Apr 272010

Cooking for a dinner partyWhen three big food bloggers  forwarded an email invitation to me within minutes of each other, I had to take a look. All three were insulted by this offer but knew that other food bloggers would take the companies up on it.

Here’s a condensed version of the invite, with sponsor names deleted:

“We enjoy your culinary blog, and share your passion for cooking and fine cuisine. To provide a fun way to try new recipes with your friends, we offer you the opportunity to host an Easy & Elegant Dinner Party in your home.

“Here’s how it works.You and 1000 fellow foodies across the country will simultaneously host Easy & Elegant Dinner Parties. If selected as a host, you will receive a generous party pack – including two pieces of  cookware, the celebrity chef’s newest cookbook, a food stipend and several gifts – all the tools you need for the gathering (of about 15 people). And, you will have an opportunity to participate in a technique class to see the cookware in action – before your event.

“Through this experience you and your party guests will get a wealth of creative culinary inspiration. Further, as a blogger, you are invited to share these ideas with your readers – and include them in this adventure.

“CLICK HERE to immediately link to the party host invitation site. Hosting opportunities are limited. And, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

Said one of the bloggers in her email, “And you thought asking for free content was bad? This pitch represents an all-time low. I felt the need to shower immediately after reading it. But it’s really not that far from what bloggers are being asked to do these days. It would be funny if only it wasn’t so horrible.”

Said another, “Unbelievable. I’m excited to sit back and watch the zillions of people who jump all over it, because you *know* they will.The thing is, this will be effective for them. That’s the irony.”

Said the third, tongue firmly in cheek,  “BUT YOU GET TWO PANS!!!!!! SCORE!!!!!!!!”

If you’ve been reading my blog you already know how I feel about this offer. Bloggers are notorious for writing advertorial because they’re so excited about the freebies and flattered to be asked. I don’t like advertorial, unless clearly marked as such in magazines. I like story-telling, essays or reporting in blogs. The word “awesome” should not appear.

So I hope many food bloggers will decline. Maybe they’ll find only 500. Or 50. I can hope.

Maybe you think I’m wrong. Will the marketer will have any trouble finding 1000 food bloggers to take them up on their offer? Is this a good thing for food bloggers or a bad thing?

Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

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  89 Responses to “Exclusive Offer! Only 1000 Food Bloggers Qualify”

  1. I love that they said ‘Hosting opportunities are limited’ *after* starting with ‘You and 1000 fellow foodies….’

    So much for feeling special.
    Thanks for the post, on point and a statement about how we regard ourselves.

  2. I’d look at this “offer” as if someone was trying to sell me snow to take to Florida. I wouldo not be honored, flattered, nor would I fall for it. I won’t be a blog whore for anyone’s cookware. Now, for really excellent knives…that might be another story.

  3. Very interesting… I received that exact same email but with none of the “blog” obligations. There was also no mention of the 1000 Food Blogger limit. My husband received it as well as we are on the mailing list of the company supplying the cookware. I thought it sounded like a fun event to do anyway with bonus cookware (and would have blogged about it anyway) but I didn’t realise it was a “Food Blogger Exclusive”… requiring a big old advertorial on your blog…

    • I guess they didn’t realize you had a blog. Interesting. Are you planning to do this party then?

      • Well I did apply because I didn’t realise there was all this kerfuffle about bloggers being invited to this. I was not invited as a blogger, neither was my husband, we were simply invited as part of what we thought was a promotion from the companies involved. I have to say it sounds like fun but I might rethink if I am going to be ridiculed for accepting what sounded like a fun party… As a new blogger, sometimes you have to accept these opportunities…

        • Well my hubby got an invite too and he is most definitely not a blogger! We just happen to be on the mailing list for the cookware company.

        • First of all, if you were offered this party through a promotion and not because you were a blogger — hey, you’re off the hook. You can just do it to have fun.

          Second, I hope that if you do choose to blog about it, no other food bloggers will ridicule you. That’s really unprofessional.

        • But then you say, “as a new blogger, sometimes you have to accept these opportunities.” I don’t understand. Why would you have to?

          • I simply meant I am always on the lookout for fun things to write up on my blog. A cooking demo, some nice new cookware and a party would be a pretty fun post!

          • Theoretically, yes. Now, to the writing of the post, a few questions:

            1. Will you disclose that you received expensive free stuff and that you were contacted to put on the party with 1000 other people?

            2. How much will you promote or endorse the products because you are grateful to have received them for free?

            I can’t say I dealt with this issue as a magazine editor. We always received products for free, when we asked for them. Then we wrote a review that exposed the pros and cons of a product we tested thoroughly. You were not asked to do a review, however. You were asked to throw a party.

            Mardi, I hope you don’t think I’m picking on you. I’m thrilled that you’re willing to discuss this issue with me and help me figure out the sticking points.

  4. Completely agree with you, Dianne. Offers like this one are sometimes a bit tempting because, even though most of us blog mainly for the love of food and writing, there is often a lack of compensation for our efforts. So, although we know it is ethically questionable to participate in this kind of thing, the thought of getting something in return for all of our hard work is enticing. When I’m working on my blog, I constantly keep my mission in mind and that makes decisions about offers for freebies a no brainer!

  5. Hey! How come I didn’t get that email! Now I’m miffed that I was left out of the chance to be miffed.

  6. I personally don’t see a problem with it, although I can see why some do. with thousands of (food) blogs out there, there are many bloggers who would jump at the chance to move traffic onto their site, be it in this way or another. plus, there’s a stipend involved – what’s so wrong with being able to host a dinner party for free, if all you have to do is mention it on your blog (they aren’t even (from this email you showed) asking for a full post)??

    sure, bloggers who have “been around” and have a lot of traffic are less likely to do this for fear of selling out or being a “blog whore”, but the rest of us (sometimes) enjoy this sort of thing, even if it is totally different than what we normally write about. that’s what blogs are for anyway – doing and saying and cooking what you want – right??? what’s the difference between doing this and having ads on one’s site – both are making money and supporting a product….

    • You are making some good points, Heather. Thanks for speaking up.

      The difference is that an ad is visually definable on your site, and everyone can see that it’s there. On the other hand, most bloggers tend to gush over products they’ve been given for free and don’t say anything balanced or negative. And they rarely disclose that they have been given the products for free, which is now against the law according to the FCC.

      • Diane, I loved this post and as a PR person by day and food blogger by night (and at heart), I think people are getting better about following the FTC guidelines.

        That said, I have some strong opinions about this type of “marketing strategy” that I will post at the end of the thread!

  7. Readers are missing the point: OMG YOU STILL GET FREE PANS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Ok, I’m kidding. Back to the point of this post. I would never fault anyone for working on a promotion like this as long as they were ok with it. I’ve participated in exchange for items before and felt as if I was getting something that was equal in value. The problem for me is when it’s done on a mass scale, almost as a way to side-step a marketing or ad buy for these clients. But then again, you “get what you pay for”.

    It didn’t offend me as much as my cohorts in that initial email to you. It was just another sort of eye-rolling moment for me, but in light of what’s happened lately there have been bigger offenders. I should actually say I don’t think what they were offering was that bad but I certainly would have thrown in a few extras to make it worthwhile (10 grand prize winners with more cookware, 5 interviews with the author for the bloggers, a best photo contest with prize, etc etc etc).

    As blogs grow in numbers we shall see more of this, I have no doubt.

    • Good to have your opinion, Matt.

      I guess I am still working out how I feel about this. It bothers me because I feel like bloggers are being used. Now, some bloggers will say they don’t feel used. That’s fine — their opinion. On the other hand, the goal of the company is to make them feel special enough to take this on — and not feel used! So yes, I see your point, have a bigger win for the people who participate.

    • It’s kind of hard to figure out what to make of this. I guess as a journalist, I am always suspicious of how companies want to take advantage of people.

  8. Knock knock, it’s me again.

    Marketers, if you are ARE reading this, here’s a suggestion. First, let me put on my Marketing Hat. You know I spent 20 years chained to a marketing department, right?

    Change the scope of a promotion like this. Invite 10, 15, 20 bloggers that you like or you think reach your target demographic. PAY them for their time. YES, PAY. Give them cookbooks, cookware, information about your product and take it from there. They will certainly have to disclose the post as per the FTC but at least you will be acknowledging their time and treating them as the valuable resource they are.

    Off my soapbox now.

    • Oooh, I like this idea, Matt. But they’re going for quantity, not quality. It seems like no one wants to pay bloggers for their time, unless it’s the superstars.

      • I’m a marketer! And a food blogger! A rare hybrid, if I do say so myself. My BIGGEST objection to this is the 1000 invitees. How can you say something is exclusive if 1,000 people are doing this?

        Whenever I have helped my clients plan events for bloggers we keep the numbers to a minimum, for example, a breakfast to unveil a new food product to 3-5 bloggers. It should be about looking for a QUALITY bloggers not just mass emailing anyone. At the end of the day, you’re not just reaching them, you’re reaching them and their audience: their readers, their networks, their fans/followers…etc. If you do a good job the word will spread organically, you develop a close working relationship with a talented person and everyone is happy.

        There are just so many examples of “what not to do” out there that it is entirely frustrating. My other objection here is that they made it sound like this BIG! SPECIAL! EVENT! when really, eh. Might be fun, might be a drag, depends on the person.

        And Matt, I agree with you 100%. I could have said those words myself.

        • Exactly! That was Matt’s point and the point of my headline. There’s nothing “exclusive” about 1000 people.

  9. Wow, it is getting that bad. Hard to say if they will get that much response. I think a lot of bloggers are getting weary.

  10. Apparently the company organizing this, House Party (http://www.houseparty.com/), has a program for regular folks who want to throw parties. You can sign up on their site and get goodies to throw specific kinds of parties that feature sponsored products. I have no problem with that. But would they ever make such an outrageous offer to a journalist? I think not! And why should I be treated differently from a journalist? This was a catering gig, and one where I would be required to write about it. All in exchange for some pans, an unspecified stipend and a couple of pot holders. Blech.

    • Thanks Amy, for naming names.
      It’s nice to know who we’re up against.
      I tend to delete anything that sounds too good to be true, but these are such time-suckers. I’m with Mat on making a legit offer, but so far we bloggers are not respected enough in my opinion.

      • Bloggers can cause their own problems by openly accepting free stuff and writing about it in glowing terms. Journalists aren’t allowed to do so. When magazines do it, it is much more hidden.

    • Good point, Amy. Why should bloggers be treated differently than journalists. Perhaps because many insist they are not journalists! Journalists aren’t allowed to take free products because doing so could unduly influence their reporting. That might spoil a lot of fun for bloggers.

    • Amy, I know this isn’t the place to toot my own horn but one of my former clients wanted to do HouseParty.com with bloggers My boss LOVED it. I thought it was a terrible idea. I said so (in so many words) and that opinion wasn’t well received. I’m glad there are others who agree with me!

  11. After reading all the comments, I’m still confused. Is this company requiring the bloggers to mention them? Or are they offering all this swag and then saying, “throw your party and have fun!”? If the latter, I’m not sure I see why this is so heinous. Also, how will writing about this bring more blog traffic to small bloggers? Presumably, their regular readers will be the ones who read about the sponsored party. . . unless the sponsor is sending people to their blogs? (Sorry, is there something I’m missing? Or am I just ignorant of most of what’s going on here?)

    I agree with heather that lots of bloggers would accept such offers. They see the “big guys” sponsoring giveaways for, or writing reviews of, expensive cookware, mixers, high-powered blenders or knives that they got for free, or writing about (freebie) exotic food items, and the little guys figure it’s okay to accept a box of cereal or something similar.

    I also agree with Matt that it doesn’t actually sound that bad on first read. I’ve reviewed quite a few books and products on my blog (including some giveaways)–some of these I have paid for and purchased on my own; some I received from companies that approached me; and two I received after I approached the companies first because I loved their products. I have always disclosed (even before the law) whether or not I was given something for free. I also let companies know that I’ll only consider products that are consistent with the food philosophy on my blog (which is pretty restrictive compared to most, I’d wager, as it eliminates so many foods/products).

    As to your comment that “most bloggers tend to gush over products they’ve been given for free and don’t say anything balanced or negative,” I made a conscious choice that I would ONLY write about products/books I could genuinely recommend because I like them and use them myself. When companies approach me asking to send free samples, I tell them there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually write about the product–I won’t, if I don’t like it. So far, about a dozen companies have retracted their offers at that point (or just disappeared); of the products I’ve been sent, I’ve written about maybe six and not written about three because they didn’t work for me; my blog readers can draw their own conclusions if they don’t see a review on my blog (or, if they email me to ask about a product I haven’t reviewed, I’ll tell them why I don’t like it). That way, when blog readers leave comments sucha as, “I had doubts about this product but since you endorse it, I feel okay going to buy it,” I can sleep at night knowing I’ve been true to what I believe and haven’t intentionally led anyone astray.

    Hmmm. . . I haven’t thrown a dinner party in quite a while. What was that company’s URL, again?

    • Hi Ricki,

      Most sophisticated marketers don’t “require” bloggers to post about them. It’s implied.

      I’m with you. I don’t know see how writing about the party will bring more traffic to bloggers. If they do it, it is probably because it sounds like fun and they would get free stuff.

      I don’t have a problem with a giveaway as long as it’s disclosed that the blogger got it for free, for that purpose. They are not taking it for themselves but to pass on to readers as a gift. It’s a nice position to be in and I’m doing it myself. I assume the point of giving the pans to the invitees is to have them use them, not give them away. And then if they like them, to potentially recommend them to friends. But I could be wrong.

      I don’t agree that you should only write about products you would recommend and have written about this previously. Your readers will have no idea why you have not reviewed a product. I also don’t believe the point of a review is to get someone to buy it. The marketing department of the company is in charge of promotion, not individual bloggers.

      • Oh I’d say it was more than implied! The actual wording was this “Through this experience you and your party guests will get a wealth of creative culinary inspiration. Further, as a blogger, you are invited to share these ideas with your readers – and include them in this adventure.”

  12. I thought this offer was tacky, tacky, tacky, but people will definitely jump on it. Maybe we should start a bloggers union? Actually, that’s not a bad idea. 😉

  13. While I’m not cool enough to get such offers (should I be thankful or sad about this?), I am curious – if one did accept such an “offer”, what are the tax implications? Do those pots & pans/stipend now become “income” that renders one liable to pay income tax on their worth, implied as payment for the service of an advertorial?

    • Yes, I think the IRS would consider them “payment” and technically, you would have to declare these gifts if you were to blog about them. So the answer is …have the party and don’t blog, if you really want to do it?

  14. definitely some great conversation going on up here!

    i’ve actually gotten quite a few free products, but haven’t specifically reviewed them. if i like a product and feel a specific benefit to one brand, i’ll put that in a recipe (for example, i tend to prefer the “blue can” brand of chiles in adobo sauce over the others, mainly b/c my gluten-free pals can eat it). On the other hand, if i ever tested a product i was asked to review, i’d be honest and say how i felt one way or the other.

    i know there’s a difference between ads on blogs and this sort of testing/paid advertising, but at the root of it, people’s blogs are their perogatives, and just because one person doesn’t agree with it (or more, as is clear here!) it doesn’t mean its wrong, or bad. there are PLENTY of bloggers out there who love testing and throwing free parties. take the site “foodbuzz” for example – they advertise on your site and monthly they offer 250 bucks to “x” number of bloggers to write about a party they sponsored. they publish on their site, it draws readers to those blogs, and both get “paid”, so to speak. i don’t see a problem with that, and it seems similar to this pitch. it’s not for everybody.

    plus, as Matt says – FREE PANS!! and i like free stuff 😉

    • Hey, it’s a free world. You won’t see the bigger bloggers acting that way, though. And why is that? Is it because they’re big and they don’t have to? And why would they “have to” anyway?

      The big bloggers weren’t always big. Their sites grew because their readers trusted them, and shilling for a free product or dinner does not engender trust.

  15. I have to say I agree with a lot & a little of everyone’s comments. I completely see Matt’s, Heather & Amy’s points. I do have to disagree with your last comment, Dianne, as I have been doing this long enough to know that all (or at least most of the ones I read) bloggers (the ones who are now BIG) have accepted freebies, in exchange for writing about the product, etc….at one point or another in their blogging careers. I feel the times have definitely changed over the past three years with the government being involved and bloggers having to disclose these “freebies”. As well I have to agree with Mardi about bloggers being worried about being ridiculed as I have seen that happen publicly on Twitter. Why can’t everyone get along and help support each other … there is enough opportunity out there for everyone, whether it be a freebie or a paid gig to write about on their sites.

    • Definitely no one should be ridiculing anyone else for their decisions.

      I guess big bloggers do take freebies — I was being naive. I don’t know what the circumstances are. I don’t perceive any of the big bloggers as shills, however.

  16. Just to play devil’s advocate, how would hosting this party and writing about it (if you felt it had value to you and disclosed properly on your blog that you received freebies and a stipend) be different than bloggers’ accepting a free trip somewhere (and then blogging about it)?

    I am not being snarky, just think there are a lot of gray areas out there.

    • Ethically I see your point, a freebie is a freebie. But for me a trip is something different. It’s an experience that’s being hosted by someone as opposed to this, which sounds more like an unpaid catering gig. On a trip I get an actual tangible benefit, with this offer, not so much. Had House Party invited me to a party with the recipes and demos of the pans, etc. I might have considered attending. But I wouldn’t have agreed to blog about it before experiencing it. I go to plenty of events that are not worthy of being blogged about.

      • Yes, that sounds much more traditional, Amy, and definitely not worthy of a blog post. That’s probably why they didn’t do it that way!

      • I see your point here but think it’s totally a matter of an opinion as to what kind of freebie is worthwhile.

        I can see where some consumers would get excited about it (I mean, facts are facts: people like free stuff). Had House Party come out with this five years ago before every company under the sun was inviting bloggers to events right and left I might think it were more clever. They basically took what PR firms were already doing (some well, some not-so-well) and multiplied it exponentially.

        In general, I’m not a huge fan of mass-marketing tactics that don’t employ a lot of personal communication, for the same reasons that I’d rather get or write a personalized pitch than a press release sent to 100 people. Yes, there is a time and a place for mass marketing and email blasts, etc. but if we’re talking about public relations, I say be personal, be engaging and build a relationship.

    • I think a free trip is a more known kind of freebie, with fewer parameters. This event is quite orchestrated and you have to follow along.

  17. Now that I have had more time to read through each comment I want to throw a few more opinions out there. Thanks, Diane, for getting this conversation going.

    I am not personally fond of this idea as a marketing strategy. At first glance I agreed with all of the points in this post, being someone who both works in PR and is heavily involved in blogging. I don’t think mass-marketing is the proper approach for all audiences, as public relations is clearly shifting from a one-way to a two-way conversation.

    But the sense of judgment in some of the comments here is surprising to me. Let’s live and let live and be supportive of other people’s choices.

    I agree that bloggers should be treated as respectfully by PR and marketing folks as journalists are, but I do not think that ALL bloggers are journalists. Many journalists receive a paycheck to report on the news or whatever their beat/topic may be. Most bloggers, on the other hand, started writing for their passion and THEN discovered that they could make money, some could even earn a living, doing what they love. No, writers for the New York Times aren’t working for free, but part of their job includes reading and/or deleting thousands of pitches that come through their inbox. Sure, the line is blurry and there is plenty of overlap but in a lot of cases there is a distinction.

    Diane, you said: “Hey, it’s a free world. You won’t see the bigger bloggers acting that way, though. And why is that? Is it because they’re big and they don’t have to?”

    With ALL due respect (and I apologize if you were being tongue-in-cheek and I didn’t pick up on it!), I think that’s a loaded comment. No one who considers themselves “big” should ever take it for granted or they might not always be that way. A simple: “No thank you, I’m not interested” goes a long way.

    This is a great thread. Lots of food for thought here (really, no pun intended).

    • Being a journalist has nothing to do with whether you get a paycheck. I wrote a post about it here. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a journalist is a writer or editor for a news medium, or a writer who aims at a mass audience. Therefore, all bloggers are journalists.

      I was one of those editors who deleted p.r. pitches. Around 90 percent were worthless.

      I was also once the vice-president of a Los Angeles public relations firm. Having been a journalist made me extremely successful at my job. I never once gave any writer anything of value for free, other than a meal if I was setting up a meeting with clients. I did not have to bribe them to get coverage. Crafting an irresistible pitch was enough. There were no bloggers then, though. Maybe now getting loot is the norm.

      Yes, it’s fine to say “no thank you,” but it would be even better if PR people were better at their jobs. Still, they will get plenty of bloggers to do this party and lots of coverage, but what will it be worth? Will readers go out and buy their pans as a result? I guess only they will know how successful they’ve been if they can point to a rise in sales. Otherwise, it could be a cheesy post.

      • Maybe I should rephrase: I don’t think all bloggers are TRAINED journalists. Someone who accepts a job at a newspaper or a magazine expects that they will be pitched by PR people. Someone who opened up Blogger in 2004 and started writing did not foresee that blogging would become a part of news media (and if they did, I’d like them to give me stock market advice). And frankly, as a PR person I have worked with bloggers who were discourteous and unprofessional so it is a two-way street.

        This particular campaign notwithstanding, I see nothing wrong with offering the media product samples to review. I’m not sure what kind of public relations you did or when, but as of late, in consumer/beauty/fashion/food PR it is standard, if not expected, to offer journalists, producers, editors or bloggers samples to try before they endorse them. It is up to the brand as to whether or not they will ask for the samples back. I don’t see how that is a bribe. Have you ever seen a sample closet at a magazine office?

        Yes, it would be great if PR people were all great at their jobs. It would also be great if doctors were great at their jobs and there was no such thing as medical malpractice or misdiagnosis. It is unfortunate that a few bad apples seem to make the whole industry look bad, because the harsh generalization you made does not apply to everyone in the industry and I think that is a common misconception.

        • Some good points, Maris, well said.

          The thing about PR is that the success rate is the same as it is in many other areas: more than 90 percent of queries to magazines fail. More than 90 percent of book proposals fail. More than 90 percent of start-ups fail. So maybe you’re in the tiny percentage who knows what they’re doing.

  18. I find during conversations with bloggers who are still “green” (less than a year of so) that they feel like they need to take all of the PR gigs that come their way, in order to be seen and to be heard. They feel pressure, as they have seen the bloggers they idealize, giving away things, going on trips, going to fancy dinners, etc… and in turn writing about it. I have been told by a few new bloggers that they want to be successful, like their peers and they feel that this is the way to do it. Therefore, when Party in a Box (or whatever that company was) dangles a carrot in front of them – they take it. I have told them to do what they feel is right for them.

    I don’t feel PR & marketing firms are the devil, they are simply doing their jobs and using the new sources of media that is open to them. When I was in marketing, I had to call people, print brochures, mail them, walk to their office, etc… if I had the resources that are available now, I would have been able to reach a bigger market.

    My final thoughts – people need to do their jobs, to make a living and we as society need to get off of their backs. Bloggers (80% of them) are doing this as a hobby, if they want to accept a gig for “Party in a box”, then who are we to judge them – it is their choice and if they are comfortable with it , then let we need to respect that.

    • Well said, Denise. Quite interesting about all the pressure green bloggers feel to keep up. I don’t think marketing and p.r. firms are the devil either, or I wouldn’t have been the VP of a pr firm.

      The thing is, readers don’t differentiate between bloggers who do it as a hobby and bloggers who do it professionally, especially when it comes to endorsing products. In the old days, not just anyone could get their voices heard. There was training. There were editors. There were standards (at least for most pubs.)

      Bloggers have to figure out how to ethically endorse a product, and how to disclose the circumstances under which they received free stuff. They have a responsibility to their readers. As a new blogger, I’m learning how to do that too on this blog.

  19. All-
    I would like to sincerely apologize if we upset any of you with our invitation to participate in the Calphalon House Party program. Our goal was to create a fun and exciting event with foodies(consumers & bloggers) all over the country. I’m sorry if our invitation appears to imply that we were requiring something in exchange for hosting a party. That was not our intent at all. We truly thought that hosting a dinner party with some friends, while learning about some new products/techniques/recipes, would be an enriching experience that would be fun to share.

    We partnered with House Party & Williams-Sonoma to create a consumer experience with outreach to people who are interested in food – 1000 of whom will host parties. Calphalon also reached out to a small group of bloggers, who routinely discuss recipes and cooking techniques, with an invitation to participate. We have achieved an overwhelmingly favorable response and were therefore surprised and disappointed to hear your concerns.

    We did invite Amy (cookingwithamy.com) and she shared with us that she did not feel positively about the program. We have reached out to her for a better understanding and I’m hoping we can connect this week. (Amy, per my voicemail, I’m still very anxious to connect with you & value hearing your feedback. Please let me know a convenient time that I can call you.)

    Again, I am sincerely sorry if you were upset with this program and do hope to hear from you with any further concerns, questions or suggestions. I invite you to reach out to me directly.

    Kingsley Shannon – Calphalon

    • Hi Shannon,

      Thanks so much for explaining Caphalon’s intention. Obviously the majority of bloggers will want to work with you, because it sounds like fun. I’m concerned about the outcome for readers of their blogs. (See comments below.)

      I am not upset about this program at all. It just provided a forum to discuss how marketers are reaching out to bloggers and giving them freebies, and how bloggers should respond. If your boss is reading this, tell him or her to relax!

  20. Dianne, if I blog about it, it will be as a consumer since that’s the invitation I received. Calphalon probably didn’t even know I had a blog – I am simply on their mailing list as I have attended a few (excellent) classes here in Toronto. I was excited for the idea of a free cooking demo and some lovely cookware and fully intended to blog about it anyway, even though I was under no obligation. I will blog about the party, disclose the source of the products (probably blog about the cooking demo too) and will be happy to. The HouseParty website is full of cool events that anyone can apply to do, not just bloggers. I don’t blog about every product I receive and I often refuse products I am not interested in. I am simply interested in this event and was excited for it. I am sure I speak for a lot of people who don’t want to speak up too.

    • Absolutely. One of the problems of the web is that it’s easy for people to pile on. That’s why I didn’t mention the names of the companies or the bloggers. But then Eater outed me yesterday and that took it up a notch.

      Sounds like you are going to do a terrific job with your post. Please write in when you have posted it so we can all see! (No pressure, eh?)

    • Absolutely, Mardi.

      One of the problems of the web is that it’s easy for people to pile on. That’s why I didn’t mention the names of the companies or the bloggers. But then Eater outed me yesterday and that took it up a notch.

      Sounds like you are going to do a terrific job with your post. Please write in when you have posted it so we can all see! (No pressure, eh?)

  21. Hello all, it’s me again!

    I just spoke with Kingsley Shannon of Calphalon. She called me to chat about this promotion and in my 6 years of blogging I have to say that was the first. Our responses usually fall on deaf ears or — worse — are met with canned email replies.

    I think what went wrong here is that things weren’t as clear as they could have been. On one hand you have a company who cares enough about their products and the food community (Calphalon) to weigh in on this discussion as well as call bloggers personally. On the other hand you have a retail company, a 3rd party organizer, and terms of an event that aren’t clear enough. Mix those all together and I can see why this happened.

    As I initially said, this exercise never bothered me the way it did others. I even tried to poke fun of the situation (“free pans!!!!”) as a way to say “hey, lighten up.” I’ve done things like this early in my blogging career and had a hell of a fun time. It didn’t harm me, I still have readers, and I think it’s because of transparency and the fact that things were well defined with clear expectations.

    People are doing their jobs, and trust me, I don’t work for free so I feel comfortably saying all this. But next time Company XYZ wants to do a promotion I do hope they do some research so that their events are successes and fun for everyone involved.

    And yes, I agree we should lighten up on each other. Whether you are ad-free or whether you accept ads and press trips (those are the same to me, fyi), we’re all one community.

  22. Love Matt’s thinking–how about ask 50 of us and PAY us…That said, if I were doing this and absolutely hated a pan or a recipe (and had accepted these things?) I would TOTALLY be saying so…something shows up on my doorstep, I feel no obligation to use it or endorse it…

    • Right. Will have to think more about the pay idea. I’m nervous that it would be blogging for pay, and copy would become advertorial. I guess I’m used to the traditional model of reviewing, where you ask for a product, use it and try to review as objectively as possible, and return it if they want it back. Of course they’re not going to want the pans back, so you get a nice little gift.

  23. I have read all the comments with great interest. I have been in retail for many years and bogging for just a very few. It seems to me that the “retail” end of all this has finally crossed the last frontier and infringed on the blogosphere. What you as bloggers are experiencing is what I as a retailer experienced. When vendors or companies give a leg up to one out of the crowd of many, it often appears unfair and we tend to think of those who prosper from this as having betrayed the rest of us. I think what has happened here is that a company identified a venue that they felt they could use a marketing tool. I see these parties as the main “selling” place with those in attendance being impressed with the product and searching for it in the marketplace. Of course a blogger would want to chronicle a “fun event” and give some background – that is “food” for a good blog or two. It is the same as one store having a “special event with free products” from a specific vendor and the retailers in close proximity that carry the same line being left out in the cold. All of them sell the line, and of course tout its virtues. BUT – this event causes some action that brings attention to the product and that particular store. And obviously, Calphalon has done just that! Aren’t we all paying attention to a product that we might never have spent so much time on before this? Are we outraged because we weren’t included, or because we believe this is not the way for a professional blogger to behave, or because some of those bloggers that participate will become better known? And I just discovered something myself — all those introductions and comments that I read in new books are oftentimes if not always PAID comments! I never knew this. Sort of the same thing. No one ever told me that they paid Mr. So and So to review and comment on the book. This sounds like the same issue here in a way. “No transparency” is what I hear us all talking about when you get right down to it. We can only hope that the rest of the bloggers would be as honest and transparent about their posts and content as we would try to be.
    Hope this gives some new perspective on the issue.

    • Hi Karen, thanks for the long response. You are right — the main issue is transparency. If you’re a blogger, you have to be honest with your readership. Otherwise you will lose people, and then no one will even make you an offer like this one!

      Re paid endorsements of books, it’s true that the publisher often pays the person who writes the foreward or introduction, and writers choose someone who will support their books (otherwise what’s the point?). But writers don’t pay the people who write the blurbs for their books. They just ask.

      • Hey Cheryl, thanks for dropping in and getting all caught up.

        I purposely left the company names out of this post so we could talk about the offer and its pros and cons. But that didn’t last long. Still, it’s been a useful discussion about marketing and blogs and how to think about the offers being thrown at bloggers these days.

  24. Look what happens when I skip town for a few days and neglect your wonderful blog, Dianne… juicy chaos ensues!

    All I have to add is: In a world where all press is “good” press (whether good or bad), these companies have 100% achieved their mission. In addition to the 1000 bloggers throwing parties, they’ve got Dianne, Matt, Amy, and scores of others (now me, too) talking about their promotion & product, right here.

    Mission accomplished.

  25. This is such an all-time low—and I’m glad I didn’t get an invitation. Let’s see the thinking behind this, shall we? “Gosh golly gee, let me write a book (which as a celebrity chef, chance are I didn’t have a thing to do with it), then have my marketing mavens write those poor suckers, some of whom will jump at the chance to get the free cookware and hose a party in my honor. Then, as my marketing people predict, out of guilt these bloggers will feel inclined to write a positive (or, at the very least, indebted) blog post about it, so not only do I sit back and do nothing to gain attention, I get those poor schmucks even to supply content (and possible pull quotes) for future ads: “Approved by more than 1,000 bloggers!!!”

    The thing is, if this person is truly a celebrity chef, s/he doesn’t need this kind of marketing–they have a built-in fan base.

    Dianne, thanks for posting this: just another example of how online food writers and bloggers have to be careful. I get offers like this all the time, and turn them down, politely. I did review a product recently–which I agreed to with a few stipulations:

    1. I don’t get paid to write it.
    2. I don’t get to keep the item.
    3. I don’t have to write anything positive if I don’t want to.

    I didn’t want to get paid because I was approached to write the review, and that is–no matter how you slice it–solicitation. But I liked the concept of the product. Not being paid freed me to write write whatever I wanted. I’m glad I did this because not only was the product poorly made, it broke several times, the last rendering it useless. I didn’t bother to return it because, well, it would have been a package of several non-working parts. The review was negative and I have no idea if it will be used.

    • The book’s author was truly a celebrity chef. I think you’re missing something, David. The company had to buy 1000 books to give them away. What author wouldn’t be excited about a deal like that?

      Re the review, I’m so happy that you wrote a negative one. Most bloggers would choose to not write anything at all. If it ever runs I want to know about it, please!

  26. I am new to blogging and realize that I have so much more to learn but I didn’t realize bloggers were given goodies to post about certain products. I am starting to look at things a little differently since reading this post and comments.

  27. Yeah, I got an e-mail like that one. I didn’t think twice before I… deleted it!

  28. Well I received my confirmation that I will be hosting one of these parties, going to a cooking demo at Williams Sonoma, receiving the cookbook and receiving the Calphalon cookware – with no obligation to blog about it as I was just a mailing list subscriber of Calphaon’s. Say what you like but I am happy to be taking part in this and I may or may not blog about it depending on how it goes.

    • Look forward to seeing how you approach it on your blog, Mardi. Maybe it will generate more discussion.

  29. I also got this invititation, but I got it through the company/store that was providing the free cookware, which happens to be a company I absolutely love. I don’t think it had any idea that I have a blog. I did take the time to sign up with the hosting service the company is working with and to fill out the very lengthy survey, and as I answered all these questions about how involved I am in social media and how I throw parties and cook all the time, I thought for sure I would get one of those 1,000 spots. I did not. And I admit I was disappointed. I don’t think it has anything to do with this particular celebrity chef, but rather something the store was doing… and this store often works with different chefs on book signings, classes, etc. I have my ethics, and I don’t think there was anything wrong with the invitation. Nothings says that because you are provided with free cookware and party favors, you have to review them favorably. And without a doubt, I would disclose all aspects of the party, what was provided to me, how it works, etc.

    • Interesting that they did not choose you. I wonder why. It sounds like you would have handled it in a professional manner, Megan.

  30. Taking free stuff does make folks more likely to gush. Even among folks who say they will be “objective”. Nonetheless, I see no problem with accepting freebies, so long as you’re willing to tell everyone it was a freebie. Let folks know what your biases are, and then give them the chance to evaluate your evaluation.

    I recently had a guy from POMWonderful (pomegranate juice vendor) offer to send me a free case of pomegranate juice. I accepted. I’m going to cook with it in a few ways, see what I like, see what I don’t, and let everyone know that it was a freebie so they can evaluate what they think of my thoughts of their pomegranate juice. I’m not pretending to be Consumer’s Report. I’m just a guy with a bbq and some free time to share my thoughts. Is POMWonderful getting something out of it for cheap? Sure, cheap publicity. Am I getting something out of it? Sure, free pomegranate juice. Are my readers getting something out of it and not being duped? Sure, they hear my thoughts, and my disclaimers that I’m cooking with free juice.

    • That sounds reasonable. Although offering an entire case is over the top. That stuff is expensive!

      BTW, I was offered that case too, in an email about how the author was reading my blog and thought I would like to use it. Yeah right. See any recipes on here?

      • Sure, they’re just promoting a product. That’s their job, they’re in the business of selling juice. But of all the ways that ads are tossed my way, reading a blog that I like where they say, “Someone gave me some free ____, I used it, and it was tasty.” is about the least offensive. The only way I would feel “used” is if I read a blog entry, and found out later from another source that it was sponsored, or the blogger got free stuff, or whatever. As long as folks are up front with where they’re getting money from, let the content stand on its own.

        To me, this is a lot like science (what can I say, I’m a scientist for my day job – when you’re a hammer, everything is a nail). We (scientists) are required to disclose the source of our funding when publishing data. Being funded by industry or by the government doesn’t invalidate the data. But it’s important for people who are evaluating your data to know where you got the money so that they can know which prejudices to keep an eye out for.

        That said, I’m glad you are talking about this here. I think it’s very important to have open dialogue about what practices are acceptable.

        • Thanks. Yes, being up front is what it’s all about. However, I’m not sure that occurs to many bloggers. They are not accustomed to thinking like scientists or journalists. It’s a learning process!

      • That’s so funny, I was offered that as well and in the email he referred to a quote he liked on my blog. Which was not on my blog!!! LOL! Also, once realised I was in Canada (clearly stated in my About Me page), he changed his offer and offered some coupons only. These ppl need to read the blogs they supposedly love more carefully.

  31. Well the Easy and Elegant Dinner is over and I posted about it on my blog.


    I tried to write like a regular post and not make it too “sales pitchy” but the fact is, the products I was provided with were wonderful!

  32. Dianne,

    I just saw this post in your favorites and it is exactly how I felt yesterday when I read the IFBC information packet.

    At least three separate times, they had a lengthy call to action to participants to blog about the chefs and sponsors of the event.

    We certainly hope you will blog about the food, wine, speakers, chefs, and sponsors during the conference. You also win because our speakers and sponsors will usually be quick to forward any post you do write about them to a bunch of food industry insiders.

    I know you are speaking there, but I found it rather obnoxious that while attendees have paid (and quite a bit, at that) to attend this event, the hosts are rather ruthlessly asking us to talk up their sponsors. It makes me feel like the event is going to be all about promoting them.

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