MEDIA RELATIONS: Road to nowhere? - Enticing journalists on a press trip can bear fruit - but PROs should be aware of pitfalls

'In the old days, press trips were a staple ingredient of the

standard press office function. Now journalists don't have the time to

attend a press conference five minutes away - let alone a press trip

5,000 miles away,' says Starfish Communications joint-MD Julien

Speed.



A depressing thought? Maybe, but one that is echoed by many who organise

press trips either for consultancies or from an in-house PR

department.



PR people now have to work harder than ever to get journalists along to

their trip in the first place, let alone achieve the right coverage. But

careful planning and targeting the right journalists goes a long way

towards a successful outcome.



The communication of key messages is an integral part of the PR

function. When planning a press trip, PR people must consider how to

convey them throughout.



The consensus is that no PR department can afford to do 'jollies' any

more, nor can journalists afford the time to go on them. Therefore, a

good story has to be top of the list of priorities when considering

whether or not to do a press trip.



'You have to have a good story to tell as journalists are under more

pressure than ever to bring something back if they are going to be out

of the office.



They have to be happy that there is a good strong story and the more

facts you can add to it, the better quality of journalists you are going

to get,' says Countrywide Porter Novelli director Steve Dunne.



'Know your key messages and make sure that every stage of the press trip

is geared towards getting those messages across. If, say, you are taking

a group of journalists around a plant, one of the managers there should

be trained in advance as to what the key messages are, so that they can

put them across while the journalists are there,' he adds.



'To get journalists to come, you have to 'know' the press you are

inviting, find out and understand what they are interested in and

approach them with an angle that appeals to their particular passions or

relates to a piece they have just written,' adds Rock Communications MD

Kathryn Coury.



Even traditonally glamorous clients, such as British Airways, now have

to tailor their press trips very specifically if they want the right

journalists to come.



'From BA's point of view, press trips are a very valuable communciations

tool on three levels: to promote new products; to promote routes, either

new ones or those that need a bit of a push, and to build relationships

with journalists across all types of media,' says British Airways head

of commercial communications Jemma Moore.



'We tailor trips and target different media depending on the sort of

story we want and we make sure that the angle is attractive to the

journalists we are taking. No journalist is going to give up time unless

there is something in it for them and we can't simply waste company

resources,' she adds.



Local government is another area where resources must be considered

carefully when planning a press trip and any resulting coverage must

communicate effectively with council tax payers.



East Riding of Yorkshire Council communications and PR manager Simon

Taylor perhaps finds it more difficult than many local authorities to

attract journalists, simply because of the council's location. It is in

a little-known area, but at 1,000 square miles is the UK's biggest local

authority by geographical spread. But a recent breakfast briefing to

launch electronic media initiatives reinforced the view that journalists

will go if they think they are going to get a good story out of it.



'We are based in Beverley in east Yorkshire but our area has very few

urban centres. Bridlington is the biggest by population. But on Pancake

Day we held a breakfast briefing and brought a number of journalists up

and served them pancakes,' says Taylor.



'We wanted to communicate our IT strategy and show our new wedding

camera on the internet - which we did by staging a mock wedding at a

registry office in Goole - and video kiosks that are going to be

installed in rural areas for people who want to make enquiries about a

service. The coverage we received fulfilled the objectives,' he

adds.



Sometimes, depending on the brand or client, negotiation with a

journalist can pay dividends in getting them to write the story that the

client wants, in return for giving them the story that they want.



This was often the approach used by Steve Martin, former global PR

manager at sports company Adidas and now a Ketchum Life director. 'The

key is to negotiate with the journalists upfront about what they will

write about.



In the case of Adidas, giving a journalist access to a certain player

would be your currency and in return for that they might write something

about boot technology, for example,' says Martin.



Once the story has been established, another benefit to organising a

press trip is that journalists are then focused on your product and you

can impart more knowledge - something which John Shepherd, managing

director, media relations, Europe at Burson-Marsteller, says has to be a

crucial element and must be considered when evaluating the effectiveness

of a press trip.



'It is always important to increase a journalist's knowledge. It should

not be your number one priority to get favourable coverage. What makes a

press trip worthwhile is to explain things that weren't abundantly clear

in the first place,' he says.



CPN's Dunne agrees: 'Press trips are about getting journalists to write

with knowledge and from experience and usually this means that they also

write more enthusiastically about a subject, ' he says. 'The best

journalist you can have is one who is educated about your product. In

that sense, a press trip keeps on giving.'



As well as informing journalists and generating coverage, press trips

are an ideal way to build closer relationships with specific

journalists, which can in turn be used to measure the success of a

trip.



'To measure the effectiveness of a press trip in column inches is only

one yardstick. The danger is that it defeats the real object, which is

to give that touchy, feely edge to media relations,' says B-M's

Shepherd.



'To evaluate their success properly, you need to have honest and candid

comments coming back from both the client and the journalists. 'Was it

worthwhile?' has to be the most pertinent question. We will usually ask

journalists what they thought, but many will volunteer information,

especially if they don't like something.'



'In PR terms, a press trip gives you a chance to be with journalists. In

PR, one of your best assets is your contacts and there's simply no

better way to build them,' adds Dunne.



Starfish's Speed, however, tells a cautionary tale which shows that even

the best-laid plans can go slightly wrong. A press trip to Portugal

attracted spectacular coverage from those journalists that actually

bothered to do any work but, says Speed: 'There was one cloud in the

Portuguese sky - a TV crew from a regional station disappeared as soon

as we had landed and reappeared at the airport going home.



'They were looking for a villa to buy in Portugal and had availed

themselves of our free flights! Needless to say we never invited them

again.'



CASE STUDY - LOCH FYNE SEAFOOD RESTAURANTS



Loch Fyne is a chain of seafood restaurants owned by the Laird of Loch

Fyne, John Noble. It has a mission statement to protect the environment

and as part of this, the chain grows its own oysters and mussels and

smokes its own Loch Fyne salmon for the restaurants.



There are eight restaurants in the chain, with plans to open another ten

this year. Rock Communications has held the account for Loch Fyne since

September 2000 and for its press trips, it takes journalists not to

their local restaurant, but to Loch Fyne itself in the Highlands of

Scotland.



According to Rock Communications managing director Kathryn Coury, this

approach ensures that journalists with different angles can be

accommodated and that they can understand the restaurants' USP.



Journalists normally go for two days and stay in the Laird's castle.

Part of the planning process, says Coury, is making sure that John Noble

is there to speak to the journalists as well as a biologist who can

explain the processes involved.



'The idea behind this has been to give the journalists an understanding

of the background to the venues: the purity of the water, the

environmental considerations, the low level of human intervention, etc.

When they and their readers eat at a Loch Fyne venue, they savour the

experience that much more,' she says.



'We do the trips to get coverage, but they also help to build

relationships with journalists and hopefully get more than one piece out

of them.'



For wine writers, Rock organises a shellfish and winetasting trip to the

Loch; for those who write about the environment, the trips are themed

around subjects such as sustainable farming methods; there is a diving

trip in May for those journalists who are able to dive.



Rock has been successful with a programme of taking regional journalists

on press trips up to the Loch before a restaurant opens in their area.

The national press and women's magazines have also been successfully

targeted, and there are plans to expand the programme to include

broadcast journalists.



'The key has been to understand what each journalist likes to write

about and what their interests are. You can't expect a general catch-all

theme to appeal to everyone,' says Coury.



PRESS TRIPS - POINTS TO CONSIDER



Points to consider when planning and executing a press trip



- Decide what your story is and key messages to be communicated



- 'Know' the press you are inviting. Find out and understand what they

are interested in and approach them with an angle that appeals to their

passions



- Make sure you have the right balance of journalists. Some may not like

each other, which won't be enjoyable if you are going on a four-day

trip



- Be flexible. If you are taking a group of journalists, they may all

want to get slightly different things out of the trip. Listen to them

and go as far as you can to hand them the story they want



- It is usually unwise to mix radio, TV and print journalists on a trip

as they are all reporting from different angles and want different

things



- Ensure that the trip can convey key messages at most stages. Train

in-house people (eg plant managers) in understanding and delivering

those messages



- Research 'hard costs', such as flights and hotels



- Be sure of timings. Make sure the trip fits in with things such as

school holidays, feature dates and production schedules



- Make sure that the timings of activities will run smoothly.

Journalists are notoriously impatient



- Make sure you have a good contingency plan. People will miss planes

and trains and bad weather could alter the programme. Ensure that your

plan covers all eventualities



- Build in some free time on the trip. Journalists don't like to feel

indoctrinated



CASE STUDY - RULES OF ENGAGEMENT



Creating media interest in yet another video/DVD release when the film

in question is not a well-known box office blockbuster was the challenge

for Countrywide Porter Novelli.



To promote the Paramount release Rules of Engagement, CPN decided to put

journalists through a gruelling day of army boot camp for a day designed

to mirror the lengths to which Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones

went in order to prepare for their roles in the film.



The response from journalists proved that the story on offer and not

necessarily lavish hospitality is what will capture press interest.

Jonathan Bennett, Countrywide Porter Novelli executive, said: 'Because

of the unusual nature of the trip, spaces were limited. As soon as word

got out among the media, we were receiving requests to come along before

we had even had the chance to issue the invitations.'



CPN's objectives were to encourage coverage ahead of the film's March

release date in the trade press and a national newspaper.



Undeterred by a 7am start, the select journalists - Home Enternainment

Week's Justin Cawthorne, The Mirror home enterainment writer Jessica

Mellor, and editor of trade title Timecode Toby Weidman - joined

Paramount's marketing team and trade customers for training at ATR

Purbright in Surrey. The team had to synchronise steps and obey orders

on the parade ground and conquer an assault course of 12-foot walls,

rope bridges and tunnels.



The trip paid off, with the film receiving enthusiastic coverage from

all the journalists who attended, including two double-page diary

reports about the army training day, as well as positive reviews. The

journalists' shift in attitude in favour of the movie was summed up by

The Mirror's Mellor, who wrote 'I honestly believe that there's no

better way to review a film than to live it.'



Weidmann wrote: 'The journey back is full of beer and banter, the Rules

of Engagement team had become tight without even knowing it.'



For a low cost activity, the film received a lot of high value coverage

and the activity cemented a closer relationship between Paramount and

the journalists.



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