Do you offer your theatre reviewers a free drink at the interval? Do you buy the local paper’s arts editor a meal every so often when you want to chat about the new season? I know it’s yet more red tape for small organisations but you need to consider the implications of the new Bribery Act. It clearly states that it is illegal to offer hospitality with the expectation of favourable treatment. Of course it’s debatable whether one could prove a financial advantage from favourable media coverage but, since it’s our job to get good press, it will do no harm to make clear that we are not expecting any coverage let alone a positive article when we buy them a drink or a meal.
Your company should have a clear policy on bribery in any case because there are other more obvious areas where bribery could come into effect- someone offering you a bribe to use them as the printer of your brochures even if they’re not the best value; someone in your organisation offering a party booker cash in his pocket to bring customers to your theatre. Regarding theatre critics, the Ministry of Justice guidance suggests a policy that states ‘any hospitality should reflect a desire to cement good relations and show appreciation… promotional expenditure should seek to improve the image of the company (and) to better present its products or services, or establish cordial relations… the recipient should not be given the impression that they are under an obligation to confer any business advantage or that the recipient’s independence will be affected.’ the key seems to be that you need to show in writing that you’ve thought about how to prevent bribery and told your staff and suppliers.
Going back to reviewers, I think it is a good idea to make clear to journalists that you expect them to write what they think and not be afraid of offending you. I know it’s galling when, in addition to drinks and tickets on the night, you’ve spent a lot with their paper on advertising but never complain about a poor review by saying ‘After all we’ve done for you.’ I remember one venue manager a few years ago stopping advertising in the local paper because he didn’t like the critical reviews. I suspect that wouldn’t go down well under the new Act. I have always taken the view that there’s no such thing as bad publicity- at least they think your show or venue is important enough to write about. When it comes to meals, avoid paying for purely social meetings- only provide some hospitality when you are doing a media briefing.
Of course you wouldn’t give or accept a bribe but the new Bribery Act requires that you prove yourself to be above suspicion.
On the matter of accepting gifts or hospitality from your suppliers, my rule of thumb was to always return the compliment. In other words, if they take you out for a meal, make sure you take them out next time. Don’t give gifts at Christmas and if you’re given one, declare it and put it into a staff raffle.
I’m not a lawyer so don’t take this as legal advice. My point is, you will need a policy on bribery and you do need to think about all the occasions when you offer or accept gifts or hospitality.