Post image for How NOT to invite a journalist to a VIP event

How NOT to invite a journalist to a VIP event

by David Spark on April 11, 2010

I just received an invitation from a PR company to a press event for an upcoming trade show. Here’s the invitation. I’ve removed all the names of the companies and organizations involved and other descriptive markings and replaced them with the words in [brackets].

Hey David:

As press attending the [upcoming tradeshow], I wanted to invite you to attend and cover the event we are producing, the [PR Company] presents: VIP [Super Hip] event, sponsored by [Company X] and [Company Y].

This is an exclusive, VIP invite only event that will be held on [such and such date] from 10PM – close at the luxurious [Hip] nightclub.

I have attached a tip sheet with more information. If you are interested in attending and covering this event, please respond with your name, your outlet, the number of attendees, and what exposure you can give our event, and I will confirm back when you have been added to the press list.

(NOTE: The attached document went on to explain how exclusive this event was, how special the location was, and that it was an opportunity to rub shoulders with other VIPs.)

What is so wrong with this invitation?

There are so many red flags that make this invitation quite disturbing:

MISTAKE #1: An invitation should be an invitation, not a request to do free work

I don’t think I’ve ever been invited to a party for which I’m also being asked as part of the invitation to cover the event. You know who gets to ask me if I’d like to cover an event? Someone who hires me to cover an event. Reporting on events is one of the things I and most of the other journalists attending this conferencedo for a living.  Assignment editors are the ones that tell us which events to cover because they’re the ones paying us.

It’s unbelievably rude to make a request to cover the event as part of an invitation.

Don’t see it? Then go ahead and pretend this exclusive invitation was sent to a chef and replace every instance of “cover” with the word “cater.”

As a chef attending the upcoming tradeshow, I wanted to invite you to attend and cater the event we are producing…If you are interested in attending and catering this event, please respond with your name, your outlet, the number of attendees, and what dish you can serve at our event, and I will confirm back when you have been added to the guest list.

I unfortunately see this “request to do free work” technique pop up now and again. It’s unbelievably offensive. I had a similar situation like this happen more than a year ago. Read the two-part tale Hey PR, bloggers are not tools to be used and UPDATE: Bad PR experience story. PR firm’s client is obtuse.

MISTAKE #2: It’s implied that I must cover the event if I want an invitation to this exclusive party

Although not explicitly stated, covering the event for them appears to be a condition for getting on the guest list. I’m sure if asked point blank the PR firm that sent the invitation would deny that it’s a condition. Unfortunately that’s not the message they’re sending. In this short 100-word invitation there are three mentions of covering the event for them. In fact, a request to cover the event is asked before I’m told what the event is. Covering the event reads as a condition.

Let me also say to all PR firms around the world, we all know you want us to cover your event and your client. It never needs to be said, especially three times in a 100-word invitation.

At least they didn’t extend an invitation and then revoke it like Pepcom did to me at CES. Read that unbelievable tale at Pepcom: We’d like to invite you to a party that we don’t want you to attend.

MISTAKE #3: OK, say I do want to cover the event. What am I covering?

From the invitation and the attached tip sheet, all that’s described is that it’s an exclusive party at a cool location and only VIPs are invited. There’s no description of the two companies sponsoring the event, and it doesn’t appear that anything is going to be demoed at the event.

MISTAKE #4: Shouldn’t you know who I am if I’m a VIP for your exclusive party?

The email is addressed to me by my first name, but instead of just saying, “Please RSVP and you’ll be added to the guest list,” they ask me to respond with my name and my outlet. Since they obviously got my name from the press list for the conference, they should already have my full name and affiliation.

MISTAKE #5: If it’s so exclusive and only VIPs are invited, how come I can invite as many people as I like?

The invitation says I can just list off the number of attendees in my RSVP. If I, some random guy on the press list, have carte blanche on inviting as many people as I want, they don’t appear to be too concerned with the VIPness of the guest list.

If you also received this invitation, I ask that you don’t reveal any of the parties involved. I don’t wish to expose anyone, I just want to expose how inappropriate the process was. I have lots of great relationships with PR people and PR firms. Most of them are smart and do their job very well. But I just want to make one thing very clear to all PR reps who don’t already know it, we’re all well aware what you want from journalists and bloggers. Just extend invitations, we can figure out the rest.

Photo credit: CC sskennelAhmed Hashim, *sax

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

redgsnodgrass April 12, 2010 at 4:33 am

Great Post Dave!

redgsnodgrass April 12, 2010 at 4:33 am

Great Post Dave!

David Spark April 17, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I just received a really funny invitation for a mixer for free stuff just for journalists. The RSVP line asks you to:

Please RSVP by responding, “YES I love free stuff!” or “NO! I hate free stuff and I’m a party pooper!”

It came from The BrandX Group (http://thebrandxgroup.com)

That’s the way to do it. Be professional, or throw in a sense of humor. Invitations with veiled demands are off putting.

David Spark April 17, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I just received a really funny invitation for a mixer for free stuff just for journalists. The RSVP line asks you to:

Please RSVP by responding, “YES I love free stuff!” or “NO! I hate free stuff and I’m a party pooper!”

It came from The BrandX Group (http://thebrandxgroup.com)

That's the way to do it. Be professional, or throw in a sense of humor. Invitations with veiled demands are off putting.

McMedia April 18, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Great post David! My favorite line was when they asked for your name. media outlet and what exposure you can give their event. Then they went on to say they would confirm back. It ever so ‘discretely’ insinuates that perhaps you might not even make the list if your ‘exposure’ isn’t up to their standards and expectations, whatever that may be. A lesson in invitation etiquette is in order!

McMedia April 18, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Great post David! My favorite line was when they asked for your name. media outlet and what exposure you can give their event. Then they went on to say they would confirm back. It ever so 'discretely' insinuates that perhaps you might not even make the list if your 'exposure' isn't up to their standards and expectations, whatever that may be. A lesson in invitation etiquette is in order!

Keane May 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Dear [firstname],

I think the above post is great and I learned a lot. I particularly loved the part where you talked about stuff. I’d love to invite you to my event. The guest pass is attached under a giant boulder that, if you could be so kind, you must roll out of my garden.

Thanks,,
Keane

PS Bring money.

David Spark May 4, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Keane:

How did you know that my nickname in college was [firstname]?

You obviously did a lot of research to really get to know me, especially my love of moving boulders and leaving cash.

Keane May 4, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Dear [firstname],

I think the above post is great and I learned a lot. I particularly loved the part where you talked about stuff. I'd love to invite you to my event. The guest pass is attached under a giant boulder that, if you could be so kind, you must roll out of my garden.

Thanks,,
Keane

PS Bring money.

David Spark May 4, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Keane:

How did you know that my nickname in college was [firstname]?

You obviously did a lot of research to really get to know me, especially my love of moving boulders and leaving cash.

pamelabiery May 9, 2010 at 10:05 am

OMG! Thank you for putting so much that is routinely wrong in one place. It makes me feel like you heard my thoughts…

pamelabiery May 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm

OMG! Thank you for putting so much that is routinely wrong in one place. It makes me feel like you heard my thoughts…

David Spark May 9, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Glad you liked it. If you have any great tales yourself, let me know. :)

David Spark May 10, 2010 at 12:14 am

Glad you liked it. If you have any great tales yourself, let me know. :)

Kimberly Reyes January 6, 2011 at 8:06 pm

I've never been in PR, but for the hot minute I was a freelance [fashion] journalist, I do remember seeing a lot of these. Now, in the hustle and bustle that is the fashion industry, I completely ignored the confusing (and sometimes outright desperate) wording on all those event invitations…until now. What a great post, a MUST-READ for ever PR professional!

David Spark January 9, 2011 at 4:15 am

Thanks Kimberly! Tell all your friends to read it. :)

Harald Stoll July 19, 2012 at 12:55 am

My unsolicited 2cents,

I really enjoy reading your blogs, because of the way you write and because yo get a little sparky (no pun intended) when you write these rant blogs.
though as enjoyable as they are, i do feel that you get on your high horse a bit too quickly.

Let me explain using this blog post as an example. I understand that nobody is into doing work for free, not a writer, a journalist, blogger, chef, etc. But im starting to see a trend in your reactions that doesn’t seem fitting.
As a blogger, do you blog about a CrazyStartupX because you are paid to do so? Do you write a post for CrazyPR because solemnly because you are paid to do so? 
I do see how you do this for a living, someone needs to pay the bills after all, i also note that there is a limit for how much you can exploit your readers aka Ad-oglers, so but hasn’t there some kind of conflict of interest and journalism neutrality gone amiss? 

David Spark July 30, 2012 at 11:24 pm

I’m actually not against free work as I’ve written about this in the past. See my Quora question here: http://www.quora.com/Talent-Acquisitions/Should-a-potential-hire-be-asked-to-do-work-for-free-as-a-sample

As for the examples you cite, the way they went about their approach showed absolutely no interest in my talents. They were all mass requests for free work, and all done in incredibly self-serving ways. There are good ways to ask for free work, and there are bad ways. All the examples you cited I believe were incredibly bad ways.

Sorry for my late reply. I was on vacation. Thanks for being a fan!

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