Five Common Questions from Business Owners about FAM Trips
A FAM, or Media Familiarization Trip, is an organized trip which brings groups or individual travel writers to a destination with the goal of generating publicity or, earned media, which is a preferred method over advertising. Community businesses play a crucial role in supporting the trip to ultimately benefit everyone through increased visitation and, in some cases, lodger's tax revenue. But businesses may not completely understand the importance of their help, especially as it pertains to comps. Here are five of the most common questions asked by businesses, along with helpful answers:
Who gets invited on Media FAM trips?
Depending on the focus of the trip, travel writers and (sometimes) influencers are invited since they contribute to a variety of travel related publications and digital magazines. Because many travel magazines and newspapers have such a small staff of in-house writers, it is becoming accepted for freelancer writers to attend FAMs. Freelance writers are not employees of a specific media outlet and, as the name implies, are free to submit articles to a variety of publications.
Especially with the rise of social media, anyone can refer to themselves as "influencers." Any PR agency or Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) worth its weight should carefully vet the writers (or influencers) in advance to ensure that they have 1) written an article in the past three months, 2) written for media outlets with a readership or UVM (unique visitors per month) of at least 500,000 but no less than 300,000 and 3) have an assignment from a reputable media outlet, or at the very least, an idea of who they will pitch.
Why am I being asked to cover costs for everyone on the trip?
Group FAM trips can be costly. From airfare, to food, to lodging to experiences - it all adds up. Travel writers typically do not pay for trips out of their own pockets, though sometimes airfare is not covered for them. Meals, lodging, activities and transportation are generally covered by the DMO or organization inviting them out. For small communities who wish to generate stories in top-tier publications, a small budget can seems like a major deterrent from being able to host a trip.
The reality is when it comes to promoting a destination, all businesses have a stake in the outcome of a successful media trip. Even though the writers in a group may experience the same activity, they aren't having the same experience. Every writer has a unique perspective and will focus on different angles, stories and features of the trip which many of us would never even consider. These writers are successful because they know what sells and what grabs the interest of the reader. In turn, those readers remember those places which translates into a booking, a visit or a stop at those businesses.
So, ensuring that these writers have a great experience is a challenge (especially for the picky ones - and there's always one in every bunch!) but it can only happen when the community businesses do what they can to help make it a success. And donating, or comping, food, lodging, tours is the only way these trips are possible. It's difficult to ask a business to comp a food bill for $500 or waive $2,000 worth of lodging, but even with just 1,000 readers who come to the business over the course of a few months, the business benefits exponentially.
Example: let's say 100 new people visit a restaurant in one month because they read about the destination, and each spends $30 per visit. That’s $3,000 - three times the amount donated, and that’s a conservative number in just one month! It’s understandable how that kind of ask could impact a business in one night, but we ask businesses to consider the long-term benefits and value that a steady stream of visitors to the community will bring.
Another example, referred to as Ad Value Equivalency which, is arguably a tried and true means of gauging value. Let's say that you placed a full page ad in Forbes magazine, which is equal to the size of an article written by a travel writer. According to Forbes' 2023 Media Kit, you would need to fork out $50,000 for a full page ad. And, remember, print ad pages are easy to turn and digital ads are easy to click off. Articles, however, are deemed more trustworthy because they're written by a writer whose actually been to the destination. Multiply the number of eyes that are looking at that ad - 5.36M - and, well, let's just say, it's alot! So, businesses have to consider if the amount they are losing is worth the gain?
Is there a guarantee that my business will be featured?
The short answer: not necessarily. It’s like the old saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” The same is true with writers - you can show them the best of what a destination has to offer but you cannot - if I'm being honest - guarantee placement in a story. But the reality is, most professional travel writers are keen enough to understand how FAMs work, and will include mentions of where they stayed and what they ate. They know that recommendations about food and lodging at a destination is what interests most readers.
On one media trip, I took writers to a restaurant where I introduced them to the owner, who happened to be a former Olympic medalist. Months later, a story came out in AAA that focused on how she went from being a medalist on the world stage to a restaurant owner in a small town. She was (and is) amazing, and her story generated business for the restaurant. Organizers should know the location well, and the people who live in the community. Introducing the writers to the locals generates story ideas that will resonate with readers. And some writers generate several stories from just one visit. What we have control over is showing them the best of that community - its people, its culture, its geography and what makes it unique. But we leave the rest to the writers!
How long are press trips?
Depending on the size of the destination, a good rule of thumb is 3-5 days. For smaller communities, one full day with two travel days is usually enough, though packed with activities. It’s always a challenge on the first day because writers are coming from various parts of the country, and have different arrival times. This should be factored in when the PR or DMO pick them up form the airport. The first day is usually a meet and greet at a restaurant and a mellow activity that gives the writers a chance to familiarize themselves and get their bearings. The second and third days are busier and can sometimes be chock full of activities. The goal of the trip is to showcase what visitors are able to do most of the year, so it’s never advisable to provide an activity for the writers that the general public wouldn’t be able to experience. The reason? You will have a lot of unhappy visitors come to your destination, looking for that experience because they read it online in a travel magazine.
When may I expect to see the resulting articles?
Most travel writers have an assignment from a media outlet so it depends on when that outlet needs the article. Generally, articles can surface one month to, sometimes, up to six months after the trip. That’s why it’s a good idea to share with the writers the activities that take place throughout the year. A summer activity that the writer experienced may not be available three months later in December. The organizer will share the resulting articles with you, and in some cases, the Equivalent Ad Value that an ad would have cost to generate the earned media received. In most cases, the articles are worth the wait!
Media FAM trips are time intensive to plan, and take a lot of coordination with many moving parts. But in the end, the articles generate new visitors, eager to experience the beauty of the destination on their own. So get ready!