How FAM trips and event strategy can elevate your brand

We’re all guilty of it. One minute you’re aimlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed, killing time before your kid’s soccer practice wraps up or your next appointment starts, when suddenly something catches your eye. Maybe it’s a post of someone using a power drill which reminds you that you need to get going on that bathroom reno, new running shoes that you’re positive will finally give you the motivation you need to start running twice a week, or a picture of that resort in Baja you’ve been dying to stay at, like, forever. Whatever it is, it’s enough to prompt you to click the ‘buy’ button–and that’s exactly why influencer marketing and media coverage is so effective.

Whether your company is launching a new product or looking to showcase a destination, proven ways to generate excitement and awareness are by hosting a FAM trip or planning a brand activation.

What is a FAM trip?

Traditionally, a familiarization trip–commonly called a FAM trip or FAM–is when a destination or tourism brand hosts media, travel agents or suppliers for an experience, This could be something as simple as an afternoon hike highlighting offerings from a few providers capped off with a farm-to-table dinner, to a weeklong, all-expenses paid trip to a luxury resort in Thailand. The idea is that the resulting media coverage leads to more bookings, while agents on the supplier side are more knowledgeable about the products they’re pushing which can increase sales.

“You don’t know what you don’t know, and attending FAM trips is a quick and easy way to get insider access to a destination,” explains travel writer Jody Robbins, who goes on hosted trips multiple times a year to research upcoming articles. “A good FAM trip will not only familiarize you with the destination, but will uncover a new perspective.” 

Now that bloggers and influencers have developed so much klout and loyal audiences, FAMs are expanding to include this type of new media and trips are no longer just tourism focused. Forward-thinking companies are putting together customized brand activations which give influencers an opportunity to connect with and use their products, creating content they can then share organically with their followers.

“In the past, most companies would launch new products at trade shows and through press releases, which is somewhat effective but not very exciting,” says Aaron Sales, co-founder of Global Sessions which has worked with brands like Nike to support their brand influencer programs. “Today, consumers and media desire authentic experiences that allow them to fully understand and appreciate the product. When you feel a product in your own hands and can have a direct conversation with the designer or someone knowledgeable and passionate about the product, you immediately become an ambassador. It’s one thing to read a one-pager on the latest and greatest, but it’s completely different when you get to cast the rod from shore and hook into a 12 pound trout with the owner of the company.”

Nike brought in Global Sessions to develop the event strategy for a product launch, where they presented new apparel to a group of fashion bloggers, photographers and media from high-profile outlets like Vogue, HYPEBEAST and Gear Patrol. Venue sourcing led the team to Oregon’s Mount Hood, where the challenging terrain would put Nike’s ACG React Terra Gobe shoe to the test and provide an incredible backdrop. 

The inspirational setting elevated the designers’ presentations, which took place in front of a towering waterfall, beside the rushing Columbia River, and in rustic Silcox Hut which is at an elevation of 7,000 feet on the side of a mountain. Global Sessions also arranged transportation, meals and lodging, and facilitated experiences including a waterfall hike and riding snowcats up to the iconic Timberline Lodge.

 

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How to make a familiarization trip successful

Many companies that host FAM trips or influencer marketing events bring in a third-party agency to assist with things like the run of show and venue finding services, and benefit from their insider knowledge.

“Logistics and timing are hugely important factors in running a successful FAM tour,” says Kieron Weidner from First Nature Tours, which is a longtime partner of Global Sessions. His company works with destination marketing organizations (DMOs) like Travel Oregon and Brand USA by providing professional guides, luxury transportation and expert insight into each area. 

“Things often take longer than anticipated, and it’s important to know the destinations and attractions well enough to plan accordingly. Also, having relationships in place with key partners can assist in hosting the group, and providing the kind of experience that will really sell the participants on the destination.”

Weidner leading a FAM trip to Multnomah Falls, Oregon

On the media side, journalists appreciate a bit of flexibility and free time built into schedules to give them time to properly explore based on their interests.

“One of the best FAM trips I was on offered two different half-day blocks we could choose from,” Robbins recalls. “One block was culinary, the other family travel, another outdoor adventure, etcetera. Everyone split into different groups and got the [story] angles they needed.”

She adds that including a unique experience is also appreciated, as well as getting an opportunity to meet the locals.

“One example is when I did a UK FAM that took us into Oxfordshire and Highclere House, AKA Downton Abbey. Anyone can tour Highclere House, but this was memorable for a few reasons: it was timely because the movie was coming out in a few months, and it was bucket list-worthy. Sure, you can do it on your own, but that takes some effort and our FAM timed it just right with not only a tour and tea, but an evening performance where we could wander through the castle at will. 

“Our FAM had organized a tea with Lady Carnarvon, the mistress of the house. Having unhurried time with her was not only invaluable for my story, but is something I’ll never forget.” 

Robbins takes research on FAM tours seriously- hence this getup during a trip to Buffalo, New York!

What to avoid when planning FAM tours

The most important thing to remember when planning a media visit or influencer marketing event is that one size does not fit all. Many organizers are guilty of cramming in too many different activities to try and showcase everything, which means participants barely have enough time to properly experience it, never mind actually create content. It’s almost always better to spend more time at fewer places.

“It’s important to balance the learning and site inspections with time to truly relax and enjoy the destination, and [travel advisors] won’t want to return with a group if they don’t enjoy their overall experience,” Weidner says. 

He suggests setting accurate expectations for the participants well in advance, and always calling ahead to keep partners updated with arrival time and group size to ensure the experience moves smoothly, Most importantly, be informed.

“Know the answers to the questions that your participants need to know.”