PR Master Class: How to Plan a Media Trip Writers will Love

You may remember my last snarky PR & Social Media post, 10 Tips to End Up on the Press Trip Blacklist, where I picked on some bad-behaving writers I’ve traveled with in the course of my career. Now I’m turning the tables — it’s your turn to learn, PR cohorts!

I’m speaking at PRSA Travel today on a panel with Marisa Langford and Lee Abbamonte called Dive into Digital: Go Beyond the Traditional Press Trip. Having planned dozens of media trips in my PR agency days and now having attended quite a few as a writer, there are some best practices that we could all adopt across the board to make everyone’s lives easier. I’ll discuss much of this in the chat today, but for those of you who aren’t joining, I’m including some notes below.

A giraffe selfie from yesterday's press visit to Busch Gardens Tampa

A giraffe selfie from yesterday’s press visit to Busch Gardens Tampa

How to Plan the Perfect Blogger/Writer Press Trip

Before the Trip

Blacklist. Get a hold of the infamous press trip blacklist and ensure you haven’t invited any horror shows. Ask peers at other agencies who may have traveled with folks on your invite list. Don’t subject a whole group of people to a nightmarish week with an entitled peacock just because he or she has an excellent reach or a great assignment. Send them on a solo trip if it’s possible, or better yet, don’t reward that behavior at all and keep the jerks grounded. A 10-minute phone call with a new contact should be enough to know if someone is capable of attending a group trip or not. And keep an eye out for diva demands… those folks only make press trips difficult for everyone else.

Stalk them. Bloggers live their lives online, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get a feel for someone’s personality via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and their blog. Seems pretty obvious, but with all the limitations PR folks have on their time, background research and pre-trip relationship building can be the piece that falls through the cracks. Be diligent in getting to know bloggers online, and it will eventually pay off.

Expectations. We’ve come a long way in the past 10 years in travel PR. We used to dance around what we hoped to get out of our invited writers. Now it’s totally acceptable to write up some bullet points about what results you or your client are hoping to achieve. That can include number of Tweets, or use of a hashtag, or Instagram and Pinterest action. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to discuss with your bloggers up front. If they’re worth inviting, they’ll likely have some cool ideas to help you maximize your message. It’s ok to have your trip attendees sign a contract or form indicating what you’re giving, what they’re getting and what happens in the event the contract is not fulfilled on both sides. Writers need to know what expenses they’re on the hook for in advance. It might seem like an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it’s not as uncomfortable as waiting around to see who is supposed to pick up the check!

Pay for airfare. Budgets are tight, especially for smaller destinations and clients. Trust me, we understand! But if you’re reaching out to invite writers on a trip to create content for your destination, asking them to pay their own airfare is not cool. Blogging is not a hobby – it’s a job, and if it costs us $$1,000+ just to get to your destination, that puts us behind. It’s especially obnoxious when hotels invite me to a media experience at their hotel that’s 4,000 miles from my house for ONE NIGHT and expect me to cover airfare. That’s not helpful! If your budget is small, find a way to maximize it with big campaigns with a few heavy hitters. Your money will be better spent.

Packing.  Provide us with a packing list a few days in advance, especially if the itinerary takes a while. I need to know if I am packing an underwater camera, tennis shoes or a ball gown!

One time, on a press trip to Miami...

One time, on a press trip to Miami…

During the Trip

WiFi. It must be free and it must be fast. At least fast enough to send documents and upload photos. If WiFi is not an option due to remote location, that’s totally understandable, but make it abundantly clear to your invitees WELL in advance. Preferably at the time of invitation. For bloggers who depend on the Internet to work remotely, taking just a few days “off” without connecting could mean hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost business. 

Downtime. Give your writers time to sleep, work and have some time alone to explore or recharge. Though many bloggers seem extroverted by way of their larger-than-life online personas, often we’re really closet introverts who need time each day alone to decompress. And most of us get our best stories from wandering off on our own and meeting people outside the PR sphere. There’s nothing worse than returning home from a trip and realizing you don’t really have a story to tell… just a list of experiences you had with a group of strangers. Factor in wiggle room for bloggers to do their own thing. Trust me, it’s where the magic happens. And remember if it’s a digital trip and you are looking for immediate coverage — that takes time, too! Give your writers a little space to do their thing, and you’ll be pleased with the results.

No site inspections. I am never, ever going to write about a hotel I visited for 15 minutes just to see what the rooms look like. I write about experiences – preferably fun and/or memorable ones – so viewing a hotel room, no matter how pretty, is not newsworthy to me. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. I recently visited a hotel in St. Kitts that’s still under construction  but I was so wowed by its dedication to sustainability and its unbelievable architectural design that I haven’t stopped talking about it. In 10 years in this industry, that’s just about the only time that’s happened.

After the Trip

Follow up. After a couple days, it’s unbelievably helpful if you follow up with a list of sites visited, restaurants, tour operators, key contacts and information tailored to the specific trip. Include all social media handles for properties, activities, attractions and personalities you encountered. Is this totally necessary? Of course not. But it is the sort of above-and-beyond move that will put you in the Master Class of press trip planning publicists.

Now that I’ve shared some basics, it occurs to me I have a lot more to say on the topic. (Big surprise!) Stay tuned for part 2.

Question time! What tips do you have, either from the PR side or the writer side of the press trip? 

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  • June 09, 2014

    Great advice! I agree. WiFi is a must! And airfare is preferred. Sometimes I cover my own regional travel for the good of my other site, but international travel for a press trip is a no go.
    Caroline Eubanks recently posted..Photo Friday: Angkor Wat, CambodiaMy Profile

    • June 09, 2014

      Yes! Regional stuff I can do, sometimes, but I can not afford to fly to another country for a story I might make $500 on… there are few of us who have that luxury!

  • June 09, 2014

    Great article! I liked reading this to see the advice a PR is receiving. Also had a good laugh at the giraffe selfie. 🙂
    Amber Primdahl recently posted..24 Goals for 24 YearsMy Profile

  • June 09, 2014

    Great advice!

    From a writer’s perspective: know what you want.
    You should have some idea of what you want to get out of the trip for your brand or of what you want the blogger to do.
    Most bloggers offer a wide variety of services, so emailing them with the question if they could somehow provide coverage for your brand and then have them figure out what that coverage should include – entirely – is not the most productive way to work.
    Sofie recently posted..The Stoneham Mountain Resort in Quebec, Canada – #gotoQuebecMy Profile

    • June 09, 2014

      Agree! The approaching entity – be it the blogger or the PR – should have a clear idea of what they’re looking to achieve before they ever send an email. Those open ended… “Hi, hoping you can cover my destination” emails are unhelpful!

  • June 09, 2014

    Thank you for mentioning that blogging is a job, Angie. A lot of PRs don’t understand that, and feel they are doing us a favor by inviting us on a trip.

    • June 09, 2014

      I remember when I first started working in PR and the prevailing attitude was, “We’re giving them ALL THIS travel for free, so they should just appreciate it and do whatever we say.” (Ok, that’s a bit harsh… but it was along those lines.) Times have since changed – with the proliferation of the Web and social platforms, now digital journalism has become a true profession, and as PRs we can’t expect professionals to work for free. (Don’t get me started on PR people working for free – that happens the moment we hit 40 hours and go into unpaid overtime!) The point is – just because bloggers have found a way to monetize their passion doesn’t mean it’s any less of a job.

  • June 09, 2014

    It may seem silly but I really appreciate a nice goodie bag. It’s just a thoughtful thing to do and often gives the host free advertising if they give useable items with their logo, like a cute ball cap. I also appreciate a delivery of snacks like a cheese tray – if it is timed right. We recently went to a lovely, huge dinner (where we ordered a regional cheese tray for an appetizer) and returned to our room to find that same cheese tray. Timing, people!
    Jan Ross recently posted..Paradise in Gulf Shores, Alabama – the Grand Paradise Beach HouseMy Profile

    • June 09, 2014

      This exact topic was brought up in our panel today — to swag or not to swag? I don’t really care for too much stuff. I’ll never wear a ball cap… but then again, I might enjoy a cute tote bag. I guess what we learned today is everyone is different, so PRs should approach swag from a thoughtful perspective. Skip brochures and bulky press packs in favor of flash drives and usable items. Sunscreen is appreciated in tropical locales. And I love a well-timed snack — that’s the way to my heart!

  • June 13, 2014

    “Stalk them.” That was probably my favorite. 🙂 We do live online and most of my most successful relationships began on Twitter and FB.

    I agree that the expectations of the trip must be made up front. Great tips!

  • June 14, 2014

    Hi Angie! It was such a pleasure to meet you at the PRSA conference last week 🙂 This post is a really useful follow up to the awesome session you were part of.

    I’m newer to planning press trips, so I’ll definitely keep all of these tips/tricks in mind. I especially enjoyed hearing everyone’s opinions about swag bags! I never really know what should be included in them, but you’ve definitely given me some ideas on more unique/useful for that specific trip items I can include next time.

    Thanks again and hope to see you again soon! xo
    Jessica Lawlor recently posted..Are You An Introvert or Extravert?My Profile

    • June 14, 2014

      Oh this makes me think of something: on a press trip I recently went on I got a folder with some information, but also a USB stick with the press kit on it as well as photos that could be used.
      It’s a bit more expensive and probably not necessary for every trip, but it was nice to have a USB stick as I was already lugging quite some paper around:)
      Sofie recently posted..Belgian beer: Brasserie d’OrvalMy Profile

  • June 27, 2014

    I read this with glee! You know the one I feel the most passionately about: downtime. You can’t experience a destination fully if you are frazzled and sleep deprived. It’s a fact!
    Alex recently posted..Leaving My Comfort Zone in Las Vegas: Guns, Girls, and Fast CarsMy Profile

  • June 27, 2014

    Oh my goodness, these tips are brilliant Angie! I completely agree with everything you’ve said, especially some of the last points you make about downtime and following up once the trip has ended. I went on a fantastic press trip last year where the itinerary was incredibly flexible (literally; media pass, do what you want, be here for dinner type thing) but I’ve also experienced the other end of the spectrum where (even if I’ve enquired about how much time there will be during the trip to go off and explore alone and been told beforehand that there will be) I’ve still felt like I’ve been ferried from one activity to the next without so much as a minute to breathe. I mean, it’s not like I’m expecting to just be able to do what I want, but it’s nice to be able to get to bed at a reasonable hour so that you’re fresh for the next day of sightseeing isn’t it?

    Following up after the trip is also incredibly important, like you say. Sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to juggle taking photos with your camera with taking photos with your phone AND listen to what your guide’s saying AND write down important notes so getting a quick email after the trip with a list of places you’d been is so, so helpful.

    One point I’d add is to keep the writers up to date as the trip progresses. Sometimes plans change (due to weather, time, whatever) and that’s perfectly OK, expected even. But it’d be nice to know that a few hours in advance so that we’re not updating social media with our exciting plans for the day and then those plans changing. It’s a small point in comparison to the ones you’ve listed, but still one to take into account I think 🙂

    Again, like I said; awesome post Angie!
    Beverley – Pack Your Passport recently posted..Love for London: Street Feast Dalston YardMy Profile

  • June 28, 2014

    I typically go on press trips solo, but on the few that I had done as a group, the points you made above were an issue. We had no free time, wifi was pretty much a joke and by the time I was done with the trip, I was exhausted. They have all been good trips with great content coming from it, but these points are absolutely spot on. And yes, please, no more site inspections!
    Diana Edelman recently posted..Behind the wall of BethlehemMy Profile

  • June 30, 2014

    I LOVE this list – and it is a fab one at that. WiFi and Downtime are some of my biggest pet peeves – especially if one of the expectations is full Instagram immersion.

    Great job Angie!
    Erica recently posted..Ladies Night at the Shooting RangeMy Profile

  • July 02, 2014

    We haven’t had the opportunity YET to go on a press trip, but all these points make perfect sense… especially having good wifi access. Hopefully, if we’re invited to participate in a press trip in the future, the organizers have read this post first! 😉
    Mindy & Ligeia recently posted..Unusual ClassroomsMy Profile

  • July 07, 2014

    On pointe. As always.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Paddling Montana’s Clearwater River Canoe TrailMy Profile

  • August 21, 2014

    “Though many bloggers seem extroverted by way of their larger-than-life online personas, often we’re really closet introverts who need time each day alone to decompress. ” <— Love love love this, sometimes media trips are packed so full, it's overwhelming and I come home feeling like a need a week in bed. That's not good for anyone.

    • August 26, 2014

      Life looks like a non-stop vacation for travel writers, but it really is exhausting sometimes! Glad to find a kindred spirit in you, Jennifer!

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