Nope, I’m busy; the press trip that won’t happen

I got an email invite on 24 September for a press trip/fam (familiarization) tour in early November.

Y’all know I’m not much into group fams, right? Right.

Bunch of people mostly looking at the same stuff, on a forced timetable and usually little or no understanding by the host of the social media skills I bring to the table.  Plus, they get a bunch of free content and coverage and I get….nothing that pays my bills.

The fam location and focus did interest me, though, and because sometimes a fam trip leads to amazing things or supports destinations I care about, I decided to overlook my general dislike of Jurassic PR and responded quickly that I’d attend.

Nothing heard back. Silence. Crickets chirping.

I pinged them after a few days, saying, um, is this thing still on?

Heard back that sure, they would let me know if I was “selected.” This, after their original email that said the trip was “planned especially for you.”

Meantime, I’m comparing notes with another writer and photographer friend who was also invited and who was also bemused by the, er, breezy handling.  You know how PR folks compare notes about the content creators who are invited to visit their town?  Well, the shoe goes on the other foot, too.

Today, I got an email at the end of the day that said, Oh boy, you’re invited on our press trip.  The one that lasts four days in another state and starts in a week.

Nope, it’s not happening even if they rolled a private jet up my suburban cul-de-sac.

I’ve made other plans for that week to meet with some tourism folks in that same niche, in that same state, but one-on-one and with an eye to a business partnership.

You know, social media training for tourism. That thing I do for a living.

I don’t need free travel or free hotel rooms or free trips. I need professional courtesy.

I’m sure they’ll be fine without me.

Is this an unreasonable approach? Happy to hear down in the comments.

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20 Responses to Nope, I’m busy; the press trip that won’t happen

  1. Andy Hayes says:

    Agreed. The world is a two way street. Would they have welcomed you in with open arms if you emailed them to say “hey I’m coming next week, can you host me?” Probably not.

    Besides, most of this can be boiled down to just proper manners. Didn’t their mother teach them anything about how people like to be treated? Like people.
    Andy Hayes´s last [post] ..Talking Tourism at Blogworld 2010 BWE10

  2. Hi Andy,

    I really don’t think there was malice aforethought, just an assumption (maybe….I’m guessing) that I would be happy for a chance at a “good deal” free trip and wouldn’t mind jumping around at the last minute.

  3. Theresa says:

    Good for you for letting them know they can’t ask you to jump at the last minute just because it’s a “free” trip.

    Someone’s gotta teach these people manners.

    I was so excited when I received a PR email invite for a fam trip. Really?! Wow! I think I’ve made it! I told my husband. Someone’s noticed my little site, this is so exciting.

    Except they don’t tell you much. They tell you what weekend it might be. I confirmed I would be interested and then there was only one follow up email. Then nothing. I tried to make plans for the care of my four kiddos in case they called me at the last minute but I never heard back. No sorry, maybe next time. Nothing.

    I was disappointed and worried that maybe they didn’t think I was worthy. But if they’re jacking YOU around, it makes me feel alot better.

    It’s them not me.

  4. Hi Theresa,

    It’s certainly not you – your site has been full of good family travel stuff for quite awhile and you’re exactly the sort that smart PR people in that niche should connect with.

    As I said, I’m not really big on these trips, but the ones I’ve gone on started with personalized outreach and included TONS of updates and details before and during the trip, then follow-up afterwards.

    If you don’t see that happening….run!

  5. Dominique says:

    I’ve got a situation going here that sounds a little familiar. Heard from a CVB via Twitter in August asking if I would be interested in a fam trip to their area. I replied that I would be interested and they sent me an email invite and registration form for the December trip. Sent along the completed form within a week, and I’ve yet to hear anything back (the original email said those going would get a complete packet of info by November 1).

    I’m not entirely sure how I feel about group fam trips, but this one seemed right up my alley in terms of the location and many of the stops they planned…it’s near a region I’ve covered fairly regularly in the past, and they planned to visit many of the types of attractions I often cover (little local museums, historical sites, art attractions, local food, etc.).

    A quick “happy you’ll be joining us” or even, “thanks for your interest and we’ll keep in touch as we finalize our plans” would have been nice. The radio silence makes me wonder if they’re really interested in hosting me, and if I should really hold those four days open for the trip.
    Dominique´s last [post] ..Visiting the Kaleva Bottle House in northern Michigan

    • Hi Dominique,

      Don’t let their lack of communication hold you hostage. Give ’em a poke via email and say, “Hey, I’m a busy person and it’s getting near the holidays, when I particularly like to plan and budget well in advance. Is this trip still happening, or not? Thanks.”

      If nothing heard, they are not worth further effort. Pre-draft your own “Nope, I’m busy” response email for when they come running in all breathless at the last minute. They need your coverage more than you need to get jerked around.

      I note that many of these trips seem to be set up by agencies, who are being paid by CVBs and DMOs to help organize and run fams. I wonder if the tourism people who are paying the agencies in question are aware of what they’re getting for their money?

      And, since I am ever the cynic, if the focus is on snagging bloggers (the new flavor of the month) and we turn down their invites late in the game, do the agencies say to the CVB/DMO that “it was because we screwed up?” Or do they say, “Well, you know, BLOGGERS….”

      I sure hope I’m imagining things.

  6. pam says:

    I was really disappointed to have to turn a trip down recently. I was genuinely curious about the region, there was some good overlap with the kinds of things I like to explore and write, and the itinerary looked fun. I sent an IMMEDIATE response, and for a month, I heard NOTHING. Then, 7 days before the departure date, I got a “You’re coming on this trip!” note. Um, no I’m not.

    The pitch letter included remarks about how this trip was designed “exclusively for you” but was also “first come first serve.” Yeah, that doesn’t really work.
    pam´s last [post] ..Aint That a Kick in the Head

  7. Been there, done that Sheila. And sad to say, it was 20 years ago when I started writing travel for print (some of you may remember that quaint medium?).

    Some–and I want to stress *some*–PR people are still thinking that writers will be SO THRILLED to be asked to join a fam that they can get away with bloody murder in terms of how they treat them. As Theresa’s comments suggests, some writers do mistake an invite for a Gold Star.

    What newbies need to know is:

    a. the novelty of fams wears off pretty quickly–it’s not independent travel and you are schlepped hither and yon with very little rhyme or reason to see whatever it is that the CVB wants to highlight. You will be tweeting/blogging/writing about the same thing that everyone else is. If you’re good at toeing the party line, then fams are for you; if not, fuggedaboudid.

    b. just because they “invited” you doesn’t mean they even know who you are. They are mining all sorts of lists and then “shotgunning” invitations to measure interest and quality of applicants (even when they say it’s a “personal” invitation). Don’t be too flattered when they come knocking…

    c. Especially if they’re an agency working for a CVB, they are paid (sometimes) to just get bums in seats on the fam and (sometimes) to deliver measurable “hits” (and usually both). So it’s not enough that you’re available–they also need to believe they’ll see some quick return on their “investment” from you.

    d. If you have a real interest in a destination, then aim to develop a personal relationship with the media relations person at the CVB and organize your own free or deeply subsidized self-directed trip, at your convenience, and to see things that genuinely interest you. You’ll need to have something “real” to show them of course when it comes to your output; they won’t just open their arms to you because you’re nice…

    e. If you *do* respond to an invitation for a fam, give them your “best by” date for a response. Something to the effect of “I will hold my availability until [x date]. To help with my personal and professional planning, I would appreciate a confirmation at your earliest convenience.”

    f. Finally, talk to your blogging colleagues–some have migrated from the print world and have been in the game a very long time and know most of the PR people already–to find out who the “good guys” in PR are. They’re out there and they’re good to know and they will treat you with respect–and expect the same from you in return…but that’s another post 😉

    Julie

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  9. Lisa Gerber says:

    Really? you were sent an invitation, then told to wait to see if you’re selected? Doesn’t an invitation mean you WERE selected? Wait, I’ll answer that. it should be YES.

  10. Beth Blair says:

    This is quite a common occurrence: round up the interested parties and see who has the best outlets. It’s quite an unfair tactic and a waste of the writer’s time.

    I will admit though, I’ve become extremely picky about press trips, because like you said they don’t pay the bills.
    Beth Blair´s last [post] ..Family Hotel in Winnipeg Manitoba

  11. Jamie says:

    Free trips always wind up costing me a fortune. Plus, I miss a lot of work which I then have to make up nights and weekends. I accept about 5% of invites, if that.

  12. Billie says:

    There seems to be an epidemic of these invites. Turned one down because of a scheduling conflict and because I am not a FAM-type woman and would have hated it. I am not wanting to ride a bike or worse, scooter in traffic. A car does just fine, thank you very much.
    They said- let us know if you are getting out this way and we’ll set you up. So, I was headed out that way and got in touch. The PR person said, “I’m meeting with my client today and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” My trip to the area is over, I am back home and I am still waiting for the phone to ring or the email to ping. This did not leave a great taste in my mouth. A simple call with a no would have been fine. I am a big girl and can handle rejection. PR people should know better- it’s their business.

  13. Dominique says:

    Sheila-

    It looks like the fam I’m dealing with is one of those agency run deals. I got a nicely detailed itinerary, then nothing. I’ve taken the stance that it’s a nice possibility…but that’s all it is…a possibility. If it doesn’t come through, then I’ll know how to (or not to) deal with those folks in the future.

    I know better than to get too excited about these things as I’ve had more than my fair share of disappointments over the course of writing biz stories for local print media for a dozen years or so. (We won’t even get into my experiences with my “day job” over…well…a lot more years than that! )
    I already had in mind sending along an inquiry along the lines you’ve suggested.

    I’ve had a few other nibbles, but a lot of folks aren’t good about follow-up. I figure that sooner or later, the opportunity that is right for me will come along…until then, I’ll just keep doing what I do.

    This post was pretty timely for me…so thanks for that!

    Julie-All I’ve heard about fam trips makes me a little skeptical of their value for me and my blog, but the area/sites covered in the itinerary they sent me really do fit with my focus and interest at Midwest Guest. So I was willing to give it a whirl.

    I’ve spent a good part of my time in recent years developing at some nice online relationships with CVB folks who’ve expressed interest in my work…hopefully something meaningful will come of that in the future.
    Meanwhile, I’ve had some decent experiences working F2F with local PR folks.

    Andy-

    Yes, the world should be a two-way street.
    The easier PR folks make it for me to work with them and do my job, the easier it will probably be for them to interest me in their pitches about subjects appropriate for my blog and audience. I’m in no danger of running out of topics to cover, so if one doesn’t work out, I’ll just move on to another one 🙂
    Dominique´s last [post] ..Visiting the Kaleva Bottle House in northern Michigan

  14. Nomadic Matt says:

    I get these emails quite a bit too. I don’t understand why these companies think we can just drop everything and go next week? Do they think we just sit around waiting? I turn them down all the time or ask if they can just set me up to go at a later date (which they never want to do). There are a lot of trips that peak my interest but most of these firms do lack any professional courtesy.
    Nomadic Matt´s last [post] ..Interestingly Weird Facts About Australia

  15. ** Pam – You are one of the people that CVB/Tourist Board people should most want to visit their towns; your stories are always thoughtful and beautifully crafted and so are your photos. Their loss.

    ** Julie – Thanks so much for the “voice of experience;” that’s some really helpful guidance.

    ** Lisa – Yep, really.

    ** Beth – I certainly understand wanting to invite the right people who are most likely to produce content in the right outlets, but I agree; do all that homework before the invites go out.

    ** Jamie – THAT is a quotable quote: “Free trips always wind up costing me a fortune.”

    ** Billie – Thanks for visiting. Yep, follow-through is always a challenge.

    ** Dominique – I love seeing conversations break out amongst commenters. 🙂

    ** Matt – They aren’t all incompetent, and I’ve seen many good PR people retweet this, saying “Read and heed and don’t be this way.” As I said to Dominique, I’ve been on some super well-organized trips with tons of communication. Obviously, though, the opposite happens, and to more people than me.

    ** Lori – Thanks so much for visiting!

  16. Miss Britt says:

    Not unreasonable at all. I LOVE fam trips if I can fit them into my schedule because I need fresh content for the thing *I* do for a living. Using them as “free travel”? Doesn’t make sense.

  17. I think your approach is very professional. I have never been to a fam trip before but was invited to one. After careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that as Jamie’s stated, the trip will cost me a fortune and there is no pay for me. I’m not a freelance writer just my blog.

    Thanks for the insight about getting invite doesn’t mean you have gold star. 🙂 I was so giddy to get my first invitation to fam trip. Guess now I know better.

  18. Alex says:

    Definitely not an unreasonable approach and thank you for the insight. I work on the CVB side of things and am generally responsible for organizing those four-day, jam packed media tours. Commentary like this is really helpful to ensure I’m doing my job effectively and providing journalists what they need for a productive and hoperfully enjoyable trip. We make a habit of responding to RSVPs as soon as possible; bummer that not everyone follows the same protocol.

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