Let’s call a spade a spade. A Public Relations (PR) company is there to ensure that its clients get maximum positive exposure – often at the expense of their client’s competitors (either intentionally or otherwise.) That’s what they are paid to do. I often feel that travel writers, editors and travel bloggers forget that. Ultimately a PR’s role is about influencing the supposedly ‘impartial' editor/writer/blogger to the advantage of their clients.

Right. Now we’ve got that out of the way… a little history. Fairytale or hardcore documentary? I leave it to you to decide:

A good few decades back, before PR really existed in the travel sector and way before the internet, the way travel cos got themselves into the travel sections of newspapers and magazines was advertising. They paid top whack to put ads next to relevant travel editorial. And in those days it worked. There were few other places potential customers could read about travel or find information about travel cos to book their holidays with. As a punter, I remember these days. You’d tear out and keep the travel section. Not for the features, but for the ads with phone numbers of travel cos. So you could call them up from work on your lunch hour and get quotes for your trip to Thailand or wherever. Anyone else remember?

In those days I don’t know how travel writers got their trips organised for them so they could write them up. Heck, they might have had enough budget to just pay and go on them – but I reckon that’s unlikely. I imagine that the all-powerful travel editor would choose a particular travel co whose products he liked the look of and call them and ask for a free trip so he could write about them. And with the sort of clout his publication had, I imagine they were only too happy to help. For travel editors and writers it must have been happy days. Good pay, nice trips, decent budget for creating really great looking travel sections. And they could write whatever they felt like about these trips too. (Is THIS the job that the wannabee travel writer/blogger aspires to? A dream that no longer exists?)

And then PR came along.

The new middleman (or very often, woman) sold in easily to the frustrated other travel cos who never seemed to get featured in the editorial sections of travel supplements. “Pay us and we’ll do the legwork hassling editors to get you published. And we’ll also make sure they publish the right kind of things about you too.”

Perhaps oddly, editors allowed themselves to be persuaded by the PR people. Is this testament to editors being lazy or PR people being great sales people? Maybe it’s a bit of both.

One way or another the PR pitch worked. Really well. More and more travel cos took on PR agencies to push their products at editors. PR people developed new tools – ‘press trips’; ‘press releases’ - ways to show off their clients' products in carefully controlled environments. They started to more or less write the stories themselves, doing more and more of the journalist's job. And all of it was about influencing editorial impartiality. Making sure their client got the right kind of coverage in the editorial space. Slowly but surely PR influence grew. And, nobody really took much notice. Eventually any travel co wanting to get noticed by travel editors needed to spend cash on PR. Otherwise they just wouldn’t get a look in.

And. If you were a travel co then - where would you spend your hard earned marketing budget? On really expensive adverts – which only ever seemed to get more and more pricey. Or on a PR agency who seemed able to get you the right kind of mentions in the editorial bits of the travel section relatively easily? Particularly as a mention in the editorial chunk of the paper was potentially far better - because implicitly it suggested endorsement by the publication. (It felt like a recommendation - from someone who really knew what they were talking about.)

There was no competition. PR won out over advertising hands down.

I think the net result was that travel cos switched their spending from traditional advertising to PR.

Now I’d be the first to admit that the internet has played the biggest part in killing the traditional advertising model for printed travel supplements and magazines which has led in many peoples' eyes to a deterioration in the quality and the breadth of travel editorial. But I think PR has really quickened the process.

- More money spent on PR by travel cos = less money spent on advertising.

- Less money spent on advertising = smaller editorial budgets.

- Smaller editorial budgets = travel editors all the more keen to take content written by or with help from PR agencies (because it's cheaper to do so).

- Smaller editorial budgets = less pay for travel freelancers, less cash for in-depth research.

- Ultimately… smaller editorial budgets = poorer quality travel writing.

Ever wondered why large chunks of travel sections are ‘charticles’ – Top 20 this, Top 50 that? Ever wondered why only a tiny minority of travel features are overtly critical? Ever wondered why some destinations seem to get written about time and time again whilst others hardly get a mention?

I think this is at least one of the reasons.

Do you agree?

Image: Flicker user lululemon

32 thoughts on “Is PR helping kill travel writing?

  1. I agree with your points, especially the fact that PR companies send in editorial for free, so if it is anyway good, or only needs slight changes, that is much better to a tight editorial budget than freelancers.

  2. I find the strategies that travel PR firms have resorted to over the 12 plus years I've been involved with them on a daily basis have evolved in ways I couldn't have foreseen pre-recession. In a lean and mean time, they've come up with some models both long and very short term for clients that sometimes work for my editorial needs and almost as often not - but I always give a glance to a header in an email just for the hyperimagination. One of my favorites was a winter ski show on the expansive roof of a major new downtown property that wasn't being used much for anything else - the zinger being that the tropical part of the world where I live and work has nothing directly to do with snow or skiing. "But we have a very upmarket demographic in Miami that will travel to ski," the publicist explained to me in 75 Fahrenheit heat on the roof later. I find the "event" creativity they come up with for hotel and restaurant clients in particular to really be a stretch at times, and if it wasn't for plenty of available former chef contestants on reality shows, some PRs would really be stumped for an angle.

  3. Less revenue from advertising is what kills quality travel journalism. You draw a long bow to blame the PR girls for that.

    Money spent on PR is what funds a lot of media focused travel currently, as 90% of travel content in print relies on sponsored support from travel operators. In the days before PR, as you describe it, there were editorial budgets for that sort of thing. But there have been PR agencies in the mix long before the recent decline in media standards. PR people simply chase results, they don't make the rules.

    Any travel company going it alone without PR support is simply ill-equipped in the market place. It would be like running a retail business without hiring an IT expert. You need computers, and you need marketing.

    Big companies have a big PR spend, and they get more editorial inches. Capitalism is a wonderful system - for those with all the capital.

    For the consumer it's another case of buyer beware. If you don't want a fluffy travel story about cocktails and sun-lounges then don't buy the publication. If you want more from your travel experience than a shrink-wrapped imitation of life then don't buy a tour from a globalized company with offices in 120 countries. Small is good.

    Blogs have some merit here, but PR companies are spending on them too. Is that bad? Probably not, because a few morsels of nourishment from a PR campaign can keep a blog running all year long. Sponsored travel is not the death of journalism, and right now it's a lifeline. Top Ten lists are not journalism anyway, they're just boring.

    There is tonnes of good travel writing out there if people want it. If a reader can't spot the difference then they likely don't care either.

    1. Hi Ewen
      Thanks for your comments.
      Are you suggesting that it's a choice of no travel coverage at all or biassed coverage - so might as well grin and bare the biassed stuff?
      And... readers 'don't care' if the travel writing they read isn't any good (ie biassed? written with few proper editorial standards?)

      1. No, not suggesting that. The only people with choice are the readers. Doesn't matter what a writer or blogger hopes to achieve, the audience will decide their fate. Neither PR girls nor editors are the root of all evil here. It's just not as black and white as all that. Bias is always present and always has been. Nothing new here.

        1. "PR people simply chase results, they don't make the rules."

          Let me begin by saying, no one values travel PR people in general more than I do - always have, always will. Furthermore, I don't expect PR to pay me upfront for content when they're already arranging to cover the entire cost of a press trip. Really, I don't know where the hardcore bloggers here get off expecting anyone to give them welfare because for some mysterious they can't work on the road for 3 days and will go broke "because they're away from their desk"?

          Having said which, I think your statement I quoted here needs some qualification. There are in fact a very small minority of travel PR entities which "make up the rules" - by which I mean, they've chosen an active strategy that's targeted to bring only blogger media to their client. I don't know about in the UK/Europe so much - although the recent Jordan incident is probably an example of exclusive focus on bringing blogger-only media to a destination. Of course, they all deny they were paid, but considering the sources of denial, that still leaves a huge question mark over that whole affair. The other examples in the Americas and elsewhere are more frequent - and I think that handful of PR firms have created false expectations among people who only blog that somehow the entire PR universe is now going to shift toward making them the only media category taken on press trips and given handouts at the end of it. Needless to say, said PR firms always deny they're pursuing any such strategy, but actions do speak louder than words.

          1. Hi Hal
            Thanks... interesting points. To clarify re that Jordan blog trip: I'm pretty sure there was agreement with the bloggers that they would get remunerated - by being paid to take part in blogchat on Facebook and running banner ads on their blogs.
            See this post from Abi King who took part (and who I really rate)

  4. I work in tech PR and also do food and travel writing on the side. So, I have been on both sides - doing the pitching and getting pitched. That, said you are oversimplifying the problem and just pointing the finger at PR. In your article you mentioned that the Internet has killed the traditional advertising model, but the fact is that the Internet has just changed the publishing industry as a whole. The publications who failed are the ones who tried to stick with the "traditional model," and did not evolve their business model to fit with the digital ages. The Internet has also ushered in a 24/7 news culture, which has far more to do with the current state of reporting than PR does. Many reporters I work with are expected to post 5-10 articles a day to keep with the news cycle!

    In my day job obviously I want reporters to be more aware of my clients, but a lot of what we do as PR professionals is connecting reporters with resources that they may not otherwise have access to. So, while it is so easy for people to look at PR as "evil" the fact is that reporters/bloggers are benefiting. What they choose to do with that information is up to them.

    1. Hi Jenna
      I agree. Absolutely.
      I guess a side point of my post is to remind travel content creators - particularly bloggers who are often quite new to all this - that there's no such thing as a free lunch (or free content/information). It's being provided for a reason.

  5. It's an interesting article, but I certainly don't agree with a lot of Jeremy's points.

    Yes, PR companies are paid to help their clients come to the attention of the media, ideally in a positive way. At Travel PR, we're also employed to help manage crisis (potentially very negative) situations from the media perspective while the client copes with key operational issues; it can be close to impossible for an operator to give its full attention to customers and their families if the news (rather than the travel) media is baying for attention.

    The reason that travel companies pay us to help them navigate their way through the travel media is because there are so many outlets - long-lead/short-lead, newsprint/glossy; print/online - and so many journalists, too - that they'd need to employ someone full-time in-house (as some companies do) to keep track of it all, to supply the right sort of information in the right format at the right time to be useful to the media. It's not rocket science, but it does need time, application and good contacts. It's easier and more cost-effective, especially for the smaller and medium sized companies for which we (at Travel PR) work, to employ an expert.

    What's scuppered advertising (and is thus now affecting editorial) is the way that the media has seen the web as the way forward and the answer to all prayers for itself and its readers. For years now the media has accepted hospitality from tour operators and then printed contact details in the resulting fact box for the web sites of the no-frills airlines, hoteliers, etc., etc. - often organisations which have contributed nothing whatsoever towards the trip in question. The tour operator has thus paid the costs but gained few if any benefits from the piece. The media for some reason seemed to think that this was an equitable way to handle things.

    The media unfortunately didn't usually see fit to explain the massive difference from the consumer perspective of booking a fully-protected package holiday compared with booking a flight, car hire and a hotel via three different contracts. (Tour operators selling packages have to sort things out at their own expense should something go wrong for a customer; it's very different if the customer rides solo and has to sort him/her self out and pay for it him/her self.)

    Guess what? Travel companies now advertise less in the traditional media because advertising is not working as well for them as it used to do. The media has trained the consumer to book online and direct with suppliers rather than via a travel company because it's deemed to be cheaper, instead of reminding their readers of the important positive aspects of booking with full-service tour operators.

    Back to another point raised by Jeremy. Travel writers and travel sections have always - well, at least for the past 30 years - relied on hospitality to do their travelling, with the notable exceptions of The Independent (in its early days, with Frank Barrett then at the helm, it used to cover UK regional tourism opportunities a lot because it couldn't afford to do much else) and Conde Nast Traveller's claims to fund its own way. I recall The Telegraph working out how much it would cost to fund its travel pages many moons ago - the cost was even then in the millions of pounds, and it rapidly reverted to accepting hospitality from the industry; it simply didn't have sufficient funds to do otherwise.

    Hospitality does not mean, however, that only praise results from such trips. Any travel company inviting a serious writer to sample its wares has to accept the resultant write-up, warts and all - and that's exactly as it should be.

    PR people provide a useful service at a time when newspapers (due at least in part to the aforesaid massive reductions in advertising caused by lack of support for those who used to buy the ads) are laying off editorial staff. We ensure that correct information is provided to writers in time for their often very short deadlines. We supply ideas, we supply photographs, we organise trips where we can, we help to brief travel agents and the travel trade generally via the trade press, we help our clients to come up with innovative products or themes - we do many things, but we don't "more or less write the stories" ourselves, as Jeremy claims.

    The premise of your piece, Jeremy, i.e. "that travel companies switched their spending from traditional advertising to PR" is, I'm afraid, wrong.

    Travel companies stuck at advertising, through thick and thin, for a long time, despite rapidly diminishing returns. They've just finally had, in many cases, to admit defeat due to lack of support by the travel sections in the fact boxes of the articles they (the travel companies) funded. Now, travel companies are turning more and more to the web for exposure, and social media plus pay-per-click advertising are just a couple of the areas they are, increasingly, exploring, along with a strong return to working with specialist travel agents to give them that all-important access to consumers.

    The travel sections are, very sadly, reaping the rewards of ignoring their major supporters over a period of years. It is the web that's been a major driver of this scenario, as Jeremy says - but not for the reasons that he claims. Many of the travel sections saw the web as a better resource for booking holidays than the tour operators; they looked at price and price alone.

    Which brings us neatly back to Jeremy's very interesting blog last week, about how price should not be a primary driver for buying holidays. He stated (and I agree whole-heartedly) that service is a key component of good holidays, and noted that not many travel companies marketed themselves well on this front.

    That's our next challenge at Travel PR on behalf of the many smaller specialist travel companies who strive to provide superlative service. How do we differentiate them from the mediocre companies which don't provide staff at the end of a telephone for customers who are stuck, whose staff don't know anything detailed about the products they are selling and which don't take responsibility for their wares or, in reality, care much about their customers? On the face of it, one company's website can look much the same as another's. How is the consumer to tell the difference until something goes wrong and it's too late?

    Perhaps the travel sections have a role to play here...?

    1. Hi Sue
      Lots of interesting points here! Thanks.
      I'm particularly interested in the factbox point which I'd not really considered much before. There's always a difficult editorial balance issue with this - some publications do both now - Wanderlust is a good example. So they put quite a detailed write up of 'The Tour' in the Factbox/Footnotes page, but they also show people how to self-package as well.
      I DO think PR people more or less write some of the stories - particularly the round-ups (Top 20 or whatever). Just a quick look at the requests on twitter from certain travel writers suggest I am right. And I've written a few in my time too! I bet most of those are 150 words supplied by the PR person. Perhaps tinkered with a bit, but still written absolutely to show off the wonderful views or fabulous food rather than mention that the place is rather close to a main road.
      I do also stand by my point about budget being allocated elsewhere - though I think your points are really valid and counter it nicely. If ads aren't working, no sensible travel co should spend on them. But they clearly do for some. Take Riviera travel as one example. They must spend stacks on it.
      I'd love to hear from a travel company about this - wonder if any will respond!?

  6. What upsets me is that PRs are getting paid to promote the client but travel bloggers are supposed to be grateful for the "free" trip. I've asked some PRs if they would work for their client for free, so why do they expect bloggers to?

    When I talk about the amount of time I spend going on the trip and doing the write ups, given that I mainly write for my own blog (versus being a freelance who can sell several stories to different publications), I'm laughed at or told there's no budget to pay bloggers.

    The "old" model of the travel company paying for contextual ads in/or right next to the content on my blog would work for me. Then I could fund my own trips with that advertising revenue. However as I won't guarantee 100% positive coverage, then probably the travel company wouldn't pay for ad.

    Oh dear, no straightforward way to earn a crust as blogger.

    1. Hi Karen

      Interesting point... I guess most PR people would say it's up to you to make your business model work, but I completely see your point.

      One thing that really bugs me is when I get calls in context of the small regional magazine I edit.
      PR person calls to offer me something to review or a hosted trip or whatever.
      I say 'Thanks, that's very kind, but our title depends on advertising to survive - freebies don't really pay salaries. How about you get your client to book an ad too?'
      I've never EVER in 7 years had a PR person say they will even try. The stock response - 'We don't book ads.'

      So my response. 'Sorry no coverage then, goodbye.'


      1. Jeremy, I'm glad to hear someone else thinking along the same lines as me with my mantra "free trips don't pay the bills".

        The issue of separate departments/agencies to manage the PR and advertising is causing problems. Perhaps they need to work together but then the point of PR is get "free" (not free when you factor in PRs pay) and more believable coverage than paying for ads.

        However I need some of the cash being spent by the travel company, whether that be labelled PR or advertising budget, to end up in my pocket

  7. A side issue really...

    Could you be a little more specific on the dates of this pre-PR period?

    "A good few decades back, before PR really existed in the travel sector"

    How many decades? I just don't remember such a time.

    I started in travel journalism in 1989. There were loads around then (I won't embarrass the ones still here by naming them!)

    The BGTW started 52 years ago and I believe there were travel PRs then.

    So the *arrival* of PRs couldn't have corrupted travel journalism. They've always been there.

    There *was* a period of growth in the number of specialist travel PRs during the 90s (a lot of people left the core travel PR firms & in-house positions, and set up by themselves), then it slowed after the millennium. Since then the growth has been in the number of accounts per PR rather than PRs.

    1. Hi Alastair
      Well, I did describe this as a 'story' ;-) And your experience of the industry certainly pre-dates mine.
      The point I'm trying to make is that PR has experienced huge growth in the last few decades - I was trying to find some stats specific to the travel sector, but failed. But any travel writer will testify to the ever increasing deluge of press releases in their in-tray. So perhaps it's less about the arrival of PRs - but the increasing incluence they have had in past decades. PR is so entrenched in the industry now that people almost forget what it's there to do. The relationships between writers/editors/bloggers and PRs is often too cosy in my opinion.
      And a good way to step back and appreciate this is to imagine a world where PR didn't exist.

  8. There was a time when newspapers were the only economically viable advertising medium available to tour operators. The coming of the web, the transparency of pricing and the sheer volume of information on-line has meant that for many operators, especially those dealing with individual holidays rather than group bookings, the advertising budget now has to be split between brochures, websites, newspaper advertising, PR, press trips, online advertising, pay per click advertising and SEO fees. I am ignoring TV and radio for this exercise. The money available has not increased and travel industry margins are definitely tighter.

    The effectiveness of editorial mention - driven mostly through PR agencies - has declined, as has the effectiveness of advertising in general. A tour operator never knows the exact source of the enquiry as, more often than not, the consumer cannot remember exactly where he/she came across the information. A great deal now comes from Google, but how does it get to Google? Much of it comes from press mentions and adverts which drive enquirers to put the company name into Google as this is easier than remembering the full web address.

    Press advertising is far more effective for group organisers like Riviera Travel, Newmarket Promotions, etc., as their clientele tends to be less adventurous and doesn’t seek an individual or tailor-made holiday. Their clients do not want to research their own itinerary - they like the lack of hassle that comes with a pre-organised holiday. The same applies to cruise companies, who have made advertising sections look so boring – one ship looks much like another. Do not think that newspaper advertising nowadays is as expensive as it used to be a few years ago. You can get full pages at what largish classified ads used to cost, because the newspapers are doing so badly.

    You can't blame PR agencies for what has happened to newspaper editorial (which we, as tour operators, simply see as another form of advertising). What we tour operators resent most of all is when we are asked to organise and pay for a press trip and then we see a fact box featuring prices from no-frills carriers, hotels and car hire companies who have not contributed to any of the expense of the experience, as we have.

    By the way, I’d certainly trust the holiday ideas and suggestions that appear in the many round-up columns in the press much, much more than I’d trust a review on TripAdvisor - whether the author is a journalist or a PR. In my experience, both the journalist and the PR will have done their homework and got their facts straight, unlike the less-than-credible opinion and comment posted on TripAdvisor.

  9. So let me get this straight. What some of the bloggers are saying here is that PR companies and the clients they work for should:
    a) Pay for their trip
    b) And pay them a 'salary' in the form of advertising for going on that trip

    Sounds like an amazing job. But don't we all think if it was that easy, half the planet would suddenly call themselves an 'expert travel blogger' in order to get their holidays for free?

    Don't get me wrong - I absolutely value great travel bloggers. Bloggers who write great content and have built up strong social media networks. So much so that the company I work for is signed on as a Platinum Sponsor of this year's Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Umbria. When I see a good blogsite, I encourage my advertising team to look at including them in the advertising mix.

    But companies need to know return on investment before they are going to shell out limited and precious spend. And one of those ways to measure if we get that return on investment is via the link generated from the blogger trip. How does this work? Simple. Blogger goes on the trip, puts in a link in the written piece, we evaluate the number of searches coming via that link and then we will advertise (or not) based on the number of leads and bookings drawn from that traffic.

    If the traffic is good, the blogger will most certainly be approached to discuss advertising. This is how it is done with 'traditional' media (via quoted booking codes and bespoke booking telephone numbers) so I don't see why it should be any different for online titles and blogs. Unless someone else can think of a better analysis method? (thoughts on a postcard please).

    And as for the PR person being responsible for advertising - I am. I work and chat with my SEO, Brand, CRM and PPC Managers every day to discuss strategy and recommendations. I refer high-traffic sites to them for consideration and they make decisions based on those thoughts. But it all boils down to knowing what bang we are getting for our buck. If we don't know, then we are willing to take a punt on press trip inclusion. If we do know then that's where the chance for advertising spend gets ramped up.

    But no one will advertise anywhere before knowing what we will get from our pound, dollar or yen. Bloggers (just like traditional media before them) are going to have to offer their attendance on a press trip for free so we can determine success. Only then will the advertising revenue be pointed in their direction. And to think that we will advertise AND offer a press trip without prior measurement performed by the marketing team is naive. It requires us to spend more (on press trip travel, accommodation, meals expenses PLUS the advertising) than it does on other media targets (where we just have the press trip expenses to deal with). If bloggers (or any other media title for that matter) wants to get salary and a press trip, then you're going to have to prove to us that it is worth it. And when we have to pay more on a blogger to get that investment (because of the salary/advertising expense) there's an even bigger battle to climb.

    On a side note - did you know that some of the biggest traditional media houses in the business (Conde Nast, etc) offer free pages in launch publications to advertisers in order to allow them to measure return and encourage further advertising? I realise bloggers (just like freelance media who work very hard pitching their stories to traditional media titles) work hard to build their networks and secure a salary. But I am afraid some hard work will need to be done prior to getting the operator or business to part with their advertising funds.

    1. Ryan, Going on press trips isn't getting my holidays for free, they are work and take up time when I could be doing other tasks.

      Many press trips involve little financial outlay for hosts as they can often get accommodation/restaurants meals free in low season in exchange for exposure. In any case I can usually arrange comp accommodation for myself, so if I can find a cheap flight I can arrange my own trips, where I can choose my destination and what aspects of that destination I want to cover, versus a structured press trip.

      I'd like to give an example of how bloggers and travel companies could work more effectively together. When I went on an individual pres trip to the Shetlands in May 2010 I asked which SEO keyword phrase I should use and the PR/client requested "Shetland Flydrive" and "Shetland Fly Drive". When you type these phrases into Google, the main collation post (which contains link to all my Shetlands posts) comes up at no 3. Plus the company has permanent links on Europe a la Carte. Therefore if the SEO and PR agencies/managers work together they can get a better ROI for their client/company.

      1. Ahaa. Now you're talking Karen. That is of course exactly how I work at iCrossing. Surprisingly though it's often clients who aren't joined up enough. That's the problem... Their in house or out of house SEO manager and PR people don't work closely enough together.

        1. I'd like to see PR/advertising/SEO departments/agencies working together very closely in collaboration with travel bloggers. Then I think paying bloggers (who still retain editorial control) would offer an excellent ROI.

          The whole current scenario of "free" trips being perceived as the currency by both PRs and many bloggers is a road to nowhere.

    2. You're absolutely right on all scores. As I've said elsewhere and here myself, I don't know why anyone would think for the sake of 3-4 days max away from home they can't do what a writer is supposed to be able to do in this day and age - be flexible, plan your time and how you communicate on the road, and just do it. But no one is going to subsidize your human existence to the point of paying you cash upfront for your pearls of navel gazing wisdom just because they already made the effort to subsidize your travel - which in the case of many if not most such bloggers, is just a huge outlay already and not a smart strategic decision at all.

      1. Hal - if I do all my normal work when I'm away from base, I won't much time to see anything while travelling.

        It's much more than a 3-4 days away from your desk. There's the time doing write ups when you get home, uploading photos and videos, promoting your posts.

  10. I'd just say that PRs load the press trips with bloggers because bloggers are happy to go. They mostly have day jobs and can afford a few days out of their holiday allowance for a nice trip. Working freelancers have to evaluate whether the trip will actually be cost effective. And these days it all too often isn't

    As to bloggers reach, it's worth remembering that blogging is often a circle jerk 'I love your blog, yes I love yours too'. They all follow and read each other, which drives up all their stats but do any 'punters' read them? A piece in the Sunday Times must surely be more use in terms of reach? And the ST piece might actually be a good read and not a sequence of photos linked by little more than 'what I did on my holiday' copy.

    Also if a PR pays someone to be on a trip and so write about it, they are employing a copywriter aren't they? As an ex copywriter myself that seems to be a client/writer relationship and I would be obliged to write what the client wanted.

    1. Nick, if I had a well paid day job, then press trips would be a good, cheap way to use my annual leave.

      I am always saying that travel bloggers need to reach outside the travel blogging community to "ordinary/real" travellers. There's far too much mutual back slapping and hype over influence.

      I disagree re Sunday Times necessarily reaching more potential "real" travellers. If a piece of blog is well SEO'd then potential travellers looking for that info should find that post versus happening to see in the ST.

      I remember a lot of "traditional" print media travel coverage being virtual advertorial and what I did on my trip.

      Some blog photo posts of a destination might inspire travellers to go there more than a long article?

      The final point about being a copywriter doesn't have to be the case, you can still retain editorial control and be paid for your time/expertise/coverage. as was the case with Lara Dunston and Terence Carter on their HomeAway 12 month assignment.

      1. I don't know, seems to me if someone is paying and you don't write what they want then at the very least they won't employ you again.

        My point about ST I suppose is that I personally can't read long copy on web, it's tiring and the layout, font, picture use is too samey and unattractive. I will read a long, well designed article in a magazine or paper while sat in my comfy chair.

        I may look up facts on web, and SEO may guide where I land, but all too often SEO copy is not good copy. Readability and tone has been sacrificed to meet a set of SEO guidelines. High hits with high bounce is the result.

  11. Another fascinating post, and just as interesting comments.
    With my various hats on as magazine publisher, editor, contributor, I couldn’t resist giving our view on some of the points.
    A good PR (and I count Sue Ockwell in that) is worth their weight in gold. We get deluged with brochures, press releases, emails, phone calls. With the best will in the world, to sift through everything is impossible. A good PR will bring us the right ideas for our readers, simple as that. We ignore the poor ones.
    A tour company once withdrew their advertising, complaining that we never gave them any editorial mentions. When I pointed out that they never communicated with us their response was that we should look on their website at least once a week. I took them through how infeasible that would be in practice. They have, by the way, finally appointed a PR co.
    When it comes to featuring a tour operator, whether mentioning them in round-ups or going on a trip with them, we’ll try and always use ones we know, and who have gained a high satisfaction rating (over 80%) from our readers in our annual travel awards. If it comes to a choice between two or more good operators offering the same, then we’ll favour the one that supports us through advertising, regardless of how much we like a PR.
    It is frustrating when we get chased for editorial mentions by companies that refuse to advertise. Some blatantly say they don’t believe in advertising, yet then expect masses of free publicity. Hello, how do they think we pay the payroll! One company’s ad agency kept telling us we were not the right market for the client, when their PR agency had told us we were one of the top performing magazines for them.
    Like nearly all magazine publishers we rely heavily on advertising. We are diversifying and gradually changing the financial model, but it’s a challenge! Like Noel points out, it is increasingly difficult for a tour company to know where their web traffic is coming from, and therefore easily prove an ad’s effectiveness. Fortunately, our current advertisers all seem to feel/know that we work for them. Some research into magazine advertising has just been carried out by the PPA (the trade body for magazine publishers). They surveyed 14,000 consumers, and found that the recall on an ad in a magazine was just as high as a page of editorial, and that the likelihood of taking action was almost as high. They are going round the agencies presenting the results.
    Bloggers need to prove their effectiveness just as us more traditional publishers do. I recently asked a blogger who had returned from a press trip what the traffic to his blog was. He was very evasive but eventually admitted to some rather poor figures. Looking at his site afterwards, I reckon his post on the trip had probably been viewed by a few dozen people at most. And judging by the comments on his blog, it wasn’t “real” travellers going on there.
    By contrast, a story on the Wanderlust website will be read by 2,000-20,000 people, potentially many more, while in Wanderlust magazine it will have been read by 50-70,000 people (our readership is getting on for 100k, and most say they read ALL of the magazine, including the ad pages). And it gives them ideas they would never have had otherwise, and so wouldn’t have been searching for online. Who would you rather offer a press trip to or run an ad with?

    1. Lyn says it is crystal clear terms. Wanderlust (as other traditional magazines do) provide potential advertisers with detailed breakdowns and clear ROI. I know I am getting a strong readership in both the magazine and online - plus the links from the Wanderlust website.

      With a blog, I have to say to Karen that you are quoting facts and figures that are untrue. For the operator or destination, we have to pay for transport, we are charged for hotels, we are charged for meals. On the last trip I ran to Paris, my cost per person ran at around £700 and I had six journalists and bloggers on the trip. Go further afield and you're looking at even more. It may be low season - but everyone has to get their costs covered and when you add up all the experiences over a two, three or four day period, the cash register starts to ring.

      I am sorry if bloggers find it difficult or challenging making a living out of their passion but that is - unfortunately - life. If this job was all about going away on holiday for free and then being paid by the people who sent you - and all so that they got a single link that they provided for you to put into the copy...don't you think that all sounds just a bit too easy?

      You are saying to me that you want a trip for free and to be paid for the content - but that you have better things to do than go on holiday. My response? Then don't go away. Don't accept press trips. Don't write a travel blog. Or focus solely on the trips you want to go on when you want to go and pay for them yourself. And call yourself what you are, a copywriter NOT a blogger. Or give the potential advertiser clear reasons other then SEO links (which I can frankly get anywhere). Give me traffic numbers. Give me a case study that shows that a blog you wrote generated xx bookings. Tell me that a post you created was picked up by xx other media titles. This is what we need to warrant paying for what you want.

      Nick is exactly right. Search engine optimised copy is fantastic but it often is poor. And when all is said and done a search engine optimised piece on the Guardian website will rank higher and be more respected by a wider target audience than a blogger in most circumstances. (Not that I agree with this as there are plenty of bloggers who write fantastic copy better than a piece on a national website - I'm just saying that's how Joe Public thinks right now).

      When I choose to work with bloggers, it is to showcase my product offering to them and have them share their experiences. If I get SEO links, then that is ideal too. But if I approach a blogger and they say 'I'll write a piece and provide SEO links for a fee' then I begin to question their integrity. And I think consumers will question it too.

      Taking my PR hat off, would I rather read a piece in Wanderlust/Wanderlust website? Or a piece that has been search engine optimised and given links on a site where the blogger won't give me a clear indication of traffic numbers (of which 90% don't when asked). I know my answer.

      But if I worked with Europe a La Carte (or any other blog) on a press trip and it proved to drive good traffic for me. Then by all means we would consider advertising and/or copywriting. I need proof before I am going to leap.

  12. Can I add to this debate a little word for the little guys? As a small UK holiday letting company we're finding it really disfficult to get coverage, despite having what we believe to be a pretty good brand and a great product. We're pretty savvy but just cannot afford a PR company to open doors for us, or even harrass for us!

    We do advertise online and we're trying really hard to build relationships with key people but we just can't seem to get our voice heard in a workd where a PR company has the resources and contacts to get the coverage they're paid to get. This means the little guys like us, with a great product that would make a great piece in a year when UK tourism is supposed to peak and staycations are likely to be at their height, just can't get a look in. And believe me we've tried - look at our twitter stream!

    I just hope that some of you writers and bloggers out there hear this plea and consider that just because us little guys don't have a PR company to make a noise on our behalf it doesn't mean we're not up for working with you and it certainly doesn't mean we don't have a product to shout about!

    Thanks for listening. Frustrated rant over.

    1. Hi Duncan
      There are no easy answers to this. It's not easy. If you are not doing it already, find the travel journos you think will be intersted in you and attempt to connect with them on twitter. Ideally you need an angle - something quirky or different to make them think there could be a story there.
      It's a bit old now - but this post could be well worth a read too:
      Cheers and thank you for commenting

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