I’ve been blogging at FrugalBeautiful.com for three years now. By no means am I a superstar blogger in comparison to some, but I do earn income and cool perks from my blog- I treat it like a business and I use it to help pay my bills. I treat my blogs like a business with regular “office hours,” regular content, and of course, I pay my taxes.
Blogging as a business is the “wild west” of career paths. It hasn’t been around long enough, there aren’t traditional certification steps to go through to become one, and it is rapidly evolving. From the marketing perspective, influencer marketing as a tried-and-true tactic is even more unwieldy and many businesses have no idea how to work with bloggers, though they know they want to. Many traditional marketers who built their careers and corporate structures who built their budgets around traditional marketing such as radio, TV and print ads, are still playing catchup to the social space.
I feel very fortunate that I have worked both as a problogger and as a social media marketer for an established corporation as well as a variety of clients through the years. Having this experience, I can tell you that much of the “PR” geared towards bloggers is complete and utter malarkey. (A.K.A. “BS”).
On any given morning I can wake up to about 5-10+ emails from established marketing agencies and large corporations who should know better, but send out hundreds of PR emails to bloggers asking us to “share this great new product with our readers.” Some are random press releases, others are quite detailed pitches to heavily promote large corporate campaigns, install sidebar widgets, share infographics or join their “influencer” (quotes here for a reason) to write content for them or share their latest product launch.
These emails come loaded with compliments- “You have an amazing blog, it’s impressive how many readers you’ve built up in such a short amount of time!” or “Your photos are really great, you obviously put a lot of thought into your product reviews!” but when it comes down to brass tacks and I counter, “Thank you for your kind words, I would absolutely love to feature your business/product on my blog! Would you like my availability and rates?” They immediately curb the sweet talk- “Sorry, we love your blog and really love the work you do, but we currently don’t have a marketing budget for this type of promotion.”
This same scenario plays out several times a week- from big name companies you’ve heard on the radio, seen on TV and or in local newspapers and beyond. “We have no marketing budget for blogger features.” Really?
Here’s the problem with problogging- the bigger you get, the more people emails like this you get. The problem lies in the sheer amount of blood boiling requests you get each day that go nowhere and are sometimes turn to insults when you ask for even ANYTHING in return in order to write up a product review or feature their brand- many won’t even offer samples for bloggers to take pictures with.
I’m not talking about just simply reposting a press release (which I won’t do and you shouldn’t either if you want Google to like you..something they don’t understand) but I’m talking about requests that take considerable time and effort while offering tremendous value to their brand. Reposting stock photos and catalog shots and press releases is not how blogging works….and that’s why they’re pitching us in the first place- it’s a different space to talk about topics.
95% of the time when I simply ask “would you like my rates?” without even specifying what I would charge, I either hear crickets or am told they have no budget. Who knows, I could charge $1 for a blog post- but the conversation doesn’t even get that far, it becomes instantly and abundantly clear that they ain’t payin to cover your time, not even your influence/real estate on a blog that sees over 120,000 pageviews a month.
I stayed mum about this for a long time, but after seeing this great article from Mini Penny, The Dirty Side Of Blogging/We Don’t Have A Marketing Budget, and receiving about 15 additionally infuriating emails of my own in the past week, I think it’s due time to call a spade a spade and throw my hat into the ring.
Here’s just one email I received- someone wanted me to review a $35 product, (with a video too, several back links and social media promotion, that’d be great!) after buttering me up with compliments and saying how much they valued my blog. Of course, things got dicey when I simply stated “Would you like my rate card and availability for this feature?” and immediately shut down discussions. Nevermind the fact that I hadn’t given them a number. I could have charged $5 for a post- but the point is, many PR firms want free press (that’s their job.) As bloggers, we have to put a stop to breaking our backs to make money for someone else.
Follow our discussion:
“Sometimes, like in your case, we see a blogger that seems to be doing professional work, but we do not pay for reviews. That would make it paid advertising and it would have to be labeled as such. This would take away from the integrity of the brand.”
“Does it really take away from the integrity of the brand? Many notable companies that I’ve worked with have helped compensate bloggers for their time just as they do for their marketing staff. Brands such as PUMA, Under Armour, Disney, Kraft Foods, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and Godiva are just a few. Yes, you disclose, but it also shows that the brand cares about their blogger to treat them professionally, not that they’re “buying” or bribing for a review.With FTC complaint disclosure, transparency is integrity. I get paid to do marketing for a large corporation that pays bloggers for their reviews, I also have been compensated for my time by other companies for the work I do. This differs from traditional “ad space.” Compensation doesn’t decrease the potency of a feature or decrease integrity…usually for bloggers it means that you care about their time and actually value their influence enough to help them cover the real time & expense of running an influential blog. “
We parted on good terms, well, less volatile terms, but this is honestly how it goes time after time. (Luckily not always that bluntly, but I had enough of the ping-pong with random emailers that week) Well, that’s a PR agency… I get hundreds of these emails a week with the most random press releases I’d ever read, most of the time they get deleted simply because I don’t even have the time to craft a “why are you emailing this to me?” response.
So, agencies are what they are, but what happens when a BIG BRAND (you know, one you’ve seen on TV and in magazines!) approaches you?
Just this week I was approached by a national brand who I have seen spend thousands upon thousands on Google Adsense and Facebook Ads (I can tell you that because of my day job, I know much a company of their size spends on online advertising, usually $50-100,000.)
This well known brand wanted me to put together a fashion post that was inspired by their product. Their “ask” was so specific, it was astounding and sounded like the paid campaigns brands had invited me to previously. Estimating the work involved would have meant setting up a photo shoot at home, writing content and perhaps a trip to the store to get supplies. Additionally, they wanted me to link to their social media accounts, their product page and promote on my channels. This major post would cost me about 6 hours of work and would be put front and center on my social media channels- I’m by no means a megablogger, but my audience is awesome and I care about what I promote on social media.
Maybe influence doesn’t matter, but backlinks and clicks do. My site drives traffic. Argue about the “value of influence” all you wish, but I can tell you that my blog drives traffic, sales and lingers in search engine results and on Pinterest for longtail exposure. The numbers speak for themselves even if you feel that blogger “influence” is worthless, the money talks!
Anyhoo- when I asked about this major brand’s budget for this huge post, which had some pretty constrained specs (it sounded like a campaign pitch that I’ve seen countless times in my day job when we work with bloggers), they countered that my reward for a post that would take an estimated 6 hours of my day, would be EXPOSURE.
“Once you have shared the post on your blog, we will be choosing some of our favorites to feature on our social media sites throughout the month of January.”
I can tell you that if you’re trying to pay your bills or heck, even simply grow your blog, I can tell you that the PROMISE OF “social media exposure” is not sufficient payment for your hard work. Time after time, I’ve talked to bloggers who were “featured by a major brand,” and they often report that the traffic was sparse and unsustainable. Worse yet, for this pitch, it wasn’t even a sure thing- they would “feature their favorites.” GREAT. Oh, and this pitch was sent a few days ago- so rush to get it done by the end of January bloggers, and maybe they’ll feature you this month! REALLY?
Here’s the worst part yet- I have more Twitter followers than they do & my Facebook page gets more comments per post.
*and by no means are my stats bragworthy, but honestly… if you’re going to sell me on exposure, you need to know what you’re selling!
I don’t even HAVE that many followers, but if you’re going to make me feel cheap by offering me no money, at least try to sell me on the grandeur of “exposure,” not a lateral move. I get better cross promotion for free from my fellow bloggers who ahem, actually get click thrus and engagement on their social media posts. (Perhaps because blogger influence is worth something?)
Just a side note- I develop social media strategy all day for my day job. I can tell you that even if a brand has millions of followers on social, that doesn’t mean that their posts and touts convert. Bloggers, if a large brand approaches you with “social media touts” as payment, I can tell you- I see these analytics all the time and without ad spend, their posts don’t convert as well as you’d hope, or even as your stuff does (you know, you small insignificant blogger who surely can’t be as influential as a large brand who spends millions on ads but wants you to write for free).
Not only does “exposure” not pay your bills, but chances are, it won’t even provide you a miniscule return on investment for your time for a variety of factors including changes in Facebook’s Edgerank changes, ad spend on other posts, and what demographics they’ve targeted with their ad spend. (Like if they’ve spent $80k to get more middle aged parents in the the NYC area to like their Facebook page and you’re a 20 something lifestyle blogger in California, you have no idea how they’ve strategically built their followings, numbers don’t tell the whole story).
Despite this, I still love blogging and believe it can be a viable business for blogs of all sizes. I get about 15 random press releases a day, I probably get 4 or 5 ridiculous “work for free” type requests (like the ones mentioned above), and a ton of random, unsolicited “guest posts” emails each and every day. I still will do reviews on products without charging for it, and I will be happy to share a product I believe in on social because I want to- but truly, it needs to be a win-win.
I work with small businesses, startups, Etsy sellers and entrepreneurs because I choose to. Where I lose my patience is when I get bullied by large companies or even small ones who shut down discussions about compensation before they even know what my rates are simply because they refuse to explore the option. For marketing/PR firms, they are doing their brand a disservice and for bloggers that take these posts, I hope we can rise the tide for all boats and ask for fairness.
Now- to be fair, I can see why some brands would see “paid blogging” as tampering with genuine content or make a review post into an ad. To a point, I totally understand, since blogging is great because it’s not traditional advertising. The problem is, most brands seem to be coming at bloggers with the hope that they can use “genuine content” as an excuse to not pay at all. Unlike magazine editors, we’ve cultivated big audiences, targeted audiences and our posts have longer shelf life on the net than a traditional print magazine but we don’t get a salary from it.
Anticipating that a blogger who gets more pageviews than the local paper has subscription, to feature your stuff (and spend hours doing it) for free is not just unrealistic, it’s ridiculous. If a blogger wants to blog for a free $35 product for the purpose of a review (with disclosure) that’s her perogative, but when you target a blogger specifically for the amount of traffic she gets or her influence you can’t have your cake and eat it too- if you want great content and sizable reach in a professional package, you’ll have to pay for it. If she is out of budget, fine..but please, for the love of crackers, humor us and have a budget.