There’s been a lot of drama on the ol’ internet recently, much of which has been centred around bloggers asking for freebies, smaller influencers who want to be paid for their content and whether it’s okay to pitch directly to brands. As someone who has at one point or other fallen into all three categories, I thought I’d chip in on the debate.
Is it okay to pitch to brands or businesses?
I’m starting with this one because the answer is so painfully blatant, I don’t really know why it’s even a discussion point. ABSO-bloody-LUTELY. In any industry getting your name out there and pitching your ideas is key to progression and success; there is nothing shameful in introducing yourself to a brand that you think you may be relevant to, in fact it’s pretty much essential. “Hi, I’m Beth and I’d really like a free top.” is never going to go down well, but if you’ve got a banging content idea then you are doing a disservice to yourself by not pitching it.
Personally, I have made a lot of contacts and contracted sponsored content through approaching brands first. I figured very early on that I was going to need to show them what I’ve got rather than sitting around waiting to be asked, and as far as I know from all the friends I’ve made in the PR side of the things, as long as you’re polite and personal and offering something worth their time then they love it too! I’ll do a post soon on how I personally approach brands, but for the meantime this one by Rhianna is really useful and this Twitter thread by the wonderful Grace Victory sums up my position perfectly.
But what if you’re asking for free stuff?
Ah, the freebies conundrum. It’s a really common misconception that bloggers are just in it for the free stuff; I’ve read it on Twitter, I’ve seen snide comments on Instagram and I’ve even had a few people say it to my face. It’s something I’m really open to talking about because whilst gifting is part and parcel of the industry – just as journos, celebrities and industry experts are constantly being sent new releases to try too – it’s absolutely not what it’s all about.
If you’re starting a blog because you don’t fancy paying for your make up anymore then you may as well just stick a pair of your nan’s tights over your head and rob Superdrug (I’m joking. Do not do that.) because that is totally not the point and you will lack authenticity and trust from your followers.
Blogging is a job, and it’s a really tough one too. Freebies, be it lunch, a hotel stay or a gifted product, are undeniably really nice perks but they do not pay the bills and it can be really difficult when you’re expected to create work for non-monetary payment.
NOW, this works BOTH ways. Just as bloggers often complain when a brand expects them to offer free content and marketing in exchange for a £30 dress, brands and business are well within their right to get irritated when you ask them to do the same in exchange for exposure on your platform. What they are not entitled to do is publicly name and shame and divulge the contents of a private email for the world to see, a la that horrendously unprofessional hotel that I will never be staying at, nor will I be naming or linking because the swamp donkey who owns it does not deserve anymore traffic.
So, should bloggers be paid (in money, not shoes) for their work and when is exposure acceptable payment?
Fundamentally my answer to any collaboration based question, whether the payment is monetary, product based or exposure based – the latter of which is obviously a huge consideration for the businesses who do let you eat, or stay, or where their product for ‘free’ – is that there has to be mutual benefit.
From the perspective of a blogger, sometimes the gift or service is enough. Yes, I do have bills to pay and yes, I do rely on blogging as my main source of income but there are brands that I am more than happy to create content for without payment simply through the love of doing this job. That isn’t to say that I don’t feel equally as passionate about the products I am paid to promote, but how can you ever expect someone to hire you if you’ll only ever create paid work? It’s a bit like being an artist who refuses to paint unless it’s a commission. Especially where the item is something I would’ve bought anyway, or from a brand that honestly I wouldn’t usually be able to afford, ‘what’s in it for me‘ is blindingly obvious. On the flip-side, where a brand approaches offering me something I wouldn’t usually be bothered about or that is of very low value then not only would it be insincere to both the brand and my followers to accept, but it’s also just not worth my time.
From the brand or business perspective – and of course this is speculative and purely my view based on my experiences – there has also got to be something that makes offering a free product or service worthwhile. From their view, they are paying you in kind. No, your landlady does not accept shoes, and sometimes offers can come across as a bit of a piss take but then you’re well within your right to politely decline. Thankfully, unlike swamp-donkey hotel, most businesses are pretty social media savvy these days and do understand the worth of bloggers and of marketing budgets, whether that be monetary or in the form of a certain amount of ‘freebies’.
Note: I do use the term ‘free’ loosely. If I’m creating content that I’d usually charge for in exchange for a gift or service then that is not free. I’m just accepting an alternate payment method and I will still work as hard as if my bank account was benefiting.
Should ‘smaller’ bloggers get paid?
My really simple answer to this is only if they have the traffic and influence to make it worthwhile for the brand. I know there will be a few of you who disagree with me on this, and that’s fine. I understand the time/effort argument and I know that a blog isn’t free to run but fundamentally there is no use in a brand paying a blogger out of their marketing budget to produce content if the reach and demographic of those actually seeing it is limited.
That doesn’t mean that bloggers under a certain following shouldn’t get paid, absolutely not. But if you’re asking for payment then you do need to be able to back it up with the stats that prove you’re worth paying. If you’ve only got 1000 followers, but 20% of them engage regularly with your posts and follow your recommendations then that is fabulous and there is clearly a benefit to the brand, though at that point it’s worth remembering that rates are always going to be based upon your reach.
I’ve seen lots of calls for quality of content to be the indicator, but sadly that’s not always how it works. High quality content should be a given. It’s who you’re then reaching with it that the brands are going to want to pay for. I know that this is incredibly frustrating for bloggers who feel that their work is more than good enough but that they can’t get the ads because they’re stuck at the lower end of the numbers game. I also totally appreciate that some huge accounts have used very immoral methods of reaching such figures and yes, it’s bloody annoying to see someone getting paid when their engagement is as flat as a pancake.
Unfortunately, that is one of the frustrations of the industry. It’s up to brands to do their research and to choose bloggers with authentic and engaged followings and who fit the brand, because if they don’t and they purely focus upon a follower count then chances are they just wasted their money. Equally, it’s up to bloggers to remain authentic and trustworthy and that includes doing it for the love, the passion, and the creativity – which is surely the reason we all started out? – rather than the potential gain.
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