By Ellen Hill
ONE of the most stressful yet rewarding tasks of my role as a communications consultant has been to design, organise and run media famils, which are particularly relevant to the tourism and hospitality industry, of which many of my clients are members.
Unlike a pollie doorstop, a police media conference or even sipping a cup of tea in a pensioner’s lounge room while they tell you the secret to long life, a familiarisation visit offers journalists a firsthand immersive experience of a business or product.
Whether it is an overnight stay in a new hotel, a spin in a new release sports car, a behind-the-scenes tour of a truck body workshop or a cellar door opening it is prudent to treat visiting media as non-financial (not free) VIP guests.
The pay-off is an expectation of editorial coverage (hopefully positive, but that is a topic for another day).
There’s plenty of excellent information out there about what journalist’s expect from a famil and how to host a successful event (one of the best is this podcast with Holly Galbraith and Emma Castle). Some PRs even specialise in visiting journalist programs (Michelle Grima of Australia PR, for example, is renowned for her awesome itineraries).
However, there’s (at least) two sides to any story, so let’s balance a journalist’s expectations with the perspective of a PR and/or a business:
No free rides
JOURNO: Although enjoyable, this is not a holiday for me. No one is paying me while I’m here. I have given up time with my family and other work commitments to pursue what I think is a worthy story. So please ensure there is an itinerary of relevant activities, meetings with staff who are authorised, articulate and knowledgeable but leave plenty of time for me to write up my notes, take photos and do some social media.
PR: This is not a holiday. If there is an observatory viewing at night or a dawn breakfast with the wildlife, I do expect you to be there. Staff have been seconded from other tasks (and paying customers) to assist you and the GM has blocked out his diary to meet you so please interview him.
Cost of a famil
JOURNO: The value of my story is far greater than the cost of a paid advertisement. Also, the cost of hosting me, my Plus One and even my teenage son, is negligible compared to the reach of my editorial story to thousands, if not millions of readers, viewers or listeners.
PR: We appreciate that. Really we do.
However, your complimentary experience costs us actual money (extra staff wages, food and beverages, the seat on the tour you’re not paying for and the bed we cannot sell at premium rates). We know you’re worth it though and welcome you.
JOURNO: Itineraries are not lucky door prizes. My pitch to an editor and what story I tell depend on it. They must be locked in well before arrival and include all relevant information like contact details, addresses, names of contacts, appointment times and social media hashtags. To avoid awkward situations, clarify what experiences are complimentary and what I am expected to pay for (eg: Lunch at own expense’’ orMassage for 1 x journalist, extra guests 20% discount’’).
PR: Itineraries take hours of time and effort negotiating between the client/employer and the journalist. Changing appointments or activities on a whim, not turning up or fronting up with an extra guest or dietary requirements without notice could cost the business money, damage our relationship and even affect the outcome of your story. However, I do understand that “things happen’’ so let me know what’s happening and I will work something out.
JOURNO: My Plus One keeps me company, is a model for my photos, takes my photos (conversely, they are the photographer and I am the model) and often doubles as my assistant.
PR: One double, queen or twin room is no big deal in the scheme of things. If the journo is happy then they write happy copy. Most businesses are even happy to feed and accommodate a younger child.
Do your own work
JOURNO: Please provide a press kit in hard and soft copy format. It should include a general media release, relevant fact sheets, graphs, case studies etc, social media hashtags and images (either links to digital collections or on USB sticks).
PR: If you attended the famil I expect you to write the story. High res images will be supplied in general media style, not to your specialist style for your niche publication.
Meals and gifts
JOURNO: Small unique, quirky or practical gifts worth up to $100 which remind me of your business and this fabulous famil are always welcome (eg: pens, classy business card holders, vouchers, umbrellas, smart phone covers).
Food and drink? Yes!
PR: A very nice working lunch or other appropriate refreshments will be supplied (unless the famil is a dining experience of course). Please do not hang around the buffet, ignore our chairman or GM when they come over for a chat or ask for a doggie bag.
JOURNO: When I ask for further information or images, please provide them promptly for best chance of your story being published.
When’s the story going to run? Don’t go there. Just don’t.
PR: I will send you a grateful “thank you’’ note the day after the famil inviting you to request further information and images. I will then email and phone regularly, then incessantly until you deliver the coverage you promised before enjoying the complimentary hospitality and privileges offered by my client.
Do you agree? Can you add to this list?
Ellen and David Hill worked in traditional print media for 20 and 30 years respectively. In 2012 they unexpectedly found themselves “on the dark side” in PR. Today, they run a communications consultancy. When not crafting communications for high-end clients, they traipse the country in search of stories, usually in a grubby hatchback piled to the ceiling with gear, a lanky teenager and, sometimes, a pampered pet rabbit called Sophie.