Small gestures pay big dividends

Editor’s note: Following is the conclusion of photojournalist Christopher Batin’s two-part article on making the most of FAM – or familiarization – trips. Part 1 discussed pre-trip preparations.

By Christopher Batin

During the FAM

♦ Make an impression

Make an effort to sit by your hosts at a sponsored meal or on bus travel. At the start of the FAM, I’ve noticed most sit by themselves. Presenting a special gift, or icebreaker in conversation, will usually reap big rewards later on, as they remember out-of-the-ordinary actions from among the large number of writers they host each year.

♦ Take photo notes

While it’s easy to take notes during downtime while on buses or subways, always have a pen and notebook in a zipped or Velcro pocket, so they’re not easily lost when sitting down. Rather than frantically scribbling notes of signs and information boards at main attractions, simply take a flash-free digital image. A flash often blots out type, so up the ISO rating and hold the camera still.

♦ Ask detailed questions

Thorough research and careful observations will reveal pertinent questions or concerns. Now is the time to ask your hosts about those concerns. If the issue has potentially embarrassing consequences, such as undesirable crowds congregating regularly outside the front lobby, or overcrowded fishing holes, be discreet and pose your questions on the side, away from the group. Your hosts will appreciate the input. I’ve made suggestions on quality control to Alaska lodge operators, which they’ve appreciated and implemented, and a number have landed me lucrative consultant jobs.

♦ Work the crowd

On a group tour, take time to visit with every individual, at dinner, or on the bus, train or boat. Exchange business cards and inquire about their purpose on the trip, areas they recommend if they’ve been there previously, and how they plan to write the trip to their readers. You may obtain a fresh, new idea, as most writers on a FAM have their own magazines or newspapers and are not competing for the same readers, so they are more willing to share ideas.

♦ Expand your research

Ask local convention and visitors bureau agencies for more information on related tours, like birding and trekking options, so you can explore possibilities.

♦ Be prepared to sell your specialty

The savvy writer uses FAMs to discover inside contacts. I’m an expert on Alaska fishing, hunting, outdoors and travel, and I have cards and marketing materials that show this while I am networking with others. This has generated countless referrals from writers and agents who have sent people to me for information, to buy books and even for special fishing trips. One such referral led to me guiding the late singer Johnny Cash for a week and getting an exclusive story out of it. Another resulted in me guiding the director of the CIA on a remote fishing trip. Likewise, I contact others when I want the inside scoop on their areas of specialty.

Planting this information in the fertile minds of savvy agents and writers is to sow seeds of profitability. Ethically, it’s OK to toot your horn on a FAM, because no one else will do it for you. But tour etiquette requires that you never, at any time, overshadow or compete with the presentation or activities of your hosts.

♦ Prove to play

Some FAM trips are first-come, first-served to many domestic destinations. You simply pay and learn about the area at a discounted price, no questions asked. Other FAM requirements are more complex. Always be upfront with your host or tour provider as to whether your purpose is educational, informative, or just dipping your toes to test the waters. Today’s elaborate and overseas FAMs often require a reference or proof of a writer’s ability to produce results to qualify for a discounted tour. Some writers view this as pay in exchange for favorable consideration or publicity. If you see this as a negative aspect of the FAM, don’t accept the discounts. If you’ve done your homework, however, you should have the proof you need to satisfy the host.

After the FAM

In any post-review of a FAM, realize that a single bad tour day or guide is not indicative of a lapse in overall quality and service. Look at the overall picture. If you find a problem, contact the tour organizer and express your concerns.

Appreciation is a key courtesy. Send a “thank you” e-mail, or better yet, a handwritten card, with perhaps a photo of you and the host you had someone take during the trip. Place your name and address on a business card adhered to the back, as faces on photos are quickly forgotten. Do likewise for any special coordinators, or tour participants who were particularly helpful.

Follow up in a letter detailing your FAM experience and to verify you do or do not have the story and pictures, and where the feature is expected to appear. Ask for promised additional information to be sent to an address you provide. Get permission in writing to use host-generated copy/photos to perhaps make your own marketing materials. Send copies of the published article to the host. If they see a rise in bookings for that time frame, they will know it is possibly from you. Future trips are possible if the hosts can pinpoint the source of the bookings.

♦ Preparing your presentation

A FAM report is limited only by your imagination. Post real-time reports on blogs and the Internet. Send out a special e-mail with select photos. Consider club or library presentations, or talks to special-interest and travel groups.

No matter what you choose, consider these pointers:

1. Highlight benefits, not features. When writing brochure, presentation or ad copy for the sponsor, highlight the benefits of the trip, so your readers/attendees will know what they personally can expect. Don’t just list a spa, but rather, a luxurious private spa for couples that is perfect for relaxing after a long trans-Pacific flight. And make note not of a “white sand beach,” but rather “a white sand beach that is uncrowded in the evening, which makes for a romantic walk for a newlywed couple.” Readers see the benefit, and place themselves as needing this solution. This type of writing prompts bookings and makes you look good because you observed the details.

2. Spark energy. Capture the energy of a destination if you are giving a presentation. With permission, record native dances or songs. Buy a CD of the music played by local artists. Record street life and animal sounds. Entertain and sell with more than just sight alone. Involve all the senses in assembling your presentation. Identify the thrills of the FAM, by timing the reference in your talk to the right PowerPoint slide or clips. There is good money to be made in travel or sport show seminars.

For example, include items that pull at the heartstrings, like a photo of a mother painting on the street while taking care of her newborn babe at her side. Then take a flash photo of the two of you standing together, and pull out the painting for all to see in the room. You make the experience real, your potential clients will want to be a part of that also, and you sell a book or book a trip.

A FAM trip is a cost-effective, foot-in-the-door method of enjoying increased profits for writers who put forth the effort. And when your day’s FAM work is done, put on that backpack and go shopping, or walk barefoot in a city fountain. As I see it, a few personal rewards and indulgences are always authorized at the end of any profitable FAM trip. ◊

Christopher Batin is editor and publisher of Alaska Angler/Alaska Hunter Publications, a contributing writer for Outdoor Life and a contributing editor for TravelAge West magazine. His assignments have taken him around the world in search of adventure. Contact him at


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