Sunday Telegraph diarist: PR party plug rule 'unethical'

A PR company has been accused of behaving in a "grotesquely unethical" way after telling journalists they could only attend a party if they namechecked sponsor Perrier Jouet champagne.

Sunday Telegraph Mandrake editor Tim Walker told Press Gazette that Talk PR director Anna Garrett invited him to last week's Party Belle Époque in London's Hyde Park, on condition that sponsor Perrier Jouet "would need a mention in any coverage".

Walker, in a letter to Press Gazette, said: "I have never attended an event on the condition that I mention a brand name.

"That would amount, in my book, to advertising and a contract with a commercial organisation that one would imagine any serious journalist would regard as grotesquely unethical."

The Observer's Pendennis editor Oliver Marre said he had also received the conditional invite from Talk PR.

He said: "It's quite normal, and it's up to the diarist simply to write back and say, ‘I don't attend things on these grounds. If you want me there, you have to trust me. If you don't, I won't come.'

"There's always another party to cover. But this approach really isn't the most blatant thing I've ever seen." Times diary editor Hugo Rifkind said there was a tacit understanding that a sponsor would be mentioned, unless an event was dreadful, but added: "You'd never be obliged to, because that'd be bribery."

Asked if being offered invitations on condition was normal, Rifkind said: "People are quite pushy. This guy said to one of our stringers who goes to parties for us, ‘You got in for free, give me some money and I'll give it back if we get something in the paper.' Our guy left, because that's not an acceptable situation."

The Daily Telegraph's Spy editor Celia Walden said she was quite surprised at the actions of Talk PR.

She said: "It does seem very heavy. Usually it does work on a sort of courtesy thing. There's a reason why you're invited to these things.

"With diaries, you operate under the completely untrue illusion that people want you there, and obviously you both know the name of the game. But it's quite rare that people actually say ‘You can't come unless you do that [reference the sponsor]'."

The Independent's Pandora editor Oliver Duff — who mentioned Perrier Jouet in his report of the party — said: "You don't exactly need to be MI5 to spot the backscratching between diarists and PRs. They want you to credit the party you were at and any sponsors if you can.

"But it's better not to sell your soul, and there's no point in giving promises you can't keep — so I didn't guarantee the publicists for this party anything."

Talk PR declined to comment.

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