Hullaballoos About Paying Bloggers

The discussion about to pay or not to pay a blogger for mentioning you or your stuff will never die.  There are COUNTLESS posts going on – currently Lorallee (a product and sponsors dream blogger) chimed in with her opinions and the folks behind the Clever Girls Collective have come up with five reasons TO pay bloggers.

And yes, there is much that should be compensated…in some for or another. Bloggers do have influence and are a huge part of the online marketing world.

But what part are they? This is what is confusing to PR departments and marketing agencies.   Each blog is different.  Some present themselves like news sites with section covering various topics.  Some are portals with multiple contributors again on various topics and resemble print magazines with their style of content.

These sites tend to have sponsors or paying advertisers that cover overhead and even pay their staff.  For these types of sites it makes perfect sense to have them on your press release list.  They are looking for relevant news on various topics, not unlike their print counterparts.

But a blog written by a individual, no matter the subject or size and popularity will tend to wonder why you are asking them to discuss your totally irrelevant product, just because.

I will admit, I love being on so many PR lists.  The majority of the information that passes through my inbox may not be fitting for my sites, but can be worth mentioning on Facebook or Twitter.  Many, though are completely ignored.

Why? Time is one thing.  I just can’t keep up with my inbox and maintain a life. The main reason though is that my site is a personal site that accepts relevant items for reviews or giveaways AND enjoys sponsorship in the form of paid advertising.

The key for me is relevancy to my lifestyle and my kids.  It has to be something that we WOULD use or see or talk about.  Other sites are not like this.  Some are purely review sites.  Some are information sites.  ALL vary, and this must be a nightmare for the PR people to streamline into manageable online campaigns.

What I have noticed recently is the increase in followup emails I am receiving about some of these releases.  The followups cause me to go back and see if there was something vital that I missed….something that was making it worth my while to type up a blog post with provided images and logos.

But no.  Nothing.  The followup emails really want me to (for example) discuss Whirlpool’s new and fancy Double Oven on the off chance that it may be relevant to my readers.

And yes, sure….I guess it looks great and will be of interest to some of my readers.  But see, it isn’t to me, and it is my blog AND my time.  A post about an oven with no sort of  hook like a giveaway or SOMETHING is free advertising. My time on my blog for your clients product.

Last year I was invited to check out some new models for washers and dryers from Whirlpool and Maytag.  This was at least fun and interesting and myself and my fellow bloggers enjoyed a chance to talk to the experts.  That there was an effort to reach out to ME made me more inclined to put the effort to mention the event in my social media circles.

Another time a bunch of us fellow bloggers were asked to check out a new car seat.   Not only were we served snacks, but given amazing gift bags and some had the chance to take the seat home and test it out with their own kids.  Again, this caused much buzz about the seat.

Now granted, you could call this bribery.  But what is the difference between reaching out to online media (professional or not) and traditional press junket?  Traditional journalists are sent ‘gifts’ all the time.  Sure, their editorial bosses may have rules about said gifts, but the stuff is still sent out. If bloggers are helping build brand awareness the same way print advertising or print or television reviews do, why then are there still so few companies providing relevant budgets for online marketing?

Granted there are a LOT of bloggers out there and only a few with a massive reach.  But smaller bloggers tend to cost less to advertise on and may not be part of a syndicated ad network either.  A PR agency with small monetary budget could have advertising on multiple sites and with those ads get posts included.

I tend to be perfectly happy to throw in a post for people who do pay to advertise on my sites.   This would be an example of a Sponsored Post.

As Lorallee states and takes from yet another powerhouse Kristen Chase…

What is the difference between editorial and sponsored work? The Sway Group put up a post that had a really general (yet great) definition in it from Kristen Chase with the difference between sponsored and editorial content:

If [they]‘re saying, I’d love to send you product to try to see if this is something you might want to feature on your site = editorial.

If they’re saying “We want you to try this, mention this, tell your readers about this, and include link graphic etc” = sponsored post.

I have done sponsored work for non-monetary compensation. Heck, I’ve done it totally and utterly for FREE.  Because what drives me is the product or the brand, not my pocket book. And some of my best memories and experiences did not come with an amount of dollars in my pocket.

Like Loralee, I have done this type of content for free, but it was because the brand or the cause appealed to me.  Sadly though, my bank account and my time does not appreciate this sort of altruism and I have found myself becoming more and more picky about what I choose to spend my time writing about.

Which brings me back to the these follow up emails.  These cause me to reply back to the PR people…which I am sure they appreciate, but many times their response to me when I say no is basically to take me of their lists.

This angers me.  I would like to see PR and marketing agencies instead start speaking up for bloggers to their clients.  Instead of selling online media as a cheap and easy way to promote a brand, to sell it as something worth spending money on.  The golden age of big dollars in online advertising has lone gone, but online marketing campaigns need far more respect than they are currently receiving.

This is connected to quantifying the return of investment (ROI) for marketing on blogs and through social media.  That is a whole other blog post and I have discussed it over on SAHMedia.

The Whirpool campaign annoyed me for many reasons.  One reason is that this is the Canadian Whirlpool.  In the US Whirlpool is spending big bucks on branding with the mom bloggers.  To the point of GIVING bloggers washer and dryers to review.  This does not happen in Canada.  Again, not saying I want STUFF (stuff IS fun), but Canada is so far behind the US when it comes to online marketing initiatives. Another reason was that this campaign came from Harbinger, who I LOVE.  I work with many of their people on many campaigns and have enjoyed the relationship and their apparent willingness to listen to my ideas.

I love doing product reviews.  It is fun.  I greatly appreciate the opportunity.  I consider not only the product, but the cost  and time it took to contact me and ship out said product as well as marketing material etc,  as my compensation.

But please, don’t ask me to promote your brand using MY time and MY blog, which is VALUABLE to me for free.  YOU don’t work for free do you?


About Kerry Sauriol

Mother, Blogger, Social Media Consultant.

Comments

  1. I totally agree with you on this. I’ve been getting those same follow-up emails to those same random PR updates about things like fridges, and TVs, and whatnot. All stuff I wouldn’t write about normally, and yet they want me to for free. Really frustrating.

  2. Jeanette says:

    Hi Kerry,
    I consider myself a blogger advocate as I am one of those people (I run a small agency) that “speaks up” for bloggers all the time. We try as hard as we can to build in some sort of compensation or benefit structure for bloggers however this isn’t always possible.

    Something that I feel we need to examine is (when you said) “A PR agency with small monetary budget could have advertising on multiple sites and with those ads get posts included.” Although I love this approach, it isn’t always an option. Especially when you are dealing with a multi-agency situation.

    In many cases, especially with big brands, marketing or sdvertising agencies (or buyers) control the advertising budget. The PR agency is tasked with earning coverage. The PR agency does not always have the authority to place (or book) ads on blogs because that’s not their job. And the ad buyers can be very reluctant to purchase ads on blogs because they are evaluating the blogs based on their traffic, which they don’t perceive as valuable because it’s much lower than the audience readership they are used to dealing with.

    The bigger the brand, the more agencies that are likely to be involved and the more ‘hoops’ everyone has to jump through to get the job done.

    In theory, I agree with the concept. But in practice, it’s not always so easy to implement.

    We’ve been lucky to work with some clients that are open to our recommendations and given us the ability to allocate the budget where we see the most value and that has included advertising, paid tweets and Facebook posts. But we’ve also worked in situations where our client has blatantly said “no pay per play posts” (in other words, no compensation) and another who said if our campaign strategy involves an ad then we need to seek approval from the ad agency and client, which can not only delay the process but may also require a whole another education component (educate them on the nuances of mom blogger outreach) that we didn’t include in our original quote, and thus could put the whole campaign in jeopardy.

    We are all learning and evolving, and although we’d like to take our cues from the USA, Canada is a completely different marketplace. We don’t have the population, the sales and thus the budgets to do the same things as they do.

    That being said, stay strong to your convictions. It IS your blog and you can do whatever you want with it so I encourage you to say no when you feel you are being taken advantage of or when a pitch isn’t relevant (that includes pitches from us :)).

    In addition to agencies understanding what bloggers want, I also encourage bloggers to better understand Canadian standards and agency practices so that we can manage each other’s expectations.

    • My husband works in traditional media, and I agree the numbers are lower. I also agree that there is a general reluctance to pay for the lower numbers, and it’s understandable on many levels.

      HOWEVER – and this is key – reported circulation numbers and reported viewer numbers do not necessarily tell you who actually saw an ad. They only tell you how many people had the opportunity to see something. My local paper, for example, may claim a circulation number in the tens of thousands of households, but I’m willing to bet that way more than half of them are recycled without being looked at. And those that are looked at may never be opened to the page an ad is on.

      The other key difference (which is changing with QR codes, I’ll admit) is that blog ads link directly to a company’s site. This gives interested readers a chance to click through and act immediately. In traditional print, or even TV or radio, someone has to remember the message and act on it later.

      I realize I’m preaching to the choir with you, but it frustrates me a little that print, radio and TV are viewed as the holy grail, when there are so many obvious downsides in comparison to the web market.

  3. Now this is an interesting take on the whole thing. I have always wondered how Canada operates in things like this. On the one had, with roughly the population of, what…California? I have always thought it would be GREAT to be a Canadian blogger simply because the competition in the US for things so overwhelming numbers wise. (The webbies? Dude…don’t even bother in most areas.) But like the commenter above said, it would also likely affect the things that come into play in the US.

    Totally fabulous post, love. (And thanks for the kind words.xoxoxo)

  4. I get pitched hundreds of times, and I’ve often pondered how my relationship with PR folks changes. I too get removed from PR lists, which I think is the completely wrong approach. An example: there are theatre companies that have stopped inviting me to their shows because (given that I have a day job, I am super busy and) I can’t make it to some of their shows. When do they think I’m going to show up to their next show and how willing do they think I’m going to be to read their next blanket press release? NEVER.

    Damaging relationships with bloggers I think is a bad idea, if you are in the PR business. But I can see Jeannette’s point (I’m assuming from Lime Light PR) in that we need to educate ourselves on how Canadian advertising and PR agencies work. I for one have seen the rather annoying side of PR. I have also seen the awesome side of PR. Also, I’ve been exposed quite a lot to multi-agency projects. The advantage here is that usually the ad agency that manages the whole campaign knows me well enough to understand what coverage on Hummingbird604.com means for their client. And they trust the PR or social media agency enough to let me and them negotiate the terms of the post.

    Also, I have a VERY clear Pitch Me page. So, it’s not like PR people don’t know where I’m coming from!

    I think I just rambled. Anyways, I just posted a question on Google Plus. I’ll let you know what comes of it.

  5. As somebody who’s been on both sides of this equation before we knew one side was called “blogging” and the other side was called “pitching bloggers”, I want to make a few observations:

    1. You shouldn’t, under any circumstances, write about a product or brand that doesn’t interest you or your audience. If PR people consistently pitch you irrelevant stories, you should start filtering their emails directly to the Trash folder in your email. That’s what I do.

    2. Every mainstream journalist I’ve talked to about receiving gifts abides by the rules of their publisher. For example, I know in a couple of newspaper offices that they’re not permitted to keep any item over $20 in value. The long-standing exception, as you note, is for junkets–usually to cover travel and entertainment stories–and event tickets. PR people understand these rules, but obviously still have to send more expensive items to journalists so that they can review them. PR people will typically arrange for the return or donation of items once the journalist is done with them.

    3. Journalists are reasonably well-compensated for their work, so the perks of free stuff doesn’t seem to interest them very much.

    4. When I’m doing online outreach, whether it’s to a niche blog or TreeHugger, I’m interested in two things. In the short term, I want to drive high-value visitors to my client’s site. In the longer term, I know a link will help continue to drive visitors, and improve their SEO ranking. I’m not a big believer in things I can’t measure, such as “brand exposure”. Other marketers are, in my experience, less clinical in their thinking.

    5. We quantify all of our work with clients across the sundry online marketing channels, including blogger outreach. The typical blog post from a middle-of-the-road blog will drive relatively few visitors, but usually they’re of a high quality because they’re well ‘primed’. After all, they’ve read some or all of a blog post already, and received the endorsement, if you will, of the blogger.

    6. A tweet or Facebook update is often a very acceptable silver medal for a PR person these days.

    7. We evaluate the quantity and quality of traffic a blogger sends to our clients over time, and it informs who we keep or remove from our pitch list for future campaigns.

    8. I’m biased, but I’m confident that online marketing is receiving plenty of respect and budget these days. For the past few years, marketing budgets have been shifting away from traditional sources and into the online space. One piece of evidence that’s top of mind today: between Q1 and Q2 of 2011, the average cost-per-click for a Facebook ad increased 22%.

    9. I’m confused by this phrase: “Again, not saying I want STUFF (stuff IS fun)”. It seems like here, and elsewhere in this post, you are saying that you want stuff, and would be willing to write blog posts in exchange for relevant stuff. Is that not the case?

    10. Integrity matters, and I’ve come to believe a clear division between editorial and advertising (or advertorial) is essential. If I think a blogger is an easy touch, I’m unlikely to read their blog (though I may still pitch them). Given that 99% of bloggers are making, at best, modest revenue directly from their blog, I care far more about public perceptions than a little extra money in the bank.

    • I agree that a clear division between editorial and advertising is essential. It is more challenging for a small blogger, though, because there’s a single person handling both. In traditional media – or even on larger websites – there are different departments handling both, and there’s a firewall between them to preserve journalistic integrity.

      If someone sends me something for free, and it’s only me, can I really review it objectively? Even if, say, it’s a $10 reusable lunch bag? I would like to think I can, but I’m not entirely sure. I don’t really enjoy the conundrum, and it’s one reason I have decided not to do product reviews, although I will occasionally share something really cool that I’ve paid for myself.

  6. This debate will probably never end. In the meantime, thank you for bringing it up again, and raising some excellent points.

    I think the problem, really, is that the current PR and advertising model was created for a traditional media world. As that world ends, the way that advertising and product promotion happens will have to change. In the meantime, we’re all scrambling to make it up as we go along.

  7. In the end I am not banking on my site to give me a full time job. But I do want to be able to pay my staff (interns right now) without subsidizing Hummingbird604.com’s readers and companies who pitch me :)

Trackbacks

  1. […] Doing the Blogger Outreach ROI Math – “When I’m doing online outreach…I’m interested in two things. In the short term, I want to drive high-value visitors to my client’s site. In the longer term, I know a link will help continue to drive visitors, and improve their SEO ranking.” Really only of interest to online marketers, but it’s a post I wrote on Capulet.com in response to something I read on Kerry’s blog. […]

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