A PR recently told me that they simply could not get their head around the fact that journalists and editors had been ignoring her offers to gift them a pair of beautiful pyjamas so that they could become more familiar with her client’s brand.
“Who wouldn’t want some really lovely pyjamas?” she said.
I took her point, but sometimes it’s not as simple as wanting some lovely pyjamas. Perhaps the journalists don’t think they’re lovely, for a start. But even if they do like the product, there are so many reasons why an offer like this might be rejected.
Bribery is one of them. Giving free product to journalists is a complicated business, fraught with ethical questions. Some publications, like the Financial Times, specifically forbid it in their contracts, the main reason being of course that bribery is illegal.
It’s not bribery, you say. How else is a journalist expected to become familiar enough with a product to write about it – or not? And I take that point and agree with it (Yes, we could buy it, obviously, but money, deadlines, time etc and it’s not the job of a PR to sell journalists product, so that’s beside the point here.) Fashion journalists are consumer journalists. They do need to know if a product is good in order to recommend it (or not) to readers in their coverage. Yet, somehow it feels wrong to say this. Less so for beauty journalists where the tried-and-tested legacy is established and makes sense. Trying and testing a pair of jeans or a luxury handbag is equally valid but less straightforward, I imagine, to the reader. Especially if the journalist then keeps the jeans and luxury handbag forever…
Anyway, even if it’s not laid down in company law that a journalist mustn’t accept free product, it’s still a dodgy area. A journalist’s coverage may be honest and unbiased, accepting a gift takes away from their credibility. And how are readers to know if a review or story is unbiased if journalists are being offered and accepting free product?
Obviously, this is a big topic and one that can’t be addressed in full here, but while gifting press may, in the eyes of a brand and a PR, be a straightforward relationship exercise and a genuine chance for journalists to experience your product, the ambiguity of the gesture can continue to be compromising for journalists. If you say yes to the offer, what will be expected from you by the PR and the brand in the future? Will there be constant reminders? Little passive-aggressive hints? And if the pyjamas turn out to not be up to scratch, but you accepted the pyjamas, you’ve worn them in bed, for god’s sake, you can’t send them back! But will you ever be able to write about pyjamas again and not include that particular brand? So is that something you need to flag? Should you do it now or email them afterwards? Aaagh! As a journalist, all these things will spin around in your head when you get an offer like the one my friend was making. And that’s why, sometimes it’s just easier, not to mention, right, to say no to the pyjamas.
What Kate Thinks…
“Click on this! Bottega Veneta launches the coolest brand-owned digital editorial ever seen with Issue.
The hot Italian brand, which now has British Creative Director Daniel Lee at its helm, last year forsook Instagram in what was seen as a shock move.
Now this quarterly digital brand publication gives them the opportunity to be in charge of their editorial outside social media and in state-of-the-art style. Check out the film, animation and brilliant sound in its features.
This issue also includes Nenah Cherry, who provided the voiceover soundtrack for Bottega’s show last year, photography by Jonathan Frantini and illustrations by Barbara Hulanicki, founder of legendary 60s store, Biba. Watch as other brands flock to copy Bottega Veneta’s brilliant idea! “