Gilt City DC responds to Broads of the Beltway

We started this blog as writers and friends. Lindsay and I both wanted an opportunity to connect with people, as well as a creative outlet. This website is our dialogue about life in DC. We write about the things that we see, and the things that we think about – and it is encouraging when someone takes notice.

When Gilt City DC contacted Lindsay and me regarding my last post, I was privately excited. The post in question detailed the ways in which their Friends With Benefits movie screening event devolved into a disaster, and their company took notice. Given the fact that the event was part of their “soft launch” pending an official kick-off on August 1, their customer service team is in high gear. I must give credit where credit is due – the Gilt City DC team is responsive, attentive and polite. In fact, since I had written my post (though certainly not because of it,) the President of Gilt City e-mailed all Gilt DC users who had RSVPed to the Friends With Benefits screening event apologizing for the kerfuffle, and offering a small perk. Here is the text of the e-mail:

Hello Natalie,
Thank you for your interest in our “Friends with Benefits” screening. We hope you enjoyed the show!

We’re aware, however, that many members were unable to secure a seat—and we can’t apologize enough for this inconvenience. Unfortunately, we were simply not able to accommodate everyone on the RSVP list.

Regardless of your experience—and to welcome you to the Gilt City family—we’d like to offer you a $25 discount to be used towards another offer. This discount will appear in your account within 24 hours—and we hope you’ll use it to escape, explore and discover the best of DC.

We couldn’t be happier to be in your city, and we hope you’ll continue to turn to Gilt City DC. Additionally, if there’s something you’d like to see on the site, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Here’s to good living,

Nathan Richardson
President, Gilt City

Gilt DC Representative Caitlyn Carpenzano also contacted Lindsay and me personally about the post, to apologize for the experience. I really appreciated the effort on all sides, and I said that I’d like to write a follow-up post on the event and the Gilt City DC response. I said that I would appreciate the chance to ask someone a few questions about the screening and its aftermath by phone. I was impressed when Caitlyn responded that two Gilt City curators, Sarah Sheehan and Marissa Schneider, would like to meet Lindsay and me face to face, and at their behest we made an appointment to meet at 6:15 at Estadio on 14th Street.

Lindsay and I believed we were fulfilling some sort of journalistic capacity, however trite. In a small way, we felt that we were pursuing a story about a relatively powerful company that bungled one of its first events in a new city market. We truly appreciated the attention we received from Gilt DC, but we had some questions too – how are these events planned? How are attendance caps determined? What changes would come to future Gilt City DC events as a result of the Friends with Benefits debacle? We met a half-hour before our meeting at Estadio to hammer out some questions, the way a good journalist does.

Sarah and Marissa of Gilt City DC were right on time, and very friendly. They asked about Lindsay and me, about serving in the Peace Corps, about DC and about our blog. After we exchanged a few minutes of pleasantries over a glass of wine, Lindsay and I resolved to get down to business. Out came my notepad (long and skinny – like a reporter’s notepad) and ball-point pen (swiped from my day job).

We asked about the Friends With Benefits event – topics like: how many people were allowed to RSVP, how many people could fit in a theatre, what percentage of a crowd that RSVPs for a free event can typically be counted on to actually show up, how these decisions were made, why this happened with the screening on Tuesday given Gilt City’s experience with event planning, how future events would pan out differently, and the breakdown of responsibility between Gilt City and a given vendor. It quickly became clear that Sarah and Marissa didn’t have too much to do with Tuesday’s event in the first place. The two were very good public representatives – they were very friendly, personable and engaged – but they had little interest in discussing Tuesday’s event, which is what Lindsay and I believed we had come to do.

Sarah told us that there was simply no way to predict the overwhelming response of the DC market to Gilt City’s soft launch, and that they couldn’t believe how many people showed for the screening. Although the answer didn’t exactly address the fact that the attendees did RSVP to Gilt City beforehand, I can at least jive with the premise that the DC market is probably more enthusiastic than others – we’re a young city, we’re earning itty-bitty government subsidized salaries, and we’re hot for bargains in the midst of mind-boggling rent prices. This really is a demographic that would embrace a service like Gilt City. I know there is a lot at stake here for the company, and I must applaud its customer service efforts – so, when Sarah assured us that “I can pretty much bet my life that this will never happen again,” I really did believe her. I think that Tuesday’s event really was a mulligan – someone messed up with the numbers, but the situation has been rectified. I don’t offer my own life as a wager quite as confidently, but I strongly suspect that Gilt City DC will shape up for future events.

So, why did the meeting leave me feeling so strange? It’s not as if I wanted to crucify Gilt City DC. Far from it – I actually look forward to attending another better executed event. I don’t fancy myself a Bob Woodward – I didn’t harbor the delusion that this was some sort of crucial investigative piece. I simply wanted to follow up on a post that had gotten a bit of attention, and report on the response to it. When we left Estadio, we thanked Sarah and Marissa, and asked to pay our portion of the bill. As I suspected, they said they’d take care of it. I worried about Lindsay’s and my integrity, and awkwardly said that we’d prefer to pay it. We were writers meeting them for professional purposes – we wanted to maintain our positions as objective analysts. Sarah and Marissa seemed puzzled at first, even amused – and then insisted. They said they weren’t buying us off, that they were meeting with us as Gilt City clients and not as bloggers. We thanked them but gently clarified that this wouldn’t affect what we wrote. They said that of course they understood.

It occurred to me later that the nagging sadness I felt afterward really had nothing to do with Gilt City DC, and it certainly had nothing to do with Sarah and Marissa, who are really rather good public representatives for their brand. It had to do with my own self-consciousness. I was embarrassed that I rode my bike to Estadio in a 110 degree heat index, with a reporter’s notebook, fancying myself a writer. I felt ashamed that Lindsay and I had assumed that Gilt City DC considered us journalists, and not just customers. When the day began, I felt galvanized that my writing had made Gilt City cautious – and as it ended, I felt like less of an influential writer, and more of a customer in the hands a particularly admirable public relations department. No wonder they said they were buying us our wine as Gilt City members, and not as bloggers – they’d never thought of us that way in the first place. I was mad at myself for not having seen it.

Privately, I wonder if there is ever an un-embarassing time to call yourself a writer. I don’t know when a person suddenly realizes that they’ve succeeded enough in becoming who they’ve wanted to be. I am not sure if people brand themselves for public accreditation, or if they hold off until they can don the moniker honestly. I don’t know when it is that writers realize they are writers, or when they come out as writers. I don’t know when other people believe them.

About Natalie Shure

literature, life and latte lady

5 Responses to “Gilt City DC responds to Broads of the Beltway”

  1. I feel like someone can refer to himself as a “writer” once he either has made a significant name for himself or when a substantial portion of his income comes from his written works. The two usually go hand in hand anyway. I don’t think it’s inappropriate for you to continue to refer to yourself as a freelance writer and blogger, in addition to your other occupations. Clearly it’s something that you’ve devoted yourself to as more than just a hobby.

    Not that there was anything calculated and nefarious about what Gilt City did in response, but you must admit that it’s more convenient for them to treat you as simple customers to be appeased than critical journalists in need of serious assuagement. It allows them to more easily perform damage control on a botched launch event that was receiving some particularly bad publicity. I don’t want to call their sincerity into question; I’m just naturally a suspicious person.

    Great piece. A couple of editorial suggestions, really just cosmetic:

    1. I worried about Lindsay and my integrity should be I worried about Lindsay’s and my integrity (it may read awkwardly but it’s technically correct)
    2. we’re hot for bargains in the wake of mind-boggling rent prices should be we’re hot for bargains in the midst of mind-boggling rent prices (another minor technicality, being in the “wake” of something connotes the aftermath of a very specific event, while “midst” is more generalizable)

    Feel free to delete the editorial suggestions from my comment if you choose to change those parts.

    • Ross, thanks for the close read. I guess this is what happens when one edits and publishes a post after Friday night happy hour.

      In the interest of teaching myself a lesson, I’m going to let your comment stand.

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