The media junket: Is it rational to wine and dine journalists?

vip room

It doesn’t happen often, but when the opportunity arises, I have no ethical problem in accepting an expense paid media trip.

I missed the biggest offer — an invitation through a foreign service agency for an expense paid trip to Brazil to cover an obscure trade show, but my then-editor was able to secure a last-minute passport and flew to South America for a week. When he returned, he wrote a small article that occupied a couple of inside pages of a regional construction newspaper, and I expect almost no one who read the story could care less about the content.

A few years ago, Holcim (now LafargeHolcim) invited me and my wife to Washington DC for the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction ceremony. Unfortunately, Vivian was herself traveling at the time — so I asked I could bring my 14-year-old son, who happened to on a school break. “Yes, you can, but he won’t be able to attend the ceremony,” the PR rep told me.

So we received two last-minute plane tickets, and a car was waiting for us at National Airport to take us to the Willard InterContinental Hotel DC, within walking distance of the White House. I paid for Eric’s fancy room service hamburger as guests were taken by bus to the National Building Museum for the ceremony.

Realistically, any of the coverage we provided could have been handled with a rewritten press release, presumably at much less cost to Holcim.

This Monday, I’ll be heading to Toronto for a hotel-chain sponsored event. The PR agency based in Florida originally proposed a train ticket but when they learned the train would require more than seven hours each way, the agency secured me a a $500 return flight. Hotel and meals, of course, are included.

I think most of the “core” news will be covered in a one-hour session in Toronto — which could have been covered again by news release or perhaps a live stream video. (There is no reason to name the organization here especially since I cannot definitely conclude anything about the payoff-value of this junket yet.)

If you sense that I’m skeptical about the ROI of this sort of media event and expense, you are correct, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in spending resources and money on attracting the media, simply because the alternative — conventional paid (advertising) marketing can be extremely expensive, as well, with far lower quality results.

A simpler and less expensive approach for media attraction can be inviting reporters to worthy conferences and events — and granting them free admission with a media pass. The costs here are limited perhaps to a bit of food and administration and the good-will from positive publicity can certainly make that investment worthwhile.

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