Should Food Bloggers Write Sponsored Posts?

Dec 222010
 

An urgent email from a p.r. person offered me payment of $50 per post if I would write 9 to 15 posts about a bakery chain over the next three months.

Obviously, she had never looked at my blog, because I don’t qualify. And anyway, I wouldn’t do it.

The question remained, however: Should food bloggers write sponsored posts, and under what circumstances?

In the email, the p.r. person took it upon herself to suggest what I might post about:

  1. Sharing recipes from the bakery
  2. Talking about what breaking bread means to you
  3. Sharing your thoughts on going to the bakery
  4. Linking to video assets of cooking /baking lessons.

(And if I wrote the maximum of 5 posts per month, that would be 15 posts @$50 each = $750.)

The p.r. person also wanted me to drive traffic to the bakery’s website on Facebook and participate in a Twitter party. I’d get a few free meals from the bakery. I’d also get a guaranteed minimum payment of $150 to $250, but there was nothing about what I would have to do to receive it. If I was interested, she concluded, I should email her my “monthly uniques” (how many hits my blog gets per month from individuals) to see if I qualify.

This email prompted a few questions about sponsored blogging. Since I come from a journalism background, it’s not right for me. But I’m not saying it’s not right for anyone. I’d like your opinions:

1. When is a sponsored post justified? Would you do it/have you done it, and under what circumstances?

2. Do you tell readers/would you tell them you are being paid when you run a sponsored post? What kind of language would you use?

3. Have you come across other food bloggers who run sponsored posts? How could you tell? Does it affect your opinion of them, or would you welcome this kind of opportunity?

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  114 Responses to “Should Food Bloggers Write Sponsored Posts?”

  1. I can’t say that I’ve done a sponsored post like you are describing, but I have received goodies like books and written about them. Can that be different, really? Publicists send you the books in hopes of a review. I never promise one and don’t always give one. And now that I think about it, I never made it clear that that books were given to me gratis. Must amend those posts.

    Does it affect my opinion of someone that they have a sponsored post? Not really, as long as they are honest about the circumstances. Even the big name folks get trips and product to share. Celebrity affords you trips across the world, lower food chain bloggers get nominal fees and products.

    • I don’t think of book reviews as sponsored posts, even though it is a similar thing. You are not required to write about the books you receive, and you do not receive a fee if you do so. You get a free book, but that’s an established tradition in newspapers and magazines. Sponsored journalism, however, is not.

      Re free trips, I suppose as long as bloggers disclose, it’s okay. That’s different from old school print. But what matters more is how you write about it. No one wants to read advertorial.

      • That’s interesting that you say ‘traditional’ freebies are ok. I feel like freebies are generally considered much more acceptable in blogging than in journalism. It raises questions about journalism vs. blogging and whether the ‘rules’ for accepting freebies differ between the two.

        I don’t know how I feel about sponsored posts, ambivalent I guess. I don’t generally mind as long as its clear that the blogger didn’t pay for the product/experience they’re writing about. I read a few bloggers that get a lot of free trips and products, but it’s clear they were freebies from the get-go, especially for things like giveaways.

        • Freebies are definitely more acceptable in blogging. Mostly because bloggers take them, without any restrictions. While not every publication has rules, the better ones do.

          Sponsored posts that endorse products require disclosure, according to a new law passed by the FCC.

          • It’s interesting because I was at a food bloggers conference on Saturday and everyone seemed to agree that it was all good as long as there was full disclosure.

            The point was made though that placement of disclosure is key. A sponsored post, I think, should make it’s sponsored nature clear at the outset – e.g. ‘Sponsored Post – Breadland Bread tasty Breand and Butter Pudding Recipe’ or some such thing, rather than writing a whole post, recipe/review and all and then, at the bottom in tiny pont ‘this post was sponsored by breadland bread.’

          • Yes excellent point! I like the ones with big type so there’s no confusion?

            Which blogger conference were you at on Saturday?

  2. Ha! I was about to ask “Is that Ruhlman in that photo?” :)

    • Maybe a younger version, eh? I took it from the bakery’s website. Naughty of me.

      • Yes – naughty of you – and not a good example to set: “Our Site and all of its contents (including, without limitation, articles, text, photographs, images, illustrations, graphics, video material, audio material, and software — collectively, the “intellectual property”), are protected by copyright, trademark and other laws of the United States, as well as international conventions and the laws of other countries. The intellectual property is owned or controlled by Panera Bread or the party credited as the provider of the intellectual property. Additionally, the Site itself is protected by copyright as a collective work and/or compilation.”

  3. When I get emails from p.r. people asking me to do the same, I think, “Have they even read me?” If they would take the time to read my posts, I very much doubt they would ask.

    Sponsored posting isn’t a good fit for me, but I think that, if the writer is clear about the fact that s/he is receiving money from a particular product when writing about it (and the writer feels the product/company is worthy of attention) , then why not? I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make a living through blogging.

    I’m trying my best these days to be less judgemental about such things. My very best.

    • Yeah, I’m trying to do the same. There’s no way you could do this kind of thing in print, though.

      • Of course you could. It would be called “Special Advertising Section”. They were asking for advertorial, and as long as it’s disclosed and identified, there’s a place for advertorial. Even in print.

        And certainly it’s out of control (and not very well disclosed) on TV. This is exactly the conversation we had on my panel at BlogHer Food this year.

        • Right, but “Special Advertising Sections” are separate from the regular editorial of a newspaper or magazine. They look different. They are on their own page or in their own section, in a magazine.

          The corollary would be that advertorial wouldn’t be a regular post. It would show up elsewhere on the website, in a special section. I don’t have a problem with that, clearly marked. Except that advertorial is not written by the editorial writers, in the print world. Usually it is commissioned by the advertising or marketing department to an outside writer. And since blogging is a one-person show, that’s a conflict of interest.

          TV is totally out of control, I agree, especially with product placement.

          • Totally disagree that magazine special advertising sections look different. The NYT Sunday Magazine is a perfect example. Yes, clearly marked. Yes, disclosed. But certainly right there in the same form factor as the editorial.

            Agree that *newspaper* journalists/editors don’t write advertorial, but again: I think the world of magazine, particular, say, fashion/beauty magazines, and even business magazines, is not quite so pristine.

          • “Special advertising sections” aren’t always separate from the regular editorial section of a newspaper or magazine. Many times it’s on the same page, I have examples here staring at me on my desk :)

            Also, blogging is not always a one-person show; I’ve got a regular contributor now and a few blogs I know of feature guest writers.

  4. I’m a food blogger with a journalism education and background. I also write a dining blog for a mainstream media outlet. And I can still hear my grad-school professor loudly and clearly in my head, saying, “Don’t ever accept anything more than a BOTTLE OF WATER from a source.”

    Pay-for-play situations make me wildly uncomfortable, but I attribute that to my media experience. I may have felt differently if I’d never worked for a newspaper and had to abide by their ethics code. But if I see that a blogger is shilling for a product or company – or is writing a restaurant review based on a free meal – I don’t necessarily take that content very seriously.

    • Yeah, I’m with you. I don’t want to read the equivalent of “product placement.”

      • Every meal I reviewed for print I got for free too: Because the paper reimbursed me. :) I honestly don’t see a huge different…either way you don’t have the same skin in the game as when you’re shelling out the bucks.

        • How nice! I liked those kinds of assignments also. My experience is that print media feels less compulsion to write glowing reviews or advertorial compared with bloggers.

          • Actually, it was fascinating on that BlogHer Food panel. Journalist-blogger Carolyn Jung said that at the Chronicle restaurant reviewers would definitely choose not to trash a restaurant…if it were a mom and pop type place. If it were a chain, fair game, but they didn’t think it was their job to put a restaurant actually out of business. Lots of bloggers say that if they don’t like something they don’t like to spend the time reviewing it, and people complain about that, so I was really surprised to hear that traditional print media may skip the really negative stuff too in many cases.

    • I think that’s the thing, LG. Blogs aren’t taken as seriously generally and especially if they’re packed with pay-for-plays. That said, they tend to cast a wider net than traditional print media.

  5. I think food bloggers should do whatever they want and no one should tell them otherwise. Personally I wouldn’t do it. As I reader I would hope fthe writer was transparent about the sponsorship.

    • Yes, I suppose that’s what really counts, if you’re going to do it. And not writing a free ad. Bloggers tend to go overboard for very little money.

  6. I’ve been asked to do a couple of sponsored posts, but I have always declined, as my blog is my little place to write about whatever I feel like. It would be nice if someone sent me a cheque for doing exactly what I’m doing, but realistically, if I want to feel like my blog is my own, I need to control the content. To have my blog reduced to advertising fluff would make it less my own, and at that point, I would see no reason to continue. I like writing. I don’t want that to happen.

    When I come across bloggers who have written sponsored posts, I do find it off-putting, because the knowledge that someone is paying to have that person write about a place or product makes me feel like the blogger is, for lack of a better term, “selling out.” If I want to read ad copy, there are a billion different places on the Internet for me to do so; when I read a blog, I want to read about the blogger’s own experience and find it relatable. I think bloggers create a kind of literature, and to have that literature tainted by sponsorship is irksome to me. It certainly affects my opinion of a blog to come across this kind of post, and not in a positive way.

    • I’m with you theoretically. I suppose readers will decide for themselves.

      I also don’t like the marketer telling people how many times they have to post. I hope bloggers have the good sense to wonder why their readers would be interested. On the other hand, this particular p.r. person was sophisticated enough to suggest posts that would be more interesting than “I love this bakery” repeatedly. Gotta give her some credit for that.

      On the other hand, you have to attend a Twitter party, whatever that is. I bet people aren’t going to write ‘sponsored” in every tweet. Think of how many characters it takes up!

  7. This is a good question. I have seen a lot of blogs – “mommy bloggers” in particular – who will write rave reviews about ANYTHING that they get for free, and I wonder who believes the review reflects the quality of the product? On the other hand, some well known (and well done) blogs that I read have clearly labeled “sponsored” posts and I don’t always mind. For sure, I want it labeled.
    I just recently started doing some sponsored posts and feel comfortable with how I am doing it. A company (that I have used in the past) provides me with a box of local food and I cook and then blog about one meal that I made from the ingredients. It is something that I would have been doing anyway. I say in each post that they “sponsored” the meal or “provided” the ingredients. The sponsorship doesn’t reflect what I am writing and I do not seek approval for what I am going to cook or write.
    I always appreciate your perspective.

    • That doesn’t sound too ominous, Lara. Certainly there are not so many rules, like the email I received. You also only do one blog post, which I appreciate, vs. the number specified in the email.

  8. I have no problem with folks doing sponsored posts as long as they are clear and up front that it is sponsored. If it’s a blog I regularly follow, I can pretty much tell, just by the writing, if this is a product they actually use/will use in the future. Some folks are really good at describing product/places so I know right away if it’s something I may want to look into. But if it’s one sponsored post after another, and it’s all glowing reviews that sound contrived, I’m usually no longer reading that blog :)

    I haven’t done it yet (I’ve gotten a few requests) but will if it’s actually a product I’m curious about, already use, or would use. If it’s something I know I would never really try, forget it.

    • One sponsored post after another sounds pretty boring to me. I don’t know why anyone would keep reading, after a while.

      You might want to consider trying a product you don’t already use and might not like. It would certainly make a much more interesting review to read. Sadly, I can never seem to find that kind of writing in blogs.

  9. I haven’t done directly paid posts, but I’ve done posts about things that were given to me, which is the same thing of course. I have two criteria:

    (1) I have to love the product/service/whatever. I’d never, ever pump up something I didn’t believe in. I had a recent experience where a company I’d promoted a bit on facebook started treating customers badly, and I called them out about it publicly and will never work with them again.

    (2) I’ll always disclose any freebies or payment. The only exception I can think of is Amazon links; presumably people understand that bloggers earn a small percentage from products that are bought after following a link, and it would be too annoying to label every such link. I always label anything where there is an even slightly non-obvious relationship.

    • Agreed, and agreed. I just opened my site up to sponsored posts in order to monetize it somehow without just accepting freebies and writing about it. Every sponsored post is clearly labeled as such, and such posts have been addressed in my ethics and editorial policy as well, so readers are always clear as to how the content was developed.

      • Wow! I love that you put SPONSORED in all caps, right in the headline. Also that you have an editorial and ethics policy tab.

        A sponsored post seems like the same thing as labeling the post advertorial, a term newspapers and magazines use. But newspapers and magazines use an outside company or department to write this kind of copy, because it is promotional. They create separation to avoid a conflict of interest.

        I’m not accusing you of anything, Jennifer, just thinking out loud.

    • Michael, I’m not sure it’s the same thing, if no money changed hands. Similar maybe. Or maybe I’m splitting hairs?

      I agree that you should never pump up something you don’t love, but on the other hand, it’s boring when all reviews are always glowing. Bloggers don’t seem to understand this concept, no matter how many times I write about it!

      Very nice that you lay out that you have received freebies or payment, and that you outed the company that treated customers badly.

      • Dianne -

        Re reviews – I *totally* agree with you when it comes to restaurant reviews, which is why I’ve almost entirely stopped doing them. I want to work in that industry, and it just doesn’t pay to burn any bridges, but I also don’t want to bore my readers with only positive reviews. Also, I don’t want to put up posts that are of interest only to people in a given location. I might occasionally do one when I’m lucky enough to visit a restaurant of national or international interest.

        With products, it seems different to me. I don’t think it is automatically boring to only read about food or kitchen tool products that work well. I know when I’m reading other people’s blogs, I wouldn’t really spend a lot of time reading a post about how they bought some new brand of black garlic and it wasn’t delicious, but if they point out something good I should try, I’m interested.

        I think it also comes down to trust and earned authority if say Alex & Aki, or Molly or FoodPlayerLinda tells me a food or book is good, I think odds are 95% I’ll agree, so I have no hesitation. If I see the same thing on HypeyMcphonyNeverHeardOfYou.com… not so much. So I try to make sure I earn that same level of trust with my own readers.

        • I don’t know why products would be different than restaurant reviews, except that most “reviews” on blogs are not really reviews. Reviews are balanced.

          I agree that trust and authority are what matters. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything!

  10. I don’t think there is anything wrong with sponsored posts, as long as the blogger is completely up front from the get go of the post that it is, in fact, sponsored. It’s important to say that you received compensation if you did; it builds trust with your readers. I also think sponsored posts need to be relevant to the content of your blog. The example you give above seems ridiculous, though. Too many rules to follow. Too calculated. I personally wouldn’t do something like that either.

    I have written for Kitchen Play: the whole point of the site is to connect bloggers with people in the food/pr industry. If you are selected for a Kitchen Play assignment, you get paid, and you must clearly state so in your post. All of the assignments involve food ingredients/products so if you are a food blogger, I think it makes perfect sense to do a sponsored post in conjunction with Kitchen Play.

    On the other hand, I have seen food bloggers do sponsored posts for things that I don’t think are relevant to a food blog. I can’t think of an example right now, but when I see that sort of thing, it just doesn’t make sense to me and I will probably skip reading it. But just because I would skip reading, or turn that opportunity down if it was me, does not mean another blogger should say “no”. I think everyone needs to find their comfort zone and everyone’s zone may be different: the important thing is to be honest with yourself (don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable) and to be honest/up front with your readers.

    • Very reasonable, Winnie. I’ve seen your Kitchen Play posts and they seem ethical. Except that of course you’re not going to write anything negative. That in itself makes me uncomfortable.

      Certainly if you have a baking blog and you hawk steak sauce, it doesn’t make sense.

  11. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Winnie Abramson. Winnie Abramson said: RT @diannej: Should food bloggers write sponsored posts? New post @ http://bit.ly/g6lKtx [...]

  12. I’ve done sponsored posts periodically over the last couple of years. Some of the early ones, I’m not terribly proud of, and I’ve dumped the source since then. But in any event, I always disclose very clearly. Hell, I disclose even when it’s not a sponsored post, but I’m mentioning a specific brand (“I have not been paid or compensated in any way for mentioning this product. I use it because ….”) or (“I have not been paid or compensated in any way to give away this Starbucks card. Hell, I don’t even like Starbucks.”)

    So no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, anymore than any other writer gets paid for their work, as long as it’s clear.

    • That is funny, that you disclose even when you are not paid or compensated. I guess the main thing is that you disclose.

      What about the content itself? Something not discussed here is how glowing it should be in response to payment.

      • I disclose even when I’m not compensated because I want my readers to be clear that if I mention a particular product in a recipe, I’m using it because I like it, that no one paid me to say so, and that I purchased it with my own money. Likewise, regarding the Starbucks gift card, it was a gift to me and I didn’t want it going to waste. I disclosed that fact so my readers would understand that I wasn’t promoting Starbucks, just giving them a gift. It’s important to me to make the distinction.

        I only take sponsored posts now if I’m familiar with the product. For instance, in my Kitchen Play post, the sponsor furnished me with product. I was only required to use some of the product and say how I used it. I wasn’t furnishing a review. I got to choose the products I wanted to use for the purposes of my post. In that case, it was a well-known brand whose products I actually do use in my kitchen all the time, so I had no problem with that. And I disclosed that I was provided product for the purposes of creating recipes for the post. Frankly, I’ve never been offered money in a situation like the one you mention above, and would most likely turn it down, primarily because I don’t want anyone dictating what I should say in my own blog.

        By the same token, when a local bakery donated cupcakes and the local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise donated coffee & doughnuts to my Share Our Strength Great American Bake Sale, and they asked me to tweet about it during that day, I didn’t hesitate and thanked them on my blog, as well. I like the cupcakes and DD coffee and I solicited the donation. Is that a “sponsored post”?

        • The KitchenPlay thing sounds totally reasonable. I guess the part that bothers me is the implicit understanding that you will write something positive. But if you really feel that way, and you’ve disclosed, then you’re being honest.

          Yes, that was a sponsored post and Tweet, because you received a product in kind. It’s kinda hard to write “sponsored” in a tweet though, eh?

  13. There might not be anything wrong with writing a sponsored post ethically as long as you disclose it, but as a reader the minute I feel I am sold to, our relationship is over. I think getting paid to tell your readers about a product/service is completely against the whole nature of blogging. And it doesn’t matter if you really really really like the product/service and would have endorsed it anyhow either. The bottom line is, you’re getting paid.

    • Well, there are other less obvious bottom lines that make me very uncomfortable, Cenk.

      Particularly, it’s the way bloggers write about products and services — always so glowingly, rarely anything negative. That’s part of what is unsaid about the whole arrangement, that so many go overboard and write what amounts to a free ad.

      I like the separation of copy and ads. Ads are the things that are outside the text box, in their own box. They are not within the copy.

      I have just blown my desire to reserve judgement.

  14. I don’t have a problem with it, even if the blogger isn’t up front about being paid. First because I think that being paid is a good thing unless a person is being paid to do something immoral. I always want to earn money, and I think it’s only ever good for other people to earn money, too.

    Second, as a reader I have a brain, which I put to good use when I do my reading. It’s fairly transparent to me if someone is promoting something with nothing but blind commendation. When it comes to reviews of people, places, and products I always keep in mind that this is the opinion of one person which is always influenced by their own experiences. EVERYTHING has pros and cons, so when I see no cons I look for more reviews until I find alternating opinions, and develop my own well rounded opinion.

    Third, as a writer, I wouldn’t have a problem with being offered money, because I would be brutally honest, good bad or ugly. It’s like a teacher told me once, if he gets a warranty on a product he will test it’s limits and abilities without voiding the warranty – if it breaks, he gets a replacement free, and know the limits. Same with sponsors: I would test the limits, take it to extremes, and give a fair and even handed opinion of the product/service. Like I said, everything has it’s good features, and bad features, and I personally wouldn’t leave out either one. That having been said, if the sponsor doesn’t deliver their promised goods my whole audience would know about it pretty quick, and that doesn’t look good for the sponsor, so for me it’s a win/win.

    • Well, it wouldn’t be a win/win for long, Zachariah. A few negative reviews and no one will offer you any more sponsorships. They’re not going to pay for an opportunity to diss the product.

      • Hmm … true. I guess that sets apart one persons blog from another. Is the purpose of blogging to make money, or is it something else? I tend to enjoy reading and subscribe to blogs who are written by people who do it for the love of food, or of writing, or of entertaining, etc. I don’t bypass a blog because it’s a cash cow … I just haven’t read a cash cow I’ve liked.

        • There are blogs that make money but the vast majority do not. It’s very difficult to make more than a few bucks. So you might as well enjoy yourself.

  15. One other thing: No matter how people feel about it, or whether they care, the FTC Guidelines absolutely require disclosure of *any* material relationship between a blogger and the company they’re writing about…and that can mean just free stuff, it doesn’t have to mean monetary compensation. That’s the bare minimum.

    Of course to maintain trust with your readers you also better do a lot of what is being discussed above: Give your true opinion, stick to what’s relevant, avoid spouting press release-speak (which, Dianne, I must say, I see in traditional media articles ALL the time!)

    • Absolutely, Elisa. I have written about FCC disclosure several times and it’s a good thing to bring up.

      And yes, I have read press release-speak in traditional media also. There’s no reason to assume that traditional media is all quality all the time, that’s for sure.

  16. I think you should ask them for $50 for your post!

    • Hah! Sadly, I am not promoting their product, so I don’t think they would get much out of it. And I used their photo illegally.

  17. I think it would seem weird to keep blogging about the same topic over and over, even though I post a lot about baking. I think my readers would find it boring and weird, too. I think they expect something new & interesting every time they check my blog, & I want to oblige. So, I wouldn’t be interesting in this arrangement. If another blogger’s audience would like such posts, then they might agree to take the job–but they would have to disclose that they were being paid for their coverage.

    • I do find it odd that a food blogger would write up to 15 posts about a particular bakery, in one veiled way or another, and not give any thought to whether readers would like this.

      Yes, any blogger who does a sponsored post must disclose it, according to the FCC. Only if they endorse, which is the default response.

  18. I have written a few sponsored posts and a few reviews of free product. My criteria are much the same as Michael’s: I must truly like the product and I give clear disclosures. I have a small footer on my about page that clarifies my disclosure policy including that I use Amazon affiliate links.

    I conducted a reader survey last spring and was surprised that an overwhelming majority of my readers indicated they wanted to read product reviews. I’ve taken that reader preference into account when selecting opportunities.

    Part of me would like to never accept freebies or sponsored posts, but I also recognize that I am providing free content to readers and I want to earn something someway…

    • Reviews and sponsored posts are not the same thing. An honest, balanced product review is a thing of beauty. A paid post about a product is…a paid post, most of the time.

  19. I don’t see anything wrong with doing sponsored posts as long as you state it up front that you are. I would love to have a pr rep contact me like that about posting.
    I put right after the title if it’s a sponsored post & in the disclosure statement which is at the end of each blog post anyway. My blog is a food blog & see nothing wrong with taking sponsors cash for posts.

    • Hi Barb. You have a different kind of blog than what I’m used to seeing. I guess it is my own fault for thinking there is only one kind of food blog. And with all those people coming for the giveaways, it must be working for you.

  20. Hi Dianne, I started my food blog last June — just for fun and as a creative outlet. But after a few months, a friend has a friend that does PR for restaurants and have asked me to participate in a Press Dinner and a Dinner Tasting and blog about my dining experience. I guess I can consider those as sponsored posts — and I made sure that they were fully disclosed on my blog. I don’t think there’s a clear list of the do’s and dont’s of sponsored blogging. But if you are personally finding yourself as a blogger to be “fluffing” the content of your review for the sponsored meal, then you are not only lying to your readers – but also to yourself.
    I just recently bought your Will Write For Food and I’m devouring every page as if its made out of Momofuku’s pork belly buns.
    From: Gypsy Addie xoxoxo

    • Okay Gypsy. That’s funny. Thank you very much.

      Re your sponsored posts, don’t forget that by law, you have to disclose that you have received payment in kind for your review. This is only necessary if you endorse. Which, it goes without saying, is the definition of a sponsored post.

  21. This is a difficult question to answer. I don’t mind gushing about products that I really like, and that I really believe in, but guess what there is a lot out there that I won’t gush about. I just can’t, it isn’t in my nature. I always read sponsored posts with a raised eye brow, wondering if the author really means what they said about the product.

    • I don’t see why gushing is necessary when talking about products. I’d rather read a measured analysis. That’s called a review. But that is different from a sponsored post.

  22. You know I love to read the comments, but I’m coming in too late (both to the discussion and time of night) to this post and have to finish reading the comments tomorrow.
    STILL. I want to say that this kind of thing definitely affects the atmosphere of the blog. I look at some blogs that have zero advertising (so far) or only classy advertising and no product placements/sponsored posts/stores and the site has such good quality that it is possible for this blog to get along $ wise. Part of the reason we love these sites is because of the atmosphere of authenticity. On the other hand, there is a marked difference in atmosphere of a site that has sponsored posts (and etc). I’m almost thinking of it as a class system in the blogging world. I look at both kinds, but I consider it a lot when I’m trying to figure out how to bridge that gap with my own blog.
    The business aspect of any art (ha! I called blogging art!) is a bit demeaning and also necessary. It’s hard for me to completely resolve.
    Giveaways? That is something I haven’t decided about yet. Can it still be classy or does it break the 3rd wall too much?

    • There is nothing demeaning about business, Mariko. We are all trying to figure it out. We are the publishers of our blogs, not just the writers, and we’re the heads of advertising too.

      But I know what you mean about types of blogs. I went to a blog that is all about product placement yesterday, to see what the blogger was doing. There was nothing at all for me to read. It seems like readers only go there for a giveaway. The only people she’s really talking to are potential sponsors of her posts. Not my thing, but if it’s working for her, who am I to say it’s wrong?

      I have done giveaways of books occasionally. I don’t have a problem with that.

  23. [...] Dianne Jacob asks the question: Should Food Bloggers Write Sponsored Posts? [...]

  24. Interestingly, the only kinds of ‘product’ posts I’ve done were for things that I requested. I guess I’m doing it backwards, but I am happy to learn about new things and be able to support small companies that might not get exposure elsewhere. (Such as bean-to-bar chocolate makers.) I find that way, I can talk about them positively and highlight what I think is good about the product since it’s something I already feel good about and already have an interest in.

    I once did a review of a piece of kitchen equipment, but once again, I requested it from the company and it was a bit of a chore getting it from them. But it fell within the subject matter of my blog and I pointed out the pluses and minuses of the device in the post. Folks need to decide what works for them and I suspect (as you pointed out) a cavalcade of sponsored posts will not gain a lot of readers or keep them coming back. But everyone blogs for different reasons.

    As Elisa points out, print media often does mix things up as well. I have a friend who is a travel writer for a newspaper and she says a lot of stuff she’s asked to write about is from press releases. And magazines list the companies where they got their plates and vases they show in photos, while I assume they are provided to the magazines by the companies. (Although I could be wrong.) But they do it tastefully–at least I think they do–and it could be construed as a service to readers who want to know where they can get those plates or the vase shown on the table. I don’t think they get a fee for featuring the items they list in the back of the magazines. But I might be mistaken.

    • If you’re interested in a product and ask to review it, that’s a traditional media thing. You disclose that you asked for it, and you write an honest review. That is different from being sponsored.

      Yep, everyone blogs for a different reason. If you are only doing it to make money, as in the case of the food blog I described to Mariko, then…whatever. It held no appeal to me, but obviously it’s great for those who want to win laundry balls. I am not the target reader.

      Magazines regularly ask for products to put in photo shoots and may not send them back unless the company says to do so (which they do with big ticket items). Editors think they are doing a reader service. I certainly did when I compiled products for those kinds of shoots. I didn’t have any budget to pay for them, so I was grateful companies wanted the exposure. I did not charge for the listings in the back. It was considered part of editorial, just as we did not charge for restaurant listings.

      As Elisa points out, not all publications get it right or aspire to be ethical. I’d rather focus on best practices. Let’s raise the bar, together, with discussions like this.

  25. If the P.R. person wanted me to cover the bakery and leave it to me to say what I want, then I would accept an ad from them. If I ran a commercial site and didn’t care whether I endorsed the product or not, then I would include mention that I was being paid for the endorsement.

    I was a publicist for many years and used to take journalists to lunch, dinner, and give them tickets to shows provided to me by promoters, record companies and managers. Never once did I operate under the illusion that the writer was under obligation to favor my clients in the press.

    • Okay, but they don’t want an ad. They want editorial, written by you, in the same place where you write about whatever you like, not in a special section. Actually, I was kind of impressed by her list. It was more sophisticated than asking people to just say “I love [blank] bakery.”

      If you endorsed the product, you are required by the FCC to include mention that you were paid to do so.

      Re obligation, it was implied. You had to show results to the companies that paid you. If no one favored your clients in the press, you would have failed. I did p.r. for a few years. I never had the budget for more than meals and parties, but it worked.

  26. I do reviews of food and meals for a web site that gives very little pay, about $1 per post. That’s not sustainable unless I am reviewing places I would have gone to anyway, and I have enough total writing income from other sources to write off the meals and items as expenses and still show a profit for the year. )I have not yet reached the point of getting offers of free meals or food products.)

    But in writing about fitness gear, I both make a good income from my publisher and I get regular offers of free products to review. These are almost always products I would not buy for myself, but are of interest to my audience. I give as many negative and mediocre reviews as good ones. Our ethics policy is to disclose in the review when we received a sample, and to return or donate to charity any item retailing for over $100. I have no problem with disclosure. But if I didn’t get review samples, I would not be able to review as wide of a range of products.

    Looking back over the year, my top reviews have been for items I purchased out of my own pocket. That makes sense, since I use my expert judgment before buying them, they are basically pre-selected by me. Meanwhile, review samples are for things I never thought I really needed or I had a similar item I already used regularly and was working well for me.

    But all of this is still a bit different from being a paid product blogger with posts specifically required to be about a certain product. At that point, you have to decide whether it will damage your professional reputation, even if properly disclosed. I would likely only take it if the chain happened to be my personal favorite already and I could be completely honest in any favorable writing about them.

    • Exactly. A review is not a sponsored post.

      I like your fitness site’s review policy. Classy. And your explanation for top reviews make sense.

      Many people say what you have, that they would only take a sponsored post if they already like the product. You may as well have that approach because you have to write something favorable. That’s why it’s different than a review, where you can theoretically say whatever you like.

      However, most bloggers take the same approach to a review, and that is why they keep bringing up reviews in this post. They think their readers don’t want to read anything negative. They are wrong. For an example of how to write balanced reviews, see the book reviews on Food52′s Piglet.

  27. Hi:

    A timely post for us, and a very interesting discussion. FTC guidelines are very clear that we must always disclose the nature of our relationships with vendors. In addition, many of our ad networks, do not allow sponsored posts on pages where they have their ads.

    On our blog, we are in the midst of a panettone giveaway. We have no relationship with the bakery, we just wanted to introduce a delicious christmas sweet bread; however, the distributor was willing to send product to our winners for free. We state our relationship and we put the “giveaway” on a separate page from our landing page. A reader would need to look for it. Hmn…. I wonder if we should ask for payment from the bakery after the fact?

    Advertorials and pay to be published have been going on almost since the printed word began. The first leaflets and pamphlets were propaganda materials meant to influence the populace. Some magazines, in order to keep their doors open, have blurred their editorial and advertising sections and have chosen their topics from those who advertise with them most. Does that make them wrong or bad? Journalism schools abound with “ethics” courses trying to figure this out. My feeling is that if it is something that you would write about anyway and if you disclose the relationship it isn’t a problem. However, I agree, reading something that is like a neon sign flashing “buy this” over and over again, would not hold my attention for long.

    • Hi Lael!

      I like that you put your giveaways on a separate page. Re the bakery, you cannot ask for money after the fact. You already have an agreement. It was not a sponsored post.

      I’m not a fan of blurring the editorial and advertising sections and have never worked for a publication that does that. I’ve had lots of arguments with publishers who wanted to do so, believe me. Blogging is harder because usually there’s one person in charge of every department, which encourages blurring of ethical lines. And there’s only one place to put stuff in writing: in the blog post itself. Maybe blogs should have multiple tags, as you do: a separate blog page for giveaways, as you have; and a separate one for sponsored posts, which are basically advertorial.

  28. I don’t have a formal journalism background, but freelance quite frequently for a local weekly newspaper in my area. Sometimes I write about things for the newspaper that have to do with food and then write about them in my blog. I write a completely different story in both places, one as a reporter and one as the user/customer. For example, I did a story on a local food delivery service where the new owners came up with the idea to purchase produce from local farms and deliver to your door. The idea for the article was that the owners were both laid off and one of them came up with the idea…so the angle was different. My editor has no problem with it, so I don’t feel any conflict.

    When I did the blog post, it was about me using their service and paying for my own food delivery. I wasn’t asked, but spoke about their product publicly like I would if I were talking to a friend. Had they asked me to do such in exchange for food deliveries, I’d have disclosed and enjoyed the comp after I had used the program myself as a paying customer.

    I blog because I like to write, but I’m not opposed to doing any sort of endorsement if I believe in the product and do it from my own perspective as a customer and not sounding ‘reporter-like’ in the post. I don’t want to sound like I’m doing an ad, I want to be truthful and if the company is willing for me to do that and pay me and I disclose, what’s the harm? We’re all out here trying to make money somehow and as long as the almighty dollar is earned honestly, I don’t think there’s any problem, but constant diligence should be taken to be sure one lives by ethical standards.

    • Oh that last line is good, Roze. Thanks for that.

      It would change your blog to start taking money for product or company stories. No matter how well you wrote it, it would qualify as advertorial. So maybe you should have a separate tab for that, and clearly mark it.

  29. Personally I have always turned down offers like this primarily because they have always been for products/places that are in complete contradiction to what I believe in (do PR companies ever do their homework?!) and secondly because I never think it’s financially worth it. But then I don’t blog as a business so I’ve made the decision not to clutter my site with adds or do promotional posts. But now if somebody offered me the trip of a lifetime…..well then I would be torn!

    • Then you’d have to decide if it was worth it to “clutter” your site with a promotional post. So what you’re saying is that it’s easy to turn down stuff that doesn’t pay well, but if you’re offered an all-expense paid trip, that might be different? Tempting, I know.

      I once came into a job as editor of a city magazine. There were two badly-paid people in editorial. To compensate, the former editor let them take all-expense trips that took place outside the geographical focus of the magazine (in other words, they had no reason to write about it). Then the magazine published a paragraph about the trip in the front of the book, to ensure that the companies got their press. I got the employees a raise and ended the practice.

  30. I would only do it according to my own rules. I reveiw restaurants and foodie hangouts a lot, but only if I already know it will be mostly positive. If it’s going to be negative, I just don’t write anything at all. Having said that, I wish more people WOULD offer me money – my ego would adore it!

  31. In print, you have publications held in high esteem and those considered rags. Each publication inhabits a niche and draws circulation based on their editorial viewpoint and standards. I think the same is true for blogs. Play loose and free with the sponsorships, and you’re going to lose some of your more discriminating readers. But if you’re making that editorial decision, maybe you’re not interested in those particular readers to begin with.

    Whether it is right or wrong to take sponsorships depends on the blogger’s goal. Maybe they are willing to sell their souls (and integrity) for free give aways and small amounts of cash, and ride that wave until it putters out. Or maybe they aspire to greater projects, where their higher standards will ultimately pay greater dividends, not necessarily monetarily, but in career enhancement.

    I’m more curious why PR flaks aren’t paying more attention to whom they approach. I’m guessing they’re throwing out a huge net. I wonder what their catch rate is?

    • Agreed. I’d like to raise the bar, hence this discussion.

      P.r. people must throw out a huge net, or else they have interns making up their list. I think they have lots of takers.

  32. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Heather Turner. Heather Turner said: RT @deirdrereid: Good discussion: Should Food Bloggers Write Sponsored Posts? (by @diannej) http://ow.ly/3tFBH they already have pay perpost [...]

  33. For almost four years, in my monthly newsletter (not a blog – yet!), I review a food/cooking/travel book that I have read. Never thought about getting paid to do it. I also recommend websites that I like. The sole purpose is to share with my readers books, products, information that I think they will enjoy and benefit from. I guess I would accept some sort of payment, ONLY if it was for something that I already loved and would mention anyway. And, of course, full disclosure at all times.

    • Okay. Have you considered what your readers would think if you made this change? Might it alter their opinion of you as a trust-worthy source? Or perhaps you think they wouldn’t notice.

  34. I think writing a sponsored post is totally up to the blogger. We have to right to do/write about whatever we want, and people have to option not to read it if it’s not for them. I am always in favor of passing an opportunity along to my readers when I can (like a giveaway) because I feel it’s the least I can do after all the support and love they have given me.

    I also think that most readers understand that a sponsored post is paid/compensated in some form or another. But if they knew how much running a blog costs (photography equipment, ingredients, props, ect) I think they would understand the need for a little income to sustain the blog.

    Perhaps this bakery contacted you because of your title “Will Work For Food”. It makes it sound like you would be open to compensation for a post. I am always willing to work for a donut or bagel, so I wish they would have emailed me instead.

    Happy Holidays!!

    • Agreed, bloggers can do whatever they want. I do giveaways too.

      And I’m not opposed to a little income. It’s when the income affects the editorial content of the blog that I become concerned. The consequences need to be thought through and addressed.

      I’m sure the p.r. contacted me because of the title of my blog. But she (or whomever) should have done a little more research on whether I actually do sponsored posts. (Except then we wouldn’t be having this discussion, which I am enjoying.)

  35. hahaha, I got the same email. I did not reply because I’m not a fan of the bakery and I wouldn’t be honest with myself if I wrote something I do not believe in even if the money sounds tempting.
    I rather write about something that I have paid for so I can weigh the money part vs. the product better. That is why I have put in my “About” page that I have stopped accepting products for review. The exception is cookbooks, I get sent review copies but I do not promise to review them them.

    • Small world, Veronica. I guess the question is how positive do you have to be, if you’re getting paid to post about a product?

  36. I have been paid to write posts for company sites / blogs, but to me that is totally different. I’ve been approached about these sponsored posts, but there is no way I would do them. They look phony, silly, and cross my personal boundaries. But to each their own!

    I have done reviews in the past of products sent to me, some might consider that sponsored, but they are unbiased (yes, some companies don’t like me anymore) and I’ve now opted to only do reviews of products I buy myself. It is much easier to simply do informational articles on new products also, which I have to do for my main site (not blog).

    Okay, sidetracked on that one, just my 2 cents!

    • I like the idea of posting to a company site or blog better than doing it on your own blog. Good for you for buying your own products to review, Alisa. Hope that’s working better for you.

  37. I do. I’m im partnership with Sam’s Club. I am not told what to say and I can turn down any and all things that come my way. And if I go do something for them and I didn’t like it, I tell them. And they pay me anyway, it just doesn’t go on the blog.
    I might even do the bread thing you are posting about. I always tell them that if I don’t like something they are going to hear about it. Same thing when I review a book. But they have the option of telling me not to post it.
    Being recently divorced, I’ll be blunt, I need the income. As it stands now I can’t actually stand how stuck up the food blogging community has become. If it’s not free trade this, or free range that, or free whatever crap then we are horrible. Sorry I have to buy my chocolate at Costco or Sam’s just like most of my readers.

    • Thanks for writing. I appreciate hearing from you, because your view is different from mine.

      May I assume that if you don’t like something or have mixed feelings about it, you don’t tell your readers? Because they would probably like to know. I suppose sponsored posts makes you choose between your readers and your sponsor. I wouldn’t want to make that choice.

  38. As a journalist, I found many of the responses here reassuring. What can I say? The concept of sponsored posts makes me uncomfortable, even if I don’t think I’ve been fed too much advertising content without realizing that that’s what it was. Most sponsored posts that I’ve read were pretty boring. I don’t include blogs in my blogroll if they run too many promotional posts, because I consider the blogroll a list of sites I’m recommending to my readers.

    And yes, I agree that bloggers — and non-journalists in general — frequently undervalue themselves and get too excited over peanuts. Sure, I’d like to make money doing something I love, but I expect better, more realistic opportunities will be in the form of food-writing related jobs, not a few dollars for featuring a product. I consider my blog a portfolio, not a money-maker.

    • And another thing I don’t recall seeing anyone bring up — as a journalist, if I were to start taking freebies, that could get me in trouble with my real job, the one that pays the bills.

    • I guess I haven’t read enough sponsored posts to know.

      Good luck to you on your expectation level. I certainly hope it happens, not just for you, but for all food bloggers.

  39. When a blog morphs into the equivalent of a press release, discriminating readers lose faith in the integrity of the writer and will quickly shy away from postings which show signs of becoming a mouth piece for commercial entities. The recommendation of a product by a non-sponsored blogger has more credibility than an advertorial. Any sponsorship or gift of a product that is reviewed should be declared. I am in agreement with your comments regarding impartial reviewing, and in the light of them I have an even stronger admiration for your ethical standpoint on this subject as a whole. It only increases my confidence in your writing.

    • Well thank you, Elwyn. Much appreciated. I have seen some people do an okay job with sponsored posts. Would I prefer that they not do them? Sure. But it’s their life.

  40. I am super late to this discussion because I have been travelling in Mexico and finally have a 5 hour train ride (into the Copper Canyon) to read the post and comments properly. Awesome travel reading!!! Some notes:

    1. It’s interesting, when I first started blogging I was amazed at how some blogs in the States got so many products offered to them but some of these just turned into product review after product review which I find boring. I do product reviews on my blog – I am now getting tons of products offered to me on a daily basis – but only review or write about those that fit with my cooking/ baking philosophy. I always disclose that the products were provided for free. I have had one meal comped in my short-lived career and I was honest about our experience and disclosed the good and the bad.

    2. Re: sponsored posts, I have done a few for Foodbuzz’s 24×24 but those tend to be your own ideas that you propose and FBZ chooses the ones they want. In this way, it’s never really a compromise of my “blog values” if you like.

    3. I write for Food Network Canada which is a paid gig and I have a link to my latest posts in the sidebar of my blog. Those posts are entirely my own with no direction whatsoever so it’s a perfect fit for my blog voice.

    4. I also was hired by Mushroom Channel last year to be a “featured contributor” which involved four compensated posts which I have cross-linked on my own blog too. I like this way of writing sponsored posts because as earlier commenters have said, it puts it in a separate place than your actual blog.

    5. I will participate in Kitchen Play for the first time In January because it is a Canadian product that I am happy to write about and recipe develop for. I turned down a Kitchen Play assignment recently because the product, whilst American, was actually something you can buy in Canada and it just felt wrong to promote a US item that is readily available at home. I felt good about that decision.

    6. The agreement I made with my sponsors for IFBC (a winery, the Ontario Tender Fruit association, Ontario Apples, California Walnuts, USA Rice) was that I would either test recipes using the products or develop recipes of my own using the ingredients and I feel very comfortable with that. The posts have stretched out from July and will continue into the new year with a couple more which I really like because my readers are not bombarded with post after sponsored post and these are “real food” ingredients that I would blog about anyway.

    I think the bottom line is that you have to be comfortable with what you are doing. Readers will see through it otherwise. I have had a very positive response to the sponsored posts I have done which means that my readers are interested and supportive. Couldn’t ask for more, right?

    • Hey Mardi, thanks for this long answer. It’s interesting to see what you do with sponsored posts. Re No. 6, I see what you mean about them being real foods rather than products. Do you say in every post that they are sponsored?

  41. This has never happened to me, and I can see why some people would be uncomfortable with the idea of a sponsored post but I can think of one exception to the rule, for me at least.

    Say I love a particular company, and they somehow find out that I love that company and ask to do a few sponsored posts, I think I would so it. Since it’s a company that I already like and agree with the principles of. I would make it clear at the start of the blog with the words “sponsored post”, I think.

    The style of my blog is from the 1st person, so I think I would make some reference to the fact that it had been sponsored. For instance, “the people at XX company got in touch to tell me about their new product etc etc.” I would then only go on to sing the praises of said product if the product was actually decent.

    I would tell the company that I’d be happy to do it provided that I would still be free to criticise the company should it be warranted outside the sponsored post. So if the next month they brought out a product that I thought was rubbish, I’d say so.

    I’d never write a sponsored post about something I hate, for instance, for a cheese company. Anybody that knows me would know that I was downright lying so I don’t think that has a place in something as personal as a blog.

    Just my two pence – can certainly see how quandries arise though.

    P.S. I come from a journalism background and work for a website. At my journalism school we were never told not to do advertorials, accept payment etc. I would do it in my professional life for lots of things, including things I wasn’t passionate about, especially in an arena that wasn’t so personal I think, i.e. a company hiring me to do some copy writing. Unfortunately, that’s more due to realism of needing money though. :)

    • Hi Amy, thanks for this long reply. So you are prepared to “sing the praises” of a product that is decent. Does decent mean spectacular? Because I would only sing the praises of a product I thought was spectacular. However, without balance, gushing reviews often sound like hype. So it would mean more to me if you could talk about shortcomings as well. However, since it’s not a review, that might not be kosher. So we’re back to hype, which I find difficult to read with interest.

      Most products do not provoke extreme love or hate responses. They’re somewhere between.

      • Hi Dianne,

        You’re welcome.

        By decent I mean something that I would want to use again, and regularly, or if it was a food item something that I thought tasted delicious. I wouldn’t go over the top though and say it was the best thing I had ever seen/used/tasted, that would obviously come across as utter garbage.

        You’re right that it wouldn’t seem balanced without any shortcomings, which is why I think if you pointed out that it was a sponsored post, people could read between the lines and would know that perhaps you weren’t saying everything – I know I certainly do when I read sponsored features.

        I guess what I’m saying at the end of the day is that although this has not happened to me yet, and I’m not sure it ever will, I don’t think I could say right now whether I would be able to turn it down. Whether I like it or not, money is money, and so long as I wasn’t endorsing a terrible product, I suspect I would feel alright with it.

        Maybe this is just my need to be nice about things though, for fear of offending someone :)

        Amy

        • Yes it would. And people would wonder how sincere you were, or if you could be bought for very little.

          I wouldn’t want readers to have to read between the lines, though. I would want to spell it all out for them.

          Yes, women are particularly guilty of wanting to make nice about everything to avoid offending anyone. Makes for a boring and insincere read.

  42. Actually the FTC now has guidelines that say blogger must disclose whether they’ve been compensated for any product that they review. I, too, have requests from companies to review their products and I’ve only accepted a few. I need to update my policies because I’ve become much pickier about the relevancy of the items I will write about. The blogs where they are just one review after the other drive me crazy. Seriously, what is the point? I have a dilemma though because when I first started my blog I did a ton of book reviews. Most of the books I got at the library and I just wrote about them because I do that in my “real” life (tell friends and family about books I love). I’ll admit though, the freebies I’ve received have been nice. I look at it as payment for my blog which is not that much to begin with!

    • Yes, bloggers tend to look at freebies as payment. But no one is giving you a free product because they want to reward you for your hard work. It’s because they want a positive product review. And you have to decide if that’s right for your readers.

      I don’t understand the point of endless sponsored posts. I saw a site like that recently and it seems to be targeted at sponsors, not readers. The only time readers come to the site is to register for free giveaways.

  43. Isn’t this illegal use of a copyrighted photo? If this were your creative work, you probably wouldn’t appreciate its appropriation without payment. Photographers eat too!

  44. I thought of this post the other day when I was on the IFBC site. I attended their conference in 2010 and there was a lively discussion about accepting freebies and writing about them. If I remember, the general consensus was that you shouldn’t do it. You were there, Dianne, am I remembering correctly?

    It turns out that for their 2013 conference, they’re doing exactly that – registration for the 2 1/2 day conference is $395 for non-bloggers, or bloggers who don’t agree to write about the conference, but registration is only $95 for bloggers who agree to write three posts about the conference. In essence, IFBC is paying bloggers $100 per post to write about, and promote their conference.

    This just rubs me the wrong way. If anyone else is reading this thread, what do you think? First, if you want me to write a sponsored post, it would cost you more than $100. Second, it’s just creepy. Obviously, they’re going to monitor the posts. What happens if you write a negative post as one or more of your three contractually obligated posts? Do they use your credit card on file and charge you full rate?

    • Yes, I saw that on the IFBC website. You are free to not participate if the offer is not for you. And you are free to write posts about the conference afterwards for no monetary reward, as many bloggers do (including me).

      Actually, it’s hard for me to comment, as I know both Sherry and Barnaby and have been compensated to appear at their conferences, so I am not fully objective. Better for me to just get my biases out there. I do think three posts on the subject is a little much. If I was a blog reader I would be suspicious — also whether the blogger will disclose something like “I’m writing this post because I get a discounted rate at the conference” — probably not!

      Re sponsored posts, my opinion about them is changing. I recently wrote a post about someone who does a great job on sponsored posts. Now I think that, when handled professionally and ethically, sponsored posts are okay in some situations.

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