Olivia Cooper is the BGAJ’s IFAJ Representative and shares the opportunities she has had by saying yes to international travel.
I’ll put my cards on the table here – I want to encourage you to get involved in the many travel opportunities that are available through the Guild. Why? Because they’re amazing, and once you’ve been on one you’ll get bitten by the bug! But I understand the challenges which might be holding you back, so thought that sharing my own experiences might help.
International travel broadens horizons, challenges thinking, enriches your experiences, and creates incredible memories. We all know that, and many of us will organise holidays that give us the best chance of experiencing a different culture, food or climate.
But when it comes to travelling for work, it’s easy to have a different mindset. We’ve all seen the invites to press tours around Europe, and international congresses in far-flung places (or even our own shores), but often only a small group of people apply to join them.
I totally get the legitimate reasons for this, particularly if you’re freelance or work in PR and comms: “I can’t afford the time. I can’t afford the money. It’s just a jolly, it won’t benefit me professionally.” In fact, that used to be my attitude – I’ve used every one of those reasons not to take time off for travel in the past.
But no more – once I had my first experience of an overseas press tour, I realised that all of the benefits mentioned above apply just as much to work travel, if not more. Meeting and interviewing farmers in different countries is a fantastic way to really get underneath the skin of a country, and with everything organised for you, it’s a safe and supported way to do it, too. Not only that, but you get to do it with other agricultural journalists from all over the world – and trust me, when a group of ag journos get together it’s something special. More on that later.
So, since turning my approach from ‘just say no’ to ‘just say yes’, where has it taken me? To keep this short (ish!), I’ll use bullet points, but if you want more details do just ask, as often these trips / opportunities come up every year or so, and I’d be happy to offer tips and advice.
- America – not strictly organised by the IFAJ but the invite came about through its network. A week touring arable and livestock farms across Iowa and Illinois with the US Soyabean Export Council, ending up with a couple of days looking round Chicago, a fantastic city.
- Switzerland – joining farmers in the annual festival bringing cows down from mountain pastures, complete with a cacophony of cowbells, traditional dress and alpenhorns. Cheese tasting at the Swiss cheese awards. Taking a cable car up to Mount Pilatus and the cog railway back down, followed by dinner afloat on Lake Lucerne. An incredible trip.
- Turkey – visiting fruit producers in the hills near Antalya followed by sundown cocktails on the beach. Joining an ENAJ meeting with journalists from all over Europe, including some from Jordan and Iran who were facing serious threats and restrictions on carrying out their jobs. This was my first real experience of how freedom of the press is not a given, and was eye-opening and humbling in equal measure.
- Denmark – joining the ENAJ AGM in Herning and visiting Agromek – northern Europe’s largest agricultural trade fair. Great for hearing about new products yet to hit the UK, networking with EU agricultural companies, and learning more about how the ENAJ operates. I also met lots of journalists from across Europe, some of whom I now knew from previous trips – plenty of fun at the final dinner!
- Italy – attending the International Journalism Festival in Perugia thanks to the IFAJ / Caterpillar bursary. A week of workshops and CPD with journalists from every sector – mostly mainstream rather than agricultural. I learnt a huge amount, including how to organise a media summit, which I brought into play with the inaugural BGAJ Agri-influence Forum this year. With IFAJ support I found Italian contacts who helped arrange some farm visits for articles, including a vineyard and wine tasting.
- Denmark 2022 – my first taste of an IFAJ congress. And just WOW! 180 ag journalists, PR and comms people from 45 countries all together for a week of farm tours, CPD, dining, dancing and generally having the best time. If, like me, you don’t feel entirely comfortable walking into a room full of strangers and making conversation, you’d be a little nervous of this. But what a friendly bunch – our shared interests and experiences mean it’s just so easy to get talking to absolutely anyone, and it was clear that many people had become friends for life through attending IFAJ congresses.
- Canada 2023 – my second congress, and once again I was blown away by the experience of spending a week with so many journalists (almost 250). We burned the candle at both ends, visiting farms on the Canadian plains near Calgary and ending most nights late in the bar! It was great to catch up with people who’ve become my friends and compare notes on farming, journalism and PR in different parts of the world. The Ponoka stampede was a highlight – my first rodeo! Taking part in my second IFAJ AGM, I feel like I’m getting to know the organisation’s aims, structure, and work so much better.
As you can see, there are so many different opportunities out there – so when the next invite lands in your inbox I’d urge you to ‘just say yes’.
The ENAJ low budget press tours are incredibly good value, and there are funding options for the congresses through the IFAJ Young Leaders bootcamp and the Joe Watson Legacy Trust.
These tours are for everyone, not just ‘experienced’ journalists – newbies and comms people are all equally welcome, and I promise you you’ll have a fantastic time. You’ll come away with lots of farm stories to write up, ideas for new ways of doing business, greater confidence in your own abilities, and friends / networks for life.
The next congress will take place in Switzerland from August 14-18, 2024 – look out for early bird tickets soon. Following that will be Kenya in 2025, Croatia in 2026, and South Africa in 2027. The British Guild has applied to host in 2029, so if you’d like to be involved in helping to organise that please get in touch.
You can contact me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01392 840009.