In recent times, I’ve encountered a few press trip frustrations that, from my point of view, just didn’t need to happen. It got me thinking – what would my ideal press trip consist of? Well it obviously depends on the stories I’m going to research, but this little lot just about covers it…
A quick no if required
I never expect help, but it is always gratefully received. I understand that budgets can be tight and the dates can clash with major events. However, it is not possible to help, I prefer to know quickly so that I can try and arrange something via another route. Nothing is more infuriating than being left hanging for two months then being left with no time to sort out the mess.
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I don’t do group press trips. Partly because if everyone is covering the same story, then I haven’t got one. Partly because I hate the whole three course lunch and being shunted round in a bus with ten other journos beano thing.
I almost always e-mail the relevant PR two to three months in advance with pretty precise details of the story or stories I’ve been commissioned to write, the publications I’m writing for, the dates I’m planning to be there and what I require assistance with. If the first e-mail back pretty much just says: “Please fill in this form,” I know there’s going to be a problem. I’ve sent the information required, and it’s clear that the PR hasn’t even bothered to read it. It’s also indicative of an inappropriate one size fits all approach.
Points of contact
If at all possible, I want to deal with one person rather than five or six. The latter ends up being a communication nightmare, and often dangerously Chinese whispers-ish.
Length of stay
At the very least, I’m going to need two nights in town. That may be all I need for one article, but trickier articles often take longer. If I’ve more than one article, I’ll probably need longer as well. I find four days is usually about right to cover the ground I need to whilst having a bit of spare time to look at other angles that may be of interest for future stories and get a feel of the place.
The sooner I know what I’m doing when, the better. That gives me plenty of space to plan ahead, mark things on maps, do background research etc. If I arrive and I still don’t know what I’m doing, then my time is not going to be spent productively – I’ll have to spend longer reading through material and web searching whilst in the destination. Ideally, everything should be sorted at least two weeks before I leave home. Note that the day I leave home isn’t necessarily the day I arrive in the destination – I may be going to other places first.
During the initial contact stage, I’m always looking for other story ideas that I can pitch to other editors. A succinct list of other potentially strong angles (linked to further details if need be) is always going to be handy for everyone. Note that by this I don’t mean 15 attached press releases that ramble on – I’ll have to sell it to the editor in one or two lines. If the PR can give it to me in one or two lines, it makes things easier.
Similarly, personal recommendations of things to see, places to eat & good bars etc – and I mean personal recommendations, not just a big list of everything in town – are always appreciated.
I need somewhere to stay. If that somewhere happens to be free, then it’s more cost effective for me. If it’s free and appropriate, then the hotel can get a credit (or sometimes more) in the article. We all know how the comped hotel room thing works for all concerned. Ideally, I’ll stay in the same place, but splitting four nights between two hotels is fine. Make me change hotel every night, and I’ll waste a lot of time getting between hotels and packing.
As for what sort of hotel, the one that fits the story is ideal (ie. if I’m doing a budget story, an affordable hotel; if I’m doing a history story, a historic hotel). A hotel that’s genuinely interesting and a potential story in itself (note – it has to be truly distinctive) is brilliant. But free – and working – WiFi in the room is pretty much essential.
No thanks. The media rate is usually suspiciously similar to the one I can get online, and always more expensive than another decent hotel that I can book online. Either it’s a proper comp, or I’ll book myself somewhere cheap and decent.
Unless the food scene is a specific part of the story I’m researching, I’d actually prefer not to have any meals arranged. I like exploring by myself in the evening, and there’s something excruciating about the lengthy meal for one in a posh restaurant. Also, I don’t want lunch organised in a restaurant – it inevitably takes too long and the rest of the day has to be shoehorned around being at that restaurant for a certain time.
For hotels and activities, I want a confirmation number or a voucher, plus the contact name, number and e-mail address of who it was organised with. It may seem overcautious, but it’s always when these things aren’t present that problems occur. Meals is where it usually goes tits up. If I’m being hosted for a meal, I’d like it in writing from the person who manages the restaurant so that I’m armed if there’s an issue regarding the bill. Also with all of these things, it’s best if made absolutely clear who is paying and for what. Guesswork and costly surprises aren’t much fun.
In general, I don’t really want an itinerary making for me. If certain things can only be done at certain times, then obviously they have to be locked into a slot. But anything that isn’t time sensitive is best covered at my own pace. The more Spartan the itinerary, the better – if I’ve got plenty of free time, I’ll fill it in the way that works best for me. And I much prefer to discover than be shown.
The Press Kit
It’s far more use to have the press kit in advance than when I arrive. If it’s posted to me, I can filter through it, get further ideas, take what I need and bring it with me. If I don’t get it until I arrive, then I’m going to waste valuable time whilst there sorting through it. Any press release/ factsheets are best sent on e-mail. Then I can save them and read through at any time without having to lug highly loseable bits of paper around.
What else is really handy in the press kit? Public transport passes and any special VIP card that gives free entry to museums/ attractions across the city that I can use in whatever order fits best (see Itinerary, above). I also like copies of any free magazines/ booklets that can usually only be found in the city – these are usually very good for restaurant/ bars/ slightly more obscure attractions. The very best press kits are specifically tailored to the press too – they aren’t just full of brochures and leaflets that the average visitor can pick up in the Tourist Information Office. The best example I’ve ever seen is Tourism ’s – it includes a whole booklet of story ideas.
What isn’t handy? I don’t need that cap or T-shirt, thanks, and if I need pictures, then we can sort it out by e-mail.
It’s very unlikely that I’ll need someone to show me around. I’m a big boy. I can read maps, I can mark things on maps, and I can go and look at things myself. I find one-on-one guided tours really hard work (see previous post on the subject) and generally not a productive use of time. If they’re showing me things ordinary punters can’t see, then I can’t write about it as it’s not replicable. If they’re giving me information about the city, then that info really should have been in the media pack. I’m far happier when put on actual tours that actual companies run – I can legitimately write about them or review them. The more specific the topic, the better. Let me see what normal visitors can see – special treatment is usually utterly counter-productive.
Sometimes, I’ll need to interview people for a story. But I’ll usually request that in advance. Fill my itinerary with meetings, and it’s likely to be a waste of both my time and that of the person I’m meeting. If I want to ask questions of someone, I can do so by phone or e-mail either before, during or after the trip. I really don’t need face time with slightly bemused local dignitaries. I probably don’t even need to meet the local tourist board rep over breakfast. The conversation usually consists of endless variations on “is everything OK?” “Yes, everything is OK”.
I’ve been. I enjoyed it. But I don’t want to be on a mailing list for press releases. No offence.