This year, Chevrolet is sending online video reporter Shira
Lazar to be the official host for all Chevrolet SXSW content during
10 days of the event. That's airfare and hotel accommodations --
and some of the rooms can run as high as $500 a night. Also on
Chevy's payroll: Veronica Belmont, co-host of Revision 3's
"Tekzilla" and part of the automaker's "Cruze-arati" roster of
blogger-endorsers. She'll be blogging, tweeting her 1.5 million
followers and uploading video of her experiences at the festival as
well as "chatting it up with other attendees and possibly even
hosting webchats in the Volt Lounge," Chevrolet said.
Chevrolet spokesman Matt Dickman said content creators are asked
to "capture the spirit of the event." Are they required to talk
about Chevy cars such as the Cruze? "We don't ask them to talk
about Chevy unless it makes sense with what they're doing -- like
interviewing a celebrity while they are driven to an event in a
Chevy Cruze -- and even then, the brand is in the background, but
enabling that experience," Mr. Dickman said. "Last year, for
example, we covered the best tattoos, coolest dogs and the best
shoes for SXSW as well as celebrity access and entertainment." In
addition to Ms. Lazar and Ms. Belmont, Steven Smith and Micah Jesse
are sponsored by Chevrolet to cover music and film.
PespiCo has sent emails to journalists, offering to "cover the
cost of your travel and accommodations while in Austin (pursuant
with any guidelines your outlet may follow) to help give you and
your readers access to the digital insiders event." The invitation
also stated that the company offers a "behind-the-scenes look at
the digital trend-setting event and a front-row seat for PepsiCo's
and its brands' activations and announcements."
The letter also offered to set up interviews with company
executives on hand at the conference. PepsiCo declined to say how
many emails were sent out or how many journalists have accepted the
invitation. A spokesperson added that sending content creators to
SXSW was not a key part of PepsiCo's plans, but that it's customary
in PR to reach out to media and provide story ideas, set up
interviews and facilitate press.
The people who accept a free trip need to stay on the right side
of not only the companies who spend tens of thousands of dollars
getting them there, but also the law.
Linda Goldstein is the chief of the advertising, marketing and
media division of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. She said that the
law requires sponsorship disclosure by reporters. "If you were to
just write about the event, no disclosure would be necessary," Ms.
Goldstein said. "But if you were to say something about PepsiCo or
something that PepsiCo did at the event, that would be considered a
material connection and would trigger the disclosure
The Federal Trade Commission issued a set of disclosure guidelines for
bloggers in 2009.