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Press trips are back on — here's what you need to know
As the travel industry gets moving again, we're diving into the murky world of press trips...
Devastatingly, Steph and I are back at our respective homes now, feet firmly on the ground and fingers furiously typing on our laptops. It’s an exciting time — this is Steph’s first month back into full-time self-employment and she is READY for commissions. She’s a South America expert, but also writes about sustainability, hiking and running and the North of England, so put her in your black book in case you need anything. She’s also a total genius with SEO and content strategy, so if anyone out there has a business that needs help, she’s your go-to.
In the meantime, we’re musing about the thing almost all travel writers want to have a go at: press trips. Here’s Lottie with some thoughts and advice on finding angles within trips…
In defence of the group press trip
From: Your Favourite PR
Subject: Press trip invite
No three words make some of us travel writers more eager for an email to load than “press trip invite”. That little note, the simple little html email that lands in your inbox, unsolicited but oh-so welcome, is a portal to another land. It’s your ticket to foreign climes, fancy hotels or intrepid adventures. It is, for many, utterly thrilling. For a fair few of us, though, that “press trip invite” email can induce a certain sense of dread — dread of the much-loathed group press trip.
If you’re new to this and you’re not sure what a group press trip is, skip down a couple of sections for an explainer — with a flowchart!
For the record, I love a group press trip. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my eight years in this industry that I’ve never been on a disastrous one. Sure, there was the bizarre group trip where 50 of us were flown out to Senegal and shepherded round by government representatives while being filmed by the national news station (the cameras switched off when 80% of the group got food poisoning on the penultimate night).
And there was that hike in Uganda where a member of our trekking group (not one of the press, mind) had to be stretchered out of the jungle by locals. But really, there hasn’t been a single trip I wish I’d never gone on. In fact, as I’ve written about in the past, I’ve made excellent friends on group press trips over the last few years — I attended the wedding of one press trip friend just a couple of weeks ago.
But there’s more merit to these trips than making friends and having a laugh. This is business, remember? Group press trips are — and will probably always be — a mainstay of the travel writing ecosystem, but they get a bad rap. Many journalists can’t stand group trips and plenty tell me they try to avoid them like the plague. Aside from the idea of having to travel in a group (the horror!), some believe it’s a terrible way to get material, as everyone will come home with the same story (though I say those writers aren’t working hard enough to find their angles, frankly).
Group trips also often involve a vast breadth of activities and rarely have a specific focus — you might be gin tasting one day, then spelunking the next. You might end up feeling like some of it is a “waste of time” if it’s not relevant to your story, but that would be a narrow-eyed view. Variety isn’t a bad thing.
I like to think of the group press trip as an appetiser. A little hors d'oeuvre before the main meal. I use group trips as an introduction to a place more than anything, so I can experience a variety of aspects and seek out stories I need to return to cover in-depth. They’re also, more often than not, a great way to get multiple commissions (hello, potential for profit), as you might end up being able to pitch specific experiences as individual stories.
On that mildly dramatic trip in Uganda I was reporting solely for The Telegraph, but when I got back, I secured commissions from BBC Radio 4 and Rough Guides. I could probably have pitched and secured more commissions had I wanted to at the time.
And, finally, press trips are a great way to network and learn more about other writers, publications and our industry as a whole. When else will you get to have dinner with seasoned journalists, editors and PRs every night for a week?
This month, we’re talking all things press trips and we’ll be:
Learning how travel journalists used a press trip to help them pitch and write a specific story
Finding out what editors’ preferences are when it comes receiving pitches for stories researched during a comped trip
Giving you tips (and a template!) for setting up individual press trips with PRs and tourism boards.
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The group press trip survival guide
A few tips to keep you sane and productive while on the road with a group press trip…
Assess the competition — Find out how everyone else is covering the trip and make a plan to ensure your story is not just different, but also better.
Ask for free time — One of the most valuable things you can get on a group press trip is “free time”, often alluded to on an itinerary with the words “at your leisure”. If your story needs more attention or a bit more in-depth exploration, ask the PR if you can take a day for yourself to ensure you get everything you need to write it up. They’re usually pretty accommodating.
Take time for yourself — Spending day after day with people you barely know can be exhausting. The pre-dinner cavern in an itinerary is usually the best option for some downtime, but you could also skip dinner entirely every now and then and take yourself on a date for one to save your sanity.
Pay attention — Just because an activity isn’t related to your story right now, it might be later down the line.
Be nice — This should be common sense and a rule for life in general, but if you’re going to be spending a week with people you don’t know, everything will be easier if you’re just nice to everyone, even if there’s someone in the group that rubs you up the wrong way.
Back to basics: individual versus group press trips
For those of you who don’t know, there are two types of press trip: individual and group. Similar to a group holiday with a company like Explore or Intrepid, group press trips are essentially an organised tour for the press. This could mean you’re a group of four or five (though numbers do vary) being ferried around between attractions and activities with the PR representative. Group press trips tend to last anywhere between two and five nights. Sometimes, longer trips are put on by larger tour ops like Explore and Intrepid, or by far-flung tourist boards like Japan, as they tend to cover more ground. Group trips tend to be all expenses paid, bar alcoholic drinks.
An individual press trip is where you have your trip booked and organised by the PR, but you travel alone without a PR chaperone, following the itinerary provided. This is a great way to travel — not only do you get more flexibility, but you also get full immersion in the destination without having someone filter your experience. Individual press trips are sometimes offered via email invites, like group press trips, but usually you’ll have to actively propose these sorts of trips to the relevant PR if you have a story idea or a commission.
What to do when you get a group press trip invitation
One of the biggest conundrums for new travel writers is the group press trip invitation. You can’t get the place on the trip without a commission, but how do you get a commission before you go on the trip? It’s a frustrating chicken-and-egg situation, but it’s a reality that is doable.
I made the below graphic for the students of my online travel writing course, run by Journalism.co.uk, to explain how it works when a group press trip invitation comes in.
When an invitation comes in and I love the look of the trip or think I can write a great story from it, I’ll immediately respond to the PR and tell them what and who I’m going to pitch, and ask them to reserve me a space. This usually works if they’ve not already filled all the spaces, and then I start pitching the editor in question.
I then get pitching — usually frantically. I tend to only pitch one editor at a time and will give them a deadline within which to get back to me. This means if it’s a no, it comes pretty quickly and I can move onto the next one.
Once I’ve got my commission, I go back to the PR to double check my space is still reserved and I get confirmation that they’ll have me on the trip. All that’s left to do is travel, write and file, and pitch out other angles I find along the way.
Tweet of the week
Important analysis on the increase in wild swimming articles of late…
Who to follow
With the departure of Cathy Adams at the helm of The Independent, Helen Coffey is stepping up. Give her a follow here:
No-fly travel agency and slow travel specialists Byway have got real about their impact as a company in the first of their annual warts and all impact reports — demonstrating real leadership when it comes to holding themselves accountable. In an industry facing real questions about its environmental impact, we would love to see others follow suit.
We loved reading this piece by outgoing Travel Editor at the Independent, Cathy Adams, as she leaves the paper to join the Times travel desk.
And finally, while it certainly makes depressing reading, Stuart McDonald’s analysis of the current situation in Southeast Asia and the likely timescales for the return of international tourism to the region is a must-read. Sadly, we think his prognosis might be right.
This was the first in our August series all about setting up and getting the best from press trips. Next week we’ll be finding out the story behind the story from travel journalists who use press trips to help them pitch and write stories, and we’ve got exclusive interviews with editors lined up to find out what their preferences are when it comes to accepting pitches written off the back of a press trip. We’ll also be giving you tips on how to set up individual press trips and a downloadable template for approaching destinations to do so. That’s all available to paying subscribers, and it’s just £5 per month.