To Pay or Not to Pay … Bloggers, that is from the voice of PR

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Grumpy-old-lady-and-mom-at-blogpawsYvonne DiVita here: Seems that yesterday's post on PR pitches struck a cord with a number of people, both bloggers and PR firms. The following is a post written by Megan Licursi of MLMC . She and I exchanged some emails about this topic, then hopped on the phone to chat. I welcome her thoughts from the PR side of the equation and thought you would, too.

This is a dialogue that can be far-reaching. The goal is not to prove who's right. The goal is to help bloggers and PR firms and brands work well together. Read Megan's post, with my thoughts in purple, and send her your thoughts and questions. This is a polite conversation – don't get all up in arms about anything I say or Megan says. Keep an open mind and let's all learn something from this. 

Directly from Megan's blog:

Republican or Democrat; Coke or Pepsi; Auburn or Alabama. We live in a world of opposing sides and the blogosphere is no exception: to pay or not to pay for product reviews. 

Last night, I received an e-mail from BlogPaws, a network of pet bloggers whose annual conferences I've recommended to clients in the past. The e-mail and blog post can be read entirely here, but here's the part that has me up in arms:
Some [pitches] will make you feel sad because they are about shelters, rescues or a program supporting shelters and rescues, and you want to write about them but… you can't write 10 different posts about 10 different things going on, and still get your own writing done. And, some will make you mad. Because they will assume you're going to cover their product for free… free product, that is. It's not the message, sometimes, it's the assumption that your time if not worth anything.  
Here's the skinny on all of this. 
Every time you do a free product review, you sell yourself, and your fellow bloggers short. Be selective. No, I am not advising you stop doing free product reviews. I am saying, weigh the free product and your influence carefully. Ask yourself, "Should I get paid for this review? Did the newspaper or major magazine in which an ad was placed for this product, do it for free? Why is my blog any different?" Truth is – your blog has more relevance than a major magazine or newspaper ad. 

I do a fair share of social media marketing and consulting. At any given time, I'm running between 5 and 10 blog tours for various CPG companies. I recognize that product reviews on blogs are extremely important. The last statistic I can recall on the subject said that people who read about a product on a blog are 9x more likely to buy that product versus only 3x more likely if they read about it editorially (both metrics are compared to seeing an advertisement). [note the stats here in BlogHer's ad doc – and remember, BlogHer is a BlogPaws partner; no where does it indicate that if the blogger got paid, the post was suspect in some way]

But to resonate with the consumer, that post needs to be objective. And it's that reason that I do not advocate paying for content. [some other ideas on paid content – can help support Megan, I think – what do you think? Do you think paid reviews are not objective? Mine are. I tell the PR firm up front that the payment is for my time, not my opinion. And my blog readers at Lipsticking have said they're okay with that. But, it could be an issue, couldn't it?] Sharing

Why would a blogger do this? Simply put: content drives traffic. It's the same for traditional media and it works for blogs, too. My good friend Tim Wagner at WrightIMC explains it nicely, saying "If you provide good content and do good search marketing, your audience will come. And, with that audience will come advertisers. PR people help you build good, unique content." [Bloggers – do we need help finding content? I know I don't. Do you? Could this be a good way to add value to your blog? Thoughts?]

So, how can a blogger make money? I buy ad space on blogs on a daily basis. I've sponsored bloggers to attend conferences and other events. I've even been known to pay for an advertorial (or two). [Kewl! Like to hear more about these, Megan.]

As Jeremy Pepper says, You need the traffic to command and demand a cost structure. <<< Head's up, bloggers!

I'm going out on a limb here and I'm sure I'll make some enemies by saying this: It boggles my mind that some bloggers can't see the forest for the trees. They have a money-making mechanism at their disposal. But, it's not in the content. It's in the advertising.

I've sent this link to BlogPaws, fellow bloggers and several people I respect in the PR world for comment.

From me: Now it's your turn, bloggers. What question do you have for Megan? Do you agree with her "can't see the forest for the trees" comment? Megan has gratiously said she will try to answer your questions in comments. If you have a question you don't want to ask in a comment, feel free to email me, Yvonne DiVita, and I'll share it with Megan.

Want to keep the conversation going? Engage!

  • http://www.kolchakpuggle.com Jodi & Kolchak

    I really love this set of post Yvonne – thank you for tackling the – and thank you to Megan for sharing the view from the other side!
    I am at a crossroads where I would like to monetize my blog, at least a bit to help offset some of the running costs, but I also don’t beleive my content is the place I want to do that.
    I have recently accepted a few offers as an affiliate advertiser, but I’m not sure the revenue will justify the use of space.
    My question would be: How do you let advertisers know you’re there and you’d like to work with them? Is it appropriate to contact them directly? Do you put up a PR/Ad Friendly Page on your blog?

  • http://opcatchat.blogspot.com caren gittleman

    Having spent 20+ years in newspaper advertising I can definitely “see the forest for the trees”
    What I would like to be paid for, more than for product reviews are my book reviews which are the most popular aspect of my blog.
    I have been told by a number of authors that I have a “talent for making them see THEIR book in a different light”. I have no clue how to get paid for book reviews. I have looked into it but none of them pay.
    I don’t mind receiving product for a review, I also am open to advertising on my blog (but I am also involved with BlogPaws/BlogHer advertising so I have limitations). I also will not just permit ANYONE to advertise on my blog.
    Not sure that this is the type of comment you are looking for, I am just conveying some of my thoughts.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/thenakedk9 TheNakedK9

    As a blog reader, more than writer, I can almost always smell a paid review (either the blogger was paid to write it or received products free). And rarely do I ever see a blogger come right out and diss a product (or book or trainer or vet). Blogs have become more commercial in tone and appearance and I therefore think ads are appropriate, but, will any real income from ads reach the writer of a blog? Somehow, I don’t see that amounting to much. I have never received a dime for any of my online work. That’s not why I’m writing online. When I blog, I’m writing for PR for a cause and the only gain is in what it brings the rescue community, or, how I might reach a pet owner and help save a cat or dog from being dumped in a shelter. I would love to get paid to do that. It makes me a little sad, the notion of getting paid to blog. I think that’s being a reporter. Nothing wrong with being a reporter, columnist for someone else but then I think you’re no longer a blogger.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/vscook Vscook

    Since my blog is about animal-related causes, I need to be careful about what I’m paid for and by whom. I’ve spent the last two years building credibility as a blogger, and I don’t want to jeopardize that for free product or a $50 blog post.
    I can see both sides of this issue. Of course, writers want to be paid for their writing, and PR folk want objective product reviews. But I tend to believe that any kind of compensation – either in the form of free product or actual cash payment – tends to limit your objectivity.

  • https://www.blogpaws.com Yvonne DiVita

    @Vicki Cook – so, when you read a review in the NY Times you figure the writer was biased, cause he’s being paid? Are you saying if you received a free book that was poorly written you would feel compelled to write a positive review?
    Not me! LOL I write what’s in my heart and if the book is really bad – I don’t write anything. Plus, I say this in my acceptance note to the PR firm – that I will write what’s in my heart. I’ve even told PR folks that I am not fond of the author, ahead of time, and I may not be able to do a favorable review, and they still send me the book.
    The more honest you are, the more your readers accept that you are a professional writer – and the more PR folks trust your words. I have seen posts where the blogger was over the top about a book or product and that makes me wonder about payment. But, an honest “this is what I liked and this is what I didn’t” works every time. It’s how I was taught to do reviews.
    (that’s not to say there aren’t folks who game the system… so, I can see why many people are a bit skeptical of paid/free product reviews… I just trust the blogs I read to be professional. Not everyone is, I guess.)

  • http://www.truetodogs.com Lisa

    Building any business is about building rapport. Most people can smell a paid from review a mile away. I could NEVER in good conscience recommend a product that a. I had never tried or b. that I wouldn’t recommend to a friend regardless of whether or not I was paid.
    I have no problem with sites that earn money for their reviews…provided I feel that the blogger has built rapport with me, that I feel like I know, like and trust that person, and that the review was from personal experience.
    I would expect nothing less than that from my followers.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5fabc4a970c twitter.com/Tom_Collins

    @ Lisa,
    I think you have “perfect pitch” on this whole paid product review problem!
    If all bloggers who do product reviews can keep in mind how they want to be treated as readers (friends), then they’ll have no trouble keeping faith with, and the trust of, their own reader-friends.
    If marketers can understand and operate within that mindset, there really shouldn’t be any problem to worry about.
    Thank you for expressing it so well!
    Tom

  • http://profile.typepad.com/vscook Vscook

    @Yvonne – I would trust anything you wrote because I know you! I guess that really is the point: do I know and trust the blogger?
    There are lots of bloggers out there who would a great review about anything if you paid them. Do I trust them? No!
    But there are also lots bloggers I know and trust, and the fact that they are paid to do a review would not influence my opinion.
    Sorry if it seems like I’m vacillating – but I’m a Libra, so I can always see things both ways! 😉

  • http://www.allthingsdogblog.com/ Carrie Boyko

    So many great points….I feel swayed and yet I’ll stick to my current philosophy. If I want my readers to trust my integrity, I cannot accept payment for a review. Further, I always tell my readers that I have not been paid to review the product.
    A recent question brought up the lack of “bad product” focus, which allowed me to address how I pre-select most of my product reviews, doing some research and collecting information on the product before determining if I will review it further for a written opinion. This approach has allowed me to avoid the situation Michelle has experienced, while maintaining my readers’ trust in that my opinion is an honest one.
    At a recent pet social media conference, this exact topic was covered in a panel discussion. The panel included notable bloggers, PR firms and brand representatives. The discussion was lively, and I’m sure each attendee took something different away from the conversation. I tend to feel, as the brands do, that my opinion can only be trusted if I review a product with no more payment than the free product required to analyze it.
    Monetization, of course, is an important consideration. I am seeking other methods for bringing an income to my blog–less common, more creative. Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself, “Will I be ostracized for supporting this brand by advertising or running a promotional event for them?” If the answer is likely Yes, I have the opportunity/obligation to politely say no thank you, or step back from my initial offer. I owe this to my readers. Without them, I am nowhere.

  • http://www.rhstrategic.com/ Henry garcia

    …bloggers working along with PR firms is a great initiative…a better way to serve ppl i guess! 🙂 ..nicely written article btw, Thanks !