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Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

I feel like I should be caught and punished for what I’ve done this summer. I’ve worked with Fast Company as an intern for three and a half months and am leaving tomorrow with an armful of freebies — a veritable bag of swag — that would make Santa jealous.

I feel like I should be caught and punished for what I’ve done this summer. I’ve worked with Fast Company as an intern for three and a half months and am leaving tomorrow with an armful of freebies — a veritable bag of swag — that would make Santa jealous.

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I got an enormous doggie pillow from Crypton Fabrics to promote its partnership with photographer William Wegman. Then there was the box of olive oil, vinegar, pesto, and capers from Campobella. Revolution, the Republic of Tea, and Izze added up to about eight gallons of beverages. What else: A coupon for a free pair of sneakers from running apparel company Brooks, lawn chair and frisbee from Sony as part of its “summertime…and the living’s easy” press event. Throw in a couple of t-shirts and you’ve got my summer. I made out like a bandit, as our deputy editor Keith Hammonds often reminds me. (Lest you think Fast Company can be bought for as little as a lawn chair, the magazine does have an ethics code that requires team members to decline items that cost more than $25.)

But where does this gift of the PR guy cross the line? Sure, the pillow is cute, and the chair would be nice to use when lounging at the beach. The rest of the staff certainly liked the food and drink. And the T-shirts are great for the gym. But I didn’t ask for these things, and they definitely don’t help me decide whether I’ll use the companies in a story. So what’s the point of these giveaways? A nice gesture? A subtle “remember us in the future” reminder? Or is it an implicit bribe?

Towards the beginning of the summer I met a rather pushy PR person for a company and told her that I didn’t think the company’s story made a good fit for Fast Company. She then sent me a package and wrote a note that essentailly said, “I hope this will change your mind.” I feel like there should be an ethical code involved in public relations. Getting the word out about a new product makes sense, but there comes a point where publicity becomes a bit corrupt.

What does your company do to lure the media and ensure good press? Do you think there can be backlash from giving away too much?

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