But I got an invitation!

Every now and then I’ll get a call that sounds a lot like a pitch about a new product from someone I’ve never dealt with before. They give me a 30-second backgrounder on the company, followed by some information on a recent release. They gauge my interest and suggest coming in to see me. This is all

relatively straightforward when I suddenly realize they’re not asking me to write a story — they’ve mistaken me for an IT manager who will actually purchase the product in question. Someone’s gotten their list, but they haven’t checked it twice.

We attend so many events here at ITBusiness.ca that’s no wonder we occasionally end up on the wrong ones. That’s the only thing that can explain the kind of ridiculousness we encountered a week or two ago, when we dealt with a particularly striking example of event management gone awry.

My boss, Martin, received a personal invitation to attend a two-day IT management conference in downtown Toronto. Since he had previous commitments that week, he passed the brochure on to me. It showed promise: in between vendor presentations were a number of high-profile Canadian users who would be sharing their experiences on a variety of project management and governance issues. Given the relative quiet of the summer months, this looked like a great way to generate some valuable content for our readers.

We’re notorious for last-minute registrations, but in this case I only got the invitation the day before, so I called to see about media passes. The person who picked up told me flatly that they didn’t allow media to attend. I mentioned Martin’s invitation. She faltered. She could check with someone, and she did, only to find out that the person who could help me had gone home for the day. They offered to try to contact me the following day — when the conference would already be taking place and it would be too late to send a reporter.

I was out of the office the next day, so I passed the matter over to my assistant editor. He managed to get in touch with the conference organizer, who said we could come provided we sign an agreement. This couldn’t be a non-disclosure agreement since the information was being presented before a live audience, so we asked them to fax it over.

The demands in the agreement were as follows: We were not allowed to report on a session unless the person giving the session agreed to let the media write a story. We were not allowed to enjoy the complimentary lunch (which didn’t matter at all — we’re starving writers, after all) or the free conference binder. Most importantly, however, we had to mention the conference organizer’s name in the story — the agreement noted that our stories represented “”a valuable advertising opportunity”” — but with one caveat: under no circumstances were we to mention the number of attendees.

Go ahead and laugh. We laughed.

When we told the conference organizer we wouldn’t sign it, he offered to amend the agreement and said we didn’t have to mention their name, but they still had to check with the presenter whose session we wanted to cover that day. Naturally, given the option, they wanted to see any article before it ran.

Apart from “”do not do what this company did,”” my message to marketers here is that many of these problems could be avoided through proper list management, and dedicated, experienced personnel who are fluent with the media reporting process who can handle these types of requests. Perhaps the conference was as good as it looked, but the only message it delivered to ITBusiness.ca was that this organizer represented a Mickey Mouse operation that didn’t deserve to be taken very seriously.

If I’d signed the agreement I suppose I would have to mention their name now. Good for them I didn’t.


Shane Schick is the editor of IT Business Pipeline

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