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The press trip: a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah with product placement

Linsey Fryatt

This post first appeared on PR Peep Show, Guardian Media Network.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe: naked sleepwalking in a Bavarian château, cast members from The Bill on The London Eye, Microsoft execs dancing on a Vegas rooftop and a pod of journalists floating on the Dead Sea.

Were I ever to be uncovered as a replicant, my final memories might not be quite as beatific as Roy Batty’s in Blade Runner, but nevertheless, these images may well be the ones that flash through my synapses.

During my time as a journalist, I enjoyed many and varied press trips. As well as the aforementioned, there was a trip to Asia (did you know that pyjamas are called “executive sleepsuits” in first class?), a party in a Swedish pop star’s apartment and sailing with Team GB (on which I nearly drowned, thanks to some plonker from GQ desperately trying to keep his Oliver Peoples dry).

This is not idle crowing. I want to illustrate that press trips are extravagant, indulgent, ridiculous affairs; and almost always gloriously surreal. I know of one event, organised by a well-known phone manufacturer, which took participants in a yellow submarine to the bottom of the South China Sea, then sent a diver down with the company logo so they could photograph it through the porthole.

For anyone unfamiliar with the press trip (or fam tour if you’re from the US,) it’s essentially a PR-organised outing, where journalists are plied with booze to varying degrees (ranging from “light lunchtime tipple” to “hospital”), timetabled into various fun activities, often only exposed to food and sleep in miniature portions and endorsed, if not downright encouraged, to behave outwith the normal conventions of society. Oh, and shown some stuff in the hope they’ll write about it.

A sort of Sodom and Gomorrah with product placement, where intelligent, erudite members of society transform into a multi-legged need-ball, unable to read a map, order their own food, look at their own watches, stay in one group or avoid naked sleepwalking.

Of course, for many harassed, hard-working journalists, the press trip is an added bit of sparkle that helps to make the job worthwhile – that makes your banker friends think of you as glamorous and jammy (despite the fact they earn five times as much as you).

It’s also an essential exercise for hack and PR alike – breaking bread, humanising each other and building relations. There really is no substitute for human contact, and while I may have forgotten the purposes of most of my previous trips, the contacts I made on every single outing remain strong.

I’ve compiled a list of factors that I think make a successful press trip. Please feel free to make suggestions in the comments below. Lord knows I need any help you can offer.

1. Food is important
Just like at a wedding, bad or insufficient food can quickly overshadow the purpose of an event. I know of a group of journalists that had a secret review site just for canapés.

2. Set boundaries
Let it be apparent when is work time and when is fun time. Never pitch at the dinner table, for example. Try not to have drinks at lunchtime.

3. Keep an eye on the client
If you have execs attending from the company you’re representing, keep a close eye on them. They can be loose cannons.

4. Offer relevance
A press trip in itself is not a bribe for coverage. Never ask for a quid pro quo; this is massively bad form. Find out beforehand if the purpose of the trip is exciting for them, and add extra access/story angles when there. It’s a waste of client money otherwise.

5. Give time to file
If you have had journalists on an exhausting day of meetings and potential angles, give them a chance to file. Leads go cold quickly.

6. Relax, have fun
This may seem like hell on earth at the time, so try to relax into it as much as possible. These moments, as Batty would say, will be gone soon enough; like PR tears in the rain.

Why do press releases get such bad press?

Linsey Fryatt

[This article first appeared in The Guardian Media Network]

We’re delighted to unveil this unique, world-class column. Its innovative, next-gen style leverages synergies of the industry while elevating them to the next level. This truly global, disruptive text is not to be missed.

This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is the linguistic equivalent of fingernails down a chalkboard. Yet why do so many press releases generate so much of their own bad press by being littered with “the banana peel of speech”?

The press release in many ways is the axis around which the PR industry rotates. Given that you’ve successfully completed the often painful extraction of facts and newsworthy items from your client, this is the fun part. Crafting a message that’s informative and useful, and providing a context whereby journalists will see an advantage of sharing this with their readers.

Many people fail to understand the purpose of the press release – as a conduit for relevant information. A jump-off point for journalists with their own minds, specialisms and agendas to include in their own articles.

Instead it is treated as if it is a finished marketing piece, slotting in more meaningless terms to puff it into something “less boring”. Press releases should be boring. The purpose is to provide solid information to journalists, not to whip them up into a frenzy, which is impossible anyway.

Many words like the ones in the opening paragraph are slotted in, nearly always overlooking the value of taking some out. Sometimes COMPANY NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN UPPER CASE. Journalists love that.

I have nearly been reduced to tears by the affronts to the English language caused by edits to press releases. If multiple sign-offs are required, the end result can be a Frankenstein’s monster, the true purpose long forgotten among layers of committee-driven drivel.

The purpose of a press release is to inform and contextualise. A good press release will include answers to two whys: Why are you telling me this? Why should I care? A good press release should include information such as competitors, market potential, recent independent reports or research. You *must* answer that second why.

So what do we do to make it better? One PR executive said that they used to get the final, signed-off version and then bin it, sending out the (presumably better) original version instead. That’s more cool and naughty than I could ever be.

It’s perhaps a less risky idea to head off issues at the pass. Be prepared. Have a single-pager in your company explaining the purpose of a press release. Something that you can stop and tap should anyone bring out their bumper bag of buzzwords. Have a banned list.

Show them this. They might not believe a PR bod, but perhaps Voltaire and Hemingway’s loathing of pointless adjectives might sway them.

And if there is anyone who is hiring or who might hire a PR company reading this, I urge you – remember why you hired us. We know what we’re doing. Let us do it well.

How do you measure ROI in PR. And should you even try?

Linsey Fryatt

ROI. Return on Investment.

A measurement absolutely necessary in business to compare costs on decisions and prioritise the most effective ones. A process especially crucial for startups, often both counting every cent and searching for the best ways to maximise growth.

A term also guaranteed to send shivers up the spine of many a PR professional. It may as well stand for Really Obtuse Increments.

I’ve lost count of the times I have been asked to predict a potential client’s ROI on a proposed PR spend, and I have grappled with the best ways to answer before getting tangled in an undergrowth of marketing speak of “brand awareness”, “added value” “traction” etc...

Let me generalise wildly – I’m a creative, subjective, intuitive individual, as many journalists and communicators are. I am dealing with startup founders, mostly in the technical realm. They’re analytical, logical, objective. They want a straight answer.

So is there a straight answer? And if not, is there at least a satisfactory way to address the issues raised by the question “What’s my ROI likely to be?”

Modes of measurement

In a great Analytics Webinar series on how to best present analytics for the PR industry, Paul Hender, Head of Insights and Analysis at Gorkana, drew on information from a recent AMEC [Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication] survey that reported that 67 per cent of members reported being asked by clients on the direct business benefits of communication activity. And yet only 28 per cent actually reported on these outcomes.

“You’re talking about the conscious and often unconscious minds of millions of people, exposed to coverage,” says Hender. “Building evidence between someone seeing coverage and then making a decision is hard... it’s blurry.”

Output versus outcome

The well-worn PR “value” measurement has been AVEx3 – measuring PR “column inches” and multiplying the equivalent cost of advertising space by three. But in times of destandardised advertising, native content and blurred sponsorship deals, this approach is even more flawed than it was to begin with.

The Barcelona Principles helped to re-evaluate this – and stressed that PR activity should be measured on outcome rather than output. For example, a client scoring a profile in Forbes, a mention in a larger article in the Wall Street Journal and a product review in Cnet. From an output perspective, great. But what of the outcomes? We’re still back to the prickly subject of how to accurately measure and report these.

Statistics are our friend. Our sketchy, unreliable friend

Hender whisked me back to Maths class in a musty 1980s Scottish classroom (a place where none but the very specialised fetishist would want to be) with talks of correlation, coefficients and causations – but applying them to real-life PR examples started to clear the fog.

He demonstrated ways in which media coverage can be plotted against specific business goals such as raising website traffic or visitors to your store can start to yield meaningful correlation.

But before we start to oversimplify, we also need to construct a statistical model that allows for inclusion of other marketing or brand activity – intuition tells us that it’s the sum of a marketing campaign and a PR campaign that lead to changed consumer activity. Statistics can help to break this down for a more detailed assessment.

But it’s still an unclear and difficult process, with many factors that can cloud meaningful results. As Hender says, “The thing about a Holy Grail is that it’s just that – something we can aspire to.”

Here’s some ways that I think we can at least begin to address the prickly ROI question next time you’re asked. Which you will be, believe me...

• Set specific goals
Ask what specific business goals your client has – what are the parameters that need tracked? Do they seem realistic?

• Be armed with advice
Go in prepared with knowledge and advice for your clients. Demonstrate that you understand their concerns and have constructive ways for them to enlighten themselves as to how to measure PR success.

• Suggest KPIs
Suggest output goals that you are comfortable with. Then there is a positive number from which to then tackle outcomes

• Talk analytics
Decide who is responsible for measuring any outcomes. Ask what analytics they have in place to track any business numbers, and if PR activity can be plugged into them. If not, then ask for an agreement for disclosure of data so that you can use in your own analytics

• Plug in other activities
Remember to include other activities – social media campaigns, partnership marketing, media coverage etc into any analysis

• Create case studies
Ask if we can work closely with them to create a case study. You’re a PR, you understand the importance of “Show, Don’t Tell”. And the more we can demonstrate a correlation between PR and ROIs the more convinced.

• Show your “intangible” value
Reinforce the less quantifiable parts of what you do.

I’ll let Ben Camm-Jones, Clarity PR’s Director of Content have the last word (he likes that).

“A good agency should be a consultancy, should help you make contacts (and not just in the media), help with a wider marketing plan, act as a mentor and so on. It should recognise your business needs beyond pure communications and advise you accordingly.

“Return can be tricky to measure - but a PR agency should be judged by how much overall value it adds to your business too.”

Some Further Reading:



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Photo credit: Edward Conde via Photopin (cc)