As I've gained more readers on Travelblather I've noticed increasing numbers of people who work in the Travel PR industry following my tweets on twitter  signing up to get my blog posts delivered by email or by RSS feed.

There's clearly a huge appetite amongst the PR community to engage with and understand the blogosphere. (Which I think is a good thing.) I imagine that for PR agencies, blogs are a bit of a new frontier - a wild west where all the work they do to try and gain their clients positive coverage can be competely unravelled by a vitriolic blogger on a mission. And, conversely, positive coverage could be exponentially valuable, given the way that for now at least people are increasingly turning to blogs for up-to-date, accurate and trustworthy information.

I have really mixed feelings about the role of PR generally. I see it as often quite insidious - attempting to undermine the objectivity of the journalist by pushing a particular angle or product or company at them. Of course, journalists are supposed to be pretty hard-skinned individuals, well able to make judgements of their own regardless of the attempts to influence them that will come from all over the place. But as the old saying goes "The mouth that shouts loudest gets fed first". And with remuneration for freelancers sprialling downwards no one wants to bite any hand that feeds them. (Oops... metaphorical overload there... sorry.)

Anyway... like it or not, PR is here to stay and it's massively influential in travel writing.

Recently I was offered a press trip to Sydney in Australia. The request from the PR company was that I blog about the experience. This for me was a watershed moment. I was invited solely because of this blog and the assumed value that the PR company placed on coverage here. That in itself is quite remarkable... particularly given the distance and expense involved. (This isn't the first instance actually - my previous post about new Aer Lingus low cost flights from Gatwick was completely driven by the fact that I went on a short press trip to Faro on the airline's inaugural flight on this route. But that was a far shorter trip and I was one of 80+ people on it.)

So... should I take the PR up on the Sydney offer?

A number of interesting issues:

Impartiality? The great thing about blogging is you have no editor or ad team breathing down your neck expecting you to write things up a certain way. Will I be under some obligation to give the experience a positive write up - even if it's not that great?

I think that actually this one is quite easy to resolve - despite the very heated discussions about this issue on Alex's Musings on Travel Ecommerce blog a few months ago. I make clear that I'm posting because of the press trip (as I did with the Aer Lingus post) AND I make clear to the PR that's inviting me that I can post whatever I want to. Just as a restaurant reviewer or car reviewer would do when presented with a new dish or the latest convertible.

I actually think that I'd post quite a lot about a trip to Sydney... (Let's face it... there will be lots of down time on planes... might as well do something!) Some posts would be descriptions of the trip and the services experienced - just like a normal travel feature in print (and presumably the sort of coverage a PR person would hope for). But other posts would be more like opinion pieces - behind the scenes stuff which I think people reading the blog would find really interesting. The life of the travel writer on the road - what it's really like.(Not all sunsets and pina coladas by the way...)

Pay? All very nice to get offered the trip - but in the real world of freelancing that's probably 5 days of my time with no remuneration. That won't pay the mortgage. Right now I'm on a short term contract so I am earning a vaguely OK amount of pay. I could take a few days' holiday and just go for the hell of it. But it's hardly a good practice to get into. I have ads running here on the blog, but they sure don't provide anything like the income needed to pay for five hours of my time - let alone five days!

What's the solution? Well one idea could be 'sponsored posts' - not disimilar in concept to promotional features in magazines and newspapers. I make clear that the post has been paid for - AND crucially, the tour operator/airline/tourist board that wants the coverage and is sending me on the trip pays me.

SO... PRs - would your clients be interested in something like that? Not only sending me on the trip, but also paying me for my time in return for a certain amount of coverage? AND would it make a difference to you if the posts relating to the trip were marked as 'sponsored'? (VERY interesting point this one.)

AND... READERS - how would you feel about the occasional post on Travelblather that is more promotional in nature? Does it completely negate the value of the blog or is it no big deal?

The idea raises all sorts of issues and making it work in practice would not be easy.

21 thoughts on “Bloggers on press trips… can it work?

  1. Jeremy,
    Great post. I'm a travel blogger that covers Florida beaches and islands. I've been offered several media trips, and have taken one of them. It is a great way to gain new material for a blog. But you bring up a point that I've often mentioned to my fellow travel bloggers: Yes we are getting a "free" trip, but we are not being compensated for our time.

    In my other profession (the one that most often pays the bills) if a prospective client asked me to come to their place of business to give them the value of my services, not only would they have to pay my travel expenses (including hotels and meals), they'd have to pay me my hourly rate while I was there. Why should it be any different for a writer? Why should I spend my time writing a review for a hotel that will increase their business without being compensated for my time, my expertise, my credibility, and more importantly, for the valuable readership I'm reaching.

    I'll tell you why I think it is different for many writers. It's because there are so many people who are willing to write for free. I know quite a few writers who are not at all dependent on their writing income. They do it for the "free" trips, for the "prestige" of being published and calling themselves travel writers. While this is an issue now, travel blogging is still in its infancy, and I think this may change.

    Tourism businesses will someday realize that all blogs and all bloggers will not generate the same results. Businesses will learn to differentiate between a blogger with a highly targeted readership that responds and a blogger who has little influence or credibility. Leaders will emerge. Metrics will track effectiveness and influence.

    As for "sponsored" blog posts, I think this is a non-issue for honest bloggers. I'm not even convinced that it is necessary to add a statement of disclosure to a sponsored post. Why bother? If I'm making claims that are not true, just to get paid, how long do you think it will be before my readers figure that out? And what will happen to my credibility? Why would I want to make bogus claims and risk my reputation as an honest writer for a couple of hundred bucks here and there?

    I do sponsored posts now and then on my blog. They add value to my readers' experience. I'm careful what I write and how I approach each sponsored post. I refuse to make claims that are unsupported or unverifiable. If I haven't been to a place, I don't try to make it sound like I have.

    You stated it well by saying that as bloggers, we have to make it clear to clients that we write what we experience and what we judge to be appropriate and correct, not what we are paid to write.

  2. I think the real appeal of blogging is the element of tell-it-as-it-is honesty. And that's what gives some PR people the fear.
    As professional freelancers, we all trade off deadlines, word counts, angles and briefs against what we actually want to say sometimes. I've worked on some hideous assignments whereby the trip was a disaster, but I still had to find an angle to make it readable and fulfill the commission. That's not easy sometimes and I'm not happy about it, but that's the business.
    I doubt I'd take a blog-based press trip in the near future. I'd blog if I was on commission, getting paid anyway and found another spin or anecdote to recount away from the main story. But I'd post on the basis of no money, my personal view and no editorial control.
    This is how I'll try to build my presence online at this early stage: separate to the day job.

  3. hmm. Twitter eh? Wish you could integrate tweets about a specific post into the post... (Can you? - almost certainly not on Typepad I imagine!)
    Anyway... thanks to Lewis (twitter.com/lewisshields) for his tweets:
    - Would a sponsored post lack credibility? Why not just buy advertorial?
    - enabling bloggers to experience is different to paying for time I personally think sponsored would devalue coverage
    And: Casey (twitter.com/KCKiwiGirl)
    - I think the point is that PR is valued more highly because it's NOT paid for!
    (My response - it IS paid for. Your client pays you... maybe we should be more transparent with readers and make them aware of this)
    - Good journos deliver honest, balanced opinions & readers apreci8 this! We're paid to facilit8 and communic8 the +ve messages!

    Thanks for joining the debate... both of you guys work in PR... I think the thing you've not managed to cover from my perspective is paying me for my time to do a trip. Someone has to do it.
    If I'm writing a piece for a newspaper I get paid when the piece is published. If Travel Cos are serious about engaging with bloggers they need to realise that they need to support this nascent form of journalism financially. If bloggers are becoming increasingly influential and communicating in a far more targetted way with an audience your client wants to interact with, isn't that something worth paying for?

  4. @David - Thanks for your really thoughtful comments.
    By the way I really like the Visit Florida site - I often use it as an example to show people a great CVB site that's using 'people like me' to show me around. Using a ranger of bloggers to add personality is such a great idea! (http://www.visitflorida.com/)
    Anyway - I pretty much agree with all your points... Ultimately I hope too that some bloggers will gain greater credibility as the 'real deal'. In theory that's how things should evolve. And if they do it 'might' make it possible to earn a living through targetted ads too. But I think this is a long way off at the moment. Right now though there is so much content out there - much of it really poor - that telling the good stuff from the bad is not easy.
    Interestingly, I've had lots of views of this post, but few comments. Feels like the PR gang aren't interested in putting any cards on the table... (?)

  5. So another PR joins the debate –

    Actually, I agree with you Jeremy. A "free" trip is all well and good, but it does not pay bills (my other half is an ex-travel freelancer - so OH how I know this!). It is work; hopefully fun, horizon broadening and interesting work; but work none-the-less.

    I also understand when Casey says PR is valuable because it is not paid for. Yes, the client pays us. They pay us to convince the right media to attend press trips. However, they don’t pay you (or the newspaper) to put the copy in.

    And this is where "a leap of faith" comes in, and one of which I am aware of in every trip I organise.

    There are so many "what ifs". What if you don't like the place we send you to? What if things go wrong? Us PRs try to mitigate against this - but at the end of the day it is up to you to write or print what you want. You can write a good piece, a bad piece or (which happens a surprising amount) no piece at all (which from my POV is far worse than a bad piece).

    As you are not paid for by us there is little we can do about this. PRs understand this and hopefully roll with it. We know the value of a positive/interesting/quirky piece which resonates with your readers. I am sure PRs and press agree that a good piece of independent editorial is far (far) more powerful than advertising.

    So, what happens when we pay for your time? I think you lose the autonomy you had when you went "for free". If I was entering into a financial agreement with a journalist, I would expect them to provide copy which I was happy to see in print. I would expect it to be in your style and tone (the reason why you are being paid – we LIKE what you write!) - but I would not expect a "warts and all" expose, or additional pieces which might not suit our own goals. If I was recommending to one of my clients to pay for a journalist’s time and see the article run in a "sponsored by" section, I would expect them to see copy in advance and be happy to see it in print.

    I am just not so sure journalists would be so happy.

    Is there a common ground which matches your needs of going away for a paid press trip and the needs of our client, whose expectations will be raised when they are paying for your time and space in your publication? Would you be happy to compromise your editorial freedom or would a client be happy to give you free reign?

    I am not sure? So another question, is there a way to make this work? It is a really interesting, and important question as blogs continue to grow in influence and importance.

    A long time ago (before the internet – well, not really, but you know what I mean!) the company I worked for, Flagship Consulting, surveyed 100 travel journalists on a range of topics on press trips – likes/dislikes, etc – and printed a book on the subject. This was largely to educate our travel clients on how trips worked and to explain the “unwritten contract” entered into on a press trip. It seems to me it is time to revisit this – the rules are changing again. Maybe we should work with some bloggers like you to work out the questions we need to ask?

  6. Another PR wading in!

    Jeremy, I came to this post after we talked on Friday. I should have mentioned Alex Bainbridge's post back in October, I was involved in the commenting then and even tried offering trips to Darren from Travel Rants and Alex. Tried to explain that we didn't necessarily need a guaranteed ROI and that they could approach it as you've explained - just because you're accepting something doesn't mean you can't be impartial, as long as all parties involved understand the agreement under which the trip is being accepted.

    I hadn't actually thought of the financial issue involved for bloggers though, of course a writer commissioned for a national newspaper or magazine will receive a fee. People like Alex or Darren who aren't journalists too probably wouldn't think of this either, Darren in particular likes to talk about how his blog is not and probably never will be a source of revenue. Coming from your perspective I realise you need more than the prospect of a 'free holiday' to get involved. Not sure how to solve that right now...

  7. @ Sophy @ Ian - thanks both for taking the time to comment. Interesting stuff
    Travel writing is never totally impartial. (Well I don't think so). I may well post more about this sometime as it's an interesting debate...
    I think PRs do more than 'convince the right media to attend press trips' these days. Obviously that's an important part of the job, but increasingly they try to do more than that... to create the story and the angle... to control the deal.
    To a degree journos and editors accept that... and even welcome it - IF the angle is good. But it's a very difficult balancing act... no one likes to think they are being 'controlled' and as you say writers do occasionally publish stuff that makes a PR's hair stand on end...
    Anyway... my point is, most travel journalists spend their lives skating this line between complete impartiality and keeping multiple parties happy - PR/operators/editors.
    I'd have no problem letting a client see copy in advance if we'd agreed the angle and it worked for all parties... (I sometimes do already just as a courtesy if it's with a PR/operator I really know well - just to make sure I got the details totally correct.)
    If I could make clear in a post that a piece was 'sponsored' in some way. (Not necessarily with a great big 'Sponsored Post' banner - just with a sentence early on that explained why I was writing about a particular topic in the first place.) I have no problem with this.
    I already do this from time to time with Rough Guides. They are kind enough to mail me free guides when I need to research a new destination. I think their guides are great... so occasionally I post something about them. (There's no agreement to do so... I just think it's good practice to return the complment.)

    So guys... would you ever meet me in the middle. Use some of the cash your client is paying you to represent them to pay me for my time? The benefit for you guys is that there's no editor in the mix... so you know the piece WILL be published and won't be messed around with.
    (The non-publication thing - another interesting topic for a post!)

  8. I've been reading all these posts with interest and, like some others who have already posted, I would be very uncomfortable running sponsored posts as part of my main blog.

    I would worry about my credibility with readers. And the next stage would be sliding into allowing my "sponsors" to shape my content, letting a kind of "if I've got the name I might as well have the game" attitude prevail.

    Perhaps there's a middle ground of running sponsored posts as a separate and subtly marked section of your blog - much like the pages that Vogue or Elle occasional marks "Promotion" or "Advertisement".

    Many of those pages are well designed and interesting. They are often a great deal of fun for the writer - in fact I have occasionally enjoyed writing such copy for the International Herald Tribune's special sections, researching everything from designer jewellery to corporate in-house gyms. They are always clearly marked in some way as sponsored and I imagine such they are reasonably well read or we'd soon see them disappear.

    It's likely that a lot of unbiased, unsponsored editorial space is paid for by those promos and advertorials. Perhaps this is one way for successful and influential bloggers to pay for their own activies without waiting for google pay per click ads to actually produce a living wage.

  9. At the moment I don't think paying bloggers is a good idea. We don't pay journalists for newspapers and magazines, which at the moment have much higher readerships, so it would seem daft to spend money on bloggers, just to 'cover all bases'. It wouldn't be economically sensible.

    Where would it all lead to anyway? Let's say you agreed to pay £500 to one blogger to go on a trip, and he went, and wrote about it. It might be objective, it might say 'sponsored' on it. Another blogger, who has a more influential blog, might demand £1000 to go on a trip. Then as his blog gets even more influential over time, he might put his price up to £2000. A PR agency (and ultimately a client) would then end up having to shell out thousands each time they wanted to send a group of bloggers on a trip. It wouldn't happen with print media, so why should it happen with blogs?

    So maybe we are too early along the road for UK bloggers to accept press trips. It is happening quite widely in America, where professional travel blogs like Jaunted and Globorati pay their writers, so they are then in a position to accept trips. Seems to me there might be scope for a UK version of Jaunted?

  10. Hi James
    Thanks for your comments... I see your points and accept that a client can't get into a position where they are forking out large amounts of money to send bloggers on trips.
    But print media and blogs are not the same - that's why I started this discussion (and I guess why people are contributing to the debate) - the whole point of it is to wipe the slate clean and forget current modes of working...
    Just to stoke the debate a little - Maybe I should just approach the client directly and get them to pay me what they'd normally pay you for your services? What does the PR agency add to the mix?
    Best wishes

  11. Hi James
    Nice links... very interesting.
    Hadn't been party to that debate before... so am reading with great interest. Fascinating
    Cheers and thanks again for commenting

  12. Hi Jeremy,

    I tried to comment on your post earlier today - almost wrote a book! But my computer died on me so here I go again. I'm a journalist by trade, a sometimes PR by necessity and a blogger by choice! I'm really interested in what you and your commenters say, mainly as it's a conversation I've been having in my own head!

    I have some but not a great amount of experience of going on press trips as a journalist and of writing so-called 'knocking pieces' as a result of those trips. The principles of fairness and accuracy in reporting were drilled into me years back - for that reason I sighed to myself on one press trip when I heard the PR getting very chummy with the other writers and laughing about the fate of some brave/poor soul who had written a negative report and hadn't been invited back on oodles more fabled press trips to scoff free food etc.

    In recent years, as the editor of a charity's magazine I was invited on a limited number of press trips with my family and cringed as I heard writer colleagues harranging PR people in restaurants with the words "We're journalists, we don't pay'. How could readers get a fair picture I wondered if this was what was going on behind the scenes. I was cheered by news of specific publications and editors who refused to carry, commission or write pieces where the trip was set up by a PR.

    Then what goes and happens?Two weeks ago I was invited by Disney's UK PR team, as well as 6 other so-called 'mummy bloggers' for a five-day tour of the theme parks in Florida, staying at a five-star resort. This took me away from work, which is now as an agency director, and I went with the intention of also being able to pitch paying publications and basically to milk it for all it was worth in career terms.

    It appeared that all but one of the bloggers chosen were at worst 'anti' Disney and at best apathetic about it. But we were all bowled over by the experience. Therein lay my "problem" - this fantastic and frankly joyous experience was free, laid on by an expert and very hardworking PR team - not wholly representative of what any other UK family would experience.

    But I reconciled myself with the fact that I wanted to be totally honest, and in this case that meant reporting I was totally blown away. Because of who I'm blogging for, the fact I already have a relationship of trust with them, it was very important that I was blogging totally in my own voice, and also by making it very clear in what I wrote that this was a hosted trip.

    As soon as the invite came and was accepted and I saw who my fellow attendees were, I was intrigued at how the trip would pan out - would we be more grateful as bloggers? Would there be less cynicism?

    One of my fellow bloggers wrote a post within hours of our arrival that could have had any PR team wincing in parts, focusing as it did on swine flu and the overhyped/plastic nature of much associated with Disney, and also reporting that bloggers were more 'anarchic' than journalists:


    But days later, like the rest of us, Jane was singing the praises of the customer service, the five star spa treatments and the gourmet food.

    As the couple of weeks have passed since the trip I have reflected again on whether as 'mummy bloggers' we would be more grateful and less cynical and really have come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter, we have all come back and written in sometimes glowing terms about the treatment we had, while still in most cases pointing out aspects of the Disney experience we weren't so keen on.

    This has opened up debates among commenters and so on - and the PR team has said it was this 'ripple effect' from bloggers that they were interested in.

    I've now started a tarvel blog for families called http://www.havealovelytime.com and already have some further offers from PRs for smaller UK breaks, some of which will be accepted for the writers on the site. This is clearly expressed and will continue to be in the posts on the site.

    I hope this experience may be helpful to the debate.

    all the best,


  13. Seems I have missed a great discussion here. I think Jeremy adds a good point early on – impartiality, I suspect PR companies want you write about the positives but no mention the negatives. Can you imagine someone like me doing that? I would be letting myself down and more importantly my readers.

    I cannot bring myself to read blog posts that are written because they have received a freebie product, or a freebie trip. I don’t know what it is but I just cannot trust what they say. I am not suggesting that there not telling the truth, but it does make me go out and visit that destination or buy that product.

  14. I have blogged about experiences on press trips on my Cheapest Destinations blog and the Perceptive Travel blog whether that was the assignment that took me there or not. I agree that "5 days of my time with no remuneration" is a serious consideration, but doing sponsored posts is not the answer---that is crossing the line into an area that destroys all credibility in my view. Getting a free trip or product is one thing. Getting paid to then shill it for them is quite another.

    Your revenue production is your responsibility, nobody else's. If your blog is not generating enough, then that's a problem in itself. Anyone getting enough traffic to be invited on a press trip halfway around the world ought to be able to work from the road while they are on the trip and keep making the same money they would if they were home. Otherwise, this is a hobby for you. Successful blogs make money while their owner sleeps...

  15. @ Ferne "If I've got the name I might as well have the game.." Yep. On reflection I think you're right... maybe it is about having a separate sponsored section. I also wonder if there are different levels of acceptance for a blog like mine which is more industry facing than a blog that's fully consumer facing like yours?
    @ Linda. Very interesting reading that blog post you link to... seeing the way the posts go from negative to positive over a few days.
    Fair play to Disney. I LOVE how they have GOT social media...
    "While print media is great, a piece appears in a paper and is read once and that’s it. But a blog sends out ripples, it develops a life of its own and spreads through the web." says the Disney PR person they meet at Walt Disney World. That's kind of the summary of this whole post and the great comments in a sentence.
    @ Tim My blog makes me next to nothing. (We've kind of batted this one around before haven't we!) My revenue responsbility is of course mine and that's why I'm looking for more creative ways to earn it. I'm investigating travel ad networks to use rather than google ads which are pretty useless... but I wonder generally... don't know about you, but I hardly ever notice or click on a banner ad. So rather than just use the same old-media style ad model... I was simply trying a different angle with this post... (And why not. Isn't that what web's about?)
    I also don't agree with the 'successful blogs make money while their owner sleeps' line. It doesn't mean much really. Lots of businesses derive revenue whilst the business owner isn't on the job... but so what? You still have to get up each day and keep posting... otherwise your 'sleep earnings' will diminsh quite quickly won't they? Bit of a red herring in my opinion.

  16. Aloha,

    It's a pleasure to wander to this discussion by way of your posting it on the Hawaii site. I too would like to post my take on our latest version of sponsored travel-blogging viral-marketing or what not:


    Suffice to say, particularly in as environmentally fragile of a place as Hawaii, this face-off between community wellness-oriented blogging, and bluntly capitalistic PR becomes apparent. Add to this public (taxpayer-supported) agencies promoting in this fashion -- the same agency being charged with environmental-cultural preservation -- and you got a pretty convoluted picture. In any case, such mendacity has been an education in what diverse forms "social media" can take.

    Then again, it's nothing new to realize that advocacy for the public good just doesn't bring in the sort of revenue that leads bloggers to sip Mai Tais in Hawaii.

  17. Hi Darren
    Thanks for stopping by. :-)
    I got a bit lost in that post you link to! I get the impression the issues there are more around whether traditional tourism per se (as opposed to community/eco tourism) is good for Hawaii - regardless of the communication channels being used (ie be it blogs or more traditional media like features in magazines or whatever). Clearly that's a very important debate, but not one for this post!?

    Just FYI anyone else reading this - check out this link below to see the context... really interesting discussion about a sponsored bloggers trip to Hawaii

    Best wishes

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