Friday, July 20, 2007

The Press Trip: Great Deal or Big Hassle ?

(By guest blogger Sheila Scarborough of Family Travel)

The press trip.

It’s a constant source of discussion and interest on the BBS (there’s a Press Trip thread,) the mediabistro forums (here’s a discussion about travel writing and “press junkets” ) and other online places where writers hang out.

So, what’s the real info on the organized press trip? Since I’m just back from my first one as a travel writer, Liz was kind enough to let me give you some insights.
My experience was somewhat unusual because this was a “family press trip,” so there were spouses and kids invited. We were a small group, with an eclectic mix including a radio broadcaster, a family magazine editor and me, the Family Travel blogger and full-time freelance writer. Our trip was sponsored by the Greater Williamsburg (Virginia, USA) Chamber & Tourism Alliance, which is eager to position this region as a family destination.

It’s called the Historic Triangle, and includes the “living history” city of Colonial Williamsburg, America’s first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, the American Revolution battlefield at Yorktown, the Busch Gardens Europe theme park and Water Country USA water park. Lodging, meals and entry fees to the attractions were covered; we just had to fly from Texas to Virginia.

How did I get such a deal? It was my Family Travel blog post about the Williamsburg area.

A person doing PR work for the Historic Triangle got my name and blog info from someone that I met at a blogging conference, and she sent me an email with updates about the family activities in that part of Virginia.

I had been there before a few years ago, as a single person and again with my kids, so I already knew it was a lot of fun, plus I was drawing a blank for blog post ideas that day and her info-packed email helped to jump-start my brain. The VisitWilliamsburg PR people were thinking about sponsoring a family press trip; they saw my post through links to their sites, read my blog and thought I’d be a good candidate for their trip, and so they emailed me an invitation.

Lesson – you never know what your blog’s content will bring you, so try to always write good stuff and get yourself and your words out there through networking.

Press trip positives: Well, duh – a free trip! Our lodging was at a lovely resort called Kingsmill, which I frankly could never have afforded on my own. I’d been to the Historic Triangle before, so this chance to re-visit the sites added depth to my knowledge and enjoyment of the trip. The PR organizer, Kate Hoving, was a superb professional who flexed to any request. She was very sensitive to the blazing midsummer heat’s effect on children visiting historical sites (in other words, when families ran out of energy, there was absolutely no pressure to stick to the formal schedule.) The group was small and we were each able to go at our own pace.

Press trip negatives: There wasn’t a whole lot of notice about the trip, only a few weeks, and I had to come up with funds for four airline tickets plus car rental. A flexible schedule is still a schedule, and I prefer independent travel. Writers need time to think, reflect and write/blog each day, and it was tough to find that time with family along. Finding good, solid, preferably free Internet connections for blogging and uploading photos was an ongoing frustration.

Plus, what if the attractions or lodging were terrible – wouldn’t I feel sort of obligated to write positive stuff anyway after getting all of these goodies? Fortunately, this was a marvelous trip; since I’d been to the venues before I had a pretty balanced view, but I could see how the ethics issues might get interesting.

There wasn’t much time to work up pitches/queries to sell articles about the trip, plus my usual print travel publications do not allow comped travel. The Historic Triangle topic has been pretty saturated here in the US because of extensive press coverage of this year’s 400th anniversary of the Jamestown landing. I didn’t have time to properly pitch unique angles or overseas publications, at least not before the trip.

So here I had great free travel but no one to write for except my blog.
I decided to turn all of my attention to online outlets, even quality-but-unpaid ones like World Hum, and of course write a bunch of solid posts for my Family Travel blog, a couple more for the Perceptive Travel blog and guest posts for Liz and the DC Traveler blog.

A last-minute cell phone call to my Automotive Traveler editor snagged an assignment to work up a Williamsburg area family road trip article for later in the year, but it needed to feature a halfway decent automobile, so I called Budget Rent a Car and upgraded to a Ford Mustang convertible to pick up in Virginia (that sounds pretty nifty until you cram a family of four plus suitcases into a topless car in the heat of summer; the thrill was short-lived until the temperature dropped a bit.)

Bottom Line: When the “good deals” start coming your way as a writer, be ready to jump, but know what you’re getting into. Do not be an unprofessional leech who just looks for free trips (with your spouse “the photographer” tagging along.) Take advantage of your PR representative’s wealth of knowledge, but use good judgment and don’t be swayed by pretty Potemkin villages. PR folks are paid to sell their attraction or location, and you are paid to provide well-researched, objective travel writing. The press trip is simply one more tool in a writer’s desk drawer; use it wisely.

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Anonymous said...
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Cole (fourjandals) said...

Its so tricky trying to figure out whether these press trips are a good idea or not. So many people are for them and others are against them. Would love to go on our first one but time will tell...

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