The Rules of Gift Giving
Getting the media’s attention is never an easy task, which is why publicists, business owners, marketers, etc. try to get their products free publicity by sending sample products to reporters and producers. You don’t need to be a corporate accountant to know free exposure in the media can equal increased profits for your business. Oprah Winfrey is the perfect example. She has turned anonymous authors into international best-sellers with a mere mention of their book on her show.
It’s a written rule in journalism that no journalist should ever accept a gift from a person seeking coverage, yet that still doesn’t stop publicity hounds from sending sample packages or free passes to their events. The Today Show on NBC receives so many of these products that they hold a sale for charity at the end of every year. Most newsrooms also have a table full of toys, makeup, books and other products that were sent to a reporter or producer seeking coverage.
I am of the belief that you should never send any free samples to the media. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pitch your product to the news organization. You can still pitch a story on your product via a news release that states you can provide the product if they are interested in pursuing a story. At the very least, this will screen out reporters or producers who might take your product without even reading your news release.
In many cases, the news outlet will need the product to test for a story or to shoot visuals for television. If a producer or reporter asks for a free product by all means give it to him. The odds are very high that a story will air on your product or service if the reporter or producer personally asks for a sample or invitation to an event. Most journalists won’t risk a career over a free gift.
You might have a better chance of getting a journalist’s attention by attending one of their events. Everyone wants to help a friend and members of the media are no different. You get calls returned faster and story ideas are forwarded to the right person if you are on a first-name basis with a reporter or producer. Odds are you probably didn’t go to school with any journalist, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t curry favor with them.
Many minority organizations hold journalism conferences in the summer months. Groups like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Association of Asian Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists hold 3-day seminars in cities across the country. The conferences allow members to socialize, network and attend daytime workshops with journalists of the same ethnicity. The nighttime events are filled with schmoozing and booze, making any outsider feel like a true media insider. These events are open to everyone regardless of your background or ethnicity. You don’t need to show a press card to attend the conference. As long as you pay the yearly dues and conference fee you can attend, mingle and socialize with the journalists on their terms. Ironically, few publicists ever attend these events even though it is a great place to establish contacts.
Many cities also have their own local media mixers. When I worked in Arizona, I belonged to an organization called the Arizona Latino Media Association, also known as ALMA. The group frequently held social events at bars and restaurants where Hispanic journalists and public relations executives mingled. The website Mediabistro also hosts mixers that take place across the country. Journalism schools, colleges and universities might also be able to tell you about social events involving the media in your area.
Just try not to be too blatant with your agenda. If you go to a minority journalism conference or media mixer, make sure you are willing to learn and contribute to the organization and its causes. Journalists are experts at spotting a fake, and they can be unforgiving when manipulated for an agenda. So if you attend one of these mixers or conferences, spend the time networking. Don’t pitch a reporter or producer at the conference when he is trying to forget about work. Instead, use the time at the conference to establish commonalities and bonds.
We’ve all heard the term, six degrees of separation, but it’s even closer with journalism. That means think twice before packing a free sample product for the media. You might have more success with reporters and producers by first establishing an authentic relationship. and that is something money can never buy.