Mom Bloggers, Money and Professionalism

I have basically kept silent through mommy blogger debates, demands for money, FTC guidelines, PR backlash, and various town halls and blog debates. Why? Well, I’ve been waiting for the dust to settle a bit. I believe that over the next year, some things will settle down, equalize and work itself out.

Over the past few months, however, I’ve noticed some trends that bother me and have had more than a few comments from PR people and bloggers that I think are worth noting. Today, I read Kelby Carr’s post, “Mom Bloggers Deserve to Get Paid.” Honestly, I’ve been avoiding reading it. I am tired of people whining about not getting paid, while doing nothing to deserve payment. Well, one thing led to another (I was reading her post, “How to Blog Like a Journalist” which referred back to the post above) and I decided to tackle the post because I fully respect Kelby, her writing and her professionalism. I was not disappointed. I basically agree with everything she wrote in her post, so she has spared me from writing something similar myself. I do want to emphasize a few points that got lost in her post and add a few of my own:

1. Review products are not payment, nor should they be. If you do reviews because you like the free products, go for it, but they are not intended as payment for writing about a company. Review products are given out so that you can actually write a hands-on, balanced review. Are you providing a service to the company? Yes, and if you write a balanced review, more than you know. Are they providing a service to you? Yes. Reviews are content. Without content, there are no readers. Oh, and don’t treat PR people like your own personal shoppers. More than one PR person has mentioned getting lists of products to review from certain bloggers. Choose one or two products and use them to build a relationship with the company first. If they think your work is quality and are happy with the return, they’ll continue to work with you.

2. Any PR person worth their salt wants you to tell the truth about a product you’re reviewing. Of course they don’t want you to bash a product, but they want you to share the things you like, and the things you don’t. Why? Well, first of all, a balanced review is more believable. If you can’t find anything negative (but constructive) to say about a product, you sound like a paid spokesperson. Your opinion loses validity. Second, constructive criticism helps a company make better products. This is why they do focus groups and marketing tests. Third, an honest review results in a customer who can make an educated purchase decision. If you purchase a product with realistic expectations, you are less likely to be disappointed with your purchase. Here are two examples

– Last year I blogged about a new virtual world from a well-known company. I didn’t do a full review, but I did blog some negative things about the site based on my experiences in testing it out. The company took the time to reach out, thank me for my feedback and set up a call with their development team to discuss my comments further. They turned a potential negative into a positive.

– I recently reviewed an educational product from a well-respected company. I commented in my review that a major shortcoming of the product was that it only allowed for an educational profile for one child. What if you have two kids who want to use it? When I asked for reader feedback of what they learned in my review, one reader said that she had decided to buy two of the products so each of her kids could retain their own profile. After reading my review, consumers could buy the product with realistic expectations, or even alter their purchasing decisions to overcome the problem. It’s value for my readers, as well as for the company.

3. Not reviewing products you don’t like is ok, but don’t just shove them in a closet and ignore them. If you have agreed to review a product, follow through on your commitment (this does not include the products that show up on your door or “accidentally” end up in your package or items to review). Since I am particular about what I review, I rarely have an experience where I can’t find something nice to say. When it happens, take a moment to write a friendly note to the PR person to briefly explain why you don’t feel comfortable writing a review. Sometimes it’s a personal thing, like not liking the scent in a beauty product. Sometimes you’re just not the intended audience. And sometimes the product doesn’t do what it should. Regardless, hold up your end of the bargain and at least provide a few sentences of feedback if you can. It can pay off in maintaining a professional relationship with the company and PR person. I once reviewed something that I thought was going to be an amazing product. It met a common need with a solution that seemed ideal. In trying it out, both of my kids ended up hysterical tears because they were so frustrated. Since I knew that other kids had enjoyed the product, I sent a private note to the PR rep to let her know our experience. I acknowledged that my kids were a bit younger than some of the other reviewers and explained what caused their frustration.

4. If you are asked to do anything other than review a product or event (which provides some value to you and your blog), including sitting in on a focus group (professional groups easily pay $75 or more for 2 hours of your time), serving as a spokesperson, organizing other bloggers, etc., you deserve compensation. Now, compensation can come in many forms. A trip to a part of a country you’ve never seen, a life-time supply of product or visibility for your blog might be worthwhile to you. I weigh my gain against the time it will take before I make a decision. Only you can say if something is worth your time, but don’t undersell yourself. No one will consider you to be a professional until you do.

5. If you get a pitch for a product, service, trip, etc., you should do one of four things 1) Delete it. If a PR person doesn’t take the time to target their pitches, I usually don’t take the time to reply. 2) Politely decline. Don’t launch into a tirade. Just briefly explain that it doesn’t fit into your focus, interests, schedule, etc., and move on. If it’s a good pitch, suggest another blogger who might be interested. 3) Accept. If it’s a simply pitch that interests you, give it a go ahead. 4) And this is the big one: reply and request clarification, compensation or to discuss it further. Don’t tell the PR person that your medical bills are piling up and you need the money. They don’t really need to know that. Tell them that your hourly rate is X or that you’d be willing to take it on with the following circumstances. Put the ball back in their court. They may decline, they may negotiate, or they may say yes. Regardless, you’ve put yourself forward as a writer with professional expectations. No matter how bad a pitch may be, don’t stoop to insulting the other person, either publicly or privately. The only real insult is accepting a pitch that is beneath you.

6. Balance confidence with humility. Most mom bloggers seem to undervalue their own work, but there are some who think that their site has more value than it does. Never, ever pull out the “blogger” card as in, “Do you know who I am?” or imply threats of a bad review. It’s just tacky. As a collective, we have a very strong voice, but there are actually not very many of us who can compete with traditional media outlets just let. If a company doesn’t think you’re worth their time, simply move on.

7. Nobody owes you anything. PR people don’t owe it to you to read your blog before pitching. Companies don’t owe it to you to pay you, unless you’ve got a contract with them. You set your expectations and live by them. I personally don’t care of a PR person even glances at my blog. I accept pitches that interest me and ignore those that don’t. I am more likely to respond to a personalized pitch, but I don’t care either way if the product is a good fit. I am not “insulted” when companies don’t offer to pay me what I think I’m worth. I simply say, “No.” As mom bloggers seek out professional gigs in the online world, we need to behave more like professionals. It’s business. While some companies may care about you as a person, that’s not their job. Their job is to look out for their best interests, yours is to look out for your best interests. Where those two needs meet is the ideal contract, but you have to do your part.

Ladies, we are talented, smart, funny, and influential. When we start to act like savvy entrepreneurs, the respect will follow.

And for the record, I know there are many people out there who have no idea who I am. This blog is smaller than others you may read and I’m ok with that. My ultimate goal in life is not to be a blogger celebrity, although I enjoy freelancing. But just so you get a sense of my experience, I write for a well-established site at I spoke at BlogHer ’09 and Blogalicious ’09 and am slated to speak at the Mommy Tech Summit at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. I work closely with several PR firms and companies giving feedback, freelancing and doing some consulting. I am paid for the work I do. And, although I haven’t done a large number of reviews on this site, I have done quite a few on I’ve been blogging since 2001.

10 Responses to Mom Bloggers, Money and Professionalism

  1. Great post! I agree with everything except part of #7. I know that it takes a bit longer, but I do think that PR people should take a few moments to read the “About” page on blogs. In the long run, I think that it saves both them and the blogger time. (I write that not because they owe bloggers anything, but because it’s just good business in my opinion.)

  2. Kimberly, thanks for your comment. I agree that it’s good business if they’re trying to target a small group of bloggers/build a long-term relationship, but not for a generic pitch that goes out to hundreds of bloggers. I guess I was just trying to say that it’s not something to get offended about. If it’s something that’s important to you, simply delete the pitches that clearly haven’t read your “About” page.

  3. Great post! I agree with your points having seen things from both the blogging and the PR side.

    I do not think anyone owes me a good pitch–but one thing that does bug me is when I get a pitch offering a sample, I respond that I am interested, I get asked to spend time looking at a website and selecting a model or style, I get a dozen follow-ups requesting information that is on my website and/or easily available, and then the sample never arrives. What I am saying is the only thing I ask is: Just don’t waste my time.

    Another point I’d like to add is that not everyone who blogs views it as a business. And I know that is not your audience but I believe it is worth pointing that it.

    If you are running a business, act like it. If you are not, then carry on.

    Like you, I’ve been involved in blogging and online communities for a while now (longer than I’ve been a mom or a “mom blogger”) and lately I get the sense that some bloggers (and some PR people, too) seem to think that the Internet was invented to endorse, sell, and buy stuff. And even though I have a site full of product reviews, I like to think that the Internet is more than that.

    • I am with you on PR people wasting my time, either by not being up-front about their needs or by not following through. Grrr.

      And I agree with the feeling that the Internet is merely a tool for selling things. Having been online for so long, it makes me sad that it’s become such a commercial space. I mean, there are websites designed solely for the purpose of luring them there so that they’ll click on ads and go somewhere else. It’s like the litter of the Internet world… And that’s another blog post entirely. =}

  4. Hmmm… I meant to say that I think you’re right that it’s important to remember that not everyone is out to run a business. On the other hand, I believe that acting professionally online is always a good bet. It keeps you from doing things you might later regret and leaves the door open if you want to progress your hobby into a career. It’s another post I’ve been kicking around, but I wanted to talk about preparing ourselves for the day when there is no demand for mom blogger reviews or other services (solely based on the merit of being a mom blogger). Anyone have thoughts on that?

  5. @Christy

    I agree everyone should act with basic human decency but lately I’ve seen people saying that everyone should have a headshot, dress business casual and not wear yoga pants, etc. So many rules! I agree if you are running a business you need to act that way. But if you just want to, I don’t know, share funny cat stories with other people who like funny cat stories, why shouldn’t you have a picture of you and your cat in your avatar and wear a t-shirt that says “My DKNY dress is covered in cat fur”?

    As far as preparing ourselves–I think that those who are interested in developing a real business would be smart to use blogging to gain skills and experience that have other applications. Take the opportunity while the spotlight (however faint) is on us to think about what you really want from life professionally and then work for those opportunities that will lead you in that direction. Those for whom this is just the latest MLM, get-rich, pie-in-the-sky scheme will just move onto the next one.

    Those who actually love online communities should also consider how we can continue to build online community–so that when the faux-fame melts away, we are still left with something here as an online mom community. (that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about a new project my business partner and I started: Bloganthropy)

  6. “I believe that acting professionally online is always a good bet. It keeps you from doing things you might later regret and leaves the door open if you want to progress your hobby into a career.”

    -I agree. I ran my blog as a hobby up until the last few months. (I was getting a consistent pay check for 3 years from another parenting writing gig until the company was sold. I actually got my paid job as a result of my Mom in the City website – before it was ever a blog.)

    Also, I think that it is wise for us moms who blog to be thinking about how we can use the insights/skill sets that we have learned for the NEXT (or additional) thing. I really think that with all of the FTC (and eventually IRS) scrutiny, promotional tides will shift…

  7. Candace – Hah! I don’t buy into the “rules,” either. I don’t think professionalism means a head shot and business casual, since many professions don’t require either one. My husband is a software engineer who wears t-shirts and jeans to work every day. I only recently convinced him to iron (actually, just steam) his clothes enough that they aren’t completely wrinkled. I actually get a bit annoyed that people who have been blogging for a year or so think that they can write “blogging rules.” Um, no. A blog is a platform. There are no rules about what you should do with that platform.

    I’ll check out Bloganthropy!

  8. How am I just now seeing this??? I don’t check my @kelbycarr account as much so I just didn’t see your tweet. This is an excellent post and you really made some great points… especially when it comes to bloggers feeling entitled. I think it’s tough all around to blog about this topic because, as you say, you have one group of bloggers who dramatically undervalue themselves, and yet another that dramatically overvalues themselves and abuses their influence.

    We need to take a realistic view of our value, know our strengths when we pitch companies for gigs, and most of all NEVER behave unprofessionally or try to use our social media influence for evil (i.e. arm twisting of companies in the style of the blogger who threatened Crocs at BlogHer).

    This isn’t rocket science. Behave like a grown up, like a business woman. Simple.

  9. What an excellent article!! I am going to do something now I NEVER do on the internet–PRINT this!! You bring such clarity to a potentially murky topic. Thank you so much!

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