Trash talk on the junket

There is a story that has passed around so often through Canadian high-tech media and PR circles it has become almost legendary. A junket of journalists, including one from this organization, were at a dinner party somewhere in the U.S. for an industry conference. Besides a representative from our

competitors, the group included a freelancer who is well known for his large appetite. Though the PR person hosting the trip had already ordered a bottle of wine, the freelancer kicked up a fuss. He wanted something better, and hand-picked a much more expensive bottle from a list the waiter provided.

Depending on who tells this story, the wine cost either several hundred dollars or a thousand. It doesn’t really matter. The sense of entitlement that accompanied this flagrant display of bad manners has never been forgotten, probably because no one loves a social scandal more than journalists. I tell the story now so that public relations professionals might feel a little less alone when they are chaperoning guests who demonstrate less maturity than a group of teenagers at summer camp. When you are appalled at their behaviour, chances are, we are appalled too.

Much like regular IT conference attendees, some of the journalists who wind up on junkets confuse a rare opportunity to meet executives with a free vacation, and PR people with personal assistants. I have watched one freelancer literally stamp his feet and complain about the time it took to check in at a fabulously expensive hotel because he wanted a snack, which he expected the PR person to pay for. I rolled my eyes as another freelancer sent his host on a mission to pick up a free T-shirt at a party to which journalists were not admitted. The sleazy flirting and cheaply disguised come-ons, meanwhile, would put the writers of Desperate Housewives to shame.

PR professionals greet this kind of thing stoically, but what’s weird is that I’ve learned to do the same thing. I grit my teeth, watching things happen with the discomfort of a bystander who sees a husband verbally abusing his wife. Should I be doing something? Saying something? Is this really happening? Why on earth is he/she putting up with it? I know the answer to that last question, of course, but it’s a good reminder of the fact I lack the people skills to be in PR, or more precisely, the skills to deal with certain kinds of people.

Marketing is all about building relationships, and the real test of my relationship with PR professionals is the degree to which they let me see behind their plastered-on smiles. There was the time, for example, I told one PR person I would have to arrive late at a party because I was still writing my story. “Oh great,” the PR person said, “you’re going to make me go with (a really annoying freelancer) by myself?” Another PR person confided over dinner about the journalist who ran up an usually large hotel bill during one of those rare trips where the client was paying for incidentals. “I looked it and said, ‘HOW many movies?’” the PR person said. “’HOW many in-room massages?’” It is in these moments I feel a sense of kinship, though it only really lasts for the duration of the trip.

That’s the thing about junkets – for a few days, you’re stuck together for hours on end, out of your element, in the company of some pretty strange strangers. If it ever becomes normal, I’ll know it’s time to stay home for good.

Shane Schick is the editor of IT Business Pipeline.

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