Travel and tourism companies might fear letting journalists design their own experiences, but the strategy can yield a lot of coverage and a great endorsement.
"Allow journalists to immerse themselves on their terms and by their rules," says RenŽ Mack, president of the travel and lifestyle practice at Weber Shandwick. "If you provide legitimate content, you [get] a better story and... relationships with media and consumers."
For the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), WS offered to let Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Samantha Bennett make her way across Canada earlier this month. CTC made the arrangements, but didn't dictate her itinerary. In return, Bennett would blog about her experiences in real time and write about them for the paper.
"We surrendered nearly total editorial control and influence," Mack says. "The reward is absolute real-time, third-party endorsement and credibility. She took vacation time to do it because she found the invitation so intriguing and unorthodox."
The changing media landscape has created several different opportunities for travel coverage, from a growing number of online sites to more traditional outlets that now need more stories to provide content across mediums.
"More traditional print journalists are taking video and photos because print media need more interactive content," says Mia Casey, SVP in Edelman's tourism and lifestyle group. "The opposite is true for broadcast - they need copy."
Erik Torkells, Budget Travel's editor-in-chief, says he is looking for more content for the Web (but not video just yet). His journalists don't go on junkets or take discounts. "Having your hand held is just lame," Torkells says. "Any decent writer wants to find their own story. It's more real."
Mack notes more opportunities to land coverage in lifestyle, wellness, and business sections across all media. Casey recently got wide coverage using a wire service for Expedia's launch of a green store around Earth Day.
"Travel sections are leaner - it's important to work with wire services and freelancers," Casey says. "We secured a story [for Expedia] with AP, and we've gotten into nearly 20 dailies even though Earth Day [is over]."
To decide on what destinations to feature, Torkells looks for real news or a solid angle. He adds that many outlets look for affordability, and that anything that makes life easier is a good fit for Budget Travel.
"That a [place] is a great winter destination isn't news," he says. "It's not even an angle. We did a story on Bald Head Island [in North Carolina] because it's one of the few no-car destinations [and] it was an interesting angle."
Casey advises angles that resonate with broader themes. For example, she says she's had success in pitching the origins of Tex-Mex food for San Antonio, wine country ties for Washington state, and slow food (locally grown food positioned as a fast-food alternative) angles in Vancouver.
Mack says "collaborative media," like allowing audiences to participate in media content, is proving successful for traditional and online outlets. Budget Travel devoted its 10th anniversary issue to reader-generated content and received more than 8,000 submissions. The final issue featured 324 reader submissions.
"Readers loved it - they like participating in a conversation, not just listening to a monologue," Torkells says. "[And], real people make travel seem more accessible."
WS recently got great results for Royal Caribbean (RC) by asking USA Today to invite readers to name two new ships being built. Submissions were collected online, and USA Today got exclusives about the ships.
"The response was overwhelming - more than 200,000 entries from around the world - and RC got coverage on something that's not even ready yet," Mack says. "You need a client [that is] willing to surrender a bit and believe that less control is more. We've never had it fail."
Help the media have independent experiences
Pitch across a wide range of topics
Focus on looking for collaborative media opportunities
Pitch without news or a fresh angle
Forget that media outlets might need extra content
Miss opportunities with the wires and freelancer reporters