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….
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?”
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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