Press kits: What’s useful and what isn’t

David Whitley June 11, 2012 6

Big bags of tat

A common gripe amongst travel writers is press kits. To the uninitiated, these tend to be calico bags bearing a tourist board logo that are left for a visiting writer in the writer’s hotel room. Theoretically, they are full of useful information. More often, they’re full of caps, t-shirts and glossy brochures that contain little more than pretty pictures and marketing slogans.

Generally accepted practice is that the press kit is flicked through and then ditched in the first available bin where the PR won’t find it and potentially take offence.


Are press kits useless?

It’d be lazy to say that press kits are useless, however. That’s not true. I’ve got handy information and often ideas for stories that I’ve sold later on from press kits. But it’s pretty easy to sift out what’s useful and what isn’t. And press kit contents generally fall into four categories. The first is promotional items – the glossy brochures, the branded bookmarks etc. This sort of thing is almost always useless.

Secondly, you have the bribes, which range from the terrible – free t-shirts – to the always appreciated. Mine’s a red, preferably not a merlot, thanks.


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The third category belongs to things that are useful to both journalist and general public. Things like self-guided walking tour brochures and city maps that a curious tourist would pick up to use themselves in a tourist information office. A great example are the superb historical walking tour leaflets provided by the City of Sydney, which have lots of detail and created themed walking routes around parts of the city you’d not usually look at.

But the fourth category is most handy – material specifically prepared with journalists in mind. Often this consists of backgrounders on the destination. When it’s really good, there are information sheets drilled down by theme (ie. Shopping, tours, activities, green initiatives, dining) and dotted with well thought-out recommendations. The ones provided by the Vienna Tourist Board are a good example.

When these specially prepared materials are really good, they point out ideas for story angles that could be used too. Vancouver Tourism’s media kit (PDF) is the best example I’ve ever seen for this.


Timing is everything

Obviously, it’s the third and fourth categories that are most important here. As a freelancer, anything that increases my chance of selling extra stories is a good thing. And that surely applies for the destination too.

But the really absurd thing about press kits is when you receive them. If I arrive in the evening to find the press kit on my bed, then go through it and find a few story ideas I’d like to follow up on, then chances are it’s too late. I’ll probably not have enough free time left there to investigate or set up any requisite interviews.

I really need that press kit during the planning stages of the trip. That way I can learn about things I perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise known, plot more potential stories and pitch them to editors before flights are booked.


Send it electronically

So should tourist boards be posting out press kits in advance? Well, no. There’s no need. Posting piles and piles of paper will incur heavy postage costs. But just about anything that’s useful can be sent electronically. The general rule of thumb is that the words are what’s useful, not the pictures. It you can’t send it because it’s full of pictures, it’s probably not going to be any use anyway. Nine times out of ten, the gold is going to be in the Word document rather than the PDF. So why not just email the word documents over?

It’s also worth taking advantage of the age of the e-reader. I travel with a Kindle, and every time I go away, I copy and paste potentially useful information on the destination that I’ve found from different sources into one word document. I then email that document to my Kindle, read it prior to departure and carry it around with me so that I can read further while I’m sat in cafés etc. I suspect others do something similar (with iPads if not Kindles) – and tourist boards could really take advantage of this better than they are.


The perfect press kit?

So if you really want to make your press kits useful, and get lots more coverage as a result, I’d suggest the following…


1)      Create material specifically aimed at journalists. Divide it up by themes, make genuine, thought-out recommendations rather than just listing members of the organisation. Highlight quirky things unavailable elsewhere and focus on trends linking more than one point of interest together.

2)      Suggest as many strong story angles as you can possibly think of within this material.

3)      Put all of these individual documents into one organised document with a table of contents. And one that can easily be uploaded to both a Kindle and an iPad. (This is surprisingly easy to do).

4)      Put that document somewhere easy to find on the media section of your website so that any journalist with even a passing interest in your destination can go there, download the press kit document and transfer it to their preferred e-reader.


This way, journalists can read up on the destination during their down time, find potential story angles and pitch them out without even having to contact you. Make it easy for them to do their job, and they’ll make your job easier too. The press kit in the hotel room should only ever be a back-up copy – any visiting journalist should have already had the chance to read through the good stuff before they arrive.




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