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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

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