Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I won’t accept money for writing reviews. Period.

Working on both sides of the blogger relations’ equation full-time for the past year or so has really been an eye opener as far as the challenges facing bloggers, brands and the agencies that represent the latter.

Over the past few months in particular, I’ve been exposed to a few situations where the concept of paid reviews and/or pay-to-post has been the subject of discussion. It’s something that I grapple with frequently and when it comes to how I govern my own blog and my relationships with agencies, brands and retailers, I’ve drawn a clear line as far where my comfort level and leanings lie.


  1. Thank you! I love this conversation.

    I fully support how each blogger / business wants to operate in terms of reviews. My question is, how should bloggers manage taxes on products received for reviews? Should they pay out of their own pocket?

    As I said on, Provided Product = Paid review, IMO. Bloggers need to claim that value on their taxes, so in that sense, it is a paid review.

    In your case, what if someone sent you the product because you thought it would be a fit - but you hated it. Then what would you do?

    I am really trying to sort out the best way to manage reviews. As we grow, we are getting more and more requests not just for reviews on our site, but through our Mom Influencers. I want to ensure that value is served to 1st - our readers then our brands and our bloggers.

    It is a hard call. Thank you for contributing the conversation!

  2. Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for your comment. I'm so glad this discussion has come more out in the open. It's only just begun and perhaps we can tackle the bigger question of earned vs. paid easier if we break it down item by item.

    I'm going to step aside from the issue of managing taxes since I'm neither an accountant nor tax lawyer.

    Perhaps you see it as splicing hairs but I really do see a difference between seeding someone with product (or providing a brand experience at an event) and entering into an agreement for money.

    Product seeding (or other brand experiences) should not have any strings attached, while cash payment signifies a business transaction between two of more parties who have a an explicit agreement whereby the party(ies) receiving money agrees to provide something in exchange.

    I would like to think in an ideal world, I'm only offered product because it's a fit. Sometimes products just show up at my door. Other times, I'm asked if I'm interested first and if so, it's given to me. (Same goes for event invitations.)

    Either way, I treat these products (and experiences) as I've laid out in my original post. I don't feel obligated to write a review (although most often I will) and if I do write a review, it will be objective, honest and fair.

    It's not that I undervalue my time (or that of my blogging peers) and I've volunteered countless hours to blogging, content creation in general, unconference event organization and public speaking.

    My reputation is worth more to me than being paid for product reviews. My blogging and participation in the greater online community is recognized and compensated in other ways.

    Looking forward to keeping the ball rolling.



  3. Eden, I agree with what you have said, although when the product value reaches higher amounts (appliances, trips etc) I think the conversation shifts slightly.

    The challenge becomes then, how do bloggers manage the growing number of requests they receive for reviews?

    Just say no?

    If this is the case, perhaps many more bloggers will "just say no" more often and that might push the brands towards paid advertising, content sponsorship etc.

    There has to be an area between yes and no when it comes to a large amount of review requests. If our time/talent/market is continually being requested, there has to be more answers waiting to be discovered.

    Thanks again for the conversation!

  4. Thank you for providing a measured, intelligent viewpoint on this issue Eden. I hope it's read by PR pros and bloggers alike. I'm pleased that you addressed the issue of obligation when it comes to reviewing products. As you point out, there isn't one. Like any other media that we would reach out to, bloggers have the option of covering something or not covering it. And, if they choose to cover it, they can cover it positively or not. It's up to them. I feel that the chorus of complaint coming from many bloggers about the obligation to cover things without payment is based on a lack of knowledge about how the whole PR/media thing works.

    Thanks for adding your voice.


  5. I'm totally with you. It's wonderful that you've put so much thought in to this and have clear lines that you won't cross.

    The funny thing is, there have been pitches we got at Cool Mom Picks that seem great...and then they offer us a $25 Visa gift card. Now we have to refuse to feature it at all, because we don't want anyone seeing other paid reviews and thinking ours was one too. It's like awww....why'd you have to go ruin it with the payola thing?

    To Michelle's question (and you're asking so many good ones!) about managing requests - the very first thing you need to do is KNOW YOUR BRAND.

    If you know what you stand for and what you're passionate about, it becomes very clear what is a fit and what isn't. And to be honest, the tighter your niche, the more successful you're going to be. That's how people become experts. And there's what that sponsorship $ starts coming in, that everyone is hoping for.

    No one is an expert in "anything targeting moms," right?

  6. I admire how upfront and open you are about this! I don't mind the various relations bloggers can have with companies they blog about - as long as they are clear about it.

    My poor, neglected blog has never provoked any such dilemna for me. I wouldn't mind some free stuff and then face the dilemna of how to address it :(

  7. Yes, Michelle, just say no. Thanks so much for keeping this conversation rolling and asking the tough questions.

    I'm not sure what I'm missing but I just don't get this idea that you have to like or participate in every opportunity that comes your way.

    As for my perspective on the higher ticket priced items that may come your way, it's no different. However, regardless of an item's price tag, the person doing the offering may or may not ask for something in return. It's up to an individual blogger to negotiate an arrangement that works for him or her. Everything comes with a cost. Regardless, I would always disclose the relationship and terms of the arrangement.

    If your goal is to profit financially from your blog, what about focusing on fantastic content your readers can trust and launch an ad or sponsorship program instead? Danielle Meder has created a wonderful model at final fashion. Alternatively, let your blog be your calling card for interesting paid jobs as many other successful bloggers have done.

    Louise, thanks for your kind words and support. They mean a lot coming from you. It's always a pleasure working with the team at Palette PR - they know how to build long-term relationships and treat people in a warm, professional manner with a high value placed on integrity at all levels.

    Mom 101, I thought your post was bang on. Have you ever considered accepting a pitch but refusing the "payola" and noting such in your blog post? What about offering the gift certificate or other perk as a reader giveaway? (If I've missed your POV on this, please accept my apologies.)

    Glen, we've known each other a long time and upfront and open is how I operate. I'll try sending some link love your way. I'll never forget our blogs are "fraternal twins" and how we supported each other in the early days.

    Congrats on your continued success in the world of academia. Both of us have made big career changes since our pension plan digi-comm days.



  8. Good questions!

    When we're offered gift cards we do give them away. But if I'm offered flat out money for the post, it actually cheapens the brand for me, which then cheapens our own brand. I don't want to be writing about something that 50 other bloggers are writing about too, let alone doing it for money.

    That's just how we roll. But I know everyone has a different strategy that works for them.

    (Can I say one more time how much I seriously, seriously love this post?)

  9. Mom 101, Thank you so much for your kind words. They mean a lot to me and have inspired me to consider writing more posts on this topic.

    I completely agree with you about accepting money to blog and not wanting to write the same thing as 50 other bloggers. Being in Canada, the volume of posts on a single topic probably isn't as big an issue. However, that also speaks to why I like writing about a lot of things organically. I also feel that as a brand, you get more traction if you give bloggers something they can use to facilitate content creation instead of sending them content to copy and paste.

    Cheers and thanks again for stopping by,


  10. This discussion could not have come at a better time for me as I get more proactive with my own blog

  11. I run a few blogs and I have been approached for paid reviews. I have resisted because it cheapens the blog and it is a matter of integrity.

    Good post!

  12. Eden,

    Great post. I think you know very well how I operate with regards to reviews. I'm an over-discloser and I will always retain editorial control, so I'll provide honest and fair reviews. Thanks for reflecting on this and giving me a chance to reflect on it too.

  13. Raul, I welcome your feedback anytime. This space is still evolving and we're seeing creative new ways for bloggers to generate revenue if they so choose. Disclosure and objectivity are critical.

  14. great informative post dude.. thanks


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