I recently found some genius website that rates your blog’s worth. For the record? Mom-101= $2,258.16.
Which actually sounds a little high to me. I’d sell it for $926 even and some chocolate-covered pretzels.
But there’s no algorithm, no dandy widget, no magic formula that helps determine our value as bloggers to marketers. Because really, what the heck is a blogger anyway?
We’re writers, we’re evangelists, we’re consultants, we’re consumers, we’re influencers. We’re journalers and we’re journalists. We’re humorists who humiliate our dogs to get a good post out of it. Some of us are marketers when we’re not blogging. Some of us are trying to be marketers through blogging. Some of us are actual Social Media Gurus who can lend real expertise and strategic smarts to a brand. Some of us just call ourselves Social Media Gurus because it looks better on a Linked In profile than I’m Addicted to Twittering Dumb Crap All Day with People I Don’t Know.
I think marketers are confused as to what to do with us. So I’m not surprised that we’re confused about what to do with them.
Lately I’m seeing a lot of: Are we sell-outs if we get paid? Are we sell-outs if we don’t get paid? Why shouldn’t I get paid for reviews? Can you blog with integrity even if you make money? Why should I get paid to write for another site if it brings attention to my blog? And who cares what I do anyway, it’s my business and shut up, and stop trying to be the boss of me!
Last week, a friend from a big ad agency asked to pick my brain on mom blogging. I asked her to bring me in and pay me for a few hours at my consulting rate. I got it.
Also last week, a big PR firm I respect asked me to lend my name to an event for a major brand, help them promote it and get other bloggers to the event. I asked for more than the small sum than they were offering. I didn’t get it. No hard feelings. But I’m not hosting the event.
When I’m attending an event as press, there to find content for my own blog that’s of value to my readers, I would never think to ask for compensation. Eek. Bad form bad form! When I’m sent a product as a tool for a review that benefits my readers, I would never ask for compensation either. But when I’m asked to sit down, learn about a brand, and then brainstorm for them and lend my expertise as a blogger and marketer, I’ve got to say, “thanks for the free deli platter but I’m going to need a check.”
See, wearing different hats. That’s what makes it so confusing.
I have been saying long before WalMart moms or Frito-Lay moms or Wii Moms or The Golden Brigade of Mombloggers for Twinkies or whatever; long before there were brand-blogger “programs” and long before the explosion of mom blogs in the mainstream media, that you should stand up for yourself and know your worth.
So what is it? Hm. You have to figure that out. All I can tell you is that it’s not zero.
Are all bloggers the same value to marketers? No more than George Clooney is worth the same to a movie studio as Pauly Shore. But all bloggers are worth something. And even Pauly Shore gets paid more than a gift card to make an appearance at a little league game on behalf of a marketer. (At least I hope so.)
Of course as bloggers – or writers, really – sometimes we just have to bite the bullet and publish for free as a way of demonstrating our capabilities. Huffington Post gets a lot of flack for not paying their writers as a business model. I agree. But I published an essay there and am proud to pimp it out as a credential any chance I can get. It gave me some credibility as a writer early on, and that’s what writers do. I also have published posts for free on friends’ blogs to help them out. (Speaking of which, want to check out my five pop culture guilty pleasures on Mama Pop?)
The difference is, what I do for free, I’m doing to promote my own writing.
I strongly believe that when a blogger is in the service of a marketer, and especially big brands–you know, the ones who can afford PR agencies and ad agencies and media buyers and season tickets to the Yankees–it’s not the same thing at all.
I have been on the ad agency side for 20 years. I’ve seen the degree to which some brands will go to pay as little as they should to those who provide valuable services for them. I’ve seen CEOs who fly private jets while refusing to book SAG talent in their commercials because they didn’t want to pay residuals to struggling actors. I’ve seen brands that shout their conservative Christian values from the rooftop, though they play fast and loose with loopholes to avoid paying their bills. And now I’m seeing big brands who think it’s okay to pay bloggers–especially those cute little mommybloggers who aren’t really professionals anyway–in $20 Visa gift cards. Or better, make them one of the following generous, generous offers:
I could tell you the traffic I get from big corporate blogs that have linked me. While it’s always kind, and always welcome, it’s rarely enough monthly visitors to get a pickup basketball game going.
So am I down on marketers? Not even. Not their fault for keeping the bottom line tight. All it mean is that we bloggers have a strong strong responsibility in this equation. To ourselves. And to each other.
Yes, to each other.
(Yeah, there I go with my wacky community theory again.)
Recently I’ve seen a lot of posts, like this very good one from Christine Young about the WalMart eleven mom program in which the conventional wisdom from commenters seems to be “Well if the blogger is happy with the agreement, then isn’t that good enough?”
In my opinion no, that isn’t good enough.
Just because you are willing to do something doesn’t make it right.
If 8 year-olds in Malaysia are happy to work 14 hour days in sweatshops because it helps support their families is that right? If women are happy to work at jobs for 55% less than their male counterparts is that right?
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no. And I think Gloria Steinem would back me up on this one.
So would my mom.
This isn’t about the WalMart program in particular at all, by the way. (Although I do think that the highest profile corporate-backed mombloggers are setting standards for the entire community whether they opted for that or not.) This is about understanding that any time a big brand asks you to do work on their behalf, post their badges, represent them at conferences, wear their clothes, or pose in photos with their giant corporate mascots, it is not a favor for you.
Even if it is fun. Even if it’s “free trip” to a conference. Their PR folks are also getting their airfare and hotels paid for, and a salary on top of it. Trust me.
Someone has to be the first to say, “No, we won’t work for links. We won’t work for free sandwiches. And we won’t work because it made us feel so gosh-darn tingly and happy inside that you think I have a voice worth hearing.”
Of course you do. Did you need a brand to validate that?
So stop it, women. Just, stop it. (And you men should stop it too, although you don’t have the weight of decades of pay inequality that we’re still battling.)
If you don’t charge a fair wage to promote a big brand, you diminish what all of us can earn. And then yes, that is my business.
As my mom told me when we were discussing this last night, we have no union. We have no one to fight for us.
We have to be able to find a voice together.
Edited to add: I want to make it clear that this is not a post in any way advocating that bloggers should be paid for product reviews. I’m referring to events, programs, and larger ongoing relationships bloggers are starting to have with brands.
136 thoughts on “What are you worth as a blogger?”
Wow, so spot on, and such an entrenched issue that some people are forgetting to keep up the argument. I've seen people refer to bloggers, mommybloggers specifically, as greedy for the perks and products and attention, but seriously? It's not greed so much as a knowledge of what other people in a different dempgraphic are being paid for the same kind of exposure.
Great post, once again.
I just told a 'major' mom-blogger PR firm that 'my time is valuable' and that I would review their product for $50.
I wouldn't even NEED them to send the product because I own a buttload of them and am a brand enthusiast.
Their response? “We're not accepting paid reviews at this time.”
Which is TOTES fine. Not sure they realized, though, that the 2 free products they were offering to me were, with shipping, almost as much as $50.
Great post, Liz. You've put to words many of my thoughts.
All for one, and one for all.
You inspire me as a woman and a writer. Thanks for this.
AMEN!!!! Sing it!
Thanks VDog but I have to say, I'm in the no paid review camp.
If your readership is not served by reviews, you shouldn't do them at all.
If they are, then the review should be fun content for you. I love this HP printer review at Anissa Mahew's place: It's so fun, it actually makes me want to read her blog more. Isn't that really the compensation?
(See, I told you this stuff was confusing!)
Also (ugh, sorry to go on about this but I guess it's important)
PR often doesn't have a budget to pay for reviews. Their effectiveness to their clients is “earned” (as in, unpaid) placements. Money would come from an ad agency or media buying company, generally not from PR.
Paid placements also call into question the validity of the review for the brand, particularly big ones that generally engage with mainstream journalists. So…
I would disagree, Liz, but *I* know my reviews are honest. And I get your point — I do.
But if someone wants to ASK me to review something? They need to pay.
If I get something I LOVE and I want to write it up? Fair game. No payment.
I always include a full disclaimer on whether or not I am paid for the review and how it has affected the review if at all.
I also don't DO many reviews, so I think that's a different ballgame.
If your whole gig is reviews? I don't know which way that cuts.
And I loved Anissa's review, too.
I would argue that most of my 'paid' reviews also build my brand and make people want to come back because I do it VDog cracker style. And that's what my readers expect.
This post is a great resource not just for bloggers who are confused about their worth, but for marketers looking to jump on the bandwagon of word of mouth marketing.
VDog, regarding asking for money for the content that's in the body of your site. That makes it advertising, which is fine if you have a big ADVERTISING heading over the top. Let's discuss over mimosas and makeup next week!
Doh! In the time I wrote my comment, Liz and Vdog already had an exchange. I am slow.
Thanks for writing. This is a great guide for someone just starting out and planning their revenue streams.
Whitney — I would argue that ALL reviews are advertising, paid or not.
But yes, let's discuss over make-up and mimosas (at the e.l.f. party I am hosting and NOT GETTING PAID CASH MONEY FOR because I love working with Ted and hey, I'll get some makeup out of it. And it might even just build my brand. Heh.).
“When I'm sent a product as a tool for a review that benefits my readers, I would never ask for compensation either.”
I don't think bloggers should be doing big ads on their blogs (reviews are advertising and marketing) for free. Product = free.
If they send you a product they are implicitly asking you to advertise and market their product. They know it. You know it. Mothers should stop “putting themselves on sale” as Suze Orman says.
Sell your self for toothpaste, jewelry, cosmetics or cereal? Stop it!!!
Brilliant post as usual Liz.
Bottom line, OPPORTUNITY CAN BE DANGEROUS. Meaning, there's something flattering about somebody approaching you and wanting you even if the arrangement really isn’t in your best interest. The best personal example I can offer is this: after finishing my M.A. and thinking “I hate this academic sh*t, I am really good at building websites and I love designing and I would get paid a lot more… get me the hell out of here!”
But I applied to Ph.D. programs anyway, probably curious about whether I could get in. And as soon as those acceptance letters started rolling in (especially the Ivy League one) I lost my mind in the face of opportunity and offers and said yes and went back for more.
Now here I am 10 years later and I’ve left academia and I’m designing and building websites, among other things. Billing hours for my editing and design work has forced me to think about what my time is worth. And it’s been helpful to apply that to all of the “opportunities” that arise from the blog world as well.
I can only hope that bloggers will start valuing their time and saying no (or pushing back for proper compensation in consulting type situations you described); otherwise, we'll never see an end to this promised link and traffic nonsense.
Wow, great post. Thank you for raising something that I honestly hadn't thought about much. I now will!
Keep hammering the message!! Maybe, just maybe, the readers will read for comprehension and finally GET it.
You have years of experience and know how as an industry professional. It's time that those in the blogger world learn from that, learn how the industry works and what and when compensation is necessary.
I dare say, its going to be some time, but sooner or later…..
we can hope.
The flattery. You nailed it there. Wow.
I am going to keep this one in my back pocket to show to clients in meetings who think they can just get a bunch of bloggers and POOF have a winning promotion. As always your writing rocks and you manage to say what you are thinking with class and much needed humor.
When I talk about receiving a product for review, I'm describing my role as editor of Cool Mom Picks which operates more like a magazine than a personal review blog (which is what I think you're describing). We give most of the items away to readers at our own expense and are not at all limited in our content by what is sent to us.
But point taken – even if it doesn't apply to me.
Thank you Jen! That means a lot coming from you.
I had your voice in my head when I wrote this: “Marketers must not know what to do with you!”
Very well said, of course:). Thanks for sharing… really. I'm reminded of 8th grade history (8th??) with the union strikes and 'scabs'. Ugh. Very disappointing at times for sure and difficult to work around.
Get it together girls!
I absolutely agree that all writers/bloggers should charge for think-tank-type collaborations. But don't you think that sometimes unpaid “resume building” is necessary? For example, MANY actors do student films when they're starting out so they can build their reel. Their only payment is food during the shoot and the footage for their reel. I've found that many bloggers take the unpaid opportunities so they can show down the line that they are worth the paid gigs. Not everyone can charge from the get-go, you know? Nor should they.
This is a fabulous post. I love that you do a great job conveying an important message. It is salient, well-written and an important theme looking forward. Thanks for being a voice for all of us.
Heather, I do agree that there are times to prove your worth as a writer (or actor or artist) which is why I made the point about my Huffington Post article.
But if a marketer is reaching out to you to work with them on an ongoing basis, to be their evangelists or represent them in some way, you've already passed that point.
Indie student films may not be able to pay their writers, but Universal sure does. Even-first time extras get more than lunch.
so so smart and needed…And I think it is a great message to share. I met GS once and she told me personally “Amy Turn- be a woman that takes no shit!”
I have always held that in my head.
Take no shit.
I heart u.
There are a lot of topics we don't see eye to eye on but this one I most certainly agree with. In some ways, I wish blogger would unionize to some extent. Develop some standards, generate a pay scale to use as an example, remind ourselves that we are worth more than $3 box of snack cakes.
Bloggers are writers and if what we're writing is worth reading or putting on the face of a brand then it's worth paying for! Keep up the good work:)
Thank you Cat.
Maybe you'll start it!
Liz, Thank you so much for this post. I am just beginning to dip my toe in all of this. I want to be very careful to not cheapen the quality of my voice nor do I want to alienate readers AND friends of my blog. These are thoughts I need to carefully consider and I appreciate you taking the time to write these articles.
At this point, I am simply not comfortable doing paid reviews. I do not like reading them and would not feel right in writing them. I have received a few solicitations and each one did not feel right in my gut. Articles such as your articulate precisely why my gut rumbles as the thought doing them.
Furthermore, I will continue to be careful with which products I accept for free. My time and my voice are both potentially valuable and I need to see MYSELF in that vein as well.
Thanks again for writing this and encouraging ALL of us to hold ourselves to a higher value as well.
Incredible article, very inspiring. Although Etsy has been accused of some questionable business practices when it comes to their sellers, I take notice that one of their introductory emails mentioned something important about setting your price. Don't undervalue your work. It doesn't help you or the next guy. If you believe your creativity, thought, and time is worth X then ask for it…demand it.
Wow. This post was so articulate and accurate, and mind-blowing! Thank you for speaking on our behalf in such a graceful way!
I'm still puzzled on how to pursue exposure, and how to not look desperate, or on-the-cheap. I'm not sure why a blog such as ours with over 1300 subscribers/1 million pv's and others like ours are being ignored/missed, while others seem to be picked for gigs and freebees over and over. If you have any answers or ideas, I'm open…
Blogging these days is so much different than it was just a few years ago, when it was only done for the joy of writing. Now, it's all just confusing.
Yes, when people say they want to pick my brain, I politely tell them that “brain picking” is listed under my special skills on my resume.
Oh this is so wonderfully written. I. . .I might have to print this bad boy out and put it over my desk.
Amen and halle-freakin-lujah for this post! I recently got contacted by a major parenting magazine to be part of their “mom blogger panel” with a flattering email. Fine, I thought I would try it, see what happens, blah blah. Next thing I know, their “communications consultant” is emailing me to promote their new fall program/ contest thing-y which had zero relevance to my child or my site. After I told them this, and inquired if this was their intention for their “panel,” I got another sugary sweet email about “wont I consider writing about it?”
Needless to say I politely declined. As you say, you have to pick what's worth it and not (HuffPo, totally worth it.)
There's too much temptation for those bloggers out there not familiar with the inner workings of PR or advertising to take what companies and agencies throw out and offer because people like free stuff and it seems on the outside like a real deal and it's cool.
But as you rightly say, it's so not cool for us to do the dirty work of people getting paid nice salaries if we don't get a share of it.
I think we need not only these discussions, but formal education through seminars, conferences, what have you, where people can learn just how these programs work, and PR/ advertising, whomever can learn to put a line item in their budget for “social media outreach” – i.e. fair compensation and reward for brain-picking, idea-hatching and program promotion.
That's enough rambling for now! going to RT this!
Excellently written. Agreed, it is totally complicated. I guess that's why I'm falling off the bandwagon. It's not “fun” anymore. Too many politics involved.
Brilliantly written, as always, my friend. I totally agree with some of this post and completely disagree with other parts of it but that's also kind of what I love about it. It forces me to think about the issue and say “I agree…that is important to me” or “That is completely contrary my personal code of ethics”. In fact, I didn't actually realize I had much of a code of ethics at all before this whole discussion because I'd never thought about it. I think this very subject is a tough one (but a great one) because it forces your reader to decide for themselves what they personally believe in *before* they are approached by a marketer. For some people, any review done after getting a free product is unethical for them. Others see unpaid reviews as something bringing down the market value of the voices we have as bloggers. Still others think that advertising on blogs or getting paid for blogging expertise automatically puts the bloggers motivations into question or creates a conflict of interest. Personally I think it's up to each of us to develop our own unique code of ethics and to consider what we are really worth (and what exactly is for sale) *before* we're asked to name our price.
I stopped doing as many reviews because I realized I didn't want free stuff or the paltry amount they would pay to try and squeeze something good out of nothing.
I select my reviews based on their relevance in my day to day life…I want to know that if I tell someone that I liked it and encourage them to try it, I can back that up.
I have a GREAT relationship with the readers on my blog…jeopardizing that for some detergent or a few books just isn't worth it.
I took Blogher ads off my site so that I could do my reviews straight on my full time blog, but my goal is to integrate them with as much honesty and genuine writing as any other post.
They should still be interesting for my readers…and if I can't do that, then I don't have any business posting the reviews on my site at all.
I appreciate that you liked my review…that means a lot.
Jenny I couldn't agree more. Everyone has to set her own price and limits, but we should be aware that our decisions can impact other people.
I was definitely thinking less about product reviews per se when I wrote this and more all the other stuff bloggers are increasingly being asked to do by marketers. But it's all intertwined in one crazy mess.
And you do have ethics! (Except for the stuff about the stealing the toilet paper.)
So, to clarify: If you agree to review a product, you give your honest opinion of it. Maybe you like it, maybe you don't. Presumably your readers trust your opinion; and presumably there's a reasonable expectation that your readers will act on your opinion, or at least help spread the word.
A PR agency would not want to pay you for the review mainly because the company can't control the message. Yes?
Whereas with a paid advertisement, the ad says exactly what the company wants it to say, and your opinion is largely irrelevant.
Is that right?
There are three basic things at play here:
A PR person doesn't pay you for a review because they're not being hired to generate paid placements (advertising/advertorial). They're being paid to generate “earned” placements (editorial). So a review, typically using MSM standards is something that's on brand for your publication and relevant to your readers. It's not a quid pro quo for product or cash.
(I know it's a little off topic but…)
Think about the difference between the clothes featured in Redbook and the ones in Vogue. They have tight editorial standards and rely on PR to help generate content in line with those standards. You don't see Hermes in Redbook and you don't see JC Penney in Vogue.
That's what PR thinks they're dealing with with bloggers. So it's confusing when suddenly PR is getting asked for payment for reviews. It's more than confusing, it's shocking to them.
Other than advertorial there's no real precedent for consumers giving paid but “honest” product reviews (also called testimonials) which is in part why the FCC is stepping in to help sort it out for consumers.
There is gray area however in terms of endorsements, conversational marketing campaigns and advertorial – which is not entirely controlled by the brand although there are often key messages to communicate.
And then there's advertising which is 100% controlled by the brand.
As an ex-blogger (I say ex because I haven't touched my personal blog in almost 9mths…) and a small retail business owner who's both storefront and e-commerce, the intertwined-ness is truly very crazy and messy. There are fine lines are everywhere..
Liz, the article was articulate and refreshing, as you always are. I agreed with some of the comments and disagree with others. I appreciate reading everyone's point of views. Ultimately what we all individually do, either as a blogger or as a company, does affect other people/companies, coz The Internet kinda make the world small.
Confession: I totally did steal toilet paper at the mall when I first immigrated to America. How embarrassing. I should clarify, where I was born & lived most of my childhood life, toilet paper does not come free in most if not all public restrooms. And forget about soap.
It's an important conversation, and something that brings up something that's important to me. I think women are worth more than coupons, and the whole advertising/compensation thing has been bothering me for a while.
What I'd really like to see goes far beyond the “Do I accept advertising, do I not accept advertising, do I keep household products that I review” questions, and that is more women parlaying their blog into some big project for which they get paid. Actually paid. Like thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, or more, as appropriate.
I've done it with another site (not my personal blog), and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Blogging is a medium, people – and I'd like to see us use it to move women forward.
Thanks for another thought-provoking piece on this hornet's nest of an issue. I wish you lived closer to me so I could take you out to coffee and get to the bottom of this, in a real friendly way so I could avoid paying you your consulting rates. 😉
Such an inspiring post. I feel like such a kid leaving this comment though, I'm such a rookie! But I had to let you know that I got a lot from this post, and I enjoy reading all of your posts. You are truly an inspiration to rookie bloggers like me. 🙂
Excellent as usual, Gummybear.
I never really thought about this issue very much before, but I never read such a great argument either. You have definitely got me thinking and I may start making some changes in the way I do things. Thanks.
I went to school for Journalism and worked at a newspaper for a couple years… There are a lot of ethical and credibility issues involved in accepting payment, free merch, and sponsorships.
I'm glad to see Mommy Bloggers sticking up for themselves and calling out the companies that would like to take advantage of them. Just don't turn on each other, because unity is really what's needed. The marketers know all the rules because they've been dealing with journalists and editors for years. The same can't be said for many of the women out there that just want to write about their lives and happen to have an audience of women to listen.
Really really great article. As both a blogger and a PR person, I think this is a great point. Thanks for the insight!
Grizzleh Kitty, such a great point that a lot of bloggers are sort of falling into these relationships without any kind of business, marketing or journalism background and it's putting them at a disadvantage in a lot of ways.
I talked about that on the FIR podcast I did with Susan Getgood about Blog With Integrity– there's some naivete out there being mistaken for lack of integrity.
Really interesting post, especially since I'm a PR exec and a blogger.
I can tell you that PR has limited funds in general and we never ask someone to cover our brand for a fee. We do send product and we understand that we run the risk of a negative review. I certainly hope someone who didn't have a good experience with our brand would tell the truth, even if it hurts.
As a blogger, since I think of as more journalist than advertiser, don't want compensation for a review. I don't want to be obligated to give a good review.
But, that's just me. I think what we all need to understand is that we're responsible for negotiating what works best for us, as individual bloggers.
I'm so grateful for @COziscape for your RT. I really enjoyed reading your post.
Wow. Your post really hit home. As a mom who is in the process of starting my own PR agency with two other professional/hardworking women/moms, I'm spending my days and nights working my ass off. I'm taking in clients that are paying me next to nothing just to build up my agency. I know I'm being taken advantage of in many ways and frankly I'm eating a lot of (for lack of a better word) sh*t for it.
Your post made me open my eyes. Sure, I'm still going to lowball retainers to start because I'm struggling to survive and I want to make this thing work. But I need to learn when to say “no I can not promote your grand opening for a bar tab” and to do it tactfully.
HALL LEAH LOO YEAH!!!! Why is it that we (and by we I mean girl on girl action there, now we got the boys attention too!) do this to eachother? Why is it that corporations can objectify… hello Go Daddy and SI Swimsuit Edition (I dig both don't get me wrong) but we turn on eachother the minute someone starts making a buck or getting free birp rags? I hate to say it, but.. MAN UP GIRLS! We can blog when we want, about what we choose and for any price or prize we want to. SO THERE!
I tend to think the market supports what it will support, personally. I am usually a bleeding heart, but on this issue, I don't feel that other bloggers doing this kind of crap for free has an effect on me. I feel like they're getting what their time is worth, quite frankly, just as you getting your consulting fee is you getting what your time is worth. If people don't know to ask, then maybe free trips to conferences is as far as they'll go?
I don't know–this makes me think, for sure. But I'm wondering if it's less of a feminist issue and more of an intellectual labor issue? Because I wouldn't write for anyone for free, not even HuffPo, unless it was a personal favor to a friend. So everybody has their own set of rules, I guess.
Great thoughts here.
I love reading your insights about marketing. Maybe I'm biased cause you're also so dang cool – but I always think you are RIGHT ON!
I read this three times because I needed to “hear” it. It is a good set of “rules” in a away for those of use who get offers and are not sure how to respond. When I say we I mean me. 🙂
This post propped me up on a day when I needed a little something to lean on. Thanks.
Very well written and smart. Makes me what to write the history of Marketing to Moms so we can all see how far we've come yet how new all this really is.
I'm questioning my bloggity worth a lot, post-BlogHer. I enjoy doing reviews and don't expect to be compensated for them but I also reserve the right to take as long as I damn well please to run them. When it stops being fun, I suspect I will write about something else.
I finally got invited to a blogger event in NY but when I asked about travel and lodging they said it wasn't in the budget. And not a day later I find out a friend is being flown in from even further away than my middle-of-nowhere Kansas. I don't mind that I apparently don't have the clout to be expense-worthy but it is really insulting that these PR folks don't realize we bloggers talk amongst ourselves… it's like I was asked to the prom to be a designated driver or something.
Can't WAIT till somebody offers me free stuff so I can find out if I'm a Blogger with Integrity. Who knows?
Thanks Mom 101. You're smart.
I rarely read long posts – but this had me at “What are you worth?” I contemplate this as a writer when someone wants to pay me a penny per word or $10 per hour. I also have published columns and stories for nothing though, and like you said, when it promoted my own work and was something I initiated and wanted to do.
When it comes to the blog world, you know, I'm fascinated by all this. I agree and would hold up a sign if you wanted me to. But I don't feel like I'm part of the world that is catered to. Not at all. I get emails all the time about products, books, music, movies – all for little kids – all the PR folks asking me to give the info to my readers. I always reply and say my kids are teenagers and *poof* they're gone. Perhaps that's the benefit of being a niche inside a niche inside a niche.
I recently stopped being part of a group blog because they were paid for my work by an outside organization – but I did not get a penny. I still throw up a little in mouth when I think of that.
Thanks for these thoughts – you've led this discussion and you've been a very effective advocate.
When I see discussions like this develop, I think about entrepreneurship. And when one considers blogging in the context of entrepreneurship, the kinds of things you're talking about are really nothing more than common sense and readily accepted business principles.
For whatever the reason, some people in my industry have either failed to recognize or choose to ignore that so many bloggers are really entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship should be respected, even celebrated.
Reminds me to keep my game face on – it's my site, and these companies are getting something for nothing (or virtually nothing – just the cost of the sample product for the review). To that end, I like to remember that I'm not working for them. They're getting something from me, so it's on my terms. That alleviates a lot of stress.
These companies are used to the “something for nothing”, so when we start bucking up and wanting paid for consulting, etc-, they bulk. Eventually, they'll figure out we're worth it – but only if we get that straight to begin with.
Need I say more?
You really nailed it on the difference between blogging and working as a blogging consultant. Not the same thing.
I appreciate your voice on this. You are reasoned and articulate and you are working for a better community. Which, really, is what it's all about for me.
Great discussion. It goes to what my husband has been telling me for years – “Stop giving IT away for free!” I think that the turning point for me came last month when a marketer shared how many bookings that they had received from a (free) blurb in my members' newsletter. Instead of offering compensation, they asked if they could have another (free) blurb the next month. Uh, no!
(Having said that, I still don't think that money=worth.)
Naomi, I recently worked with a marketer who threw out the suggestion of paying some bloggers for something but not others. Eek. They quickly regretted the idea – so sometimes PR folks are a little naive about all this too. It's new territory for both of us.
And Amy Happymom –
Yes, you should be getting something too if you do a review – GREAT content for your blog and your readers! Something you're excited to write about. Something that inspires a post you'll be proud to have written when you look back on it.
That is worth way more than whatever cleaning product or artificial sweetener has come in the mail.
I'm not a blogger, I'm just a reader. I find your blog so interesting and insightful. I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts, even if I sometimes disagree with you (which isn't all too often).
Just wanted to say 'Thanks' for the often funny, touching and silly stories, as well as the serious, thoughtful and timely posts and commentary on the world around us.
I'm just starting out writing a mommy blog and love your site, lots of great ideas. I hope that I can have as many fans someday!
Great discussion and I think needed. I agree – a program that caliber as Elevenmoms has an impact to others in the market place or blogosphere or whatever you want to call it. I still personally thought that being IN the program gave me a better opportunity to impact on things that being outside the program telling them how it should be done.
That if I voiced my opinion – even for free, often without anyone asking it from me- it would have an impact not just for the Elevenmoms, but others as well. Some people outside the program take the time to write about it on their blogs – I took the time to talk directly to Walmart and their agency about it.
Now when I consult other companies and get paid for my time, I can take the experience with me (the good, the bad and the ugly of it) and hopefully make things better not just for one group of women, but all of us.
I agree with you Liz- I am not for paid reviews, but I too think everyone should be paid for consulting. And while I agree with that too – that the largest retailer of the world should pay for the consulting, it was still me who many times offered it for free, without them forcing or asking it. Yes, that gave me the warm and fuzzy feeling, helped to build my resume AND helped to get paid opportunities for many women in the space, including Elevenmoms.
Thanks so much for weighing in Katya, it's much appreciated.
I want to be clear that this is in no way an analysis of the WalMart program, although I did mention it.
And thank you for whatever work you have done that will make it easier on other women and bloggers.
So, now that we're there…
how do we get past the giving it away for free because of the warm fuzzy feeling?
If you and other corporate-backed bloggers have already laid the groundwork for the paid relationships, isn't it now time that those relationships are in fact compensated fairly?
Great post; I read it yesterday and stopped back into read the many comments that have been posted since then. This is a great discussion.
As a blogger and, as one reader called it, ablogging consultant,, this is all very interesting and timely. Especially given that Jessica Smith wrote a post earlier this month pondering whether Dad Bloggers will be the Next. Big. Thing. http://jessicaknows.com/2009/08/will-2010-be-the-year-of-the-daddy-blogger/ (Will they get paid more than we do? A whole other post topic.)
I think that even for the best intentioned and most informed marketers and PR folks we mombloggers are a tough crowd. The kind of review opportunity you might accept for free as a benefit to your readers might the kind I would only do if paid (in theory, that is because I don't do paid reviews). It can all get very murky, especially if they don't know the space.
As you may know, I'm a huge advocate of companies hiring bloggers like me, you, or many of the women who have commented here to be there virtual tour guide to the momspace, a Social Media Mom if your will. (Explanation/shameless self-promo at http://tinyurl.com/3lgh33)
I am working closely with a company and their PR firm now for pay. I used to make myself readily available for brain-picking at no charge, you know, because I'm nice and helpful like that, but I've put an end to that. I've been burned and taken for granted too many times. I'm going with Motherhood Uncensored and adding it to my “special skills” section.
There's so much food for thought and blog fodder here. I hope this post will spin off several thought-provoking posts—and that I have time to read them all.
Mama Liz, this post is like a sweet melody, a stern kick in the pants- and EXACTLY what ALL of US mom bloggers need, Thank you!
Liz – I know it's not about Elevenmoms – and this discussion should not be about Elevenmoms – but about ALL of us.
I think only way we can get past for giving it for free is saying NO to giving it for free.
My experience is though that when one says no, the PR people, the companies etc. keep going until they find someone who says yes. But when enough people say no enough many times, things will change.
It is difficult, because like we have discussed earlier, there are always those who are happy with a 20$ gift card or a conference sponsorship. It's difficult to go and say to someone, “say no to X, you should be getting Y”, when the person herself is so excited to even get X.
Don't you think we are all different and have different levels or expertize or influence or traffic or whatever we offer, and we should be paid accordingly? It would be as wrong to say that consulting should pay Z dollars per hour, because surely there are people who deserve 2Z and those who only deserve 0.5Z – the better you are, the more you should be paid, no?
Oh, and you already mentioned a great example of bloggers who have laid the groundwork and are being paid well to write and work – Dooce & co and Target. It would be ridiculous to say that everyone should be paid as much as Dooce.
I like how you talk about the areas of focus within corporations, as I don't think many people have that as an experience base. One core problem is that what bloggers can offer is a hybrid of all of those silos in old-school consumer marketing. Comments from our readers, their click-through behavior, and our interpretations can be better than a focus group. We advertise, endorse and are message liasons. But we don't line up as matching puzzle pieces to the R&D, advertising and PR folks. You can tell that different trips and events have different goals, but that isn't articulated very well. I agree with you, we have to lead them, in compensation models and in how to use us.
Deb OH MY GOSH you are smart. I mostly understood that comment (heh) and I think it's just great.
Katja, of course I agree – see also my bad George Clooney/Pauly Shore example above. I don't think that a marketer engaging with Dooce is going to pay her the same as someone engaging with JadynnesHappyMommy.com and I think that your pay scale, as in any industry, is what the market will bear.
That said, the market is currently bearing zero a lot of the time.
How about we start with naming a number? “I'll host and promote your event, but for $500 – not for links and the chance to lend my name to a fun party.”
What you said, my friend! I've thought many of these things for a long time and work hard to convince those who should be paying us for the work you describe. Interestingly , one of my first paid gigs came from an all guy agency and I was approached with the question of ,”What is your hourly rate?” When I was approached by someone I know at a woman-owned business, they were a little surprised that I mentioned an hourly fee for consulting and said they thought I'd welcome such a good “opportunity” to work for a cause.
As women, I think we find it hard to say no to our “sisters,” and it is difficult for many of us to ask for what we are worth. I work hard at it every day — whether it's writing or consulting. Here's hoping we'll all get better at it — it will be to our collective benefit in the long run.
Liz, as always this is very helpful and insightful.
One thing that drives me crazy is how these large companies continue to do this. It is not only shameful but it is not in their interest long-term. Bad Business, I say.
Katja, I take your point about you offering the advice for free originally. I don’t know the specifics of any relationships out there. But if I were running a company that was getting consulting advice, I would OFFER to pay for it.
Why? Because it sets the tone of professionalism that as a company you want AND ultimately you get the best out of the person whose brain “you’re picking.” It becomes a WIN/WIN situation.
In the course of running Alpha Mom for the past few years, dozens and dozens of times writers have offered to write for us for free. Some of these bloggers are well-established and others not. I always turn down every free offer to write for us, as difficult as it may be. If I don’t have a budget to pay a writer, then unfortunately I cannot accept their work (my short-term loss).
But I do it because I think accepting free work is a slippery slope and is not fair to anyone (including Alpha Mom).
By the way, when a company/ PR firm hires a mom blogger “from the front lines” to help them, my consideration of that company goes up immensely as it becomes clear they are making inroads to authentically understand the community, they are giving moms in the community well-earned jobs, and are ultimately helping shape the development of the community I love and cherish so much.
Liz – you are spot on with this post. And I do want to clarify further with bloggers that there is a huge difference when a PR firm reaches out to you to review a product vs. when a marketing company invites you to host an event or participate in focus groups or as a spokesperson.
If you are asked to review a product on a your blog, you are being treated like a journalist (even if you may be a citizen journalist for now). Paid reviews are really advertorials that are funded by marketers and that is why PR firms do not typically pay bloggers. There is a big difference between marketing and public relations and I think there needs to be a discussion among bloggers, marketers and publicists on the difference between the two.
On a separate front – Liz, just like you, I have attended events and taken part in opportunities that I have felt are worthwhile to my readers. To me, attending an event that is unpaid is still worth it when I've got a great story I can share on my blog (and potentially on other sites as well). Also – in full disclosure – I am a Frito Lay mom – I don't do much for them – just taste snacks, and share funny videos when they're available. I have not been asked to take part in focus groups or host events on their behalf and my time in my opinion has not been wasted. In fact, I kind of like the cartoon character they created of me, but maybe that's because I prefer to look at myself as an avatar since my hair looks better that way.
I am so glad that you put into words what I've been thinking for a while. Guess it just took a while for me to wax PR poetic and join the discussion.
Isabel, you are a princess among women.
Beth, I have no idea at all what the terms are of the Frito-Lay program. But if it's unpaid and you all are sporting those buttons on your blogs with their brand name on it and sharing the info they send you to your readers, I'm not comfortable with that personally. (And yes the avatars are cute!)
That said, I know that as a PR person you've always been incredibly generous with the bloggers you deal with and I respect you personally and professional immensely. You have a great opportunity to see this from both sides.
This is such an eye-opener to a newbie mom-blogger like me. And I totally get your point since I was in Ads/PR/Events biz some years back here in Manila. Those who are not aware of how marketing & PR works can get 'sucked in' to the freebies and what-nots that companies offer for publicity and testimonials. The temptation is hard to refuse but we should all value our 'voice' and maintain our integrity at all times.
Deb & Liz, I'm in. In fact, I've been in for a long time, by both saying no to things, and saying I'll do it, but you need to pay me.
I still do free things, like VDog, I will be hosting a makeup party for free – mainly to give back to my non-blogging friends who also deserve to be pampered and invited to fun parties and get free swag. I also held a hot dog company sponsored lunch for military members that I was not paid to do, but it gave me the warm and fuzzy feeling of doing something for my community.
I think blogosphere and social media is about community and sometimes I do things for free to build that community (or other communities). You can also call the “doing stuff for free” PR or even charity. I don't think “free work” for corporations is a charity, but in some cases I do “free work” in others to win from that – like I loved hosting the BBQ lunch for soldiers and doing something for them. Did the sponsoring companies get PR from it? Yes! Did I get paid for my work providing it? No! But that's something that I would do for free again. If that makes me a bad example, then be it.
I say no to paid things for the community as well – my family would need the money but I will not take it if my time is worth more than that. I also say no to junkets and trips all the time – but have I done some? Yes, and continue doing so, if I see value to my readers, my community or me.
So… how do we go from here? Our needs and goals are all different, how do we start unifying things?
Isabel, great point and well taken 🙂 Also, something that I have “consulted” for free for certain companies without them asking my opinion.
And thanks for a different point of view for the free content writing/guest blogging, I have never thought of it that way.
I think so much of this stems from the recognition of being asked for your advice from brands we respect. We're honored but at the end of the day, we have basic business expenses, such as who is going to watch these kids when I'm off giving my advice? How am I going to get there? What am I not doing during the time I am doing this for you?
Unless I have as much to gain from an experience as the person asking for my advice, I expect them to at least cover my travel, meal and childcare expenses (or at least be able to bring my kid and have her occupied) and then some for my expertise. Otherwise, thank you very much for the invitation but I'm not willing to lose money on helping your brand. And if you can hire outside PR and marketing help, you can afford me.
Whenever I think about whether I or another woman should charge for a certain service, I ask myself, “would a man expect to be paid for this?” Men don't do things for “warm, fuzzy feelings.” Just because we're women doesn't mean we're not business people. Our time and expertise is worth something. Think about it – don't you tend to appreciate something more when you've paid for it?
I also take a drug dealer's stance… the first taste is free, then you have to pay.
Great post! It's wonderful to see someone tie the business strategy and the personal blogging viewpoints together. I think a lot more discussion needs to be had around blogging as a business or business model. When you (and I mean the general you) start talking about the value and worth that bloggers have, it brings business model type conversations to the table. Ultimately, I think the discussion needs to start veering towards branding and brand strategy.
I've worked in marketing and branding for 20 years and the value of a brand has been a connundrum (or riddle wrapped in an enigma shrouded in mystery) in the marketing and business world for a long time. What is it worth? How strong is the brand influence – can it get people to start talking or can it get people to open their wallets? What indirect value does a brand offer and how do you value that? From what I have seen, bloggers with an audience are becoming brands – intentional or not. Often times, the blog brand is tied up in the blogger's identity which makes it confusing. If your blog brand has the ability to add value to a marketer, then you should be compensated. However, based on what you want your blog to do, that should determine how you want to be compensated.
While I don't think every blogger needs to have a formal strategy or brand identity mapped out before they start blogging (no one would ever start), it is so much easier to make decisions around ethics, integrity, compensation, and value if you as the blogger know the strategic intent behind your blog. Are you blogging to express yourself? Are you blogging to sell things? Are you blogging to build your own brand? Do you want your blog to generate revenue or do you want your blog to generate opportunities for you to bring in revenue? I know with me, having a strategy around my blog has made it so much easier to decide on the content of my blog, whether to do reviews, and if I want to be compensated.
I don't know if this would be helpful for other bloggers but I created a one page document to answer:
Why do I blog?
What do I want to happen by blogging?
What value do I provide my readers?
What do I want them to think about my blog?
I refer to it daily to keep on track and it helps me to decide on my “blog value”.
As for the consulting, I strongly believe that if you know something that no one else knows, you should definitely be compensated for that. You have built up a wast wealth of knowledge on blogging, targeting Moms, and building relationships between brands and bloggers. Get paid for it!!!! It's valuable expertise in today's marketplace so ride the train. While we have all given our expertise away for “free” at some point, you should still be getting something out of it. I used to do pro bono branding work for non-profits and other than the “feel good” of helping a charity, I also used it as a time to experiment – create new deliverables or try a new process. That way I got something out of it as well.
So, as you said with the Huffington Post article, if you are giving something away for free, think about how you can still benefit from your time and expertise.
Whew! Sorry so long. I wish I were a better writer, like you, but I hope I have contributed to the conversation.
Short answer: Online and IRL, I am a work in progress.
Long answer: Still working on it, thanks to the help of really smart people like you.
No one reads my blog anyways… so this has not been a problem for me, thankfully.
I agree with you– too many mommybloggers sell themselves short. We need to think better of ourselves.
Great stuff Sue, you should write your own article!
Yes, it's complex – are we the brand? Is the blog the brand? Are we just individuals representing the greater brand of “bloggers?”
It's hard stuff for a blogger to figure out considering most of us just started writing to write and the marketing thing kind of just fell in our laps.
Liz- I think I'm going to go back in your archives and start from the beginning. You are one smart lady. Thanks so much for this. I've read through all the comments and agree with what so many are saying, but also disagree with some.
This is something I'm struggling with. I do have a bit of a marketing background and try to approach what I'm doing and hope to build on my blog with all that in mind. I just came back from a corporate event yesterday. It was fun and a great chance to meet other moms. But, it was also an opportunity to give my honest feedback and suggestions to people I'd never reach otherwise, and to say 'thank you' for focusing some of your efforts on the African American community.
So, when I talk about this event on my blog, am I doing everyone else a disservice because I wasn't “paid” to be there?
There's a conference coming up that I really want to attend, but just can't afford to since I'm still making credit card payments from BlogHer. If I can get sponsorship, does that make me a sell out?
Every so often, all this makes me want to throw in the towel and walk away from my blog. But, I firmly believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well so I keep thinking and planning and reading pieces like this, hoping that eventually I'll get it “right” and find my business model.
Thank you for being one of the ones us newbies can rely on and turn to for information. There are so many rules and gray areas, it's hard to know which path to follow sometimes.
So much to think about!
Liz I so heart you with big, squishy hearts! 🙂
That said, like Jenny, I agree with parts and disagree with some parts – but the one resounding message that I hope comes out of this is that it is the BLOGGER who should set her price, not the person trying to gain access to her knowledge, her experience, her audience, or her community.
Anne-Marie Nichols has a proposed panel for SXSWi that discusses the whole “siloing” effect needing to evolve in dealing with New Media (Don't Tell Me That's Not Your Department! http://bit.ly/ax8Go) that she asked me to be a part of… basically because there is such a disconnect between PR/Marketing/Advertising and Bloggers — and we're going to have to find new ways of doing things.
I love this post. So many things are resounding for me with things I've been saying time and again to bloggy friends “don't undervalue yourself” “don't do something outside your comfort zone” “it's perfectly reasonable to ask someone to pay for your time & effort and work-product – don't let someone tell you that you're selling your opinion if you don't work for free”…
I love your insight – and I agree with you that this conversation is going to need to keep happening and happening and happening.
We haven't come *that* far from where we started yet that we can give up fighting.
Sorta related, sorta not–I have folks who want to pay me to help their firms with SEO, based on my new firm's showing up near the top of every desirable google search in my field just 2 months after my firm's (and its website's) inception. I couldn't decide what I'd charge for knowledge I gleaned from reading and blogging, since my usual rate for legal advice ($200/hr) seems WAY too low for services that would bring them thousands of dollars of additional business. So, I refused.
I also have a hard time with speaking engagements, something else I'm being asked to do more and more, since I've only been self-employed a few months.
I'm glad you stood your ground.
Mel, it's all so complicated isn't it! So much gray area.
I don't know all the answers, I only know some of the questions to ask.
I've always felt that if have an opportunity to do something of a public service nature – for a charity, or for the military like Katja, or for the African-American community – that counts for something. (Although I hate “charity” programs where everyone seems to get paid except the bloggers promoting it. I doubt the PR folks are doing it pro bono.)
Conference sponsorship to me is really complicated. If you're looking to get your airfare paid in exchange for work, that's one thing. If you're part of an organized marketing program that's another.
Maybe another post?
And @Geekmommy I hope we can do a panel together on compensation! I know we have a lot of the same ideas and some different ones and it would be great to have all sides represented.
Thanks for a thought provoking post that has inspired a real conversation about the subject. Getting beyond the surface issues of “to pay or not to pay” is critical to move the development of the media form forward. I especially like the conversation about types of media interaction.
Paid and earned media (advertising and PR)are forms in their own right. IMHO, blogging represents a new media from I think of as Participation media and the models are still evolving. When we built the Elevenmoms program (we being the key word), I simply asked for input from the group on how to build the program. I (I being the key word) frequently got it wrong but the group helped me figure it out. (Many thanks to Jenn, Alyssa, Christine, Tara, Lucretia, Mercedes and many others for all your help)
Instead of trying to apply old media models to new groups, take some time, get involved, really understand and participate (this works both ways). Brands and media companies are learning too and usually very willing to listen and adapt. It's a conversation after all, no?
What do you feel about small companies and friends with businesses that you have that warm fuzzy feeling about and actually want to put your name behind- like back in the old days of blogging where we could do something because we wanted to?
Where is the line drawn? If we don't play by the rules but have good intentions, does that count at least a little? Or will we be viewed as contributing to the problem?
Steph, everyone has to make the decision for herself where to draw that line, but me, I specifically called out big brands – those large enough to have their own PR firms, ad agencies, and so on. If they have money for that, they have an honorarium for you to host their parties, run your ads in their sidebars, or sit down in their focus groups.
I also believe in supporting small business. At Cool Mom Picks, as you know, we do a lot for teeny businesses with no marketing budgets. We have discounted ad rates for them, sometimes we help them redesign their (scary bad) ads for free, and we certainly review their products.
If they're cool. Of course.
And John, I really appreciate your perspective. I think we can agree on a lot – maybe disagree on some other stuff – and I hope one day we can sit down over a very potent beverage and chat about it.
I've been struggling with what *I* want to get from my writing. Then adding all of the rest of this in there… it's sometimes too much.
I'm a writer. I want to get paid for my (professional) work. And I do. My blog is another entity entirely and sometimes I wish I could get involved in consulting because I really feel like I have a good handle on what companies need to do to make their pitches better and more relevant to women. (Even if my blog doesn't carry a substantial audience, that still doesn't mean I don't know what I'm talking about.)
I also wish I had more opportunities that other moms are getting, but most of that is just the feeling of being left out. 🙂
You gave me a lot to think about, Liz. To decide where I want to be, both in my personal blog and my professional writing. Writers are notorious for undervaluing themselves and I certainly don't want to fall prey to that.
Back again. I feel like I want to comment on about every third comment here.
There is part of me that's with Steph/adventures in babywearing. Call me a sap, but I liked the old days when people gave props to companies or product they liked, just because they liked them, and we weren't selling to each other so much. It's a post I've been turning over in my mind for months now.
The other thing that struck me as I read the comments was how much I hate/resent/am greatly disappointed by situations in which an experienced momblogger in a consultant role is tries to convince her peers to take on projects for free. I don't mean things like spreading the word about an event or attending a party. I'm talking about things like writing a series of posts or even an ongoing blog for an “amazing new site that going to bring you great visibility and will be a great stepping stone” kind of thing. As you said, how often do these opportunities pan out? Rarely. So when an experienced blogger dangles that kind of carrot, it's kind of soul-crushing. “She's my friend. She wouldn't be trying to pull one over on my. Would she? There must be a silver lining to this lousy sounding opportunity. Okay, I'll give it a shot.”
Ultimately though, there are so many people with so many different agendas it's just all very murky. Keep asking those questions, Liz, and maybe we'll figure out some answers.
Great points Kim. Come back as often as you'd like and comment on whatever you see fit.
I think there are still a lot of great blogs that write about the stuff they're passionate about and take on fun little projects for friends, for little companies, for themselves. I keep thinking about @MelADramaticMommy's comment about an interaction with a marketer that gave her the ability to sound off about her community. I think that's awesome.
I also keep saying that the best blogs are about the author's passions. How can anyone say it's selling out if you really care about and love the things you write about?
I never thought U2 was selling out when they lent a song to an iPod ad. Dude, it's an iPod! To help them sell more music! It's not like they gave “In the Name of Love” to Hallmark for Valentine's Day.
Another great post, Liz. I think Christi also makes a great point in the comments that should not be overlooked: just because a PR firm sends you something for free doesn't mean they are expecting a sell-out, positive review. Again, to the issue of how there's a lot of naivete and misunderstanding about the rules of the game here.
Next post, please: Giveaways
I was offered a 3-day trip to visit some plant and learn about a brand and all of their great products for families and hang out with other bloggers who were invited.
I turned them down. There were two things I didn't like:
1) It felt to me like the bigger the brand is that you get involved with the more involved you are. Compare writing a single blog post promoting a Pepsi product with writing ten promoting your neighbour's dog-grooming business that no one has ever heard of: I think I'd be more involved, associated with, linked to Pepsi than the dog-groomer. A little goes a long way when a big name is involved. Since this was a big name offering the trip and the tour and the “getting to know you” sessions I had to decide just how strongly I wanted to be linked to them for the future: Did I want to feel like I worked for them? The relationship is skewed when the brand is that big.
2) I actually used very few of the products sold by the brand. I know that part of the PR firm's outreach job was to get people just like me to learn about the products and maybe switch and be a taste-maker for others, but the trip itself, the opportunity, was held out like a little reward for blogging and I did not feel like I ought to be rewarded for blogging by a brand whose products I didn't use, because then even if I continued to not use those products I'd feel obligated to do something for them. Because of the reward. Because blogging doesn't feel reward-worthy on it's own.
That's the messed-up part. That I couldn't just say “Thanks for the trip! It was fun! It's nice to see that Company X thinks my blogging is worth supporting!” and then walk away from the encounter. Bloggers are too nice, polite, guilt-ridden, anxiety-prone, wallflowery, angsty…to ever say “This business relationship extends only this far and no farther,” and I think some brands are taking advantage of that. Not necessarily the one that contacted me, but I see it around the blog world.
It takes experience and exposure to develop professional habits. In these early days, as brands try to eat bloggers and bloggers try to deal with brands as equals in an advertising market mistakes are going to be made. When bloggers make mistakes in dealing with PR and brands they make big, Gimme-Some-Crocs-Or-I'll-Blog-You mistakes. But when brands make mistakes in dealing with bloggers they make Your-Voice-Isn't-Worth-Anything mistakes. Two sides of the coin: if they let bloggers know their voice is actually worth something then maybe they really are risking exposure to the Gimme Crocs lady. That tingly fear has to be doing some of the work right now.
I have a slightly different perspective.
As many of you know, I co-own the pop culture blog MamaPop. It's an independent site, obviously, there's no big Corp behind it. It's always been a labor of love — anyone who has ever written for the site can tell you that is the honest truth — and it has had to be a labor of love, as it's not been very successful financially. Because of that, we have never been able to pay all of our writers, beyond having traffic bonuses for high-traffic posts. If we were to try to pay all of our writers per post, we would have to close up shop, and I would have to get a desk job somewhere, because the work the site requires wouldn't be worth the return. As it is the return isn't much, certainly not something anyone could live on. But such is the lot of those of us who — with no big corporate sponsor backing — try to do things indie/DIY-style.
I genuinely love and adore the people who write for MamaPop. They are family, and they know that. Whenever possible I try to repay them — at BlogHer, because of the Sparklecorn sponsorships, we were able to give each author a pretty pricey gift bag, the contents of which I hand-picked for them, and we bought them drinks and food throughout the conference. I want to do more, and the writers know that. But for MamaPop to get to a point where it CAN do more for its writers, we need to go through this awkward growing phase, where the money really just isn't there (especially going through it during a, gulp, recession).
And I say all of this merely to point out, gently, that there are instances where writing for free CAN be something as worthwhile as writing for a few bucks. I can't speak for our writers, but I'd hazard a guess that most of them write for the site because they genuinely love and believe in the site, because it's genuinely fun, because their writing and individuality is respected and gets much-deserved attention and appreciation from fellow writers and readers alike, and because the camaraderie and close-knit bonds between all of us who are a part of MamaPop are something a dollar amount can't be placed on. I know that sounds corny. But I believe that. The site is special. I believe that corniness, too. Sue me 🙂 (No wait, don't — I can't afford that shit.)
Which isn't to say they all wouldn't like to be paid cold hard dolla dolla bills, y'all. *I* would like to pay them those dollas, and they know that as well. My stated goal is to get the site to a point where I can't just give each of them some piddly per-post pittance, but throw some REAL cash money their way. I'm working hard to get there. I'm doing everything I can.
Maybe not WHOLLY applicable to this discussion involving paid product reviews and The Mommybloggers of Walmart, but just another perspective to add to the mix, for your consideration. 🙂
I agree with Backpacking Dad. I have definitely gone on trips to companies and only 1 turned out to be what I felt was “free consulting” and I left disappointed about that. All the others were press junket style and were more informative or entertaining or pampering. I didn't mind that, and I didn't mind being associated with such companies as they were relevant to my life at the time.
I *have* turned down trips in the past because I didn't want to align my name with the company or if I had questions about them and wasn't sure, I said No. I did that for the very first trip I was invited to (J&J) which worked out because I wouldn't have been able to bring my nursing baby and wouldn't have been able to go anyway LOL.
Recently I passed up a brand relationship/trip opportunity because I didn't feel comfortable being tied to that company and I was honest with them about it when I declined. I imagine this has something to do with not only blogging with integrity, but also keeping your integrity with you wherever you go in life.
I love it! This discussion is getting better and better.
@babysteph, I totally agree with you and have ad continue to make decisions based on whether companies are part of the community. I don't think it's all one size.
@sweetney, I totally understand how you run Mamapop and the labor of love does shine through. It's just not how I chose to run my business. From a business perspective, you're not paying writers market rates who are in turn increasing the equity value of your business, Mampop. Don't get me wrong, they may totally be fine with that and find all the opportunities worthy. (Although with you I wouldn't be surprised if you were to sell Mamapop tomorrow, you would give out a cash distribution to your writers– you're fair like that). Also, as a counterpoint and as someone who does hire writers, I do look to see whether they are contributing elsewhere on the web for free and I have chosen not to approach certain writers because they are writing elsewhere for free, so those writers could be potentially losing opportunities.
Lastly, my comment about paying writers was to 1) demonstrate that if I can find it in my budget (from my own small shop) to pay writers, then SHAME on big corporations for not doing so, and 2) if you want professionalism, you need to pay for it.
Thanks for the post Liz, it's obviously bringing a lot to the foreground that we all feel strongly about. The crux of the problem seems to be that what's *valuable* for me to do as a blogger/writer/businesswoman might feel like compromising to another. A trip to TJ Maxx headquarters couldn't have been more appropriately aligned for me if I'd designed the trip. We have to be careful what we choose, have some solidarity as bloggers, while respecting the choices others are making. Tricky territory all around.
Personally I have no problems at all with press/blogger junkets. They're fun! I've done them myself, and they're great introductions to brands and ways to develop relationships. Search Hershey's on my site; I wrote about it because it was something experiential and cool and it was a story I wanted to tell.
But I also wasn't then expected to call myself a Hershey's Mom and put their banner on my sidebar and tattoo Mr. Goodbar on my ass afterwards.
I would have done the tattoo actually. But not the rest of it.
Maybe you should move this blog with integrity thing straight up into a writer's guild. I'm inclined to think that it would be a gigantic brouhaha AND you'd need to get very big name bloggers to sign on, but your concerns make sense to me.
However, I am only speaking from a professional perspective-I'm an attorney with multiple bar memberships and a union steward (I work for the Federal government) so I belong to more than a couple of regulated professional organizations (to whom I pay dues in order to maintain national exclusivity and standard setting, basically for the former and who advocate on my behalf in the case of the latter). I doubt writing will ever go the way of professional licensing (as it isn't exactly the same thing considering my mistakes potentially risk people's fortunes) but maybe blogging should more towards some hybrid form of unionisation-standard setting organizations?
It would probably be a huge drama-laden and controversial kerfuffle but if I were a serious blogger I'd get into it just for the notoriety and to have it on my resume. I can tell you that my work as a union steward (and I function as my local's attorney) is way more fun and offers more diverse experiences than my regular job.
Thanks for the vote of confidence on BWI @monkeywearingchaps!
Personally I see Blog With Integrity as more educational than regulatory (I guess like this post?) although I would love if advocacy sprung out of it somehow.
I'm not quite ready to run a guild and I don't think bloggers are ready to be guild-ified. Most aren't even ready for business cards.
But always open to other perspectives on that.
Hiya, I've been here already but I woke up today being confused all over again about this very issue so I'm baaaack.
You define advertising and PR very clearly and traditionally up above (thanks!) but what's so whack about that whole system is this:
Advertising (transparent, of course) gets me some money with absolutely no work on my part.
PR, on the other hand, relies on me wanting to publicize or review a product or brand with no payment just because I want to get the word out.
It's kinda backwards… just in terms of work for money and I think that's why so many of us are content to blog “for applesauce” because it feels like it's not as dirty as pay-per-post. It's not much but its something.
Ask for money for PR review? Ick.
Shill a product without disclosing payment? Ick.
No wonder I have no idea what to do when invited on a fun little boondoggle for some brand somewhere! Do I say “thank you very much for the trip to the Bahamas, but I still don't like canned pineapple?” To @backpackingdad's point, I feel a little too beholden to them to do that, but I'm left befuddled. But nearly any trip I might take seems too irrelevant to my readers.
Wow @heather good questions.
In my opinion (and again – always looking for others) you should be looking for good, interesting, relevant, on-brand content for your readers. If that comes in the form of PR junkets or press events than great. Sometimes you just have to go on the trip to see if there's news there.
But (BUT) if there's an obligation to write about it afterwards, I think that's an issue and that's BPD's feeling.
This is part of the reason I say up front here that this is confusing – is PR treating us like press or something else?
I went on a KMart Design tri for CMP and was surprised to find that they were doing some cool things that are relevant to our design-savvy readers in a tough economy. The trip convinced me. Not because they flew me there (which I disclosed) but because the behind-the-scenes stuff was really convincing. I also learned a lot about retailing and processes that will help me do my job better as an editor. And yeah, there was that chocolate fondue.
In the end, I wrote what I think was a really balanced post about KMart keeping in mind what was relevant to my readers.
Where a lot of bloggers lose their way is when they try and write something to please the PR people who graciously provided the junket.
Thus, BPD's comment.
I like the idea of going on junkets to educate yourself about the retail, branding, and manufacturing process. But you have to always remember what YOU want to write about and not what PR wants you to write about.
Let's just I didn't mention the Jacqueline Smith collection.
Great post. The way you articulated that really made the whole issue clear and focused.
I need to be reminded that we can still blog and write despite some of the buzzing and negativity out there.
Lately my blog has been inundated so thank you!
As it is in every area of a woman's life, people will *never* value you more than you value yourself.
I'm going to laugh all day over That Danielle's comment: “I also take a drug dealer's stance… the first taste is free, then you have to pay.”
More for me to think about in this whole discussion. I am not sure anyone who is in social media is sure how to handle the influx of possible income or gain. And I'm not sure if a lot who are blogging understand how to run a business or how to interact with advertisers. IMO this is the type of thing that perhaps could be better & more widely addressed (w/ catchy titles that draw interest) at BlogHer to help those who are starting down the path of blog as business, even if the person chooses to handle business differently there'd be more discussion on the matter in a forum that more bloggers have access to.
Brilliant, Liz! This is SUCH an important post, one that I feel every-friggin-one should read and understand.
If ever a time comes when bloggers unionize in some way, this post should be part of it's framework, shaping it, in some way.
Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. That's what Bossy does, siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. Bossy needs to put down her siiiiiiiigh and get her Salary on.
I wonder why it's so hard to “own” the value of being a blogger in the first place. It takes alot of courage to go and make your inner workings public (however personal they may be). So why then, does that courage waiver in the face of monetary value? I would love to be approached by someone who'd be willing to pay me to write. I pour myself into my writing and into my blog. How much should that be worth to someone else?
I love the idea of blogging about product reviews, but I am SO not the typical consumer. I've been in the grocery industry for decades, perhaps I should just start making people aware of all the garbage that goes on behind the scenes….and the $$$'s thrown out the window in the name of promotions.
I am going to print this out and really study it – thanks, Liz! I estimate my worth is fairly low right now, but I'm working on it. I always appreciate your insights and business acumen.
great post, liz. well said.
when we were planning socialluxe lounge, a VERY big company with PLENTY of money was approached to do the tech side of things…and they gave us a proposal, which included no sponsorship fee whatsoever. we told them no thank you. we went on to work with companies that actually VALUED what we had to offer them and treated us like the businesspeople that we are. the whole experience was unbelievably empowering.
your post is GREAT. I hope other bloggers will take heed…what we each do independently does in fact impact the entire group.
I've more or less come down in the same place. No payment for reviews but payment for consulting/being a spokesperson or hosting/providing content for corporate sites (unless it is a very helpful writing credit).
BUT…I've been a professional (print) writer and educational consultant for over five years. Some of us are professional marketers, PR people, media, etc. And so we know our worth in those spheres and have already had some time to work these issues through. Time even before we came to blogging or during those years when “Mom Blogger” was not a term that had yet graced the pages of WSJ, NYT, etc. And even then there are gray areas.
So, I agree with you and think your post here should be required reading–with just the note that some bloggers may need some room to figure these things out for themselves, too…and I keep in mind that they are doing it under more scrutiny than ever before.
Wow, all I can say is Kudos. As a Baby Boomer watching my “sisters” claw their way to try to reach the glass ceiling, I'm happy to see that the battle is still being faught, and my daughters (22 & 26) might stand a fighting chance for their careers.
Your mama gave you some good advice. She must be around my age!
That request to “pick your brain” caught my eye. I have had at least 10 colleagues / friends / anonymous LinkedIn contacts ask to “pick my brain” about Social Media over the past year — they always seem to use that same phrase!
I've never suggested that I charge people for the advice. I've always been flattered that someone would ask for my help and enjoyed the challenge of seeing if I can help people out.
But your post makes me wonder if I should stop giving away free advice to everyone. Food for thought – thanks for sharing!
I've often wondered why a group of seemingly intelligent bloggers allow a corporate giant with zillions of dollars to exploit them. A one-shot deal, ok. But to constantly promote one brand day-in and day-out in exchange for the “glory” – I just don't get it.
I'm back! (Like Kim, can't stay away!)
1) I would be on a panel with you ANY day about it Liz. Heck, I'd discuss it over a cup of coffee or any beverage with you. Because I think that the conversation is what moves us forward.
Taking the time to talk about it – discuss the pros & cons – help to bring an awareness to the fact that yeah, maybe in 2006 huge brands approaching non-tech bloggers was novel – but it's several years later – and it's not a rare occurence any more that brands want to work with bloggers.
What seems to be rare is the awareness that having kids and having blogs doesn't make us willing to buy into “but it will get you exposure!” when we know that what you're really trying to say is “but it will get my company exposure!”
2) I love the comments this has spurred. I love that we don't all just agree on it… we talk about it and express our own positions and allow other people to disagree with us.
Personally, I think that says a heckuva lot about YOUR community over here Liz. Great people willing to share, listen, and consider.
This was an AMAZING post! I am visiting you for the first time via our mutual friend Kim Moldofsky. I have a blog talk radio show and yesterday's topic was “Is Traditional Media out to get us?” Some of these very same points were raised…including the whole union thing. It is about time we stop getting pimped! It's about time we be taken seriously as people who have value and as you beautifully stated here, it starts with us! How are these brands and PR firms going to see the value of our experience and expertise if we don't see it ourselves?
This is such a brilliant post, Liz! Once again, you've hit the nail on the head. My favorite part: “The difference is, what I do for free, I'm doing to promote my own writing.” Precisely.
There will always be someone trying to take advantage and wanting you to do something for nothing. Nothing is NEVER ok. A small exchange may be ok if recognition and traffic come your way from it. But in the end, work is work and one should get more than a “deli platter”.
Thank you Liz, for always reminding us to not be afraid to ask for what we are worth.
I could sooo use a million dollars right now. *sigh* Great post and even greater picture! I am so through with all the mommy blogging stories but I love this post! I do think someone should set the precedent and demand more than swag. Keep your eye on me. 🙂
At the risk of sounding like a complete fool…Holy Crap what a great post! You brought up some very valid points I never considered.
I think everyone's PR tab should read something like this.
Here's my abbreviated PR kit.
–We do not charge for reviews of products or giveaways that We host.
–We do not charge for PR related to subject areas and causes that We wish to highlight.
–The staff here are educated professionals with Graduate level degrees in Marketing.
–We do (or do not–pick the phrasing that your are comfortable with) accept paid placements and advertorials. When we do accept them, they will be clearly labeled as such.
–We require payment for consulting, acting as a spokesperson or hosting/providing content for corporate sites.
–Our hourly consulting fees are
–Our hosting fees for paid articles and links are …. (or price based on a case/case basis starting at…..)
Found you through Scary Mommy's post and actually drafted a post myself since this issue is so relevant in the blogosohere.
I was compelled to write about it because of the recent company I was approached by and the ridiculous requiremnets they had for me as a blogger.
Thanks for beginning the dialogue. A topic that will be revisited for sure.
This was an excellent post and so were the comments. I have just begun blogging and have been struggling with how to deal with PR versus advertising. Really informative! I hope you write more on this topic. I am also looking for good information on how to get your blog making money (is it really just about traffic??). Thanks.
Yes! This the way it should be and has been my gripe for sometime among moms who blog. For the record I have a business blog but I am a mom. I do reviews on products and speak on topics that focus on enterprise software and things that affect HR and recruiters as that’s the focus on my blog. What we do is tough and much needed and I don’t think I’m a sell out for asking for compensation because it is my job. This blog and my consulting that goes along with it is how I make a living. Sometimes it’s hard to say no, but it keeps me focused on doing the things that are best for my business and my family. I deserve to be paid for my time.
Since I’m not the typically mommy blogger I don’t get contacted or work with agencies outside of my space very often because they are so used to not paying bloggers for their reviews or their time. It saves me from having to argue with them which is why I posted my fees directly on my blog and site.
Thanks for talking about this. We need to collectively ask for value for our time and expertise given what we do. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be fighting this battle separate and against one another.
I am new to this industry and have loved writing the last few months. Interesting concepts. I have much to learn! Thanks for the pointers. Claire
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