Why letters of assignment don’t matter anymore
In the old days, PR firms required media to have a Letter-of-Assignment
(LOAs) as a precursor to being accepted on press trips.
Some even went as far as spelling out required circulation, usually over
100,000. Many PR firms representing state and local government are still
insisting on this ridiculous litmus test as to whether a potential
journalist will be worth their time when it comes to sponsoring them on a
How reporters use social media in their jobs]
Why then are PR firms surprised when the previously agreed upon goods
Here's why this archaic requirement needs to be tossed out and especially
why PR folks need to rely on other metrics to vet journalists:
1. Editorial staff has high turnover.
Editors change all the time, and no editor wants to inherit the legacy of
their predecessor, no matter how good the pitch was. If the outlet ceases
publication, the journalist must find another outlet for the orphaned
It's better to select the journalist rather than the publication. Research
their writing style and publication record and trust they will find the
right home for your piece.
2. Outlets can be misrepresented.
Some LOAs or guarantees of placement are from freelancers accustomed to
bending the truth. For example, I knew a travel writer who promised bylines
with the Chicago Tribune, knowing she could submit free copy to her local
neighborhood version of the newspaper and that Chicago Tribune would appear
on the banner. All she had to do was ensure a link between the story and
It was questionable whether these were the demographics desired by the
3. Asking for a guarantee of publication shows naivety.
Don't ever ask for a guarantee of publication.
Any professional will tell you they can't, and then walk. Be wary of those
that say they can. In most cases, it's usually their personal blog and you
must decide if it's worth it.
There's also a chance that they make promises they have no intention of
keeping. After all, what recourse do you have when a journalist doesn't
produce other than to put that person's name on a black list?
4. Getting a LOA can be difficult for freelancers.
Some outlets just won't give assignment letters, even though you may be on
staff or a frequent contributor. Instead, it is up to the writer to make
his or her own arrangements and whatever is necessary to write the article.
Insisting on a LOA will limit the kinds of writers who can cover your news.
5. Many publishers have a no comp policy.
Be wary of any journalist that promises a byline in major newspapers likeThe New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or The Washington Post. Most do not accept articles from
subsidized press trips.
What PR pros should be doing instead
Focus more on the track record of an individual writer. Research their
clips, know their style and be aware of their current outlets. (Just
because they have published in the National Geographic Traveler in the past
doesn't mean they can place an article there currently).
Hosts should look at professional memberships, if for no other reason than
if a member exhibits unprofessional or bad behavior, the host can at least
report it to the organization. Some organizations like the
International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA)
even have a policy that if you go on one of their sponsored trips that “no
clips means no future trips.” Others like
Society of American Travel Writers (SATW)
expect their members to uphold conduct to a professional level of behavior.
Do you still require letters of assignment, PR Daily readers? What
alternatives would you suggest?
Karin Leperi (a.k.a. K.D. Leperi)
is an award-winning writer (Lowell Thomas, NATJA) and award-winning
A version of
this article originally appeared on
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