“HOW can they expect us to write about them when they didn’t even give us any gifts?”
My ears certainly weren’t playing tricks on me. If you think only a spoiled Filipino journalist with a humongous sense of entitlement that’s disproportionately inverse to his or her newspaper or magazine’s circulation would say something like that, guess again.
I heard that line some years back while I was on a familiarization trip of Madrid with a group composed mostly of lifestyle and travel journalists from Europe.
What made it doubly surprising for me, the only Asian in the group, was it came not from a deprived journalist from some former communist country in the so-called Eastern bloc, but from someone based in a supposedly prosperous and consumerist society in the West.
A visit to Loewe
Organized by the Madrid tourism board, the tour included a stop at a Loewe store along historic Gran Via. A good-looking and well-dressed salesman wearing a dark suit led the in-store tour, as he showed us a range of men’s and women’s purses, from classic styles to the brand’s latest spring-summer collection.
To the uninitiated, Loewe (pronounced as Lo-e-ve) is a reputable and iconic Spanish luxury leather goods brand acquired by LVMH a few years ago. Although it’s an old, relatively low-key and conservative brand, Loewe’s prices hover beyond the reach of most working stiffs.
Although the journalist said it in a rather conspiratorial manner to me and to two other colleagues, I was a bit taken aback by her unexpected candor. I simply smiled and held my tongue, as a slew of thoughts raced through my head:
1. For starters, the woman was from Western Europe and working for a supposedly more established news organization, which I assume pays more than most publications and media outfits in the developing world.
2. Having congregated in Spain only a day or two earlier, we all hardly knew each other. What’s my point? I believe that there are certain thoughts and opinions that say something about you that you simply don’t readily share with virtual strangers (unless, of course, you’re a blogger). Getting even by not writing about a brand because you exited its store empty handed is certainly one of them.
3. Based on how she reacted, it seems no journalist is immune from acquiring a sense of entitlement. The disease, if I can call it that, afflicts not a few journalists, and it cuts across countries, cultures, genders, religions and stations in life.
What was going through my mind while the well-dressed man from Loewe was showing us one product after another while expounding on the brand’s DNA and unmatched quality?
To be honest with you, after being shown all those beautiful and pricey leather products, I was also expecting some form of token at the end of the tour.
I would have appreciated and welcomed a small keepsake from the company like, say, a key chain or leather bracelet. Brands of Loewe’s caliber usually have a PR department in charge of handing out promotional giveaways to visiting journalists.
And since we didn’t come to the store unannounced and were even accompanied by a representative of the city’s tourism board, the store could have gone out of its way by preparing something for us, including press kits.
Of course, I wasn’t expecting them to give us the latest Loewe “it” bag costing hundreds, even thousands of euros. That would have been too much. I would probably have to write about Loewe every week for the next six months to be able to “repay” it. 🙂
Writing about it for weeks on end is one thing, being allowed by my incorruptible editor to do so is quite another. But should I, like my whiny colleague, make my feelings known? Like I said, there are certain things you should keep to yourself and your close friends.
I don’t know how these luxury companies view it, but to me, a lifestyle journalist, such small tokens are nothing more but investments in goodwill. But having said that, no company is obliged to make such “investments.”
I don’t remember anymore if they provided us with press kits. But because of what my European colleague said, which I can still recall vividly to this day, I’m pretty sure they didn’t prepare any giveaways for us.
Most “gifted” section
Having received my fair share of gifts and giveaways, including concert tickets and restaurant and hotel gift certificates, from various companies, PR consultants and individuals through the years (one former colleague, who was known for his legendary attempts at condescension, even labeled the Lifestyle Section as the most “gifted” section in the paper), I’m fairly aware of certain truths, mostly unstated, of course, behind such gestures.
Whatever their reasons for such acts of generosity, I appreciate the gesture more often than not than the gifts themselves. Really! 😉 Although I did end up asking myself once too often after unwrapping a gift or emptying a loot bag variations of this question: “What were these people thinking by giving me something I have virtually no use for?”
Take note that I didn’t say useless. Since gift giving is a subjective art, what may be useless to me may be indispensable to another person.
You’re not brilliant, your paper is
Colleagues, whom I’m pretty sure can readily identity with many of the points I will be raising below, are most welcome to support and even refute my theories. Here goes:
1. No matter how brilliant you and your mother think you are, people (referring to companies and/or individuals, and their PR consultants) give gifts to you because of the media organization you represent and the potential for future publicity they can derive from you. I don’t mean to sound cynical because there are really nice and genuinely grateful people out there. My point is, they’re being generous to you not because of your sweet and distinguished self per se, but because they’re just being proper by showing their appreciation for a piece you wrote or did about them.
2. Apart from practicing the art of the soft sell, there are certain organizations and individuals who give gifts in advance as a way of “inoculating” themselves from bad publicity should their actions, products or works falter or fail to meet public expectations in the future. And their first line of defense is naturally to win over influential journalists to their side. Should all those gifts becloud your judgment in the future? In an ideal world, they shouldn’t. But journalists, like all human beings, have their own sets of biases, too. If left unchecked by someone above them, even the very best are capable of committing something short of murder.
3. Giving gifts, if I may be blunt about it, is a pure and simple attempt of other people to butter up. Unless you receive gifts like precious jewelry and rare artworks, these tokens won’t make you any richer or happier. In fact, most of them only add to the clutter at home. But done often enough by a personable individual or PR person, they have a way of making you soft. A classic example of how this works can be seen when a journalist is invited to, say, two (or even three) conflicting events that are more or less of equal importance in terms of story value. Now, which would you prioritize? As a journalist, both of them are equally important. But as a human being, one is more important than the other simply because you might like or have a soft spot for the people behind it, including its publicists. Through the years, some of these publicists even become your “friends.” It’s simply human nature at work.
4. Apart from the gifts, there are certain publicists who are masters at currying favor with certain journalists by supposedly giving them scoops—hooking them up with a hard-to-pin-down CEO, designer or artist, giving them first crack to write about a new product or fashion collection, giving them exclusives or fresh angles not afforded to the competition, etc. That’s all very well, but at the end of the day, they’re not giving this access to you for free. They’re giving it to you primarily because of the exposure their clients are bound to get from your media outfit. If you strip off all the niceties behind such efforts, you will come to realize (if you haven’t already) that it’s not about you. Rather, it’s all about the highly rated news program or No. 1 newspaper or magazine you work for.
Media outfits as leverage
What are lifestyle journalists to do with such gifts (as well as such attempts at gift giving)? Unless they’re scandalously expensive, I don’t see any harm in accepting these gifts and saying a brief and sincere thank you to their givers. But at the end of the day, journalists should keep in mind that they have a job to do. They should use their media outfits as a leverage not to get gifts, but to get a good job done. Collecting as well as expecting tokens, useful or otherwise, is never part of the job description.