A little while ago I was nominated, along with many others, in a popular awards contest for bloggers. It was a nice feeling, mainly because I didn’t ask to be put forward and I still don’t know who did it. It also got me looking again at the numerous Blogging PR Networks that exist, questioning why I struggle to engage with them, and examining what it is about them that makes me so uncomfortable.
Many blogs (including mine) are linked up with a network, if not a number of them. Most networks are based on a business model of acting as brokers for advertising. Often you get a forum and links to advice (often generated at no cost to the company by users) and can register for ‘PR’ contacts. Some rank your site, promote your posts, run blog link-ups, share tips and organise conferences. Their popularity makes them a powerful draw, especially for people hoping to gain readers and find income from their writing.
But as this influence grows and blogging becomes ever-more popular, I’ve found myself increasingly uncomfortable with how this works out for regular bloggers. Mainly because of what Networks send out, and who they link to. I’ve been registered with several Blogging PR Networks for well over a year and the approaches received from PRs are, by and large, laughable.
Instead of serious approaches to ‘work with brands’ as sites often promise, my inbox is usually full of the following types of ‘opportunities’ which bear little resemblance to paid work:
Offers to copy-paste an advert or ‘The Gift of Nothing!’
Almost always described as giving you ‘free content’, PR people frequently ask you to do this for nothing in return. If you enquire about rates they will often ignore you (they don’t like tricky people who value their own time) or give you a patronising explanation of how it will improve your blog.
Offers to review products or ‘Will You Blog for Treats?’
In this case PRs say there is no payment but the product is for free. Let me explain how this works: if you get the product, the product is the payment. It’s really that simple. Whether it is goods or cash, if I wouldn’t have written a review otherwise and it is done in agreement with the company, it is a payment. Same reason politicians have to declare gifts. Sure I can choose to raffle it on the blog, but it was still a payment. And by raffling it, they get double the advertising, and I’ve given away the only thing I gained from doing it.
This system of payment-PRs-keep-
pretending-isn’t-payment means that they value your blog space at the cost of the item and P&P. So a book review is asking for five hours of my time to read it, an hour to write about it and publish it, for less than a tenner’s worth of product. Less than £2 an hour.
Asking you to attend an event or ‘You do the Legwork!’
These invitations have ranged from free tickets to museums (which cost just a few quid anyway) through to a major retailer inviting me to a new store launch, for the princely payment of ‘10% off any purchases’. Yes you read that right! I was asked to travel to a store, to review it for their benefit, for the equivalent to the discount they already offer on Quidco!
Blogging Contests or ‘Write Your Own Blog Spam!’
These are more and more popular. Disregarding any pretence of paying bloggers for effort and blog space entirely, Blogger PR Networks invite you to write about a subject in order to win a prize donated by a company who want brand profile. It’s literally a payment lottery. It’s like a caption competition only its takes longer, if you self-host if effectively costs you to enter, and you send every entry to all your subscribers.
Offers to write about a product or brand for a fixed fee, or (‘I Can’t Believe it’s Not Blogging”)
On occasion (very rarely) I have had an offer to write about a product for a fee. They call it a sponsored post, I call this writing PR – we’ll agree to differ! There are plenty of review sites where genuine customers write about a product, but reviews can and do bring in money, and if bloggers want to write them and can make a living out of it, good for them.
However, the amount offered varies hugely. I have heard of people writing for amounts ranging from £4-£50. There seems to be little logic or consistency in the amounts offered, or how people tender for the work, nor are the terms of the contract clearly spelled out. Also, the ethics of writing without clearly marking reviews as such (from the outset) are questionable. Print media are strongly encouraged to declare an ‘advertorial’ whereas blogs are not. Posts are entirely the bloggers’ work and therefore any risks associated with copyright, libel or even potentially mis-selling would rest with the author. In sum, while there is money to be made there is little consistency or security for those writing these posts. Nor will the average blogger be able to retire on it.
The concern for me is that a new industry is developing which is generating millions of words of advertising content by utilising non-professional writers, on often unfair or exploitative conditions and/or rates which professional writers would not tolerate, and over which the bloggers have little or no control. It undermines everyone involved if the only response is ‘you don’t have to do it’. In almost all of the ‘opportunities’ I’ve seen or been sent, I would be better off flipping burgers.
Some bloggers turn to this kind of arrangement precisely because they DO have to do it. One blogger recently told me she had accepted an opportunity to write content every week, at a rate of £4 a post. She accepted because ‘her blog is still quite new’ and she needed the money. Another, facing financial hardship, decided to accept a rate they felt was too low, because they need to feed their family, and every little helps. You can’t blame her. But the reality is, so long as it goes unchallenged, PR companies won’t offer more next time, because the supply of people who need money and of more new blogs is endless. Others still say they do it for fun or to cover the costs of self-hosting, but this is akin to telling people who need to work for a living that they have to accept poor terms, because you’re lucky enough to work for a laugh. Work is work, and it undervalues everyone when people accept poor terms.
But it’s not a dead end problem. Just as Networks all claim to have dominance as the biggest/best etc, so they could take responsibility for what they provide to bloggers. It’s tricky because the Networks are private companies and legitimately unaccountable – if you don’t like what they do then suck it up – they aren’t obliged to be democratic. For that reason they will naturally promote bloggers who are compliant and don’t disagree with their business practices, who will in turn support them.
It could be simply changed – by setting agreed standards for the ‘opportunities’ they promote.For example:
- Companies promoting PR opportunities should look after their blogger following by only advertising ‘opportunities’ which don’t exploit the people they target.
- Any PR approach should be asked to estimate the hours involved to deliver their proposal, and offer compensation at the very least minimum wage plus expenses. Because it IS work.
- Basic contracts should ensure the bloggers interests are served and that expectations on both sides are fair.
- Bloggers should name and shame big PR companies who offer exploitative terms.
Don’t get me wrong, Networks can be fun, slick and entertaining. But they are nothing like writers’ unions and shouldn’t be mistaken as such. They are, at least in part, commercial organisations who derive credibility and income precisely from the kind of loyalty their high profile commands, intentionally or not, from dominating the creative community. Creativity which is itself at risk of getting stifled when writing to please a PR or sponsor becomes involved. If bloggers don’t like it, they should feel free to feed that back.
Using these site is personal choice, but their increasing dominance in the area means that they are both influential and are hard to ignore for any aspiring blogger. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making money from a blog, but it should be equitable, and the stuff I get sent frequently just does not cut the mustard.
Comments, as always, most welcome!
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