The Best Freebies I Ever Got... Designer Shoes, a Laptop and Five-Star Hotel Stays
There are many perks to being a journalist, blogger and/or social influencer – and the freebies are definitely up there. We've all seen Instagrammers opening their "bloggermail" live on camera to show oodles of luxury designer make-up and done the mental arithmetic to conclude that these gals (and the occasional guy) are being sent hundreds of euro worth of swag on a weekly basis.
The reality is that media in Ireland is not incredibly well paid, with the exception of newspapers, which benefit from unions and full-time contracts – and the freebies will often feel like consolation for the fact that you don't get paid sick leave, for example, or that you won't have paid maternity leave to look forward to. A lot of the time, you'll end up working 70 hours a week and being paid for 40, and you'll be up at the crack of dawn to attend press shows and events, which are fun but also exhausting (game faces on). A friend who works in media, when I told him I was writing this piece, said:
When I think about it, I know there are lovely perks – but to be honest, I'd prefer to be rich.
As for social influencers, I really only qualified as one for a short time – and, again, for the period that #ad and #spon posts on my Instagram and blog were my main sources of income, I was not exactly raking it in, while working pretty much all the hours God gave me to share my life online, across all social media platforms.
I'm not trying to say that this is a particularly tough life – blogging can be pretty straightforward and, if you're lucky enough to be in the top 5%, pretty lucrative, to boot. But just to say that, in a way, the freebies and press trips and associated perks are often just the icing on a cake made up of long hours, hard work and a lot of "rising above the haters".
The top freebies I ever got
€200 to spend on designer shoes
Today's post was mostly inspired by the absolute over-saturation, on Instagram at least, of photographs and videos from the Brown Thomas A/W 2018 press day, which caused me to reminisce about the best bit of that event: the voucher. Each attendee at the BT press day receives a €200 voucher for the Brown Thomas Shoe Rooms, to be used on specific brands (it doesn't include, for example, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo* or Chanel*). As an aside, when I was working at The Irish Times, I once offered my €200 voucher as a competition prize – I was then scolded by the BT press team, who informed me that the voucher was non-transferable and also not public knowledge. Oops!
When Microsoft released the first Surface, its laptop-tablet hybrid, I was invited in to the offices of their PR company to play around with it and then to head home with my very own Surface. It was obviously really handy – it was a much more portable option than a laptop and I used it for a good while before migrating fully to Apple (I now work on a Macbook Air, although I've moved from iPhone to Huawei P20 Pro #noregrets).
The Huawei P20 Pro
As a journalist, I've received quite a few phones to try – PR companies usually have a few review handsets to dole out to journalists and bloggers, in the hope that they'll receive a (positive) review or some mentions on social media. In the case of the Huawei P20 Pro, I'd just damaged the lens on my iPhone 7 when I became obsessed with the idea of buying a P20 Pro – I'd seen some really good reviews and was especially interested in the camera – when I decided I'd chance my arm and reach out to the PR company, asking if they'd have a spare handset they'd like to give me. Of course, two days later I blocked it and smashed the screen to smithereens, so I did end up paying €180 for it. (It was worth it – if it had been irreparable, I was willing to fork out the €700 to buy a new phone.)
Dyson Supersonic hair dryer
This was another new-launch freebie; I was working at STELLAR magazine when the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer* was released, and I was invited in to Dylan Bradshaw in Dublin to have my hair blowdried with it, before toddling off home with my very own model. I reviewed it here (although there was no obligation to do so) and I still maintain that it's the best hair dryer I've ever tried.
I am truly a marketeer's dream, because I have been building up to purchasing this ever since I finished the review pot I received a few years back (clearly, if I cut down on my daily granola habit, I could afford it in a week). I went to the launch of the Creme de la Mer Moisturising Soft Cream* where, over coffee and delicious biscuits in the Merrion Hotel, I got the low-down on the new launch – then trotted off home with a pot of cream in my gift bag. It's €140, so it's not cheap, but it is gorgeous. It made my skin feel so soft and moisturised and, of course, let's not discount the feeling of pure luxury you get from putting €140 worth of cream on your face. Placebo or not, I'm into it.
A Volkswagen Up! (car)
Yes, really – I got a car. For a glorious year, I had the use of the Volkswagen Up! to ferry me around town. The deal was that I would post about it on Instagram once a month on my grid, mention it in my Stories and/or on Snapchat and I also wrote a piece for the Volkswagen branded magazine about my experience with the Up! As collaborations go, this one was pretty damn special. (And yes, I declared this as a benefit in kind and paid tax on it. I have an accountant who makes sure I stay on the straight and narrow.)
Ah, the vouchers. There are a lot of press days that end with you being given gifts – you'll go home with a keyring, maybe a lipstick or an eyeshadow palette – but there are others where you go home with a voucher to spend in-store. The best I can think of are the regular €100 vouchers given by River Island* and Penneys after their twice-yearly seasonal press days.
Not to mention the regular media perks
This has to be one of the biggest, best and most appreciated perks of working in media (and, don't get me wrong; I'm not saying everyone gets every single one of these perks or freebies – it largely depends on where you're working, who you know and who likes, or dislikes you, because LIFE). I spent some time working as editor of a B2B (basically, an industry-only) hairdressing publication and, while there, got to know quite a few hair stylists and salon owners. Katherine Sweeney at Preen started cutting my hair for free while I was at Creative HEAD and, despite my offering to start paying once I cut back my online activity, has continued to do so. I am so grateful, because I know how expensive regular haircuts can be and it has really helped, especially during leaner times.
There are a whole load of discounts that roll around the media world – of varying percentages, given to different people at different publications at different times. At one point, I had a 40% discount card for Topshop*, New Look* and River Island*! If you ever wondered how bloggers manage to shop so much, take heart: they get a lot of their bits at a heavily discounted price, and some bloggers are given regular allowances or sent regular deliveries of new-season clothing – so, sometimes, they won't have paid at all. Those lucky enough to get a press discount at Brown Thomas get 25% off; Arnotts offers discounts of 15-25%; Debenhams offers between 20 and 40% discounts (as far as I know).
And... the worst
In 2012, I was approached by Louis Vuitton to partner with them on their city guides. I would take a photographer and a Louis Vuitton PR executive around Dublin and we would photograph a series of beautiful, literary-themed places, for a city guide that would live on their app and website. I was working at The Irish Times then, and so incredibly delighted to have been asked that it didn't occur to me until afterwards to ask if there was a fee (there wasn't).
Still, I was chuffed to be able to say I'd worked with Louis Vuitton – and when, a few short weeks later, an enormous crate arrived at the IT offices addressed to me, with Louis Vuitton branding all over it, I felt as though my humility had been rewarded.
This crate was about the size of a piece of Louis Vuitton luggage. It might be an overnight bag, I thought, or a backpack. It was nailed shut, so I had to scour all seven floors of the offices to try to find something with which to open it. By the time I came back with the equipment, the entire features department was gathered around to see what was inside.
There was a lot of Louis Vuitton paper, carefully protecting its contents; beneath that, a few layers of bubble wrap. And then the pièce de resistance...
It was a board game. A special, limited-edition, press release-themed Louis Vuitton board game. Reader, I never played it.
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