• July 1, 2007
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

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Memo from the desk of Marshall Lager, July’s Chief Graft Officer:

It's not easy for me to admit this, but I can be bribed. I'm not easy to buy, but I do have a price. And it's not necessarily cash that gets me (nobody's tried that yet--I'm open to experimentation), but what we who cage these things like to call swag. Swag can be anything from coffee mugs to plane tickets and a hotel room for a vendor's conference. I'm not picky. Anything cute, handy, tasty, or valuable will do, more to my everlasting shame.

I'm not alone in this. Talk to anybody who works for a publication that covers products of some sort and you'll hear similar sentiments, if they're being honest. It's built into the trade--gifts and tchotchkes arrive at magazine offices every day in some cases, certainly a few times a month here at CRM. It's far worse when you write about things you can actually use. People who work in fashion, food, or home-electronics journalism have it so good--at the lower levels on the industry's food chain, they're often underpaid on the assumption they'll make up the difference in loot.

In our defense we don't let the flow of stuff cloud our judgment or influence our professional opinions. Unduly. Our appreciation of toys doesn't make it into print, unless of course we're actually writing about toys. But the intent of sending a journo a swag bag is to get an in--and, for the most part, it works. Far more fun is that it gives us insight into the nature of the sender.

For example, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff must be a chocoholic. I've only met him a handful of times, and none of them have been over a meal. But the company can't send out a press release without accompanying it with several pieces of chocolate (Nestle or Cadbury, I think) wrapped in signature Salesforce-red foil. Good stuff. And with the sheer volume of announcements from that company, I have come to look upon this offering as both the price of my attention and my punishment (via expanding waistline) for thinking such corrupt thoughts.

And it seems the fine people at Plantronics are pretty smart. We don't give a whole lot of coverage (read: none) to electronics, but they made a very strong case for giving us a briefing when they pointed out how phone headsets can increase productivity for salespeople and call center representatives. They also left a very nice wireless headset, which I use every day here in the office.* Does this constitute an endorsement of Plantronics products? The magazine is mute on this; I like it just fine, but not in a Billy-Mayslike shout-until-they-buy way.

Ron Verni, CEO of Sage Software, is a different case. Every year, some time around Mother's Day, Ron flies me out to Sage's annual Insights partner conference. These are hosted at one of three Gaylord resorts, located outside of three warm and humid cities. This tells me Ron is actually an alien from a jungle planet. I, for one, welcome our new overlords, and would like to remind them that I'll gladly sell out for more trips to those resorts--man, those places are sweet.

*Editor's note: Marshall's colleagues continue to encourage him to drop the pretense that he actually needs this item--we're fed up with getting waved away under the guise of speaking with an analyst for a daily news story when he is, in fact, ordering himself a chimichanga.

Contact Senior Editor Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com.

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