How the lines between comment and advertising are blurring in the blogosphere
If you’ve a product or service to sell, naturally you want influential people and organisations to endorse it.
It’s the basis of PR, after all.
PR professionals seek to persuade influential journalists to write or speak positively about everything from new cars to colourful paper clips for one simple reason: positive, independent endorsement sells.
But it’s not just about sales. Influencers reporting positively on individuals, companies, charities, government departments, local authorities and so on will impact of reputation.
However, the world in which we operate has been transformed in the past 15 years, and who we consider to be “influencers” has changed alongside it.
Journalists in traditional, mainstream media are still important, but media fragmentation and changes in media consumption habits mean there are influential people in every part of the media landscape.
Identifying and engaging with influencers is fundamental to any PR campaign, and increasingly the term “influencer” has come to mean bloggers and vloggers. That’s a little misleading because not all influencers are bloggers, and not all bloggers are influential. It’s exactly the same with journalists.
Which brings me onto the relationship between bloggers and PRs and, specifically, the argument being put forward by bloggers that they should be paid to review our clients’ products and services.
Here’s what one “luxury lifestyle and travel” blogger (I won’t name him or her) wrote recently in a post aimed at PR people:
Journalists are paid by a publication to write articles about your client’s press trip or your client’s new product. Therefore, they will never ask for remuneration from you. That is how classic PR works and that is fine. But who is paying the bloggers?
I am now a full time blogger and I make my income from my blog. If I gave in and did everything for free, how would I afford to live? There are many top bloggers who still have full time jobs and separate careers. Just because they have a salaried income, the content they’d be creating for you would be in their own time too, therefore they also deserve to be paid for their work.
The blogger’s not referring to content commissioned by an agency or brand. It’s content they are producing themselves, to engage readers.
I read another post in which a blogger argues:
In order to write a review, film critics have to go and see the movie in order to write about it. They watch the movie, they write the review, and they're paid for the review. No one says to a film critic, "We'll gift you a ticket to the cinema to see this new movie, and in exchange could you write us a review and include links to the trailer and talk about it on social media". Payment in cinema tickets? I don't think so. So why do brands think that payment in clothes and jewellery is acceptable for a review on someone's blog? After all, it's my profession, it's what I do to pay the bills.
Which rather misses the point.
The reason bloggers get all-expenses-paid press/blogger trip invites, or are sent new product(s), is because the brand would love a review on the blog – and hopefully a positive one! Because that’s what we do. We identify and engage with influential journalists and bloggers. We spend our time, and our clients’ money, because we want the audiences of those journalists and bloggers to be positively influenced.
Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we’re not. But we firmly believe influence cannot and should not be bought.
As a blogger, if you don’t want to review the film or write about a new make-up range, don’t. It’s your choice. If it’s not interesting enough for your readers, or you don’t have the time, just tell us. You can also choose not to include a link to the client’s website, or make it a no-follow link. But please don’t say “Yeah, I’ll happily review that. It’ll be £500.”
We don’t pay newspapers, magazines, broadcasters or websites to review our clients’ products. If we did, it would be an advertorial, promotional feature, editorial promotion, sponsored content or whatever.
If PRs pay bloggers, and they do, it’s through a brand partnership and everyone (including the audience) needs to be clear on what that partnership is. If a blogger is paid to create content, it needs to be labelled as such.
In the same way, if we want someone to write for our client’s blog, or to manage a blog on our behalf, we’ll pay them, just as we pay photographers, graphic designers and even journalists for the work they do for our clients.
I sympathise with bloggers who are working full time to create content and struggling to make money from it, but expecting the PR industry to cough up for their content isn’t the answer.
That’s advertising, and it’s time we started calling it what it is.