Commentary: Blogger Compensation

All opinions expressed herein, unless otherwise noted are my own.  They do not represent the opinion of other PRBC bloggers, affiliates, etc. – NB

Payments to bloggers are one of the many “Blogger” issues that has been coming for some time and last week came to a head around “Mommy Bloggers” at the evo ‘11 conference when conference sponsor, Aveda, through their Director of Global Communications, Evan Miller, clarified their position on engaging with bloggers.  Since I wasn’t at evo and didn’t want to misphrase or mischaracterize anything coming from Aveda, Mr. Miller clarified by email.  In short:

Since Aveda began working with bloggers in a PR capacity it has abstained from compensating them with cash payments. Aveda has offered bloggers compensation in the form of Aveda.com gift cards, product and salon/spa services. Aveda’s Digital Marketing team has conducted, on occasion, more extensive campaigns with bloggers in which it has compensated via monetary payment.

Just to be completely clear, again – this was merely a restatement or clarification of Aveda’s position – not a new position, and not a change from old policy.

If that’s the case, then why even bring it up at evo – a conference “Presented by Mom It Forward and Today’s Mama”? Essentially the Lion’s Den of so-called “Mommy Bloggers.”  Mr. Miller continued,

“I was asked by evo organizers to talk about best practices for bloggers when working with brands. Since it’s something Aveda has always practiced, and other brands seem to follow suit for product review-type/one-off blog posts, I felt it apropos to mention that bloggers shouldn’t always expect monetary compensation from a brand, although some type of compensation can be requested. Some brands do it, some don’t. Aveda is one that doesn’t compensate with money for PR purposes but does provide in-kind compensation. But I believe it’s something that — especially a newer blogger — should be aware of.”

This PR guy and Twitter user got dragged in upon expressing support for the brand with a tweet to the @aveda account of “Don’t back down on your blogger position. It’s a big fight but one worth having.”

This caused some frustration – including some asking ‘Why is it a fight worth having?’

Let’s rewind a bit and remember how blogging got its start.  You, someone who had specialized knowledge or interest in something, decided to write about it. If it was worthwhile you’d sign up with a banner ad service to drive some revenue to your bottom line.  You wrote because you were passionate about the topic and wanted to share your knowledge or questions with your tribe.

Some realized their opinions were respected and sought to be journalists even going so far as to attempt (and getting some level of success) at using Journalist Shield Laws to protect sources.  Blogs had become the new newspapers. As there are “news” journalists there were “news” bloggers. As there are feature or long-form writers we got a parallel track in the blogosphere.  And, as there are those in the mainstream media that covered reviews of technology, food, beauty products, etc. so we also got blogger-reviewers.

The value journalists provided is that we, the people, were always guaranteed (if we trusted the publication) that the reviews were unbiased. Industry standards developed – journalists couldn’t accept gifts from companies or their representatives (AP ethics guidelines even putting down a rule about the value of gifts that could be received).  The journalist’s paycheck came from an independent source (traditionally advertising and editorial departments were run separately) and if there was ever a whiff of impropriety someone raised hell – either the public or an ombudsman if the paper had one.

The system ensured that freedom of the press was free from private interference the way the Bill of Rights ensured it was free from government interference.

It was also why any time an editor of a publication hinted that an advertisement might get them better or more coverage it left a bad taste in the PR practitioner’s mouth (and at least for my purposes the answer was usually no, or “we’ll pass your ad information along but that’s not an area we handle.”).  There were, in short, journalistic standards that the public could trust.

Somewhere along the way it became practice to compensate bloggers — in cash.  Yes, above and beyond what might be needed to actually review a product, they wanted payment.  Theoretically because they provided a service that the brand took advantage of and should be compensated from that brand.

Here’s the thing – payment, any payment, tarnishes (even if only in appearance) any sense of impartiality one might have about the blog and blogger.

So here are the two real bottom lines here:

First the ethical question -

a) Are you journalists? That is why the issue is “important.” On the one hand we have bloggers who want journalistic rights – rights journalists have gone to prison to protect.  And on the other hand we have bloggers who, essentially, want to put themselves out as the ‘blog team’ (akin to a street team) for brands.  Both have a place, just hold yourself out to be one or the other.  Taking a step back, it may just be time to come up with better verbiage for what each blog editor/publisher wants to be – journalist or marketing platform.

And now the practical question -

b) Are you worth the ROI? It’s a question every marketing person has to ask themselves. Is a specific outlet, sponsorship, etc. worth the return on investment to pitch? That question can take many forms – financial, goodwill (reputation), time and/or headache spent on a project, etc. etc.  At the end of the day a decision has to be made and some programs get cut.  Major brands pull out their marketing programs from certain geographies or platforms all the time.  Compare the news, features (which frequently come from PR pitches), and advertising on AM radio vs. FM radio vs television vs. PPC ads in search engines.  For more on this topic, please see this excellent post from Social Media Explorer by Jason Falls.

At the end of the day, a marketing program that involves blogger compensation will be worthwhile for some brands and not for other brands.  That’s their choice as a brand to make. Any huffing and puffing done after a policy statement has been made that even hints at revenge or retribution simply sullies your own brand and makes clear what you’re in “this” for.

Comments for this post are open.  Not every comment will get a response and responses may very well be delayed (as I’ve got a regular 9-6 job).  Inappropriate (ad hominem attacks and the like) will be deleted and comments that demonstrate that you did not actually read the blog post will be lovingly mocked or poked at.

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  • Stephanie Smirnov

    If bloggers are being asked to provide promotional services, they deserve compensation, whether monetary or in kind. By this I mean fulfilling product giveaways, creating sponsored content, hosting or helping coordinate in-market events, helping drive readers to a brand’s FB page, to name but a few such services. (This does NOT inclue doing product reviews, which should never, ever be done with any kind of material exchange.) Needless to say, bloggers and brands must follow FTC disclosure guidelines in all they do together. I’ve been blogging and speaking on this topic for the past couple of years, and believe parenting/lifestyle bloggers (one day “mommy” blogger will disappear from our vocabulary, or at least one can hope) fall less in the category of journalist and more in the category of publisher which means–as with traditional media outlets–they are marketing their blogs as content platforms, often with multiple channels (i.e. The primary blog, twitter, FB, Flickr, real-world event hosting, etc). That said, I get riled when newbie bloggers who have yet to demonstrate meaningful traffic and reader engagement (or an ability to actually write good stuff) come onto the scene expecting to be compensated for even talking to a brand. The bloggers with substantial brand relationships have earned marketer respect over the course of years, not months. Just because a blogger loves a brand doesn’t mean she’s qualified to be its compensated ambassador or promotional partner — if that were the case, I would’ve made a mint off of Stoli long ago ;)

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    Good mornin’ Stephanie :) -

    Completely agree (particularly on the terminology) – but there of course is the key difference – moving beyond editorial coverage into marketing/spokespersonish roles (giveaways, sponsored content, hosting market events, etc.).  Not every Tom, Jane, or Juliet who runs a blog gets those kinds of opportunities.

    One day I’d like to see what you see (or used to) in the local movie sections of newspapers – full page ads for the latest summer blockbuster on the reverse of a review trashing the movie.  For many of the lifestyle bloggers though the separation of Church and State (editorial and advertising) is a foreign concept (which it somewhat has to be given that they don’t have a full-on staff).  

    I do think we’re on the same page so I’ll just shush at this point and say :-) (and that I’ll call Stoli and make sure you’re on their marketing list :) ).

  • Courtney

    Totally agree with you. The majority of bloggers are not journalist and the practice of payment (whether in cash or in-kind) is totally absurb and skews the balance of the PR world.

  • http://twitter.com/JGoldsborough JGoldsborough

    Thanks for sharing the Aveda story and giving this topic a forum for discussion. It’s one we as PR pros and bloggers need to continue delving into. And I think your overall conclusion is right…monetary compensation for bloggers may make sense and be the right solution for one brand, but not others. The only universal rule should be full disclosure, per the FTC.

    Been thinking about this a lot lately and the fact that so many PR pros immediately jump to paid relationships with bloggers means you are paying them and telling them what to post really bugs me.  Because there are a lot of “experts” out there who do pay to tell bloggers what to say. But so many more PR pros employ paid integrations as one tactic in a campaign that is designed to reach overall objectives — in other words, where it makes sense for the brand. Not unlike how PR has worked with spokespeople in the past.

    Bloggers are not journalists. That is the end all conclusion I have come to. The way people want to consume news and report it has changed. We can harken back for the good old days or call a spade a spade and realize we need to figure out the best way for our clients to work with both groups — journalists and bloggers. Great topic!

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    Hey Justin -

    Thanks for your comment.  I do think we’ve become prey to our own language in this instance. Back in the heyday of blogging bloggers were first and foremost writers (or other content creators).  That’s changed – As Stephanie noted below – the majority of lifestyle/mommy-esque bloggers are essentially publishers that also do the writing but they all get grouped together as ‘bloggers’ whether they write for the love of the niche or are full scale publishers even though there’s a vast difference.

    Cheers,

  • http://twitter.com/SwayGroup Danielle Wiley

    I absolutely agree with Stephanie here. Certainly the practice of paying for reviews or editorial content is unethical, but that shouldn’t be the focus of the discussion. To make sweeping statements that bloggers should never be paid is simply inflammatory. I do not know what Aveda is requiring of the bloggers with whom they work, but if it is anything beyond a simple review, the use of “payment in kind” is offensive. The moment there is any requirement, such as key message inclusion, a specific link or an image, it is absolutely valid for a blogger to request payment. Specific messaging requirements turn an editorial into an advertorial, and advertorials are, by definition, paid entities.

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    Hi Danielle – Thanks for your comment.  Mr. Miller (Aveda’s rep) certainly never said bloggers should never be paid, specifically noting that “Aveda’s Digital Marketing team has conducted, on occasion, more extensive campaigns with bloggers in which it has compensated via monetary payment.”

    I’d go so far as to say any PR pro who issued a “requirement” to a member of the press/media (blogger or mainstream) has stepped over the line.  I do take some issue with your specific examples – sending along images (or so-called B-Roll in the case of video) and contact information (in the digital realm that would take the form of a link) for _potential_ inclusion in a story is common practice.  It’s the PR Pro’s job to make the writing process as easy as possible and sending along an image rather than making someone take a snapshot helps that process.

    Again a “requirement” that something be included is most certainly stepping over the line.

    Re: Key messages – that’s part of the storytelling of PR and should be done in such a way that it is a natural extension of the campaign/product, etc and should want to be included (doesn’t always happen).

    And, yes, you’re totally right – once the company is essentially writing or approving the post and money changes hands that’s advertising/advertorial territory.

  • http://twitter.com/SwayGroup Danielle Wiley

    I think you and I are in agreement. Certainly it is standard practice to share images and messaging. The key factor here is the requirement. My personal blog was pitched last week by a major wireless company. They wanted me to be an ambassador for six months and had a long list of requirements, including posts and tweets. There was zero payment offered other than product, and the use of the product was actually just temporary.To position programs like this as ambassadorships is insulting, and it is done all of the time within the mom blogger space. 

  • http://twitter.com/SwayGroup Danielle Wiley

    I think you and I are in agreement. Certainly it is standard practice to share images and messaging. The key factor here is the requirement. My personal blog was pitched last week by a major wireless company. They wanted me to be an ambassador for six months and had a long list of requirements, including posts and tweets. There was zero payment offered other than product, and the use of the product was actually just temporary.To position programs like this as ambassadorships is insulting, and it is done all of the time within the mom blogger space. 

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    Hey Danielle -

    It does seem we are in agreement.  The point at which you get an offer which doesn’t float your boat it becomes a business decision (for both you and the company).  What’s the ROI for each you? For some people it may be worth their time and effort to be free of a wireless bill for 6 months (though the hassle of changing over a phone number probably wouldn’t cut it for me) and for the company to determine if a particular blog is a right fit in terms of audience size and composition. :)

  • http://www.flairminute.com/ FlairMedia

    I can’t improve on this post in any way, whatsoever.  I’ve worked in P.R. environments and news environments, like Channel One News where a strict separation of programming and news content was enforced.  Yes, it was an ad supported network whose dollars were spent on sending young journalists out to cover some fluffy cultural news but also some very hard-hitting Peabody Award winning news: The Face of AIDS, Suffering in the Sudan, etc.  The delicate balance of art & commerce is never going to disappear but we must all remain mindful of why it’s important and how the blogosphere was birthed and evolved.  Two separate camps in my opinion – one is not more important than the other – but they serve very different needs.

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    Hey K - 

    And I can’t improve on this comment in any way :) .  Have a good one!

  • http://www.flairminute.com/ FlairMedia

    One additional thought: when I was with a record label (remember those?) we would regularly service fans who ran DIY ‘zines (remember those?) with our CD samplers, posters, stickers, etc.  Were they financially compensated? No. Did they love to write? Yes. Did they want to be regarded as music experts, enthusiasts, and tastemakers in their tribes? Yes. Those reviews were sometimes glowing and sometimes disastrous. That’s the risk one takes.  My point is that they wrote/reviewed because they loved the music.

    To me we’re looking at a near identical equation. The difference with the explosion of the Interwebs and Blogosphere is that one has potentially more reach (key word potentially) and there’s almost no barrier to entry. 

    I’d love to see the emphasis more squarely placed on the passion of the “zine” type writers. Passion and enthusiasm is infectious.

  • http://twitter.com/SwayGroup Danielle Wiley

    That is an interesting analogy, and one that is apt when it comes to product reviews. I think the reason bloggers are bristling though, is that there is increasingly a lot of baggage associated with products sent out for review. When you sent out samplers, stickers, and the like, did you require anything in return? Certainly you might have stopped sending them to someone who never used them for editorial content, but my guess (I could be wrong) is that you sent them out with no formal strings attached. That is the crux of the issue here. I think it is very important to clarify the difference between editorial and sponsored content as this discussion continues.

  • http://twitter.com/NewspaperGrl Janet Thaeler

    If a blogger wants to be a journalist with its perks and responsibilities then by all means (and it means you can’t accept payment for product reviews).

    Bloggers who write reviews and have an audience that fits the product have a right to ask for compensation. They don’t always deserve to be paid and are not entitled to it, but writing is work and good work should be rewarded. It’s up to each individual blogger and the brand to decide If that compensation is cash or product. (This is very frustrating when working with bloggers, there isn’t a standard and some ask for ridiculously high pay that doesn’t match their reach).

    I’ve been on both sides. It’s the wild west. We are so transparent as bloggers (we’re often writing on multiple social sites & blogs) that there is a lot of competition but little as far as guidelines. Everyone is figuring it out and a lot of that is done by talking to each other.

    I’m glad Aveda gave this issue more visibility but I’m not sure it’s going to solve the issue. It will be worked out between bloggers and brands – sometimes painfully.

    As you said: “a marketing program that involves blogger compensation will be worthwhile for some brands and not for other brands.”

    I wrote more about my opinion here: http://www.bucks2blog.com/aveda-blogger-policy-evo-conference/

  • http://www.thedailyblarg.com Steph

    I attended this session and, in my opinion, the controversy truly started over a very poor choice of words by Mr. Miller.  He stated that Aveda and it’s parent company Estee Lauder (excuse possible spelling error) were “taking a stand” against paying bloggers and encouraging other companies to do so.  Unfortunately, that caused such a stir that Mr. Miller never was given the chance to clarify his position and thus created a firestorm.  As a blogger I have worked on many campaigns (paid and not paid).  I have also turned down many campaigns because the worklaod outweighed the benefits.  We all have the ability to choose what works and doesn’t work with our personal brands.  If you don’t like Aveda’s compensation… don’t work with them. They certainly aren’t the first, or the last, company to have this policy.

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    Hi Steph -

    Thanks for your comment, definitely think you’re spot-on, particularly in the last part.  It’s a biz decision for both sides and rather than participate in a firestorm as you put it, approaching the issue with a level head and trying to understand the other side probably would have helped all around.

  • http://nikkistephan.com Nikki Stephan

    I completely agree! Many other commenters hit the nail on the head with their responses.

    FTC disclosure is a must. Paid compensation may work in some cases, and in others it may not. But an honest review and opinion from the blogger is the most ethical scenario. However, if he/she is receiving direct monetary payment to “review” a brand, that blogger is going to absolutely feel compelled to share positive feedback. That’s why I think it works better if the blogger gets to experience the product or service firsthand, then share his/her opinion based on the experience – not direct compensation.

    Thanks to @prcog:disqus for the inspiration to write a follow up post on this with some feedback on the topic from bloggers! Look for it on PRBC early next week.

  • http://prbuilder.com/news/bloggers-slam-aveda-over-its-non-payment-policy/ Bloggers slam Aveda over its non-payment policy | PRbuilder.com

    [...] Read his post here. [...]

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    Hi Janet -

    Thanks for the comment (and link to your post).  It very much is an issue for the parties to work out on their own and as you note some bloggers think very highly of themselves and their platforms so trying to work with those beliefs in relation to the actual value would cause some friction.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the article – I was there when Evan spoke and can tell you what was most bothersome wasn’t the statement but the slide that proceeded the statement about not paying bloggers. The slide talked about how much Aveda made off sending bloggers a bottle of shampoo and then asking them to share that same bottle with a friend. It wasn’t just a blog review but the bloggers were asked to do several things and all for shampoo. It goes beyond a review and compensation for a review but into a marketing campaign.  I could fill up pages commenting on this but I write about brands paying bloggers over here (http://sommerpoquette.com/about-the-book/reviews-and-news/) and yes, I get paid, no I am not a journalist (I have my own liability insurance and business) and yes there is ROI or else brands would not continue to work with me.

    Again, great topic and I’m sad to hear Stephanie say mommy bloggers will someday not be part of our vocabulary – I disagree.  I do, however, agree with Stephanie that bloggers that are being compensated and working with brands have earned it and that not every blogger is qualified to be compensated or be an ambassador – point well taken.

  • http://loraleeslooneytunes.com/2011/07/13/making-money-blogging-when-and-how-should-bloggers-be-compensated/ Making money blogging: When and how should bloggers be compensated? | loraleeslooneytunes.com

    [...] He also put this quote out to PRCog (see tweet above) about Aveda’s compensation policy for bloggers for PR work: Since Aveda began working with bloggers *in a PR capacity it has abstained from compensating them with cash payments. Aveda has offered bloggers compensation in the form of Aveda.com gift cards, product, and salon/spa services. Aveda’s digital marketing team has conducted, on occasion, more extensive campaigns with bloggers in which it has compensated via monetary payment. [...]

  • Loralee Choate

    I was in the panel and tweeted, etc. 

    There is a lot to agree with here. I don’t disagree with not paying for reviews, etc. but I tend to think there is a LOT of confusion in the blog world about editorial vs. sponsored content and it leads to many problems.

    (I quoted you…hope you don’t mind: http://loraleeslooneytunes.com/2011/07/13/making-money-blogging-when-and-how-should-bloggers-be-compensated/)

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    Hi Loralee -

    Thanks for your comment (and of course no problem with the quote :) ).  Your post is also great and it does seem there’s a large divide between writer-bloggers and marketer-bloggers.  Thanks for the thoughts.

  • http://justincaseyouwerewondering.com/2011/07/14/are-bloggers-and-journalists-the-same/ Are bloggers and journalists the same? | Justin Case You Were Wondering

    [...] we should treat bloggers more like journalists. Or we never paid journalists, how could we possibly pay bloggers. You know what I have to say to that [...]

  • http://jeffesposito.com/2011/07/15/five-for-friday/ Five for Friday

    [...] Commentary: Blogger Compensation – One of the biggest topics in PR is the compensation of bloggers. To me it is OK to offer products for an honest review, but paying for a positive review is unethical and well not PR. The comments in this post are great and I give a big hat tip to the artist formerly known as PR Cog for posting it and being open and conversational in the comments. [...]

  • http://prinpink.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/a-little-birdy-told-me-week-of-71111/ A Little Birdy Told Me…Week of 7/11/11 « PR in Pink

    [...] A Discussion About Blogger Compensation (by @prcog via @dannybrown): [...]

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com/2011/07/18/blogger-reactions-compensation/ Five Blogger Reactions to Review & Endorsement Compensation | PRBreakfastClub

    [...] week, Nathan Burgess wrote about a very top-of-mind issue for PR professionals – blogger compensation. If you haven’t read that post yet, head over there first before diving into this [...]

  • http://megroberts.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/a-case-study-on-blogger-engagement-nuuns-hood-to-coast-team/ A Case Study on Blogger Engagement: Nuun’s Hood to Coast Team « Staying On Track

    [...] posts never seemed overly promotional. From what I read, they did not feel taken advantage of or under-compensated. Instead, they were all genuinely excited to be a part of nuun’s team, which made me – [...]