I’ve just got back from a press trip. And yes, it was great fun. Who wouldn’t enjoy a luxury break in one of the country’s finest houses, oozing with history, and with an opportunity to partake in a five-course taster menu in the grand dining room, surrounded by some impressive paintings, including a couple of Van Dyke’s.
If ever you get an opportunity to go on a press trip it’s worth remembering there are many elements to such trips. Yes, you need to enjoy the experience. But you are there to work. Most press trips are offered to commissioned writers, or at least writers who the PR companies know will sell their copy. (I’ve been commissioned to produce two pieces, which is why I’d been asked to go.) So, in between all of the nice bits of getting access to areas the general public don’t see, and sampling wonderful food, there’s also the important aspect of collecting the material you need to produce the work you’ve been commissioned to do.
On this trip the timings of the schedule overran, which isn’t uncommon at all, in my experience. In some ways that’s a good sign because it means attendees are engaged and asking questions, keen to know more. But one of my commissions involved interviewing the Head Butler, and although I’d missed my slot because the tour hadn’t returned us to the house on time, I was quickly assured that this wasn’t a problem. Well, it wasn’t for me, although I did feel sorry for the Head Butler, who was happy to be interviewed as long as I didn’t mind him working at the same time.
I have to say, I felt rather guilty interrupting him doing his job. And what an important job he was doing - he and his assistant were busy setting up the table for our dining experience in three hours time. But, of course, he accepted the interruption with grace and dignity. Nothing was too much trouble (an attitude all the staff had).
But it reminded me the importance of preparation for such trips. I’d already planned the questions I wanted to ask. This enabled me to get the answers I needed quickly, and assess the situation as the interview progressed. I was able to ask more questions, which was great, but had we needed to cut things short, I would still have got the answers I wanted.
It’s also important to be flexible on these trips. Another interview the following day had to be brought forward. Again, with my questions prepared beforehand this wasn’t a problem.
It’s also worth remembering that such press trips are a networking opportunity too - not just with the organisations hosting you, and their PR company, but with other writers too. And sometimes, it’s not just writers - editors like a day out of the office sometimes and opt to take part in such events. I spent time chatting to an editor with whom I’d emailed pitches in the past. Who knows what opportunities that might throw up in the future?
Being freelance also means you need to maximise the value of such trips. Yes, I’ve been commissioned to write two pieces for one magazine, but I was also collecting research for other potential ideas. You never know what ideas might arise, and the more you can get out of such trips the better. In addition to the two commissioned pieces I now have other three ideas I shall be pitching, and who knows what else will crop up over the coming days as I think about things further?
Over the next few days I shall be processing the hundreds of photos I took, typing up notes, typing up audio interviews and cataloguing information - all ready to use for any other ideas that crop up. It’s important to get these things done while everything is still fresh in your mind.
Are press trips fun and exciting? Too blooming right. But to make the most of them, they’re hard work too. It’s work that will reward you, though.
So, if you get the opportunity to go on a press trip, make sure you enjoy it. But remember why you’re there, and exploit the opportunity to its maximum.