Quite often, a company will pay for a journalist to attend an event and cover all the costs. This will have most journalists jumping for joy. It's one of the perks of being part of the press. There's not a lot of journalists who work for publications with travel and expense budgets and few journalists can see far off exotic locales on their own. So if we can get airfare, hotels (usually nice downtown business class hotels) and meals (sometimes the best restaurants in town) and be the envy of friends and family, even hang around at the bar and get the tab picked up, we jump at the opportunity. In return, the companies get some coverage. It's an unwritten rule...until recently.
I was notified that I would not be welcome at a CAD company's annual big bash. I had been to their last big bash and written nothing about it. Nothing. Not a damn word. I had not met "expectations."
Finally, it was in writing.
I don't question their decision. There was a pretty good chance that I might have gone again and still not found anything worthy of note. Or I might have taken the opportunity to get to know the company and products better, using that information as "background" (journalist-speak for involvement not directly resulting in articles), or I will take a trip to further business relationships. Sometimes, I just can't find a unique angle that I think will interest anyone.
I suppose I could faithfully transcribe the keynote speeches, rehash the material presented to each of us, painstakingly and carefully prepared by a diligent PR team who has worked hard to provide press releases, product information, even graphics and captions, bios of the execs and case histories. Some of this material is ready to use. I could do a cut and paste with little thought of my own. But there are journalists who are better at this than I, and I can always refer to their work.
As there could be many who strive to see the world at the expense of companies who seek only immediate favorable coverage, I thought I'd take the opportunity to write some of these unwritten rules. There's not many and it's very simple: basically you behave like a good guest, don't write anything bad or critical while you are there, then send a warm thank-you note (in the form of a complimentary article about the company and its products disguised as a report from the field to your readers).
Rules for Free Trips
- Tweet like mad. It doesn't matter if your followers can't keep up with your hundred tweets during an event and may likely unfollow you. What matters is that companies have PR staffers who count the tweets. Your host will know who the top tweeters are and you need to let them know you are industriously and frantically covering their show.
- Pay particular attention to the wit and wisdom dispensed by the top executives. Companies trot out their top executives at these events, so shouldn't they be well photographed and quoted? They have scripted, rehearsed, honed their points, made their entire company on message and practiced their jokes. How would you feel if you did all that and paid guests (journalists) wrote nothing? If you have been given an interview, don't think for a minute that the CAD exec has been reading your stuff and is delighted to finally meet you. In his mind, he has deigned to give you some of his valuable time and that had better turn into favorable prose.
- Follow-up with a longer article -- or series of articles after the event, and if the event is expensive enough (ie, you have been flown across oceans), then you had better keep up the coverage all year long so when they plan their next event, you will be on the list. Also, be receptive to press releases, company events, etc. There should be nothing, no matter how trivial, that you should ignore from such a generous host.
Following these simple rules will guarantee that you will be invited to future events.