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The press trip: a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah with product placement

Linsey Fryatt

This post first appeared on PR Peep Show, Guardian Media Network.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe: naked sleepwalking in a Bavarian château, cast members from The Bill on The London Eye, Microsoft execs dancing on a Vegas rooftop and a pod of journalists floating on the Dead Sea.

Were I ever to be uncovered as a replicant, my final memories might not be quite as beatific as Roy Batty’s in Blade Runner, but nevertheless, these images may well be the ones that flash through my synapses.

During my time as a journalist, I enjoyed many and varied press trips. As well as the aforementioned, there was a trip to Asia (did you know that pyjamas are called “executive sleepsuits” in first class?), a party in a Swedish pop star’s apartment and sailing with Team GB (on which I nearly drowned, thanks to some plonker from GQ desperately trying to keep his Oliver Peoples dry).

This is not idle crowing. I want to illustrate that press trips are extravagant, indulgent, ridiculous affairs; and almost always gloriously surreal. I know of one event, organised by a well-known phone manufacturer, which took participants in a yellow submarine to the bottom of the South China Sea, then sent a diver down with the company logo so they could photograph it through the porthole.

For anyone unfamiliar with the press trip (or fam tour if you’re from the US,) it’s essentially a PR-organised outing, where journalists are plied with booze to varying degrees (ranging from “light lunchtime tipple” to “hospital”), timetabled into various fun activities, often only exposed to food and sleep in miniature portions and endorsed, if not downright encouraged, to behave outwith the normal conventions of society. Oh, and shown some stuff in the hope they’ll write about it.

A sort of Sodom and Gomorrah with product placement, where intelligent, erudite members of society transform into a multi-legged need-ball, unable to read a map, order their own food, look at their own watches, stay in one group or avoid naked sleepwalking.

Of course, for many harassed, hard-working journalists, the press trip is an added bit of sparkle that helps to make the job worthwhile – that makes your banker friends think of you as glamorous and jammy (despite the fact they earn five times as much as you).

It’s also an essential exercise for hack and PR alike – breaking bread, humanising each other and building relations. There really is no substitute for human contact, and while I may have forgotten the purposes of most of my previous trips, the contacts I made on every single outing remain strong.

I’ve compiled a list of factors that I think make a successful press trip. Please feel free to make suggestions in the comments below. Lord knows I need any help you can offer.

1. Food is important
Just like at a wedding, bad or insufficient food can quickly overshadow the purpose of an event. I know of a group of journalists that had a secret review site just for canapés.

2. Set boundaries
Let it be apparent when is work time and when is fun time. Never pitch at the dinner table, for example. Try not to have drinks at lunchtime.

3. Keep an eye on the client
If you have execs attending from the company you’re representing, keep a close eye on them. They can be loose cannons.

4. Offer relevance
A press trip in itself is not a bribe for coverage. Never ask for a quid pro quo; this is massively bad form. Find out beforehand if the purpose of the trip is exciting for them, and add extra access/story angles when there. It’s a waste of client money otherwise.

5. Give time to file
If you have had journalists on an exhausting day of meetings and potential angles, give them a chance to file. Leads go cold quickly.

6. Relax, have fun
This may seem like hell on earth at the time, so try to relax into it as much as possible. These moments, as Batty would say, will be gone soon enough; like PR tears in the rain.