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 About.com. 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 About.com. I’ve been blogging since 2001.