The White House Correspondents’ Association Bites Back on Swag and Wins

A planned “gifting suite” will no longer use the group’s name.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

The White House Correspondents’ Association has successfully had its name stricken from any written formal connection to a so-called “gifting suite” that is planned for select invitees at a secret location this weekend during the WHCA’s annual dinner.

Last week we reported that the Creative Coalition and a Los Angeles-based event coordinator, GBK Productions, had sent out invitations to a so-called Thank You Lounge, where invitees, among them journalists, could choose free swag that included trips, jewelry, and perfume. Though a routine marketing feature at Hollywood events, such as the Oscars and Golden Globes, this is something new for a Washington dinner—especially one connected to reporters who cover the White House.

The WHCA had its lawyer contact TCC and GBK, threatening legal action due to “unauthorized use” of the WHCA’s name and still-pending federal trademark. It was sent by George A. Lehner on behalf of WHCA, who wrote, “Our client takes very seriously the protection and enforcement of these valuable intellectual property rights.”

Lehner phoned us Tuesday morning and said the issue was resolved on Monday evening, when GBK’s founder, Gavin Keilly, “promptly took action to change their website.” He said, “We had a nice exchange. He was apologetic, that he understood where we were coming from and they didn’t have any intention of making unauthorized use” of the WHCA name. Lehner said far as he knows TCC and GBK will still host the gifting suite. “They are entitled to do anything they like”—save using WHCA’s name or associating it with the dinner. We asked if he knew where the suite would be and whether it mattered if it was at the same hotel as the dinner, the Washington Hilton. “We don’t own the hotel,” Lehner said.

While the invitation itself does not specifically mention the White House Correspondents’ Association, the invitation was included in an e-mail that plainly listed under upcoming events: “GBK & the Creative Coalition White House Correspondence Weekend Gift Lounge.” That’s their misspelling. The invitation also said invited guests would “have the opportunity to donate their gifts to the charity of their choice.”