TomTom is gung-ho about getting good press for its new fitness wearable, the TomTom Spark Music GPS Fitness Watch. Fortunately for the company, members of the press are cool with publicizing the Spark if it means they might get something in return.
Some journalists attending CES earlier this month received a pitch from TomTom offering vacation vouchers in exchange for social media coverage—and a disappointing if not entirely surprising number of reporters went for it.
Journalists who tweeted images of their step counts were eligible to receive vouchers worth 5000 Euros (approximately $5430 USD) in exchange for the coverage. TomTom asked them to tweet about how far they walked while using a complimentary Spark. The journalists who tweeted the highest numbers of steps would receive the vouchers, according to emails provided to Gizmodo.
TomTom also offered up a second arrangement for some journalists at CES, as another email provided to Gizmodo indicates. If they borrowed a Spark for a day and tweeted their step count, they could potentially score a first-class flight upgrade home from the gadget-and-hormone-infested cesspool that is CES.
TomTom began tweeting at some of the reporters who participated last week, including CNET Associate Editor Dan Graziano.
“I’m a competitive guy, and I just wanted to be number one on the board for the challenge,” Graziano told Gizmodo. “As such, the tweets were in no way considered an exchange for the product.”
“We consider all product giveaways to be review sample loaners, and we endeavor to either return them to the company, or give them away to readers after the review process is completed. (Expect to see the Spark as a reader giveaway in the next month or two.)” Graziano continued. “Having unexpectedly won the challenge, I’ve already notified TomTom that I can’t accept the prize.”
A quick look at the #TomTomSparkChamp hashtag reveals many more journalists participating in the “contest,” including writers for Tom’s Hardware and Tom’s Guide.
Graziano didn’t answer Gizmodo’s question about whether CNET had approved his participation. For another participating reporter, this incident served as a lesson that not all publications are okay with the behavior.
“I didn’t request prior authorization from my superiors, which I should have done,” Tom’s Guide writer Michael Prospero told Gizmodo in an email that CCed his boss. “Had I won the social contest, I would have refused the prize. In retrospect, I should have not agreed to participate, and going forward, we as a company will not be involved in such contests, even if there is no reward—monetary or otherwise—as it presents a potential conflict of interest.”
“We do not allow our staff members to participate in contests such as this, and will clarify the policy to all our employees,” Prospero said.
Freelance writer Christine Persaud, who covered CES for Wifi Hifi, had a different take. “The publication for which I was attending CES was aware that I was participating,” she told Gizmodo. “I did not view this as a transaction of any sort, in exchange for social media coverage. It was simply a fun contest and I didn’t see it as anything more (though TomTom certainly benefitted from the exposure.)”
FitTechnica editor Riyad Emeran, who was selected to receive the 5000 Euro vacation voucher, defended his actions on Twitter, noting that he was fine with accepting an expensive vacation as long as it was a “clear competition.”
TomTom agrees with the journalist it awarded a $5470 vacation for tweeting about its product. This is its statement:
Everyone knows that journalists walk further than any other visitors at CES and this was a way to determine exactly how far. We were clear that it was a competition, which had T&CS that were shared upfront and handed out directly at the event. Journalists and bloggers were completely free to participate or not. The winner was the journalist who walked the most steps (90,000+). We did not request anything in return such as product reviews or additional publicity.
Look, tech companies love dangling treats in front of writers to nudge them towards positive coverage. It’s a journalist’s job to reject these overtures and transactions. Major tech companies have straight-up paid bloggers for positive coverage before, and many—including Google—hand out generous “freebie” products to writers who cover them.
Fortunately for journalists who do want to accept prizes and money in exchange for coverage, there’s another option. You can, in fact, hammer out a lucrative career by accepting what tech companies offer in exchange for coverage. It’s called public relations.