So you checked your email inbox and—you can hardly believe your eyes—a company wants to send little ol’ you a product to review on your blog. FOR FREE. Free swag! You’ve arrived! Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?
For some bloggers, that scenario is indeed desirable. We all want our blogs to be noticed, we want to be appreciated for our style and sensibility. And yes, freebies are nice. Who doesn’t love a freebie?
But let’s take that scenario a step further. You decide that you will partner with said company to “review” their product. A review might mean featuring it in an outfit post, if it’s wearable, or doing a tutorial or actual review if it is a beauty product. Before the product has even hit your mailbox, they’re bombarding you with pushy emails about their company, their products, what you need to include in your post, and they tell you that they expect to review your post before you publish it.
They want to do what? THEY want to approve YOUR content on YOUR blog before you do THEM the favor of writing about their product? Come again? And what about objectivity?
Listen up, loves. This is a true story. And it—and a multitude of other complications that come with product placements—could happen to you. I’ve seen a lot of posts and guidance out there about how to monetize your blog, but not much about what happens after you do. Attracting sponsors is the easy part. Managing them—and their expectations—that’s another story.
Perks of Partnerships and Advertising
Before I delve into this, let me acknowledge that there are some super companies out there who are absolute dream partners. I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with Gucci, Foley + Corinna, and Shopbop in one way or another, and appreciate and respect that these brands understand how to work with bloggers in a mutually beneficial capacity. There are many others who partner successfully with bloggers—you tend to see the same names and ads in the fashion blogosphere—that’s a good indication that those companies are solid partners or sponsors.
Partnerships and advertising are good. Most of the time.
If you are interested in monetization or collaboration, when the right partner comes along, you should take the leap. There are plenty of benefits:
- Cash. It’s blindingly obvious that the first perk of allowing advertising on your blog is money…it does make the world go round, and it helps fashion bloggers sustain their shopping habits.
- Freebies. Often, a company will send you products—gratis— to be featured or reviewed. If it’s a product you like and would truly love to try or have, getting it for free is fantastic!
- Exposure. There are some brands that are very savvy when it comes to social media. Partnering with them could mean that they in turn feature your post in a tweet, or on their Facebook page or blog. That means more exposure for you and traffic for your blog.
- Relationship building. When you partner successfully with a brand, it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, not just a one-shot deal. When a brand likes what they see, it could mean more collaboration, invitations to fashion shows and events, sneak previews of new products or lines, or even the opportunity to be a brand ambassador or more.
Pitfalls of Product Placement and Sponsorships
Clearly, working with a brand can have its benefits. But sometimes, partnering with brands or PR companies is biting off more than you can chew, and when it doesn’t work out, it definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Recently, two bloggers contacted me to ask if I had partnered with a particular company to review or present products here on G&G, and what I thought. I found this rather interesting because I had, in fact, heard of the company and had partnered with the company myself, but had not yet shared that fact. In direct messages with both of the bloggers, I shared my experience, and curiously, what I had found off-putting was exactly what had prompted the bloggers to reach out for feedback about the company.
Elissa of Dress Courage (@DressCourage), was one of the bloggers I chatted with about the scenario I presented at the beginning of this post. In a private, direct message (that she has given me permission to share), she wrote:
“Such a shame. Was told [the company] had to approve everything before posting. How can anyone do an honest review?…There are too many newbie bloggers who get taken advantage of simply because they get intimidated by companies. It’s tempting to become seduced by free products & the promise of sponsorships. I think many bloggers are duped as a result.”
You are the queen (or king) of your blog. It’s a sovereign state.
Elissa is right. Even I’ve learned the hard way (and I’m no newbie to blogging or editorial practice) that when money or products change hands, some companies suddenly think they own you and your content. Nothing is further from the truth. YOU maintain editorial control of your content, unless you have been paid to advertise something verbatim. When you are given a product to feature or review, no one needs to review your copy prior to publication but you. As Elissa pointed out above, providing copy to a company for their approval not only causes major heartache for you (trust me on this), if they ask you to edit your content, your review and opinion are no longer fair and impartial.
Don’t be bullied into anything when it comes to your blog. You’re the boss. Set your terms and decline to partner with any company that doesn’t accept them as-is. The small amount of money you stand to make is not worth the aggravation—or compromising your principles or your readers’ trust.
Tips for Successful, Mutually Beneficial Partnerships
- Understand influence, audience engagement, and ad pricing. Ad pricing is typically calculated as cost per mille (CPM), or cost per thousand views. For example, a typical rate is $10 CPM, or $10 per 1,000 views. Notice I wrote typical. These days advertisers are considering more than just site traffic when looking at media buying. If you have average views but a lot of Twitter followers, a high Klout score, and a high level of engagement on your blog, you may be a more attractive candidate for a partnership than a blogger with a high level of site traffic, but low engagement. Ultimately, you set prices according to your traffic, influence, and how much you are willing to be paid to surrender space on your blog. In the end, if an advertiser really wants to work with you, they will pay what you ask, within reason.
- Evaluate advertisers and proposals carefully. Is littering your blog with lots of $15 ads for companies you don’t really like worth it? What do the advertisers or products you push say about brand you? Because blogging is not my full-time job, I am very selective about what ads go on my blog, and only recently began accepting advertisers. I prefer to only work with partners who resonate with me, reflect my personality, and who are a potential value-add for my readers.
- Know you aren’t the only blogger being courted. I’ve been asked to review fashion sites, flat irons, clothing, jewelry, and more. I often decline because the products don’t suit me, or I’m uninterested. And often, I notice that four or five other bloggers publish reviews about the same product or site I was contacted about, within days of each other. That’s good for the company, not so good for you. Remember that originality and authenticity are key to maintaining an avid readership. If you’re publishing a flat iron review and five other bloggers are too, your post is no longer very compelling, is it?
- Maintain content copyright and editorial control. If it’s your blog and you’re footing the bill, no one else should have the ability to reproduce or profit from your words without your express permission. And no one, especially a paid advertiser, should dictate what you write or how you present a product or service. The fastest way to kill your credibility is to endorse everything, and to run content that was obviously written by someone else. Again, the only time someone else should inform your editorial decisions is if you have undertaken a contract to post something verbatim on your site, and even then, you need to disclose this and agree on all terms—in writing—before any compensation is accepted.
- Know your legal rights and obligations. Let companies you work with know that you will include a disclosure statement in your post. The Federal Trade Commission requires that bloggers clearly disclose when they receive compensation or free products: “The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that ‘material connections’ (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers—connections that consumers would not expect—must be disclosed.” See http://ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm.
- Create clear, detailed policies for product reviews, features, giveaways, and post sponsorships. I have a new tab dedicated to this so potential advertisers or partners know what to expect if they are interested in working with me. Tell potential partners what you will do, won’t do, and what they can expect, up front.
- Outline your payment terms. I’ve had some issues in the past, so my policy is that I must receive payment of at least 50% prior to publication, and 50% on publication, or the content will be pulled from my site. Most advertisers pay promptly, prior to publication—and are used to working with bloggers—but collecting at least partial payment prior will protect you and ensure the advertiser intends to hold up their end of the deal.
- Consult your fellow bloggers. If you are ever confused about something, are wondering about a company or how to handle a particular proposal or situation, reach out to your blog friends! They are a wealth of knowledge. And if they don’t know the answer or how to help, chances are they will refer you to someone who does. We’re all in this together.