I am trying to be impartial about this post, but as one of the top 500 most famous C list bloggers out there, I do find myself leaning towards ‘bloggers should gets lots of free stuff’. However, the general trend I see from readers is that when a blogger is comped a trip, they are immediately in the wrong, and have lost all ability to present an honest opinion on a matter.
Bias is an interesting thing, and I can see where these savvy readers are coming from, because clearly if I was a ‘professional comper’ I would certainly not want to bite the hand that feeds me. But wait a minute… I am a ‘professional comper’ whether in the most traditional sense with my trips to the Water Club at Atlantic City, and to a lesser degree when I fly free on OneWorld an StarAlliance airlines. I doubt I will ever make it on board a Delta or Partner flight now, especially since they have just announced the move to their mileage being earned in a revenue rather than distance based model (no doubt solely in reaction to fuel dumping mileage runners and their secret forums).
Strangely though, despite my trips being free I still write the good, the bad and the ugly. But I certainly do lean towards writing about AA/UA for my flights and Hilton (and now Hyatt) for Hotel chains simply because they are accessible to me via points and credit card signups. So bias towards brand selection arises.
Why bite the hand the feeds you?
Here’s the thing that I think most concerned readers are worried about, if, for example, I was asked to do a world tour of all XYZ Hotel Chain to experience the Suites experience, all on their dime, would I start harping on about the negatives mid way through, or would I keep quiet and enjoy the ride? Well, here’s the thing, if they really were atrocious, why would I want to visit more of them? If that were the case wouldn’t I make a big fanfare of how horrible they were and that I was cancelling my tour? The truth of the matter is that overall the experience would likely be very, very good, but perhaps I would ‘gloss over’ some of the bumps in service on the way in order to keep the paymaster happy.
Shouldn’t I be grateful anyway?
I was chatting with Reader Ramsey recently, his perspective is that if you are traveling for free ( in the sense that you are using points/miles) that you should not complain about service, you should be grateful that you are traveling and ‘gloss over’ the bumps. Different to if you were paying cash I presume. My own approach has been that if I get great service I note and reward it, and if I get crappy service I do the same but this time the reward is a complaint. I see service as standard regardless of price of ticket.
Part of the Feedback Loop
Taking that hypothetical XYZ Hotel Chain world tour, if you are selected for it just to showcase the hotel, the campaign actually loses value. The true value that a chain could gather is to take a known personality, and claim to be able to ‘wow’ them with exceptional service and product. If they fail to deliver then someone from the chain should be in a feedback loop with the comped person, and they should receive the reviews ‘warts and all’. In those situations, where the hotel chain states they are there to impress you but fail, is the proper thing to talk with your XYZ ‘handler’ and have them improve the situation, or to harp on about the service miss on your blog?
If I had developed such a relationship, I personally would find it the right professional and ethical thing to do is to work with my contact at the chain to improve the issues and talk about the positives, I wouldn’t shy away from addressing negative experiences, but I think the tone in general would be positive. That to me isn’t because of fear of never being invited back, but because by accepting this offer I was going into to things to experience their offering, and help improve it. I actually did just this recently, as I reviewed a product and found it lacking, however rather than rant about it, I talked with their CEO and COO and explained the flaws, due to the human connection between us I didn’t slam their product, as I hoped they would take the feedback and use it to improve. A year from now, if it still sucks, well, maybe its time for a review….
So why comp the blogger?
Thus far it the article has focused on all the reasons people don’t want to see the blogger comped and receiving special service (well all barring jealousy, because there isn’t one reader here who wouldn’t take that free upgrade or free dinner or gifts to the room because they hadn’t paid for them..) the reason why to comp bloggers is simply that they are somewhere on the scale of VIPs, and certain people are greater brand ‘influencers’ than others.
The experience a celebrity, or VIP receives from a service minded company is different from a regular person, simply because of the impact of their actions. Put someone like me in a room with dirty sheets, and before you know it I will be tweeting it to my vast following and hash-tagging your service to hell. It’s just even more important to get right, not because they are more valued customers, but because each VIP visit is a marketing opportunity, which could go well, or could not depending on how the experience is managed.
Can you have a genuinely good time and talk about it when comped?
Clearly you can. I actually look upon this akin to my career choice in finance, as I decide between working for a Fee only firm and a firm that pays me commission on sales. Does the latter mean I have to be a scumbag, or simply does it allow scumbags to be compensation for scummy moves? Ultimately, it is not down to the compensation you receive, but your underlying ethics and sense of right and wrong. Can money change that? Certainly, as can comps, but not for everyone.
The Real Danger
The real danger of bloggers accepting comps then writing about their experience is when the hotel crafts a ‘perfect’ experience for the blogger which is different from the average joe. If I start stating how I receive a bottle of Champagne and plate of fruit to welcome me to my room, and you don’t then the experience for you is different, and you might feel disappointed. In fact, the Champagne might be the thing that makes me think ‘wow, this stay was perfect’. Without it the stay might just be ‘meh’. After all, that is the reason why the Champers was put there! However, we are savvy, mature individuals, I am sure that we can write about comps or perks received in a stay as a way to identify that they may have made things ‘rosier’ for the trip, but still share a genuine enjoyment, or lack thereof from being there.
By the way, just to be clear, I don’t think I am actually really famous or a ‘VIP’ but I think that I could play that card, which is the whole point of using the DYKWIA (Do You Know Who I Am) Card is for those times where quite clearly nobody does know who you are, because whilst I think you are special, really, you are just like everyone else.
Here’s a corollary for you folks without blogs, or without genuine VIP status, the DYKWTM (Do You Know What This Means) Card. Believe it or not, normal, boring, everyday people as for comps or perks based upon a special event, be it a birthday, honeymoon or whatnot. In fact, we have a double temptation this time, because we are taking this trip as our ‘babymoon’ which means it will be our last trip before becoming parents. Doesn’t that mean something? Does that mean I should ‘drop those hints again?’ I mean, if I can score something for free why wouldn’t I?
I see the DYKWTM cards being played a lot, after all, everyone wants that little something extra for free, or to be treated that extra little bit better than the rest, from the couple that drops the hint that “it’s their honeymoon” when checking into flights to Las Vegas, to people who have just had “a really long day” and give a tired smile at hotel check-in, hoping that they can snag a comfier room. Everyone is looking for a little ‘juice’.
I have a trip coming up on Thursday to the Hyatt Carmel, should I play the DYKWIA card, the DYKWTM Card or should I go in stealth, as a regular, boring guy no better nor worse than the next person there.? Right now I am not mentioning my ability to write about them on the site, or dropping any hints about how famous I really am… but what if someone from BoardingArea’s non featured bloggers is in the same hotel and they get the upgrade?
Spoiler Alert, I am a Brit, and I like to write things very tongue in cheek, such as how I view myself as a VIP. One day I hope to be as famous as the person in the photo for this post, if you don’t know who she is, don’t ask me because I haven’t the foggiest idea.