Friday, October 3, 2008

A Networking "Infomercial" – When an Event Masks Marketing and Sales as Education, Credibility is Compromised

A DC-area vendor held a "panel program" recently, and got gracious help spreading the word. You may have heard about it too. But did you know that if you could not be considered a "client or prospective client" of this particular vendor, you would NOT have been allowed to attend?

I should say I'm not surprised, nor naive thinking that a vendor would allow just anyone (like its competitors) to its event, but think when planning outreach and events like this, some more careful considerations and better words choices (we are communicators after
all) should be made to preserve credibility. Please consider these
points:

1. Title of event and wording of invite
I'm not going reference the specific event here but will tell you that the publicly posted announcement said "Who: Washington DC PR Professionals and Communicators" with no mention that it would be "closed" if you're not a "client or prospective client" of the firm.

2. Second party endorsement
Because of this apparent openness, the invite was forwarded by a friend and colleague who did not know the invitation was limited and the vendor was "discriminating against potential attendees." That was a little awkward.

3. Colleague or coworker
The vendor used the word "colleague" repeatedly (See definition here) as opposed to coworker, encouraging me (and others I presume) to further share the invitation, only to rescind the invitation when it was extended to a friend and colleague who is their competitor.

4. Did the panel know?
I wonder if the professionals on the panel knew that the event is not open and that the vendor/host used the event as a tool to generate business? Would they have agreed? What does it say about the panel's credibility if they were willing to participate in a marketing event for a specific company?

5. Paying for a pitch
For those ("client or prospective client") that did make the guest list, the event cost $20. But I can't help but wonder if maybe some clients got in for free and prospects had to pay?

The bottom line is this seems to be a big, blurry blunder.

So here are my suggestions for other vendors: If you want to host an educational event and that's what the panelists agreed to, it should be open - treat your clients and friends, charge your colleagues and competitors. If you want to market you firm to make your company look good, invite who you want, charge who you want, put a bouncer at the door if you want, but don't mask education for sales and offer to share among "colleagues." Most important, make sure your panel knows which kind of event they're participating in.

Better yet, leave these kind of panels to impartial, credible, professional groups like IABC, PRSA, WWPR or this one, for example.

-- Joe

1 comment:

Kate Perrin said...

I would be interested to hear from other professional services providers about this. In this case, people paid to attend but the sponsor underwrote it, covering about half the actual cost (no one was comped except the speakers). How would you or your professional services firm handle it if someone wanted to bring your competitor to a program you were sponsoring and spending substantial money on?