No, Publicist, I Will Not Guarantee Ink for Your Client

An editor asked me to represent his magazine at a media dinner next week. The meal will be a gathering of journalists and bloggers at a new farm-to-table restaurant within a major Orlando hotel. Sure, I said. I'm a food and travel writer so I need to keep up with the area's newest kitchens. This magazine, among others, might be able to use an article about it.

I RSVP'd yes and filled out a form stating my affiliation. The paper, sent by the restaurant's publicist, asked me to pledge that -- Ach, I can't even paraphrase without wincing. Here, just read it yourself: "I confirm I am on assignment for the outlet listed above and will produce a feature/review as a result of my dining experience at {Restaurant X}." The form required a signature.

That is the sleaziest, most unprofessional invitation I have ever received.
Let me back up. Restaurant and travel writers who work for the upper echelon of publications do all their research independently, on their own or their company's dime. The rest of us accept invitations to media events, where we're wined and dined so we can get a general idea of what the establishment is like. In my case, if I like the experience a lot, I return anonymously, with my credit card, to do research for a critique or feature article. I'll use what I learn repeatedly in various forms for any number of respectable magazines, books and websites, local and national. In other words, media dinners help me weed out top places without going broke--and potentially lead to extensive media coverage.

Pig head at Cask & Larder not from a media dinner

If the restaurant is meh but has a noteworthy feature, I find another way to give it press. Maybe I include its custom glass flower wall art in a design piece or scoop the chef into a round-up about where local culinarians dine on their nights off. I never trash a restaurant based on a media dinner. I only do that if I visit undercover on my own and have a horrid experience. If based on the media dinner I find the restaurant hopeless, I slink home and stay quiet.
Restaurants gamble a bit when they host a media event because they're spending money on food, wine and labor that, at most, they won't get back in publicity. Usually they get plenty of ink. They take a chance. That's the game.
Clearly Restaurant X's management--or its publicist--would rather not chance it. Thus, the form.
No ma'am. No sir. A journalist does not guarantee, promise, pledge in writing, with a signature, that s/he will spread word of your glory because s/he ate a pork chop with slaw as your guest at a media dinner.
I understand the caution. Journalists and bloggers enjoy freebies, especially freebies they can use to write new articles. Many accept every request that comes their way. I don't. I turn down invitations that won't be useful for my business. I am not what I call the freelance schnorra who accepts a seat at any table (although I do not blame anyone for trying; media events are terrific for networking).
It is the publicist's job to learn who's who in the market and invite the writers most likely to help her client.
A signature? A promise? That's not the way.
I wrote back "Count me out." I wonder how many of my colleagues will sign the form and show up. I wish they'd all boycott.
Eat well,