There is currently a storm raging through the Australian restaurant industry and its related media outlets. If you aren’t in the middle of the food media field it may have blown right by you like a soft breeze, barely ruffling a hair on your head, but if you are in the midst of people who work and live food there’s no way you’ve missed the hurricane.
In brief, a person who fed her restaurant habit (pun entirely intended) by exchanging Instagram coverage for free meals approached the wrong chef and was publicly outted by him.
What followed was a predictable inflammation of the “bloggers are the devil” soapbox amongst traditional media but there’s a whole piece missing from the couscous for comment debate. While I don’t remotely agree with the Instagrammer’s ethos, the restaurant industry and the PR companies that represent it are certainly not without blame in this situation, for they are the very ones creating an environment where this practice is not only accepted but often encouraged.
I see both sides of the coin. As a blogger and social media content creator I am inundated by emails every day offering me merchandise in exchange for coverage — these approaches are entirely separate to PR list blasts announcing new launches and products, although often related. Then in my day job I work with chefs, restaurants and brands who have to deal with the impact both new and traditional media coverage and reviews have on their businesses.
In the interest of full disclosure I don’t guarantee coverage for product, ever, and reply as such if I reply at all to these approaches. For starters, I can’t be bothered to give airtime to things I don’t like, and how do I know how I’m going to feel until I try something. Therefore, how can I guarantee coverage — especially that of a positive nature — based solely on an email? Secondly, I worked in agency-side advertising for long enough to know that there is money behind any non-charity campaign, if you don’t respect my time enough to budget for it, I usually can’t be bothered to support your campaign targets.
My full policy is here if you’re interested, however promoting my own approach is not the purpose of this piece — the purpose here and now is to reveal a small taste of the industry-wide encouragement in private, of the very thing it stands against so publicly.
Take for example this email received only a few weeks ago, vital details changed for privacy, other than that the content is verbatim:
I hope you had a great weekend.
I am contacting you as I love your blog and think you would be a great fit for one of my clients
this Great Restaurant. This Great Restaurant is a gorgeous new venue on X Street in the important place, with all sorts of things to impress you and it will be opening soon.
I would love to invite you in for a complementary meal in
our Great Restaurant headed by a famed chef in exchange for an Instagram post. We would be happy to host you and a guest at any convenient time.
I have attached a press release, do let me know if this is of interest and when would be a good time for you.
“A complementary meal … in exchange for an Instagram post”, is this not exactly what the shamed Instagrammer was asking for from another location? No doubt she justified aggressively pursuing comps due to past invites offering the very same thing. If you’re wondering, I didn’t respond.
Then there’s the oft-seen product version:
I hope this email finds you well.
I’m getting in touch on behalf of my client
this Great Company, makers of this Great Product for an exciting collaboration. This Great Company would like to work with you in line with the release of its awarding winning advertising campaign focused on “ a campaign slogan” with an emphasis on how to use the product. See the quirky ad soon to be released on social channels here.
We’ve put together
a fancy-schmancy pack including this Great Product – which would be sent to you as a gift, if you’d be willing to share some product love on your social channels.
“A gift … if you’d be willing to share some product love”, um, that’s not a gift. And as the electricity company still does not like to accept great products in exchange for keeping the lights on, thanks but no thanks. Note to PR people, a collaboration should to be mutually beneficial, but I digress.
Finally the event version, a rapidly growing piece of the puzzle, boldly asking for exposure before anything is ever experienced:
How are you? Hope you’re having a fantastic week.
We’d absolutely love if you joined us at
a festival/public event of some kind at some point in the near future if you’re free? We’d like to give you a free double pass if you could help us out on social media to promote our ticket sales 🙂
The practice of trading product for coverage is rampant, encouraged from the centre outward — and just quietly not all that different to the famils and product samples of traditional media — yet blamed squarely on the periphery of those providing exposure in new media. It is without a doubt a chicken and egg scenario.
For every restauranteur and PR professional with steam currently coming out of their ears because they don’t participate in things like this but have been lumped here in with a chosen few who still build strategies hinging heavily on coverage barter and follower numbers above interaction and results I simply say this: consider that many in the influencer side of the industry have a ton of integrity and transparency, don’t let one (or even 100) bad seeds paint a hideous picture of an entire population and we (or at least those who understand the media landscape) will try not to do the same to you.
For every “here’s a ‘gift’ with strings” email there are another two or four “for editorial consideration” messages and an considered respect for the relations piece of Public Relations. However the problem is with the ones who are feeding the couscous for comment culture, and for that I don’t have any solutions.
There will always be people trying to get the word out about their businesses any way they can, and there will always be people who try to take advantage of that for their own gain. All I can do is be honest in my own interactions and, while hoping others do the same, trust my slightly cynical gut regarding what’s really behind what I see in both new and traditional media — because I’m an adult with a brain.
Oh, and the response the chef, Tim Philips, had to the free-meal couscous for comment fisher who simply couldn’t take a hint? I love it, and do not believe in the slightest that it was anti-feminist or anti-female or #casualsexism but simply, as noted in his comment on news.com that, “You missed the irony that I, as a man, am ill-qualified to ‘review’ female menstrual cycles. And this person is equally unqualified to review places they’ve been, with the predetermined obligation of a free meal for nice comments.” Well said sir.
How to Cook Couscous
Couscous is not a grain. It’s made from grain, sure, but it’s just a very tiny version of pasta. Yes, really. That means, unless you’re using a wholegrain version, couscous has no more nutritional value than a big bowl of spaghetti. Not that there’s anything wrong with pasta, so long as you dive into that bowl knowing full well what you’re getting into.
- 1 part couscous
- 1 part boiling water/stock/juice/other liquid
Measurements are by volume, not by weight. So use a half-cup measure or a tea cup or a shoe — just make sure to use the same implement for both ingredients.
Place couscous in a bowl, cover with the boiling liquid and stir once. Cover bowl with a lid or plate, go look at Instagram for 5 mins.
Fluff with a fork and use as desired.
- Adding more liquid than a 1:1 ratio of couscous to liquid will render a slightly sticky mixture, adding less may result in a concrete-esque, bowl-shaped block.
- Wholegrain couscous may need more liquid, but start with 1:1 and go from there.
- Yes, couscous can be steamed but this is not that method. It should never be boiled and drained, it won’t end well, don’t believe anyone who tells you to cook it this way.
A comment on comments — discussion is welcome, trolling is not. I believe in the delete button, this is my home, if you’re coming in for a cup of tea don’t shit on the carpet.
I was really enjoying the article almost right to the end, simply, I think what he said was wrong and your defence of it misguided. There are male gynaecologists who are able to review menstrual cycles so gender has nothing to do with it. Also, he didn’t need to reply at all but he could have said a simple no thanks, that would’ve been the end of it but in choosing the words he did, which somehow made their way to the Internet despite being private between the two, suggests there was an agenda. Was he chasing free exposure for his restaurants is the question begging an answer. He got that in spades.
You’re right – I hadn’t heard a thing about this fiasco, but it was very interesting hearing your take on it.