Piers Fawkes: PR Needs To Kill The Press Trip

Public relations executives impede media by failing to understand the change of process and structure in modern newsrooms.

In the past month I have had to decline three wonderful PR trips — one to South Africa to cover a design conference, one to London to watch the judging of an advertising awards show, and one to Utah to drive a top of the line SUV through the mountains for 3 days. In some ways, these are fabulous money-can’t-buy trips, but they come from a PR tradition that I believe doesn’t work for today’s media.

Sure, I’d love to observe in Capetown, sup in England and scurry across the snow in a state I’ve never been to. Who wouldn’t? But the fact is that if I did – or my team did – I wouldn’t be able to power my media business. And if I didn’t have a media business, we wouldn’t be invited to go on these jollies.

I don’t know if the math ever worked, but certainly it doesn’t add up today. PR people need to readjust the way they work to recognize the mechanics of today’s newsroom. For our little publication PSFK.com, there are less than a handful of staff employed full-time to make a daily news site that publishes 25 times a day for over 1 million monthly readers. Everyone else is a contributor being paid on their contribution.

If a PR person takes a member of my staff out of the office for three days in the hope that we produce an article on their client, it means we could drop to half the production of content during those three days. That’s 35 articles less on PSFK because someone went to write one piece on a product/company/project. And PR people want us to do that for free.

When it comes to getting our freelance contributors to go on trips, the math is just as bad. PR people are asking writers to travel for 3 days to produce content which will only earn them the same fee they can earn in 2 hours at home. Sure, there will always be press trips, but I believe that the great majority of the ‘journalists’ participating in them are going to be people doing writing on the side — or for a hobby where the money doesn’t matter. Serious writers who want to make a career in the media will, in today’s landscape, need to stay at home.

The fact is, public relations executives are impeding media by failing to understand the change of process and structure in a modern newsroom.

As a media owner, I want to ask PR people to reconsider the jollies, the parties and the press-events. Newspapers and magazines are dying, news sites are failing — and PR people are carrying on in the same way they always have. Many are out of touch with the reality of the way media needs to work today to survive.

PR seems to be absorbed right now with social media monitoring – following all this social chatter from a windowless war-room. Meanwhile, they are ignoring how to evolve their processes so that they can get the story written about in the first place.

PR people need to behave like sales people and jump on planes and get to people’s offices or they need to hold video conferences and other ways to connect.

PR needs to adapt to the way modern media works. The South African conference promoter who wants me to travel for 20 hours should instead run a Google Hangout with PSFK featuring some of the speakers, the awards show PR guy needs to fly the Atlantic and take me through an iPad presentation of the best work during my lunch break, the luxury motor company needs to turn up outside our office with a ride when I’m planning to go home anyway.

Plus PR people really need to think about paid-for branded content as a sure-fire approach.

How many PR people do you know that have even visited a news room in the last 12 months? The reliance on dressing up some event space for a talk by a brand is becoming farcical. PR people need to hit the street and knock on doors. They shouldn’t expect media to come to them anymore.

Sure, it might seem bizarre to knock some of the fabulous travel offers we get – but I have a responsibility to the staff, my family and to the readers that we continue to be a profitable business tomorrow. PR people need to help me create the best product – or just unsubscribe me from their mailing list.

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