My first famil (often called familiarisation trips, fam trips or press trips, where a tourism body or PR company ‘host’ you) happened almost by accident. I had written for a food magazine about the town in which I live and once the editor said she was happy with the piece, I tried my new technique and asked if she was looking for more pitches or whether she had other locations she needed to cover.
She wrote back and said they would love an article about the best places to eat and drink in a particular spot in Australia, and would I be interested in writing it?
You can guess my reply.
Four months after that initial email I was on a plane.
5 things I learnt from my first famil
I learnt a lot about the process of working with a tourism body to plan my trip and what it’s actually like to be hosted. These are the top 5 things I learnt.
1. You are more likely to be hosted if you have a commission.
This might seem obvious, but you are so much more likely to be covered for flights, accommodation, tours and/or car hire if you have a firm commission for a magazine, newspaper or website.
Getting hosted can be a bit of a chicken and egg situation – do you approach the publication to see if they are interested or do you go straight to the tourism body or PR company? My preference is going to the tourism body first, telling them who you are, who you write for, your story idea and saying something like, “I’d love to pitch an idea about X to X publication. If the article gets commissioned, would you be happy to support me with X (e.g. flights, accommodation)?”
There is a proviso though – some publications don’t accept articles from writers who have been on famils or press trips (some, like the New York Times have a ‘draconian ethics policy’ about using writers who have accepted freebies), so it’s always good to check the policy of the publication first.
2. Know the tourism body’s target market and messaging
Usually tourism bodies will have a few target markets (e.g. are their main travellers from other cities in Australia, the UK, USA, Germany or China?) Once you know their target markets, ask yourself: does the publication you are writing for reach people in these countries or cities? Is your publication aimed at the demographic that location is targeting?
Some nationalities love to do self-driving tours of Australia, so pitching a story that will be read by those particular nationalities about long distance train journeys in Australia is, broadly speaking, unlikely to be the right match.
Also find out if the tourism body has key destinations or experiences they want to promote. Even if you have a firm commission it’s always good to check with the PR company or tourism body that they will host you – never assume that because you have a commission they will foot the bill – your story might not fit within their focus for that year or they just might not have the budget to cover you.
3. One story is expected – go beyond expectations
Your reputation counts for a lot in writing and delivering the story you promised to the publication you were commissioned by is expected. Tourism bodies often don’t say this, but they hope you will find other stories of interest during your trip and you will pitch these too.
I had a list of other story ideas that came up during my three-day trip, and I have kept my contact at the tourism body in the loop. She knows that I am actively trying to find a home for these stories.
4. Meet up with your contact person from the tourism body
If they are available, make sure you schedule in some time to have a coffee or a meal with the PR or contact person from the tourism body. I did and I got such a great insight into their focus for 2016/2017, the things they wished freelancers knew (see number 3) and insights into other things to see and do while I was in town.
5. It takes a huge amount of time to organise a hosted trip
Don’t get me wrong. My trip was amazing. I met people who were such committed and passionate producers and chefs that I felt on a high throughout the whole trip. I stayed in two gorgeous hotels and ate beautiful food. But it will take nearly a year from the time I first asked about doing another story for the magazine, to publication (and payment). It took me hours and hours of phone calls and emails to work out my schedule of 15 visits, how long it would take me to get from place to place, how long I would have with each person and then organising that with each person at each venue. It was hugely long hours, lots of travel, interviews and writing a shot list for the photographer. And that was before I had even written the article.
But would I change it? No way.
What about you? Have you been on a famil or hosted press trip? What have been your biggest learnings?
Such fascinating insights, Lindy. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I want to write for that magazine!!! But I am better off pitching to baby mags at the moment :-).
Thanks Michaela! There’s definitely a life stage I had to reach before I pitched food and travel stories!
I am new to freelancing, have only had one commission late last year. Do I need more experience before I write travel articles? Do you think I really need to do the AWC course to write my first travel article?
Also I am a bit confused as to the order I would approach travel famils. Would I secure the commission or the famil first? Thank you
Thanks for your comment and questions. Some people go straight to travel writing, so I don’t think you need to have more feature articles under your belt before you pitch travel stories. It can be a bit of a chicken and egg situation with commission first or famil first – but this article may help – https://thefreelancersyear.com/blog/getting-sponsorship-for-travel/
Thanks so much Lindy, it helps to know 🙂