How To Plan An Independent Press Trip
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If you’re a travel blogger you’ve undoubtedly heard of press trips before, but what about an independent press trip? For those of you who aren’t familiar with blogger press trips, press trips are where bloggers get invited to travel with a tourism board or company in exchange for promotion to their audience.
Independent press trips are a similar concept, read on below to find out or watch the video (for more videos check out my channel here).
What you’ll learn:
1. What is an independent press trip?
2. How an independent press trip is different to a sponsored stay.
3. When to pitch an independent press trip?
4. Pro’s of an independent press trip.
5. Con’s of an independent press trip.
6. How to plan an independent press trip (step by step)?
7. Example of an independent press trip (real life example).
8. A note on sponsored travel in general.
Independent press trips can be a great alternative for mid range or small bloggers who are yet to be invited on regular press trips, or even just prefer to go it alone in general. It’s another way to get “free travel” (a saying that makes many a blogger cringe), but with slightly different rules.
Not only do you get far more control over your schedule, you always get to make sure that you’re aligning with brands that best meet your target market.
What is an Independent Press Trip?
I’m sure you’ve heard about press trips if you’re apart of one of the many travel blogger groups on Facebook, but did you know there’s more than one type?
While it’s often the same bloggers that get selected for the majority of the press trips, there’s another choice for those of us on the outer. It’s a way of still receiving sponsorship for your upcoming trips, but requires a bit more work on your behalf.
An independent press trip is where, instead of it being organised by a tourism bureau, you pick the route of your trip, the brands and you pitch to the companies individually. You can choose what you’d like sponsored, and what you want to pay for yourself.
Not everything has to be sponsored – I find with the longer independent press trips, I definitely don’t want to have every night as a sponsored stay due to the sheer amount of work involved.
How is an Independent Press Trip Different to a Sponsored Stay?
A sponsored stay or activity is normal something you organize with one company at a time. An independent press trip is a bunch of sponsored stays and activities used together in one trip to make a cohesive itinerary.
An independent press trip allows you to create your own route and source your own partners. You could have an independent press trip that goes anywhere from as little as four days, to as long as sixty days, partnering with multiple companies along the way.
It’s all up to you – how long you wish to travel, how much time you have for promotion activities, how you promote the companies, and how much money you want to spend. Of course, the companies need to still be willing to sponsor you, so you still need a decent sized audience or niche. Alternatively on a press trip, these things are normally decided for by by the tourism board or brand.
When to Pitch an Independent Press Trip?
I would recommend waiting until you have atleast 10,000 visitors a month before pitching an independent press trip, so you have credibility and a higher likelihood of receiving yes’s. Less than that you may still be able to get some offers, but it may take upwards of 5-6+ pitching rounds, and even then you may not get as many positive replies as you hoped.
While there are a ton of bloggers suggesting you should start pitching with as little as a few thousand visitors per month, you need to honestly evaluate if you’re giving the company any value.
If you have a general travel blog what are the chances of any of those readers being interested in what you’re featuring. 10,000 is a decent amount of people with a fair chance that some of your readers could be interested in planning a trip to that destination.
If you have a relatively tight niche – you may find success with much lower numbers, perhaps 3000 visitors a month. Niche sites can be more successful with fewer followers than general adventure/ luxury/ family / backpacking blogs as they focus on one specific activity. Some examples of a tight niche include:
- A scuba diving blog: If you have 3,000 people a month reading about scuba diving, this is a tight, deliberate niche and dive companies might still be interested.
- A hot air ballooning blog would have a good chance of scoring sponsorship with only 3,000 visitors a month with Hot Air Balloon companies, maybe not so much with hotels though.
- A blog based about travel in New Zealand is likely going to provide value to companies sponsoring a hotel or activity in New Zealand.
Apart from genuinely trying to provide value to brands, due to the amount of effort and time pitching takes, for a general travel blog like ours (scenic travel / luxury) I wouldn’t bother with fewer visitors than 10,000 a month.
Organizing an independent press trip involves pitching multiple hotels in multiple cities, pitching tour companies, and occasionally restaurants. It’s a massive undertaking, and you often won’t succeed on the first or even second round, for some of the places you visit.
I suggest 10,000 visitors due to the time you’ll spend, as I think those numbers will give you a good chance of securing atleast 25% of the sponsorships you would like depending on the destination / popularity of the brand you’re targeting.
Pros of an Independent Press Trip
- You get to choose where you want to go. There’s no packed in stops that really don’t match your niche.
- You can choose to mix as much regular travel and sponsored travel as you wish.
- The trip can be for as long as you wish. There’s no rushing around from place to place, activity to activity, unless you’d like it that way.
- You can pick the right type of accommodation that would suit your niche, rather than being stuck in a hostel when your prefer luxury, or in reverse – staying in a luxury hotel that your readers wouldn’t be able to afford.
Cons of an Independent Press Trip
- It’s very time consuming, before, during and after the trip. Since you’re responsible for setting up all of the sponsored stays and activities, you probably will only do a few pitching rounds. For instance, we gave up pitching for Munich hotels after emailing six hotels; we would have pitched more times if we weren’t trying to plan a million other things at once.
- If you wait til the end of the trip to write the posts you may have a massive workload to complete. Alternatively, if you write them during your trip you may spend a lot of time working while you could be holidaying.
- You may not get everything sponsored, nor may you want to (especially on longer trips).
- You have to make sure you have high quality content for each of the places you pitched, rather than lumping them all together in one post. Unless if you agreed otherwise.
- Much like a press trip, you can’t make too many changes to your itinerary if you’ve already arranged all of your hotels and tours.
Step by Step: How to Plan an Independent Press Trip
There are a few steps that you should take to successfully plan an independent press trip.
- Plan your itinerary two to three (optimal) months in advance. I would suggest planning a trip you would complete even if you had to pay for everything yourself, rather than choosing a super expensive route – what happens if you don’t get enough sponsorships and then can’t afford to go on the trip at all, letting down those who have said yes?
- IMPORTANT: It’s important to note that you lose some spontaneity in independent press trips. You’ll need to plan your dates about beforehand if you’re pitching multiple cities at once. You could possibly damage your relationship with these companies if they approve you for certain dates, and you then decide to change your plans closer to the time.
- Make a list of hotels and tour companies you wish to approach. Aim for three hotels per round if you have 20,000 or less readers per month, less if you have a larger following. Depending on how much time you have you should aim to do three rounds in total. Some destinations you might get a yes on your first go, others you may not even get a yes within those three rounds.
- Try to fit these activities and tours into your itinerary if you haven’t already. This will make sure you actually have the time to collaborate with these companies. For example write out a day by day plan of your trip, or allocate a certain amount of days in each city, and pitch one activity per day maximum.
- List the hotels and tours within each city / activity in order of preference. Choose the ones you would most like to work with first, and then you can move down the list if you get a rejection.
- Find their contact emails. Some companies have a PR email, otherwise you can try their general contact email. However always make the effort to find their PR email (reference), or a marketing / press email as this is generally the person who handles sponsored stays and activities. Smaller companies may be family owned, or don’t have a specific person working with press, so the general email can work fine (if you can’t find a PR email).
- Make your media kit if you haven’t already.
- Work out what you will offer to the companies and when you will complete those tasks.
- Write a pitch template so you can save time by replacing names, dates and room / activity types. You will have to meticulously check this before sending off emails to make sure you haven’t left something on there from the previous pitch. To help you could write a checklist that notes every part you need to change and check it off as you alter the pitch for each company.
- Start sending off emails. It’s best to start 3 months beforehand if you can, although if you’re two weeks off from your trip it still doesn’t hurt to try. For hotels send off three emails at once. If you get multiple yes’s you can apologize and say your plans have changed to one of them. If you have a larger audience (more likely to get a yes) or if you don’t feel comfortable just send off one at a time. For tours, since there are a lot less competing companies I would only send off one pitch per round.
- If you don’t hear back send a follow up mentioning the earlier email 3 days later.
- If after a week / week and a half you don’t hear back then start your second round of pitching for that city. It’s unlikely you’ll here a response after a week in my opinion, as most employees check their emails daily. It’s time to move on so you have the best success of getting a yes elsewhere.
- If you’ve gone through three rounds of pitching and haven’t gotten a yes you can decide whether to give up or continue to pitch. If there are a lot of tour companies for the tour you’d like you could continue pitching, as after three rounds you’d have only pitched three companies.
- Add the sponsored stays and activities into your itinerary, mark them in colour or bold so you don’t forget about them.
- Confirm with each company 1-2 weeks before the trip to make sure everything is still going ahead. I wouldn’t suggest saying “Hey, is this still happening??”. Instead send them an email letting them know that you’re looking forward to your stay on (insert dates here).
- Arrive and be professional, but enjoy yourself.
**** Hot tip: Check if some of the hotels you a pitching are apart of the same PR group (eg: Preferred Hotels, Luxury Hotel Group) as it might be awkward to send emails asking about different hotels that will get passed onto the same PR firm.
**** Hot tip #2: Sometimes pitching the outside PR firm directly works better than pitching the individual hotel (Eg: Preferred Hotels Group rather than the individual hotel), or pitching the PR manager of the hotel group instead of the individual hotel (eg: the Hilton PR manager as opposed to The Hilton Bangkok Hotel).
An Example of an Independent Press Trip
On one particular trip I planned a 30 day independent press trip to Western Europe, specifically Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia and Italy. I reached out individually to hotels and a few tour companies and were able to have more than half of our accommodation sponsored and a few tours thrown in.
I received about 7,000 dollars in sponsored stays and activities, while spending an extra four or five thousand ourselves including flights from China. The price in sponsored activities sounds a lot because I was staying at more expensive hotels, priced at between AUD250-1400 a night.
With 20,000 blog visitors and 47,000 social media followers (at the time) I had the greatest success with mid priced to luxury hotel chains. During my pitching rounds I also offered a review on my luxury travel blog for the higher priced hotels (I think I had 6-7000 visitors and an extra 11,000 social media followers at the time). So, I had an advantage because I had two blogs.
I traveled during the off season which I believed helped quite a bit.
However, I still had to pitch multiple rounds in some cities. I pitched in rounds of three, meaning I would email three hotels at a time per round.
In some cities I received a yes in the first round, but in others I did two or three rounds. I hope that gives you some perspective of how easy or difficult it may be based on two blogs with that amount of readership.
I didn’t have any major difficulties during my stays, accept for one timing difficulty that mean’t not being able to attend a scenic flight. However that wasn’t a big deal as the company could only let me know last minute but I already had plans for the day, so there were no hard feelings there.
I told the companies in advance that the blog content would come one month after the trip. This seemed to be fine as O let them know in advance. If you plan to write the review after the trip (I wouldn’t suggest any more than a month after) you should let them know to avoid any problems.
A Note on Sponsored Travel in General
As a blogger who had done only a few sponsored stays previous to completing my European independent press trip, I have to say it’s a little weird to be sponsored.
Perhaps it gets easier with time but it was always very interesting to see how I was treated at different hotels.
Here are some thoughts I’ve had about our sponsored stays:
- It’s weird, but nice to have representatives of the hotel / activity check on you to see how you’re doing. As a shy person I always feel a bit awkward, but it’s a little weird to get special treatment when you never have before.
- Meeting up with the reps doesn’t have to be awkward though, one lady even sent me a jar of olives after I told her how much I loved them. It can be uncomfortable at first, but I think it’s just because we haven’t had this kind of experience much before. It gets easier the more it happens and I think it’s a good way to build trust with the company (many of which have been burned by bloggers before).
- Hotel staff will either treat you normally, or go out of their way to impress you. There doesn’t really seem to be an in between. Either they don’t know you’re a PR guest, or they know and they really want to help you enjoy the stay.
- I think my preference would be to have the staff not know I’m a PR guest, I really enjoying slipping under the radar and don’t need to be fussed upon. I think it’s best to receive the same treatment a normal guest would anyway. I don’t mind meeting the PR person though, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to suggest it. I’d be happy to if they wanted it during the stay.
- Upgrades are rad. One of the hotels I pitched put me in their most expensive room which had epic views. It was so lovely, and when I saw the price of the room I was completely shocked.
- One night in a hotel is not worth pitching for, two is okay, but three nights is where it’s at. Then you have time to relax, explore the city and give you the best chance to explore and photograph the hotel.
- Some smaller companies don’t understand social media or want to work with bloggers. You need to answer their questions about concerns they have in a simple way, and show them what you have done afterwards so they understand you’ve followed through. If they don’t want to work with bloggers though, accept it and don’t take it personally.
- The fear that a hotel will loose your booking can feel real strong (especially if you haven’t done this kind of thing a lot) but it’s yet to happen to me, and I think it’s unlikely to happen. Especially if you follow up like I mentioned in step 13.