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The Press Trip

September 3, 2012

 

 

Just back from a holiday, and what with the travelling and the news I’ve come back to, press trips have been pretty much front of mind....

 

Lessons from past media trips

Firstly there’s a wonderful Facebook group (unfortunately a closed one, or I’d get you a link) that has journalists reminiscing about the best and worst press trips they’ve ever been on.

 

There are some salutary lessons for PR folk there, most of which can be summed up in two lines:

– know your agenda, including how to get to where you need to be, when.

– have a credit card handy to arrange alternative entertainment/food/drink when things – or people –  rebel.

 

(The biggest lesson, though, is one I learned when working for a holiday company. Things can always go wrong, anywhere. It’s how you deal with them that will make the difference between a positive and a negative reaction.)

 

Earning the story

Back at the business end, I recently invited a journalist to meet the customer of a client to hear their case study. The journalist loved the trip, loved the company  (and rightly – they are genuinely lovely, hardworking people, so I was confident about inviting him to visit) and said he planned to write up the story in April. I had hoped it would be published over the summer. It still hasn’t appeared.

 

The thing is, this is PR (public relations) not advertising, and the trip abroad was a relationship building exercise, not a demand for coverage. I gave him a story we thought would fit perfectly with his normal editorial and that the time he invested would be mutually beneficial. No bribery. No demands. Just access to a great story.

 

I continue to liaise with him, sure that this case study will, one day soon, see the light of day, and in the meantime I continue to give him other stories. He’s just busy, and short of supplying him with an assistant editor for a month – somewhat outside of our budgets – we’ll just have to sit it out. My client’s not delighted with the situation, and we’re having to manage their customer’s disappointment, but we did set expectations at the outset so no real harm done.

 

Is this approach to media trips old-fashioned?

It appears that I may be way behind the times if a story from Samsung is to be believed. Taking bloggers to an event and dressing them in corporate uniform? Trying to blackmail them into not publishing a story? If the Next Web (TNW) is to be believed,  Samsung flew bloggers halfway around the World and then threatened to leave them there.

 

This kind of PR activity sounds like the kind of thing you’d do with enthusiastic fans, a Facebook promo or a competition – something where you get real enthusiasts who want to be the earliest to see your products and fancy a trip a abroad, and shows a profound misunderstanding of the roles of media and bloggers. It’s certainly not something you’d undertake without getting prior agreement from the journalists/bloggers. PR is tagged ‘earned media’ for a reason. Even as an individual consumer – media aside –  if I’d been given a free trip somewhere, I’d expect the price to be a sales pitch, not dressing up and working!

 

And leaving bloggers/journalists stranded is just plain stupid. Well done to the PR who bailed them out.

 

This story sounds like crossed wires all around.

 

Press and blogger trips and events are great relationship builders. And I use the word relationship advisedly. Good PRs will use the time listen and learn about the journalists aims and interests and find a mutual benefit in what their clients are doing, and give the media access to relationships that will be useful for them in future.

 

There’s a further note to make here, and one that reflects poorly on our industry: there will always be PR consultancies who take photos of journalist indiscretions (on such trips  and elsewhere) and hold them over the writers’ heads for use at a later stage – bloggers beware. But that too is a risky strategy. You have to be pretty ruthless to use those kinds of tactics, but if the morality/ethics of the situation don’t prevent you from indulging, perhaps the thought that the journalist/blogger will move on may act as a deterrent – when the tables turn, it  could well be the dodgy PR in the headlines, not the embarrassed writer.

 

My best advice to anyone considering this: cover your behind and play it straight. Play it human. It may mean less of a stellar rise in the first instance, but the nearer the top, the further the drop! If the agency you work for is suggesting this kind of behaviour, jump ship as soon as you can.

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