Gifting sparks PR ethics debate

Will holiday gifts to your media contacts be welcomed effusively—or will you be accused of trying to buy off the newsroom?

In addition to family, friends and business colleagues on this season’s holiday gift list, you need to add the names of your favorite media contacts—or do you? Every year, PR people struggle with how to give holiday good wishes to journalists, and whether a gift or a simple card is the best way to do it.

Complicating the decision making about gifts is the ethics policies in place at most major media outlets, which dictate whether gifts can be accepted at all. The issue can be clouded by policies stating no “gifts of value” can be accepted—leaving a gray area as to what’s OK and what’s not.

“If it’s worth over $20, I can’t accept it. If it’s worth under $20, it’s crap and I don’t want it.” So said an Associated Press editor to Diane Brandon, VP of communications and research for the Arlington (Texas) Convention & Visitors Bureau. Brandon says she and her staff eschew holiday gifts in favor of fun cards, but she fondly remembers cooking up her own gifts for contacts.

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