To get your brand across, try dates, not iPads

Journalists are a stingy bunch by nature, so the great freebie drought experienced during the financial crisis was keenly felt.

As companies struggled to rein in costs, out went the branded USB sticks and other gizmos which used to be handed out at corporate events, and in came pencils, Post-it notes and flimsy notepads - if the journalist received anything at all.

But signs of a recovery among the UAE's banks are reappearing.

Reporters who attended a sumptuous Ramadan suhoor at the Emirates Palace hosted by Al Hilal Bank this week walked away with brand new iPads.

The Islamic lender, which is fully owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, turned its first profits in 2010 and presumably feels sufficiently flush to afford such luxury.

 

On the other hand, a more cynical sort might say that the bank, established only in 2008, is taking an expensive gamble to curry favour with the media fraternity.

The devices, which retail in the Emirates for Dh2,149, reminded some reporters in The National's office of the decadence which became commonplace at corporate events in pre-crisis Dubai, where Playstations, expensive timepieces and even discounted off-plan properties on the Palm Deira had been gifted to grateful hacks.

Even discounting the ethical implications of accepting such over-the-top generosity, with hindsight this could have been viewed as a sign of trouble ahead.

Corporate events such as these are essential for journalists to make contact with the companies they cover. But it presents reporters with a big ethical dilemma.

It's always awkward to refuse hospitality at the hands of press officers. But The National's employee handbook states that "to prevent improper gifts, kickbacks or bribes," any gifts received should be turned over to the managing editor, who will then hold a silent auction. In practice, the price at which a gift becomes excessive is above $50.

In the interests of full transparency, I should state that the iPad has been donated to charity to avoid any impropriety.

On the other hand, other companies that take a more subtle approach may find more success. At the time of writing, I am munching through a small tin of breathmints given to me recently by SunGard, a financial services company, and I pocketed more at the last visit to their offices. I trust the readers of The National would raise the alarm if they detected any bias.

Meantime, in the spirit of Ramadan, I suggest that companies stick to dates. It's less ethically murky, and more likely to get the brand across - after all, a journalist will almost never turn down free food.

- Gregor Stuart Hunter

Published: August 25, 2011 04:00 AM

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