Does Asking Journalists to Tweet Constitute a PR Fiasco?

December 1, 2015 |

As you might have read last week, Brit Awards main sponsor MasterCard’s PR agency asked attending journalists to tweet during the show, using the company’s Twitter handle and the #PricelessSurprises hashtag, in return for tickets. When one took offence to this, a curiously large number of people worked themselves into the sort of frothing rage normally reserved for the likes of the News of the World.

This has divided opinion at Tank HQ, as Nik and I have been debating…

Glen:

An outsider might be forgiven for thinking that this was some great scandal; a global conspiracy uncovered. ‘What right,’ they seemingly asked, ‘does a public relations agency have to meddle in the workings of event media promotion?’

The reality is that this is happens all the time in the world of event PR – it’s just how the exchange works. To question its morality is to question whether product placement as a practice is wrong.

That said, I suspect that half the people who complained last week won’t have the faintest clue how many examples they uncomplainingly digest each day. Do you honestly think the cast of TOWIE are that chuffed to receive a bottle of hairspray? Really?

Having trained as a journalist, I’m sure most would agree that to accept a ticket to a high profile event without writing about it would be rude. As Twitter is now considered a news source by some, why should tweets about an event be deemed outside the remit of a reviewer?

Nik:

Whilst I do appreciate my learned colleague’s unwavering professionalism, I’ve got to play devil’s advocate here.

A social media channel like Twitter, unless representing a specific brand, is a personal thing. It’s you. It’s how the world looks at you and how you project yourself to the world. Would you expect to have to put a sticker in your window for a political party you don’t support, just to get an interview at the town hall?

In my opinion, this is the same thing. I would never tweet anything from my personal profile that I didn’t believe in, and that includes recommendations and hashtags. Neither would I expect anyone else to.

Being asked to do so is, frankly, just plain rude. My problem with this debacle is not what was done, but how it was done.

You can’t demand a personal citation from people, but you can ask nicely. Imagine if the text in the invite literally (in something approaching the Brits brand voice) said: “We’d also love your help in bigging-up the hashtag for the event, which is #PricelessSurprises, and if you could give our awesome sponsors (@MasterCardUK) a plug we’d love you forever.” Gosh, that almost sounds social.

Some firms get social. Some don’t. If you put your head over the trench by doing something like this, it’s going to get shot at.

What we’d do

At Tank PR, we’d much rather pick up the phone – avoiding the cold minefield of email, where every sentence loses its smile. Using the more polite suggestion of tweeting, such as Nik explained, I’d be surprised if the reception on Twitter wasn’t better than if we were to send out scripted tweets. This, in fact, worked particularly well with our work for the Red Bull Music Academy.

Then again, has MasterCard really lost out? Put it this way: how many of you knew previously who the main Brits sponsor was?