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

David Whitley 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.

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.




If you enjoyed this post, please share via Twitter or Facebook so others can too:

    All content copyright .


    1. Mike Gerrard June 11, 2012 at 10:03 -

      Excellent idea re emailing an info file to your Kindle. Thanks!

    2. Pam Wade June 11, 2012 at 10:13 -

      Not to mention how heavy all that glossy paper is – at least the increasingly common tendency to give out a memory stick instead saves having to weigh down your suitcase (until you can discard the brochures at the next hotel). But receiving, or having access to, all that inside information beforehand is clearly the better way to go, all round. A person can use only so many embroidered baseball caps!

    3. Maxine Sheppard June 11, 2012 at 10:33 -

      Excellent advice. Personally, I always tend to need photos so a memory stick with a good selection of images is always welcome. The rest of it, totally agree. Please – just email it to me beforehand.

      I still think the Media Information page provided by the Peech Hotel in Johannesburg is one of the best I’ve ever seen If every hotel/attraction/restaurant provided something like this I’d probably have an extra day off every week.

    4. DonaldS June 11, 2012 at 11:00 -

      Or you could go the other route: make the “media area” on your website password protected, then force anyone with even a passing interest register to receive updates and access priviliges, then store in that area only the most generic crap that anyone could find out with a quick Google, or even Bing.

    5. Antonia June 11, 2012 at 12:55 -

      Great advice, but I do wonder (and I should state here that I’m not a journalist or freelance writer, so I may be displaying my ignorance of the way the industry works): doesn’t listing story ideas run the risk of creating identikit coverage – every newspaper or mag running one of the same half-dozen suggested angles?

    6. David June 11, 2012 at 13:02 -

      @Donald. Groan. Why do they do this? It’s always the most useless information that’s hardest to get into.

      @Antonia. I’d like to think that they can come up with more than half a dozen angles… To clarify, story angles don’t always come from PRs. But if I was a PR, I’d want to make potential story angles as easy to find as possible. And, of course, different story angles work for different publications.