The heavily tattooed, highly talented chef and trumpeter of natural wine, Pierre Jancou, recently caused quite a stir beyond the sauté pans and casseroles of his tiny kitchen in the 10th arrondisement of Paris.
A "Classic Approach" to Getting Positive Press
Things started bubbling over when he received an email from the publisher of Marie Claire -- a women's magazine not known for food news, let alone pictures of women who look like they've ever eaten foie gras -- announcing that Jancou's restaurant, Vivant, was chosen as a featured restaurant for an upcoming edition of the magazine.
Jancou was then asked when it would be convenient for the publisher to come to the restaurant for a free meal. And, by the way: the publisher would bring a guest. Jancou snapped back that the request was "fraudulent and shifty," but the publisher persisted, saying that this was "an extremely classic approach" for testing restaurants, and that the publication has nearly half a million readers. Then came the best line of all: "you have the right to refuse our request, and we will remove you from our featured list."
Those of you who read French might enjoy reading the entire exchange here, which Jancou craftily forwarded to every Paris-based independent food blogger in addition to various friends around the wine and food world. Now widely known in the Paris food scene as L'Affaire Marie Claire, I first heard the story while chatting with Paris blogger and fellow Philadelphia native, Aaron Akira, and Jancou outside his wine bar just a few days after it happened.
Those of us who follow the food & wine world closely found the exchange comedic (or as Jancou called it, "delicieuse"), mostly because Jancou is the last person who needs publicity. His 25-seat restaurant and tiny next-door wine bar are filled every night by those of us for whom unique food and wine are the vivid paintings and arresting symphonies that punctuate our daily lives. We are not, to be sure, the readers of Marie Claire.
The Analyst World Is No Better
The whole affaire, as well as a recent request I received from a Digital Asset Management vendor, reminded me that the world of technology analysis is no less shifty -- it's just that the attempted manipulation of the system for personal and business gain is of a different nature. Some analyst firms, in the same way Marie Claire approached Jancou, actively approach vendors and ask for advertising or sponsorship dollars in exchange for their research coverage. Other approaches are more subtle.
The seemingly innocent emails we get originate from marketing managers and analyst relations managers who offer us money, free travel, and yes, free dinners. Recently I was asked to speak at the annual conference of a DAM vendor we cover in our Brand & Digital Asset Management research. "We'd like you to come and talk about the DAM industry," said the lead product manager, "and explain to our customers and prospects how we're uniquely positioned to help them succeed in the coming years. Since you're an independent source, your opinion would be highly trusted by the attendees." They offered free travel and a handsome fee for my time. I declined.
Though this is much less direct than the request Jancou received for a free meal in exchange for being on a publication's list, it's no less manipulative, and it's what we hear from vendors often. It's a classic attempt at ego-boosting, and of course, vendors' hope is that they will move up in our esteem, or that our evaluation of their technology will be less hard-hitting, as a result of such offers.
Well, they can dream on. The difference between Real Story Group and other analyst firms is that we never accept such offers. Like Jancou, we find such offers shifty and manipulative. Other analyst firms consider it an "extremely classic approach" to getting to know a vendor.
What You Should Do
You, as a reader of the technology media or subscriber to research that your company pays for, should know who's funding your analyst's dinner. The technology vendor that might be the best fit for you might not be covered by a particular analyst firm, perhaps because they're too small, or haven't bought the analyst a week's stay in a five-star hotel.
Remain a skeptic, and don't be afraid to stir the pot yourself. Seek to know about the free travel, overpaid "consulting" projects, and other gifts your analyst has received from the vendors they're recommending to you. It may make you think twice about whom to trust.