Ladyironchef (Brad Lau) vs Private Affairs - Alvinology

Ladyironchef (Brad Lau) vs Private Affairs

Ladyironchef (Brad Lau) at Private Affairs - composed web images via Ladyironchef's blog and Private Affairs' website
Ladyironchef at Private Affairs - composed web images via Ladyironchef's blog and Private Affairs' website

To be fair to both parties, I’ve provided the links to both sides of the story over the alleged free meal incident. Please read both stories carefully before you jump to any conclusions.

The story according to the Joo Chiat restaurant, Private Affairs, via Yahoo! Fit to Post: S’poreans outraged over ‘free meal’ blogger (23 Aug 2010)

The story as told by Ladyironchef (Brad Lau): The Truth about this Singapore Food Blog (24 Aug 2010)

As a blogger who also works in a media company that organises bloggers’ events, here are some guidelines I personally hold for dealing with invites (you need not necessarily agree with me, that’s fine):

1. If you do not want to write about the product/event/service – do not accept the invite in the first place – the reason PR companies or product owners invite you is obviously to get publicity. If you do not want to feel obliged to write, do not RSVP. If you are not sure whether you will put up an entry but still want to go take a look, make that clear to the PR before meeting so as to manage expectations. Journalists work this way; bloggers should too if you want to be treated professionally.

2. If the invite did not state the number of pax, do not assume you can bring guests along. Check first. If you do bring guests, do not assume that your guests can be free loaders. This is to maintain professional integrity. The event is not your private party and please bear in mind there is cost involved for the organiser for every extra Tom, Dick or Harry you bring along.

3. Timeliness. If the invite is for today, do not assume it’s valid a few weeks or months later unless stated. The invite might have been for a one-time off event that was specially catered for a specified period. I also find it a good practice to finish up my blog entry ideally within three days of the invitation. I know bloggers are not journalists, but events have their timeliness factor too and the organisers also have their marketing/publicity objective to account for. Spare a thought for the hand that feeds you.

4. Humility and courtesy. This applies not just to bloggers, but anyone else.

5. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Journalists get invited to events because they are expected to write about it. This applies to bloggers too. Pay it forward.

For organisers who want to invite bloggers to events, bear in mind that bloggers are not professional writers. I am not referring to the quality of work as some bloggers may even write better than mainstream journalists, but the fact that blogging is not a “profession” for most bloggers. There’s no governing body, no professional code of ethics or guidelines to follow (and it should remain that way as it is part of the beauty of blogging).

To be fair to the bloggers, they are not paid for the time and traveling costs invested to attend your event. Hence always anticipate a small percentage of “negative investment” whereby no blog entries are written after the event or negative coverage by a  few bloggers who attended the event. That’s social media for you. Just bear in mind who these bloggers are and you can consider striking them off your list for future invites. What goes round, comes round.

I think life is a whole lot less complicated when you always put yourself in the other party’s shoes and consider their views too.

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  1. 5. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Journalists get invited to events because they are expected to write about it. This applies to bloggers too. Pay it forward.

    There is no such thing as “expected to write about it”, PRs invite journos to events to provide them with enough information for the journos to consider writing about it, not because they HAVE to write about it. Journalists get dozens of event invites everyday, just because they choose one over the other means that they are expected to write about it. That’s all.

  2. I wanna comment on your “Spare a thought for the hand that feeds you” phrase. Companies are trying to leverage on bloggers’ influence and readership and bloggers hope to present more interesting/in depth information to readers. It’s for mutual benefits.

    I think many people try to compare bloggers to journalists.. and I think such a comparison is flawed. Bloggers are not journalists – journalists are paid by the media company but bloggers are not (and internet ads don’t pay well at all). Companies can’t impose the same expectations they have on journalists towards bloggers.

  3. ex-journo:
    The PR “expect” doesn’t mean the journalist has to write. I was in the journalism line too; it is about managing expectations. Point 2: If you are not sure whether you will put up an entry but still want to go take a look, make that clear to the PR before meeting so as to manage expectations.

    Ms Glitzy:
    I agree with you too. Bloggers are not journalists and should not be held to the same standards. 🙂 Read my last two paragraphs.

    Fundamentally, it’s really about putting yourself into the other party’s shoes. Maybe I think this way because I happened to be in a position where I get to stand on both sides of the fence – as a blogger and as an organiser.

  4. ex-journo: I think Alvin’s main point is that, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. He didn’t say that journalists HAVE to write about the events they get invited to. Organisers and PR companies spend money on such invites so as to hit their publicity targets. It is only polite to manage their expectations so that one will continue to receive invitations from them.

    Ms Glitzy and Alvin: Alvin, I think you agreed with Ms Glitzy a little too quickly on that one. We shouldn’t forget that ultimately, journalists and bloggers are both writing for their readers. Whether reading a review written by a blogger or a professional journalist, the most basic expectation from a reader is that the review should be independent and current. The beauty of posting news on the Internet is its speed – what use is a blog that’s slower than a printed publication?

    That said, I agree with Ms Glitzy in that if the blogger is not paid to write the article, then the organiser has no right to expect it written asap.

    However, as a blogger sometimes plays the role of a reporter (like in this case, hungryepicurean reporting on what he saw at Private Affairs), some level of accuracy and credibility is expected.

    Nowadays, reporters are required to state in their article whether their meal or trip was paid for. Similarly, when reading a glowing online review about a product or restaurant, I want to know whether it has been biased by favour. This is the similarity between blogging and reporting.

    Also, libel laws apply to both print and digital media, so really, it is only to the bloggers’ benefit that they uphold a (even if unwritten) code of ethics to avoid lawsuits and sustain readership.

  5. Hi Alvin,

    I’m just wondering about a point you raised. You suggested bloggers to manage the PR companies expectations and inform them in advance that they may not blog about the event even if they had attended the event? But wouldn’t it be better for the PR companies to to manage their own expectations such that they don’t assume blogger would, should or must blog about the event?

    Bloggers write an entry usually base on whether they find the event interesting to blog about or if they think their readers would be interested to read. If the event is interesting, the invitees would definitely want to blog about it, no? Companies should not expect bloggers to write about them just because they attended the event.

    The onus should be on the company making the event interesting enough that the bloggers invited want to attend and blog about it on their own accord.

  6. Hmmmmm if a blogger tweets (assuming a series of tweets aka live twittering) about the event but do not blog about it, do you consider it as coverage?

  7. cobaltpaladin:

    Thanks for popping by. 🙂

    It cuts both way. As you rightly pointed, PR should also manage their own expectations. I pointed that out too in the last paragraph on “negative investment” (not in a derogatory sense of words, but referring to negative cost incurred for zero/bad PR return).

    As I stated, the guidelines are my own guidelines and I do not expect others to follow. For me, I believe in paying it forward and being upfront in my dealings.

  8. nadnut: Yes. Why not? This is a very interesting point actually. I see facebook and twitter as some form of micro-blogging. PR’s objective is still on propagating messages. To this effect, these meet the objectives. However, they are harder to track though.

  9. I see it as a form of micro-blogging too. But I think some companies still do not see the value of twittering and do not count it as “coverage”.

    In regards about the tracking difficulties, methinks a hashtag would solve the problem.

  10. Haha Rachel – yes you spoke part of my mind. 🙂

    Also agree with you that it is to the bloggers’ benefit to be ethical in their writing to avoid lawsuits and sustain readership. Something that I try to do is to maintain a review vs content ratio.

    On the other hand, magazines/TV do features (not indicated as “advertorials”) that are tied-in with ad-buys. Bloggers are just invited to events and they do not profit from the appearance or writeup on the blog. Not trying to compare journos with bloggers but I wonder why the disdain towards invited food reviews… it’s like people tend to be critical towards bloggers, and are less reactive towards ad-buys/product placements on mainstream media.

  11. It takes 2 hands to clap, and in this case, it takes 2 bo chups to allow this problem to exist.

    1) If Brad wants to bring another 10 friends or a platoon of comrades along to the restoran, he should at the very least, seek clarification on whether the privilege that he will enjoy can be extended to all of them.

    2) If the company has issues with providing for more than 2 guests, then it is Melanie, the PR lady’s fault for not pointing that out and clarifying it in the first place.

    This is a classic case of 2 goons miscommunicating for a simple invitation for a meal.

    How many of you will be as bo chup as Melanie?
    And how many of you will be as bo chup as Brad?

  12. The 5 guidelines are rightly set. They lead to one thing: common sense. And this incident is surely a perfect example of lack of it.

  13. Basically, this is not just an issue whether there’s guidelines to follow..

    A lot of common sense and courtesy are required in every situation.. otherwise, people will need to have guidelines for everything.

    It’s really no common sense to expect free food after 2 months has passed and expecting all to dine for FREE without checking. And common sense tells me a food tasting event is different from a Brunch.

    He also did not have the common sense to check what’s included and excluded from the food tasting. A person with experience dining at restaurants (esp for him since he is a self proclaimed food blogger) will know that Brunch is priced differently with and without champagne. Did he has the courtesy to check what’s included for his free food tasting?

    And definitely no integrity trying to blame it on MIScommunication……/

  14. Interesting points raised by Alvin. Like him (except that I don’t have direct journalism experience, although I have contributed articles to ST Recruit), I tend to feel that there must be some kind of trust established between PR hacks (like me) and bloggers (like me). For sure, journos and reporters would inform me if they are unable to do a story for whatever reasons (breaking news popped up, not enough pages, scoops got stolen, etc). Some bloggers do so too, while others do tend to be more forgetful. Similarly, I try my best to put up posts of events that I’m invited to.

    I’m just wondering sometimes if a purported “negative publicity” like this is actually doing both Ladyironchef and Private Affairs more good than harm? Minimally, this has raised their level of “brand awareness” and “top-of-mind-recall” in ways that would never happen if life was just plain sailing smooth. Just look at Ris Low, who became a celebrity after her online notoriety!

    Incidentally, do look at Xiaxue’s post on this, which seems to take a different perspective:

  15. Basically, this is not just an issue whether there’s guidelines to follow..

    A lot of common sense and courtesy are required in every situation.. otherwise, people will need to have guidelines for everything.

  16. First of all, Melanie’s English is atrocious for a publicity manager. Now, initially, I was inclined to side with the restaurant. Demanding free food for your companions(whether in person, txt messaging, or email, makes no difference really) seems really sleazy. However consider the cost of each outing, at over $300, how many outings can an average middle class blogger review? By sponsoring a convivial meal, the restaurant can help spur a positive review that would otherwise have not happened due to the financial constraints. But the public needs to be made aware that this is a “sponsored infomercial” and not a true independent review. Is $300 a bargain for what is essentially a high profile ad?

    Brad’s anger and arrogance is understandable, since he was made to lose face in front of his friends. However it cannot be condoned, since he willingly associated with the restaurant and voluntarily chose to go ahead with the review despite not getting an explicit reply that the meals would be fully covered. Ultimately, his “friends” are to be blamed, when the restaurant indicated that they would not cover the extra meals, they should have paid for their own meals, or at least split the cost with Brad. To put it all on him alone, is unfair.

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