Media Missions: In-Person or Virtual?

July 15, 2021

With the rise of virtual connections and the decrease of PR budgets, how should PR professionals conduct media missions moving forward? It may be time to nix the desk-side appointments (outbound media missions).

According to data accumulated by SATW and DCI in our most recent study, The Future of Travel Editorial: What Writers & PR Pros Need To Know, one major place where both PR professionals and the media collide seems up in the air: media missions. The study surveyed Canadian and U.S. media and PR professionals to understand better where they stand on conducting business as we begin to emerge from the pandemic this summer.

You can download the report here for FREE, but let’s parse through the benefits of both in-person and virtual media missions. Far from prescribing one or the other – there are too many variables to make such a claim – we want to plant the seed, at least, that options exist for destinations worldwide as the pandemic continues and long after. Doing what’s best for your media mission organizers and media market will be up to you, but consider all options first.

Prefer In-Person Media Missions?

In-person media missions are comfortable and familiar, we get it. We all dream that the pandemic never happened and that we’d never have to think about virtual events. Human connection is what draws many of us to travel in the first place.

There’s something edifying about having a group of writers and journalists interested to hear what you have to say, getting excited about your destination. The human connection is undeniable. It’s difficult to recreate that sort of relationship over a video conference. It’s not impossible but it’s just not the same.

To that end, it also makes it easier to network, to pass contact information, to associate a voice and a face with a publication or a story angle. On a video conference, it’s less interactive. You’re less likely to meet someone and it stick as well. Granted, that’s not always the case, but for many, in-person meetings lead to better results more quickly.

And for PR professionals looking to bring a little swag to the media, or a demonstration, or even a tasting, in-person is the way to go. Currently, such events are on hold, of course, and most of the media surveyed in our report affirm not needing to attend these events anytime soon. Still, they are extremely effective at distributing a little experience or a takeaway that will follow a journalist home.

When that same journalist logs off a Zoom call, there’s no real sensory memory to hold onto. PR professionals want to grab the media’s attention and hold it. In-person media missions make that much easier. If the journalists are willing to attend, of course.

Like the Potential of Virtual?

In-person is great, but that doesn’t mean virtual media missions are less worthy. In fact, their perks are definitely worth considering moving forward. It’s a classic game of pro versus con.

First and foremost, virtual events can reach nearly limitless audiences. No one needs to travel, and journalists are all available via video conference by this point. Virtual events can cross borders and time zones to welcome a maximum number of participants. There’s no need to limit your media event to a select few journalists who can fit in a room in a specific city. Invite the bloggers. Invite the influencers. Your media mission online can be as big as your video conferencing software allows.

As such, virtual media missions also require less investment from withering PR budgets that are slow to return. While press and FAM trips in a destination remain important according to the media, events held where the journalists and travel writers live and work seem less enticing.

While different from in-person media missions, virtual ones cut back huge costs and can ultimately produce similar results in generating coverage and interest. No venue rentals. No travel costs. No catering. That money can be spent elsewhere, and can be spent better. On top of money, PR agencies will also save big on time. That time can then be spent on customized pitching efforts.

Of course, at least through the end of 2021 while the pandemic continues worldwide, virtual events are intrinsically COVID-safe. By appealing to the safety aspect, journalists from hard-hit places like India or Brazil can still attend your event without fear. Even as vaccines roll out successfully, there will be hesitancy even among U.S. and Canadian media workers to meet face to face for any sort of event.

Virtual media missions nip all of that concern in the bud.

Which is Right?

Every media mission is different. For a domestic mission within the United States, in-person meetings in New York or L.A. may become feasible more quickly than in Toronto or Montreal. Unfortunately, the unpredictability of COVID-19 makes it hard to plan in advance. Low infection rates today are not a surefire sign that rates will stay there in a month.

Appealing to the cautious and acknowledging that DMOs are working with reduced budgets, virtual events will be the smarter choice. While riskier and less likely to be heavily attended, in-person events will create deeper connections. Either way, the media will appreciate options, so at the end of the day, organizing a hybrid event could be the way to appease everyone!

If you’re still in doubt, gauge the interest in your target media market with a survey if possible. It’s easier to follow the numbers than your own intuition.

In need of some more numbers to understand the current state of media missions in North America? Download this study for free, The Future of Travel Editorial: What Writers & PR Pros Need To Know, to go beyond media missions to learn more about the survey of PR professionals and media in the U.S. and Canada. Contact Robyn Domber at [email protected] to learn more about the researcher.