A couple weeks ago, Sylvie Laitre of Mexico Boutique Hotels responded to an article I’d written last year about press trips. As part of her job, Sylvie fields dozens of writer requests for free or discounted accommodation at MBH’s member properties every week. In response to my article, she asked:
“[H]ow does a company go about weeding out ‘writers with integrity’? I receive press trip requests almost on a weekly basis and would love to know what top points I should be looking at or what questions I should be asking before I accept a visit. I’ve been disappointed too many times with seemingly great people who don’t deliver—and I don’t mean shiny reviews. What would you advise?”
After participating in several press trips during the past year, interacting with and observing other travel writers, and talking in depth with public relations, marketing, and tourism board representatives who have to make these kinds of decisions (and often do so poorly), I’d already devised a list of pointers on the subject.
While most of these tips are written in specific response to Sylvie’s question, and as such, use hotel stays as examples, they apply to other travel industry PR and marketing representatives, including those who organize and host press trips.
1. Articulate your own PR goals.
Before fielding any requests from writers, photographers, or TV show producers and hosts, be sure you know what your promotion and marketing goals are.
What are the core demographics you’re trying to reach? What kinds of numbers do you want to pull in for your clients, and what are the key characteristics these guests should embody? In what kinds of media outlets do you want your clients featured?
If you don’t know what the end goal is, it will be impossible for you to determine whether a writer is a good fit for the property they’re requesting to visit.
2. Establish a basic policy.
Most travel writers I know would never abuse the privilege–and it is a privilege–of being able to stay at one of your clients’ properties for free or at a deeply discounted rate.
They appreciate your assistance–especially in the current economic climate, in which writers have taken a particular bruising. They are often working on assignments for which their costs, including lodging, will not be compensated by the publication, and this is true even if they’re working on a guidebook. Even one night’s lodging helps defray expenses significantly, and without comps, many writers would be unable to actually review the properties they’re expected to include in their write-ups.
All this being said, it’s smart of you to establish a basic policy regarding the extent to which you are willing to accommodate requests. How much advance notice do you need to accommodate a writer? How many nights are you able to provide lodging? What kinds of publications are you willing to consider?
Develop a policy. You don’t need to stick to it rigidly, but you will want to have the writer make a convincing case for deviating from it.
3. Conduct due diligence.
As Kara Rosner of DiamondPR notes, PR is “obviously a different ball game now than it was years ago,” when PR firms could simply ask for a letter of assignment to verify that a writer was, in fact, working for the publication he or she claimed.
Now, anyone who has a blog calls himself or herself a writer and many have no qualms about seeking access to the same privileges that travel writers with legitimate assignments are seeking.
To determine whether a writer’s requests are both legitimate and consistent with your client’s needs, you need to do some due diligence, which can include:
*a quick Google search:
A cursory Google search using the writer’s name should turn up:
–their publication history (all online or some print credits?; how frequently are they publishing?; how diverse are their media outlets, both online and off?;
–their social media use and reach:
This isn’t just about which platforms they use (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), but how they use them.
–their writing style:
Original and exciting? cliched? intelligent? clear and concise? free of spelling, grammatical, and factual errors?
–some clues as to their personality:
Consistently combative or overly critical? Professional or tweeting from a press trip about their drunken encounters in a hotel bar?
–their Alexa rankings:
If the writer passes muster on Google, then check his or her Alexa rankings. For writers publishing online in a publication with which you’re not familiar, you’ll want to verify that their reach is as broad as they claim (and you should ask for their monthly page views and other analytics data that interest you- how much time visitors spend on their site; what key words bring visitors to their site; the regions–cities, states, countries–where their visitors live).
You can check their analytics rankings against other blogs/publications of their type by plugging in their URL on Alexa.com.
If you can’t find any online, then be sure to ask for some recent clips of their published work. As Kara points out, “While there are some writers who are offended or turned off by a PR agency inquiring about their credentials, if they are solid, reputable professionals, they typically understand it’s an investment for the resort and part of our job to provide our clients with a comprehensive reason as to why they should (or shouldn’t) host a writer.”
If someone doesn’t want to provide you clips, you probably don’t want to work with them.
–their skill set:
Photography, videography, social media. How much mileage can you get out of each writer? When I participate on press trips or request comped lodging, I let the PR representative know that they can expect to see content I produce on Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, my personal blog, and on Matador, the world’s largest online travel magazine.
Finally, put some conditions on the privilege. Invite the writer to meet with a manager or owner, someone on site who can give a tour and answer questions. It’s amazing how many properties *don’t* do this (and how many fail to provide press kits, too).
Are you a PR professional? Have any additional tips you’d like to share or anecdotes that may help your colleagues? I welcome your comments.