While most travel writers are well respected, hard-working professionals, the recent economic recession has produced a bumper crop of people purporting to be travel writers, whose stories are never published. They ask to be included on media tours; they want complimentary hotel accommodations; airline tickets, or other considerations; and all too often, they receive them just for the asking.
Recently, a public relations executive took a call from a writer who had heard about a media tour being conducted to a destination resort that featured air transportation and accommodations. Her credentials were excellent. As proof, she provided at least six photocopies of recent by-lined feature articles from major national magazines. For all appearances she was the kind of writer for whose attention public relations people vigorously compete.
Why, then, did the executive decide to call the magazines’ editors to verify the stories? Because the writer made two suspicious claims. First, she stated she had been assigned to take the trip by a well-known magazine, which reputedly will not accept stories from travel writers who take free trips. Second, she claimed she had an assignment from an in-flight magazine for an issue that followed the media tour by two months. The fact is, no in-flight editor will accept a freelance story that close to the publication date.
After contacting the editors to verify the “writer’s” stories, it was revealed that on at least one, she had deleted the real author’s name, stripped in her own by-line, and photocopied the article.
Every hotelier and travel industry public relations professional has such stories. They range from instances in which a “writer” submits a photocopy of a falsified editor’s “letter of assignment,” to unwitting invitations to people who adroitly position themselves as writers, regularly take media trips, and never produce a story.
By observing a few simple screening procedures, you’ll be able to identify the writers worth hosting:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for references. If you conduct a media tour and receive expressions of interest from writers you don’t know, ask them to name two or three PR representatives with whom they have worked. Then, call the representative, and ask if he or she was pleased with the writers’ efforts. If a freelance writer claims to be on story assignment, ask for an original letter of assignment from the editor. It’s not always a guarantee that the story will be published, but it authenticates the writer.
- Watch out for people claiming to be newspaper or magazine staff writers and editors, who in reality are advertising sales people. Advertising is a crucial channel of marketing, but it should never be confused with editorial. When conducting background checks on writers, always ask for original tear sheets of their stories. Remember the photocopies with the stripped-in by-lines. If you receive a request for free accommodations from someone claiming to be an editor, don’t be shy about calling the publication to verify that the person is indeed on staff, or is a contributing writer
- Suggest that your PR representative make a study of those publications that allow staff or freelance contributors to take free media trips for story-gathering purposes. It will make the screening process so much easier. By knowing how to cull the professional travel writers from those who aren’t, you’re certain to see more than just the promise of a story.