No more guessing
November 14, 2017 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Ask any woman currently sitting in a Dry Bar

Here’s where I reveal I have no idea what a Dry Bar is (it sounds uninviting?). Probably why I never get free stuff, except for samples from the nice lady at the Trader Joe’s counter. Mom will go to bed now.
posted by The Toad at 9:58 PM on November 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

It’s where you get your hair blow dried.
posted by notyou at 10:02 PM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mind: blown.
posted by The Toad at 10:09 PM on November 14, 2017 [18 favorites]

I really appreciate the Ars Technica approach. They do an annual December event where they ask their readers to donate to Penny Arcade's Child's Play and/or the Electronic Frontier Foundation, email in a receipt of some kind, and everyone gets entered into a giant raffle. Each winner gets to pick an item from the publication's swag pile.

They raise tens of thousands of dollars and distributing the swag to readers in a raffle is certainly a more ethical approach.
posted by zachlipton at 10:14 PM on November 14, 2017 [14 favorites]

Huh. This is the opposite of bigtech, where the swag is utterly unsellable but the pay is very good.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:36 PM on November 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

I once worked at a magazine company where the rule was that the woefully underpaid beauty mag staffers had to give ALL freebies to the rich boss's rich wife.

Anyway, yeah, reporters shouldn't be accepting or reselling $500 shoes from companies they write about, but I also don't judge them if their publications don't have clear guidelines against it.

Still there are grayer areas in the industry: Free theater and concert tickets are the norm for critics. There are press events with free food and drinks that you need to be at for your job. Some travel sections still foot the bill for their writers but increasingly few can afford to continue those sections without taking freebies from airlines and tourism boards. Sometimes you get sent promotional items that don't have much cash value, per se, but they're still cool schwag you might put on your desk. You may not accept that bottle of wine sent to you but what about when a company sends a pizza or box of donuts to the newsroom?

I also should admit that when I was a starving freelancer starting out, I used to resell the huge stacks of CDs I was given for possible review (though stores rejected most of them and didn't pay a lot for what they did take). Later I covered the food industry and turned down a staggering number of free meals and booze.

These days I am a dull breaking news reporter and get sent nothing except hatemail and weird letters from inmates.
posted by retrograde at 12:07 AM on November 15, 2017 [22 favorites]

And one time I received a box that contained another much tinier box and a lot of helium balloons. The tiny box contained a single bottle of perfume. Two Racked editors fit into the outer box easily.)

Thus both depleting helium stores and burning extra fossil fuels because some other boxes had to go on another truck.

Great job, perfume brand!
posted by uncleozzy at 3:16 AM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

My time running UG teaching means I have a pretty complete set of all the major text books in my topic that came out in a 5 year period. They are great for taking up shelf space and gathering dust.
posted by biffa at 3:36 AM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Does anyone else find the personalized stuff creepy?
posted by hoyland at 4:02 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

For a while I had my HR job in the International Rescue Committee on my LinkedIn profile. It was shortly after I put it there that I started getting cold calls from people pitching me one or another recruiting website or benefits-management software package, only for them to quietly apologize when I explained that my position as "data analyst" was the lowest of the low on the totem pole there. But that's when I realized that my name was now on A List, and the calls would no doubt keep coming.

But I did not anticipate that this would also mean I would get swag - all of which I dutifully reported to our ethics and compliance guy two doors down the hall. Technically I was reporting them because I had to - but frequently it was also because of the sheer weird involved. My favorite was once when I got a shipment of cookies - one dozen Oreos, which had been coated in white chocolate and the edges rolled in sprinkles, with the logo of the company that sent them screenprinted in edible ink on the surface of each cookie. I reported it to the compliance guy, and he suggested just putting it out by my desk and sending out a department memo that "hey, I got cookies, come have one".

The next day I received a call from a representative of that company - "Hi! I hope you liked our cookies!"

"I did, it was very kind of you!" I said. "However - before we go on, I feel I should tell you - my position here is not in any kind of decision-making capacity whatsoever. But - thanks for the cookies!"

They were quiet for a long beat, then simply said, "well, you're very welcome, have a nice day," and hung up.

Our former department head got the really good stuff, though. I helped distribute mail, so I would sort out what to do when she got something - and she got the good swag. Twice she got actual electronics equipment - speakerphone speakers, things like that. I would donate those to our IT department. But once - she got a small package that came in a paper popcorn bag like you used to get at movie theaters. The bag was carefully taped shut. I pried it open - and inside was a package of microwave popcorn, and a pass entitling the bearer to a VIP meet-and-greet party, followed by an exclusive, pre-release screening of Rogue One.

I stared at that a loooooooooooooong time. Then I went down the hall to the ethics guy, showed it to him, and said "let the record show that I resisted the temptation and am reporting this ticket to you. But - I think that means I get to keep the popcorn, dammit."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:40 AM on November 15, 2017 [21 favorites]

IIRC, there's a low-key but lucrative reselling of the merch that comes in Oscar swag bags, which are valued at around $100K each, by nominees who aren't rich stars, or at least aren't rich stars yet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:56 AM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I still have many of the beautiful paper swag items I got when I was working in print, not to mention memories of lovely parties thrown by the paper and print companies. I'm looking at a Giant House of Cards Eames commemorative set made with Eames paper. I never sold any of it though. And it never seemed to be an ethical consideration at any of the design firms I worked with.

Mmmmm, paper....
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:27 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine had a moderately successful beauty blog, and used to get sent entire ranges of new launches from time to time - she eventually decided not to do it anymore as it felt like companies were trying to buy her, and she didn't want to just talk about what was new all the time. A lot of the bigger beauty blogs are really focused around reviews/coverage of new releases, and while I don't necessarily think that's because of PR influence, it is somethign that will drive traffic to your page when people google. Maybe it's the same deal with gadgets - thanks to a work thing I realised that there are SO many drone reviewers on YouTube.

If blogging is your full time job, I can see why people are tempted to sell stuff on - who knows when you'll have a lean month.

In my job - which involves having to be impartial - we aren't allowed to accept gifts worth over £100, or anything that could be considered cash (like vouchers). We do get sent product samples, but things like toys get sent off to charity collections if they aren't taken home by someone in the office. One of my colleagues has a Grand Theft Auto tee that he wears to the gym.
posted by mippy at 5:34 AM on November 15, 2017

Just search the hashtags #trippinwithtarte or #smashboxsquadabroad to see how this plays out in the extreme example of influencer trips and the exposure those brands get.

For those who don't normally care about these things - a group of YouTubers were flown to Bora Bora by a cosmetics brand a couple of years ago. Interestingly, the products they were given all turned out to be really really good and thoroughly recommended.

I think the ethical line is perhaps much fuzzier in new media than it was in print journalism, or at least, we are encouraged to think of these people as just like us - with budgets like us - not a Devil-Wears-Prada esque remote figure.
posted by mippy at 5:41 AM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Back in peak blog (2005ish) I was getting 50K readers a month, and some PR guy figured out that my blog was very popular with moms with young kids. So he started me sending me all kinds of swag if I would just write about it. I turned it into a game trying to find funny or unusual takes on "reviewing" stuff which ranged from a Swiffer to a stereo system. Between the swag and a couple of hundred bucks in ad revenue each month the blog was spinning out part-time job money for a year or two.

Then Facebook killed blogs, and I think most agree that was not for the best.

I'm still friends with the PR guy.
posted by COD at 5:59 AM on November 15, 2017

If we're talking about early-aughts blogs and swag, there was an annual event (although it may have only been for a few years) that Microsoft put on for gadget bloggers; I think it was called Mobius, and it was done specifically to promote WinCE/Pocket PC/Windows Mobile. They brought the bloggers to Seattle, wined and dined them, and gave them backpacks stuffed with merch, including the latest and fanciest Pocket PC PDA. I was thinking of starting a gadget blog just to get in on it, but my job may have looked askance at my hustling for swag (I was in charge of buying mobile devices, back when we still circulated them) and dropped it. That was before the big tech blogs really took off, and Apple changed everything.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:35 AM on November 15, 2017

Review swag is like the scout ant of the capitalist ecology, finding opportunity, and the returned goods economy is the catfish, consuming what’s left of it.
posted by notyou at 6:47 AM on November 15, 2017

So it's 2008. The US economy is melting down. Mr. Machine is a wee baby lawyer in the bankruptcy department of a firm handling some of the biggest bankruptcies ever. Like, names you've Fucking Heard Of Because They Tanked the Fucking Entire Nation's Economy. And shit is wild. Mr. Machine bills 2800 hours that year -- not works, bills. The next guy up in the food chain from him used to wake up in the morning, crawl to the bathroom, turn on the shower, and just lie on the floor of the bathroom in the dark until he got the strength to stand up and face his 15+ hour day.

And, like, one of the steps in a complex corporate bankruptcy is hiring a claims agent to send a registered letter to every single person and entity they owe money to, ranging from the lease for their corporate headquarters down to the electrician who came out to see why the light's in the women's bathroom in Akron, Ohio kept flickering?

As you can imagine, in 2008, it's a lucrative fucking business. And so, that year, for Christmas, the claims agent that they use sent every associate in the department a Tumi power bank.

Every partner got an engraved iPad.

(That's my favorite swag story. My least favorite swag stories are the old dude lawyers who tell me about the good ol' days when they were the junior lawyer on a deal like this-here one, and got sent to wait at the printers for the big contract or stock offering documentation to be printed, and it was 2 a.m. So all the printers had these plush waiting rooms where the junior lawyers would sit and have steaks and booze and sports tickets and just anything a man cou --

This is the part where they suddenly remember it's 2017, and I'm a woman. And sometimes they even notice that I am staring at them with a gimlet fucking eye, just daring them to say out loud that [insert derogatory term for sex workers] were brought into the waiting rooms for them. Sometimes they manage to stop themselves before getting to that point! Other times they choke off the word half-way!)
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:57 AM on November 15, 2017 [13 favorites]

I work in medical research and have for going on 28 years. Way, way back in the olden days, the pharmaceutical companies used to give out really wild stuff at conferences (I still have "hand towels*" from Marinol). They also used to buy us lunches and dinners and bring the most ridiculous baskets of muffins to our clinic that I have EVER seen anywhere. About 10 or so years ago, the entire university system chose to stop receiving anything from any pharma company. As of that date, we can no longer accept even a pen and we certainly aren't allowed to have lunch. When the policy was put into place, we had to toss every notepad and pen and clock that was in our offices.

Even though I have always been in research and never had the ability to write a prescription, I think this policy is for the best as I would much prefer to be seen as ethical than have more "hand towels" or a muffin.

Aforementioned "hand towels" were hoarded and used as cum rags by the majority of gay men at the HIV conference.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:02 AM on November 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

My brother-in-law works in a lab that tests ... things (he can't tell us the work he does, or who "the client" is), but he says they often get iTunes cards and Apple devices, so much so that even though the office policy is that the devices be company property, everyone has one (or more) that they can take home. And he's run out of things he wants to buy on the iStore because of the sheer volumes of iTunes cards. I guess it's all different because they're active clients giving gifts of thanks, which is still weird.

The best schwag I got for free was an old iPod nano (second generation, I think), but that's because I played some music by an artist who apparently thought it was better to invest in marketing than critical feedback for their music (sorry, your music wasn't that great).

COD: Then Facebook killed blogs, and I think most agree that was not for the best.

It's all about YouTube now. The weirdest reminder that YouTube is the place to be to get free things was a dinosaur toy video from a mom and kid. The mom named the brands of all the toys, clarifying which they bought and which they had received for free, and noted that they gave away toys when they were done with them. As an adult, the video felt like a boring, poorly made ad for toys, but my boys liked watching the dinosaur toys. Luckily, the branding meant nothing to them, so there were no requests for any specific dinosaurs, beyond the species (because we don't have a feathered Tyrannosaurus rex yet, that's why!)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:14 AM on November 15, 2017

As a knitting blogger, I've gotten a number of free e-copies of knitting pattern books so that I could review them, and once I got a free sample skein of some recycled silk yarn. I wrote about the company that sent it to me, and then I used the skein as a contrast colour for a sweater and matching hat that I made for my grandniece.

I find these freebies sit remarkably lightly on my conscience.
posted by orange swan at 7:35 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's been pointed out that iPads were not available in 2008. I guess I remembered the story wrong, and it was an iPod? THE SWAG WAS REAL THO
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:07 AM on November 15, 2017

I do a comic book podcast and in the last year, one of the major publishers (but not either of the big 2) has added us to the list that they send digital copies of their releases every week. It's saved me a lot of money.
posted by sleeping bear at 8:27 AM on November 15, 2017

I'm so poor right now, this made me want to cry.
posted by agregoli at 8:34 AM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah, my little podcast ends up with me getting brewing gear and brewing ingredients. A lot of times it's from me approaching and saying "hey, I want to take a look at your product and talk about it" Other times it's from sponsors (literal paid sponsors of the show) sending us new stuff they have because they want our feedback.
posted by drewbage1847 at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2017

Law firms get a steady stream of sports tickets from vendors. I guess it's ethical, I mean they're law firms so they should know.
posted by scalefree at 9:01 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I worked in private consulting for a few years, and it was always fun at the holidays to get a couple of gift baskets from our subcontractors. Now, of course, I'm in government, and we have a $25/year limit on gifts.

I don't think I'll hit the limit this year: I haven't been to lunch with a contractor all year.
posted by suelac at 9:47 AM on November 15, 2017

On the opposite side of the swag spectrum, many years ago WalMart was my customer. When you fly into Bentonville to call on Walmart you meet the purchasing people in these stark temporary offices with movable walls. Literally the only thing on the wall was a poster warning of the dangers of trying to provide any sort of gift to your WalMart purchasing agent. I'm pretty sure if the WalMart guy had started choking me giving him the Heimlich to save his life would have been considered an improper gift, and gotten us both fired.
posted by COD at 10:11 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

My test is have I seen someone give a negative review to something they've gotten free, and do I see it on a regular basis.

Lazy Game Reviews (when he rarely does modern reviews): The only time he didn't give a Sims 4 expansion a bad review was the Cats And Dogs one, which he had to buy himself. The previous three or four that they sent him free? All avoid reviews.

The Completionist? I don't think I've ever seen him give a bad review to a new game, and the time it particularly rubbed me the wrong way was when he gave a glowing review to the new Star Fox game, and in the same week uploaded videos of Nintendo flying him out to interview Miyamoto himself.
posted by Canageek at 11:20 AM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty sure if the WalMart guy had started choking me giving him the Heimlich to save his life would have been considered an improper gift, and gotten us both fired.

Procurement is a like the default place to look for corporate fraud, so that story checks out.
posted by pwnguin at 12:17 PM on November 15, 2017

I mean, there's probably an ethical problem with fashion editors writing about $800 bags they got for free, but it's nowhere near the ethical problem that is Conde Naste's basic business model of writing editorial content about their advertisers, so I hardly think the junior assistant fashion editor who is 6 months removed from three straight years of unpaid internships is the place to start solving this problem.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:09 PM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

My test is have I seen someone give a negative review to something they've gotten free, and do I see it on a regular basis.

Back in the early aughts I used to review software for a magazine, mainly development tools, and we tried to tell it like it was. I remember getting sent a free (full) copy of Rational Rose, doing a multi-page in-depth review of it, and concluding that it wasn't worth what they were charging for it. Rational were not impressed, and asked for their review copy back.

I did several detailed, warts-and-all reviews of very expensive enterprise tools, and then for some reason vendors stopped asking us to review them...

And I remember Microsoft freebies... I got a free week in Seattle to go to the official launch of .NET. And remember wondering how the heck I was going to get some of the swag home. I particularly remember a folding scooter, which at that time were all the rage.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 1:54 PM on November 16, 2017

I work in the public sector. The only swag I ever got was a tea towel about catchment management with the slogan "pick up dog poo" on it. When my house got broken into, the thieves took it to staunch the blood from where they smashed the kitchen window.
posted by girlgenius at 1:09 AM on November 17, 2017

Speaking of beauty industry swag, the beauty influencers on YouTube do PR unboxings. The amount of stuff they get (and the sheer amount of packaging it involves) is unreal.
posted by asciident at 11:16 PM on November 18, 2017

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