We've been engaging in a lively discussion over at the Ethical Writers Coalition about the issue of "ethical" brands asking for free coverage from "likeminded" bloggers. And we're over it. Here's why: Dear social entrepreneur (or the PR person representing them), Thank you for clarifying that despite the fact you love my ethical blog, you do not have any marketing budget, but would like to "collaborate" with me on a post about your brand. Let me explain to you why I am not taking you up on your offer:
1. A collaboration is equal work, equal reward.I love collaborations, where two enterprising people split the work on a project, each bringing their unique talents, and split the rewards. I did that recently with a brand, where I showed up, their photographer took the pictures, they fed me lunch, the photog edited the pictures, they put together the newsletter, and I put up a post sending traffic to their site, plus put it in my newsletter and shared it with my ethical blogger friends. I will be paid a portion of sales through the affiliate program. That is a collab. Split work, split profit. This is not what you want. You want me to spend an hour talking to you or your founder. After that, your founder's work is done. Then I have to transcribe the interview, write the post, edit the post, take and/or edit the pictures for the post, and post it, promote it, put it in my newsletter, too, not to mention all the backend work I do to keep EcoCult humming along. Then you get the all the reward, because the post is sending my readers to your site to buy your stuff. If you want to call it a collaboration, you need to do a large portion of the work, plus adequately compensate me and other ethical bloggers for my part of the work, either through a fee, or an affiliate program on Skimlinks or ShareaSale.
2. You are not unique.I'm sorry that someone told you that you don't need a marketing budget, that it's all about "earned media." Just email some ethical bloggers, and they will be so moved by your story about helping artisans, they will gladly write a post about your brand. Well guess what? Somebody also told all the other 4,533 social enterprise brands the same thing. And they are also emailing me, asking me to come into the city for a cup of coffee so they can tell me about their social enterprise, give me $20 worth of beauty products, and get coverage on EcoCult. What you are doing is admirable. It's much better than the brands paying $3 a pop for pants made in Bangladesh, or brands that have parabens and formaldehyde in their formulations. But I'm sorry to say, it no longer makes you unique. Do you know how many brands now are pitching me [handcrafty thing] made by [underprivileged females] in [impoverished country] who get [benefits]? Or [beauty product] with [extracts] that is free of [chemicals]? That is a baseline for inclusion in my blog. It is no longer newsworthy. Plus, when you say, "But I'm a sustainable brand, so I was hoping you would collaborate with me," that assumes I'm also working with unsustainable brands who will subsidize you. I don't. Everyone is sustainable on EcoCult. Everyone gets the same exact treatment. I've already gotten four other emails just like yours today, and will probably get a couple more before I leave my desk at 8 pm. If I were to say yes to every email, I could spend 63 hours a day writing about social enterprises, and I would never have time to write about the things that I'm passioante about, or the things my readers need to know. My price reflects supply and demand. Very limited supply, high demand. It's true, there are some brands that are doing wonderfully without a marketing budget at all. You know why? Because they are busting their ass to do their own social media, their own blog posts, throw huge parties with an open bar, etc. Plus, their stuff is on point gorgeous. When they email me, I'm like, yes, my readers need to know you exist. To break through, they are fucking gorgeous, useful, and above all, unique. I would say 1 out of every 100 emails I get crosses that barrier.
3. I am my own advertising department.But, you protest, journalists from big magazines don't accept payment for coverage! That would be unethical! Ah, but there's a huge difference between journalists and bloggers. No, it's not education level, or ethics, or taste. It's the structure of the medium. Journalists work for media companies who have whole departments dedicated to advertising. Marie Claire writers have the luxury of pretending that their salary doesn't come from the brands they cover, because of a supposed firewall between the two departments. L'Oreal knows this. They know that editorial assistants have the leeway and time to do a roundup of the best mascaras because L'Oreal's two-page September advertising spread made those writers' September paycheck possible. So when you win a mention in Marie Claire ("earned media") you are essentially being subsidized by companies like L'Oreal. They are paying for the editor who wrote about your heartwarming entrepreneurial story. But bloggers, we are our own writer, editor, copy editor, art director, publisher, and yes, advertising department. So if you want me to write about your amazing leather satchel made in Africa, I need to be paid enough so I can afford to do that. You could pay for a sponsored posts about the 10 cutest leather satchels, and I will include yours and send you a bunch of organic traffic of people looking for leather satchels. Or you could pay for a sponsored post about your leather satchel company and I will write a beautiful story about it. You could pay for a sidebar banner ad so that I will include your satchel in relevant fashion roundups. I'm not a money grubber. You do this once, and my good will toward you will extend for a year or more, and I'll keep tossing your stuff in other relevant posts. But either way, if you want successful ethical bloggers to choose to write about you, you need to make it worth their while.
4. To make money (for artisans) you have to spend money.But, you protest, your brand is a social good brand! When you pay a blogger $300 for a sponsored post, you're taking $300 out of the pockets of the women in Africa you pay to make beaded bracelets. Let's unpack that way of thinking. First, when you approached the company that makes your glass bottles, did they generously gift you them because you're a social enterprise? How about the United States Postal Service? Are they delivering your consciously made goods for free? Did the Javitz Center comp your tradeshow table? Does Delta fly you back and forth to Guatemala in return for an Instagram post? Does your website hosting service, landlord, and mobile provider provide their service in exchange for some embroidered clutches? Are you, PR person, providing your PR services for free to the brand? No? Hmmm, then why are you asking ethical bloggers to? When you sketch out your business's expenses, you should include marketing in there. When I spend five hours traveling to meet you, talking with you, traveling home, photographing said product, then editing a post about you, and all I get in return is a product whose retail price is $50, that means I "earned" $10 an hour. Yes, many fashion bloggers earn a lot from turning around and selling $400 brand-name purses on eBay. But I can't do that with your product, because it's not brand name, and it's not $400. So really, if I can resell it, I probably will end up at $3 an hour. That doesn't strike me as ethical. Second, not even 501(c)3 registered charities have this mindset. They have marketing budgets. You could say that Make-a-Wish shouldn't be taking out $10,000 magazine spreads, when that money could be used to send five little girls to Disney World. But they do, because Make-a-Wish understands that you have to spend money to raise money.
5. I'm an entrepreneur, too.When you ask me to write about you for free, you're essentially holding two opposing ideas in your head about me:
- A mention on my blog is worthless.
- A mention on my blog will drive sales of your product.