On the eve of yet another trip to the Bahamas, I must share with you Part 2 of the What Do I Do Series. As a travel publicist, my goal is to persuade the media that my client (whether destination, hotel, cruise line, airline, etc.) is worth writing about. Ideally, we would always have "news" to share - a new feature on a cruise ship, new direct flights to somewhere exotic or a newly renovated hotel. Sometimes though, destinations simply are what they are. My challenge is to convince journalists that my client's product is exactly what their readers want to read about, and the only way to physically demonstrate that is by offering a first-hand experience to the media.
It may seem like all I do is travel on these "glorious" "business trips" to tropical islands, where I lounge in cozy hammocks, fish for days on end or eat cracked conch until I can't eat anymore. Yep, that sounds about right.
But there's so much more to it! In a nutshell, 1. my agency invites media on a trip on behalf of our clients, 2. media attend and I show them a fabulous time, 3. media return home and (hopefully) write about their experience, 4. John Q. Public reads the story, visits the destination as a result, has a great time, spends mucho dinero and keeps the economy afloat. Simple enough, no?
I can tell from the way everyone says sarcastically, "Have fun on your business trip!" that my quickie explanation doesn't quite do justice to the complexities of executing a press experience from start to finish - so in an incredibly oversimplified way, here's how we get from concept to island.
Determine press trip needs/concepts. As a team, we take into account our client's goals for the year and ask ourselves, "What do we want the public to know about our client?" We then determine a media experience to suit that need, keeping in mind that media have seen and done just about everything. Our job is to find a way to make it new, different, better, interesting, one-of-a-kind.
Obtain client approval.
Determine destination, hotel partner. Depending on the press trip's angle (i.e. bonefishing, scuba diving, kite surfing, luxury, girl's getaway), we determine which island (or for other clients, which neighborhood/property/attraction) would best suit the media we're inviting. We then work with our on-island hotel partners to reserve rooms at an appropriate resort, negotiating rates, meals and value-adds along the way.
Create targeted media list. Not all media are created equal and not all travel writers cover the same type of travel. Some are strictly business - which hotel opened where, who spent what on renovations. Some cover destinations exclusively. Some cover adventure travel. In the cumbersome sphere of travel writers, it's my job to know who does what and how I can reach them. Our outreach efforts are only as good as the media contacts we cultivate.
Design invitation. Depending on the scope of the trip, the invitation might be a mailing we send to a handful of targeted contacts (maybe a message in a bottle?), perhaps it's a simple email with basic information, or it could be a creative, graphic-heavy Web site. (Want to see mine? Just ask!)
Recruit and secure confirmations from media. Armed with the list and invitation, we reach out to the media with the trip details. We follow up tirelessly, until we fill the 4-7 spots available on any given trip. Believe it or not, this can be one of the most difficult steps. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, "Take me with you! I'll carry your bags!" I'd be a rich woman and wouldn't have to work at all... but travel writers are invited on dozens of trips a year - to exotic, far-flung locations, to hot new hotels and on inaugural cruises and flights. I'm tasked with convincing our invitees that my client offers something of value to them and to their readers. That's why Step #1 is so important.
Work with local contacts to create interesting itinerary/secure ground transportation/water taxis/meals. On any given trip, we have media from a wide variety of outlets - trade publications, daily newspapers, TV shows, fishing/diving magazines, wedding pubs. Our itineraries are developed to reflect the varied needs of the individual publication, while still showcasing the best overall elements of the destination - elements the general public would be interested in regardless of the target angle.
Book travel. We work with a travel company to secure flight reservations for each journalist, and you'd think it was the easiest part of the process. However, I've spent up to four hours on the phone working out flight schedules before. Taking into account budgets, timing, available airports, the fact that there is not regular or even daily air service to some of our destinations, journalist airline preference, etc., and it can be quite a puzzle getting 4-7 media plus myself to the same place at the same time on the same day. Getting all of our luggage is a bonus.
Apply for a cash advance. Some of our destinations are so remote, they don't take credit cards - so we have to carry cash to pay for boating excursions, scuba diving, golf carts, meals, taxis, rounds of drinks, etc. Lots.of.cash. I'm not even going to tell you how much.
Communicate progress with colleagues, clients, hoteliers and media participants. Throughout the process, it's important to keep everyone informed on the who, what, when, where, why - managing everyone's expectations on the way. There are always a multitude of questions from the journalists leading up to the trip, from "Will we have Internet access?" to "What will the weather be like in four months when we arrive?" to "Are there sharks?" to "Will my flight be on time?"
Eventually, after completing these and countless other steps of minutiae, it's departure time - i.e. 6 a.m. for me on Wednesday morning! Tomorrow I'm off to Grand Bahama Island and Long Island, Bahamas, for a press trip/fishing tournament - let's say this trip had about 46 extra steps added on top of the usual ones listed above. I'll be bonefishing the flats for a few days followed by some deep sea action as well on Sunday. Wish me luck! I'm a wee bit scared that I'll disgrace my family by being a sucky bonefisherwoman… stay tuned for updates and photos of either my downfall or triumph.
P.S. If you have any questions about public relations, send me a comment and I'll answer it in a future edition of What Do You Do.