The Inherent Problem With Press Junkets

The Inherent Problem With Press Junkets

I’ve always believed that “press introductions” or “press junkets” are a horrible idea for both the companies promoting a product and the consumers planning to buy it. Watching the Adventure Rider Baldy Review of the Harley-Davidson 2021 Pan America 1250 reenforced that belief.

Harley-Davidson treated a group of carefully-selected moto journalists to a pampered press junket in the California Mojave. The goal was to get them aquatinted with H-D’s Pan America. No, Jimmy Mac On Two Wheels did not make the cut. The Baldy Review (who did make the cut) does a decent job reviewing the bike and includes footage of what goes on behind the scenes. This rare glimpse into the workings of a press junket will make any potential buyer a little less confident in the coverage that these gatherings generate. 

The journalists attending H-D’s gig were pampered. No doubt about it. They were put up in a fun place. The bikes were individually prepared for them. Techs swapped tires and adjusted suspension depending on the day’s ride. I didn’t see it in Baldy’s video but I wouldn’t be surprised if each attendee got a swag bag worth hundreds of dollars, too.

These journalists may be capable and skilled while riding solo. Put them together and ugly things happen. A junket attended by business competitors is going to generate competition. And crashes. I haven’t hit the dirt once in the last 25 years of dual-sport and off-road riding (knock on wood). Baldy couldn’t make it two days without a soil sample and it sounds like he was in good company. I’ve never believed that a rider can only find their (or their bike’s) limit by crashing. That’s a dangerous way to test motorcycles (or bicycles or e-bikes). Marty Tripes, one of the most naturally-talented, fluid and graceful riders to ever race a motorcycle, told me, “Jimmy, if I didn’t know exactly what the motorcycle was going to do, I’d park it.” 

I kept my cards close to the chest while attending any press junket. It was not my job to build a consensus with my competitors (other journalists). Many times I picked up valuable insight from blabbering journalists who unknowingly made my stories better. I also learned how clueless many of them were. This group obviously blabbed too much. Baldy says in his review, “One of the great things about being here with all the other journalists is that we get to compare opinions.”  Comparing opinions with anyone but your own test riders is a bad idea for everyone involved.

Something happens when journalists “compare opinions” and it can kill or inflate a new product. Let’s say I spent the day falling in love with the Pan America. Unfortunately, that evening at the catered dinner of tri-tip steak and mash potatoes, the journalist next to me says the bike has, “less torque than I was expecting but comes alive at 6000 R.P.M.” That’s a serious issue for a heavy adventure motorcycle that needs low-end torque to navigate low-speed technical sections. What do you think is going to show up in the review of any journalist within earshot of the vocal journalists?

It is not above journalists to come to the party with an agenda. They may dislike the company. They might have a personal beef with the presenter. They may even have a legitimate concern. A press junket gives this journalist the opportunity to not only poise the question to the company, but to present it to every journalist in the room. I have a pet peeve to address to a Harley-Davidson spokesperson (see “pet Peeve” in the next paragraph) but I would never do it in front of a roomful of journalists. It could make their report better and again, I was never in the business of helping my competition.  

A first-impression review is worthless to a consumer being asked to spend $20,000 of hard-earned (or even trust-funded) dough. How often does the rider need to change the oil? How hard is it to access the air filter and what does a replacement cost? How difficult is it to change the oil and how much oil does it hold? How much does an oil filter cost? What are the suggested service intervals? What is the hourly service rate at a Harley-Davidson dealership? How long does it take to schedule a service? What is the replacement cost for the windscreen/fairing? Are non-Harley-Davidson branded accessories available? And my pet peeve, if H-D offers a $925 accessory muffler that is claimed to be 42% lighter than the stocker, why isn’t it the stocker? It takes digging to answer these important questions and that is not happening at a two-day gathering.

Press junkets are a gamble no public relations department should bet on. One-on-one meetings give better control to the presenter even if this approach is time consuming and expensive. It is an investment that is guaranteed to pay off with more-accurate and less-biased editorial reaching the targeted consumer. And at the end of the day, that is what any company is trying to accomplish.

I didn’t attend this press junket and I have not yet seen or thrown a leg over the all-new Pan America. I can still give you great advice. And my advice is more valuable than anything I have seen written about the Pan America so far. Click here for buying guidance. 

I picked on the Harley-Davidson press junket for this story but they happen just as often in the bicycle business. Do you think you can get this many journalists together on a trail and not have them comparing notes?
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