No expense spared

The media industry is renowned for its perks, which seem to become more extravagant in direct proportion to how much money you have to spend. But which trips are the crème de la crème? Alastair Ray hunts down media’s greatest jollies.

Say what you like about media, but the free trips are spectacular.

In recent years you could have been cruising along the Croatian coastline, skiing in St Moritz, clubbing in Ibiza, or attending the most exciting sporting events on the planet.

Anyone at a senior level in the business can expect to be wined and dined in the best restaurants as well as being taken to some pretty amazing locations, all in the name of building relationships. Even junior media folk don't do badly.

If the finger should be pointed at any one person for the escalation in the number and quality of media jollies, then it's probably Guy Zitter, managing director at the Daily Mail.

When he joined as ad director in 1989, he decided that rather than dribble out the entertainment budget across the year, the paper should offer something special.

"My view was that no-one remembers who took them to Ascot, Henley or Wimbledon," he explains.

The ski trip Zitter created is still rated as top banana for the 20 or so guests who go every year and it fits in well with the skiing and golf axis of media interests.

Some media owners are more generous than others. News Group has run a trip to the Barcelona Grand Prix and the nearby Nou Camp football stadium as well as wine tasting trips to France or Tuscany. Oh yes, and there's the small matter of a trip to the Rugby World Cup, in Australia. Others are more work focused – such as JCDecaux's shuttles by private jet to Paris.

The Daily Mail trip and Clear Channel's hop to South Africa operate on the basis that you can only go once, but it is a trip designed to be remembered. From the Mail's perspective, they get to meet a different bunch of contacts every year.

But trips are becoming two a penny – even some of the smaller, ambient contractors now run them. And it's reached the point that some agencies have policies on what trips staff can go on, who has to approve them and the number of days they can be away on jollies.

"Most of the major media owners have a jolly pot and they pick off the individuals that they feel will be useful to them in terms of future trading," says one senior agency manager.

"There are people in the business who never say no. They do very nicely out of it."

It's true – there are people out there who will turn up at the opening of an envelope, making an art form out of accepting media owner hospitality. You know who you are!

Building relationships

The thinking behind the jolly ranges from the "thank you" to the "get to know you" to the "we may be hard bastards but we're also fun to be with". It's an opportunity for media owners to build up their relationships with the agency and client folk.

"When you're trading with [contractors] every day from a specialist perspective, all you're doing [on a trip] is getting to know people better than you would ordinarily," says Steve Bond, managing director at Posterscope.

Matt Shreeve, head of agency sales at Channel 4, adds: "It's a good opportunity in relaxed surroundings. Everyone gets to know each other better either in small groups or in large groups together. Relationships are important."

There are also sound business reasons for taking people away from the distractions of London.

Laura Hill, business development group head at Chrysalis Radio, says the Galaxy Ibiza trip is an attempt to get agency folk to buy into the brand.

"Getting a typical London media planner to buy into a brand that they don't consume is quite difficult," she says. "A day out in Birmingham doesn't have the same amount of appeal."

Spencer Berwin, group sales director at JCDecaux, says that, as an outdoor company that doesn't have an editorial environment, a well-run trip is a chance to define the character of the business.

"We're not a magazine; we don't have the editorial support that gives us our colour and vibrancy – that's down to everything we do around our product," he says. "I think a lot of [our image] comes down to our corporate hospitality, well planned, well thought through, even when you're roughing it in Lapland."

Talking the bigger picture

Guy Abrahams, strategy director at BLM, says the BLM ski trip is an ideal time to talk in depth. "It's partly a reward, thanking people for business, and partly to gain some insight and quality time with people. [Normally] you don't get the chance to talk the bigger picture," he says.

Whether boss Steve Booth agreed about quality time, after needing to be airlifted off the mountain with a collapsed lung is another matter of course.

Adshel managing director Julie France, who organises Clear Channel's trip to South Africa, says that as well as building relationships, it is also a chance to impress clients with the global nature of the business.

"We meet up with the people in South Africa and they learn a bit more about what we do over there. It gives them a view of the scale of Clear Channel as well," she says.

Karen Stacey, broadcast sales director at Emap Advertising, says the key to persuading people to go on trips or one-off events is offering something different.

"To get good people it's about giving things that money can't buy," she says.

Recent events have included a private Feeder concert in Birmingham for Kerrang! where advertisers joined listeners to hear the band play. "It was almost like going to a small pub and then the band spoke to the customers afterwards," she says.

In these days of return on investment, even the humblest jolly has to justify its existence.

At Chrysalis the approach is mainly qualitative.

"Each person we take is going to have an account manager, we speak to them about what the relationship has been like since they've come back," says Hill.

For JCDecaux's Berwin, the payback is in the relationships that get established on the trip. "It builds quite good relationships with people. There are quite a lot of long-term friendships that have been born out of these things. There's nothing wrong with that," he says. "Favours get called, pulled in both ways."

But despite the plethora of trips now on offer, it seems there's still some lingering antipathy across the great schism that still divides media. The accusation is that buyers are still holding on to the best jollies.

"In truth, planners don't get to go on many jollies. It's down to the buying fraternity. They like to keep it among themselves," says Abrahams.

"Even though people are trying to get sales people to talk to planners, it's nearly always the buyers who get the best jollies."

So for any budding media trainees out there, a word to the wise: buyers have all the fun.

Six of the best one-offs

Jazz FM trip to Rio: Fifteen lucky people flew to hear the samba beat. The brand fit was perfect and names were picked out of a hat.

Channel 4 trip to South Africa: Light TV viewing was on the agenda for this trip and nine lucky guests managed to do just that in Cape Town for five days.

Rugby World Cup final: England won and so did the media folk who were invited to this event.

Granada and News Group Newspapers were both kind hosts.

Football World Cup final: Tokyo calling as Germany and Brazil battled it out for global glory. Chrysalis Radio took four lucky radio buyers to the biggest sporting event on the planet.

Kerrang! trip to Iceland: What better time to see the natural wonders of Iceland than during the Reykjavik Airwaves Festival? Kerrang! had club nights at the festival and the four lucky agency folk invited also visited the blue lagoon.

Viacom Outdoor goes to Croatia: September 2004 and Croatia was back on the tourist trail. Viacom hired two boats to sail, then threw in windsurfing, diving and exclusive restaurants. A pretty perfect jolly.

Six of the best annual jollies

Daily Mail skiing trip: The original and still the best. You can only go once but no expense is spared on this trip of a lifetime.

Clear Channel South African trip: Everything you ever wanted to see in South Africa without paying a penny. Clear Channel's annual jaunt south is said to be pretty classy, although they do make you look at some posters.

Galaxy Radio trip to Ibiza: Can’t get planners out of London to experience your brand in the North? Take them to Ibiza instead to witness outside broadcasts from the party island of the Med.

JCDecaux trip to Lapland: Not many posters but lots and lots of snow and ice.

Every February media goes mad north of the Arctic Circle.

Viacom Outdoor trip to MTV Awards: It's its sister company's big night out but Viacom Outdoor guests are said to have a blast.

News Group goes to Barcelona: A double header with the Grand Prix and a footy game at the Nou Camp, as well as a stay with celebrities at the poshest hotel in town.

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