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Correspondent’s

This week by Tom Wainwright, personal finance reporter at the Daily and Sunday ExpressWhen does a freebie become a bribe? I was pondering this with some friends the other night over a game of Monopoly on a posh wooden set sent down a few days ago by an internet company to celebrate the launch of a new product. As we skipped around the board, munching giant chocolate coins (given out by a bank last week), we swapped stories of the most outrageous promotional presents we had heard about.

I have always found it baffling that companies spend so much money on treats for hacks but I had lunch with a PR person this week who told me she had scientific proof that sweets and toys really do pay off. For her MSc in marketing, she had come up with a calculus that showed that if you give a journalist enough goodies, he or she will be hypnotised into dishing out superlatives next time your firm is in the spotlight.

This is alarming stuff for reporters who thought they knew their own minds. Are we really so easily bought off with bits of chocolate and cheery notes? Surely not. I vowed to be extra cautious of companies which send round boxes of tasty morsels but do please keep them rolling in.

Later in the week, I stumble on another devious marketing ploy – giving your company a name that invites approving headline puns. The masters of this technique are the people behind Egg, a firm whose new products always seem to get people “scrambling” to take advantage. I just did a write-up of its latest account – Egg Money, a sort of credit card, current account hybrid – which ended up described in the headline as “cracking.” What sub could resist? Egg must get its comeuppance with the odd “rotten” jibe but all in all I bet it does quite well out of its wacky name. Start-up companies take note.

A tougher subject for puns is a story about filing your self-assessment tax return. This was a reminder to get the forms off by the end of the month although with the later deadlines for internet submissions, the September cutoff is not perhaps the nail-biter it used to be. I find a brilliant man for my case study who cheerily tells me about the 100 he had been fined by the Inland Revenue for not filling in a form that did not exist.

Much excitement in the office when my colleague Holly Thomas is named Up and Coming Financial Journalist of the Year at the ABI awards. The well deserved trophy now sits sparkling in the middle of the Express personal finance desk, awaiting Holly’s return from her hols. This is Holly’s second award in less than a year and the announcement triggers a fresh avalanche of pressies from PR firms far and wide. Gifts include bottles of bubbly, exotic cheeses and a selection of smoked fish. As the litres of champagne pour in, a tight security operation is mobilised by the finance team to make sure the booty is not nicked before its rightful winner gets back. Alas, some of the gifts did not look sturdy enough to withstand a week in the heat of the cosy Express offices so a few selfless hacks offered homes for some of the foodstuffs.

To work off all these ill-gotten gains, I am looking into cycling to work to save some money and escape a lot of sweating on the Tube. From my flat, I reckon it won’t take more than 20 minutes if I get a move on and there are enough quiet back streets to make it almost safe and with the Government’s cycle to work initiative, I can apparently recoup up to 40 per cent of the cost of a new bike. A handy saving. In fact, I can feel a feature coming on.

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