Swagapalooza: how marketers reach journalists now

by Nicole Martinelli
Oct 30, 2018 in Journalism Basics

In an era of shrinking ad budgets and folding newspapers, you'd think no one wants to court journalists. You'd be wrong.

An event called Swagapalooza gets writers all atwitter about new products and services pitched to them in five-minute “auditions” in a hip night club with free drinks and, yes, free stuff. The idea, launched by Alex Krupp in the economic wasteland of 2009, has been successful enough in San Francisco to expand to New York and plans are to reach other cities, too.

While plying journalists with drinks, food and goods in exchange for stories is nothing new, this event goes about it differently.

Billed as the “first invitation-only event for the most-followed bloggers and twitter users from across the country,” only 100 people are invited. (Frankly, I'm not sure how I made the cut. Several other of the “digital influencers” there, including a professor and a sex rights advocate, weren't sure how they got invited, either.)

And instead of gadgets or freebies being the bonus as they usually are conferences or trade shows, here they take center stage. Justin Kan, of Justin.tv, gave a keynote speech (yes a keynote!) wearing the waterproof wool blazer of one of the sponsors, Sabøteur while a live Tweet screen created a kind of event-within-an-event as participants parried comments on the presentations as they happened.

Although many journalists are regularly pelted with press releases and pleaded with to review products or services, the quirky ideas center stage here were not some of the more obvious choices for this show-like setting.

They included nutrition bar called Two Degrees Food which matches every bar sold with a medically-formulated nutrition pack to a malnourished child, Boom Boom! Revolution, a card game promoting “underground acts of guerilla goodness,” started by a former school teacher and SwipeGood, which rounds up credit card purchases to the nearest dollar and donates that amount to charity.

With a name inspired by indie rock fest Lollapalooza, organizers definitely wanted to keep the giving fest lively, however the rules about the freebies were also clear.

Attendees are not obliged to write about any of the free products they received, but those who violate FTC rules about disclosing the freebies they got while writing about them will be barred from attending future Swagapalooza events. While that may be hard to enforce, they do get points for transparency.

Full disclosure: the only thing I walked out with was a loaf of artisan bread from Sour Flour.