Press trips always give me plenty of professional dynamics to think about.
For example, I’ve been on trips and wondered how writers who blog for a site with an Alexa rank of 3 million (seriously, I’m not making that number up) are perceived by PR folks as a worthy investment.
I’ve wondered whether PR reps actually perform any due diligence on the writers. Do they write for the publications they claim to write for? Do they write about the subjects they claim to be experts about? And so on.
I’ve wondered why some print magazine editors reject articles from freelancers who’ve gone on press trips (which is the only way some writers can fund travel at all), claiming that press trips compromise integrity, when they themselves happily go on junkets and write about them, not disclosing that the trips were underwritten by a tourism board (and, likely, an advertiser).
And so on.
I’ve actually started discussing these questions with PR professionals with whom I have good relationships because I’m genuinely curious to know the answers.
But my most recent press trip raised a whole new set of questions, including this one: Is a press trip contract likely to become standard operating procedure?
The contract I was sent actually made loads of sense. Public relations firms and tourism boards invest thousands of dollars in each writer who goes on a trip, and they often are at pains to figure out precisely how to measure the return on their investment. For example, are total page views for online platforms or circulation for a print magazine adequate measures for determining whether a writer was “worth” the expense of the press trip? Is it possible to even measure “conversion,” that is, whether readers actually take action and book a trip after reading a piece? And the most basic of questions: What’s the goal in terms of tangible, quantitative outcomes for each trip?
So as I read over the contract, I was neither outraged nor surprised. Finally, a PR firm had found a way to hold writers to some degree of accountability for their participation on a trip. What’s key to point out is that they did so in a way that wasn’t compromising the writer’s integrity or professional ethics. They weren’t compelling the writer to commit to writing about a certain place or experience in any particular way; they were simply asking the writer to confirm that he/she had (1) committed to go on the trip; (2) was doing so with a letter of assignment from one or more specific publications; (3) would reimburse the tourism board and PR firm for its investments if the writer didn’t actually go on the trip; and (4) would follow up by sending in copies of published work upon its release.
I’m curious to hear what other writers and PR professionals think about a press trip contract. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.