On Brands and Blogging

on brands and blogging

I wasn’t going to publish this post.

It’s been sitting in my drafts folder for weeks now: I hesitated to hit “publish” on it, because the fact is, I have a lot of respect for PRs, and the brands they work for. Hell, I used to BE a PR once upon a time, so I know it’s not easy. I also know that, despite the constant predictions of the  imminent “death” of blogging, the medium is not only alive and well, it’s still pretty new, which makes it uncharted territory, for PRs and bloggers alike.

When you deal with “old” media – journalists, and copywriters, and the like –  everyone knows exactly where they stand. There are clear expectations on both sides of the fence: a PR wouldn’t dream of asking a magazine to run a full page advertorial without being paid for it, and they certainly wouldn’t ask a copywriter to write that advertorial for free. Or, at least, I hope they wouldn’t.

Blogging, though, is different: a blog can be anything its author wants it to be, and there are as many different types of blog out there as there are people to write them. You have people like me –  former journalists who now blog full-time, and treat their blogs the same way they would any other professional writing gig – and then you have people who blog purely as a hobby, with no expectation of any kind of reward for it. The fact that the “hobby” blogs are often every bit as professional as the so-called “pro” blogs only serves to muddy that uncharted water: there may be no difference in the blogs themselves, or the quality of the content, but there can be worlds of difference between their authors’ expectations. The professional writer, for instance, expects to be paid for their work. The hobbyist may not… or they might*. It’s hard to tell.

Regardless of the author’s status as a pro-blogger or a hobbyist, however, I think it’s important for brands and their representatives to treat bloggers with respect if they want to build relationships with them. Lately that hasn’t been happening. Now, don’t get me wrong: there are tons of excellent PRs out there, who are absolutely spot-on in their approach. (If you’re a brand or PR I’ve worked with, you’re one of them…) I don’t for a second want to imply that ALL brands are bad, or that all PRs are the same in this respect: absolutely not. Lately, though, I have to admit that I’ve been getting significantly more “bad” pitches than good ones: and some of them have been downright insulting. I’m sure the brands who send me these requests don’t INTEND to insult me, so I thought I’d share just a few of their pitches (without identifying them, obviously), to illustrate where I think the PR industry is going wrong in its approach to bloggers like myself, in the hope that it might help.

In recent weeks, I’ve received…

01. A request for me to create “a few” blog posts about a particular brand, and promote said brand on my social media. In return, I’d get a small discount on the products I’d be writing about. Sounds great, yeah? I mean, everyone likes a discount, don’t they? Well, sure, but this arrangement still means that I’m essentially paying THEM for the privilege of working on their behalf. They get the benefit of exposure on my blog/social media, but in order for me to benefit AT ALL, I’ll still have to spend my own money – and this wasn’t a cheap brand, so even with the discount, it wouldn’t have been a particularly small amount of money. If brands can persuade bloggers to work for them AND buy things from them, then that’s honestly pretty smart of them, but I expect at least SOME compensation for the work I do, and if I’m paying for something myself, I expect to be able to decide for myself whether or not I want to write about it.

02. An offer of a collaboration with a dress hire company. Basically I would choose a dress from their website, photograph myself wearing it, and then return it. Oh yeah, and I would also have to pay for the hire, although, to their credit, as with the example above, they were also offering me a discount on the rental. I can’t remember the exact price, but I do recall working out that it would cost me around £70 – £80 of my own money, which is a lot to pay for a dress I wouldn’t even get to keep. Again, if I’d agreed to this, the brand would’ve got my money AND my promotional/writing skills. I, meanwhile, would have some photos of myself in a dress I didn’t own, and a large dent in my bank balance. The day I find myself paying someone to allow me to write a blog post about them, please feel free to reach through your screens and slap some sense into me, because really, why would I pay someone £80 to “allow” me to promote them? Seriously, I wish I could persuade people to PAY ME for the privilege of promoting MY brand! Anyone up for that? For £80, I’ll allow you to write a post on your blog, all about meeeeee! Anyone?

03.  A household-name brand, who asked me to write an article on fashion (heavily featuring their products, of course), which would then be published in “a national publication”: I’m guessing from this that they’d purchased advertorial in some magazine, and wanted me to write it for them. Now, an advertising copywriter would charge quite a bit for this kind of work (it was a fairly lengthy article), and I know this because I used to do it. I, on the other hand, would get nothing but a “byline”. As a former journalist, I am used to writing articles for newspapers and magazines, and I’m used to getting an OMGBYLINE on the pieces I’ve written. Crucially, though, I’m also used to being paid for my work, and found it absolutely astonishing that this nationally-known brand (who I’m sure could easily afford to pay a copywriter) would expect me to write for them for absolutely nothing, just because I’m a blogger. If my writing is good enough to represent your brand in the national media, it’s surely good enough for you to pay for it, no?

04. An approach from a US PR company looking for “high-profile UK bloggers” to collaborate with them on a campaign they were running. The idea was that I would create and photograph a “capsule collection” of clothing, from which I would style three separate outfits, all of which I would photograph myself wearing, and post on my blog, while extolling the virtues of X campaign. I would also create a short video of myself, again talking up the campaign, which the brand would be able to use as they saw fit. I would have just over a week to do all of this. Now, I don’t want to get all, “Waaaah, outfit posts are haaaaaard!” on you here, because let’s face it: they’re really not. They are, however, fairly time-consuming, and creating these three posts, plus the video, would’ve taken up quite a chunk of the week I was being allotted for it: oh, and it  would also take up Terry’s time, as I need him to take the photos and video. In return for many hours of two people’s time, plus essentially taking over my blog for a full week, I would get … a t-shirt. I know, you were thinking I was going to get to keep the three outfits, didn’t you? So did I, but no: actually, in addition to completing all of this work, I was to be given no budget for the outfits, so I’d have to either buy them myself, or use clothes I already have. In my case, because there were very specific requirements for the outfits, I would likely have had to purchase at least a couple of things in order to meet the brand’s requirements. So, I spend my own money, do hours of work, and provide a large amount of coverage for this brand, and I do all of this for… a t-shirt. Regardless of how you feel about blogging for a living, would YOU do several hours of work in exchange for a promotional t-shirt? I’m going to just assume you answered “no” to that, and I’m also going to assume that every other “influential UK blogger” they approached said no to it too, which is why they were forced to approach me, a week before the deadline. Insulted? Yeah, I was, to be honest, because this brand were essentially telling me that my time is worthless – or worth no more than the cost of a t-shirt, which is more or less the same thing.

05. An email from a brand, asking if I’d like to review their product. I was just about to answer this in the affirmative, when I happened to check the comments section of the site they wanted to be featured on, and saw that they’d gone ahead and posted an advert for the product in question on one of my posts. Make no mistake, this was blatant spam: they hadn’t even bothered to try to disguise it as a genuine comment – it was an advert, of the type I’d generally charge for. I deleted the comment, and emailed the brand representative to let them know why, and got an instant apology, along with the explanation that they’d “assumed the comments section was an open forum for discussion”. (And, I mean, my comments section IS an open forum for discussion, but spam isn’t “discussion”: spam is the internet equivalent of you charging into my house yelling, “BUY MY PRODUCT, IT’S AWESOME!”) I accepted the apology, but declined the offer of the product to review: not because I wanted to spite them, but just because the whole incident left a bad taste in my mouth, and convinced me that if the brand were unprofessional enough to use spam to promote themselves, they probably weren’t a brand I’d want to be associated with anyway.

06. Numerous requests to enter “competitions”, all of which involve me creating content to promote a particular brand and posting it on my website, in the hope of winning some kind of prize. Just to be clear, I’m not knocking anyone who does take part in these contests, because everyone has the right to decide for themselves what they want to post on their own blogs, but this is my business: it’s how I pay my bills. I just can’t afford to spend my time creating blog posts for people in the HOPE that I MIGHT get paid for them. Think of it this way: imagine if I approached 50 different PR firms, and asked each of them to create and implement a PR campaign for my blog, on the understanding that ONE of them would be paid for their work. There’s an obvious benefit to me here – I get 50 PRs promoting my site, and I only have to pay one of them – but there’s not much in it for the 49 firms who DON’T “win” their fee, is there? So it is with bloggers and “content contests.”

07. Multiple demands – and “demand” is not too strong a word – that I promote a product launch, sale, or other brand event, on my blog or social media. I’m offered no incentive for this whatsoever: all I get is the blunt request to “please promote this on your social media”. And to be honest, a lot of the time I don’t even get the “please”. I’m always tempted to respond to these demands with the question, “And, in return, you’ll promote MY brand on YOUR social media, yes?” but I know there’s no point: these particular brands seem to feel I owe them free publicity, and speak to me almost as if I’m an employee, which is… cute.

Now, I’m very aware that I’m in danger of sounding like a prima donna here, and I want to be really clear that I’m under no illusions about what an appearance on my blog is worth to brands. My blog is not the biggest or the best one out there: it’s not even close, in fact. As for me, while I may have some writing credentials, for what they’re worth (not much, it would appear), I have no fashion credentials whatsoever: I am not a model, a stylist or an  expert of any kind, and I don’t expect to be treated as such. All I ask is that you treat me with the same respect you would any other businessperson – or any other PERSON, period.

My blog may not be the most influential fashion blog on the internet, but the fact that you’re asking to be featured on it tells me that you obviously feel you’ll get SOMETHING out of it. All I ask is that I get something out of it too (something that makes it worth my while, I mean: a t-shirt, or a “byline” doesn’t really count…) : so, if you want me to post photos of myself wearing your dress, for instance, you better be prepared to AT LEAST send me the dress. That’s only fair: you get something (exposure on my website), I get something (a dress). If, however, you ask me to actually go out and BUY the dress and THEN post photos of myself wearing it (To your timescale, and with specific links and messages dictated by you), you’re treating me like an idiot, because that’s not a fair exchange. In THAT scenario, YOU get two things: you get exposure on my blog, AND you get a dress sale – yay! As for me, well, I still get the dress, but I could’ve bought myself the dress anyway, WITHOUT being obliged to spend hours promoting your brand as a result of that purchase. Not exactly a great deal for me, huh?

These are just a few examples of the type of pitches I’ve been receiving lately, and again, I really want to stress that not ALL brands are like this: I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of really fantastic ones, and I’d like to think the examples here are the exceptions rather than the rule. As I said though, these insulting pitches have now become a daily occurrence, and I know I’m not the only blogger who’s becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of respect shown to us. For me the bottom line is this: if my blog is good enough for you to want to feature on it, it’s good enough for me to be compensated for my time. And if you “don’t have a budget for advertising” (Which I hear over and over again, from brands who want me to promote them, and don’t want to give me anything in return), then you don’t get to advertise: end of story.

And end of rant.

* Although this post is more than long enough, I think it’s important to add that I realise that although I personally find these requests insulting, there are plenty of other bloggers who don’t, and who are perfectly willing to go along with them, and I want to make it really clear that I don’t intend this post to be a criticism of those bloggers. I have never subscribed to the idea that those who work for free “spoil things” for those of us who don’t: I think every blogger has the right to decide for themselves what they’re willing to publish on their sites, and no one is responsible for anyone else’s business. In other words, you don’t owe  it to me to turn your blog pro, just so I can continue making money from mine. If you’re happy to work for free, or think it would be fun/good content to enter a blog contest, I have absolutely no quarrel with that: my quarrel is with the brand who asked you to do it in the first place, and my feeling is that, regardless of whether you consider yourself to be a “professional” blogger or not, it’s disrespectful of a brand to try to take advantage of you by asking you to invest time, skill, and often actual money, without at least offering you SOMETHING in return.

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85 Comments

  • ren says:

    Hi Amber

    I have never sent you a message before (I’ve just recently signed up to your blog but I have been following your blog for months.

    I don’t know why you had this in your draft for so long. I am glad you posted this. Though I am not a blogger myself it’s very clear to see that you invest so much time on your blog. It’s bright colourful, your outfits suit any person, race and background which is what I love about you. This is the reason I chose to follow you.
    These companies make millions each week possibly and you mean to tell me they can’t offer you clothes for free? To be honest I thought they would pay you for the privilege of you putting their clothes on your blog. You make their clothes look beautiful. Your pictures are sharp and everything works well together. Well, you tell them Amber it will give them food for thought. As for the other bloggers maybe you gave them something to think about also. You and hubby are a lovely team which should not be taken for granted by these big companies. Continue to do what you are doing you have my support.

    • Amber says:

      Thanks so much for your lovely comments, Ren, they really mean a lot to me!

      As far as payments go, I know a lot of the bigger bloggers do get paid to wear things, but I’m not under any illusions that anyone would want to pay me :) I have a policy of only ever accepting clothes I genuinely love (and will wear in my “real life”, not just on the blog), so in most cases I’m happy to get something I love, as long as they’re not asking too much of me. (I.e I blog my outfits anyway, so if all the brand is asking if that I create exactly the same content I’d be creating anyway, but wearing their clothes, that seems fair enough to me: it’s when they want me to actually BUY the clothes and then create multiple posts, or write posts I wouldn’t normally do, that it starts to become a problem!)

    • This post is spot on!

      Some companies expect a lot of our time for free and expect us to pay out for their item and do all of this work for them for nothing and can be extremely rude about it. Not that I am a big blogger myself. Although I had one company contact me and expected me to jump through hoops for them & get nothing for my time! It’s like thanks, but, no thanks.

      We work hard and deserve to be paid accordingly for our time spent on a project. Especially if significant demands such as 3 posts and a video all within a week!

      x

  • char says:

    I’m sure I don’t receive even 1% of the amount of requests that you do, but even so I’ve recently noticed such a change in the way in which brands try to interact with you. Where they used to offer to pay for advertising, so many of them are saying things like “Google says we can no longer pay for advertising on blogs” and then can’t understand why people don’t want to spend time creating content for them, for nothing in return. My favourite ones include “you can use a photo of our products free of charge.” Gee, thanks.

    • Amber says:

      Haha, yes, those always make me laugh, too. Wow, you mean you’re NOT going to charge me for the photos you’re requiring me to use in a post which has the sole purpose of promoting YOU? So generous!

  • Aline says:

    GREAT POST!
    I’m on the hobby side of blogging, although I have thought of making it “pro”. Unfortunately though it’s not possible for where I live. Brands are just starting to understand the important of blogs, but just like you said, they expect everything for free. I recently wrote a rant post myself, and my blog is 0.0433975% of what your blog is :P
    The more I think about the situation and look at both sides of the coin, the more I get confused though… I just wish some PR people would take a course on etiquette and learn how to communicate with bloggers. Even if a blogger isn’t interested, coming to them with the appropriate tone might just change their mind.

    • Amber says:

      I think all they really need to do is make sure they communicate with us in the same way they’d like people to communicate with THEM: I’m sure most PRs/brands wouldn’t be impressed if I sent them an email demanding that they promote my blog for free – it shouldn’t be too much of to ask that they refrain from doing that to me!

  • Becky says:

    Fantastic post! I’m not a very big blog, but the amount of downright offensive PR emails I get astounds me. The worst ones are the ones demanding I share an infographic on my blog, with no relevance to my blog whatsoever. No, I have no need to talk about the fast food industry. Then I get multiple, increasingly aggressive emails when I decline. Turns out quite a few people have been getting the same emails yet I haven’t seen the infographic on a single blog yet. Funny that…

    Great post- Really interesting to see some of the tactics dodgy PRs use. Oh, and like you, the majority of PRs I’ve worked with have been amazing!

  • Mariana says:

    I have absolutely no idea about how common this is, but I do see people suggesting new bloggers do this many times, so is it possible that those brands are now so accustomed to receive request from bloggers to get a discount on a product they’d like to buy and advertise anyway, that they started making the requests themselves? I don’t think it excuses the behaviour, it’s one thing if I ask for a discount on something I already decided to buy, and quite another if it comes from them and disguised as payment, but like you said, blogging is a new industry, and if they do get these types of requests from bloggers very often, maybe they think they’re just giving them what they want.

    • Amber says:

      I think that’s definitely a possibility… I would never try to tell someone how to run their blog/business, but I do think it must be confusing for brands when they get such mixed messages from bloggers. As I said, blogging is still such a new thing really that most of us (bloggers AND brands) are pretty much making it up as we go along!

  • Annette says:

    Thank you so much for this brilliant and honest post, Amber! I absolutely agree with everything you said.
    Sometimes I am surprised about requests I receive and ask myself whether the PR agent or brand representative ever had a view on my blog… but I can deal with these requests.
    However, the collaboration requests you mentioned are the really annoying ones! I have learned so much since I started blogging 1,5 years ago and in the meantime I have done fantastic cooperations either with brands directly or via PR agencies, several of them repetitive.
    Therefore I think I got a bit of a feeling which brandworks are “balanced” and to a mutual benefit. I spend a lot of time on each post with several photos, bilingual text and social media promotion in order to deliver good work. Therefore I expect an appropriate payment or product value in return. A nail varnish (10€) for a blogpost with links/promotion of 3 different online shops is definitely not adequate…

    Again, thank you for this post!
    Annette | Lady of Style

    • Amber says:

      I suspect that a lot of the “bad” ones haven’t even looked at the blog – or at the very least, have just glanced at the front page. I get a lot of emails which start with the line, “I love your blog about [insert title of most recent blog post, even it's something totally random like "Happy Christmas!" or something]” – it couldn’t be more obvious that it’s just a mass mailing: especially when it begins “Dear Blogger…”

  • Kaarin says:

    Amen!! I’m bookmarking this post so I can refer to it in the future. Thanks for being brave and posting it. Even though it seems everyone has a blog & blogging has been around forever there are vast parts that still are the Wild West. Your breakdown was a great way to logically go through the types of pitches & why they don’t work for your business. Because blogging IS a business.

    • Amber says:

      Thanks, Kaarin! I’m hoping that blogging will get less like the Wild West as time goes by and people start to establish best practice guidelines: at the moment I get the feeling that a lot of people are just feeling their way, and taking a “let’s just see if this works approach”, which can cause a lot of problems if it hasn’t been thought through, properly. One of the reasons I wrote this, though, was because it’ll never get better unless we speak up about these things, and hopefully start some sort of dialogue about it. Here’s hoping, anyway!

  • Philippa says:

    This was a really well thought out post and I think it addresses many issues that I have been hearing about in the blogosphere recently. It’s like you said, if you think that my blog is good enough to advertise on then surely my time is worth something too.

    Phil x

    • Amber says:

      That’s exactly it: I feel like I get such mixed messages, sometimes. On the one hand, brands will tell me they *love* my blog and are *desperate* to be featured on it, but on the other hand they’re effectively telling me my time is worthless and not they’re not *desperate* enough to pay me a single penny. Either my blog is worth being featured on, or it isn’t: and if it isn’t, then why even approach me in the first place?

  • LydiaGrace says:

    Every new blogger needs to read this, heck, every blogger needs to read this! I’m shocked by the requests you receive and I’d hate to think that less experienced bloggers get fooled into obliging. I’m so glad that you made a stand because it’s not only insulting to you, but your readers. If ForeverAmber was just to become a half hearted catalogue of products I would certainly stop reading!

    • Amber says:

      Oh God, yes, that’s the last thing I’d want! I think a lot of newer bloggers are (understandably) flattered to be approached by brands, and think that if they do what they ask, it might lead to better opportunities in the future. But of course, it just leads to more requests for free publicity, because they’ve effectively told the brand they don’t need/want to be paid, so the cycle continues!

  • Suzanne says:

    I love this post. Well done!

    When I first started blogging I used to link to all the sites where I purchased my outfits from in hope that they would contact me and offer me advertising $ or free merchandise. After a while I realized that wasn’t going to happen so I stopped linking to them. I figured I was just giving away free advertising for companies that weren’t doing anything for me. I’ve actually had the brands contact me and ask why I’m not linking to them! They suggested I was short changing my readers by excluding the links.They never offered that they would be willing to pay for this service in some capacity. That sealed the deal for me. No more links. Already when I tell someone where I bought the item from they are getting free advertising. I found them to be very cheeky and arrogant just expecting the links.

    I won a contest that I won where all I got was added exposure to my illustrations. Since the illustrations were already done I didn’t waste any time on it, I just submitted the illustrations. Even at the time I thought it was a real scam, and the company is big, they can afford to pay for illustrations. The amount of extra exposure I got was minimal at best. I feel that they are really exploiting their brand via their customers and I was stupid enough to allow them to do it through me.

    So far I’ve stayed away from most of the advertisers that approached me for the reasons you’ve listed here. I have only chosen one that was excellent to deal with and I enjoyed working with them and it was a good fit for my personal style. I often like to focus on thrifted or vintage items and those don’t come with advertising dollars.

    bisous
    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

    • Amber says:

      I always link to the products I feature (assuming they’re still available), but that’s really for my readers’ benefit rather than the brand’s. That said, if I’ve bought something and liked it, I have no issue with recommending it and linking to it – it’s when people actually ask me to buy their product and then write about it that I start to shake my head!

  • Stephanie says:

    Well said! My basic filtering system is to outright delete any sort of promotion request that isn’t addressed to me by name. My name is right smack on the main page of my blog so if the company doesn’t even want to take 5 secs and look up my name, I don’t want to look at them either.

    • Amber says:

      I have to admit, I do this too, and I also delete any requests for me to do things I’ve said I’m not interested in. My “contact” and “advertise” pages both list the types of things I won’t do (contests, guest posts, paid links etc), so when someone asks me to do one of those things, it’s pretty obvious it’s a mass mailing, and they haven’t looked at the site. That said, I often find that once I’ve deleted the initial request, they’ll then repeatedly follow up, with emails that ARE obviously personal ones, wanting to know why I haven’t responded. It would take far less time for them just take a few seconds to look at the site in the first place, rather than writing multiple emails asking me the same thing!

  • A very interesting and fair post I thought. I have worked in PR for almost 20 years and I am also a blogger and I have seen both sides of the coin. I get some truly shocking approaches and have often thought about writing about them but sometimes I think people are just young and naive and don’t think things through properly. I wish people would follow best practice on these things and think about the fact that blogging is a hobby rather than a profession.

    I will share this article because I think this helps illustrate that PRs should think before they send mass blanket emails of no relevance.

    It happens to us all though – I just try and ensure my team don’t do it too often.

    • Amber says:

      Thanks Chris – I’m really glad you thought it was fair, because I worried a lot about that – I really have a lot of respect for most of the PRs I work for, and didn’t want to come across as bashing an entire profession just because of a few bad pitches!

      I think one of the problems your comment brings home is that for some of us – myself included – blogging actually IS a profession. I think the fact that some people view it as simply a hobby is what muddies the waters, and makes it very confusing for brands – it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, but as you say, it’s a matter of trying to follow best practise, regardless of whether someone regards themselves as “pro” or not!

  • Sue says:

    An excellent post, Amber, highlighting a serious problem. What sort of response (if any) did you get from the firms in question?

    • Amber says:

      Most of the time I just get a blunt, “Sorry, we don’t have a budget for online advertising” – written in a tone which makes me feel impertinent for having even asked. There have been a few times, though, when I’ve explained why I’m not able to work for free, and the brand have come back with a much more reasonable offer… I think some of the time they’re just trying their luck: they know that some bloggers WILL work for nothing, so they figure they may as well ask, and I can’t really blame them for that. This is why I don’t buy into the idea that bloggers who work for free somehow “spoil” it for the rest of us: I think that if a brand REALLY wants to work with a specific blog, they WILL pay for it, but if they can get away with NOT paying for it, so much the better!

  • Vicky says:

    I totally get what you’re saying. I’m about embark a bit of blogger campaign to try and promote my website. I really don’t know where to start as I am so concerned that I might take the wrong approach and upset somebody. The blogging world changes so fast and as a ‘brand’ (albeit a very small one), I find it impossible to keep up with the protocol. Do you have any advice before I put my foot in it?!?

    • Amber says:

      I think the best advice I can give you is the good old “treat others as you would yourself” – i.e. before you send your pitch to a blogger (or anyone!), try to put yourself in their shoes, and imagine how you would feel receiving that email. As I said in my post, if you take “blogging” completely out of the question, it’s not hard to see that most people, whatever their profession, would not be willing to dedicate time and effort to something for which they get absolutely nothing in return: bloggers are no different from anyone else in that respect, and whether they’re professionals or hobbyists, it’s not fair to ask them to promote your brand, without there being anything in it for them.

      I get a huge amount of approaches from new businesses who play the “poor me” card, telling me that they’re just starting out, they “don’t have a budget for advertising”, they’re struggling to make ends meet etc, and it would help them SO MUCH if I would just tweet about them/write about them/whatever … I think what they forget is that many bloggers are ALSO small businesses who struggle to make ends meet, and they just can’t afford to give away their product (their blog being their “product”) for free, any more than a traditional business can. I think as long as you show some recognition of that, you’ll be fine :)

      • Vicky says:

        Hi Amber,

        Thanks for your advice on this. I’m going to tread carefully and see how I get on. I always try to do things with the best of intentions, so hopefully this will come across in our approach. I’d never expect a blogger to do anything for nothing – I wouldn’t want my brand to be represented in that way. Interesting comments on this post, I’ve learnt a lot just by reading this.

        Vicky

        • Amber says:

          I think the fact that you’ve even thought to ask about it shows that your intentions are good, so I’m sure you’ll be fine :) I also think it’s fairly obvious which brands are just trying their luck to see what they can get for nothing, and which ones are genuinely trying their best: as I said, although it feels like blogging has been around forever sometimes, it’s really still such a new thing that it can be really confusing to work out the etiquette etc. Thanks for caring enough to ask – if more brands did that, it would be so much easier for all of us :)

          Oh, and good luck!

  • Again, it’s like you’ve read my mind. Well, more like…read my mind and then taken the tangled mess of thoughts and written an articulated and intelligent post. I used to graciously decline offers, even though I was thinking, ‘Whaaatttt, you’re kidding, right?!’ So much reads like spam in my email box, that I don’t even reply anymore. I had one invitation that seemed legit, but while looking at their site, I learned that they didn’t ship to Canada…You do know I live in Canada, eh?

    Thanks for hitting publish!

    • Amber says:

      Ha, I constantly get approaches from brands who LOVE my blog, and are my NUMBER ONE FANS, who want to work with me SO MUCH… right up until I send them my shipping address, and they’re absolutely astonished to find I’m in the UK (I know, SUCH a secret, right?), at which point they want nothing more to do with me. Funny, that!

  • ME says:

    Hi! Not sure if you’ll read this or not but I just thought I’d put forward another side of the argument…

    The kind of work you were being asked to do sounds, for the most part, like it might have been requested by SEO’s rather than PR’s, as they seemed to mostly want digital content (which will translate to links and/or social shares).

    PR and SEO are technically the same thing – promotion of a brand either off or online, but SEO is geared towards getting links to a certain website in order to help it rank well in search engines. I’ve worked in SEO, and specifically for fashion, for the last few years and as Google is always updating their algorithm, the way we get these links has had to massively change.

    Google has really clamped down on paying for links in any form recently, which means the old tactics of offering a fee for a “sponsored post” is a no-no, and if Google realises this is what’s going on it’ll penalise the website acquiring the links by taking it out of the rankings, and sometimes does the same to the site posting links. That’s why all we can offer usually is a product – if budget allows – or discount, which we know is not appealing.

    This has meant that as SEO’s we’ve had to massively rethink how we do things and sometimes all you can do is ask a blogger to share your content, take part in a competition you’re running or “collaborate” with you by writing something for your website or for a publication in this case in return for exposure/a social media mention/whatever in the hope that the blogger will also link to you because they’ve had a positive interaction with the brand.

    We know it sucks, we know you know it sucks and that you probably feel insulted because we don’t value you you as bloggers (we do!) or annoyed by being asked to share or take part in something that won’t benefit you, but most of us don’t really know how else to go about it any other way. Personally, I think it’d be great to open up a dialogue with bloggers to find out what you guys think we could do within the guidelines that would make you link to us, but everyone’s so scared of getting slammed by Google that they don’t want to talk about it!

    • You can pay for links and sponsored posts are permitted by Google so long as they are marked as no-follow links and labelled as sponsored.

      So the question is whether the value is in the link or in the content/PR?

      • Amber says:

        Yup: the majority of the brands I work with insist that the links be nofollow – they’re interested in the traffic the link will send them (and the exposure/sales that will result from it), not the SEO benefits of a specific anchor text. These are the brands I’m most interested in working with, because they care about more than simply inserting random text links into my posts: they actually want to create something that benefits both of us.

    • Amber says:

      I actually know what SEO is (When you make your living online, you can’t really afford NOT to know how Google’s algorithm changes might affect your livelihood) and I’m also aware of the differences between SEO and PR. There’s no way for me to prove it without naming and shaming, which I don’t want to do, but I can assure you the examples I gave here all came from PR agencies, or from the brands themselves. It’s certainly true that there’s a huge problem with SEO agencies, but for me, the fact that Google will penalise you for buying links doesn’t make it OK for you to just demand that I provide those links for *free*, which is what’s happening. (And you say “sometimes all we can offer is a product”: in the examples I gave, I wasn’t even being offered a product – I was being asked to BUY the product AND write about it…)

  • CiCi Marie says:

    Really good post, Amber. Having only just started to receive ‘pitches’ from companies (and I use that term incredibly loosely as I used to be a publicist and have a basic understanding of what a fair opportunity looks like), I’m a bit appalled with how some of them approach me. One expected me to submit content for nothing for MONTHS for free. What worries me that although I immediately smell a rat, what about people who don’t! In that case, I spent about 30 minutes trying to get to the bottom of just how bad a deal it was in the first place! Your time is one of the most precious things you can give anyone – it’s really the only thing that matters at the end of the day as it’s irreplaceable… So I’m glad you’ve posted this, very much so, I hope it helps a lot of bloggers out there – new and old – before they might waste theirs :) CC

    • Amber says:

      Oh wow, that’s really shocking! And you’re so right – your time really is irreplaceable, which makes it all the more insulting when people expect you to give it up for nothing!

  • Such a great post! Its all so very bewildering when your new to the PR companies side of blogging, its so difficult to know who to trust, and to know whether or not your being taken for a ride xx

    • Amber says:

      It really is… My best advice is that it if it feels wrong, it probably is: blogging is no different from anything else in that respect :)

  • Suze says:

    A brilliantly written and informative post, thank you!

    I don’t blog myself but do plan to start someday soon. One thing that really puts me off though is the prospect of dealing with unscrupulous PRs and to be honest the whole PR thing seems to be a minefield. You’ve said that the examples you’ve mentioned are exceptions and not the rule (phew!) however I’ve seen so many other bloggers highlighting this issue that it’s clearly a widescale problem and one I can expect to encounter sooner or later – not a side of blogging I’m looking forward to but hopefully the positive experiences will far outweigh the bad. *mental note to keep perspective and remember what I’m worth!*

    • Amber says:

      Ah, I hope it doesn’t put you off too much, because blogging has so many good points that it really outweighs the bad ones! And, of course, you can just choose not to be involved with the PR side if it if you don’t want to… I blog for a living, and I genuinely welcome approaches from brands (most of them are good ones, honestly!) so I have to take the rough with the smooth, but I know lots of bloggers who are totally independent of PR, and blog solely for the fun of it, so there’s always that option!

  • I’m so pleased you posted this Amber! It needs to be said more often amongst bloggers, especially seasoned pros like yourself.

    Like you, I receive so many emails on a daily basis essentially asking me to work for free to promote and advertise a brand. It’s insulting, and a massive waste of time. And yes, I do think it stems from the fact that there is a large group of bloggers who do say yes to any of this opportunities that come their way, it doesn’t help anyone. It is hard, when you are new to blogging and you have no media or business background … you don’t know where to start or how to handle these requests. And so we need to start being more public about what is not ok to send to bloggers.

    • Amber says:

      Thanks, lovely :) And yes, I think when people are new to blogging, it’s really hard to know how to handle those requests: it’s such a minefield at times, but I think that unless we talk about it, it will never, ever change, so I’m really glad this post has had such a positive response – I was really worried about publishing it and upsetting people!

  • Thanks for hitting ‘post’ on this – it definitely needed to be said!

  • Mana says:

    I’m so glad you posted this. I thought I was only getting those kinds of emails because my blog is tiny, but yours is definitely bigger than mine. I’ve had some places email and have only ended up laughing at them they were so crazy in their request.

    Mana
    Fashion and Happy Things

  • I was thinking, just this afternoon, about writing a similar post. I’m not a blogger, I’m a professional photographer & filmmaker and I experience nearly identical “requests” every week. As do my friends who are graphic designers, web designers, crafters and creatives. It seems an increasingly common stance for businesses to expect services for free, and the bigger they are the more entitled their behaviour. In my line of work there is rarely a week when I am not approached by someone, probably with the best intentions, offering me the opportunity to “boost my portfolio” and assuring me that I’ll be “credited for my work”, neither of which pay the bills.
    Unfortunately, those people who do snap up these ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunities (mostly hobbyists it would seem) are communicating to the world that it’s OK to expect businesses to “give it away” for free.
    All we can do is to decide where our individual line in the sand should be drawn, guard it closely, and enforce it vigorously.
    Thanks for putting into eloquent words the thoughts that have been muddling around my mind for a few weeks now!

    • Amber says:

      I think it’s something that seems to be common to all of the creative industries: I used to constantly get requests to work for free when I was freelancing, and my husband gets it too in his web design work. I guess the fact that *anyone* can start a blog encourages people to think that it must be easy, and therefore worthless, but the fact is that while anyone can start a blog, or take a photograph, or whatever, not everyone can do it *well*. I think you’re right about that line in the sand: I would never presume to tell anyone else how to run their business, but I think this is where my line has to be drawn!

  • This is fascinating Amber as are the comments, thanks for choosing to publish it.

    I’ve had a few offers of c/o product in recent months to review. Super- except they obviously didn’t bother to read my blog at all seeing as I’m heavily pregnant and won’t fit into any of the specific dresses/swimwear I’m allowed to choose from…. Clearly they are just given a list of email addresses to hit up & to be fair when I replied to say, yeh thanks but it would need to be maternity they’ve all been congratulatory but still- you can’t take a few mins to check each blogger you are contacting?!

    Why would we as bloggers want to work with brands who can’t even be bothered to do a tiny bit of research? But hey at least they weren’t asking me to pay for the privilege to promote them ;)

    On the flip side, I’ve been a loyal boden customer & blogged about them for years before becoming an affiliate. Despite the sales my tiny blog generates I’ve never heard a peep from them yet I still choose to promote them on my blog. Mug!!

    • Amber says:

      The thing that always surprises me about those kind of approaches is that while they can’t seem to take the time to do a little bit of research (And a little bit is really all it would take), they apparently *can* take the time for repeated follow-ups, which are just a waste of everyone’s time. When I worked in PR (which was admittedly a long time ago!) we took a lot of care with list-building, to make sure we weren’t sending people stuff that was completely irrelevant to them, but I get the impression that many agencies now just buy lists and don’t bother to clean them up. (I can always tell which agencies do this, because I’ll get copies of their press releases sent to every single email address I’ve ever had!)

      On another note, I’ve been checking your blog regularly for birth announcements – hope everything goes well :)

  • Gemma says:

    Oh my, I have about 3 of these sitting in draft, I think I go back to them every time I get an irritating email! Then I don’t post them.

    Competitions seem to be a huge thing at the moment, I had one the other day wanted me to write a post and I might win a t shirt, with the brand name on the front no less so I could continue to promote them in my real life, that’s IF I won of course, because my time isn’t even worth a guaranteed t -shirt!

    Another favourite is “Google days we can’t pay you for links do you’ll have to do it for free” er, nope.

    Thanks for hitting the post button!

    • Amber says:

      Oh gosh, yes, the competition requests are just relentless right now… They actually didn’t use to bother me too much (I think when it started there were some brands who genuinely thought it was a good idea, and that bloggers would enjoy taking part – which, of course, some of them do) but now it seems that every brand out there has adopted it as their preferred technique. I’ve actually added a statement to my contact page saying I’m not interested in receiving emails about blogger contests, but it doesn’t stop me getting dozens of them every week, unfortunately!

  • Finally someone speaks out about this annoying issue. Thanks for hitting publish.

  • Porcelina says:

    Love this post so much! I’ve only started receiving these kind of requests recently, but boy are they annoying! The infographic ones get me the most, it’s all been about beer this last week.

    This happens in pretty much every creative industry – my OH is a musician and gets asked to do all kinds of gigs for free. Speaking to him has been really helpful, as he has seen all the tricks and such before and can guide me through confusing emails and contests and all. He’s really helped me to see what the real agendas are. I’ve felt so naive!! Approaching it all with more cynycism these days, but have to say I’ve also had some wonderfully positive collaborations too that have worked well.

    Just reading all the comments on this post has been brilliant! P x

  • Dear Amber,
    Thank you for this heart-felt post. I totally agree with everything you say. My blog is only a hobby blog and I get my money from a good job in advertising. So I know both sides as well. And I am so glad I can turn round to them and mail: no thank you, my blog is a hobby and I don’t “do” commercial. I only answer a few nice ones. The rest I don’t even bother with.
    Greetje
    PS I saw this post because Suzanne Carillo (Style Files) posted it on Facebook

  • M says:

    I’m a fairly new blogger, so I’ve only received two PR requests. One, I was totally on board with. We both saw increased site traffic. Everybody was happy. The other was from a sunglasses manufacturer — they asked me to promote them, no offer of reciprocation, no offer of free sunglasses or even a discount code. Seriously, people? Rudeness is everywhere, even in the professional world.

  • Ariana says:

    It’s sad how in creative professions, people really try to get us to do our jobs for free. I’m not a real blogger, but I am a musician and I get similar bad offers. Like “if you play for us at our club for 6 hours (and bring your own expensive sound guy and lighting guy), we’ll pay you in alcohol from the bar” or “if you want to play here, you have to bring at least 50 fans with you to pay a cover charge of $10 each, and we’ll pay you in PIZZA!”. Other places try to use the excuse of “you can’t put a price on exposure”. Actually, you can, and it’s called ‘advertising’.

    I don’t think some businesses realize that creative professionals have to make a living too. I’ve been reading your blog(s) for a few years now and I have to say THANK YOU for this post…I was beginning to think I was weird for not wanting to work for free.

  • Iasmin says:

    I just want to congratulate you on being true to yourself and not letting small things “corrupt” you! And thank you for bringing up issues many people would rather ignore than to face. You are one of my top three favorite bloggers for a reason =)

  • Love this post, such a good write!!!
    Love your passion for this :)

  • Corinne says:

    Amazing post, Amber!

    I wrote a similar one a while back, after realising that 1) I had been taken for a ride in my first month of blogging when I didn’t really know what I was doing and 2) I had seen an increase in e-mails I was getting from brands wanting things for nothing.

    One thing that has been frustrating me lately is the offers I’m getting for people saying they’ll guest post for me. I’m not an idiot and I know that this means they’ll send me something full of links to help their page rank.

    I also asked the budget on a campaign I was asked to be apart of and then told that ‘there is no budget, nobody has ever asked to be paid before’. It was similar to one you described, where it would have meant I would have had to by some ‘props’ for the post. I was also asked by another person to offer my ‘rock bottom’ prices so we would ‘promptly move forward’ as they had 40 other bloggers willing to accept $10 for a sponsored post.

    I do understand doing stuff for free, or little compensation if you are struggling to think of posts, or if you’re wanting to get experience of working with PRs but it’s just insulting what some ask for. It seems those that are willing to pay want a stinking dofollow anchor text link. Wankers.

    Corinne x

    • Amber says:

      The guest post requests drive me mad: I’ve got disclaimers on every one of my sites (contact pages and advertising pages) saying I don’t do them, but I still get absolutely inundated with requests=s for them every single day. I know they’re not even looking at the blogs they’re “pitching” to, but I find it particularly amusing when I get guest post requests for this blog: I mean, it’s my personal diary – unless theyre planning to put on a red wig and take photos of themselves in a dress, pretending to be me, I really don’t see how their proposed post could be the “great fit” they want me to think it is!

  • Alex says:

    Thank you for putting this information out here. For a lot of new bloggers like myself, it’s going to be hard for us to tell if we are being taken for granted if we get these opportunities. I think it’s great that you emphasize that whether we are full time bloggers or hobbyists, we should value our time and effort.

  • Erika says:

    The funniest request for an article that I got came not too long ago and started off with, “Dear, Yuki…” Yuki being the family dog that I briefly mentioned in my about page. I laughed so hard! They could have at least read far enough to have gotten my name right! Ugh. Great post with some great feedback.

  • Helen says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post. You’ve said so many of the things I would like to say in response to some of the approaches I receive. A really excellent post.

    It’s so important to have this conversation in public because working with bloggers is still relatively new territory for many brands and the PRs representing them and everyone is still trying to figure it out.

  • Ruth says:

    This is really interesting as I now nothing about this (despite having a blog myself!). I’ve always had the impression brands will throw great offers at big blogs (seemingly without checking out the demographic of readership to see whether they will actually get anything out of it).

    Off topic, I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about disclosing due to a certain big blogger who gets amazing comped stuff, never discloses and doesn’t really give the brand much exposure in return. Slightly mystified by why brands keep working with her!

    I’m curious, do you get offers of free stuff asking you NOT to disclose?
    Thanks for the great post.

    • Amber says:

      I haven’t had anyone ask me not to disclose a freebie, but I have had a couple of brands ask for non-disclosure of sponsored posts (which I always refuse), or ask me to remove an existing disclosure. In the latter case, they’ve always been fine with it when I’ve explained why it’s there, and why I’m not willing to remove it, so I try to make it really clear right from the outset what I will and won’t do. Again, disclosure is quite a confusing thing for both brands and bloggers – the traditional media don’t disclose anything (and no one seems to expect them to), so I think a lot of brands find it confusing that there are different rules for bloggers!

  • Rebecca says:

    I think what is difficult is that new bloggers have no idea what or whether they should be paid. If there were an industry guide, so to speak, based on readership figures, perhaps bloggers would understand what they should be getting.

    • Amber says:

      There’s been a lot of talk about the idea of some kind of industry guide in blogging circles over the past few weeks: I think it’s a fantastic idea – at the moment we’re all really just making it up as we go along, so it would be so helpful to have some kind of guidelines people could consult!

  • Call me M says:

    Amber, I couldn’t agree more with you on this. I’ve received similar emails from brands which want to advertise on my blog for free, and I had the same thoughts as you. I’m glad you made a post about it. You don’t have to be a big blogger to be paid for your work, and ads are not free. If you dedicate time to write a blog post, or if a brand wants to be advertised on your blog, of course you need to be paid for it or at least get something in return.

  • Rebecca says:

    Hi! I’ve just found your blog by way of Petite Panopoly. This is a fabulous post! Sometimes I feel gutted that my blog has so few readers and low traffic, but this post has made me appreciate that my blog following is teeny tiny and I don’t get any PR requests!

    -Regards,
    Rebecca
    Idealism Never Goes Out of Fashion
    http://mn2nz.wordpress.com

  • I completely agree with the sentiment of this. The idea that brands are trying to get us to buy our own creativity and writing is disgraceful.

    If we do reviews they are usually compared with similar products on the market to allow for choice and editorial integrity.

    Great article Amber and definitely love the site. Keep up the great work!

    • Amber says:

      “brands are trying to get us to buy our own creativity and writing ”

      I think you’ve managed to sum up in one sentence what took me a couple of thousand words! You’re so right: that’s exactly what it feels like, and as I said, it’s pretty clever of them to be able to convince people to pay to create content on their own sites, but not exactly ethical!

      • Exactly. You’ve certainly made me think twice about the kind of contact that brands send to me.

        As i said, keep up the great work and loving the fashion styles especially “Gingham Again” article

  • This is hilarious, I cannot even believe this is happening, therefore I am grateful you spend your time on writing this article to let others know how these things could work too. To be honest this is only second article I read about this, it looks like bloggers do not want to talk about these issues. There are actually more things I am interested in in the blogosphere, but it is really hard to find the answers. Thank you once again.

  • Myra says:

    I apologise for not reading every single one, but this topic is clearly one that you all feel passionate about. I agree with what people are saying: a gift is not a gift if the giver expects a positive review. The only freedom you have is to accept only the things you like (fine if you are getting a Chloe bag or a Prada outfit lol).
    Journalists have more freedom because they can write honest reviews of films or restaurants or theatre performances for one simple reason – their employer is not the brand – it is media organiser. In fashion, however, fashion media and fashion have a symbiotic relationship – without advertising big names like Vogue etc, could not exist and vice versa. They have a vested interest in promoting each other.

    Also, the problem of payment in fashion is endemic. A friend who interned for several large and well known high level media profile companies, for 18 months, in the hope of being employed in the fashion industry. She used up all of her savings, slept in damp shared flats and houses, and at times slept on all night buses. She reports that very few people are paid in fashion, eg fashion shoots where photographers are not always paid. They work for the byline.

    This takes us back to Victorian times when people worked long hours for years, damaging their health (my friend ended up home with a serious lung infection and pneumonia) .

    So I feel this is a much wider question – fashion brings in millions if not billions into the UK every year, and yet very few people are paid their worth. Recently, a fashion house offered a two week internship for £20,000. How many people have that kind of money to pay this – it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the only people who can work in couture fashion are the wealthy. No more Alexander McQueens, who would not have had these funds.

    Having said all that I completely agree with your views on being paid for your work. Blogging is a new profession, and is the future as circulation of hard copies is quickly reducing, online posting is the future, although you will be competing with the established media. Perhaps you should be paid by brands according to your readership.

    I wish you all success and a just economic future

  • Irina says:

    Amen to this article! You’re so on point here, Amber! Thank you for publishing it. I hope every PR firm and marketing team will get to read this one day.

    Best wishes,
    Irina

  • Lee says:

    Hi Amber…interesting comments. Food for thought for me, as I’m keen to start another blogging project. I had a very general and random blog for ages but I’m thinking about doing something around my passion for photography, especially landscape stuff. It’s crazy what people try to get you to do for nothing – I wonder if some of it is down to an expectation that everything on the Internet should be free. I hope to be able to promote my work and get some income from any future blogging projects, so your honest account here is very useful.

    • Amber says:

      I definitely think there’s a perception that the internet “doesn’t really matter”, or is less important than the print media: I guess it comes from the fact that literally ANYONE can create content and self-publish it on the internet, whereas it’s much, much harder to get your work published in the traditional media. I think what it comes back to, though, is my point that if a brand indicates that your work is valuable to them (by asking to be featured on your site, or to use your writing/images), then it really doesn’t matter where they found it – it’s worth something, so they should expect to pay something!

      Best of luck with your photography venture – I had a look at your site and noticed some familiar locations!

  • Lee says:

    Thanks – plenty of familiar locations on your blog too. :) I think a balance has to be struck between what you do for money and what you do for free in the hope of future exposure. In the photography world, giving time and work away for free in an attempt to get known is common, but it’s rarely successful and it infuriates professional photographers by making people unwilling to pay.

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