Dangling the velvet rope for press trip and fam tour invites

Velvet ropes (courtesy Sam Breach at Flickr CC)

Want to know how NOT to invite writers to your press trip or fam (familiarization) tour?  This guest post by Kara S. Williams will lay it out for you….

The Bait

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email with the subject line, “An Exclusive Invitation to [resort & spa] FAM.” The body of the email was in press release form, and the lack of personal salutation should have tipped me off immediately to its lack of exclusivity. Still, I read the words “Exclusive Invitation” again in the headline and soaked up details about the press trip in the subhead: “Including airfare, lodging, ground transport and most meals for 3 qualified journalists.” A small group with airfare included? Sign me up!

I checked the itinerary – spa treatment! special dinner! – and figured that the short trip would fit beautifully into my fall schedule: not too much time away from my family and I didn’t have plans on those particular dates.

The bottom of the release/invite noted, “Writers must show credentials.” No problem, I thought. As a travel writer and blogger, when I am invited to resorts or to destinations I’m accustomed to telling PR folks where I can place stories (guaranteed on my own blogs) and where I might be able to pitch stories (other magazines and websites I have a freelance relationship with). This didn’t raise a huge flag with me.

I wrote back to the PR person inviting me to this event, “This sounds like an incredible opportunity! What more do you need from me?”

The Switch

She asked for statistics and demographics of the websites I co-own; I sent them and then didn’t hear anything for five days, so I followed up to confirm the trip was a go.

Turns out, as I should have gathered, the “exclusive invitation” was not an exclusive invitation at all. It was a call for interest for this particular press trip.

I was told that the trip did indeed garner a lot of interest from all those who received the “invite,” that my information was passed on to the ultimate decision makers at the resort, and that I did not make the cut.

The Teaching Moment

This ruffled my feathers, even though I should have recognized some warning signs regarding this invite. I decided to tell the PR person that I felt a bit duped – figuring this could be a learning experience for both of us.

Here’s what I wrote back to her:

“I don’t think we’ve worked together before, so I hope you don’t mind this constructive criticism.

1.) Perhaps in the future, consider calling the invite an ‘announcement’ or ‘invitation to show interest’ — not an ‘exclusive invitation.’ That was most definitely not exclusive, if you sent the information to more than the 3 people who could fill your slots.

2.) Perhaps in the future, find the 3 people you really want to have come, and invite them FIRST. If they can’t make it, continue moving down your list.”

I am accustomed to being asked to attend press trips or being invited to visit a resort because the PR folks have vetted me and they want me to attend an event or cover their property. I am MORE THAN HAPPY to share statistics, my outlets, etc. at any time. But I prefer not to be told I’m invited somewhere (with air) and then suddenly… not.

The Light Bulb Moment

And you know what happened? Instead of getting an angry response in return, I immediately received an email back from the PR person: she apologized, she said she appreciated my insight, and she admitted some “rookie mistakes.” I was thrilled that my constructive suggestions didn’t fall on deaf ears.

Now, before I get flamed for not appreciating this generous semi-invite/call for interest to begin with, I’d like Sheila’s Guide readers to know that I do feel extremely fortunate for all of the incredible travel opportunities that have come my way over the past couple of decades in the editorial industry. Trust me, I truly value (okay, delight in) all of the amazing trips I’ve taken – alone, with other travel writers and with my family – especially since I decided to focus on travel writing in the past five years. I absolutely adore my job as a travel writer, and I appreciate the perks that come with that job, namely free and discounted travel.

However, as I noted in my email back to the PR person, I also appreciate full transparency when I am offered such fabulous perks.

To me, this story of a press-trip-invite-gone-wrong ended well. I confirmed that being honest and, when needed, politely forthright with PR folks is the best way to conduct business. I’d like to think of my relationships with PR companies as collaborative endeavors – no “us vs. them” mentality – and encourage others in the industry to do the same.

Freelance travel writer Kara Williams is a member of ASJA, SATW and TBEX. The acronym-loving mom makes her home in the Colorado Rockies and blogs about all things travel- and spa-related at two websites she co-owns, TheVacationGals.com and TheSpaGals.com. Learn more about her and read clips of her recent work at KaraSWilliams.com


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10 Responses to Dangling the velvet rope for press trip and fam tour invites

  1. Chanize says:

    These days, I tend to think any invitation sent to me is being sent to a ton of other writers. I’m more annoyed with the PRs who put you through a whole process and then, when you’ve sold a story in advance, bump you from the trip or some other nonsense. This leaves me having to explain to my editor why I can’t produce the story. I refuse to work with companies that are so unprofessional.
    And yes, I do believe that the vetting process should begin before the invitation hits your email. PRs should know who they are inviting beforehand. I freelance for a good many outlets and quite honestly think a PR exec worth their salt should be able to look up those stats when they are querying me? Now, if I’m going to them for help, I fully expect to provide them with that type of information in advance.

  2. Sheila says:

    Good points, Chanize. It’s not like finding out about people isn’t a lot easier than it used to be….

  3. Donna Hull says:

    Sheila, I totally agree. And some of my “fishing” invitations have been written in such a personal manner that I thought I was invited. I don’t mind providing statistics or what I can produce for a destination. But I do mind when their event gets added to my calendar and I turn down other invitations, only to find that this was just an audition. I also don’t appreciate long gaps in communicating with me.

    Dear PR rep, I know your job is hard. You have a client to please who maybe doesn’t totally understand the travel blogging world. Be up front. Tell me this is a casting call. That’s okay, if I’m right for your client, great. If I’m not, it wasn’t meant to be. But have the decency to keep a running dialogue so there aren’t any misunderstandings about who is going and who isn’t. In a few instances, the PR rep never bothered to inform me yes or no. That’s rude. In another case, I emailed with questions that never received a response. I’m not going to chase these down. I’m too busy creating content.
    Donna Hull´s last [post] ..Listening To Montana

  4. Sheila says:

    Thanks for coming by, Donna. You’ve certainly worked with a variety of resorts, hotels and destinations – I appreciate your thoughts!

  5. Sharlene says:

    I completely agree with Kara. I have had a similar experience in the past and I found the whole process to be a bit unprofessional. As long as I know I am being considered for something, I have no problem with the process, but if I am asked on a trip with an invitation that sounds exclusive and then find out later it isn’t, I feel duped. Beyond the issues mentioned by Kara (which were all excellent points) I think that PR firms have to keep in mind that travel writers have busy travel schedules and when we block out time on our calendar for your resort, turn down additional opportunities because of our commitment to your property, and then end up being told that we aren’t selected for the opportunity that we were lead to believe he had been selected for, it can really be frustrating.

  6. Kara says:

    Thanks, all for chiming in!
    Kara´s last [post] ..Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Walk Tours

  7. Thank you for writing this! This kind of thing annoys me to no end, although I have been fortunate to work with some excellent travel & food PR reps.

    This happened to a friend of mine rather recently, who was invited in such a way and could even bring a guest. She invited me so more bang for their buck, right? They rung her through the rack, only to deny the trip because her outlets weren’t good enough. I felt this was a very poor decision on the part of the resort, considering the influence she has in the region and through her blog and why, oh why, would you ever disappoint a writer?
    Maria de los Angeles´s last [post] ..TedX Miami Showcases the Best of the Magic City

  8. This is a very informative post, Kara. As both a PR pro and a travel writer/blogger, I think it is wonderful that you took the time to write back to the PR rookie. Indeed, PR agencies are often a “churn and burn” business with fresh meat entering the agency ranks on a daily basis.

    Speaking from personal experience – I believe constructive criticism is always appreciated. As Sheila’s blog sub-title suggests, understanding tourism, travel and social media can be complicated.

    Thanks for the post, Kara and Sheila.
    Nancy D. Brown´s last [post] ..Gameday Expert – Experience Baseball with a Pro

  9. Sheila says:

    Thanks very much to Sharlene, Maria and Nancy for your input. Kara’s post seems to have struck a nerve. 🙂

  10. JoAnna says:

    Usually if the email is from someone I don’t know and haven’t worked with in the past, I know it’s just a bait and switch. However, when I’ve met someone, such as at TMS or VEMEX, and they refer to a conversation we had and that they think this particular trip would be a good fit based on our previous exchanges, I usually feel a bit better that this is the real deal. I hate to get my hopes up, so I tend to play the skeptic until I actually have a flight confirmation.
    JoAnna´s last [post] ..I Love Las Vegas: Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort

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