As Travel Blogging moves from the alternative media to the mainstream and more consumers research and book their holidays online, the Travel PR sector is looking to tap into the influence that Travel Bloggers have with their audience. It’s a new way of working that many PR companies are still exploring, while Travel Bloggers are wondering how they might trade coverage on their blogs for sponsored travel, to enable them to travel longer for less.
Last week I attended a blogging event in London, hosted by one of the leading Travel PR companies Four BGB and organised by Travel Bloggers Unite. It was an opportunity for the PR representatives and their clients to meet some of the Travel Bloggers over a few drinks and discuss how they might work together more effectively.
There was a panel discussion with Oliver Gradwell of Travel Bloggers Unite, Andy Jarosz from 501 places representing the bloggers, Phil Ryan, Head of Digital at Four, representing the agency and Janet Neville, Marketing Director at SeaFrance representing the clients, with Debbie Hindle, Managing Director of Four BGB chairing the discussion.
What PR companies and their clients want;
Many travel companies see blogging as something untested and downright scary. Some are even burying their head in the sand and hoping that the social media revolution will be a passing fad that they can ignore, while others are cautiously prepared to dip their toe in the water but don’t really know where to start. We bloggers are somewhat insulated from commercial considerations, but in the world of business it’s all about Return on Investment or ROI and every penny has to be justified in terms of results and revenue.
PR companies sometimes have an uphill struggle persuading their clients that it’s worth working with Travel Bloggers and so there are some things that we can do to help them. They need to know what is motivating each blogger and ideally to be presented with clear information about what we are looking for from them. They need to know who our audience is, so they can match us with their clients’ brands, how many readers we have and any other stats or information we can give them that will convince them that they will get some return for the client’s investment. The more professional we can be as bloggers in putting together our proposition, the easier a job they will have in convincing somewhat doubtful clients. Janet Neville from SeaFrance told us how she receives up to 300 e-mail enquiries a day and so anything hitting her inbox has to stand out as something that will be beneficial to her company, if she is to give it any attention.
Dave and Deb from The Planet D are examples of an emerging breed of professional bloggers who treat their blog as a business. They send a sponsorship package to prospective travel sponsors laying out information about their blog, their brand and their audience and what they can specifically offer each sponsor. Unusually they also use tools like Tweetreach and Google Analytics to provide their sponsors with stats that demonstrate the effectiveness of their articles and social media activities, to provide information on that all important ROI. I’ve also recently started producing one page information sheets for different markets such as destinations, hotels, cottages and restaurants with details about my blog at Heather on her travels with my stats and what I will offer each sponsor and I have a Press/PR page with case studies and links from previous sponsored trips.
One fear I’ve heard several times before from travel companies and their PR representatives is that bloggers are difficult to control and may be openly negative, which is difficult to stomach if the company is footing your bill. In the old media world where travel companies have financial clout as advertisers, there is an editorial buffer to stop anyone being too tactlessly negative. Yet the self published bloggers have no such editor to control them and take pride in speaking honestly to retain the trust of their audience.
I think one way around this in that PR companies need to do their homework on the bloggers they invite and suss out whether a blogger’s voice and style will work for their particular client. As Oliver Gradwell from Travel Bloggers Unite pointed out, if you do your job properly in organising and running a blogging trip, then there shouldn’t be too much negative to write about anyway. Personally if I’m taking a sponsored trip I try to present the things I enjoyed, rather than looking for the negative, and if there are things that aren’t so great I will mention them but not as the overwhelming theme of my article.
So what are Travel bloggers looking for from PR companies?
Debbie Hindle had it right when she said that PRs know that bloggers need trips that are tailored for their interests, with plenty of free time in their schedule to blog and use social media, not to mention keep all their other plates spinning in terms of running their blogging businesses. And of course we all agree that free and fast Wifi everywhere you go is a must, especially if you want bloggers to create some buzz through Twitter and social media in realtime. Please don’t expect us to foot the bill for extortionate roaming charges when the Wifi’s not working. Hopefully more PR companies will take this seriously – perhaps using gadgets like the TEP pocket wifi that Sherry Ott and the rest of her Mongol Rally team were given to enable them to stay online while in London and as they pass through Europe.
While the traditional model of taking small groups of journalists on a press trip has successfully translated into similar blogging trips, there are some bloggers like myself who prefer to arrange our travel on an individual basis and I hope that gradually clients and PRs will broaden their approach and be flexible to suit the travel style of different bloggers. For instance if you’re aiming at a family travel market it makes more sense to send a family to experience your holiday, as I did last autumn on a sponsored trip with Eurocamp. As bloggers become more established, they are also looking for longer term relationships with travel companies and perhaps payment to become ambassadors and promoters of brands that will appeal to their target audience.
There was discussion among the bloggers as to whether it worked to mix journalists and bloggers on the same sponsored trip. For Alistair McKenzie of Travel Lists, this was a big no-no as they work in different ways and have different needs – print journalists tend to be in competition with each other while bloggers will be much more collaborative in cross-promoting each other’s content and social media. However, Deb from The Planet D disagreed, having been on successful mixed trips and felt that it was more about the individuals and the shared interest in a particular travel niche that was important.
So if you’re a Travel Blogger, be professional and clear about what you can offer and if you’re a Travel PR do your homework on what bloggers need and always check that the wifi will be up to scratch.
What Andy Jarosz had to say; The business case for blog trips; A bloggers’ dilemma
What Debbie Hindle had to say; Travel orgs and bloggers get talking
What Alistair McKenzie had to say; Did I really say that? – yes I did
This article is published at My Blogging Journey, where you’ll find information on how to build a better travel blog.
You’ll also find lots of great travel stories, videos and podcasts at my travel blog at Heather on her travels .