Press Gazette, 16 May 2008
Seeing the world while the PR company picks up the bill…
Freelance journalist and author Monica Porter takes the uninitiated through the do’s and don’ts of the ever-popular press trip
Every hack loves a press trip. Seeing the world at someone else’s expense, travelling business class, staying in top hotels and being lavishly wined and dined by eager-to-please PRs – what’s not to love? But the Press Trip is a curious entity with unspoken rules, and it doesn’t take too many flouted rules for the whole thing to go wobbly.
Journos are a contrary bunch and each press trip generally contains at least one irksome member. These are the standard types who can ruin your fun: A) the one who is late for every carefully-timed group departure, causing nerves to strain and schedules to go awry. B) the one who constantly insists that the coach/car/minibus must stop so he can take yet more photos, although everyone else is keen to keep going. C) the one who complains rudely in every restaurant because nothing is ever right, thereby instilling the view in waiters from Anchorage to Zanzibar that the British press are loathsome. D) the one who gets stupidly drunk each night because he can’t resist the lure of free booze. E) the tight-fisted one who never stumps up for anything, expecting every incidental expense to be covered by somebody else.
There’s not much you can do if you’re stuck with any of the above. Just make sure you’re not one of them.
And just as you can’t choose your fellow trippers, you’ve no control over the choice of accompanying PR. Most of them are efficient and good at managing people, but a few simply can’t handle a motley crew of press folk. I went to Istanbul years ago with an inexperienced young female PR. Not only did one half of our group get hopelessly separated from the other half for a few hours in the middle of the bustling city, but one hapless hack was robbed while in the Turkish baths and because the PR had inadvertently left him behind, he had to make his own way back to our hotel, miles away, with no money and only the vaguest idea where he was. (I don’t know if the unfortunate incident featured in his travel piece.) Be aware that you can’t necessarily rely on your ‘group leader’ for everything, like kids on a school outing.
There’s a price to be paid for every freebie, and the price for a press trip (besides writing a piece) is to listen graciously to the predictable promotional spiel. It’s bad form to disappear to the bar just as the hotel manager begins his customary tour of the facilities, although I’ve known one or two hacks to do this.
A press trip is a uniquely aberrant phenomenon. You spend a few days, maybe a week, travelling with a collection of complete strangers, connected to them only by dint of your profession. You spend almost all your waking hours together, eat every meal together, sit beside each other on long journeys and experience exotic foreign adventures together. All this is very bonding and you become surprisingly close, a tight-knit group, perhaps even confidantes. In this illusory, short-lived intimacy it’s easy to give away too much information or make unguarded remarks which you later regret. The chances are you won’t ever see these people again, but they’ll remember your indiscretions. They’re journalists, after all. So enjoy each other’s company, but remember that your fellow press trippers are not your new best friends and they don’t need to know about the secret fling you once had with a well-known editor. Not that I’m alluding to myself, here. Naturally.