Press Trips - Behind the scenes of a big day out

PRWeek sent Donna Werbner on a Eurostar and Disneyland Paris press trip to find out how the corporations would turn the potential logistical nightmare into widespread positive coverage throughout the media

The press trip is a definite perk for journalists, but is it a guarantee of widespread coverage? It might seem to be the simplest way to generate those column inches for a tourism client, but putting a press trip together is no easy task. Especially when it involves persuading 700 journalists and their families, 50 under-privileged children from charity Gingerbread and three C-list celebrities to travel to Paris.

For Eurostar and Disney, which together run 20 to 30 press trips a year, this trip to Disneyland Paris on 6 March was considered the most effective way to promote their dual Need Mag?c campaign.

While many press trips are designed to generate footfall to the destination or attraction, Disney claims this was not a specific objective for the company on this occasion. The aim of the trip was to raise awareness about the Need Mag?c campaign, and to build key relationships with journalists.

But as well as this objective, says Eurostar head of communications Paul Charles, Eurostar would be disappointed if passenger levels didn't increase by at least ten per cent after the campaign.

Target audiences

With a specific target audience in mind - families, particularly mothers with children aged five to 15 - Eurostar and Disney invited a range of journalists from trade magazine and consumer titles, such as Bella, Good Housekeeping and Chat, as well as leisure, business, travel and transport sections of the national and regional press. Each was allowed to bring a guest and two children.

Yet despite a further key message to promote the destination as a weekend break, the journalists were only invited to spend a day out. 'However, this way we could demonstrate it was a break from everyday life and that Disneyland Paris could be easily reached on an unstressful trip with Eurostar,' says Disney publicity manager Louisa French.

With just eight weeks to arrange the trip, rather than the usual 12 weeks to put together a project of this size, smooth organisation was key. When planning a trip, Disney head of publicity Nicole Walsh says she always rehearses every moment of the day from each angle and the Need Mag?c press trip was no exception. Five Disney PROs and four Eurostar PROs came on the trip, and there was a qualified bilingual first-aider onboard in case of an emergency. Furthermore a contingency plan was in place in case the train broke down.

Invitations to journalists and their guests were sent out a month before the trip along with an itinerary. Multiple passes are just one incentive that draws journalists, according to Travel Weekly news editor Louise Longman. 'Being allowed to bring a guest means I'm much more inclined to go,' she says.

Entertaining the masses

Once through the barrier, journalists were given exclusive access to a lounge full of refreshments and 'celebrities' - namely Anthea Turner, Pat Sharpe and Handy Andy.

The adult attendees may have been impressed by the line-up of TV and radio personalities, but this press trip also had to consider the children attending. To this end, Disney characters lined the Eurostar platform in London and entertained the children throughout the trip.

Walsh and Eurostar director of communications Paul Charles made key announcements during the journey, informing the press that several PROs from each organisation were onboard and available to answer any questions. Both had already generated news angles for the trip: Walsh highlighted the fact that the press were the first to sample Disney's Need Mag?c campaign, while Charles emphasised the record-breaking speed of the specially decorated Eurostar train. Disney press packs were given out during the journey along with meal boxes and raffle tickets to win a weekend holiday.

Upon arrival in Paris, the group was free to explore the resort as they liked for five hours, armed with special queue-hopping VIP passes. The flexibility was key for the journalists. 'The openness of the itinerary was fantastic because it allowed us to spend the day together as a family rather than as part of a regimented group,' says The Times travel section chief sub-editor Mike Barnard. 'It did mean that we were left to fend for ourselves a bit, however. I only found out my son was too small to go on one of the rides after we had waited in a long queue.'

Despite this problem, Barnard approves of Disney's policy of inviting children on its press trips: 'It's hard and tiring on the day but it gives my article an extra edge and encourages me to write something more positive as I can gauge my children's reaction.'

With only five hours in a resort that usually takes a weekend holiday to experience properly, getting nearly 800 people back to the station on time was a challenge. Longman points out that it would have perhaps been beneficial to stay overnight. But most journalists appeared in good spirits and, key to the success of the press trip, praised the range of the resort's different rides and events. Once on the train, the atmosphere was jovial, aided by a hot dinner and wine. Press packs containing facts and figures about the resort, the train and future press trips were distributed, along with goodie bags filled with Disney merchandise.

All the tight organisation Eurostar and Disney had put in meant that despite five cancellations at the last minute, there were no major problems on the day. Journalists praised the slick organisation and clear itinerary, and the smooth running impressed even press trip veterans. Most of the travel trade magazine reporters said they would be writing a positive article on the trip but the national press were a little bit more hesitant. Barnard said he would not write an article about Need Mag?c specifically but was more likely to write about Disneyland Paris than he was before the trip, should the need arise.

These reactions demonstrate that the integral relationship-building is on its way. The column inches and the increased number of passengers may well follow.

DISNEY'S LARGEST PRESS TRIP

Disney organised its biggest ever pan-European press trip to publicise the grand opening of Walt Disney Studios at the Paris resort in 2002.

Approximately 4,500 people were invited to the event, including 146 celebrities, 900 print media, 86 TV crews, 30 live radio journalists and 120 photographers.

Invitations were designed as movie posters with the invited journalist's name in the position of a starring actor. They were sent out in movie canisters to tie in with the Hollywood theme.

Entrance to the studios took place on a celebrity red carpet and the media were invited to a gala dinner with a firework display. Celebrities such as Roger Moore, Cliff Richard and Phil Collins attended the opening, and Destiny's Child, Andrea Bocelli, Britney Spears and Tina Arena performed for the press.

Disney was careful to emphasise that it was also the 10th birthday of the Disneyland Paris park, to ensure that coverage did not focus entirely on the opening of the Studios. Everything had to be conducted in six languages.

In the UK, the nationals ran six colour double-page spreads, while the opening made the front covers of 18 newspapers in France. There were five hours of news coverage across Europe at the time of the launch. According to independent media evaluation company Echo Research, there were more than 1,000 articles in Europe: 90 per cent were positive, nine per cent neutral and only one per cent were unfavourable. Around a third mentioned a contact number or website, and approximately 97 per cent covered both the Disneyland park and the Studios.

Attendance reached 12.4 million visits in 2003 and 60 per cent of visitors now go to both parks.

EUROSTAR'S LARGEST TRIP

To publicise the opening of the high-speed channel tunnel rail link in September 2003, Eurostar teamed up with Freud Communications and organised a press trip on the inaugural service from Brussels to London and then from London to Paris. The external agency handled most of the logistics such as the invitation lists and event management, and worked with Eurostar to promote the service as the fastest way to travel around Europe.

Specially made invitations emphasising the high-speed nature of the day were sent out to 300 journalists from Europe, the US and Japan. On board, the press were attended by ten Eurostar and 50 Freuds PROs. They received a three-course champagne meal and a Eurostar train Swatch watch. There was food on the platform in London, along with entertainers.

International coverage was achieved across 400 newspapers, 30 TV stations and 40 consumer and trade magazines. Every national newspaper in the UK covered the opening, with double-page spreads in Conde Nast Traveller, GQ and the Financial Times. Around 30 hours of TV coverage was achieved across the world, including on CNN and the BBC.

Passenger numbers on Eurostar have increased by 20 per cent since September 2003.

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