I recently had the pleasure of hosting three journalists/bloggers on an unforgettable adventure – a press trip to Quebec on behalf of one of my clients, Pure Canada Maple. The trip was organized as part of their sponsorship of the Cycling Grand Prix in Quebec and included a variety of maple-themed experiences as well as cycling events. I had to pinch myself a few times over the fact that I was actually getting paid to travel, one of my favorite activities, but I also learned a great deal from my first press trip experience. Here are my top eight takeaways:
1. Plan, plan and over plan
We started planning for this trip at least three months in advance to ensure ever detail was planned to a T. Luckily we had support from someone on the ground in Quebec which helped the trip run smoothly. But, organization was definitely key. I created grids to track the travel and contact info for each attendee, a detailed itinerary (complete with the weather forecast and suggested attire) and sent multiple emails in advance of the trip. One of the attendees said it was the best planned trip she had ever been on, which for a type-A, is a huge compliment!
Even if it is small, send your attendees some kind of welcome package to get them excited about their upcoming trip. Include some product as well as branded items like t-shirts or water bottles, whatever is most relevant to your trip. For Quebec, we created branded selfie sticks with our campaign hashtag to encourage everyone to take photos during the trip and remind them to tag them with our brand.
3. Advocate for your attendees
Your job is to balance between the client’s needs and those of the journalists. You have to read the mood of the group and anticipate what they need. Does everyone seem tired, bored, full, happy? They aren’t always going to speak up, so you have to be willing to do it for them. Sometimes this means asking your client to skip an activity, or add something that you know really interests one of the attendees.
4. Plan for downtime
In all this planning, make sure you include downtime! Whether the attendees use it to explore the city or just take a nap to prepare for the next activities, giving them some downtime helps break up the planned portions and keep them energized.
The biggest thing to remember is to make it fun for the attendees. Yes, you want to maintain professionalism and represent your client well but part of that means making the trip enjoyable and memorable. I was lucky and got an awesome group of people who really enjoyed being together, which made the trip a breeze. If your group isn’t meshing as well, it’s your job to help liven the atmosphere. Take them for drinks or explore the city together outside of the planned activities. Do something that makes them feel they can enjoy themselves.
6. Be yourself
A good host is someone who can excite the group, create a fun atmosphere and keep everyone on track. You don’t have to be an expert on Canadian history or cycling (thank God) – you aren’t the tour guide. Just be yourself. Get to know the attendees on a personal level and learn about them. Ask them questions about their writing and what they like to cover… it’s always easier to ask these things over a glass of wine than over a pitch email! And, don’t be a running key message document for your client. Insert relevant connections where natural, but chances are, if you create a memorable experience, the key messages will get through without you ever having to recite them.
Since securing coverage is usually the main goal of a press trip, plan ahead for it. When speaking with the journalists, treat coverage not as an “if” but as a “when,” and work with them in advance of the trip to identify angles they are interested in, people they want to speak to and anything else they need to make the coverage successful for their readers (and your client). And, don’t forget the follow up. Send each attendee a hand written thank you note following the trip and be sure to keep in touch with them. Press trips are a great way to build relationships with media, so be sure to nurture those relationships once you are home. If your group meshed well, consider sending links of the resulting coverage to all attendees so they can see how their new friends covered the trip (and be reminded to work on their coverage).
8. But, think beyond coverage
Though securing coverage is the main goal, think of ways to extend the value of the trip for your client since press trips are often major expenses. Can you get quotes to use in a future pitch? Take photos and video for use on social? Post live updates on your social platforms from the trip? Think ahead for how to maximize content. I took the photos throughout this post for use on Pure Canada Maple’s social channels, and ended up creating a Facebook album of them following the trip. I also provided the top photos from each day to the journalists to use as they wished, which they seemed to appreciate so they could focus less on photography and more on enjoying the experience.
Though Pure Canada Maple is major client of mine, I spend the rest of my time working in the healthcare space, so I naturally wondered to myself how this applies to my health clients. It’s not always relevant for us to host lavish trips to exciting places, but the same principle of creating an experience does apply. If you can create a memorable experience for a journalist, rather than just sending them an email pitch of your story, the coverage is not only more likely but the content is likely to be richer. Don’t just invite a member of the media to your ribbon cutting, take them on a behind the scenes tour of the building while in progress. Don’t send a fact sheet on your latest medical device, take them to the plant to see how it’s made… or better yet, introduce them to a patient who is using it. Think of ways to tell your story through an experience.
Have you hosted a press trip recently? What did you learn? Share your thoughts in the comments!