Free hotel accommodation… on-the-house adventure expeditions… cooking classes… film festivals. There’s no end to the number or type of activity travel writers with the right connections can land.
But often there is a catch: Your host will want an assignment letter or some kind of proof that your trip will generate media coverage. And who can blame them? After all, if they’re going to fly you in, put you up, feed you, and make sure you’ve met all the folks you need to meet… then they want to be sure they’re getting some reasonable return on their investment. So want to know how to get an assignment letter that can land you a place on a press trip? I’ll tell you…
You write an editor and ask for one. If you already have a firm assignment, you simply get in touch with your editor and say something like: “Hello, Susan, I’m working on that article we discussed — on non-Disney travel in Northern Florida — and I wonder if you might write me a quick letter of assignment to flash around to PR folks and whatnot? Thank you.”
Or, to make life easier for your editor, you write it yourself on his or her behalf and send it along, saying something on the order of: “I’m trying to save a bit on this trip by gathering a few press perks, but to do it I need a letter of assignment. I’ve scribbled one up in your name, attached. Would you be willing to put this on your letterhead and sign it?”
That letter is likely to read something like this one I’ve just made up… “To Whom it May Concern: Joe Soap is working on an article for me about non-Disney travel in Florida. I expect to publish it in the May issue of Historic Travel. We have a readership of 200,000 and publish 8 times a year. Our readers tend to be well-educated, affluent, and frequent travelers. Please extend to Mr. Soap any help you can as she completes this assignment. Thank you. Sincerely, JD Smith, Editor, Historic Travel”
Will an editor who has never heard from you before just dish out an assignment? Probably not. (That’s why it’s so important that you get those first few articles published… they not only give you some track record, but they give you editorial contacts, too. See: ITWPA) Here’s what you can do if this is the case: Line up assignments “on spec” “On spec” means the editor doesn’t want to promise she’ll buy your story but she’s at least agreed to look at it. And that may be good enough to satisfy a PR official looking to fill a press trip. You’ll need to be up-front about it, though. And you might increase your chances of garnering a spot on the trip if you’ve got two or three such “spec” jobs lined up.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve pitched three “Northern Florida” articles to three different editors at three different publications, and each has come back with a “Sure, sounds good. Send it to me on spec, and if it’s something we really can use, then we’ll buy it.”
Now you can tell the PR official offering a tour to Northern Florida: “I’m interested in participating in the Northern Florida trip you’re sponsoring from August X-Y. I’ve been in touch with editors at several publications and have lined up spec assignments as follows: Parents Magazine — spec article accepted on the non-Disney Florida, a deep-south experience with history, beaches, and wildlife to keep the kids entertained. Florida Today — spec article accepted on the “genteel south” part of the state, positions N. Florida as the state’s culturally rich, and best-kept travel secret. Chicago Tribune — spec article accepted on the “genteel south” part of the state, also positions N. Florida as the state’s culturally rich, and best-kept travel secret with news peg being affordable flights in and out of Pensacola from O’Hare. I’m a freelance travel writer based in Chicago. In the past, my work has appeared in International Living, Parents, and Travel Post Monthly. Thank you for your consideration.”
One quick note on this front: If you’re in this situation and pitching an article to an editor, check the publication’s guidelines ahead of time to make sure the editors don’t have any rules against publishing articles written by writers who have received special rates or consideration while on the road.
Some publications make a point of publishing stories written only by people who have paid full-fare. You’ll just need to make sure you’re not stepping on anybody’s toes. Plenty of publications don’t mind if an article is generated from a press-trip. But some do.