PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- So much for the free flow of information.
Goldman Tech Conference Notebook: Oracle, Red Hat, Kana and Dell
My attempt to cover the Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium in Palm Springs, Calif., was cut short Tuesday as representatives of the brokerage firm told me they wouldn't permit online reporters to cover the event. That means that despite my efforts, our readers won't have the benefit of first-hand reporting on presentations by important tech companies or the thoughts of the influential money managers in attendance. Oh well. At least I got a margarita out of it before they banned me for good.
Why I Went
When I decided last month to attend the gathering, which is being held at the La Quinta Resort & Club, it seemed like a no-brainer. The five-day conference promised speeches from Hewlett-Packard ( HWP) CEO Carly Fiorina, Dell ( DELL) CEO Michael Dell, Sun Microsystems ( SUNW) CEO Ed Zander and newly crowned Microsoft ( MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer. East Coast money managers told me they were looking forward to hearing from companies ranging from Ariba ( ARBA) to WebVan ( WEBV). So I quickly began making bookings and arranging executive interviews. But a week later I got a shock: Goldman told me the only media allowed would be from print outfits such as USA Today, The Financial Times, Fortune and The Industry Standard. Cable TV's CNBC has been here, too. Now, there are some brokerage firms that almost never allow reporters to attend conferences. But usually, when firms open the floodgates to the Fourth Estate, they let everyone in. It seems as if Goldman didn't want online journalists posting conference information immediately, before even the firm's clients had received the information via Goldman analyst reports and conference summary calls. I thought I might try to reach an informal agreement with Goldman to delay my filing times, as news organizations sometimes do, but a Goldman rep just didn't think that would work. Finally, under the advice of my editors, I decided to go anyway.
The conference began Monday with speeches from Intel's ( INTC) Paul Otellini and the aforementioned Michael Dell. No one seemed to notice (or care) when I ventured inside to attend a few company presentations. So that's what I did between my interviews, which were arranged to take place in another part of the expansive (and lush) La Quinta. But when my story covering the first day of the Goldman conference was published at 4 p.m. PDT, things quickly changed. Just an hour and a half later, during a predinner cocktail hour, a uniformed guard approached me and asked to escort me from the premises. I asked who sent him, and if I could speak to that person. He went off, telling me to wait in the vicinity. A tray of drinks zipped by, so I grabbed a margarita and began chatting with a money manager from ... well, let's just say he's a good guy. Twenty minutes later, and still no sign of the guard, I left.
The Morning After
Tuesday morning I was told by a Goldman official that the firm's policy wouldn't change: Online reporters still wouldn't be allowed to attend the conference. I did a couple of interviews -- one with Quantum ( DSS) CFO Rick Clemmer and one with a money manager -- and ventured into the Red Hat ( RHAT) presentation, which was finishing up. I know, I was barred, but I felt that if a USA Today reporter was in there, a TheStreet.com reporter should be inside as well. As I was leaving the conference area, a Goldman official approached. She said: "Don't push me. If we catch you again in one of these presentations I will not hesitate to take this to the top at Goldman . You cannot go to any of the presentations or you will be banned from all of our conferences and next year's conference." When I responded that I was already banned from this year's event, she replied, "I can really screw you, so don't mess with me."
What Clients Want
"We had made an official determination that online and wire service reporters would not be allowed to attend the conference," says Kate Baum, Goldman's vice president of public relations. "We may decide next year to allow all reporters in, or we may decide not to let anyone in -- it's up to what our clients want." As I was leaving the grounds Tuesday I looked into the press room. Empty, except for a Bloomberg reporter who said she also had been banned from the presentations. I then took a peek at the Goldman conference registration desk and noticed that the Financial Times reporter hadn't shown up. If only that reporter knew how hard it was to get an invitation.