Debating A Consulting Conundrum
By Jason Littrell

Photo by Jennifer Mitchell

As far as editorial integrity goes, how far is too far when working with brands?

I was recently offered an opportunity to work with an awesome chef in DC to pair cocktails for a five-course meal, on-camera, for a relatively high-profile online magazine. Now, the deal was (so I thought) that as an editorial piece it meant I can make whatever I want; for better or for worse.

This is where things get sticky. Turns out the entire video is sponsored by a brand. Can something deemed ‘editorial’ be sponsored by a brand? Yes. Apparently it can. At least according to the brand. And this on-line magazine.

Now, this brand isn’t something I would readily attach my name to (for free), but it also isn’t so repulsive that I’d refuse to use it. My real conundrum is that I’m getting not subtle nudging from the magazine to not only use this product in my cocktails, but that I actually have to be seen holding the bottle AND I’ll be expected to use this particular product (and its variations) in the cocktails…all of them.

Me, being a right, upstanding gentleman, said, “Fine. I will incorporate this brand and we’ll all laugh and have a good time, but you can’t have the recipes.” My logic behind this was that sure, we can inch towards exposing my intellectual property, but you can’t have it without a reasonable fee. After all, I’m a professional cocktail maker, not an actor waiting for a callback.

This was agreed on temporarily and we booked travel arrangements and everything was cool. THEN I get an email giving me more rigid guidelines on what they would like on the menu and how they would like BRAND X served; including one of the courses being paired with the sponsor spirit neat. NEAT!!?? Whaaaaat?

My questions were many. Among them were: 1. Why do you need me to pour your bottle into a glass (the answer is I’m cheaper than someone they have to pay). 2. How is this consistent with our agreement to keep my name (and my bar’s name) distinctly separate from your brand? This is where I start to say “hmmmm, I’m in a pickle.”

I had already agreed to the shoot (and to do it for cheap) and have dedicated already a considerable amount of time planning INCLUDING having to be gone three days DURING Rum Renaissance in Miami. So I ask myself, should I just shut my trap and fall in line? Should I be paid as a consultant and not worry about editorial integrity, or is it my responsibility to myself, the brand, the chef and the viewers to raise the question of editorial integrity and transparency before I raise the first bottle in front of the camera?

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