Thinking of traveling abroad? Go to Rome. I insist.
Admire the stunning Bernini sculptures at Galleria Borghese. Explore baroque Rome from the Spanish Steps to
the gorgeous Trevi Fountain, with its muscular figures and writhing sea beasts.
And the food and wine? Exquisite, whether it's the stewed lamb in wine sauce at Lo Scopettaro trattoria, or the
veal saltimbocca I learned to make in a cooking class at Città del Gusto.
Oh—but does it temper my recommendation if I tell you I was on a trip paid for by Promoroma, an agency of the Chamber of Commerce of Rome?
Sponsored press trips, also known as junkets, raise questions that cause many journalists to shy away. Yet the PR value for everything from tourist
destinations to tool factories can be great.
Travel writer Evelyn Kanter says reporting trips are hard work, not junkets. She says she hauls around three
cameras, changes hotels daily, speed-dates museums where she would rather linger, and visits world-class resorts with no time to go to the beach.
But, she adds, "A well-planned itinerary matched to my needs helps both sides of the equation. I make my editors happy, and the PR pros make their clients
The Roman chamber has also sponsored trips for groups such as tour operators, which show quick results. "With journalists, you have to look at this
medium-term," says chamber consultant Manfredi Minutelli.
Here are some tips for making your press trip a success:
1. Be selective
Know your media outlet when you approach a reporter, says Lauren Simpson, PR and social media senior strategist for Cohn Inc. in Denver. Cohn organized a press trip for the $50,000 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, which has often presaged the Nobels. Many mainstream media outlets
won't allow staffers to accept trips for the awards, says Simpson, who also organized press trips to Puerto Rico at a previous job.
Check out clips and be wary of reporters who seem overeager, bombarding you with emails and calls, she says. That is, be wary, but don't dismiss the eager
beavers out of hand. Their enthusiasm might lead to multiple stories.
2. Get off the beaten track
In Rome, we saw celebrated sites like the Coliseum, but we also toured the nearby Basilica San Clemente,
a fascinating three-level church built atop an ancient Roman villa and pagan temple. We headed into the countryside to Gelso della Valchetta, a family-owned organic winery.
Such trips offer fresh angles that the more familiar destinations don't. This makes it easier for writers to pitch editors.
3. Take them behind the scenes
Promoroma took us not only to the winery's production facilities, but to see the olive-crushing at V. Pompili & Figli. These outings afforded a glimpse of traditional Italian businesses.
Similarly, SBC Advertising has sponsored trips for companies such as Channellock, the Pennsylvania maker of those blue-gripped pliers, and Wayne Dalton, an Ohio garage door maker. The result was stories in several influential sites, among them a Tool
Box Buzz piece, "Channellock-American Made and Proud of It."
Niche reporters "want to see the process of what it takes to make a Channellock tool or a Wayne Dalton garage door, not just the public tour of a corporate
headquarters followed by a stale meeting in a board room," says Krista Hazen, an SBC account director.
4. Provide access and offer exclusives
Give reporters access to the right people, says Cohn's Simpson. A reporter invited to a Neustadt festival "was allowed to interview our laureate one on
one, and in return she wrote a terrific article profiling the author and her works," Simpson adds.
PolicyMic, a target medium for Neustadt, has published
on prize winners.
5. Don't overlook the bloggers
Although most traditional journalists are not allowed to accept all-expenses-paid tours, SBC's Hazen says bloggers can grow awareness and interest in the
next tour you plan. "Use these posts and firsthand accounts to pitch additional bloggers and media contacts," she says.
6. Treat them well
In Rome, we dined at "il leggendario Harry's Bar," a plush, wood-paneled joint whose guests have included
Woody Allen and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. "For American tourists, Harry's Bar represents something special," Minutelli says. But equally fun was lunch at
Ristorante Murraccia, a country trattoria set on a trout lake and adorned with a crucifix over the fireplace.
"Make accommodations as nice as they can possibly be," adds Donna Balancia, president of Balance Marketing
of Los Angeles.
7. Make the itinerary mandatory—but factor in some down time
Our itinerary in Rome was packed, and we hit the ground running. Cohn's Simpson recommends making the itinerary mandatory. Still, reporters also need free
time to dig deeper into their topics.
Zach Everson, travel news and travel buzz editor with the AOL-owned MapQuest, once
went on a trip that led to a story about gladiator training in Rome.
The sponsors also allowed him time on his own. "Give them some free time to explore," Everson says. "That's often where the best material comes from."
Get advanced brand journalism tips from Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela.]
8. Be prepared
Sudden downpour? On past trips to Puerto Rico, Simpson carried Ziploc baggies to protect reporters' cameras and phones. Canceled corporate credit card
because of all those restaurant tabs you're picking up? Carry lots of cash and a spare credit card. (The latter happened to Simpson-during the same trip on
which she lost her wallet in a marketplace.)
The Puerto Rico trips, incidentally, have won coverage in BBC Travel, Forbes, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons (print) and elsewhere.
Anne Klein, a director at H&Co., promotes the Durango Area Tourism Office
in that cool Colorado town. Durango hosts nearly 100 journalists a year, leading to some "incredible stories on our area." Trips have scored stories in
publications such as Outside Magazine and Men's Journal, newspapers, and influential blogs.
The town welcomes reporters' families and individualizes itineraries "to personalize the trip to meet their needs," Klein says.
Done right, sponsored trips can generate enthusiastic coverage. One wine writer on our trip to Rome said that it "changed our lives." Me, I'm just hoping
to return for the gladiator training.
Russell Working is a staff writer at Ragan Communications.