Outrageous Blogger Request, and the Outcome

Sep 302010
 

Food blogger Amy Sherman of Cooking With Amy

First I just Tweeted about this offer because it was so outrageous. Then I decided no, it’s worth sharing with you.

Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy sent me an unsolicited email she received from a company that wants her to feature its product on her blog. That’s not unusual, right? But read on, and you’ll find some crazy requests. Here’s how the email begins:

“The event is at a culinary trade show in Italy. You would be picked up at the airport  for the event, lasting two days. We would put you up in a hotel and cover all meal expenses for the 2 days of the show. “

Sounds reasonable so far.

The Request

But now it gets suspicious:

“We would also want you to cook a unique recipe for 30 to 35 people at the show.”

Make dinner for 35 strangers, for free? At a trade show? And to top it off:

“They don’t have a big budget, so you would have to pay for your own airfare. However, our thinking is that you could really generate some nice attention for yourself by blogging about the event.  In addition, we would be able to support you through our digital press releases.”

So she should develop a recipe for no compensation, fly to Italy at her own expense, make the dish for 30 to 35 people at the show, then post about it on her own blog to “bring attention to herself.” (Because she has no way to bring attention to herself normally? Hello? She has a blog, people.)

The Cost of an “Opportunity”

I called Sherman, and she and I figured out what this oppotunity costs. A flight to Italy costs $900 to$1200 from California. Recipe development is $350-$500. Then say, $25 per person (because she’s not paying for ingredients and it’s only one dish prepared on site) to cook and serve a dish for 35 people = $875. She’d be out anywhere from $1575-$2125.

Sherman’s Response

Sherman, as you might expect, was exasperated. “It’s not like ‘Oh, we’re inviting you as a guest.'” It’s  ‘We’re inviting you to come and work and not even pay your expenses.'”

“Food bloggers are the new slaves,” she added. “You should do all this stuff and consider it a great opportunity — to be taken advantage of.”

Next Sherman decided it WAS an opportunity, but not that kind. She wrote the marketing company a long, polite email, educated them about how how she works and what she charges. She’s hoping to turn the company into a client for future recipe development, content for a client’s website, spokesperson work, or marketing writing for brochures. (For those of you wondering how to make money with a blog, I hope you’ve re-read this paragraph.)

She might as well work it. “My experience is that some of these people come back, and they come back with money. You have to set the ground rules of what you’re willing to do,” she said.

What’s the moral of the story? Amy has a message for food bloggers. “It’s fine if you want to blog as a hobby, but once you start doing this kind of work, you’re playing in a professional arena.” she said. “You can’t call yourself an amateur anymore.”

“They would never pitch this to professionals chefs or to professional food writers,” Sherman continued. “They would never ask Lidia Bastianich to come to a trade show on her own dime and cook for free. But somehow, it’s acceptable to ask bloggers to do this.”

I suggested to her that marketers would not make offers like this if they thought no one would take them. She agrees. “There’s this whole category of food bloggers who are putting their toe in the water as professionals, but they’re not conducting themselves in a professional way,” Sherman concluded.

Got an outrageous blogger request of your own to share? Tell me how you handled it.

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  111 Responses to “Outrageous Blogger Request, and the Outcome”

  1. Hurray for Amy and how she handled it! I think I’d have done the same.

    I don’t know if I have anything outrageous to share, though the offers of working for “free” in exchange for exposure spill into my inbox daily, but I do have to agree w/ what Amy said: “My experience is that some of these people come back, and they come back with money. You have to set the ground rules of what you’re willing to do.” EXACTLY! Companies have money to spend on marketing & advertising, and sometimes you can coax it out of them (and school them on how things work around here in the world of blogging) if you’re patient enough w/ a professional response to their pitch.

  2. Love the way she turned this around. Would have been so temping to flip them a big wooden spoon and move on, but Amy’s approach is so much more professional and productive. Excellent.

  3. This kind of request is becoming more and more common. Good for Amy. Her approach is intelligent.

  4. I’d be very interested to hear what the response is. In my experience, you get either no response at all or a boilerplate response that says what a great “opportunity” it is. I wonder if Foodista paid anyone for the recipes in the book that arrived in my mail today? All sorts of “opportunities” out there for “exposure.” My reply is always that when my utilities allow me to pay them in “exposure” I’ll work for “exposure.”

    • I saw the response. The marketing company was very polite and said they would keep her in mind. The only part that I wasn’t sure about was that they want to involve her in “creating sponsored branded content programs,” whatever they are.

      • So… “Outcome” in the title, to me, is the response to her handling of the situation. I saw your newsletter today and thought “Oh! Have to go find out what the response was to Amy’s handling of it.” I thought you had updated the post with the response from the company. I don’t know how Amy felt about that response but that seems non-responsive to me. “We’ll keep you in mind for more of the same.” I’ve had similar situations and in my experience, once they find out you won’t work for free, they don’t call back. Kudos for the effort on Amy’s part and I get why you wanted to share it, but I wouldn’t give the newbies false hopes. Better to spend time creating other paying opportunities than chase the ones whose first offer is so obnoxious. As the Chinese say “If you’re looking for fish, don’t climb a tree.”

        • You are right that I should have called it “reply” instead of outcome, Jacqueline.

          And true, who knows whether this marketing person will ever come up with a decent opportunity. But the point is that she educated him and pushed back, not just on behalf of herself, but for all food bloggers. Without doing so the chances would be zero. Here’s how he answered back:

          “Thank you for getting back to me on this – truly appreciated. I more than
          understand your hesitation to do something like this in an unpaid fashion.

          “… I would like to connect further on some of the other programs we’re putting together – basically
          creating sponsored branded content programs that might be more to your level
          of blogging.

          “As an integrated communications firm, we are constantly going out to brands
          to create online content marketing programs for them. The key is having
          well-regarded bloggers with a following who can work in a brand-friendly
          manner – and yes, be paid for it.

          “Let’s talk further – perhaps later this week or early next. But I do like
          your thinking and respect your decision.”

          • More evidence of the crazy and sometimes downright rude world we are in–I sure hope it gets better. But you are so right. Amy pushing back was taking a step on behalf of all bloggers. Perhaps if more people respond like Amy, things will improve and fewer people will be taken advantage of.

  5. Yay for Amy! I can’t believe they expected her to travel on her own dime and work for free. Craziness! Glad she handled it well!

  6. Amy is a true professional, in every sense of the word. I simply wouldn’t have written them back. (I’m busy, ya know!) Sheeesh.

    Well, the fact is, these companies all need to be educated on blogging, writing, cooking, recipe development, photography, and so on. How much it costs, what kind of work it entails, and what these professionals are worth. So, I am glad to hear that people ARE doing that, one by one, as such opportunities arise.

    If nothing else, maybe it will discourage them for approaching OTHER unsuspecting bloggers with such horrific “offers”.

  7. This is so ridiculous. It makes me angry, actually. I’m happy that Amy wrote them back and explained how things work. It still hurts my brain a bit to think she has to explain to them (a company!) that people don’t work for free. Geez!

  8. I get these requests fairly often by the nature of my blog. I get a lot of demands on what I should do, not suggestions, not requests, but demands. Some folks are highly insistent until you quote a price, and then they are gone. My favorite types of requests are for recipes on cruise ships, they don’t remember the cruise line, but the dish had oranges, or maybe bananas in it.

    • In your case it’s readers who are making demands on you, Stephanie, asking you to recreate a vague recipe from somewhere. A little different since they’re unlikely to hire you, but probably just as annoying.

  9. Hello Diane,

    This is another great piece Diane – thank you so much for posting it. I am not sure however, that these companies need to be educated. By that I mean that they are well aware of the costs involved in recipe development, writing, photography, etc., etc. I believe that they are simply responding to the explosion in the number of food blogs and thinking that someone will take them up on their offer – after all, it costs them virtually nothing to send something like that out and IF they get someone willing to do it, they have saved themselves a significant amount of money. I am not saying that this is right or wrong, but one can see why they are doing it. I think Amy’s approach was brilliant – instead of being angered by the offer, she used it as an opportunity to expand her business. I expect more and more bloggers will be getting these types of offers and this is a valuable lesson on how to handle them.

    • Thanks, Nancy. I count on bloggers like Amy to share this kind of thing with me, otherwise I wouldn’t have a post.

      The marketer needs to know that not all food bloggers are suckers, and that very successful ones are willing to work with them, but only in a certain way.

  10. Good for Amy! What a ridiculous offer and sad to think that someone will probably accept it. I don’t have any outrageous offers to share, but do have some thoughts on this topic.
    I’ve just recently started a blog, which I didn’t link to because I don’t want this comment to come across as “new blogger self promotion.” I’ve been a professional writer for years, albeit not a food writer, and am currently completing my last class for a master’s level professional writing program at Kennesaw State University. All of that is to say that I’m not a novice when it comes to web writing. I’ve spent hours in the last few weeks studying not only this site (thanks, Dianne) but others as well, trying to learn as much about food blogging as possible. I want to start out by learning from the great advice and past mistakes of those who have been blogging for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of comments about free offerings, product reviews, etc., and I had no idea this type of thing went on.
    I’m appalled that so many people are willing to give away their time and efforts, and that companies apparently expect this to happen. Everyone is not going to become a huge success overnight and most of us will never become a huge success. But I believe the first step lies in placing a value — a numerical value — on your work. Have a business plan with reasonable goals in mind and include rates for your services. Know upfront what is acceptable to you and what is not. Will you write a restaurant review if you are invited to an opening? Will you accept free products in exchange for a product review? Will you plaster advertisements all over your site in exchange for a small amount of money each month? Will you provide a recipe to a publication for no monetary compensation? Apparently, these are issues that arise for food bloggers, so a plan or policy would certainly help. I think it’s a good idea to develop an advertising rate sheet and have it on the web site, along with a stated policy about the other issues.
    Of course, that means that some advertisers and PR firms and product placements will turn away. But I would rather have no business than sell myself short. And I understand that plenty of bloggers do not care about a return on investment and are content to blog and maybe get a little publicity here and there. There’s nothing wrong with that.
    As a professional writer and communicator, I charge $75.00 per hour for my work for businesses. This is not a negotiable rate and I charge the same hourly rate to write a press release as I do to flesh out a web site. As a blogger, I am still learning and so have no idea what reasonable rates are, but you can bet your bottom that I will not be giving my services away. I have no problem posting recipes for anyone to use; that’s the reason I started my blog, to provide recipes to family and friends. I certainly don’t expect to make a living at blogging although I do anticipate that at some point a small amount of revenue will trickle in. However, I will not do extra work for anyone and not get paid for it. If that’s the only option, then blogging will remain just a hobby.

    • Thanks for this long comment, Lucy. You are a professional writer and communicator, and therefore different from many people who start a food blog simply because they love food and want to express their passion for it. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but you have some advantages. I think these other folks get blindsided by the marketers and requests and have no idea how to handle them. You, on the other hand, have thought a lot of it through.

  11. Speaking of outrageous requests, here’s the latest at the Ministry of Rum. “We are the agency that manages OUR CLIENTS digital media, and we are looking for a Rum Connoisseur to blog about the quality of OUR CLIENTS Rums. We would love to have your collaboration and we were wondering if you were available for it. We would appreciate as well if you could let us know what would be your terms and conditions.”

    I asked a few questions about who and how many bloggers they were asking to participate in their Blog For Bucks program.

    Here is their response, “What we are looking for is to have Rum Connoisseurs to write about OUR CLIENT in their own blogs/webpages. To this end we would appreciate if you could provide us with information regarding your page’s traffic and your terms and conditions.
    We would like to know how much you regularly charge for this kind of articles.”

    After explaining to this company that to pay for blogs has the potential to destroy the credibility of their client, not to mention themselves and the bloggers, I have been contacted by several friends who were also contacted, though all of them have day jobs.

    Amy hit this on the head when she wrote, “There’s this whole category of food bloggers who are putting their toe in the water as professionals, but they’re not conducting themselves in a professional way.”
    I would include the companies that make these ridiculous offers as well.

    • Lots of bloggers are willing to write paid posts. Posts like that are called advertorial.

      I’m just glad you’re not in that category, Edward. But probably I don’t have very many readers who are.

  12. WE {heart} Amy for turning insult into opportunity. And thank you Dianne for continuing to share these valuable insights.

  13. Someone else mentioned this too, but the companies – clients and PR firms alike – also need a refresher in professionalism. I’m tired of the “good for you blog” requests. I’m also tired of form letters where the publicist is too damn stupid or lazy to change the recipient’s name. One day a half dozen of us all got the same request (that we know of). But all they changed was our first name, but not the “we love your blog, XXXXX” part.

    Maybe it time that marketing schools get up to speed as well?

  14. I don’t professionally food style, write or cook for free with 30+ years experience in the food business. My expertise has a dollar value. Amy handled it with good business sense, ethics, integrity and educated the marketing company to her standards. Good for Amy and thank you Dianne for sharing this.

    • You’re welcome, Alice. You’re pretty clear about it, but other food bloggers who are less experienced than you are not.

  15. Some times you just have to laugh – to keep from crying. What these companies are trying to do is get the professional work of a well-known and respected writer/blogger for what they would offer (charge) a newbie nobody. Yes, they can get “someone” to do what they are asking, but who will be persuaded by “someone” to buy their product, try their stuff, or even read about it? If your blog is well enough known you don’t need offers like this and Amy is right on target to gently bring this company into her professional world. You can buy print ad space for next to nothing. But where it will appear is probably in the black and white grocery store toss-away and not in the 4 color full page slicks. Perhaps these companies will come back to realizing that they get what they pay for, and until they do, we will be championing bloggers and writers like Amy who are helping educate them!
    Karen

  16. Go Amy! Turn those lemons into lemonade. Really, the nerve of some people is ridiculous. You want me to fly myself to Italy so that I can work my tail off for you? Mmmmm, no thanks.

  17. Amy’s educational approach sounds like the right way to go. I thought about replying similarly to a request I recently received from a company encouraging me to enter their contest. They want people to create a recipe using their product (which isn’t a common ingredient), submit it to the contest (after which, according to the fine print, the copyright will belong to the company) for the *chance* to win $50. Plus they requested promotion for the contest on my blog/Twitter/Facebook. I haven’t sat down to tally up the cost to bloggers associated with this request but it’s definitely many multiples of “the chance of $50″.

    • Yeah, I’ve been thinking about how this “free” applies to contests. Not much different, even though the potential for visibility is a little higher. $50 isn’t much of a prize. It may barely cover the cost of ingredients.

  18. Good grief, I can’t believe the cheek of the company to expect anyone to take them up on an ‘offer’ like that. Mind boggling. Glad to hear Amy has the biz smarts to turn this around.

  19. I don’t get a lot of solicitations but every so often I get an offer for “exposure” in exchange for a recipe post and pictures. I ask them (in so many words) if they also like to work for free. They usually shut up at that point.

    I hope no one would be stupid enough to plunk down 2 grand for the chance at increased blog exposure.

    Would she have done it, though, if they paid for airfare, lodging, food and ingredients, but not for her time or appearance?

    • If I was just going to be a guest, I might have accepted the trip with all expenses paid. But to be expected to come up with a recipe and to cook, I would have needed to be paid for all expenses + my time and a recipe development fee. I did once cook at a trade show. I was paid well for it, and because it was in San Francisco my expenses were minimal.

  20. I feel so fortunate to know you and Amy at the onset of my site, which is, as you say, where I write about food and drink for the joy of it. However, one never knows where this could lead and I really appreciate your knowledge and advice about the industry. Recently I received an offer to fly to India on my own dime, board a cruise ship where I would be expected to work but they would pay for my room aboard, and presumably, food. They expected recipes, professional photography and essays for their site. There was no payment offered, and their attitude was, “Aren’t you lucky! You get to have this fabulous experience in an exotic location! For no payment!!” I declined and felt good about it. With my work experience in event planning I likened this to an event I was asked to coordinate for free, when the year before they had paid me market rate for work. They said we can’t afford to pay you this time but you did such a good job last year we thought you would like the opportunity to help us out and do it for free. Uh, no? Unless you will explain to Mr Landlord why I can’t pay my rent…

    • Wow! I think your “offer” might just top mine! Unbelievable and yet, it wouldn’t shock me if someone took them up on it. Until we all stand up for ourselves, these kinds of fabulous opportunities will continue to present themselves…

    • That is just as outrageous a story as Amy’s, Heather! Thank you so much for bringing it up, lest we think Amy’s offer was an exception. I’m so glad you turned it down.

  21. I think Amy handled this well, as everyone has said. I do want to offer one contrarian thought though.

    Look at how the world of stock photography has changed, since everyone and their great uncle has a highly capable digital camera now. Ten years ago, you could sell quality stock images for $1000, now you might get $10-50. Maybe, or maybe no-one will buy it because there are already 10,000 images of two guys in business suits smiling and playing Nerf basketball.

    As this market has changed, most of the professional photographers have urged people to charge appropriately for their services. But it hasn’t worked, and it is in fact hopeless; there are just too many reasonably talented amateurs willing to give away their shots or charge next to nothing for them. The best pros can still make a living shooting assignments, but it is a whole lot tougher than it was.

    Food writing is maybe not so different. There are a very small number of food bloggers with big followings and unique voices that really can set a high bar for what they will charge. And there is a vast number of intermediate bloggers who aren’t in that position. We can tell them they should turn down the “promotional” or low-pay opportunities, but to some degree that is just whistling in the dark. People are going to do what they think is best for themselves.

    if we want to make more money, we shouldn’t worry about being undercut, we just need to make ourselves invaluable & indispensable!

    (See Seth Godin’s terrific book Linchpin for a much more cohesive train of thought on this subject)

    • I’ve heard this from a lot of professional photographers, Michael — a very similar story to what’s happening with food bloggers.

      I don’t agree, however, that it’s just whistling in the dark to try to educate people about what to charge. At least I hope I’m not just preaching to the converted.

      The bottom line is what you say: make yourself invaluable and indispensable. Thanks for mentioning Grodin’s book.

  22. Similar offer but a lower scale arrived to me last year.
    A sort of restaurant-cultural centre in Rome invited me, as blogger, to one of their event. They offered me to cook for an undefined number of people, all those coming to the event (around 100 according to my experience) and say “Thank you for the opportunities”. More than that, they didn’t cover any expence, they didn’t offer a kitchen where to cook, and I discovered they hadn’t all the legal permission required to offer food to people.

    I just agreed to cook for free at a charity lunch. I cooked biscuits for expected 100 people. It was a friend request and was a way to meet a lot of people. Anyway, it was the only time I cooked for free. As we say in Italy, when you give a hand, they take your arm.

    • How often that you were taken advantage of, Rossella. But you learned from it, and now you will only work for free when you think it is worthwhile, such as a charity event. That makes sense to me.

  23. My cousin was offered a “wonderful opportunity” to participate in a small fund raiser here in Nashville. She was asked to 1. find the venue 2. find a personality that could command a $200 a ticket price 3. provide the meal. In exchange, she would get advertising on the organizations Facebook page. The worst part is that she really considered doing it. People are more than happy to take advantage of you if you let them.

  24. I think this is going to continue to be a huge topic, and I’m so glad you are featuring these issues on your blog! Wonderful comments above!

  25. I am amazed by the ability of Amy to control her anger. I’d have been so angry I’d have fired off an email without thinking, burning what might be a possible bridge to cross at a later time.

    Thinking in the spectrum of educating people is quite smart and kudos to her for that!

    Lesson here for me is to walk away before hitting delete or reply! Thanks for that, Amy and thanks Diane for the great heads up!

    I’ve been writing professionally for about eight years, although I do have a day job and don’t have to depend upon it for my mortgage payment, writing has supplemented my income quite nicely when I put the effort forth.

    I graduated from college as an adult a little over five years ago and got the writing bug while studying art. From making handmade books and printmaking I moved to writing.

    I started a food blog about a year ago as a way to unite my love for food and writing. As a former professional self-taught cook, I could use that experience and my extensive knowledge of food to drum up some writing biz.

    Combining my love for food and writing is heavenly, but just as I’ve learned in the world of freelancing, food bloggers also are assumed to be looking for ‘exposure’ and will do anything to get it, even at the expense of giving their craft away. It’s a tough world out there and the comment by Michael from Herbivoracious (great vegetarian blogger BTW!!!) about the dime a dozen photographers & freelance writers these days resonates loud and clear.

    • Yep, responding in anger is never a good idea.

      As for keeping your day job, that’s brilliant. Full-time writing is not a good way to make a living, unless you have a patron.

  26. Well, Dianne, I am still too much of a weeny-procrastinator to have a blog – BUT – here is my similar experience from actual paying (though modest) job.

    I wrote about a wedding at an (expensive) country inn in VA for local mag. Nice piece, got paid, Inn liked food, other descriptions. Weeks passed. Group having event at Inn asked me to attend, write up event, develop suggested future menus/wine pairings and suggestions for what group might do in the area, “maybe write up of local wineries. We’re sorry we can’t offer you compensation or accommodations, but we can suggest motels you might explore for the three-day event.”

    After cooling off, I expressed thanks for their having noticed my writing, adding that, alas, I do not WORK for free. Thus far no mia culpa from them.

    Tracey Edgerly Meloni

  27. Thank you thank you Amy for answering so professionnally on behalf of serious bloggers. I agree completely with Jacqueline. I do not feel it is worth to give hope for a future contract.

  28. After pacing back and forth fuming about this, I decided to try (operative word, try) to express what I feel about this in a calm manner.

    First, I think Amy is a bit off on her assessment: they would ask a professional food writers to do this, as I’ve gotten similar requests, and I’m a 100 percent, full-time food writer. This is what I do 12 to 14 hours a day, six to seven days a week.

    After each James Beard, IACP/Bert Greene, or the Julia Child Award I won, the offers that came in were lucrative and flattering. Not only would I not be out of money, I actually would be paid to partake—sometimes handsomely. I refused them because of my own personal ethics. But to these PR folks, I was “legit” because I wrote for traditional media and was being recognized for it. They wouldn’t dream on treading on my toes.

    I think the crux of the issue is the word “blogger.” These days, as I’m focusing all my energies on my blog and in attracting paid writers to the site, my name’s not appearing in magazines or newspapers as much. NOW, the offers that come in are very similar to Amy’s. Somehow because I’m a blogger—even one with a decade-long tenure in print media—I’m a cheap commodity. How I deal with it is similar to Amy: I try to educate and build relationships, but I never even consider any gig in which I lose.

    I think everyone has to do what works for him or her. But in the end, exposure isn’t as helpful as food on the table. My advice (not that anyone’s asking for it!): Find interesting and self-generated ways of getting your own exposure. Hundreds and hundreds of bloggers have and are all the more popular and better paid then before.

    David

  29. I got this the other day from a ‘friend’ in Paris
    Quick question for you – I am doing a Paris guide as freelance work for an event here in November and need photos for the places I list. I’ve been searching for a photo of the rue Bonaparte and saw a great one, plus your fabulous drawing on your site. Would it be possible to use the photo or drawing and copyright/cite you of course? Thought it could be good publicity too… Let me know!
    Ha! I’m sick of the good publicity angle.
    I’m reminded of an illustrator’s response when he’d get a job offer:
    “How much time? How much money?”
    Cuts to the chase and that’s what I say too.

    • Yep, you’re in the same boat with many other bloggers — the “good publicity” rarely adds up to much.

  30. I couldn’t help but chime in on this discussion after reading David Leite’s comment. I commend David for turning down handsomely paid offers because of personal ethics. We also turn down a lot of similar lucrative “offers” at Joyofbaking.com.

    Amy mentioned that she might have taken the trip had all expenses been paid. In my view its not so much about being paid or expenses covered but rather like David suggests, the ethics of doing it at all regardless of payment. If you go on a trip for a company, paid or unpaid, there is an expectation that you blog about the trip. By doing so you are in effect turning your whole blog posting into an advertisement for the company that hired you. I find it fascinating how many bloggers shun the idea of running ads on their site, but have no problem accepting money to effectively turn their whole blog into an ad. At least with ad insertions the readers know its an ad. But when you blog about a trip or a company, paid or unpaid your whole blog becomes one big ad and worse yet, the reader doesn’t even know it until they read the little disclaimer at the bottom required by the FTC.

    Rick Jaworski
    Joyofbaking.com

    • I beg to differ. Going on a press trip is NOT the same as turning your blog into an ad. It is possible to accept review copies, go on on trips and still have ethics and be fair and balanced in your writing. Just because someone goes on a sponsored trip does not make their writing “advertising.” I write about experiences I feel are worthwhile and I am very picky about the subjects I choose. I do not get paid to write ANYTHING on my own blog. Accepting advertising does not make you more virtuous than someone who accepts sponsored or press trips. How do I know that you are not biased towards your advertisers? That said, would I prefer to pay my own way? Sure. But until publications pay my expenses or pay me more than they do today, I am going to continue to accept review copies and go on trips I think will be worth my time.

  31. A timely post for me to read. I have a newish blog and, in part, focus on promoting very small local producers and I do not ask for or receive any payment or goods in return – my goal is to promote good, fair, clean, local food and this is something that I enjoy doing very much. I have recently been asked to do something that I find a little awkward and have been dithering trying to work out how to deal with the request without offending.
    I like Amy”s approach in saying what she does do, rather than what she won’t do – a great example! Many thanks.

    • Oh yes, I hadn’t even thought of that, Amanda. Definitely that’s a good way to stay positive when negotiating with people.

  32. For the past few weeks I’ve been discussing this topic with a few blogger friends. Slowly I’m learning how it works, and trying to measure what benefit it will have more me in the long run. I have to think as long as there are those that will say “Yes,” my no doesn’t mean much. They’ll move on to the next blogger waiting for that free trip (or kinda, sorta free trip) until that blogger figures it all out, then it’s on to the next blogger on the list.

    Amy’s example is an excellent one to follow. I hope to take some time this week to draft a reply with my requirements for working with clients, in hopes that if that big trip to Italy is flashed in front of my face I won’t zone out, dreaming of gelato and gondolas, but instead make a good business decision. Thanks for the wise words.

    • Yes, but the more we talk about it and educate each other, maybe the fewer bloggers will say yes to working for free or for less.

  33. How about this:
    what if bloggers had a “statement of practice” on their blogs as a footer or by the copyright statement?It’s similar to the statement of terms that retailers get from vendors telling them what retailers have to do if they hope to be in business with the vendor. Either you follow the rules, or you go find another game (and almost all the games have rules!) If some of the bloggers did this, the companies and the other bloggers would get the idea that this is a profession and not a trick bag to go fishing. Just a thought….
    Karen

  34. Amy just because I totally disagree with sponsored trips, does not mean I feel we are more virtuous. For the record, we have absolutely no control over the ads that run on our site since they all come from ad networks that do the selling themselves. We do not sell ads directly to advertisers ourselves. The only thing we can control is the networks we go with, and we can block ads we feel are inappropriate. I’m sure Dianne will attest to fact that she has no control or bias over the ads running on this site since she uses an ad network

    I respectfully disagree with you that taking a trip paid for by a company and then later writing about them is okay as a journalist. What you have in fact become is a public relations consultant for that company not a journalist. This is why the FTC has passed laws against taking any sort of compensation without full disclosure and a paid trip is compensation. Now if you go on a trip totally on your own funding as a journalist or funded by a publication not the company you are researching and write about it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If the trip is paid for by the company you are writing about, you are not a journalist, you are a public relations consultant.

    The issue I have is bloggers passing themselves off as journalists when they are really public relations consultants. I’m not saying this applies to you.

    • Actually, Rick, through BlogHer, I have some control over which ads appear on my site. The company has a long list where I can check off what I don’t want, ex. no junk food, no ads from Republicans, no contraceptives. But other than that, I have to live within the parameters of what they push through.

      I don’t agree that all journalists who take free trips are acting as public relations people when they write up the story. That is too extreme. There is definitely a tendency to endorse, in gratitude. I wrestled with this issue myself when I accepted a paid trip to the Okanagan to speak, and endorsed the location. However, I disclosed that I was sponsored, and I would still say I love the place regardless of whether I was sponsored. Most freelance writers cannot afford to go places on their own, so this whole issue is a thorny one.

      • I guess we agree on the type of ads, when you work with an ad network you can only control what you you don’t want on your site. My original point was that Amy said that I could be biased towards our advertisers and I’m glad you agree with me that’s not possible.

        I’ve been giving this whole ethical issue of accepting trips from a company and reporting on them some thought. It brought to mind a scandal a few years ago that hit Maria Bartiromo of CNBC that accepted a trip from Citigroup. Here is a couple snips from an article from back then and a link to it:

        “The flap got a supersonic push last week, when the Wall Street Journal reported (on its front page) that Bartiromo, easily CNBC’s most recognizable on-air presence, had accepted rides on Citigroup Inc.’s corporate jet.”

        “Bartiromo’s image as a hard-working, responsible journalist was shattered. And CNBC’s self-styled reputation as “the worldwide leader in business news” took a Lusitania-like hit.”

        http://www.marketwatch.com/story/cnbcs-maria-bartiromo-problem-is-one-of-its-own-making

        The reason I continue to beat this drum is there are many food bloggers that are accepting trips and later writing about the company that paid for the trip. In my view this practice is a detriment to the reputation of food bloggers as a whole. Just like one trip caused a huge hit in the reputation of CNBC, so are the many trips taken by bloggers impacting the reputation of food bloggers as a group. The issue of whether you can afford to go on your own dime is really irrelavent here. I’m sure Maria Bartiromo couldn’t afford to fly on a corporate jet to Shanghai either. Not being able to afford it is not justification. There are a lot of things I can’t afford either but I will not cross the ethical line just to get there.

        Having been a marketing executive for a number of high tech companies I know public relations when I see it. I had PR people working for me whose job it was to encourage journalists to write favorably about the products I was responsible for. We had a budget for just this type of thing and it is a PR budget. So I have no problem with PR, so long as we call a spade a spade. Taking a trip paid for by a company and later writing about is public relations, not journalism, and that should be clearly stated. PR firms that work for a company clearly state they are doing public relations when they issue press releases and other media. They do not say as many bloggers do that they are “guests” of the company as an out. The fact is, they received compensation in the way of a trip and that is when they crossed the line, just like Maria Bartiromo did.

        Rick Jaworski
        Joyofbaking.com
        CEO iFood Media LLC

        • “The reason I continue to beat this drum is there are many food bloggers that are accepting trips and later writing about the company that paid for the trip. In my view this practice is a detriment to the reputation of food bloggers as a whole. Just like one trip caused a huge hit in the reputation of CNBC, so are the many trips taken by bloggers impacting the reputation of food bloggers as a group.”

          I respectively, wholly disagree. Your site is about recipes and recipes only, and isn’t really a blog, is it? It would be out of place for you to take a trip and then write about it on your site. But many food blogs incorporate stories about food and products into their sites and it’s not all about recipes. I think it’s entirely appropriate for a blogger who gets invited to General Mills or Betty Crocker to tour their kitchens, etc. to write about it on their site. They use their products, and if they think their readers are interested in seeing what they’ve been up to, then why not share?

          I was invited (& compensated) on a 5 day trip to Italy with a club store to write about how they go about selecting their imported cheeses. We visited 4 cheese factories and I copiously photographed and took notes the entire trip. When I returned, I was able to share w/ my readers the process of how 4 different cheeses are made and share the whole experience! I had great feedback from my readers! Had I been invited to the Velveeta factory, I would never have accepted the job (as it’s not a product I use on my site), but I think about my audience and only take on projects that are appropriate for that audience. How can this be a detriment to the reputation of food bloggers?

          • This is a great discussion – thank you Dianne for providing the forum for it. I see what both Lori and Rick are saying. I believe that Rick’s point is that if you are being paid to review/visit a product or company it does raise the question of objectivity – which of course lies at the heart of journalism. So, I think the question a blogger needs to ask themselves is this – “do they see themselves as journalists in the true sense of the word”? If so, then accepting paid trips defeats that purpose. However, I don’t think that many bloggers consider themselves “true” journalists in that sense. If that is the case, then accepting trips/equipment, etc. is not an issue – especially if it fits in with the focus of the blog as in Lori’s case. In her case, the only risk that I see is what if the blogger finds that the product/service/company is not what they thought it was? Having to write a negative review could be a bit dicey and I would be very interested in hearing from bloggers who have had that experience – how did they handle it and what was the result?

  35. It almost sounds as if there is beginning to be a segmenting of the blogosphere. There are blogs that are the homey, friendly, come on in and chat type and those that are the more professional, impersonal and issue oriented blogs. More than likely, the readers of the particular blogs are of the same general mindset as the writer/blog and that is why they read them. It’s almost like home movies vs. studio productions or recreation department summer art courses vs. the university degree program studio course. Perhaps we need to concentrate more on finding the companies that want to reach the readers of the professional blogs. But what is our concept of “the professional blog?” I am not sure whether the people speaking here are more distressed that they are NOT getting paid or that these other bloggers ARE getting paid. The other bloggers are getting paid to do what they do – and the professional bloggers are NOT getting paid to do what they think is what a professional would do. Are we looking at two different markets and just confusing them? And a question for pondering – are there more personal, homey, comfort blogs talking about the things that impact the lives of their readers on a daily basis? And might there be more because there are more readers who are looking for that exact thing? When your friendly neighbor loans you a cup of sugar you are certainly more disposed to speak highly of them. Are professional blogs and bloggers an exclusive club that only talks to itself? Would a company have any reason to pay a professional blogger when they really just want exposure to all those housewives and cooks who buy flour twice a month? I suspect that there needs to be a whole lot more talk about this issue and certainly a lot more definition of what the exact issues and questions are. Just thinking….
    Karen

    • I guess a professional blog is one where the author doesn’t think of it as a hobby and is seeking compensation for their writing. As for whether companies are willing to pay bloggers — oh yes, they are.

      • I guess the question I am asking is what a company would pay a professional blogger to write. I can see them paying or “gifting” one of the non-professional blogs for advertising and product mention, but what would they pay the professional to do? If they sell flour would they pay the pro-blog to write about cakes or cakes made with their flour? It seems they are paying the non-pro blogger for advertising plain and simple and these blogs reach the companies’ audience. Who would they reach via a pro blog and what would they have that blog write or say about them?
        Karen

  36. I thought i might be interesting to look up the definition of “professional”. The following is copied and pasted from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

    Definition of PROFESSIONAL
    1
    a : of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession b : engaged in one of the learned professions c (1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace

    Clearly a professional must conform to the ethical standards of a profession to call themselves a professional. So I also looked up the ethical standards of journalism on the Society of Professional Journalists Website and a couple points jumped out:

    — Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
    — Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.

    From the above it is clear that paid trips our outside the bounds of ethical behavior in journalism and therefore anyone not conforming to these standards would not be called a professional journalist as they have accepted free travel and definitely are not shunning hybrids that blur the line between the two.

    Links to the above mentioned websites:
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/professional
    http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

    • Okay Rick. This is a good discussion but quite a tangent from the original post so I think it should end here, and it’s a topic I might take up another time.

  37. Hey Dianne – just ran in to this piece on copyblogger that is closely related:

    http://www.copyblogger.com/get-paid-for-your-time

  38. I’ll go back to your original question, Dianne, about requests made of bloggers. A few months ago an on-line media company contacted me and asked whether I’d be interested in having one or more of my recipes included in a book they were creating. The individual who contacted me had chosen two of my posts, but said I could include whatever I wanted. Looking carefully at whether I’d have to do anything beyond provide permission, I agreed. I had very litte contact with them, was only asked to edit a couple of things, and was shown proofs of the pages my material would be published on. Last week, I heard the book was ready for release and that if I provided a link on my site, I could earn some money promoting the book. I sent an email about whether I’d receive a copy of the book and received no response. I find it fascinating that I’m supposed to help someone sell a book I’ve seen two pages of, ultimately to draw attention to their company, to provide them with what amounts to profit on others’ work — all of which is free to begin with. Outrageous? Not quite, but very curious.

    Anyone else out there think they were a part of this project?

    • How could you earn money with link? Just curious. I hope you will finally hear from them, and that they’ll send you a book. It’s the least they could do.

      • No sooner had I written my response above than a package showed up in the mail this morning. It’s the book. An accompanying letter says we can earn 50% of the profits of each book we sell by promoting the publication with a link on our blogs. Ultimately, we’re the PR group for them.

        • 50 percent of the profits! Sounds good, but it’s probably only a few bucks, if that. Would love to know, Kelly.

  39. I got a request from a freelance PR person handling a “harvest festival” that’s held at a town near us to publicize their event on our blog. Upon further research, I discovered that this “harvest festival” was really an event of monster truck rallies, motocross bike races, and music and did not even feature food as a central theme. So I politely emailed the person back saying that our blog focused on food and cooking and that we would be happy to consider advertising events that had food or wine as a central theme, and told them that we would consider such a piece and advertisement at the same rate as what we get paid by google adsense, which is about $2 per 1,000 page views.
    I never head back.

  40. I cannot out do Harlan Ellison, I can only share a clip that was shared to me. I, in turn, have shared it with a number of my students. Warning, it is uncensored….”Pay the Writer”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

  41. I love it when a post generates such an intense discussion. I read a lot of food blogs every day and I have to say that as a reader I don’t trust bloggers who participate in a lot of sponsored reviews or trips. The second I know they got product for free or took a trip that was even partly paid for by a company other than themselves I no longer trust their voice or their information.

    But the initial discussion is about writers not being paid and I agree with everyone who says that this is bogus and unacceptable and like so many others I think Amy’s way of dealing with the stupid offer is brilliant and if I ever find myself on the wrong end of an offer like that I hope I remember to use it as an opportunity to inform and possibly improve things.

    There is a very real difference between people blogging just for fun and writers who are using blogging as a medium to get their work out and to build a paying career for themselves. The fact that so many people out there are blogging just for fun and free stuff is going to make the professional blog writers have to work very hard to earn the respect and the pay they deserve.

    • Well said, Angelina.

      I have trouble with the sponsored reviews and trips as well. But then I think about travel writing, and how most writers take invitations because they can’t pay, and I start to soften. I have to think about that one more.

  42. Outrageous but the sorry reality. One of my blogger friends posted about this on her blog, Mizz Information — look for the post “Is the Era of Free Coming to an End?” Marketing opportunities have long been used as bait for free speaking and blogging gigs, and I’ve done a few freebies, but it’s rare that they result in contracts. Yes, it’s hard to measure the long-term ROI as far as reputation and visibility but at what price? How insulting to Amy but I’m encouraged by her response, it’s one that other bloggers should copy. Thanks, Dianne, for sharing this story.

  43. Glad she turned a negative into a positive situation. This is a familiar story in most creative fields. Even as a graphic designer, I am educating potential clients about the design process and payments. BTW… I find this site/blog to be a great resource for developing my food writing skills. I should be reading it more.

  44. I see these kinds of atrocities in photography as well so as a photographer and writer it gets my blood boiling.

    I have read similar things to Amy’s experience and the vague, go nowhere comment of “It will get you lots of exposure!” Sure it will. But does exposure pay the rent? Put groceries on the table? Get the bills paid? Certainly not and anyone touting this line deserves to be smacked hard with a spatula.

    I’ve been known to school a few of these people (admittedly not always as professionally as Amy) and have received some nasty replies. I refuse to compromise my integrity or give away what I have worked hard to create. I’ll work within your budget and ensure it is a fair compromise for both parties but I will not hand over my work with no compensation all in the name of exposure. Millions are seeking the same exposure and I am little more than another name in the crowd.

    Amy handled it with dignity, grace, and class and for that she is to be commended. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Kim, you are not as hungry as some beginning writers. That is probably what it comes down to. Yes, you are just another name in the crowd, but I like that you are willing to fight back to change the system. On the other hand, this system has always been in place. There are always those willing to undercut others, and themselves, to get the “work,” if they believe there is something in it for them.

  45. Wow love this post. Highlights a big issue even on a small scale. I think we are taken advantage of. I wrote for the Breville site for ages for free and in the end decided no enough, I deserve to be paid.

  46. Quite honestly, foodbloggers aren’t the only ones who receive such requests.

    As a professional communicator (PR/Issues Management) I’ve been asked to speak at conferences and PD events. Often these happen in a different city from where I am and I’d have to drive anywhere from 20-100km (one-way): they won’t offer to pay basic expenses (mileage, parking)–once I was given the “it’s to better the profession” spiel. I told them bettering the profession includes recognising the expertise being given–they don’t like that. The first time I spoke to a professional group I only received a $20 gift card. If I could have redeemed it for cash, it wouldn’t have covered 25% of my out-of-pocket expenses.

    Now when I’m asked to present I tell them that I’m happy to consider it, but they will be responsible for my expenses. More often than not we don’t get beyond that. Fine by me.

    • Yeah, I’ve been there too. I did a few events as a speaker this year that paid only for me to be at the conference, no expenses. I still question whether it was right, but I sold books, made new contacts, saw friends, ate well, and learned a few things, so I decided it was worth it.

  47. It’s good that Amy Sherman spoke up and let the company know why those ridiculous terms weren’t acceptable. Hopefully that will make them think twice about making similar offers in the future. As always, the value of work is dependent upon what people are willing to accept. If there were more confident bloggers like Sherman who don’t accept less compensation for “exposure,” then companies would be forced to pay more to get what they want.

  48. Dianne, This is a very interesting post because travel bloggers have been recently discussing this same issue. A popular travel blogger was invited to attend a concert, where they would pay minimal expenses (basically the tickets and driving costs) and she would have to write 7 posts about the concert. She refused, making the argument that she is a published travel writer and should be paid as such (see the post here: http://www.camelsandchocolate.com/all-about-me/what-youre-worth-2/)

    There is a belief amongst bloggers that we are not “writers” and, therefore, should work for pennies on the dollar (or in Amy’s case, that she should pay for her own trip to work for them). I am changing my own attitude toward those offers and am glad to hear that so many food bloggers feel the same way.

  49. […] are even crazier situations in that the Big Food Company essentially wants stone-cold free labor. Dianne Jacob wrote about an totally outrageous request put forth to Amy Sherman from Cooking with Amy in that […]

  50. I was recently contacted by someone who asked me to develop 10 (yes, TEN) recipes for a website, in exchange of a link back to my website. Maybe I am crazy, because I am only starting but it sounds pretty abusive to me. Am I wrong?

  51. […] copies of all my IDs! And then there are always enter­tain­ing requests. For instance, this is the story of a food blog­ger who was invited to a culi­nary trade show in Italy. The catch? She had to […]

  52. I’ve just recently found this article and while I agree that food bloggers need to be compensated for their work, the problem is that many (like me) don’t have a clue as to what would be reasonable. I’ve been paid for work on a food site as a blogger and will be writing for another publication in the near future, but now I’m worried that I’ve been asking too little for my work. I also do food photography so I worry about how much to charge for either one or both.
    The problem is that no one ever gives you an idea of what it is worth. I think it would be radically different if there was somewhere to find out what this kind of work IS worth so that we can charge accordingly and not just assume that “exposure” should be the entirety of our fee.

    • There is no one standard for what your work is worth. Typically it’s worth whatever the editor offers to pay you. However, your answer should always be, “That sounds a little low,” because most of the time, it is. You may not succeed but it’s always worth a try.

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