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Ethical Bloggers & the Compensation Issue

Ethical Bloggers & the Compensation Issue
Written by Jennifer Nini

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:

Ethical Fashion Blogger Twitter Poll: Compensation

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”?

Poll results.

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.

ethical fashion bloggers

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:

Ethical Bloggers & the Compensation Issue

Ethical Bloggers & the Compensation Issue

If you’d like to read all the comments, head to www.intsagram.com/ecowarriorprincess

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! 

Enjoyed this post & want to show your gratitude? Then please support Eco Warrior Princess on Patreon!

About the author

Jennifer Nini

Jennifer Nini is a writer, activist and the founding editor of Eco Warrior Princess. In 2010, after studying Fashion Business, she launched Eco Warrior Princess to explore her interests in fashion, politics, social justice and sustainability. Jennifer is also the founder of The Social Copywriter, a digital agency harnessing the power of copywriting and content marketing to help mindful businesses reach more people. When she’s not perfecting a sentence or coaching business clients, you will find her at her certified organic farm reconnecting with nature.

11 Comments

  • This post came out at a perfect time for me, as I just started asking for monetary compensation rather than just products on my own blog. I thought that because I only started blogging in January it might have been too early, but I’m surprised at how brands have been responding! I’m sure there are brands which also don’t want to pay bloggers, but one thing I’ve learned is that it definitely never hurts to ask! Thanks for reassuring bloggers that we are worth getting paid 🙂

    • You’re welcome Elena! So glad this piece resonated with you. And good on you for asking! I think it’s important in any “transaction” that there be a win-win outcome and mutual benefit. Let’s not forget that just like fast fashion, there is a “true cost” of not asking for what we’re worth. Namely that people value our work less, that there is a feeling of resentment/exploitation and that the expectation is that all bloggers should be “free” or “cheap” which is a disservice to our profession. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  • Wow. Thank you. This also came at the perfect time for me. I JUST subscribed to this blog and have been following on insta since my blog’s inception. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by brands recently and the second I mention payment, I don’t hear back. I was wondering if it was my price, or if it was because I’m an ethical blogger, or maybe it was just me. Whatever the case may be, I feel as though my time is money and sometimes small brands don’t have the funds or don’t account for the importance of marketing to an audience that is also specific to their niche. I watched a video the other day, and this marketing guru was saying that a lot of times, people will only target bloggers who have large audiences, but don’t particularly have an interest in their practices and she said that’s a completely wrong approach. I wish brands knew this. That’s why I’ve had an issue working with larger ethical brands. They see I don’t have a large Instagram following so automatically they’re turned off. However, they miss the importance of having customers who care about their mission. Anyways, enough ranting. I’ve been meaning to get my frustrations out, so THANK YOU for this. I’m so happy you’ve addressed my same concerns.

    • Feel free to share your frustrations Olivia! I felt the same the other week after I had reached boiling point myself. You have every right to ask for what you’re worth and I applaud you for doing so. Our work adds value to a brand, so why shouldn’t we be compensated or at least work towards a win-win outcome? If we don’t stand up for ourselves, we can’t expect anyone else to. That video you watched tells the truth of how brands/PR firms forget about an influencers ethics and values in the pursuit of publicity and exposure. This is the sad reality. All we can do is continue to advocate fairness, not just in “ethical fashion” but in every aspect of our lives, including the work that we do 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts and providing valuable input to such an important topic!

  • For me personally my brand is about a year and a half old and it’s slow but I’m determined to make it work. However, I haven’t earnt a penny from it yet, it’s funded by my day job and any sales go back into it so I often ask bloggers to work in exchange for a gift. I’m looking to try and approach bigger bloggers with a larger following than the ones I have currently been approaching so I was just curious how, as a blogger, you feel I should approach this? I massively respect the bloggers/promoters I work with and their work so I want everyone to be happy. Also, I’m interested to hear your opinion on my situation and if you think asking people to help promote my brand for a gift is realistic?

    • Thanks for being so open and honest about your brand Chyvonne and so wonderful to know there is mutual respect and that you are seeking win-win outcomes. Now each blogger is different and so you will need to study their aesthetic and their blog first to make sure the blogger is the right fit for your brand. For example, I have been pitched ethical fisherman pants and that’s not a style that I will ever promote on my blog because I myself would never buy them or wear them. Also many bloggers who are experienced writers and can provide evidence of reach are in high demand and will charge for their time. Some may waive this if they have the time to help. Some may help to promote a brand in exchange for a gift if they really like the brands item/s. Some sustainable fashion bloggers knock back gifts as this is not really a “sustainable” practice given that some are sent many items each year and want to avoid waste (I sit in this category). Each blogger operates differently. My advice is to spend some time getting to know them on social media and other forums and groups. Then I’d approach the ones that you think are the right fit for your brand and send them a personal email remembering to cover the all important “whats in it for them”. Good luck!! 🙂

  • I completely agree with you! I’ve talked about this so much because it’s so frustrating to be promoting fair trade, supposedly ethical fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brands and have them be so rigid (and sometimes, downright rude) about compensating bloggers. It’s just so wrong and I’m amazed at how many are against paying bloggers altogether.

    • Tianna good for you to being a part of these important discussions! If we don’t talk about it, how will brands learn how we truly feel? Opening up dialogue is important for understanding perspectives and creating positive change. As we are in this industry to transform the world for the better, we must first look at how we live and interact with others in our own lives. As ‘conscious’ people, we should be leading by example and that starts with mutual respect and shared outcomes. This is what I’d point out the next time a brand is rude about compensation. I’d be aiming for at least negotiating for win-win and calling them out on this behaviour. Exploitation comes in many guises doesn’t it? And sometimes brands don’t even realise that that’s exactly what it is…

  • Hey Jen,

    What a great read for anyone working in this space. I agree that people should be paid fairly for their work, no matter what it is, yet we’ve somehow trained ourselves as writers to do work for free a lot of the time, and yes, a big part of it tends to be wanting to help out smaller ethical brands.
    Thanks for the inspiring words. Brilliant post, as always.

    • Hey Bonnie! So glad you got something out of it. Each individual has to negotiate their own way and its easier for some than others, but I honestly believe that if we just approach it as two human beings wanting mutual benefit, we should find a way, right? We spend so much of our time talking and writing about fair trade and removing exploitation – but we seem to forget those concepts don’t just apply to the third and developing worlds. They apply to each and every one of us. Hope you’re going great guns lovely!!

      • Hey Jen,

        I hope you’re doing great too!
        So true, what you say about approaching the matter just as two people. We forget to do this in business too often. I feel armed to debate the issue with anyone now! Haha.
        Thanks again 🙂

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