizon, and that those who can obtain commissions will be considered for it. And if you can get that commission, then that could be you. It really is that simple – although getting that commission often isn’t.

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