Hit The Road Jack: Getting Coverage by not Paying Transportation Fees

Whenever we meet with clients in China who are about to make a major announcement with a press briefing, we must explain to them why we do not have a policy of paying attending journalists. This question comes from the common practice of paying journalists a “transportation allowance” or jiaotongfei, which is a small stipend paid to cover transportation to the briefing or interview. Usually these allowances are much higher than the cost of transportation. We had a client meeting last week when this very question was asked, but the week before EASTWEST organized a tremendously successful press briefing without paying what is basically a bribe. EASTWEST has a policy NOT to pay jiaotongfei under any circumstance. Even though paying these fees may result in increased coverage, it does not buy quality coverage. Many journalists may simply reprint the the press release or give a quick summary of the briefing, giving little regard to quality. Also, journalists may attend just to collect the jiaotongfei without any intention of filing a story or giving coverage. Some even tag along with colleagues or friends only to collect the fee. The practice has become so ingrained in the industry here that many clients view it as a necessity for coverage. Clients judge the effectiveness of a briefing by the head count, not by the credentials or the reputation of those present. Since opening our first office in Beijing in 2006, EASTWEST has educated clients that the quality of the coverage always trumps the quantity of coverage. Ten or more low quality articles in little-known publications cannot compare to two or three quality articles conveying the clients key messages in highly reputable publications. In the end, clients generally come to the same agreement and the practice is, no doubt, quickly succumbing to a timely death. Journalism is becoming more competitive and the goal of finding a good story is of itself a major reward. In less than five years, we expect this practice to be largely extinct. Even so, we still must be creative in the ways that we get journalists to attend briefings since we tell each attending journalist of our policy. On Oct. 14, EASTWEST organized a press briefing for a major announcement by Avnet Technology Solutions in Beijing. Instead of relying on bribery to attract journalists, EASTWEST created an effective media relations strategy by targeting the most relevant journalists for this briefing. By doing our homework, we were able to find the journalists for whom this news would matter most. In the end, we had 17 journalists attend the briefing, including those from CNET and Reuters. That evening, we were able to secure an on-air prime-time interview for our client on Bloomberg Asia. We did all this by not paying a single bribe. Anyone can pay someone to come and watch, but only the agencies who go the extra mile will come out on top with quality coverage that makes the client investment worthwhile.

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