New media has been around for several years now, and blogging has become accepted by many agencies as a practical tool to promote their product. Professional bloggers are now charging for their services, and providing an excellent return on investment for clients that are employing their services.
Mallory on Travel, has been fortunate enough to benefit from this travel media ‘revolution’, the editor attending a number of media trips. These have included individual, and group trips, with other bloggers, freelance, and staff reporters with traditional print publications. One thing which has become clear is that we often have different requirements, and aims, therefore we need treating differently.
There are plenty of great PR agencies, tourism boards, and clients which already understand this. They have invariably been involved from the start, often have their own blogs, have listened to those attending previous trips, and reacted positively to this. They are the agencies getting the most from new media, they have learned from any mistakes made, and are benefitting from this experience.
However, this is not always the case, there still seems a perception in some cases that bloggers are receiving a ‘cheap holiday’, and therefore should be grateful. Even the opinion that bloggers just want everything for free!
This is inaccurate, we merely require valuing for the service we can provide. We attend trips on a professional basis, accepting the invitation to work to promote a product. Most will work extremely hard to do this, providing a great return on investment for the client.
I’ve been asked on many occasions to provide feedback about the organisation of a trip, unfortunately when done, the response is often “I hear that a lot”. Sorry, but if this is the case, why is it still a topic of discussion, why aren’t these issues being addressed?
Possibly the agency doesn’t consider the feedback relevant, but probably more likely there is such a large turnover in team members, the message gets continually lost. If feedback isn’t acted upon, it becomes irrelevant, it does not help either party.
“We need to work together”
To ensure a successful trip, and a happy client, which ultimately is the aim of both agency, and blogger. We need start working more closely together. Treating us the same way as traditional print media journalists, is not getting the best from either form of media. Their strengths, and weaknesses need understanding, and particular requirements addressed.
PR agencies have dealt with print media for decades, changing working practices is not always easy. However, to fully utilise the power of new media, adapting to the requirements of those that are using it effectively is a necessity for effective promotion.
One main way in which bloggers differ from staff reporters is that we do not have a fixed salary, expense account, or even an agreed commission from a publication. Any expenses not covered will need paying out of their own pocket.
Here are some examples of dealing with additional expenses to attend a trip while working to promote a product:
1. On a recent trip which required car hire, refuelling, and several meals were not initially covered, requiring me to have to make a case for reimbursement.
2. Reimbursed expenses on some trips taking as long as four months for repayment!
3. Regional travel expenses not covered on two recent trips. One I was only informed of this the day before travelling. forcing me to offer to withdraw, resulting in paid arrangements eventually being offered for travel. The other trip provided more notice, and declined altogether.
4. An agency not booking any paid baggage for me, despite already discussing all the photography equipment that would be needed. The airline involved insisted that expensive equipment would be placed in the hold, forcing me to withdraw when actually at the airport. This wasn’t even about money, it was about care of equipment required to do my job.
5. Confusion on a group trip when participants, which included freelance journalists, and bloggers being asked to pay for a hosted lunch. This caused some consternation, leaving all dissatisfied and still needs resolving.
6. A contributor attending a trip in my place had to pay £46 for return taxi home recently, not an insubstantial sum.
These examples should not arise, all agencies need to consider of the needs or bloggers, especially costs involved in attending any trip. This is not elitism, it’s not asking for anything which the recipient has not deserved, it is merely valuing the blogger.
Conversely, another agency understanding the problems of expenses, offered to pay for rail travel, and a required overnight hotel stay in London without question. This is the kind of relationship which is likely to last for sometime, and prove successful for all parties.
It needs reiterating that most bloggers are professional, and will be attending a trip to promote the product, working very hard to achieve this. Therefore it seems reasonable that all relevant major expenses need covering, all transportation, accommodation, hosted meals, and at least half board being included as standard.
The question needs asking; would you agree to pay expenses which were a direct result of your job?
“new way of thinking”
It’s accepted that clients have tight budgets, but slavishly applying the same budget constraints to all forms of media, regardless of circumstances, may not be the best approach. Separate budgets may be required when arranging trips involving print/staff journalists, and those involving bloggers. A new way of thinking for a new media seems sensible.
Revenue streams, and methods of monetizing sites are decisions for individual bloggers, charging flat rate attendance fees, or tiered social media campaigns are just two methods being employed.
Bloggers are now being paid to attend trips; this is great, and provided editorial integrity is not being compromised, it is wonderful that the most successful are able to make a living. Having read some of the blogs involved, editorial integrity does not seem an issue. Their readers can remain confident of impartial content, it’s hoped others going down the same line in future will be equally consistent.
One of the results of this however, is that clients are now inviting bloggers with ‘lower’ profiles, who may not yet be in a position to charge for their services. I have witnessed this on several occasions, when attending trips. 18 months ago, these would have been filled with high-profile bloggers, agencies are now accepting those establishing themselves, with smaller followings. This is great too, as it allows new talent to attend trips, giving them the opportunity to travel, and gain experience.
There is a possible downside however, unfortunately there have been some instances of unprofessional behaviour, or excessive expectations. Fortunately, these are still relatively rare. There is also a risk that clients will not receive the exposure they’d anticipated due to lower readerships, and social media profiles.
It is imperative that we are seen as professionals, and obviously all bloggers should act accordingly. We need to do our job to the best of our abilities, ensuring the client receives a satisfactory return on investment. Clients may need to be realistic in their expectations however, selecting bloggers with fewer followings on social media, or readers on their sites will usually result in reduced exposure, in the form of impressions, and mentions.
It is not merely about numbers however, it is also about engagement, finding bloggers which have very active social media channels with engaged followers will be more beneficial. It is also about a targeted audience, the blogger with 300 followers in the target audience is preferable to the one with 30,000 that aren’t.
Contacting the correct bloggers, and suggesting possible compromises in budgets, ensuring there is a balance between cost, and return is where agencies will earn their dollar.
Clients need to decide why they choose to use bloggers, what are they hoping to achieve? In most cases it is probably social media interaction, tapping into the huge potential of this newest, and most exciting form of media.
If this is the case, we need WiFi! This isn’t a new comment, it’s been stated hundreds, if not thousands of times. However, we still end up dining at restaurants, or staying in hotels without connections. This is frustrating, as bloggers, we are keen to do our job, and promote the destination.
Sharing images on the various social media channels is probably the major appeal of inviting bloggers, it is instantaneous, and can generate excitement for a destination. Without WiFi this is not possible. It’s accepted that in some destinations internet connections are not possible, but in a major European, or North American city sourcing WiFi is essential, anything else seems counterproductive ….. so again the question, why did you choose bloggers?
A frustration I find is that when attending a trip, working hard to promote the destination through social media, and the agencies involved fail to get involved. It is especially challenging when attending as an individual, regardless of the number of followers, using a hashtag still needs the engagement. Agencies which have an invested interest in generating some excitement should surely be working just as hard, retweeting, and sharing images.
“The dilemma of time”
Most travel bloggers are first, and foremost travellers, usually starting a site due to a desire to travel, not necessarily for financial gain, although monetizing usually comes later.
There is often an expressed need for more time, we want to interact with followers about the destination. Sharing stunning, and interesting images, or posts on social media, possibly publishing an article while in destination. This is what we are all about, generating excitement.
Bloggers are seeking stories to share, and racing around destinations, spending a relatively short time in any one place, is not conducive to this aim. When additional time to explore is provided, the greater the opportunities to uncover valuable stories. Providing post which will effectively engage readers, inspiring them, and ultimately lead them to consider visiting.
There seems a need to choose between retaining trips of the same length, and reducing the number of attractions, or extending the length of the trip.
Traditional media may have only been able to devote a few days to a trip, but personally speaking I would rather spend longer in destination. This provides more opportunities to discover stories, while getting to know the destination, and therefore I’m in a better position to promote through these stories. Obviously, I cannot speak for every individual blogger, therefore discussion between parties is necessary to discover what suits all involved.
I suggest greater input be sought from attending individuals into the itinerary. Possibly even consider hiring a blogger to consult on dealing with other new media journalists. Those that have been around since the beginning, and have attended enough trips will certainly be in a position to contribute.
To get the best from this new generation of travel writers, they need providing with the resources, time, and material which will interest both them, and their readers. This will almost certainly result in higher quality content being produced, which is more engaging for their readers, and followers, providing a better return on the investment made by the client.
It requires effort on both sides, bloggers need to act professionally in accepting trips, they have responsibility to the client, and the industry to ensure they fulfil their commitment to the trip. They should also make sure a destination, and itinerary is suitable for them, this may require some tweaking so the content remains correct. This will need remaining strong enough to speak up if it isn’t. It is our responsibility to ensure that the client receives an acceptable level of return on their substantial investment.
We should also be prepared to decline a trip if the itinerary really doesn’t suit the site, again there is a responsibility to our readership, and the client to produce quality content. If this is unlikely, why attend, we need to work together as a community, recommending more suitable bloggers when necessary.
New media is still developing rapidly, there are still many avenues which still need exploring, but all parties need to review how we work together, establishing professional relationships.
It’s possibly time both parties provided up front terms and conditions, clear, and concise details required for attendance on trips. Inviting agencies should include them in the initial communication, and the blogger should include their own in the reply. Clear, and transparent communication between all parties involved in a trip is essential,
Both parties will then be totally aware of the requirements of the other, and be able to make informed decisions on whether to work together.
The future is bright for new media; I feel very optimistic that it continues to head in the right direction. There will be a few blind alleys but, provided all parties are prepared to act professionally, can demonstrate flexibility, are innovative in finding new ways to work together, and remain conscious of each others needs, then blogging can become the first choice promotional tool for many agencies.