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Commercial Breaks

A tech company boss gives a crash course in PR

Author Alicia Buller Illustration Luci Gutiérrez

dispatches3DUBAI – It’s a common practice throughout the world for companies to attempt to curry favor with journalists by offering free swag. Nowhere is this more true than in Dubai, where at least one veteran of the media community used to brag that his monthly living expenses amounted to zero, such was the plenitude of food and drink that fell into his lap.

But in this cash-splashy town, the patronage doesn’t stop here. There’s hardly a journalist in Dubai who hasn’t, at some point or another, been offered a flat-screen TV, or a smartphone, or an all-expenses trip to the Maldives. One rumor tells of a reporter walking away from a press conference with a gold ingot.

One reason that local marketers go to such lengths is that their products are often not very newsworthy. This unfortunate dynamic came into stark relief at a Dubai tech show a while back. A computer firm CEO had been trying to generate interest in a new line of laptops. “Our laptops are the strongest!” he yelled at a group of reporters. “They are indestructible!” When this announcement was met with a collective shrug, the CEO upped the ante. “Look,” he cried, “see how robust it is!” and hurled his personal laptop across the room.

The device sailed in a graceful arc, then clattered along the floor, bits of it flying here and there. The CEO regarded his shattered machine for a moment, then tugged at the sleeves of his jacket and said, “Don’t write about that.”

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