Last month, as part of my ongoing series on the PR/Blogger relationship, I wrote about New Year’s Resolutions for Publicists. Thanks to all your sharing, it was one of my most popular posts ever! This month I’m turning the tables and shining a light on the editorial side. Writers, journalists, bloggers, this one’s for you.
Before I lead my first press trip to The Bahamas in 2007, one of my wise supervisors told me, “There’s always one in every group, so be prepared.”
She was right.
In 80 percent of the trips I’ve either lead or participated in as a journalist, there’s been some writer who made the trip less enjoyable for everyone else.
After planning & leading several emotionally scarring trips with unimaginably rude, ridiculous and/or self-important attendees, I began to invite only those I either knew personally or who came highly recommended from other publicists. I figured if I‘m going spend months coordinating a trip and then a week traveling abroad with someone, they should be fun, polite and professional. All those jerky, whiny, troublemaking writers who accept invitations reflect poorly on the publicist who invited them, and then we have to explain to clients just how these weirdos ended up here in the first place.
Based on my personal experiences as both the press trip organizer and attendee, here are a few tongue-in-cheek tips to ensure you DO wind up on the mythical PR blacklist. (It does exist & it does get passed around. That’s all I’m going to say about that.)
1. Be a diva. You are a precious snowflake, a priceless rainbow, a rare unicorn. You’re the Mariah Carey of travel blogging. PR reps live and breathe to sort the cashews out of your mixed nut bowl. Never forget that you are doing the publicists and the destination a favor by showing up. Make them grovel for your good opinion.
2. Be late for everything. Nothing demonstrates your importance more than a lack of regard for the carefully planned schedule your PR rep has crafted. Don’t worry that it will throw off the day’s itinerary and make the rest of the writers miss out on precious time gathering information for their stories. “Oh… there are other professionals trying to accomplish work on this trip?”
If you really want to show off, don’t even come to dinner or skip a couple of planned excursions altogether. Don’t worry that you knew about the schedule in advance and agreed to attend. It’s really not your concern that the destination has invested thousands of dollars to fly you in, or that there are vendors, tour operators and restaurateurs who’ve spent months preparing for your very special visit. That’s so not your problem!
3. Complain. Whine about how early you have to wake up for that once-in-a-lifetime excursion that YOU signed up for. Don’t tell the PR rep about your food allergies, then flip out when the local mom-and-pop restaurants in obscure locations can’t meet your specifications on 5-minutes’ notice.
The lamp in your hotel room is too far to reach from your position in bed? A riot is most definitely in order.
It’s hot in the Caribbean in August? Definitely tell everyone that “this place totally sucks.”
No one in this tiny provincial town speaks English? Unacceptable!
Your flight is delayed due to weather? Your luggage is left behind? Feel free to refuse to do anything the rest of the trip. You REALLY need your specific brand of wrinkle cream to do your job. Definitely don’t roll with the punches. (It’s not like real travelers do that, right?)
Why should you care that it took three months of planning to execute this experience? Every last detail should cater to your whim – you’re the famous blogger! – so be sure you hold the publicist’s feet to the fire for every discomfort and imperfection in the itinerary. Especially if the issue is out of their control.
4. Be too cool for school. You’re a writer, and probably a pretty famous one. You get recognized by your adoring fans… a lot. You’re kind of a big deal. Applause, applause.
Hence, societal norms don’t apply to you. Feel free to show up to the schwanky client event your PR rep spent months coordinating in wrinkled cargo shorts and a dirty, sweat-stained shirt. It really shows everyone that you’re the most well-traveled, cultured person in the room.
It also helps if you reek of booze when you arrive. What else is that mini-bar for?
5. Never let anyone forget who you are. You have like, a zillion followers on Twitter so be sure to remind the group often just how far your social influence spreads. When you meet other members of the group or your destination hosts, introduce yourself with a confident, “Do you know who I am?” It’s so endearing.
Really try to exude an air of superiority. It’s best not to collaborate or use the time with other professional contacts to get creative and come up with cool solutions for the industry. Just keep talking about yourself!
6. Get wasted. Really wasted. PR reps love when you drink as much free booze as you can without dying. Especially if it’s top shelf.
They also look forward to escorting drunken you back to your room, holding you up so you don’t break anything and pretending not to hear your slurred invitations for a sure-to-be-memorable roll in the hay. Don’t fret that your obscene behavior is keeping them from the only time they have to catch up on work for all their other clients, or you know, take a shower or sleep.
Oh! PR reps just love hearing from their clients that you didn’t get to experience their hotel room because you spent the whole night carousing buck naked in the pool with the fishing guide. Guess they should’ve let you bring your husband along after all. You really showed them!
7. Talk about politics and religion, and be super aggressive about forcing your opinions. We aren’t just here to research a beautiful, historic destination, we’re here to stir the pot on everything from abortion to gay marriage to animal rights. At every meal!
And don’t leave out hot button blogging issues. Link sales, sponsored posts and even your singularly correct opinions on press trips (You obviously hate them and would never go on one. Except this one.) are perfect conversation starters, especially if you’re better than everyone else. (You totally are.) Yell. Wave your arms. Get mad. Make everyone super uncomfortable.
Isn’t this fun?
8. Grub for free stuff. While reminding your PR rep, your hotel hosts and the destination clients how famous you are, don’t forget to aggressively suggest they provide you with even more free stuff. Think of every shop as a place to shout about how much your influence is worth. It’s free advertising for the destination after all, if you wear that dive shop T-shirt or if that local ceramic artist gives you some of her pottery. It’s not your job to support local businesses, so any souvenirs above and beyond your free flights, hotels, meals, drinks, activities and transportation, should be 100% gratis.
If the destination does happen to provide welcome gifts, like say, bottles of locally bottled rum, be sure to snag as much as you can before the other writers find out. You’re not here to share. Throw punches if necessary to protect your $9 treasure.
9. Don’t tip. You came on this trip for free and darnit, you’re not going to spend one red cent. Sure, you loved that 12-hour speedboat trip around the islands, and your local guide gave you some amazing anecdotes about the destination, but it’s not your job to appreciate the working people. You’re working yourself. Harumph.
10. Never publish a word. After all, you had to wake up for breakfast at 8 a.m., and they served 2% milk instead of skim on that tiny Caribbean island that imports everything on a mail boat twice a week, and it rained once, and the WiFi was pretty slow. It really was a subpar experience, so chalk it up to a wasted couple of days and hope for better on your next free FAM.
Yep, there’s almost always one person with at least some of the above sensibilities on every trip. I have not fabricated any of these examples… they either have happened to me personally or to others I know. And I have so many stories that are worse, like the time one of my writers died on a trip I was hosting. (Long story. Saving it for my book.)
On the bright side, most journalists and bloggers are clever, funny, flexible and great to travel with. I’ve met some of my favorite people in the world on press trips, people I have learned from and looked up to and stayed in touch with through all of my career changes and world travels.
All that to say – there are SO many good people in the travel industry, so I hope my ranting doesn’t put anyone off. This really is just a wee peek into the complex relationship between PRs, DMOs and journalists/bloggers, and it doesn’t begin to delve into it all. But I hope you enjoyed my snark and gentle poking. Now that I’ve spent years working on both sides of the media fence, I know all too well there are plenty of valid frustrations to go around.