Home > Clients, Digital, Marketing, Public Relations, Work > Bloggers, Brands & the New Publishing Paradigm

Bloggers, Brands & the New Publishing Paradigm

Boy do I understand the value of blogger endorsements. Along with many of my PR brethren, I’ve been championing the power of their influence for several years. And by now, enough marketers have embraced bloggers that the FTC wants to revise its endorsement guidelines to make mandatory the disclosure of “material connections” between bloggers and companies whose products or services they’re endorsing. This has been widely discussed on- and off-line so I won’t belabor it here; good news is, many leading bloggers already have disclosure policies posted on their sites. This is a good thing, whether they’re being paid to road test products, being taken on trips, or given product gratis to try (more on this in a moment.)

(I’ll pause here to say that the agency I work for has organized events and product road tests with bloggers on behalf of our clients. We also wholeheartedly support the disclosure of such arrangements on the part of the blogger.)

In the wake of the FTC announcement, some of our clients are anxiously wondering if they should change the way they’ve been dealing with bloggers.  If you’re in PR, I’m sure you’re having the same conversations with your clients and marketing colleagues. So I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and was eager to hear what some of the leading voices in the mom blogosphere had to say during a Twitter chat last week on bloggers and brand representation.

The conversation moved at a blistering pace and I jumped in for only a portion but this was my big takeaway: this group is well aware of the need for transparency and disclosure. As mentioned, most of them already operate this way. Here’s where the conversation got interesting:  there is sentiment in many corners that bloggers deserve compensation for what they do. I was interested to hear some bloggers describe what they offer on their sites as “advertorial” in nature, thereby casting themselves in the role not of content editor, but publisher. In other words, akin to the business-building side of the classic magazine church/state divide.

Which is sticky, because we PR types have helped our clients “get” bloggers by equating them with editorial influencers. In which these rules apply: marketer provides gratis product, editor tries, editor may or may not write about it favorably. No money changes hands. So the editorial game is high risk/high reward – you can’t control the outcome, which is why PR will always be several parts art (vs science) – but the potential value of unpaid editorial endorsement far outweighs the risk that an editor will slam your product after trying it.

Here’s where blogging gums up the works. “Publisher” vs “editor” distinctions don’t apply anymore. The blogger role is actually a new publishing paradigm. They wear multiple hats: selling advertising space, marketing themselves and their blog(s), creating promotional partnerships with brands, publishing content – but (here’s the gummy part) they are also the ones writing that content. And in some cases, that content involves road-testing and endorsing products. But unlike the magazine world, the blogosphere has no guidelines establishing the boundaries between publishing and editorial — indeed, publishing and editing seem to have merged and no one’s quite sure how to assign a monetary value to the blogger’s output.

To that point, some bloggers who approach product endorsement as an advertorial opportunity believe the endorsement carries a cash value. But remember that advertorial is an off-shoot of advertising and – crucial distinction – the marketer who pays for it in a magazine controls the content. And the resulting advertorial is clearly labelled as such, as dictated by the American Society of Magazine Editors. Bloggers wanting to traffic in advertorial should be aware that the marketer writing the check will expect to control the resulting post content. And the bloggers I know have too much integrity to let their blog real estate be “rented” in this way. This is why we will likely hear more on the question of whether bloggers should create off-shoot sites solely dedicated to product reviews. Which raises the question: does the product review lose its value if pulled out of the context of the blogger’s real life, everyday narrative? (A debate for another post.)

So here’s what I’d like to say to the bloggers I’ve gotten to know in the past few years, many of whom I respect a great deal, genuinely like and would love to partner with ongoingly:

The power of your personal endorsement makes you very attractive to us, just like an “old school” editor is attractive.  But if I can’t control what you say about my client’s products, I can’t in good conscience give you their money. If I do, we’ve entered into an advertising/advertorial relationship and my clients are will expect to call the content shots. 

Some of you are up-front about being “PR-unfriendly.” You filter out press releases and don’t do product reviews for free. I respect your honesty. So if I need bloggers willing to review product for free, I will leave you alone, seek the others out, give them the product to try, support them in disclosing the gratis arrangement, and be prepared to take the lumps if they don’t like the product.

For those of you who don’t do free reviews, there are plenty of other things I’d love to pay you for.  Here are just a few:

Consulting and creative services: come help us shape our next social media campaign…please. We’d love to collaborate with you this way.

Panel and roundtable discussions: we would happily pay for your time and experience to participate in such events for the benefit and education of our clients and our own staff.

Promotional partnerships: will you be at an upcoming social media conference, and have an innovative sampling idea that will get my client’s product in the hands of influential bloggers? Sure, I’ll pay you to provide that service. I’d pay models in branded tees to sample on street corners; why wouldn’t I pay to benefit from your time and connections?

This is a rapidly evolving landscape, to be sure.  I don’t need the FTC to tell me that.  I hope that as we all continue to learn our way towards appropriate rules of engagement, we can continue to find mutually beneficial ways to work together that create value all around and — most importantly — keep us all on the right side of the ethical debate.

I welcome and value your thoughts. Please do share them.

Recommended reading:

To check out the FTC proposed revisions firsthand, read here.]

The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek weigh in (read here and here) but please, if you read those articles you need to scroll down for the bloggers’ perspective:

L.A.-based blogger Jessica Gottlieb speaks out in this post (there’s gold in the comments, including from Jessica Smith (“Jessica Knows”) who actually tags her Twitter tweets when necessary to identify them as sponsored.)

Jessica Smith also addresses inaccuracies in the BusinessWeek reporting here.

About these ads
  1. May 22, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Bravo!
    This is an AWESOME post that has so much logic and thought behind it. It makes me think too…
    I think a lot of people are also divided on what is consider paid or not. I don’t consider receiving a sample being paid or a trip being paid because, at least from my experience, none of the trips have been a vacation, it’s work! And yeah, I do love my job :)
    But unless I get a check? I’m not going to tag anything as sponsored. I’ll always disclosed if I was given a sample, for sure, and think that everyone should. But the word paid, I won’t use it unless I cashed a check.
    The three times I have written a sponsored post I did have to submit the copy to the brand before publishing and had no problem with it because, hey, it’s paid for. But two of those weren’t about the product itself (Sunchips) but about Earth Day and a contest sponsored by them…so it was more of a paid event promotion than it was a paid product review.
    The third one never got published because the brand decided to pull the campaign altogether (for internal reasons not because of bloggers).

    I really like your POV about looking at it as editorial vs the glossies. As someone who considers herself a hybrid of the two, I now know that it’s even more important than ever to be transparent.

    Those who read my blog/tweets know I’m an open book, maybe even to a fault. But that’s how I roll and prefer it that way.

    I look forward to reading more posts about this subject and others from you. Consider me an avid subscriber (to the email delivered version of your feed!)

    • ssmirnov
      May 23, 2009 at 3:07 pm

      Jessica, for what it’s worth — I agree with everything you’re doing. I also agree about the trips, as long as you’re disclosing that you were taken on a paid trip, etc, which it sounds like you are. Believe me, I know those schlepps are a lot of work, have done about 10 major ones in my career for magazine editors and we always had them running 24/7! Thanks for the comment, let’s keep the dialogue going.

  2. Kris Stornaway
    May 22, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Bloggers should always disclose, FTC or not. Anything else is just a lie.

    I work at a PR firm and we have some great relations, and some poor relations with bloggers. I’d have to disagree with you on the mommy bloggers front – I’ve found them to be amongst the least honest around.

    They badger you for products; they want paid in cash; they won’t offer reviews unless you pay extra for positive reviews. The list goes on.

    I’m sure there are some good ones out there but in my experience, they’re in the minority.

    I read a post a little while back about mommy bloggers and it could have come straight from the agency I work with.

    http://dannybrown.me/2009/04/09/tipping-the-scales/

    To me, that was more indicative of mommy bloggers than the good side.

    Who knows. But I’m jaded by the whole mommy blogger experience at the minute.

    • ssmirnov
      May 23, 2009 at 2:55 pm

      Kris, thanks for sharing Danny Brown’s post. That’s disturbing stuff. you know, one of the things that made me nuts about the BusinessWeek article was the headline choice: “Blogola.” I thought, damn, that’s either a junior copywriter trying to be clever or a deliberate attempt to be provocative. After all, the real Payola scandal nearly brought down the recording industry; the current debate about paid posts doesn’t quite feel as dire. HOWEVER. A blogger demanding money for a post and even going so far as to have a higher price for a positive review is pretty much worthy of a “blogola” tag. There is no way at all to justify that. I’m uncomfortable enough with the idea of “pay for post” even with disclosure, this pushes it to a place that I can’t get my mind around. All I can say is that if there are bloggers out there making some money for themselves or their families that way — go in peace. But I will steer clear.

    • May 23, 2009 at 4:39 pm

      Wow. I know a lot of mommy bloggers. And I also pitch for small (and through an agency some not so small) companies, too.

      I have yet to encounter what you are discussing.

      I know that some “blogs,” written by and for moms, that are really large companies, that are essentially all advertorial. Funny thing is, they aren’t really even that big in terms of traffic or engagement. But people think they are, and they pay, and that’s their business.

      But I would argue that just because you are a mom who posts dynamic, chronological content that doesn’t make you a “Mommy Blogger.”

      The people of whom I speak are business women and publishers who are not really engaged in the blogging community.

      What they do is really run the online equivalent of those glossy magazine sections that look like the rest of the magazine but are labeled advertisement in small print.

      And these are very few.

  3. May 22, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Congratulations you’ve very clearly defined some of the more troublesome problems for bloggers. I favor disclosure of compensation made to bloggers in exchange for product reviews or simply advertorials because it helps maintain the integrity of blogging as a legitimate, viable and commercial medium.

    The temptation to use blogging and bloggers as simple promotional tools creates the potential for abuse. Worse still without accountability in some form the PR or advertising value of any blog post will be diluted by those that use disreputable practices.

    Disclosure is the only real answer and all bloggers will benefit in the long run.

    • ssmirnov
      May 23, 2009 at 2:47 pm

      Hear, hear, Marvin! Bloggers are too valuable a resource to compromise their integrity — I hope my PR colleagues and the marketers we advise really take this to heart. This is why I also get very up-at-arms about social media work and blogger outreach specifically being handled by PR agencies versus the ad agencies or the digital shops. Cultivating a relationship is not the same as doing paid search or building a micro-site.

  4. May 22, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    I am just getting into the sponsored side of blogging and was at #gno. It was a real eye opener, I didn’t realize until recently what a big deal and big new world blogging can open up. I found this post very interesting and helpful to a newbie like me. Thank you!

  5. May 22, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    I’ve pretty much come up with the same thing. All of our editorials are free. If you want exposure without review, you can pay for an ad or a sponsored contest or deal.

    What I’m sick of is the people who want me to just print their press releases or take the time to test, repackage, and then return their samples

    But if you want us to consult (and my business partner is a marketing executive and I am a professional writer and educational consultant with some top notch experience and designer degrees), you have to pay us.

    But here’s where it gets sticky–when we receive expensive products. When does it cross the line into compensation?

    I’m a Frigidaire Test Mom. I’m receiving the entire suite of appliances and they are paying my taxes on this. I have signed nothing promising to be entirely positive and I intend to tell the whole truth. I hope that people who have been reading me for a while trust that I can give my honest opinion about the appliances.

    What I will add is that most mom bloggers are not journalists (there are some exceptions, at times Jennifer at Zrecs comes close)…we are experts in our respective areas. And when we write about products, we write from our perspectives as experts–in parenting, life, fashion, education, homeschooling, marketing, whatever.

    I keep hearing people say…”At the NYTimes…” or what have you. If anything, this is Glamour, not the Washington Post. Disclosure about free samples and payment is important, but it doesn’t have to be as legalistic as if we were writing about industrial waste and Exon is a major advertiser.

    And, as you say, we have to wear many hats. If we pay to run a blog, we need to sell the ads (or do affiliate marketing).

    Don’t try to tell me that who buys ads has no influence on who gets editorial coverage at print magazines! I actually think most of the bloggers I have dealt with are better about that.

    But online, there is even more of a desire for editorial placement over ads not just because of the authenticity, but also because of the link juice.

    Ideally PR people are choosing blogs based on audience engagement, quality, fit…but I can tell when they just want the link. I delete those, personally. Some people don’t know this, though, and are flattered by the attention. So, the PR company sometimes opts for 100 free links over 10 quality recommendations.

    And you are correct. If your clients pay, they are wise to reserve the right to dictate the terms. They would not be wise to tell bloggers exactly what to say…you still want the authentic voice of the messenger. Still, they should only partner with bloggers who are a fit with their brand and wouldn’t take money only to turn around and trash the brand.

    • ssmirnov
      May 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm

      Candace — Mamanista — it’s nice to “meet” you for real. I enjoyed our handful of exchanges at #GNO. I appreciate your POV and I would be naive (and crazy disingenuous) to imply that the church/state divide in the magazine world is pure. It’s not. But I think people would be surprised at how challenging it can be, even with some of the world’s biggest advertisers on your client roster (P&G is a huge client of ours, and I used to work client-side at L’Oreal…massive ad budgets in most cases) to deliver quality editorial results (not just quantity) for those clients. Olay and Pantene may spend ga-zillions of dollars with Allure and Good Housekeeping but trust me, if the product isn’t up to snuff or has no news value, it will not make it into the editorial pages without some very heavy lifting from the PR team. I’ve been in PR for 20-some years and never, NEVER, have I thrown an editor under the bus with her publisher in order to get coverage for my Big Advertiser Client. But I digress, that’s not the debate here! You are 100% right that smart PR people will focus on quality over quantity when choosing bloggers as partners — can’t tell you how many times I’ve gently invited a client to reconsider their desire to “partner” with the “top 1000 mom bloggers” on a launch. A thousand. Can you imagine???

      • May 23, 2009 at 5:34 pm

        Turn it around for a second. Would you approach a magazine for editorial placement if your company, which spends massive ad bucks elsewhere, refused to ever advertise in that particular publication?

        That’s what is happening with blogs…these companies won’t advertise on our blogs or, for the most part, any independent blogs (there are a few ads on networks that most of these blogs are not part of).

        They just want the editorials. Or more likely the links (which have a monetary value in and of themselves) and the mention. Just for free. Whether or not it is a fit.

        Now, this is not all big companies. Some really get it.

      • ssmirnov
        May 24, 2009 at 7:09 am

        Candace raises a good questions (pitching editorial when client doesn’t advertise.) Depends on the client — our biggest usually have media buying agencies making the call on where to place ads. And I’m sure I’ll get smacked for this but in my opinion, those decisions are more about scale efficiencies than content of “fit” (e.g., Company X has a gazillion brands, all with advertising budgets. Media Buying Agency Z can leverage the collective weight of the budgets of these disparate collection of brands, so where brand ads end up is much more about numbers than a fit with readership.) I bring this up because we as the PR team have often gone in and pitched editorial to books outside this advertising framework because the latter is SUCH a numbers game that we’d be missing opportunities to reach influential readers otherwise. And the editors of these magazines will cover us if – as I said in another comment — what we’re bringing them is newsworthy and makes sense to their readers. To your second point: digital advertising is also bought by agencies who are not usually the ones handling creative or editorial relations so again, it becomes a numbers game. Many big advertisers have marketing diagnostics in place that measure the ROI of each individual component of the marketing mix (including everything — publicity, TV spots, couponing, in-store marketing, direct-to-consumer outreach, etc. ) There are high expectations placed on each element of this mix to deliver sales results for every marketing dollar spent. Editorial, social media programs and blogger outreach don’t always fare as well in these measurement models because the models don’t in any way capture the exponential value of third-party endorsement, or intangibles like impacting a consumer’s feelings about the brand. So the true ROI of blogs or publicity isn’t really properly captured, so the investment dollars continue to flow to tried and true tactics (30-second spots. Coupons. Shopper marketing.) And that’s why you don’t see a lot of these companies advertising yet on the same blogs they feel they can efficiently reach through editorial outreach.

      • May 24, 2009 at 8:57 am

        FYI: My business partner is a marketing exec so I actually know this…though I think it is a good primer.

        My question was less about the mechanics of advertising than pointing out the position bloggers are in. I may not blog about a type of product that does target my audience…but the company just wants me to blog about that product. That company does not want to ever purchase ads on the blogs.

        Let’s say a company is advertising its make-up remover and I blog about toys. And a company is sending me 10 press releases about its make-up remover. I tell them that I actually have expertise in make-up and would be interested in consulting. And I tell them that my audience is their target audience and they are welcome to place an ad.

        At best, I get a response that they do not handle the marketing, only the PR. Most of the time, I just get ignored. Sometimes, I even get a snotty reply.

        So, how do bloggers with business blogs make money?

        If big companies won’t advertise in the blogosphere and provide revenue, they will not see as many business blogs who are willing to take a look at their products. And I don’t mean that in the tit for tat way. I mean that in these blogs won’t exist way.

        And as I mentioned before…link value must be considered when talking about online vs. print media.

      • May 24, 2009 at 9:04 am

        And I wanted to ad that it isn’t just in online media that editorial is more effective than print. And yet magazines are filled with expensive advertisements. Authentic, unbiased editorial product coverage has to be supported with revenue from somewhere, print or online. Large companies know they can’t get something for nothing in the broad scheme of things from print (again, not tit for tat, but pushing out advertising dollars into the print world so magazines and jobs for writers exist) but they still think they can get away with it with bloggers.

      • ssmirnov
        May 25, 2009 at 8:22 am

        I actually can’t argue with any point you’ve made in these last 2 comments. We see what happens when advertising revenue dries up. Newspapers and magazines disappear. So you’re right. But the problem is still that many (not all) big advertisers don’t see blogs as businesses that need to be kept afloat with ads. Hence the title of my post. This really is a brave new world and honestly, I’m not sure what (other than time) will prove to marketers that blogs are more than just essays written on free WordPress accounts. I wonder if this (unfair) perception is more prevalent in the mom blog world. Here’s an idea: maybe we need to come up with something other than “mom blogs” to describe what these sites really are. Is it a mom blog, or is it a site run/written by a consumer goods expert who is also the chief purchasing officer of her household?

      • May 25, 2009 at 9:55 am

        As I mentioned on Twitter to you, I do believe product bloggers need to cultivate an area of expertise.

        It is important to remember that before a lot of “mom bloggers” were moms & and bloggers, they wore other hats, too. They have expertise in marketing, journalism, education, medicine, law, science, etc.

        And even those who do not have prior work experience often blog because they’ve developed some sort of expertise in some aspect of parenting.

        It isn’t just in the blogging world that moms who focus on parenting have a tough time being taken seriously as anything else…being seen as a mom first and almost exclusively. It is frustrating, but ultimately it is up to the individual and the community to challenge that perception in a productive way.

        As I also said on Twitter to someone else, labels have the power to empower and build community. They can also limit and denigrate.

        I think it is difficult to change language (though not always impossible and sometimes necessary). What I prefer to concentrate on in this case is to get people to see each of us as individuals as well as a community.

  6. May 22, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    I think you’ve made a great point: bloggers wishing to be paid for reviews (in addition to receiving product) are toeing a very fine line. I agree that if a company pays for a review they are essentially in charge of what’s written. I can certainly see that logic.

    However, my opinion shifts when we discuss giveaways. When I ran a successful giveaway site, I charged for giveaways. Why? Because my guidelines stated clearly that I was hosting giveaways, not receiving product, and not writing reviews. I was providing a service for the company–an advertising service. I was surprised to find that some companies (usually large, well-known companies) were not willing to pay the fee. I had a specifically targeted audience that the company wanted to reach and they wanted to reach it for free. That’s a fairly one-sided relationship and not beneficial to the blogger in most cases. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

    • Ssmirnov
      May 23, 2009 at 2:32 pm

      Melanie, you raise a terrific point. I would actually consider a giveaway campaign as a promotional partnership and therefore deserving of a fee for the blogger — and would position it to my client that way. (Full disclosure, I’m doing a partnership like this with one of my clients and Jessica Gottlieb at BlogHer.) That assumes that it’s a giveaway in the absence of a product review. Once there’s a product review involved, it gets tougher for PR types to ask the client to pay. For example, if I invited a blogger to a product launch event, gave her product to try and review, and also gave her a supply of products to do a giveaway contest for her readers, my client wouldn’t expect to pay. I wonder if this is the disconnect: it sounds like you see the giveaway as a service you’re providing the client (therefore, they should pay.) THEY think they’re providing YOU with a service because the stash of giveaway product is a nice added value for your readers and presumably could help attract new followers to your blog. The marketer would think, “Why should I pay the blogger to help her build her following?” For additional context, we often do giveaways with magazines which are actually covered as editorial, not advertorial (“Olay is giving Allure 1000 free samples of its latest anti-aging serum, be one of the first readers to log on and win…” etc etc. You’ve probably seen this a zillion times.) In those cases — again — the client doesn’t pay Allure to do the giveaway. So for now, bloggers will continue to be benchmarked against what marketers are used to getting “for free” from magazine editors. Not that it’s right….but until some other guidelines are established (and the FTC hasn’t tackled this yet, for better or worse), the debate will continue!

  7. May 22, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    This is a fab piece. Thank you for explaining the topic from the PR perspective.

    As a personal blogger and magazine publisher, I am continually learning the ins and outs of this ever changing digital landscape.

    Great work.

  8. May 22, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful well written post. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started blogging. I thought I would just post stuff and people would read it. I would maybe make a little extra money for my family, but that would be that.

    Little did I know there is so much more to blogging than just writing. I love how you talk about bloggers wearing multiple hats. Sometimes I think I am a little too hard on myself. I am not perfect at wearing all of those hats yet. I think I write a pretty good blog within my niche, but the branding/marketing aspect.of blogging are not my strengths.

    As I write a blog that is about saving money I sometimes struggle with what sort of advertising of products I should be doing if any. It gets a little sticky and I struggle to balance out keeping a voice that is true to the nature of my blog and being rewarded for the hard work I put into my blog.

    Enough of my life story! Thanks for your thoughts.on transparency and disclosure, I really enjoyed it!

  9. May 23, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Thank you for your insight from a PR perspective, Stephanie. This is all relatively new for most of us bloggers, as the majority of us do not have a background in PR or marketing. I want to read the perspectives of as many folks who are in the know as I can so that I can come to my own informed decisions. Thanks again!

    • ssmirnov
      May 24, 2009 at 6:48 am

      Hi, Mary. Thanks for commenting. It’s complicated, swirly, and rapidly evolving. We’re all in it together and am glad we’re talking!

  10. May 24, 2009 at 10:13 am

    As an ex-ad agency acct. director this is soooo true and frequently happens – ssmirnov: “(e.g., Company X has a gazillion brands, all with advertising budgets. Media Buying Agency Z can leverage the collective weight of the budgets of these disparate collection of brands, so where brand ads end up is much more about numbers than a fit with readership.)”

    It is a constant tug of war with clients who want to reach critical mass with their messages and agency/pr partners who are looking to place that message within relevant content, and zero in on the sites/mediums/consumers that have the right “fit”.

    For a previous shoe client – we found that our advertorials (sponsored editorial) yielded the highest ROI as far as from click to actual purchase….video was second, and display was last.

    Great read…great conversation…I hope to chat more about this and many more topics on another #GNO and hope to meet everyone at BlogHer.

  11. May 25, 2009 at 11:34 am

    This is a very helpful post. Up to this point, I have not monetized my blog because I have been consistently paid for the other parenting writing that I do.

    However, since I spend more time on my blog than the other writing (that actually pays!), I’m reconsidering. I’ve considered ads since several companies have offered to buy ad space, but the truth is – I don’t really think ads (by themselves) in a sidebar work. (Personally, I have never purchased anything simply because I saw an ad for it.)

    It’s helpful to know other areas (Consulting and creative services; Panel and roundtable discussions; Promotional partnerships) that I can use to monetize my blog in the future while still staying true to myself.

    Thanks.

  12. LisaP
    May 25, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks for starting and facilitating this spirited discussion. I’m trying to sort out the best way to share this feedback with clients. Feel like I’ve finally gotten them all sorted on how editorial coverage works — and now a new set of guidelines to add to the mix. I’ll keep reading and look forward to more feedback from agencies and bloggers. It’s good to see all sides.

  13. May 26, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    This story hits home as I’m a marketer and also run a web news journal about moms who are active in social media.

    Value exchange, influence and disclosure between media properties and business have all been negotiated to varying degrees forever – but it was behind the scenes, often with the agency as the proxy. It is now a greater issue because it is being debated publicly and as Stephanie aptly states, ““Publisher” vs “editor” distinctions don’t apply…” with bloggers.

    I believe that people (anybody) should benefit whenever they are approached by a businesses to help them achieve their objectives – whatever form that may take. Thus, I do feel bloggers should be compensated (money, free product, no expense trip, etc.) for their time and effort – and even for product reviews. I don’t believe there is a difference in the compensation type. A suite of appliances, is pretty sweet – which Candance openly recognizes. And since she has fully disclosed her reward, her readers will maintain their trust. Again, as we all agree on, it comes down to full disclosure.

  14. May 27, 2009 at 7:52 am

    This is just about the best assessment I’ve read on this. Kudos.
    I think the challenge as you state, is not just that bloggers function as editors and publishers and writers and ad sales all at once, but that all blogs are not the same.

    As I’ve always said, there are parenting blogs – about parenting – and there are review blogs – about products. The fact that they are both written by moms is almost irrelevant because they have wholly different audiences, influence and levels of engagement. Oddly, the PR community hasn’t quite recognized this yet.

    The real challenge however is that all blogs that review products are not the same either. It’s always clear when a blogger seeks to serve her audience with thoughtful, well-crafted reviews, or mainly aims to take advantage of freebies.

    • ssmirnov
      May 27, 2009 at 10:12 am

      Liz (Mom 101), how right you are. Here’s an idea for an enterprising person with a few years on their hands: how about the Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the “Mom” Blog Galaxy? Seriously. I’d pay for that. Hell, maybe I’ll even write it, with a little help from my friends. If other industries have blog categories — beauty, fashion, food, tech — then what the world of moms-who-also-write-blogs has given us is a veritable ecosystem. Wildly diverse, infinitely inter-connected, living, breathing, ever-evolving…and tough to navigate, even (I suspect) from the inside. And if we PR types who are quasi-social media astute are struggling, just think of how confusing it is to our poor clients.

  15. May 27, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    This is an extremely interesting post and I enjoyed the discussion following it. I’ve spent the last 15 years working with journalists and in PR. In my experience it doesn’t matter the industry, you’ll find some good folks who are great at what they do and some that just aren’t. It’s the same for mom bloggers and the same for the PR people who pitch them. It comes down to relationships, respecting the people involved and understanding the job they have to do and not just your own. I’ve started a blog to learn more about social media and how it works so I can be a more effective marketer. It’s been a great educational tool. It’s also been a lot of fun. I’m still trying to figure out if I can create a revenue stream from the blog itself, but I don’t think my readership base is there yet. However, my knowledge base is definitely there. I like the ideas presented in this post. They make sense and give bloggers some ideas of what is acceptable to ask for in terms of payment, especially when dealing with the PR folks pitching them. I think bloggers need to take a hard look at what it is they have that IS marketable. It may not be the reviews themselves, but their expertise as a reviewer in a specific area. PR people need to realize that these are business women, not moms with nothing better to do. Good PR folks will do what Stephanie has done here, let bloggers know how they would like to work with them and build a relationship. Everyone’s after a win-win, because it makes it easier to do business the next time. If it’s a one sided deal, it’s a one time deal and that’s just too much work when we’re all already overloaded. I’d love to discuss, consult and partner, give me a call.

    • ssmirnov
      May 27, 2009 at 1:59 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Sue. Smart to jump into the blogging fray to round yourself out as a marketer; same reason why I did it (as a PR practioner). Figured I couldn’t advise clients on how to reach bloggers when I hadn’t yet blogged a mile in their shoes. And I’m hardly a professional blogger, but certainly have learned the incredible challenge of carving out an identity and–as you say–figuring out what of mine is marketable in this space.

  16. Jessica Gottlieb
    May 27, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    This is great, honestly, until a few months ago I really didn’t know what PR was.

    From a blogger’s perspective, I’ve got two kids and a husband, I could write 8 posts a day without ever mentioning a brand. So when I do mention a brand it’s with purpose and forethought, it’s typically a small local business that I want to support.

    There are some brands that I like, but I wouldn’t call myself an evangelist. I can, however, find the bloggers that would be their evangelists.

    There is one exception to the rule… maybe two…. Barneys. If Barneys ever wanted me to blog for product only I’d jump on it… Jo Malone is a close second.

    • ssmirnov
      May 28, 2009 at 6:12 am

      Thanks for commenting, Jessica. By the way, NO ONE really knows what PR is. I’ve been in this biz 20-some years and my sweet dad, bless him, continues to congratulate me every time he sees one of my client’s ads on TV, like I was remotely involved in its creation/production (“Saw that Olay TV commercial last night! Great job, pal!”) *sigh.*

  17. May 27, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Hi @ssmirnov. I enjoyed the post and exchange here. Women, and in particular Moms, are natural connectors and word-of-mouth agents and these new media platforms, whether blogs, vlogs, podcasts, web radio and social media sites like FB and Twitter have the power to accelerate the speed and reach of their influence. I’m all for full transparency on sponsored posts/product reviews or product test drives. In the end, it is the quality of writing and level of honest product engagement that really drives influence. Anyone can sniff out “hucksterism.” At Mom Central Consulting we build relationships with online and offline Mom Influencers and we know what types of products resonate with them and what don’t. We have loved the partnerships we’ve had with PR firms because they share our sensibility. We’ve built a robust testing panel that enables Moms to talk directly with brands. We think this is valuable for both Moms and Brands. We hear time and time again,” I want companies to talk with me, most advertising talks at me.”

  18. May 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    I came across your blog from another site. This is very well written and insightful. I have learned a lot. I have a blog where I do reviews and giveaways. I have never sold one ad or made any cash at all on my blog. I do reviews and giveaways and I’m not paid a cent for them. I do, however, receive a product to try out and work my tail off reviewing it and then writing a review. My site is to promote products I prefer therefore it’s my opinion as a mom. I’m picky about the promotions I do. Of course I would sell ads on my sidebar if a company asked to buy the space (if it is family friendly and something I don’t mind promoting on my site).

    Again, thanks for the post. I appreciate it. I worked at a newspaper for 10 years and a radio station for six years prior to becoming a SAHM. I started blogging as a way to document my boys’ lives and share pictures with family. I still have that blog but now have my review/life blog. It’s mostly reviews and giveaways but I write in my voice. I enjoy it immensely and it makes me sad to see a divide and it makes me said when review bloggers are lumped in with “bloggers” who opened blogs just for what they think is “free” product. It’s not.

  19. May 27, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    This was really well written and incredibly informative!
    I’m glad I stumbled upon it!

  20. May 29, 2009 at 11:52 am

    I’m starting to believe that the era (as short as it was) of product reviews is coming to an end. Our readers don’t want to read them. Bloggers are becoming overwhelmed and are turning down a lot of stuff. Many of them are starting to feel like they are getting the short end of the stick and are starting to charge for their time (not their opinions!)

    I know that PR reps are just starting to feel like they get what’s going on and here it goes again changing…

    If we keep on keeping on like we have been, we will find that review blogs have a readership with a short life-cycle. Readers will get bored of the same kind of posts, readerships will shift to Google traffic instead of loyal tribes (as we see now.) These new readers will hang around for a little bit and wash,rince,repeat.

    This will result in Bloggers changing up what they write about in order to hang on to their readers and I guarantee it, it’s not going to be PR driven.

    If brands want to continue to work with Bloggers they need to make a real attempt at forming relationships.

  21. May 29, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Hi Stephanie,

    As an editor, I found this article informative and useful – which is what I ask freelance writers to use as a guideline when writing articles for themed newspaper supplements. I don’t want business profiles that simply promote a business’ services / products. I want what our readers want – reviews of products / services and ways those products can be used. I am the editor of the Special Sections department which produces over 65 advertising supplements a year. I am not allowed to accept any gifts for my work from advertisers, to maintain integrity in the product.

    • ssmirnov
      May 30, 2009 at 8:14 am

      Hi SpecialDee! It’s so much more clearly defined in the print arena, particularly in the newspaper world where reporters all follow guidelines about gifting such as you describe. This whole discussion reminds me of a similar debate surrounding broadcast integrations from a few years ago (i.e., paid segments on morning news shows or daytime talk shows) — there was a concern that such segments would have to carry an on-screen caption identifying the segment as sponsored. The drama died down and here were are years later with these kinds of segments more common than ever (thanks to shrinking advertising budgets) — broadcast “advertorial” is a very desirable marketing tool. I wonder if the FTC might shift its eagle eye back over to broadcast and consider leaving bloggers alone for the moment…

  22. May 29, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Great stuff. Keep up the good work.

  23. June 1, 2009 at 2:26 am

    Great Stuff. Thanks for the information

  24. June 5, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Fantastic post! One of the best I have read so far on the subject.

    The Wild West of blogging has been wild alright! Our site has been around since the beg of 2006 and we were one of the first to do giveaways.

    But our site was always different than a personal Mom blog. It was a shopping blog, a parenting blog, a resource blog — a place to find information and have fun! So giveaways and product reviews just fit in.

    But then the site got too big. We needed to pay staff. We had to have a private dedicated server. We had costs that our online stores could no longer continue to support. (We are online business owners and 5m4m was not where we earned our income. In fact, it was our stores that helped cover our costs.)

    So recently we started requesting optional admin fees for our giveaways, along with fees for promotional campaigns with interactive contests, spokesperson duties, etc.

    We do not accept pay for our opinions in our posts. The fee is simply is to admin the giveaway.

    We accept these admin fees because in order to run giveaways — we need to pay staff for answering emails, running contests, communicating with PR and clients, etc. Our site is a beast to run and in order to keep it going and not pull it down, we have to pay staff. We simply can’t do it all by ourselves anymore.

    We do still run many of our giveaways without any admin fees because different companies etc have different policies. Some are fine with a nominal fee to help cover admin costs and some are not.

    But many of our giveaways, whether with an admin fee or not, include a product testimonial because we want our site to be useful and entertaining. If am doing a giveaway for a product I like and feel good about endorsing, then I want to chat about it! (And I want my writers on my site to chat too.) I want to write an engaging personal post. I am a writer! I can’t NOT write a post with it! That is too boring for me. I want to have fun with the post.

    But perhaps we didn’t worry enough about “disclosure.” We figured our readers obviously understood that we had received the product in order to test it. And ultimately, we figured they knew that we (my sister Susan and I run 5m4m together ) valued our site and our readers too much to post something we didn’t support.

    In these past three years, we have been trying to do our best as pioneers to figure out how to make it all work the best for everyone involved. And lately while all of this controversy has been swirling, we have been listening carefully to what is going on. We want to make sure that we have an authentic and transparent site. We haven’t yet posted on the subject, but we will soon and we will definitely link to your post.

    We have added a disclosure policy and try to mention in posts etc when product etc has been provided.

    And we are definitely taking a look at what we are doing and what more we need to do to ensure that we have complete transparency etc.

    (But part of me still wants to say – come on – our readers don’t need to hear every time, in every post, that we received this product for free. Of course we did! They know the drill. It muddies up the post. BUT, we will do what we have to do.) :)

    I appreciate what Candace said about companies not advertising or putting money to support the medium. Instead they just use it for what they can get out of it.

    However, recently we have definitely seen a big shift in this area. Companies are starting to put some dollars in to design promotional campaigns that include ad buy etc.

    Until the advertising dollars are there to support the blogs like the ad dollars support newspapers and magazines, bloggers will be looking for ways to keep their blogs alive. Because really, I imagine all of us who work full time hours to create top quality sites need to justify that investment in the form of compensation to help provide for our families. Otherwise, we just have a VERY time consuming hobby!

    PS I am interested in hearing more about what you mentioned in one of your above comments about segments in morning and day time shows: “This whole discussion reminds me of a similar debate surrounding broadcast integrations from a few years ago (i.e., paid segments on morning news shows or daytime talk shows) — there was a concern that such segments would have to carry an on-screen caption identifying the segment as sponsored. The drama died down and here were are years later with these kinds of segments more common than ever (thanks to shrinking advertising budgets) — broadcast “advertorial” is a very desirable marketing tool. I wonder if the FTC might shift its eagle eye back over to broadcast and consider leaving bloggers alone for the moment…”

    It seems that they are in a very similar situation to what we bloggers are in now. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on that comparison.

  25. June 5, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    This is a fascinating discussion, and really informative. As a blogger, I’ve toyed with the idea of setting up a review site, but usually become bogged down with exactly the issues being discussed here. Thanks to you (and all your commenters) for such a clearly thought out post.

    • ssmirnov
      June 5, 2009 at 7:20 pm

      Hi, Velma, thanks for the comment. Am glad you found the post helpful — good luck with what you’re doing.

  26. June 5, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    The bottom half of this post is money. And it’s also a lot more time investment on the part of the blogger than getting free stuff and writing a review of it. I know, because I’m in the consulting/speaking business. Setting rates, deciding which gigs to take on/which to walk away from, developing relationships…it’s all a lot more work than saying, “Sure! Send me product!”

    My point is in storytelling. If the PR firm wants a blogger/Twitter personality to develop a story around a product (rather than simply giving it a thumbs up/down) I think there’s money in the banana stand. Yes, I understand the desire to control content. But the PR firm can’t control outcome of messaging/impact of message on the consumer – so why should it get to control content of story being told?

    Anyway, that’s just more food for thought. I think PR firms should pay for story creation around the brand. I think we would both agree that story sells, stuff doesn’t. Right?

    Also, if a person – mommy or no – takes herself seriously in this business, she’s going to take the time to set up her LLC, get a lawyer, learn the business, take some product in exchange for a review now and then, do consulting for cash…you see what I mean? Hybrid. It’s more work, but work has a bigger payoff. And people will take that sort of hybrid structure more seriously, I believe, than if you’re simply “shilling for product.”

    Great post. I look forward to meeting you at BlogHer!

    -@gwenbell

    • ssmirnov
      June 5, 2009 at 7:19 pm

      Hey, Gwen, totally agree on the storytelling point. Like I said in response to Natasha, good PR people (and good clients) get the importance of crafting a relevant, credible story around a product way well before it’s time to issue the product news through all the usual channels. My most enlightened clients get this and engage us sometimes years before a launch (true) to line up all the right influencers and experts and yes, “real” consumers to give input and help bake in meaning to what otherwise might just be the launch of a “new and improved shampoo.” Working this far in advance also gives us time to assemble the right set of assets that we can then share with a diverse group of influencers (bloggers among them) and THEY can pick and choose how they want to tell the story (do they want this spokesperson or that? do they want a trip to the lab to learn hands-on about the product technology? do they want consumer behavior data sliced by region to be more relevant to their local readers? etc etc etc) — this is a very sophisticated approach to PR versus treating us the press release and party brigade. (And one quite frankly that really melts THIS PR person’s butter!)

  27. June 5, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Found this thanks to the lovely Gwen Bell.

    This was a fascinating read. I’ve never intended to get into reviews and I’m trying to understand why someone would. I guess if blogging is someone’s end game, then reviews would be a pretty fantastic integration for the blog, from the blogger’s perspective.

    I have asked myself many times what I would do if approached with a stellar offer (there are trips?!) and I just don’t know. I’d need an angle, an issue, something worth writing about. I wonder if these companies think of that. Do they give bloggers ideas for how they can write about a product with a certain angle to make it actually RELEVANT for readers? Because I’m not interested in reading straight-out product reviews so while it’s great for the company to have their product on a blogger’s site, if no one’s reading it, how beneficial is that? I know that they DO get read and they ARE beneficial, otherwise this wouldn’t be such a big topic. I am just asking if it could be better for everyone involved if out-and-obvious product reviews were less review-y.

    Then again, I’m new to this end of things. I just want to write.

    • ssmirnov
      June 5, 2009 at 7:10 pm

      Hi, Natasha, thanks so much for the comment. You hit the nail on the head: what’s the angle? We live, eat, breathe, sleep that question as PR people, whether we’re dealing with bloggers or “traditional” media. We work hard to educate our marketing clients that product news for product’s sake is not in fact news — got to put lifestyle relevance around it or else who cares? Good PR people should intuitively think that way, because that’s what good writers are yearning for. And that’s originally what made bloggers so attractive to us PR/marketing types because what you do is tell a story. And hopefully weaving the product, brand or service into your personal narrative — potentially way more impactful than a :30 spot or even a product review in a national magazine.

  1. May 26, 2009 at 11:52 am
  2. May 28, 2009 at 6:41 pm
  3. June 1, 2009 at 6:30 pm
  4. June 2, 2009 at 5:20 am
  5. June 11, 2009 at 10:06 am
  6. July 7, 2009 at 12:13 pm
  7. July 25, 2009 at 11:05 pm
  8. September 17, 2009 at 6:53 pm
  9. February 24, 2010 at 10:15 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: