Shawn Warmstein|Mar 26, 2010

Americans are more stressed now than ever and vacations are seen as one of the few escapes.  Choices on destination, hotel and transportation are usually made in one of three ways: word of mouth, past personal experience or decided by something you read.  Well, that’s where I come in.

Spending the last five years servicing clients in the travel and tourism industry, I have represented cities and tourism regions across the globe, hotels from budget to luxe, and everything in between from the travel agents you use to the planes and trains you take en route to your final destination.

Media often take advantage of a PR tool called FAMs (short for familiarization trips) before writing a travel story.  This is usually an all-expenses paid vacation in which a journalist is able to experience the vacation you, the consumer, might take before you take it.  I plan these FAM trips.

 And how do these trips exactly translate into an article and what sort of thought and planning has to go into this?

The most simplistic answer is that media go on the trip and write about it when they return.  However, this is actually a much more complicated process.

The saying that you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink, specifically comes to mind.

A FAM trip starts with a targeted invitation list.  A luxury hotel might target glossy upscale magazines, while a family resort is looking to invite mommy bloggers.  When inviting media there are several important rules to follow:

  • Try not to have competing outlets on the same trip.  While you need to invite direct competitors at the outset, you don’t want to confirm them for the same trip.  Why?  Magazine A will not want to write the same story magazine B is writing.  Differentiation is key for competing outlets.
  • Invite media that reach your client’s target markets.  For instance, if you invite a regional magazine in the Pacific Northwest on a trip to the Caribbean, this will most likely not result in people actually taking the trip when they read the article.  And how do I know this?  Would you fly 7-10 hours and change planes at least once just for an extended weekend getaway?  I didn’t think so.
  • Know the publications/writers before you invite them.  For instance, if a writer tends to give strong opinions of the hotels they stay at, and your client is averse to criticism, then it might be best to leave that person off your invite list.

Once you secure this group, then you must shape their experience, and over the years, you learn what does and does not work.

  • A successful trip has both planned and unplanned elements.  When media visit a destination or hotel they need some guidance, but just like a rebellious teenager, they don’t want to be told what to do all the time.
  • A successful trip showcases what is unique about the destination, not what travelers can experience at home.  The local, independent café is a better option than the Olive Garden (unless of course your story is about never ending pasta, salad and bread sticks, in which case I stand corrected)
  •  The expectations for the trip should be set beforehand and they should be accurate.  If you don’t define what will be done and what media can expect, they often will be disappointed.  Journalists travel all over the world, don’t risk telling them they are going to visit the most beautiful beach if you cannot back it up.  Don’t tell them they are going on a trip for extreme adventure and then take them on a nature walk and boat tour.

With these tenets in place you set the itinerary and are ready to go.  Smooth sailing?  Again there are some rules.

  •  Anytime you bring together a group of strangers, the outcome can be unpredictable.  It’s not quite like high school reincarnate, but you do have to watch out that divisive cliques aren’t formed and a bully isn’t born.  And why is this important?  You want the media to realize they are having a great time on the trip you planned, not busy disliking each other.
  • As the trip leader, your job is simply to enable the journalists to have the travel experience, rather than control it.  Provide the relevant information, answer questions media have and know what is planned next.  Otherwise, get out of the way and let the client sell themselves.

So the trip is complete, media had a good time, and they are ready to write their article.  Job well done?  Come on now, you read this much, so you know there is a catch.

Because of the tough media environment today, journalists have a harder time than ever placing the articles they write.  Magazines and newspapers have less pages because of less advertising, and in turn your client has more of a chance of getting bumped from the magazine where they thought they were going to appear.   What can you do to turn the odds in your favor?

  • Follow-up with media consistently.  Media are working harder than ever, and because of this, they simply can overlook something from the past at no fault of their own.  Stay in their ear (on inbox) and see how you can help them.
  • Found a new column that we would be perfect for your client?  Talk to the freelance journalist you hosted and let him know about this.  Nine times out of ten they will appreciate the heads up, as selling the story is their livelihood, so it’s a win-win for both sides.
  • Be gracious.  Even though it is media’s job to write articles, they don’t have to write about your client.  When you see them place an article from your trip, send a note saying thank you.  After all, they make the PR team look good.

Boy, who ever said taking a vacation was easy didn’t have to walk a mile in my shoes!


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