Why are influencer pr trips so controversial?

We look at how badly PR trips can go, and what happens when they go right

By Laina Claydon

Friday, 18th of August 2023

PR trips are a little controversial of late, aren’t they? We’ve seen an influx of brands send content creators on trips with free airfare, accommodation and products in exchange for posting content. These types of trips aren’t exactly new, but since travel has opened back up again it might seem as though there have been a lot more influencer PR trips happening up and down our social media feeds. The hashtag #brandtrip on TikTok, for example, has 134.1 million views and counting. 

A lot of these trips have been received negatively and rightly so, while others have shown exactly why they’re worth it when they’re done right. 


The most recent influencer-PR trip to hit the headlines came from Shein. The fast fashion brand took a group of influencers to their factory in China to get an inside look at how their garments are designed, manufactured and shipped, and used it as an opportunity to change people’s opinions on the sustainability of the brand. Audiences soon began questioning the influencers’ decision to accept the invitation from Shein despite the numerous reports alleging labour abuses, potential use of hazardous materials, poor working conditions, and contribution to the climate crisis. Both the brand and influencers that took part in the trip were lambasted on social media and it soon became a lesson on how not to do a PR trip.

Lots of brands have also been slammed for a lack of diversity on creator-press trips. Lifestyle blogger Kirsty Merrett shared her thoughts in June, tweeting: “Is it just me who is seeing press trips and events with less and less diversity?!”. Beauty creator Gary Thompson aka The Plastic Boy also asked on Threads last week: “Is it me or have we got back to 2019 I’m seeing events and PR trips with no inclusivity! No boys, No POC, just straight up copy and paste”. 

There’s also been cases where brands or events have tried to raise their profile by inviting large content creators to attend, even if the person hasn’t expressed an interest in them or what they do. TikTok It-girl Madeline Argy told her followers the story of being invited to the F1 and even got the chance to meet drivers like Lando Norris, despite admitting she knows nothing about Formula 1 and therefore had nothing to say to him. Fans of the sport quickly took to social media to complain that ‘it’s like a slap in the actual F1 fans faces’. 

Some brands have, however, got it right. 

@jackwills The party HAS ARRIVED 🔥 Welcoming the Jack Wills Ski Squad to the chalet 🎉 Remember to shop all these looks via the link in our bio ✨ #JWSkiSZN #JackWills @George @Mariam @Maddie Grace Jepson @Joseppi Baggzelini @Grace @coleandersonj @yourboymoyo @max_balegde @georgeclarkeey @bambinobecky ♬ Canyons - Official Sound Studio

There was a time when Jack Wills was extremely popular. Fashion brands Abercrombie, Hollister and Jack Wills were the epitome of cool for teenagers up and down the country and they featured on every young person’s Christmas wishlist. Recently, Jack Wills has had a comeback. Their rebrand has certainly got them talked about again on social media, after they made a group of UK-based TikTokers the faces of the brand, sending them on photoshoots and taking them on multiple holidays where they wore Jack Wills throughout. All you need to do is type ‘Jack Wills’ into the TikTok search bar to see the influencers they chose to take part, from Max Balegde to GK Barry, Joe and George Baggs, alongside others.

Earlier this year, they launched their ski collection by taking the group of prominent UK TikTokers aka the ‘Jack Wills Ski Squad’ on a ski trip. This was similar to when they launched their summer collection last year and flew them out on a private jet to stay in a luxury villa – and audiences loved it. With a cost of living crisis currently going on in the UK, not everybody finds this type of content relatable but audiences obviously enjoyed seeing their favourite down-to-earth TikToker’s reactions to experiencing five-star treatment for the first time. Max Balegde, for example, felt ‘overwhelmed’ and titled his video: ‘you go on a private jet but you’re a scruff’


One great thing about this type of influencer trip is that it brings lots of organic content, where the creators are already wearing branded clothes and the content is more natural. And of course, bringing a group of influencers together can also mean their followers are brought along too which maximises eyeballs on the brand. Choosing to work with the same creators over and over again also enables audiences to become familiar with the brand, and makes the connection between brand and creator more authentic.

Sustainable skincare brand Biossance took 11 influencers to Kokomo Private Island in Fiji, with the aim to help spread the word about sustainability and ocean conservation. Why Kokomo? Christine Tusher wrote on their website that they wanted to give influencers a firsthand look at what was happening to the world’s coral reefs and ‘how we as a brand are making a difference to our oceans. Our hope was that the added exposure would raise awareness and help consumers make informed, sustainable shopping decisions’.

She says they chose Kokomo Private Island not only because of ‘its proximity to the environment we’re trying to protect, but also because of its sustainability efforts. Kokomo is completely self-sustained, from the water in their refillable bottles down to the vanilla beans in guests’ dessert. In addition Kokomo is well known for its ocean conservation efforts, which range from a no-take fishing zone around the island, to coral restoration, ocean cleanup and manta ray protection.’ It was therefore important to them that they share this perspective so that audiences could adopt and share a more sustainable lifestyle. This was therefore an example of a brand using their marketing activities to also spread awareness and be a force for good and education. 

Put simply, it’s about choosing the right creators for a brand trip.

Vegan content creator Jacob King uses his channel to highlight the importance of flavour and spice whilst educating his followers that many cultures have been following a vegan diet for centuries. Recently, him and fellow creator Rose aka Cheap Lazy Vegan travelled across South Korea courtesy of the Korea Tourism Organization to experience the culture, highlight all of their delicious vegan offerings and of course eat good food. Meanwhile, Olimata Taal was sent by the British Triathlon, the national governing body for Triathlon, Aquathlon and Duathlon in Great Britain, to a swim, bike, run retreat. Speaking about the experience, she said “growing up in a low income household, sports has always seemed pretty inaccessible, but I’m grateful to @brittri for challenging that”. Both creators are passionate about what it is they’re posting about, and already have an established connection with the subject matter which their audiences obviously recognise. 

There are certainly a lot of learnings for brands when organising creator-led PR trips going forward. It’s important that the right influencers are chosen to take part who already have a love or interest in the brand, or who have the same views. It also goes without saying that brands need to ensure that those who take part are diverse and that a broad range of people are invited to take part that are representative of wider society. There might be the age-old saying that ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ but in some of these cases, that certainly isn’t the case and no brand should want to find themselves in the press for the wrong reason. 

Choose the right creators for your brand, think wisely about what you want your trip to do (and say) and think hard about your audience and theirs – and whether they’re really the right fit. If they are, it’s a no brainer.