29 August 2007

Another rule for sending press releases by email

I've just received a press release from Avis' PR company.

When I say "just", I really mean "just".

It was by pure accident I saw it.

That's because when batches of emails come in I switch off the preview screen and delete all the spam that my anti-virus/anti-spam software misses.

Spam is pretty easy to spot. One of the telltale signs is an email with nothing in the subject field and from a name I don't recognise.

So, listen up PRs....

When sending releases (or anything) by email, always write a clear and explanatory subject line, preferably mentioning the name of the client.

27 August 2007

Mass Email Press Release Error

This story about a "PR disaster" is kinda nice to read - the view from the other side.

I receive loads of emailed press releases. Occasionally the senders make the classic mistake of sending it with the full list of recipients visible in the CC: field, not hidden in the BCC: field.

It doesn't happen very often. The anonymous writer quite accurately describes the amount of effort and cross-checking that professional PRs normally put into writing and distributing releases...which is why errors like this (and typos) stand out.

(off topic: what bizarre mental process/deficiency is it that allows you to proof-read something a dozen times and yet the very moment you commit - send it to the printer, publish it on the website/blog, or hit the email send button - the most glaring, in-your-face, ta-dah typo leaps out at you!!!)

But I am surprised at the reaction he got. Why such hostility?

It's true. Most journos DO treat PRs with disdain bordering on contempt (although they usually disguise it pretty well when there's something on offer like a press trip!). It's largely because in journo circles it is viewed as 'politically correct' to distance yourself from PRs in order to be seen to be squeaky clean and independent. But too many journos take the 'fashion' too far, especially when they are in the company of other journos at the workplace. (You want to hear what my journo guild chums say about PRs when they get together! Mind you, it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when PRs are discussing journos too.)

It's also true that sometimes PRs do make crass mistakes that are either irritating or make life more difficult for the journo (more on those in a moment).

But accidentally revealing your mailing list is hardly a PR disaster!

What? The hapless journo is so dense he/she didn't realise this wasn't an exclusive story, hand-made just for them, and is insulted to be given a mass-marketed release?!?!

On the contrary. When I get them I feel sorry for the PR who has accidentally revealed his hand and intrigued to see who else is on the list.

No, here are much more serious errors for PRs to worry about making. (See my 'Golden Rules' for writing a press release.) In particular the two cardinal sins:

1) Leaving it un-dated.
2) Not being available for follow-up enquiries.

22 August 2007

Foreign currency reserves

Years ago I was on a small group press trip which went astray on its return to the UK - for some reason (bad weather or something) our flight was diverted to Frankfurt late on a sunday evening, where we had to spend a couple of hours on the ground in transit. On the bright side, there was an enticing bar. On the gloomy side, none of us had anticipated going to Germany, this was pre-Euro, and there didn't seem to any money exchange facilities in operation.

Before we could start exploring the possibilities of setting up a credit card tab, one of the journo's (a well-organised travel editor I had travelled with a couple of times before) pulled out a large wallet thing with fan-folded plastic pockets packed with international banknotes. With a flourish she ran her finger along to the pocket containing Deutchmarks and bought a round of drinks.

I remember being impressed (and grateful!), but I wondered if it wasn't 'overkill', wandering around the world with an emergency multi-national piggy-bank!

Nevertheless, I was clocking up between 15-20 overseas trips per annum at the time and had built up a substantial stash of foreign notes and coins at home, some of which - US dollars in particular - I was able to re-use on return visits.

Tip: Always keeps small denominations of US dollars. They are invaluable for tipping when you arrive in the USA or Caribbean again. Likewise Euros.

... nothing usual in that. Many of us hang onto small quantities leftover foreign cash on our return. After all, nobody feels comfortable with the concept of throwing away real money!

I mention it, because it appears we are hanging onto larger amounts these days. Lastminute.com have been asking their clients about their foreign currency habits.

It turns out that, with many of us taking more than one holiday/break in a year, we are even more inclined to hang onto major currencies. Four out of ten people polled by Lastminute admitted they have up to £35 in Euros in their sock drawer and just over one in ten has more than £35 worth.

Interestingly, the weakness of the dollar means that holiday makers are not hanging on to them as much, with only 11% surveyed hanging on to between 1 and 50 dollars and 14% keeping more than fifty dollars.

Almost 20% of lastminute.com’s customers also collect other lesser used currencies such as the Moroccan Dirham and the Thai Baht as these are also considered as souvenirs.

Lastminute have been doing their sums and they reckon that there is approximately £170m worth of foreign currency lying around in people's drawers in the UK.

Not much of it is mine though. I still keep small supplies of US Dollars and Euros, but I got rid of my huge collection of Malaysian ringitts, Australian dollars, Lebanese pounds, Zambian kwachas (great wadges of them!), etc...to a charity.

20 August 2007

Passport delays - not just us then!

Until I saw this story, I hadn't noticed the absence of one of our annual travel themes.

Normally the early part of the summer is populated with news stories and TV reports about passport delays as Britons prepare for their summer hols. We haven't had them this year. But the Americans have.

The old stereotype image of Americans is that they are un-travelled and till now the supporting evidence has been that only one-fifth of Americans hold a passport. Well, that's because in their sphere of influence they didn't need them.

Now, post-911 security legislation is forcing a change. Not only do Americans require passports to go to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean by air, new regulations coming into effect next year will require them to have passports for travel to those destinations by land or sea as well.

All of this has meant a mad scramble for US passports - the '1 passport holder in 5 Americans' statistic is now 1 in 4 and expected to be 1 in 2 by 2011 - and what had been a 3-day turnaround for passport applications is currently somewhere around 12 weeks according to one report.

I only mention it for its schadenfreude value.

17 August 2007

At last, a good reason to go to Brussels!

Leonardo da Vinci
Belgium is a great destination to visit from Antwerp, Bruges & Ghent in the north-west to the Ardennes in the south-east..... but Brussels has always been the weak link. Pity, cos that's where the train goes!

Now, finally (and sadly, temporarily) there's something for real visitors (ie not politicians or business folk) to do in Brussels other than watching that silly little statue peeing into a pond, stretch out a coffee at one of the cafes in the Grand Place, and peer up at the Atomium (I did that once, sometime around 1969!).

Opening tomorrow for 7 months, as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, is a seriously major exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's works including the Codex of the Flight of Birds, on loan from the Turin Library, as well as Leonardo's only self-portrait in red chalk and the Tongerlo Copy after Leonardo's Last Supper, painted barely 20 years after Leonardo completed the original, and reputed to be the most accurate copy of the subsequently damaged fresco.

A portrait painted on a wooden panel of Marie Magdalene will also be on show, for the second time ever after it was first revealed to the world as a Leonardo at Ancona's Mole Vanvitelliana museum in October 2005.

The exhibition will also feature facsimiles of Da Vinci's notebooks, several of his inventions, films about the artist’s universal genius, and no fewer than 45 working models built to scale, including a 20 metre swing bridge never previously constructed.

And to finish it off, they are looking at his influences and influence on European art, so there will also be around one hundred original drawings and sketches by Raphael, Michelangelo, Canaletto, Albrecht Dürer and Hieronymus Bosch!

Better book your tickets now before Eurostar starts to fill up.

15 August 2007

Carnival Cruise Director's blog

I mentioned John Heald's blog a couple of days ago, and its rapid growth in the blogosphere...

Carnival have issued a press release with some more detail...

MIAMI (August 9, 2007) – The on-line “blog” written by Carnival Freedom Senior Cruise Director John Heald, which offers lighthearted stories and amusing anecdotes of shipboard life, has reached a new milestone with more than half a million visitors since its debut in March.

Originally created as part of the micro-site developed for the launch of the Carnival Freedom (www.carnival.com/freedom), the blog has been making a steady climb, attracting 25,000 visitors in its first 10 days and reaching the 300,000 mark in June. Heald’s blog consistently ranks among the top 100 among the nearly 1.3 million blogs hosted by Wordpress, a leading blog-hosting service.

“I was astonished when we reached 25,000 visitors, amazed when we hit 100,000, shocked when the figure reached 250,000, but 500,000 – well, I am completely ‘gobsmacked,’ which is a quaint old English colloquialism for ‘I have no words,’” Heald said. “All I can say is thank you to all the readers who take their valuable time each day to read the blog thingy. I will keep typing as long as my two fingers allow,” he added.

Through his blog, Heald shares with readers his personal stories and photos about life aboard the Carnival Freedom with wife Heidi, as well as entertaining and heartwarming encounters with guests and crewmembers he comes in contact with on a daily basis.

The blog’s increasingly popular question-and-answer section has quickly become a fan favorite. In it, Heald personally answers questions about the Carnival vacation experience, provides information and recommendations on various cruise-related topics, and offers personal travel tips on things to do while in port.

The blog’s popularity has led to the “John Heald Bloggers Cruise,” a seven-day western Caribbean voyage aboard the Carnival Freedom Jan. 19, 2008.

It has also spawned a series of T-shirts and polo shirts which are available on-line via www.carnivalfuntees.com, a specialized Web site that enables consumers to create custom-designed Carnival-inspired shirts.

Three different shirt styles are available. “I Love John’s Blog Thingy” and “I’ve Seen John’s Blog Thingy” are modeled after Heald’s own moniker for his blog, and “Official Member - Heidi’s Fan Club,” a tribute to Heald’s wife, who is the Carnival Freedom’s assistant cruise director and occasional blog contributor.

The “John Heald Bloggers Cruise” will operate round-trip from Miami January 19-26, 2008, visiting three of Heald’s favorite ports of call: Ocho Rios, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico.

During the cruise, Heald will host a number of special events, including a Welcome Aboard Reception, trivia contests, and question-and-answer sessions, and participants will receive memorabilia such a limited edition calendar featuring Heald’s top 12 entries, a custom-designed “Bloggers Cruise” T-shirt and more.

Carnival is currently accepting reservations for the “Bloggers Cruise,” with prices starting at $599 per person, based on double occupancy. Special rates for third and fourth guests sailing in the same stateroom are also available.

Not just international trains and UK destinations benefiting from airports backlash

I've mentioned a number of times, on this blog and in articles, how the grisly experiences of air passengers at UK airports is driving people onto Eurostar, and to take more short breaks and holidays in the UK.

I'd sort of assumed that they must also be turning to the ferries to get to the continent. Today I see firm evidence from the Passenger Shipping Association who say that ferries are experiencing a growth in demand triggered by the airports backlash.

Their latest Ferrystat (IRN /PSA) figures for the half year to June 2007 show an overall 3.5% rise in car journeys to the Continent, Ireland and the British Islands (excluding Scottish routes). UK and Ireland routes have seen car carryings up by 5.6%, journeys to the British Isles are up by 4.4%, while car journeys to the Continent have increased by 2.4%.

Their (PSA) opinion is that more and more travellers, especially families, are taking self-drive holidays to avoid "unpleasantly crowded" airport terminals.

Interestingly, the travel trade site, Travelmole.com, ran this as a news item today and the first comment they got was from the Travel & Tourism coordinator at Truro college who said that her brother had been held up for an hour and a half at Plymouth on Sunday when he arrived on a Brittany Ferry from Roscoff. The reason was that every passport now has to be scanned into a computer. The person doing this told him the whole boat could have been cleared in 20 minutes under the old system.

She's right! That'll dampen people's enthusiastic re-discovery of ferries. Travelling is becoming less & less fun whichever way you go!

13 August 2007

Airport delays - tell it like it is

Another simple and timely idea...

The independent network of (780 home-based) travel-agents, Travel Counsellors, has set up a really useful website to monitor the experience of passengers at UK airports.

UK Airport Delays enables air passengers to simply record the time they spent queueing at their airport, and produces league tables of the best/worst airports.

Needless to say Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick were occupying the bottom three slots on the table when I looked today. But, newly launched with only 178 entries so far, it's hardly a reliable evaluation. Wouldn't it be useful though, if the site was widely publicised and thousands of air passengers started reporting each week?

Of course, the tendency will be for people to use it when they have had a bad experience (to 'get it off their chest') so the computed average delay times themselves will hardly be 'balanced' data, but the relationships between like-for-like airports will be interesting.

Another missing luggage idea

In January I was walking through the snow in Aviemore with a fellow travel journalist (we were attending the British Guild of Travel Writers annual general meeting) listening in sadness to an account of his Christmas break.

A loved one had died last year and he had decided to cheer himself up by taking a self-indulgent luxury christmas cruise on one of the small Seabourn ships. (He is a well-established specialist cruise writer so he knew exactly what he was looking for - high luxury, high formal.) To cut a long story short, somewhere on the way out to the ship, he and his luggage parted company and he wound up without any formal wear (without much 'wear' at all!) eating christmas lunch alone in his cabin.

Since then I've been much more aware of the misery of losing your luggage on holiday. It's never - touch wood - happened to me so I confess I hadn't really given it much thought before.

The recent publicity given to British Airways appalling record on lost luggage seems to have triggered an outpouring of 'holiday without luggage' stories... and suggestions, like the one in my previous post.

And I've just come across another close-to-brilliant suggestion in John Heald's blog.

John Heald is the cruise director on board Carnival Freedom and in recent months his honest day-to-day blog has become firmly established among the blogosphere's most popular blogs, not least because he not only writes about his own thoughts and experiences, he also includes endless letters comments and photos from friends, passengers, and other contributors, turning it into a continuous conversation.

In today's post, there is a letter from a couple on board, Sandy & Gary Stigger, who say:

My husband & I were talking about the people who have no luggage on board. We had an idea for you. It would be funny to have tee shirts printed for them that look like tuxes and formal dresses for formal night. It could have printing such as "I made it but my luggage didn't!"

It could be a badge of honor for them, make them laugh a little, and it would be a great gift for them.

What a great idea! Simple, cheap and effective. I think it should be spread throughout the whole cruise industry. It would do so much to alleviate the misery of lost luggage victims on cruises.

I can hear cruise companies thinking 'yeah, but we don't really want to draw attention to how often this problem occurs' but it's not a reflection on them. Who's to know who lost that passenger's luggage? Most passengers seeing a 'lost luggager' would assume it was the airline.

09 August 2007

Why does baggage need to be handled?

One of the many comments posted on the end of Graham Boynton's Daily Telegraph ire-provoking article (published yesterday on their website) about lost airline luggage, really made me sit up and take notice...

The answer, of course, is for airlines to re-equip with some of the wide-bodied Iluyshins I travelled on in Russia. These come fitted with a "left luggage room" under the passenger cabin. We boarded with our all our luggage, left it in in the luggage hold, then walked upstairs to our seats, collecting the luggage as we disembarked. No luggage check-in, and no hanging about waiting for the handlers to finish their tea/strike/football pools. Wonderful.
Posted by John Bienias on August 7, 2007 7:41 AM

Brilliant, out-of-the-box thinking!

Why do airlines and airports need to handle luggage in the first place? Is it just because they always have?

Why don't passengers take all their luggage on board themselves?

Think of the advantages (I mean just immediately off the top of my head)....

  • No carousels or waiting in the arrivals hall
  • No check-in. (Just think, BAA, of all that space freed up for retail!)
  • No lost luggage (well virtually)
  • No baggage handlers (which also means no baggage handler strikes). Maybe just hireable porters (skycaps) to assist if needed.
  • No delayed flights because bags belonging to missing passengers won't have to be found and removed from aircraft hold before take-off.
  • One set of security checks for all your bags.
  • Less luggage overall because if they have to carry it through through the airport, passengers will be more economical with their packing.

I can't see it happening anytime soon, but it does deserve serious discussion. Isn't it time we re-examined some of the fundemental systems of air travel to see if they are even logical or sensible in this day & age?

08 August 2007

Allaboutyou.com are ahead of the curve

Good news!

Back in the spring I approached the Hearst Digital group of online sites (actually I approached one of them, Handbag.com) with an idea for a bi-media travel feature about a canal boating weekend. To their great credit they were keen to expand their content range and leapt at the idea, so Bernadette Fallon, the editor of Allaboutyou.com (She magazine website) commissioned a 1,000-word article and accompanying 5-10min audio feature (mp3).

The text feature was published on the site in mid June but they had to wait for the IT guys to sort out a pop-up player for the audio clip, which has just arrived.

So, you can read the article and listen to the actuality here... Canal boat weekend.

I'm so pleased about this because I have been talking about how digital technology means print publishers can become enhanced multi-media publishers since 1998. The newspapers, led by the Guardian and followed by Times Online & the Telegraph, have been early adopters, but magazines have been much slower to recognise the opportunities.

Hearst Digital (who by a strange quirk of fate are located in the same building as my former employer, Classic FM) is keen to publish more multi-media material. It's now up to us multi-media journalists to start offering it.

Their sites are: allaboutyou.com | handbag.com | getlippy.com | gomamatoday.com | cosmopolitan.co.uk | menshealth.co.uk | goodhousekeeping.co.uk | youandyourwedding.co.uk | netdoctor.co.uk | countryliving.co.uk | cosmogirl.co.uk | runnersworld.co.uk | babyexpert.co.uk | prima.co.uk

Oak Ridge tour is only for Americans

I've stumbled across an item about the secret town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which would make an obvious addition to the Travel List of factory tours and brand museums, were it not for one awkward restriction....only US citizens can go on it!

Oak Ridge is the historic nuclear plant that enriched uranium and constructed the first atomic bomb as part of the 'Manhatten Project'.

In 1942 the US government bought 60,000 acres of land in Tennessee and built a secret city for scientists and workers. Within three years it was the fifth largest city in the state with houses, schools and shops for 75,000 citizens...and guards at the city gates. Only when they read the newspaper one morning in August 1945, did the vast majority learn what they were working on.

Now the city has shrunk to 27,000 citizens, but it does have a name...and it does now appear on maps. However, according to the local tourist office press release....

Of the three Manhattan Project sites that were built to enrich the uranium needed for the bomb, two of them, the Y-12 Plant and X-10 Graphite Reactor, are back behind the fence as a result of the terror attacks on 9/11. But during the months of June through September, a special Public Bus Tour takes visitors (US citizens only) “behind the fence” for a glimpse at several historic sites, including a tour inside the X-10 plant. Other highlights on that tour include a drive to an overlook (not open to the general public) to view the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which at the time was the largest building in the world under one roof; the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), which opened in April 2006 and will be used to further the research of neutrons; the Bethel Church, a pre-WWII structure that stands as a testament to the Appalachian heritage of the region; and the Secret City Commemorative Walk, built to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII.

All tours are free with admission to the American Museum of Science & Energy, and are open to US citizens with proper identification.