Amith Prabhu: The media gift conundrum

10 Mar,2014

By Amith Prabhu


The most fascinating sight at a big city press conference for a big brand is the way some of the attendees behave at the end of the press conference. This is a sensitive topic and has never been discussed in public. And this pertains to a tiny minority who sometimes let human nature take a lead over human dignity.


The bottomline is to get brand marketers, media houses and PR firms to come together to prevent obnoxious gifts being doled out at the end of a press conference. While some may argue that each one is free to accept or reject a gift, the basic premise is if a gift should be offered in the first place. It has become a best practice for some brands but does anyone care to understand if a gift is an ethical thing to do.


Let’s look at key elements of organizing a press conference. From the time the invitation is sent out until the day of the event the following happens – follow ups, an offer to pick up and drop a journalist, the actual presence of the journalist, usually followed by a meal and then the exit from the venue which in most instances includes a gift. While offering transport to a far off venue may end up being courtesy and having a five star lunch is par for the course, these are shunned by journalists from media houses who have a strongly enforced code.


However, there are few who are only there for the good time and for the gift and there is a motley group in each city who have had lunches at press conferences on almost all weekdays of the year. If an audit was done to see if these journalists actually carried a news item on their outlet one would find it hard to see anything leave alone anything of substance. While PR firms get a pat on their back for bringing in a huge number which boosts the ego of the corporate communications person and the spokesperson, the fallout is seen on the following day when there are 150 people who have dined but only 15 pieces of media output.


I know there are some cities which offer cash or gift vouchers to journalists to attend a press conference and an added incentive for coverage. This is a rampant practice in some other parts of Asia, especially China. But should India go that route? Can we the PR fraternity jointly take a resolution to stop gifts at press conferences?


Consumer companies offering samples are a grey area and if the value of what’s on offer is not greater than 10% or Rs 500, one can overlook it. But when a consumer durable company or an auto major offers a portable mobile charger or a portable hard disc costing Rs 3000 or $50 and then expects humongous amounts of coverage the question of ethics sets in. Can PRCAI take the lead in ensuring its members discourage clients from gifting media?


If gifts are not a bribe, then what is? It’s a different matter that media sales people gift media planners and buyers fancy items from time to time. The vicious cycle continues and it needs to stop somewhere.


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