'In the old days, press trips were a staple ingredient of the
standard press office function. Now journalists don't have the time to
attend a press conference five minutes away - let alone a press trip
5,000 miles away,' says Starfish Communications joint-MD Julien
A depressing thought? Maybe, but one that is echoed by many who organise
press trips either for consultancies or from an in-house PR
PR people now have to work harder than ever to get journalists along to
their trip in the first place, let alone achieve the right coverage. But
careful planning and targeting the right journalists goes a long way
towards a successful outcome.
The communication of key messages is an integral part of the PR
function. When planning a press trip, PR people must consider how to
convey them throughout.
The consensus is that no PR department can afford to do 'jollies' any
more, nor can journalists afford the time to go on them. Therefore, a
good story has to be top of the list of priorities when considering
whether or not to do a press trip.
'You have to have a good story to tell as journalists are under more
pressure than ever to bring something back if they are going to be out
of the office.
They have to be happy that there is a good strong story and the more
facts you can add to it, the better quality of journalists you are going
to get,' says Countrywide Porter Novelli director Steve Dunne.
'Know your key messages and make sure that every stage of the press trip
is geared towards getting those messages across. If, say, you are taking
a group of journalists around a plant, one of the managers there should
be trained in advance as to what the key messages are, so that they can
put them across while the journalists are there,' he adds.
'To get journalists to come, you have to 'know' the press you are
inviting, find out and understand what they are interested in and
approach them with an angle that appeals to their particular passions or
relates to a piece they have just written,' adds Rock Communications MD
Even traditonally glamorous clients, such as British Airways, now have
to tailor their press trips very specifically if they want the right
journalists to come.
'From BA's point of view, press trips are a very valuable communciations
tool on three levels: to promote new products; to promote routes, either
new ones or those that need a bit of a push, and to build relationships
with journalists across all types of media,' says British Airways head
of commercial communications Jemma Moore.
'We tailor trips and target different media depending on the sort of
story we want and we make sure that the angle is attractive to the
journalists we are taking. No journalist is going to give up time unless
there is something in it for them and we can't simply waste company
resources,' she adds.
Local government is another area where resources must be considered
carefully when planning a press trip and any resulting coverage must
communicate effectively with council tax payers.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council communications and PR manager Simon
Taylor perhaps finds it more difficult than many local authorities to
attract journalists, simply because of the council's location. It is in
a little-known area, but at 1,000 square miles is the UK's biggest local
authority by geographical spread. But a recent breakfast briefing to
launch electronic media initiatives reinforced the view that journalists
will go if they think they are going to get a good story out of it.
'We are based in Beverley in east Yorkshire but our area has very few
urban centres. Bridlington is the biggest by population. But on Pancake
Day we held a breakfast briefing and brought a number of journalists up
and served them pancakes,' says Taylor.
'We wanted to communicate our IT strategy and show our new wedding
camera on the internet - which we did by staging a mock wedding at a
registry office in Goole - and video kiosks that are going to be
installed in rural areas for people who want to make enquiries about a
service. The coverage we received fulfilled the objectives,' he
Sometimes, depending on the brand or client, negotiation with a
journalist can pay dividends in getting them to write the story that the
client wants, in return for giving them the story that they want.
This was often the approach used by Steve Martin, former global PR
manager at sports company Adidas and now a Ketchum Life director. 'The
key is to negotiate with the journalists upfront about what they will
In the case of Adidas, giving a journalist access to a certain player
would be your currency and in return for that they might write something
about boot technology, for example,' says Martin.
Once the story has been established, another benefit to organising a
press trip is that journalists are then focused on your product and you
can impart more knowledge - something which John Shepherd, managing
director, media relations, Europe at Burson-Marsteller, says has to be a
crucial element and must be considered when evaluating the effectiveness
of a press trip.
'It is always important to increase a journalist's knowledge. It should
not be your number one priority to get favourable coverage. What makes a
press trip worthwhile is to explain things that weren't abundantly clear
in the first place,' he says.
CPN's Dunne agrees: 'Press trips are about getting journalists to write
with knowledge and from experience and usually this means that they also
write more enthusiastically about a subject, ' he says. 'The best
journalist you can have is one who is educated about your product. In
that sense, a press trip keeps on giving.'
As well as informing journalists and generating coverage, press trips
are an ideal way to build closer relationships with specific
journalists, which can in turn be used to measure the success of a
'To measure the effectiveness of a press trip in column inches is only
one yardstick. The danger is that it defeats the real object, which is
to give that touchy, feely edge to media relations,' says B-M's
'To evaluate their success properly, you need to have honest and candid
comments coming back from both the client and the journalists. 'Was it
worthwhile?' has to be the most pertinent question. We will usually ask
journalists what they thought, but many will volunteer information,
especially if they don't like something.'
'In PR terms, a press trip gives you a chance to be with journalists. In
PR, one of your best assets is your contacts and there's simply no
better way to build them,' adds Dunne.
Starfish's Speed, however, tells a cautionary tale which shows that even
the best-laid plans can go slightly wrong. A press trip to Portugal
attracted spectacular coverage from those journalists that actually
bothered to do any work but, says Speed: 'There was one cloud in the
Portuguese sky - a TV crew from a regional station disappeared as soon
as we had landed and reappeared at the airport going home.
'They were looking for a villa to buy in Portugal and had availed
themselves of our free flights! Needless to say we never invited them
CASE STUDY - LOCH FYNE SEAFOOD RESTAURANTS
Loch Fyne is a chain of seafood restaurants owned by the Laird of Loch
Fyne, John Noble. It has a mission statement to protect the environment
and as part of this, the chain grows its own oysters and mussels and
smokes its own Loch Fyne salmon for the restaurants.
There are eight restaurants in the chain, with plans to open another ten
this year. Rock Communications has held the account for Loch Fyne since
September 2000 and for its press trips, it takes journalists not to
their local restaurant, but to Loch Fyne itself in the Highlands of
According to Rock Communications managing director Kathryn Coury, this
approach ensures that journalists with different angles can be
accommodated and that they can understand the restaurants' USP.
Journalists normally go for two days and stay in the Laird's castle.
Part of the planning process, says Coury, is making sure that John Noble
is there to speak to the journalists as well as a biologist who can
explain the processes involved.
'The idea behind this has been to give the journalists an understanding
of the background to the venues: the purity of the water, the
environmental considerations, the low level of human intervention, etc.
When they and their readers eat at a Loch Fyne venue, they savour the
experience that much more,' she says.
'We do the trips to get coverage, but they also help to build
relationships with journalists and hopefully get more than one piece out
For wine writers, Rock organises a shellfish and winetasting trip to the
Loch; for those who write about the environment, the trips are themed
around subjects such as sustainable farming methods; there is a diving
trip in May for those journalists who are able to dive.
Rock has been successful with a programme of taking regional journalists
on press trips up to the Loch before a restaurant opens in their area.
The national press and women's magazines have also been successfully
targeted, and there are plans to expand the programme to include
'The key has been to understand what each journalist likes to write
about and what their interests are. You can't expect a general catch-all
theme to appeal to everyone,' says Coury.
PRESS TRIPS - POINTS TO CONSIDER
Points to consider when planning and executing a press trip
- Decide what your story is and key messages to be communicated
- 'Know' the press you are inviting. Find out and understand what they
are interested in and approach them with an angle that appeals to their
- Make sure you have the right balance of journalists. Some may not like
each other, which won't be enjoyable if you are going on a four-day
- Be flexible. If you are taking a group of journalists, they may all
want to get slightly different things out of the trip. Listen to them
and go as far as you can to hand them the story they want
- It is usually unwise to mix radio, TV and print journalists on a trip
as they are all reporting from different angles and want different
- Ensure that the trip can convey key messages at most stages. Train
in-house people (eg plant managers) in understanding and delivering
- Research 'hard costs', such as flights and hotels
- Be sure of timings. Make sure the trip fits in with things such as
school holidays, feature dates and production schedules
- Make sure that the timings of activities will run smoothly.
Journalists are notoriously impatient
- Make sure you have a good contingency plan. People will miss planes
and trains and bad weather could alter the programme. Ensure that your
plan covers all eventualities
- Build in some free time on the trip. Journalists don't like to feel
CASE STUDY - RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Creating media interest in yet another video/DVD release when the film
in question is not a well-known box office blockbuster was the challenge
for Countrywide Porter Novelli.
To promote the Paramount release Rules of Engagement, CPN decided to put
journalists through a gruelling day of army boot camp for a day designed
to mirror the lengths to which Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones
went in order to prepare for their roles in the film.
The response from journalists proved that the story on offer and not
necessarily lavish hospitality is what will capture press interest.
Jonathan Bennett, Countrywide Porter Novelli executive, said: 'Because
of the unusual nature of the trip, spaces were limited. As soon as word
got out among the media, we were receiving requests to come along before
we had even had the chance to issue the invitations.'
CPN's objectives were to encourage coverage ahead of the film's March
release date in the trade press and a national newspaper.
Undeterred by a 7am start, the select journalists - Home Enternainment
Week's Justin Cawthorne, The Mirror home enterainment writer Jessica
Mellor, and editor of trade title Timecode Toby Weidman - joined
Paramount's marketing team and trade customers for training at ATR
Purbright in Surrey. The team had to synchronise steps and obey orders
on the parade ground and conquer an assault course of 12-foot walls,
rope bridges and tunnels.
The trip paid off, with the film receiving enthusiastic coverage from
all the journalists who attended, including two double-page diary
reports about the army training day, as well as positive reviews. The
journalists' shift in attitude in favour of the movie was summed up by
The Mirror's Mellor, who wrote 'I honestly believe that there's no
better way to review a film than to live it.'
Weidmann wrote: 'The journey back is full of beer and banter, the Rules
of Engagement team had become tight without even knowing it.'
For a low cost activity, the film received a lot of high value coverage
and the activity cemented a closer relationship between Paramount and