Working Together; Bloggers and PR Agents

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.

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Coming over all Tweety

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.

Blogging along the Columbia Icefield on the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper, lined with the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-3-2 columbia_icefield

New media; an irresistible force?

“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.

Blogging on Striding Edge, famous scramble on Helvellyn in the English Lake District on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain_Mallory_Can14015631 striding_edge

There are still challenges to face

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.

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It’s not a game of chance

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.

“Why bloggers?”

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.

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New media needs to progress in the right direction

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.

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There are some lighting the way

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.

Montreal mural festival of street art, the creative streets of the Quebec province city, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-116 montreal_streetart

We may need some superheroes!

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.

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We’re better together

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Comments 10

  1. Peter Parkorr

    I like the suggestion of T&C’s – often what the main priority of a trip is for the agency can be lost in communication, especially if organised through fellow bloggers. And no social engagement from the destination or company that want to be promoted is my biggest bug bear…

  2. Anne Sutherland-Smith

    Iain, thanks for an insightful article. I have only recently done my first sponsored trip as a travel blogger and it has definitely been hard work – but I have also worked hard to promote the destination to the best of my ability and reach. I ensured that upfront I clearly advised what I would provide in return, which included how many articles I would write, when I would publish them and what sort of social sharing I would provide. So far so good but it is definitely hard work compared to just blogging to suit myself! And yes, I did eventually get free wifi at my hotel but only after I asked…

  3. MikesRoadTrip

    Hey Iain, Great write up. I have been thinking of writing something similar as I have an extensive marketing background and have seen how dramatically the travel industry has changed over the past five years. There is an interesting lag going on…that is, the necessary shift of some marketing dollars to the PR department. There are few print travel journalists left who are being paid a salary, and traditionally, few PR firms have budgets…meaning, their job is to get writers/journalists interested in covering something for free. Well, the dichotomy is that few travel writers/bloggers are being paid from a publisher or other outside entity, but of course we all need to be compensated for our work. I have also found that many PR firms are still a bit clueless by the fact that the industry has changed and they still believe that content producers should work for free. I have made a couple of suggestions to organizations like PTBA and TBEX about creating a system that could demonstrate individual blogger value to destinations and PR firms. I also think further education needs to take place on the transition to “new media.” I too am very hopeful on future and think that those of us who’ve paid our dues and who produce quality content will be rewarded. When I started over four years ago, I couldn’t even get a press trip, now I not only have my pick, but sometimes I even get compensated. Times are changing, but we all need to be able to see the opportunities and seize them.

  4. Ryan Biddulphit

    Hi Iain,

    Keeping communication channels open so both parties can be clear on what’s expected is a smart point. Chat. Talk. Be open. Be clear, honest and truthful and both bloggers and PR agents can prosper through these relationships. Much of the problems noted above pop up when both parties are not communicating effectively.

    Some honest mistakes arise as far as costs being covered and the like but in broader terms one side may be trying to get a bit more out of the relationship than expected. This happens on both sides of the fence.

    I’m a blogging tips for travel bloggers guy over at Blogging from Paradise but if I was approached by a PR agency, and chose to enter into a partnership, they’d soon know of my brutally comprehensive, detailed-oriented fact finding session to see if the 2 of us were a match. I am ruthless with my time – publishing eBook #4 in 3 months, shortly – as I’ve multiple online businesses to run while still doing the travel bit, o it’s necessary for me to clearly see if both parties are a fit. I’d grill ’em, but it’d be to our advantage.

    Super smart post here Iain. So happy to tweet it.

    Signing off from Savusavu, Fiji.

    Ryan

  5. Lash

    Hey Mallory,

    Wow, what a detailed article on the state of blogging work. Thanks for that.

    This confusion, debate and hesitancy to work with bloggers has been going on as long as I’ve been around in 2011. It sounds like progress is quite slow, a bit like pulling teeth. But at least some PR agents, Tourism Boards and companies are finally starting to cover bloggers expenses, make sure we have the technology we need and even pay us. So that is at least encouraging.

    You’re absolutely correct that bloggers on press/PR trips work their asses off and may incur high costs in transportation, accommodation or other expenses like special baggage fees and so on. I agree completely that a company partnering with a blogger, whose main aim during the trip is to promote the company, should cover the expenses, as a minimum. It doesn’t make sense for anyone to pay huge expenses out of their own pocket for the purpose of promoting another company / hotel / tour / country.

    Hopefully things will continue improving for us hard-working travel bloggers and that the conservative members of the travel industry will begin adapting better to the changing times.

    Thanks again for the in-depth post.

    cheers, Lash

  6. Gavin Haines

    So ultimately, where do your priorities lie? With your readers or clients, as you call them? I ask because you claim to have a “responsibility to the client” and at the same time talk about maintaining “editorial integrity.” You cannot do both if you are being paid by the tourist board to promote a destination. Your posts are glorified advertorials, sponsored content masquerading as an impartial editorial.

    Tellingly, in your piece, there is no mention of your “responsibility” to readers, who, lest you forget, are the reason why you are invited away on these trips. And I know what you are thinking, journalists accept press trips all the time, which makes them guests of the tourist board. And that’s true, in some cases. But they are under no obligation to wax lyrical about a destination or polish turds. They can say what they want and they have a responsibility to their readers to do so. Not so for sponsored bloggers, who, in your words, have “responsibility to the client.”

    It is interesting that you choose to compare yourself to staff writers, but what about freelancers? Freelancers (and other bloggers such as the excellent Man in Seat 61) don’t get paid by tourist boards to visit a destination, they earn their crust by flogging yarns to media outlets. They are under much more pressure than you to find stories, whilst adhering to editorial standards that have been put in place for the sake of integrity. And they do this without the safety net of an expenses account and without being reimbursed by the tourist board.

    Travel bloggers who are paid to attend media trips sacrifice editorial integrity on the altar of profit. It’s that simple.

    1. Post
      Author
      Iain

      Thank you for your opinions Gavin, but firstly I haven’t been paid for a single trip, and if you had read and understood the post fully you would know this. You describe my posts as advertorials, that’s again your opinion, and you are entitled to that. I have to wonder however, how many posts you read, mine is an experiential site, and basically describes the experience for me, which the readers should be able to relate to.

      I have the utmost respect for my readers, and ultimately write for them, however I am invited to visit these destinations, by ‘clients’ which are obviously 100% confident they are offering a great package, mostly above reproach.

      It’s therefore very easy to write in a positive tone about amazing destinations, and cultures. My attitude is always positive anyway, seeing problems as challenges which go hand in hand with travel in general.

      I am also not under any ‘actual’ obligation to wax lyrical about a destination, but do feel it is more beneficial to emphasise the positives, while providing information regarding possible downsides. if you had actually read some of my articles, you would find some of these.

      Your opinion of me as a blogger, or even writer is not really important, you seem to have an agenda, the opinion of my genuine readers is of much greater relevance.

      My obligation to the ‘client’ is to provide quality content in the form of writing and images, it’s that simple. How others choose to balance their obligation, especially with paid for trips is a matter for their conscience. I can only hope that the best will not allow their editorial integrity to be compromised by paid for content, but do believe it’s possible to do so.

      I also note you comment on my pressure to find stories, this is enlightening, you know nothing about me, already wrongly assuming I get paid to travel, and write, therefore I can only guess at your motives. If you had read and understood the article properly, you would already be aware that I don’t get paid for my editorial integrity, and agree there maybe a conflict of interest for those that do.

      To claim that the majority of bloggers, even those which are being paid for trips have compromised their editorial integrity, and don’t care about their readers, is a sweeping statement, ill informed, and dismissive of the many which are producing quality content. It is equally flawed to claim all freelance or staff writers are never swayed by ‘incentives’ to visit, and write about a destination. There are likely to be good, and bad examples in both forms of media.

      Personally, I’m tired of the laboured blogger versus traditional print media antagonism, it’s about time both sides realised there is a place for both, and both still have something different to bring to the table. Especially as many journalists, freelance and staff now write blogs and many bloggers are producing content for print media. The debate is defunct and should be consigned to history where it belongs.

      Once again thank you for your comments, but please in future, read the piece fully rather than cherry pick the points you wish to attack. Read other articles by the person in question before taking the sweeping statement route, then by all means feel free to make well informed comments in future.

      1. Gavin Haines

        Thanks for your response, Mallory, I appreciate it.

        I have read your post, twice now, and I don’t think you have made it clear – i.e. the fact you don’t charge to go on these trips. It is ambiguous at best. You endorse the fact professional bloggers are now being paid to go on media trips (which you later describe as being “great”) and you say your site has been fortunate enough to benefit from this travel media revolution.

        You also describe the tourist board as a “client” and use language such as “return on investment,” which leads one to think you may be being paid. However, I’m glad to hear your editorial integrity is not being jeopardized in such a way, although I wish you had made this clearer in your article.

        I’m not trying to start a mud-slinging match here, on the contrary, old bean. And I’m certainly not cherry-picking points to make “attacks” or “sweeping statements” – the points I raised are what I took away from your piece and I simply reserved my right to reply.

        And as a reader of your post, I resent the suggestion that I should have read your other articles before commenting on this one. You have published an opinion piece, which seems to have raised a lively debate, and I have decided to comment on it. You are clearly very proficient when it comes to social media and you must realise that, by virtue of the way you promote your articles through platforms such as Twitter, they will be read in isolation from one and other. Alas, people will cherry-pick content.

        I applaud and read writers of various guises – bloggers, journalists, novelists, tweeters, columnists – and I certainly don’t subscribe to the hack vs blogger debate. As you said, it’s old and boring and largely irrelevant, like a Jim Davidson joke. I certainly don’t have an axe to grind, either, but your accusation that I have an agenda is true: my agenda, in this case, is to be critical of the idea that writers can be paid by a tourist board to promote a destination and at the same time maintain editorial integrity. And I stand by that.

        1. Post
          Author
          Iain

          Thank you once again for your opinion Gavin, not sure how well you actually read or understand anything though, as first name is Iain, or did you simply choose to be discourteous enough to refer to me by my surname?

          You described my posts as advertorial Gavin, which without actually reading seems slightly unusual as a journalist or writer it’s usually better to comment with an informed, well researched position. This is why I suggested you actually read my articles before sharing unfounded and inaccurate comments.

          You may resent that I suggest you actually read some other articles, but as you stated: “Your posts are glorified advertorials, sponsored content masquerading as an impartial editorial” it seems reasonable to expect you might actually read some before making such a sweeping and yes, attacking statement. Some might suggest it should be me that resents your ill informed and by your own admission totally unresearched statement.

          If you had read some other articles and some of the comments left by my readers you would not have been in any doubt as to the validity of the posts and the value to those that read one off posts or regularly.

          I still doubt your ability to read and understand properly, yes I mention bloggers being paid, and that it is great provided editorial integrity isn’t compromised. However I also mention that I have read some of the blogs involved, which makes it fairly clear this particular blog isn’t actually of them. As for the “return on investment” every destination, hotel or other investor which pays to transport, accommodate and feed a media professional has made an investment and is doing so anticipating a return for this. When visiting a destination under these circumstances, I am visiting as a professional, to do a job of work, therefore client seems a suitable description.

          I have benefitted greatly from the new media revolution as you correctly observed, but again it makes it clear that this is through visiting destinations on a variety of media trips. There isn’t any mention of money being involved, you seem to have managed to read that that in yourself.

          I have had several opportunities to join paid for trips, or groups which are arranging such trips, the reason to date I have not accepted any is because I am also concerned about losing editorial integrity. However, if the opportunity to attend being paid for a social media campaign, without any influence on the content of my blog posts I would consider this. This would in fact be part of the terms and conditions for attending.

          I am not judgemental of those that do get paid for trips, how they deal with the sticky topic of editorial integrity is a matter for them. As I mentioned many of those I have read do seem to be handling this reasonably well. It should be considered Gavin, that everybody needs to make a living, finding ways to do so from blogging is not easy and that some have taken the paid for trips route is just another revenue stream. If they do write advertorial style content, providing this is made clear to the reader they have every right to make a living in the manner they choose to do so.

          As I said earlier Gavin you are entitled to your opinions, but please do make sure they are informed before making inaccurate observations.

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