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Pre-trip pitching: how do you sell somewhere you've not visited?
Need to get commissions before you go on a trip? Lottie's got tips
The UK school holidays are finally over, which means the press trip invites are going to start coming in thick and fast again. Or perhaps those of you who travel under your own steam will be planning to get away now peak season prices are on the way down again. Either way, we’re all going to be looking for more space on the travel pages at newspapers and magazines, and the competition is strong now we’re on the other side of the majority of global Covid restrictions.
So, how do you cut through the noise with your pitching? And how do you do it before you’ve even been on the trip?
This month we’re doing a deep-dive into some of the most common questions we get around pitching, from figuring out who to pitch, to exploring when to pitch certain types of publications and features. To kick off, though, here’s Lottie on the art of pitching before the trip has even been booked…
Pre-trip pitching: everything you need to know
It is a much-discussed fact that travel writers usually — especially in the UK — need a confirmed commission before they can get onto a press trip. Whether it’s a group trip or an individual press trip, there will be no comped travel until the stakeholders in question (a hotel, maybe, or a tourist board) can be sure they’ll see a return on investment in the form of words on the page. But pitching a story about a destination you’ve not yet been to can be incredibly difficult, especially when a press trip invitation gives little detail about what you’ll be doing.
We are required, as freelancers and occasionally when on staff, too, to be sales people as well as talented writers, and this is where your sales tactics are needed most. You’ve got to convince an editor that you, someone who has yet to see this hotel/destination/experience, are the best person to relay this story. You’ve got to give them enough detail that they can envisage what your story will entail, without promising things you can’t deliver because you’ve not yet actually travelled.
I’ve had to do this hundreds of times over the last ten years, both during my early days as a staffer at Rough Guides when I had to pitch my own ideas to web editor, and during my freelance career. Earlier this year, I even managed to pitch an entire guidebook without having done the majority of the travel for it, so I like to think I’m alright at this tricky part of our job. Here’s what I do when I’m pitching to get on a trip…
For any newbies, let us remind you of the trip invite-pitching cycle with this excellent flow chart…
1. Google it, obviously
If you’ve got a press trip invitation and you’re going to start pitching some editors off the back of it, don’t use that invite or press release as your sole research material. It won’t have nearly enough detail in it for you to be able to send a well-rounded pitch, but it could also be filled with errors. While most PRs will do their best to get it right, we’re all human, so a little fact check before you pitch will serve you well (especially if, like I did in my early days, you’ve unwittingly picked up a too-well-done April Fools press release).
Gather as much relevant and important information as you can before you start writing a pitch. “What if the press trip invitation is just a list of destinations?” I can hear you say. This happens more often than I’d like — you get an invitation to a killer destination, a dream holiday experience perhaps, but there’s nothing more in the detail from the PR than a list of places you’ll be visiting. This is where you have to become a bit of a detective. My first port of call would be to go back to the PR and ask if there’s a specific reason readers should be excited about these places right now. If they’ve got nothing, then you need to do your own digging — look up anniversaries, use local blogs or news websites to find out what’s going on or what’s new in each place (a local Time Out is always a handy resource), and check social media for interesting conversations going on around a destination. Look for unique, unusual angles to incorporate into a story, or look for emerging travel trends and see if there’s any relation to the destinations listed.
2. Craft your headline
All good pitches need good headlines, and if you can write a gripping oh-my-god-I-need-to-read-this-article headline for your piece, the editor is far more likely to read on. Can’t think of a good headline? Then maybe your story just isn’t worth pitching at all…
3. Remember the golden rules of pitching
We’ve written a lot about pitching in the past, so here’s a reminder about what we’ve said in previous newsletters…
We’ve got pitching tips aplenty in this newsletter from November 2020
We also covered pitching press trip stories here with Telegraph editor Penny Walker (who’s currently on mat leave, so don’t all pitch at once!)
🔒 Want to see our best and worst pitches? We shared them here
Pitching guidelines are your friend, so we’ve listed a bunch here
🔒 A few stalwart editors shared their pitching (and rejection!) tips in this newsletter
🔒 SEO can bring in the commissions, so check out Steph’s tips here
🔒 Pitching international publications can work a bit differently, here’s what you need to know
4. Disclose it, but professionally
So many editors complain of receiving emails that simply read:
“Hi there, I’ve been invited to X hotel/bla destination/on this press trip. Let me know if you’d like a piece.”
This is, to be frank, downright lazy. Don’t do it. Instead, disclose that you’ve been invited on a press trip (editors hate it when you don’t) in a professional manner. Here’s how I handled it when I successfully pitched a feature to a new editor at The Telegraph in 2019:
Hi X, I'm not sure we've met before but I've done some work for your colleagues X and Y (I’m currently working on a piece for Y on my home borough of Croydon!).
I've been invited on a trip with [COMPANY] in early March 2019 with an interesting conservation angle pegged to it, so I wanted to pitch as an idea for The Telegraph (see below). I need to confirm my place on the trip in the next week, so let me know if this is of interest.
Pitch: Has wildlife conservation gone too far?
There are myriad ways you can be transparent: by disclosing who has invited you, when the trip is taking place and what they might expect from their coverage (do they want a fact box or in-copy mentions, for example). The more transparent you are, the more confident the editor will feel in your professionalism on the trip, as don’t forget, you’re going along as a representative of their publication and so they need to be able to trust you.
Tweet of the week
Couldn’t resist this frankly heart-warming family photograph of our little TTW team…
Who to follow
Ben Ross has just taken over from Claire Irvin as Head of Travel at The Telegraph.
Need a laugh? Read this glorious writing by Imogen West-Knights on the all-inclusive. On a more serious note, we love this spotlight on how travel can help us talk about our mental health on Flashpack’s new Solo platform. Also don’t miss Adventure.com being typically insightful with this piece on American plantations and teaching tourists about slavery.
Now, we don’t want to make you angry, but we’re intrigued to hear your thoughts on travel writing as the “perfect retirement career” as Sandi Barrett writes on Travel Awaits. Ours might be less than rosy…
Finally, there are some great travel writing tips from Don George here.