Lindsay Stein
Lindsay Stein

The gap between media and client is a chasm we publicists regularly dance in, but amid the ever-changing media landscape, this simple two-step has become a choreographed waltz. In this routine, we balance client expectations with the maintenance of mutually beneficial media relationships—on pointed-toe and with bells on.

The media we rely on aren’t mere email addresses. They—like us and like the brands we serve—have dedicated their livelihoods to the world of travel, and while our passions may align, our expectations may not.

At our shop, we’ve developed a dedicated media department, laser-focused on building and maintaining mutually beneficial media relationships. What does this entail? Communication and outreach that doesn’t always come with a pitch attached. Regular media audits and temperature checks to stay current on what’s working and what writers want to make work. Molding client initiatives to better fit into conversations that are already happening across the travel space.

In liaising between these two camps—treasured staffers and freelancers as well as paying clients—we’ve gathered a few key truths.

No, the editor will not be supplying an assignment letter. Assignment letters have gone the way of the horse and buggy, creating new tensions for everyone involved in the earned editorial media process. Clients are wary of making an investment without a guarantee, writers are wary of embarking on trips without confirmation that they can produce and publicists are wary of connecting the two, armed with nothing more than trust. Unlike paid media, earned media comes with no mock-ups. Clients can’t be guaranteed what a story will look like ahead of publication. We work to make our clients understand that, no, the freelancer cannot confirm their story angle before actually experiencing the thing, nor whom they will pitch it to. We angle mine and “story sesh” with our media friends to try and whittle out an imagination of what the final product will look like—ultimately, another exercise in trust.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '24 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine

Networking shouldn’t feel transactional. We’re not in the business of bartering. We’re people people, making our living in relationships. Strong media relations strategy dies in the email outbox but blooms over martini dinners and book signings. We call our colleagues “media friends,” because that’s what they are: friends. We want to know what they’re working on, even—and especially—if it has nothing to do with our clients. We want to know their far-flung, bucket list destinations, why they like to travel and what their mothers are like. Network to create a network, not to solicit coverage.

A great press trip has airfare, free time and a hook. Amid the ever-changing landscape of editorial employment, it’s a cardinal sin to expect your writers to pony up out of pocket for your benefit. Respect their time and their talents, book the flight (and the Uber too). That said, a passionate travel journalist isn’t looking for a free vacation—that’s just the work perk.

A newsy hook is absolutely essential to any successful press trip, be that a property opening, a newly unveiled flight route or an innovative offering new to the experience. Beyond the scope of a standard property review, a truly impactful first-person narrative needs to have a hook. Once they bite, let them swim freely. According to our media friends, the bane of their collective existence is a too-tightly-packed press trip. Experiential travelers need time to do just that—experience. In between informative, research-coded experiences and collective moments of togetherness, give your writers time to laze, explore or, hell, write.

Events are relationship-building exercises; they’re rarely news in and of themselves. “Travel CEO Touches Down in New York to Meet with Media,” read no headline ever. Media meeting events are a celebrated part of the PR machine, but a celebration of what—and for who? Events exist on the networking arm of a strong media strategy, coordinated to spark conversations, foster connections and lay the groundwork for future stories. At their very best, great media events are a powerful tool in the industry’s thought leadership machine, an opportunity to boost brand awareness from inside the clubhouse.

Earned media, like all good things, takes time. For clients, the conclusion of a press trip begins a ticking clock of anticipation for extensive first-person stories across major legacy publications. This is a PR fantasy. In reality, the post-visit coverage window is much larger, with some stories taking upwards of six months—sometimes even longer—to actualize. Press trips are not mere exercises in story production but rather a forward investment and one made early. According to a recent survey of our agency’s media friends, most travel writers look to secure a press trip three to four months in advance. Along those same lines, they prefer to receive brand news upwards of three months in advance. If your client’s deal comes with a brief booking window, good luck landing it.

There’s an old saying espoused to fledgling publicists and students of the industry: No two days are the same. This is true now more than ever. Today, we’re bending the binding on a freshly printed glossy issue of a magazine that may be shuttered next week. Tomorrow, we’ll book a suite for a staff writer who, next week, may be forced to freelance.

In supporting journalists amid mass layoffs and uncertainty, we can do more than secure them a sailing or a safari—far more. The challenges facing writers of all employ are systemic, unpredictable and equally vexing for brands whose media strategy runs on predictability. We seek out writers, not by byline, but by potential and by a shared affinity for the experience of travel.

For brands and media friends alike, we’re listening, translating and setting a tone forward in the industry—and we’ll do it over lunch.

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Lindsay Stein is Director of Media Relations at Decker/Royal, where she leads media relations strategy and outreach for clients ranging from hotels and tour companies to destinations and cruise lines.