The whole blogger/PR/brand expectation thing is so topical right now that I thought I’d very quickly cover it. As more and more blogs pop up, I thought it was timely to cover some basics.
This title can equally sit comfortably on all three of the aforementioned – bloggers, brands and PRs. I know that it’s easy to be wistful for the good old days where it was all more straightforward, but the thing is, we’re not going back again. Monetization has changed everything. But, it shouldn’t change your sense of expectation.
So, it’s as common for me to hear about bloggers who ‘expect’ free product as it is for me to hear from PRs and brands who expect free coverage. It does not all lie in the ‘greedy, expectant’ bloggers’ hands, this sense of entitlement. It also belongs to the other two. I watch a couple of FB groups where it’s very common to hear things like, “I need new play equipment for the garden – does anyone know of any brands looking for reviews?”. Personally, that’s not my way to shop! I frequently get emails from brands along the lines of, “We are looking to maximise our exposure. Could you send us your address so we can send you a jar of cream to review.” I hear often from PRs that I’m “requested to attend a free facial.” So, really, you have to ask yourself who exactly has the problem with entitlement.
So, what is the fine line between being paid, and reviewing in exchange for product? It’s simple. It’s stats. Providing you have a big audience, the chances are that if you can recommend a product, it will lead to many things. First, brand exposure, second, PR remit, third, sales. If you are not able to boost any of those things, the chances are you are unlikely to have a value to the brand. You might wonder what numbers we’re talking about here, and so, to be blunt, it’s in the hundreds of thousands of views, not the hundreds or the thousands. The irony there is that I’m looking at magazines with a circulation of 90K being flooded with lucrative advertising, and yet a blog with a monthly figure of around that would be considered barely worth a penny.
When You Can Expect A Mutual Exchange
Or, to put it another way, when you can expect things for free. Let me first say that I think it’s inelegant to say the least when PRs offer ‘free’ product. It’s not free, exactly, because the blogger is very much expected to post about the product so the product is in exchange for exposure. It’s not FREE! It’s only free if they sent it as a gift with no expectation. PRs really need to stop belittling bloggers with the word ‘freebie’. It’s horrible. We don’t call our posts ‘free posts’, do we? However, it’s really not okay for new bloggers to email brands with a shopping list of the products they’d like to be sent for nothing or expect that just because they worked out WordPress somehow the PRs have a duty to send them product. There has to be at least an effort to establish a relationship with the PR or brand and a good reason why your blog is appropriate for their brand to appear on. Starting a blog yesterday doesn’t mean the gifts are going to start flooding in. That’s one of the reasons why PRs and brands get very annoyed with bloggers, and believe me, PRs all know each other – they talk, the same as anyone else. Get a reputation as a blagger and it’s highly likely that your reputation will reach other PRs before you’ve had time to compile your list.
But Bloggers & Vloggers Are All Rich
The majority aren’t. It’s a small minority that have reached celebrity status and they have millions of viewers. I can’t see a reason why they should give that away. I’ve had personal experience of being at events (recently) where every other person had been paid to attend but me – because it was thought that a goodie bag would be recompense enough for an entire day and half of my time because I’m a blogger, despite being on their list as a digital influencer. Conversely, some bloggers now charge to turn up to an event. I’ve seen one of our biggest vlogging stars literally walk in to an event, stay five minutes, and walk straight out again because that’s all the contractual obligation she had. In my view, that’s not working for your money, there was absolutely no benefit to her being there (there were about 3 fans waiting outside the venue) and the brand is probably wishing they’d built a bonfire with the cash because it would have had slightly more entertainment value. As for paying bloggers to be at press events – press really couldn’t care less if there is a famous blogger there or not, and more often than not, neither could other bloggers. So, for some bloggers it’s really tough to make any kind of living and for others, it’s now very easy. But would you say no? You have to think about who’s making it so easy for the few, and that’s the brands who are willing to pay. Money does tend to follow money. I’ll add in that I have never, ever known a magazine to charge to literally just attend an event. Ever. A PR who believes in your value can be your best friend; a PR who believes you have no value can be your worst enemy – either way, what they say goes straight back to the brand to influence their decision making.
Declaring or Not
I’m only going to touch on the new ASA rulings for vloggers and bloggers, which are pretty much the same as they were before and don’t make anything even one jot clearer. I’ve been watching interviews with vloggers on the subject, and despite thinking they’re a wonderful idea (cough), not one has explained either a) what they are or b) how they differ from before. Even the BBC can’t pin down what they really say. That’s because nobody knows. The majority of bloggers are happy to declare; they’re proud to be working with brands, the brands are proud to be working with them, and that’s a very positive thing for newer bloggers and consumers to be seeing. Some don’t declare at all and some brands collude with that because it vaguely fits in with current regulations (believe it or not). I think you should do as you see fit for your own site. Your readers will let you know either verbally or by your stats whether your own method is working for them. But, somewhere in the middle of all this the PRs are supposed to know what’s going on – they’re often the intermediary for negotiations and in an impossible situation trying to manage brand expectation, unenforceable rules and bloggers who don’t want to declare. I wouldn’t like to be piggy in the middle of that one.
I think that what’s important is that everyone is still learning how to do this – social media is a work in progress. To a very large degree, you need to be self-regulatory. Establishing good relationships with both brands and PRs is crucial to your success on line, there is no doubt about it, but you’re not at their mercy. Good old fashioned shopping still gives you licence to voice your opinion and not be beholden to anyone. In fact, it’s the one area where going back might take you forward; buying your own products and reviewing them is just as likely to see your post shoot up the SEO rankings as it would if it were free. Google doesn’t understand if you bought or didn’t buy your lipstick! The more you are seen to be reviewing, the more you’ll be noticed. Simples.
All products are sent to me as samples from brands and agencies unless otherwise stated. Affiliate links may be used. Posts are not affiliate driven.
There’s a reason why some big businesses have “New Media” teams for web and social media work – you are spot on that all this is very new and brands, agencies, PRs, bloggers and consumers are learning as they go.
I really enjoyed this article. I have begun to notice people changing over the past year due to media, but I spose fame changes everyone! I know if I was a PR I would opt for people like TheSundayGirl, you could pass her in the street and never know, but you trust her opinion because she is clear what has and hasn’t been sent, and you can see what she is excited about (tom ford mainly haha)
I have seen too many people start a blog because they want the “free stuff” I have a blog because I enjoy to share what I love, It’s got a basic template and very little views, do I care about that? no. I care that what I write I am passionate about 🙂
This is a slightly touchy subject for me. As you know I have been blogging a very long time, 6 years. Within that 6 years my PR samples have been about 1%, wait okay, let me be generous and say 5% total have been PR samples.
I get the stats and stuff but what I don’t like is right when I do “definitive guide” on something, through google search and such, a company contacts me about writing up a product. I never ever go fishing for a brand or contact them.
This is basically what happened here Misadventures in Beauty Blogging. (You can edit the url if it is not permitted.)
I did ask for a sample because it wouldn’t have made sense to my followers after I had done the definitive guide. I did ask nicely, and I was refused a sample. They just wanted a post of their product.
To say the least, I was angry and screamed into a pillow! For one, the beauty bloggers I read and followed all have received the hair color samples (oops! I revealed the product!), two-the guide I wrote would have incorporated the brand and would have been explained so my readers could have ordered from them without much doubt or fear. I totally felt worthless and knew my place in within the beauty blogging PR rank.
In the end though, press release posts don’t get many hits on my blog. The guides and How-to’s get the return and new readers. Works well with Google search! As for the hair color brand (oh my, I keep emphasizing this), I am glad I didn’t receive a sample because the way it is formulated, it would have made my hair way darker than what I would have expected it to be.
Well, that’s exactly what I mean about brands having a sense of entitlement. It’s no use to anyone to read about a product that you can have no opinion on because you’ve never been anywhere near it. It is very upsetting to be the kind of blogger who never asks for any samples and on the one occasion you do they say no! Your blog is one of the true independent voices left so don’t let the ignorance of one brand stop you doing what you do. And, it was very much their loss in my view!
I love this post! its so true i hate the new bloggers who think just because they have 1 post up they are the best thing ever and feel the need to send shopping lists to brands ive seen people doing it, it just give us all a bad name
Another very good blog post. Thank you, just like what you (BBB) said but also enjoyed reading the comments and their points of view.
Well said! We always try to be transparent and declare any sponsored/ gifted products. But when working with brands, we always make clear to readers and the brands themselves that our reviews are always 100% honest. As bloggers it’s always important to stay true to yourself and not get led astray by media/ pr. It’s also important to remember that we are all readers of blogs to, so you never want to read false reviews and spend your own gard earned cash on products that clearly aren’t what they are said to be
M + K
It is really a confusing new world. I do very little blogging comparing to others ( big stats or little stats ) as my blog was started to talk and show my makeup work etc… However I did a shoot this year with the world most successful you tuber and was told by the production company who paid for the Filming that he was very very rich, I know now he doesn’t like to talk about his vlogging revenue and I wonder how much he declares on his daily vlogs as been paid for. But he has the biggest stats ( crazy, like the population of a medium size country ) so I think the brands would not care too much about clarity on paid for or free as they just want his exposure and name association !
Ultimately it is about clarity and bloggers, vloggers to stick to what they think is right but it seems everyone blogs now, many many very young ones, 14 years onwards in beauty…Many don’t even know what the ASA stand for !
Thank you Jane for your post and your awesome blogging output. You are a very hard working blogger for sure.
I have my blog for a year now and I never started it with the idea that I will become popular or that I will receive free things from PRs. I enjoy beauty, books & blogging and what I write about is what I get myself with my own money. Sure, if someone would contact me for some reason I would consider it but then also I would be pretty clear on my blog about it too.
Seriously, I just write about what I like and I don’t expect anyone to give anything free. (Same as I will not give anything free away just for the merit)
So true Jane,
I still buy a lot of the products I review on my blog, although the samples I do receive I will still give my honest opinion on. But some Pr’s assume a free lipstick guarantees it will end up on the blog, or even worst Pr’s chasing you for reviews for something you’ve never even tried or received just because you attended a blogger event.
I’m always transparent too and will always mention whether it’s a sample or I went out and bought it, even though apparently this actually doesnt need to be declared, but I would prefer to over declare than under declare.