There is definitely a template to food and drink public relations events. Heck, they pretty much run themselves. The PR representative reserves a table at the restaurant, and invites writers to fill the table. Once there, writers order a drink or two, the account rep orders a sampling of the menu, bloggers take some pictures, and everyone digs into the spread.
If the food’s great, the account rep lets the dinner run its course, making sure everyone feels comfortable and has everything he or she needs. If the food’s not great, here comes more drinks and great stories to distract you from what your mindlessly stuffing your face with. Usually you are surrounded by the same familiar faces, but occasionally you get to explain to the out of place mommy blogger this internet thing they keep reading about in the newspaper called Twitter (I should note that I have met some awesome, hip mommy bloggers as well). Eventually the chef comes out to say hello, and after multiple hours of eating and gossiping, desserts are picked at by full and tired writers. It’s a pretty rough life, let me tell you.
As my months remaining in LA turned into mere weeks, PR dinner fatigue got to me. As grateful as I am to have opportunities to try outstanding food that my paltry non-profit salary cannot support, I love food for more than just what is on the plate. At PR dinners, you don’t have control – of the length of the meal, the direction of conversation, and there’s always the fear that you’ll be stuck sitting next to that one blogger you can’t stand. I’ve turned nearly all media dinners the last few months, choosing instead to gorge on cheap tacos with dear friends.
One PR email that didn’t immediately get filed away was for a Nike event at the Montalban theatre. My three reasons for accepting were:
1) I’ve been trying to hit every old theatre in LA, and I had never been to the Montalban. I wanted to expeience the historic space. Drinking some cheap wine and looking at some shoes on display would be a small price to pay to cross this off my list.
2) I wanted to see how a major company like Nike did a PR event. Nike took over an entire theatre in Hollywood – the possibilities were endless and I felt safe assuming it would be a nice change from the scripted restaurant media dinner.
3) PR rep Ashton Stronks is in a very small group of PR folks who never pitch me anything that isn’t of interest to me and worth while. Several large PR companies don’t take the time to tailor pitches to each writer. They take a shotgun approach and see what lands. Ashton, Eddie Allen, and Veronica Rathbourn are among the few that have never wasted my time and I’ll give almost anything they send my way a shot. PR is all about relationships and trust, right?
I’m glad I trusted Ashton because I had a blast at this event. It started as I expected, stuffing my face with fried food and a glass or two of red wine as I explored the showroom. Once Ashton noticed I was satiated, she told me to head upstairs and put on a Nike workout outfit they had picked out. I was then sent to the stage where I was informed that we would be split up into teams and competing in athletic tests. Now is about the time I began silently cursing Ashton for letting me be the only glutton to loiter around the fried food and wine earlier.
As I surveyed the room, I didn’t see a single other food writer. Sports, technology, lifestyle – everyone was represented. And let me tell you, they were much fitter than the folks I usually see at a three hour eating frenzy.
We took turns lacing up the newest Nike+ basketball sneakers and competed in physical tests like vertical leap, jump rope, and running. I was very impressed by the accuracy of the sensors in the Nike+ shoes (my vertical – not quite as impressive, though I did kick some ass in jump rope). After my workout, I was able to see a ton of statistics all recorded by my Nike+ shoes.
The best part was that the competition brought us together. I didn’t know anyone going into the event, but our competitive spirits (and the requirement that we work together in hopes of winning sneakers) made it a memorable event.
As soon as I finish writing this post, I’m going to jump on an elliptical at 24 Hour Fitness. This is not exactly the type of environment where I need to know my hang time and vertical. But I still wish our team had won the competition – the shoes are swag as f*ck. I bet if I walked onto a basketball court for a game of pick-up in my Nike+ sneakers I’d be one of the first white guys picked – and then kicked off the team pretty quickly when they see my sloppy lay-up.
My takeaway lessons from the experience:
1) Nike knows how to throw an event. After the competition, we drank beer and played basketball on the decked-out roof of the Montalban, with beautiful views of Hollywood.
2) Nike is an industry leader for a reason – they are still innovating and making killer shoes.
3) It’s important to mix up your routine and say yes to unusual invitations. You may just be pleasantly surprised.