While some ethical bloggers would be happy to have the level of interest from brands that I receive, I'm increasingly resentful that some brands expect me to work free of charge - never mind that I come with almost 6 years blogging experience, have a large-ish audience, am time poor due to my involvement in several start-ups (including a digital agency and an organic farm) and have a mortgage to pay.
Fair trade should include fair blogger compensation.
What has become evident over the years is that some brands see blogger relationships as a way to get "free" marketing and advertising. My biggest frustration is with publicists who explain to me that they "do not pay for editorial content." Clearly someone is getting paid for their work, I want to respond. But it's certainly not the blogger.
How is it that brands will promote fair trade and yet completely overlook this concept of fairness when dealing with bloggers? Surely "fair trade" should apply not just to workers in developing countries but to every person and organisation an ethical brand comes into contact with?
Now deep down I know it's not really an ethical brand's or publicist's fault that they think this way. It is not uncommon for bloggers to work for free which then creates the perception that ALL bloggers work for free.
Why some bloggers work free of charge.
Some bloggers are happy to give away their time and effort because they really believe in the product or cause.
Other bloggers may feel sorry for a smaller brand with very little budget and want to help them in some way so they work pro-bono.
Some may work in exchange for gifts.
And there are plenty of inexperienced ones who will happily volunteer their time in exchange for more online exposure.
When I reflect on my own blogging experience, I know I've done all these things. Particularly when I was a newbie, being approached by a brand stroked my ego.
However a couple of years in, I realised that brands were receiving commercial benefit from my work - work that I came to see as having value. My audience began to grow and that meant brands were getting promoted to a larger number of viewers. So I became firmer with negotiating for payment. As a minimalist I began rejecting gifts and only accepted them for reviews, or if I really liked the item/s or if I felt they'd make a great addition to a bundled giveaway.
So I "sat at the table" as Cheryl Sandberg puts it. I began negotiating.
Now as a staunch feminist I'm highly aware that one of the reasons for the gender pay gap is women's lack of confidence to speak up and demand for better pay. Also knowing one's value and worth and being able to fight for it is essential to finding satisfaction with any job - blogging included.
I decided to take a stand not just for me, and for other women - but for my profession too (I am in fact a copywriter and digital marketer).
I started asking for compensation.
Ethical blogger poll on Twitter.
So several mornings ago, dwelling on the issue of blogger compensation, I decided to do a 24 hour Twitter poll to ascertain how ethical bloggers feel about the matter. With only 19 respondents, here's what the results looked like:
Now I know this isn't the most scientific of ways in which to conduct a poll because clearly there are flaws in my experiment, namely:
- How can we be certain that all respondents are "ethical" bloggers?
- How bloggers define "work", "charge" and "free" may influence how they respond.
- Is the sample size sufficient enough to make proper conclusions?
- Should there have been other options added such as: "I negotiate on case-by-case basis"?
Nevertheless, despite the flaws in how I've established the poll, I can still extrapolate data to form a conclusion.
A quick look at the results, it is clear that:
- Ethical bloggers expect some form of compensation for the work that they do as 42% of them expect monies (as suggested by the word "charge")
- 42% of them will trade work for product/products (in this case work is defined as a blogger's written skills and promotional abilities which provides a commercial benefit to a brand)
- And only 16% of them volunteer their time, skills and abilities (free defined as not receiving monies or gifts in exchange for work).
Now during the scope of 24 hours in which the poll was open, I used social media to encourage ethical bloggers to have their say - most notably, Instagram.
Passionate reactions on Instagram.
Perhaps I should have considered leaving my own thoughts out when promoting it on the photo-sharing app, but on a Friday night at around 6-7pm fuelled mostly by a glass of red wine (or was it two?) I posted an image of the poll along with this comment (abbreviated to convey the main points):
If you're an ethical fashion blogger, please head to Twitter and respond to the poll. I'm interested to see the results given that my personal belief is that people should be compensated for their time and effort (particularly if it's obviously not a voluntary situation) and I dislike working for "free" because I myself have a mortgage to pay and time is extremely limited. I am not a free loader, I don't have a rich hubby, I don't have wealthy parents and even if I did, I believe we should pay our own way in life. Personally I find it surprising that brands expect me to work for free. Would YOU work for free? Considering experience, skills and how long it takes to create anything of value? Writing is the same as fashion: you get what you pay for much of the time. It takes time to develop something, anything....
The Instagram post garnered many responses from both brands and bloggers alike and nearly all were in support of mutual exchange and benefit. Here are just some of the comments I received:
The breadth of opinions shows that I had touched a nerve not only with bloggers but with ethical businesses too.
Naturally I also came under fire with a brand telling me that they initially thought me "arrogant" for having such a stance, but had changed their mind after getting a better understanding of my view point (thank goodness, as it's never my intention to come across as superior). Personally, I don't mind being in the firing line if it means opening up important dialogue.
Things to consider when pitching conscious bloggers.
So here are some points ethical brands should consider if they wish to approach or pitch to ethical bloggers in the hope of getting publicity for their products and services:
- Do you see ethical bloggers as an important part of your marketing strategy?
- Do you value the work that ethical bloggers and influencers do to promote brands?
- Do you think bloggers should be fairly compensated for their time and effort?
- Do you believe that bloggers should work free of charge because "it's for a good cause"?
- Do you feel insulted or resentful when some bloggers ask for payment for their services?
- Have you completed a business plan and factored in the cost of "blogger outreach"?
- Do you ask for media kits and evidence of audience reach/website traffic before engaging a blogger's services?
- Do you have the budget to pay bloggers or can allocate products for gifts?
- Do you use a PR firm to promote your brand? If so, do you provide them with a budget in which to pay bloggers or send free products in the hope of a favourable write-up?
As for me? I have no hard or fast rules when it comes to working with brands. I assess each on a case-by-case basis and as I mentioned earlier, I am firm in demanding compensation given my level of experience, skills and reach and the fact that brands stand to gain a commercial benefit from exposure on Eco Warrior Princess.
Having said all this, I am more lenient with non-profits and social causes given their work is of a charitable nature.
Now that I've said my piece I'd love to hear from you. If you're an ethical brand or conscious blogger, feel free to contribute your thoughts by leaving a comment below. The point is to facilitate open discussion so that both ethical brands and bloggers can come to mutual understanding.
*** Update 27/9/2016 *** Eco Warrior Princess has created a Patreon page so if you're a brand who claims to have no marketing budget, you might want to make a pledge instead, some of our rewards are geared to ethical brands!