The Do’s and Don’ts of Offering Food to the Media

Whether you’re taking a reporter to lunch at the local coffee shop, or inviting the media to an elaborate press conference complete with tables of gourmet delicacies, feeding the media can be fraught with problems.
Who picks up the check if you’re taking them to lunch?
Are gifts of food OK during the holidays, and should they be sent to individual reporters or the entire news department?
What if you’re hosting a media tour for travel writers at your new resort? Do you automatically assume that if they accept your invitation, you will pay for everything?
What about alcohol? Can you and a reporter have a beer or mixed drink if you’re being interviewed over lunch at a restaurant?
Here are some tips that will help you put your best foot forward and make everyone feel comfortable.

Ethics Policies

One of the first things to remember is that you can treat print and broadcast reporters very differently. That’s because print media outlets often have ethics policies that dictate what reporters can and cannot accept. At one newspaper where I worked, we couldn’t accept anything with a value greater than $5, including free lunches of any kind.

Broadcast reporters seldom have such policies. In fact, a friend of mine who works in TV says TV reporters and many radio folks routinely EXPECT free lunches, gifts of food and other freebies—and are delighted when they get them. Clever PR folks can think of creative ways to tie story pitches to a good gift, and send it to the news department at TV and radio stations, in hopes of being interviewed.

Be extra careful when dealing with reporters who work for newspapers and magazines, however, particularly those at bigger publications where the ethics policies are more stringent.

News Conferences

If you’re hosting a news conference, you don’t need to worry about ethics policies. The media aren’t concerned either, because everyone is being treated the same. So serving snacks and soft drinks is perfectly acceptable, particularly if reporters will be driving long distances to attend. More elaborate news conferences sometimes call for more elaborate food, sometimes even alcohol, particularly for gala unveilings of new products. Most reporters will refrain from drinking, however.

If you are hosting a news conference to introduce a new food or food-related product, it is perfectly acceptable to give everyone in the media a free sample as part of a media kit.

You can also send food-related items to the media to call attention to a major special event. Ruder Finn PR agency sent the media a spatula and pancake mix along with an invitation to Pancake Day, a giant pancake breakfast outside CBS Television’s “The Early Show,” hosted by College Broadcast, a leading multi-media entertainment and marketing company.

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