Bloggers Behaving Badly

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Disappointed GuyAt a recent conference, I persuaded an executive to give me some dirt about working with food bloggers, as long as he could do so anonymously.

He’s been in the food business for 30 years, working for large food manufacturers, a worldwide commodity board, and a dried fruit company. Now he’s a consultant to six food companies, supplying post-ready recipes to bloggers, and inviting them on tours and to attend trade shows as media.

He might take 80 bloggers on a four-day tour on behalf of a company or board, for example. In addition to their expenses, he pays bloggers a retainer ranging from $500 to $1100 per day. He hopes they will blog about the event and products under the “goodwill and consumer awareness” philosophy. (He can’t prove that bloggers drive sales, compared to, say, putting a coupon in a magazine.)

But working with bloggers is trying, he said. Here’s a list of his complaints:

1. They screw up perfectly good recipes. Every recipe published by a food company has to be tested by professional testers. Some bloggers change recipes we’ve given them, and then they’re wrong and don’t work.

2. They steal recipes. Some bloggers take recipes from company websites and use them word-for-word on their own sites without giving credit. One blogger did it so often we had to issue a cease and desist order.

3. They post our photos without permission. Food company websites are aimed at consumers. Sometimes the company works with photographers who limit the rights to use a photo only on the site. When bloggers steal those photos, they don’t have the right to use them, and the photographer can go after them.

4. When we invite them on a tour, bloggers don’t care about the company’s story. Some bloggers don’t care about the history of the company and its growth, or the growth of a particular product. They don’t care about the story behind the product. As a result, some food companies don’t want to work with bloggers, which makes my job harder.

5. Agents drive up our expenses. The big bloggers have agents, and we have to go through them. Agents are driving up the fees 20 to 30 percent. Sought-after bloggers have become too expensive and have eliminated themselves from the competition.

What do you think of this list? Do bloggers need  a better understanding of how to work with companies and their brands? Or are his complaints unjustified?

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  1. says

    I’m sure his complaints are justified since he has clearly had some bad experiences in working with bloggers. I just hope he still holds out hope for the easy-to-work with bloggers out there who are genuinely interested in learning about the history behind a brand, and who still manage to manage themselves without an agent :)

    • diannejacob says

      I assume so, although I could quibble with some of his complaints. I’m sure he’s worked with lots of good bloggers too, but that wouldn’t make such a good post! Thanks Lori.

  2. says

    I think if a company is going to invite a blogger on a press trip, they should do some research into the people they are asking to come along. I know several press people/publicists, and they go back- often deeply – into the archives of blogs, to see what they have published before. (And also see if they have ever published anything negative about the product!) If people are screwing up recipes, republishing content without attribution, or aren’t people that are interested in the “history” or company’s story, then that should be pretty obvious from reading a few blog entries about previous trips.

    • diannejacob says

      Hmm, interesting point. Having once had a job inviting media people to events (a brief career change that didn’t last), I did have to make sure the people I chose would give me the best bang for the buck. But I also think there is a group of A list bloggers that everyone wants because of their numbers, and they probably aren’t always the best people for the job.

    • says

      Ditto what David said. I recently sat down with a friend who’s about to launch a kickstarter campaign and wanted advice about working with bloggers. I encouraged her to look through previous posts and get a good sense of who she’s pitching. Unfortunately, it’s hard for anyone to really vet for bad behavior behind the scenes but she can at least do this level of due diligence.

      • diannejacob says

        Good advice. I hope your friend also stays away from bloggers who veer too much to the other side, and write what amounts to advertorial.

  3. says

    This is pretty shocking stuff. As a food blogger, I rarely get invitations such as the writer describes. If I ever do, I cannot imagine posting a poorly edited and/or executed recipe, let alone stealing a recipe – outrageous.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, the behavior he gripes about it pretty unprofessional. But then again, food bloggers are supposed to change a recipe to add value to it. (Sadly, maybe they aren’t so clear on how to improve it.) Also, there’s a limit to how much they can write about a product and keep their readers’ interest.

  4. says

    Most professional people work hard to build a good reputation for themselves, I assume that blogging is no different and that those who cannot do the job required or make it difficult for brands to work with them will simply not be asked in future. The bigger issue probably is the damage it does to the reputation of bloggers and blogging as a whole.

    • diannejacob says

      Indeed Victoria. Perhaps the company has invited the wrong bloggers, and perhaps there are some princesses in the bunch who give others a bad name. It’s probably a mix of both. There are so many other bloggers waiting to take their place.

  5. says

    David hit the nail on the head; seems greater due diligence would weed out some bad eggs…and we’ve all seen them! Like any cross section of society; there are good and bad people in the food blogging world. I hope he gets a dose of good next because the bad ones are bad for all of us.

    • diannejacob says

      Well said. Also, bloggers are different from newspaper and magazine people who may have journalism backgrounds and have a different, more news-focused agenda, and maybe that factors into it too.

      • lmelsted says

        Exactly! Anyone with a journalism–or writing background for that matter–would never do any of those things. And savvy PR and conference people should do their homework on who they’re dealing with and work with them accordingly.

  6. says

    Mr. Anonymous might want to shoulder some responsibility for having a less than adequate vetting procedure. Food bloggers are a dime a dozen. The value might even be down to a dime for 10 dozen. However, reputable mature bloggers are there in plain view. The vast majority are unagented. If Mr. Anonymous and his crew are basing the value of the blogger strictly on site traffic, then they are making an uninformed decision.

    • diannejacob says

      I did not ask him about the factors on which he bases his invite. That would have been a good discussion too. Thankfully, as you say, blogging is maturing, and the bloggers who know how to work with businesses will do best in these situations.

      • says

        As a follow up, I have a few observations I’d like to share. I’m seeing several social media posts today from food bloggers who are attending a food event. A lot of these same bloggers attended a well publicized food event a few weeks ago. Not any of the bloggers are local to either venue. The event today is highlighting a product exclusive to the Deep South, yet, none of the aforementioned bloggers are Southern food bloggers. Neither of these events may be connected to Mr. Anonymous. I’m simply sharing this as an example of the inclusion of a few food bloggers to the exclusion of many food bloggers. Now, I’m really wondering if that exclusive group of bloggers attending both events have agents.

        • diannejacob says

          I guess the organizers are trying to reach a new audience outside of the Deep South? I dunno. It’s a head scratcher, for sure, Jackie. As for which food bloggers they invite, there is definitely an A list.

  7. says

    Yes, there are plenty of unprofessional bloggers, but there also are plenty of PR people who don’t do their homework before inviting bloggers to events and trips. The blogger scene where I live is fairly young, so companies are not used to work with bloggers yet. I routinely see bloggers invited to events when they have absolutely no relevance with the product/restaurant. Lots of bloggers still say yes to invitations just for the freebies they offer, and many get invited just because they’re friends with other bloggers or the PR people themselves, but they have no following to speak of, offering a very bad return on investment. These are the ones who give us a bad reputation. I wish companies looking to hire or invite bloggers would get educated on who they should invite and if/why they should work with bloggers (it’s not always the right strategy). That would save lots of grief to everyone!

    • diannejacob says

      Interesting points, Marie. I have received a few invitations from pr companies which show how clueless they are to invite me, so I know what you say happens occasionally. It is human nature, I suppose, to want freebies and to want to be invited somewhere if your friends are going, but it is not a professional business approach, and that is what counts in these situations.

  8. says

    I’m curious about #4; I wonder whether sometimes the bloggers do care about the story, but they see a different story than the company chose to highlight. I can see why that would be irritating to the companies, but is it unprofessional of bloggers to take the free trip and then write it up the way they see it?

    • diannejacob says

      I wondered about this too, Erica. It all comes down to your readers and what you think would be interesting to them, not what the company wants you to write. Still, these people probably figure that if they’re going to spend all this time and money on you, they want some copy about the company and product, and you can’t blame them for that.

      • says

        I think this is an interesting point and whether Mr A really understands why bloggers are perceived to add value i.e. an honest, unbiased opinion trusted by their readers. If a blogger has signed a paid for contract, and it clearly specifies they have to say a, b and c then surely there is comeback (from both sides).

        • diannejacob says

          I don’t see how their opinions can be unbiased, since in his case he has paid for them. But in general, consultants like him find that they don’t know what they’re going to get in a blog post. They have to manage their clients’ expectations. They have a better idea of what they’re going to get from traditional media, if they do write a story, because it is more news-driven and less personal.

  9. says

    I’m sure his points are valid. Regarding the media trips, from what I can tell on social media, it’s not unusual to see the same 10-15 bloggers at a different farm, facility or event week after week. Based on the tweets and photos, I get the sense that some of them take these trips for granted or simply take it as a paid vacation amongst their friends. There’s a time to listen to a company’s story and a time to take a silly group selfie, but I think for many that line has become blurred.

    I agree that more research and fact-checking is needed for recipe stealing, photos and behaviour. It’s not that difficult as it’s all pretty much out there. But from what I understand, once you make it on “THE LIST” you’ll be invited to everything. With that said, I would hazard to say it’s a small group making the majority look bad. Sounds like he needs to make a new list.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, I’ve seen posts by the people on this A-List. I will never forget the one that seemed to be all about palling around with other A-list people and being cool enough to be invited! That was pretty juvenile. On the other hand, some big bloggers want to know who else is going before they’ll commit, so having cool people on the tour is definitely a plus.

      None of this sounds like good business sense, though, and that should be the bottom line for these companies, and for food bloggers who want to work with brands.

  10. says

    I really think it is up to a professional within the company to vet each blogger and read their blog thoroughly. I have seen bloggers with huge followings (thus the draw, obviously) be invited on certain company tours that had me scratching my head, wondering what beyond the traffic could have made the company choose this particular blogger; it made no sense, there seemed no sensible connection. Vetting the blogger better might very well avoid many of the problems he cites. I mean, reading a blog should give an idea whether or not a blogger will be “interested in the company’s story,” what kind of recipes they post, etc.

    The second thing is… his complaints make me wonder what the contract and agreement between a company and a blogger is. Is it written and signed? Is it specific what can and cannot, should and should not be done?

    I am rather surprised that “he pays bloggers a retainer ranging from $500 to $1100 per day.” Yet… “He hopes they will blog about the event and products under the “goodwill and consumer awareness” Only hopes? It seems to me that the relationship is rather unclear. Maybe I am wrong.

    I am a blogger who transformed her blogging experience into a writing career. I spent an inordinate amount of time and research understanding what is expected of me as a professional. I know that some bloggers – like Lori of Recipe Girl – do the same. Others, not so much. Why isn’t this a usual practice? But again, if a company is expecting some kind of professional relationship with a blogger, shouldn’t it be more… professional? And starting with the recruiting, for they are indeed recruiting?

    There are a lot of bloggers willing to jump at opportunities like those his company offers – money, trips, etc – and why not? But many are young, many are inexperienced and many don’t understand professionalism or what a work relationship involves. I feel very bad for him, but as a professional I would think he would know a better way to go about working with bloggers that would make for a more satisfying, mutually beneficial relationship.

    • diannejacob says

      Jamie, to answer your comments:

      Definitely, the pr people should be doing their research. If they pick the wrong bloggers, it’s hard to have sympathy.

      I think I asked him if he makes bloggers sign a contract and he said no. But of course, many other companies do, and people make bloggers promise X number of posts, tweets, Facebook mentions, etc. He can’t force someone to post without a contract.

      Yes, there are professional ways to handle this situation. It appears to be a learning experience on both sides, apparently!

      • says

        I haven’t read through the rest of the comments yet, but as a journalist who also has a blog, I am quite frankly flabbergasted that this company is paying those huge daily retainers to the bloggers. To me they are basically paying for advertising. How many of the bloggers disclose that they were paid to write about the company? How could you trust any of their judgement? If the product being flogged actually isn’t very good, would they ever mention that in their posts?

        • diannejacob says

          I too did had not heard about retainers, Don, but then I am not the kind of blogger who is asked on these kinds of trips. I wonder too how open the bloggers were about disclosing their arrangements. Typically they say something like: “XX company sponsored this trip, but the opinions in this blog post are my own.” Re trusting a blogger’s judgement, it’s a good question about whether bloggers promote products they don’t like, for pay. I hope the answer is: some do, but most don’t.

    • says

      Kudos to you for your professionalism, Jamie! It’s clearly paid off. Certainly, there are many who are doing just what you have done. Perhaps at the end of the day it just has to do with what kind of scruples a person has–regardless, almost, of his or her professional, and how he or she came to food blogging.

  11. j gold says

    I realize I’m coming from a privileged position, but I find even the idea of something like post-ready recipes a bit appalling. It took so, so long to scrub off the stench of pay-to-play that had clung to food writing; to establish it as a form equal to art writing or literary criticism. Any time a writer accepts so much as a free bag of chips, his or her integrity is compromised. Independence and honesty are vital to us. The last thing a writer should worry about is the opinion of the institution he or she is writing about. If a pointed post displeases its subject, it may well be doing its job.

    • diannejacob says

      Hello Jonathan! Nice to hear from you.

      Indeed, it is near impossible to write honestly if you take money and payment-in-kind from food manufacturers and boards. I have tried to see it from the bloggers’ point of view, where they want to earn a living in new ways, but coming from a journalism background, I’m troubled by it.

      I was hoping someone would say “too bad” to Mr. Anonymous’s gripe that food bloggers don’t write enough about the company or back story, so thank you.

      • says

        I also found the premise kind of odd – after all, I write for myself and for my audience; I can’t find a good reason to take someone up on this kind of offer. It bothers me in the same way those “articles” in food magazines that are really ads bother me. I have a strict policy of keeping advertising and content completely separate on my blog and only write about products if I actually use them myself.

        That said, there is no excuse for stealing someone else’s work, even if it’s the work of a large corporation – and we all know it happens, as it’s happened to many of us!

        • diannejacob says

          I am not sure either why these trips are so appealing, other than feeling that you are important or you’ve made it. It’s not like there’s that much money to be made.

  12. says

    I think his complaints are valid, but I think most of them can be attributed to his team pursuing the wrong bloggers. With more careful thought, with phone calls to get to know the blogger and develop a relationship, and even spending 20-30% more to work with an agented blogger, he might have better success than working with a slew of smaller, less reliable and less experienced bloggers.

    1) Many inexperienced bloggers screw up recipes all the time and don’t bother testing them. They want to make them their own.

    2) Recipes are swiped all the time. Welcome to the club. Unless it’s a scraper site, most small bloggers have no idea what they’re doing is wrong.

    3) See #2.

    4) If bloggers don’t care about your story, your team is pursuing the wrong bloggers. Or your team needs to sell the story to the bloggers, so they can sell it to the readers. This is where relationship building is important.

    5) High profile bloggers command their worth for a reason. If they’d priced themselves out of the game, they wouldn’t need an agent to represent them. You’re likely to get better results from a handful of high profile bloggers who know what they’re doing than working with a larger number of mid-tier bloggers who don’t know how to tell a brand’s story.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Jenny, thanks for commenting. To your comments:

      Yes, most bloggers don’t test. But as a result, food bloggers don’t have a great reputation when it comes to recipes that work.

      Agreed that many bloggers swipe recipes, so why should his be exempt? But it’s still a valid complaint.

      I don’t think bloggers should care about the company story, unless it is relevant to what they choose to write.

      Re high profile bloggers, I suppose they are worth it, if he can afford it. For me the most important issues are whether they’re writing advertorial, and whether they disclose that they were compensated.

  13. says

    Yes, what Jamie and Jonathan said! I’m a little shocked by the comments along the lines of “oh dear, he’s right, these bad bloggers are making us look bad.” Using recipes and photos without permission is one thing — I’d be very surprised if a company chooses to work with people who “steal” their content, and if the company does choose to work with these people nonetheless, that may come across almost as tacit permission to republish said “stolen” content.

    But moving on to his complaints that bloggers alter recipes, miss the company’s “story” and have agent fees — these sound like his gripes, not legitimate criticism of bloggers. Unless the bloggers have signed contracts stating their obligations, they’re free to alter recipes as they see fit, spend press trips taking selfies and doing whatever else they want, regardless of whether it serves the company. Given his interests, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he finds this behavior inconvenient, but bloggers are independent agents, not paid members of his PR team.

    Anyone who considers bloggers “unprofessional” for falling afoul of the second list of complaints might want to think some more about what exactly a blogger’s relationship with a PR rep should be.

    • diannejacob says

      I suspect Mr. Anonymous does not invite these types of bloggers on fancy press trips.

      Re your other comments, I like your attitude! I know that some pr people think of forthcoming blogger content as wild cards. That is correct. They are free to write whatever they like. Unless, of course, they want more trips and work. Then we are talking about potentially compromising their values.

  14. says

    Crossover from travel here, which is suffering many of the same ills. I could repeat what’s said in the comments on due diligence, but no need. Two points I would like to make, though:

    Hosts often think that they’re the story, and sometimes, it’s just not that interesting. They’re all, “Hey, we up-cycle all used t-shirts in to shopping bags!” or some such thing, and maybe they’re ugly or boring or ho-hum, not relevant to my readership. Mind you, if you’re paying for content, seems like you could write “Cover the damn company” into the contract and be done with that objection.

    I remained shocked — naively so, it seems — by retainers and day rates and that kind of thing. That’s not journalism, it’s pay for play, and again, hey, write your coverage requirements into the contract, execs. It’s a business transaction. Saying it’s money for “goodwill and consumer awareness,” well, that sounds like someone’s being scammed.

    I’m totally willing to throw bloggers under the bus, but this sounds like a lousy investment on his part, one easily rectified with strict requirements for the folks taking his money. I feel like lack of clarity around what he’s paying for is causing his issues, not bad behavior from bloggers.

    • diannejacob says

      Interesting analysis, Pam. I wonder if Mr. Anonymous would get the people he wanted for his trips if he laid out in a contract that they had to cover the company.

      I had never heard of these retainers either. Usually bloggers are flattered enough to be given all expenses, swag and accommodation.

      Re “goodwill and consumer awareness” his point is that a blog post is not trackable to increases in product sales the same way that a coupon is if it offered $.50 off, which sounds logical to me. However, I’m sure he has to show some kind of metrics or the companies would stop hiring him to find bloggers!

  15. says

    Wow. This is interesting. I have never had one of these offers, but I am also represented by an agent. Maybe that is why? LOL! But I will tell you, even with an agent, I’m sure my fees are less than a lot of bloggers without an agent. Everyone is different. I feel bad that bloggers are lumped together as one and sound hard to work with. Each blog has different audiences, talents and experiences. Each blogger works differently. I would think if brands did their research to find new people to work with, they would find a wide variety of experienced bloggers who talk about food that would do a fabulous job. There are plenty of lifestyle and parent blogs that post recipes and talk about food, but not considered a “food blog”. Yes, it makes the job harder, but to find good people to work with… sometimes that’s what it takes. And maybe that is why we see the same bloggers doing trips over and over together? It might just be easier to work with people you have worked with in the past? But you would think if they were that bad, they wouldn’t get asked back. If anyone needs references on nice talented bloggers who talk about yummy food, let me know! :-)

    • diannejacob says

      What kind of agent, Amy? You’re not talking about a literary agent, right? I’m curious.

      I’m curious as to why your agent would take you on if your fees are still less than other bloggers who have no agent.

      Certainly not all bloggers are the same. I’m sure my anonymous griper also has lots of good things to say about food bloggers too, but I noticed in a seminar I was leading that he was griping, so I gave him the chance to speak out.

      • says

        I have the kind of agent that anonymous talks about. One who represents bloggers. Ad networks like FM, BlogHer and Media Groups do the same thing, taking a percentage of the fee they get bloggers for a social media campaign. I guess they are considered agents as well. Most bloggers can get in a media group a hire a PR or marketing pro to represent them. We are all different though, that is what I meant to convey in my comment. Some might charge a lot more or a lot less based on many aspects of their business such as traffic, experience, reputation, etc. I am just saying that I know bloggers who charge a lot more than I do even when the agent is involved in my campaigns. I just thought that was a silly thing to complain about to blame it on agents making prices go up. I’m sure after a while the bloggers that anonymous talks to have raised their prices after years of experience. That might be the case more than an agent’s fee.

  16. says

    It’s interesting to hear this feedback from the other side. Bloggers lifting content would be a huge red flag to a brand, surely they wouldn’t then consider working with them?
    I’m intrigued by the agents being a turn off as the source is an agent for a brand too. While I’m a long way off retaining an agent, I can see how it would be necessary for a big blog.

    • diannejacob says

      Part of Mr. Anonymous’s job is to distribute recipes to the media, so that is different that inviting bloggers on trips. Definitely, he would not invite bloggers who rip off the company’s recipes.

      Re agents, I have heard some bloggers say they retain one, so it’s been interesting to find out more.

  17. says

    Another good discussion, Diane. As you know, coming from a journalism background, I take a similar view to Jonathan’s. However, I don’t think bloggers can/should be equated with journalists. Mr Company Man is paying people to toe the line. Tit for tat, so to speak. If I’m paying someone $500 (or more) a day, plus expenses, I’d want my money’s worth. Companies should be clear about what they expect in exchange for these junkets. As Jamie said, his problem seems to be one of vetting. On the other hand, bloggers should be clear about their intentions and motivations. I’m not sure I understand Liz’s notion that bloggers are ‘independent agents.’ Taking money from a company and traveling at its expense kind of negates the ‘independent’ part of that. It’s the same with those disclaimers stating (to paraphrase many blogs) “I got paid to come to the Brand X ‘summit’ and write this post and plug this product but MY OPINIONS ARE MY OWN.” Come on.

    • diannejacob says

      So you don’t believe that when bloggers say their opinions are their own, Domenica? I can’t say I blame you. If I was wined and dined and given gifts, I’d have a more favorable view of a company and their products than before I left. But does that mean that a blogger should write advertorial? No.

    • says

      Great response, Domenica. But I think that when a blogger accepts a trip, gifts and money, their motivations and intentions are pretty obvious (if I understand what you mean). It seems to me that they are, in most cases, going to write something positive no matter their experience. I have heard people say negative things about something yet on their blog it was all sunshine and roses. Blogging as a business is blogging as a business and thus the “independence” part is heavily weighed down by wanting to earn money and create good relationships with brands, in most cases. I, too, am a cynic.

  18. says

    I think–and this has sort of been danced around a little bit here, with the pay-for-pay comment–that part of this problem stems from the fact that many bloggers are new to the game and not professional writers. Journalists who come to blogging, I’ve found, are often very different in their approach than people who decide they want to start a blog. And yes, the PR agencies and companies are looking at this as something like the Wild West; we can view this through the lens of the old separation of church and state between edit and advertising, but that’s been eroding for years and may not be a useful paradigm for blogging. (Another topic!) This may rankle some, but in my experience with looking for recipes online, you start to see the same recipes recycled over and over again in the land of endless blogs, with no attribution to the source or even a note about “adapted from.” Furthermore, they often don’t work. It seems that there’s a stunning lack of professionalism among some bloggers–just like humans in general, I suppose. The company should have done a little more research, and perhaps been a bit more clear. After years of working with Frommers, I still get invited on press trips in a travel-food capacity, but I almost always have to have an assignment letter. I haven’t quite navigated the world of just doing it for my own site yet; I don’t know that I have the metrics to back up what a company would want in order to justify the expense on their end. Interesting post, Dianne, thanks!

    • diannejacob says

      Agreed that bloggers don’t approach food companies the way a journalist would. Many are honored to be invited and want to bend over backwards in return. We see it as whether it’s a good investment of time, and whether a good story will come out of it, either for blog or maybe for freelancing opportunities.

      Re recipes, yes I see the same ones over and over too, with no attribution. It’s not a professional way to work, and one of the goals of this blog is to educate.

      Travel trips seem to work a little differently. You need that assignment letter from a publication; whereas for food companies, it’s enough to reach the blogger’s readers.

  19. says

    If I may veer off the path a bit, it never occurred to me that bloggers would have agents. I guess once they become break-out successes and get cookbook deals, consulting gigs, shows, etc., they would need agents. But the funny thing is, once a blogger crosses that threshold, I no longer consider them bloggers but, rather, cookbook authors or whatever who maintain blogs. Very interesting

    • diannejacob says

      My sense is that some food bloggers get a lot of offers and they need an agent to sift through them and find the best ones, then negotiate the terms. Nice to be in that position!

      One of the great things about being a blogger is that if you are successful, you can branch out in all kinds of directions: cookbooks, pop-up stores, restaurants, consulting, etc. But they’re still blogging, so I’m not sure why you don’t see them as bloggers.

  20. says

    Mr. Anonymous has chosen to do business with people whose favor he can buy; perhaps if he set different standards he would be happier with the behavior of the writers he invites. This in no way excuses ‘bad’ behavior, but he IS encouraging #4 on his list.
    If I were offered a trip, product or *gasp* cash in exchange for the promise to write, the answer is, for me, simply and always: No. I am not a copywriter working for an ad agency. I am a journalist, but, like all of us, one who lives in a changing environment. The standards of a decade ago, when we couldn’t accept any free product, go on press trips, etc, have changed.
    I accept product and go on trips– but only after making it clear that I make no promises in exchange for goods or services. The company takes a risk on me– and I take a risk by taking time out of my schedule to go on the press trip or evaluate the product. I go on a press trip if I think there is an interesting story in it; I accept product if I think I will learn something that is of value to my readers. And when I write about a trip or product given to me, I make it clear, as in “The folks at Gentle Tooth Hard Candies sent me a box of their Mocha Cubes…”
    I like to think the best bloggers communicate to their audience when they do have a mutual relationship with whomever they are writing about.
    As for his gripe about the stealing of recipes and images, I do not think that is part of the same argument about working with bloggers, is it? I assume the thieves are not the bloggers with whom he is dong business, but other bloggers out there. If that is the case, these are two different conversations: issues he has working with bloggers and issues he has with the wide world of bloggers in general.
    One final comment: he complains about bloggers screwing up his recipes, and he complains about bloggers stealing his recipes. The ones who ‘screw up” the recipes do so in an attempt to make them their own and not steal, I presume. Perhaps if he wants bloggers to create all new recipes using his product, he could make that a very fair and ethical exchange, as in “I’d like you to come on this trip. In exchange, I expect you to develop a recipe using my product which you may use– and so may I.” The operative word, of course, is “may” which does not obligate either the blogger to write about the company/product nor the company to use the bloggers ‘screwed up’ recipe.

    • diannejacob says

      Hello Marge! Usually you are a lurker but I see this post has brought out your ire. Wonderful to hear from you.

      I appreciate that you call yourself a journalist and you are clear on why you are taking the trip: It’s for your readers, to discover something they’d like to know about. Also that you do accept products and trips, but you have rules for yourself. Bloggers need to be more clear on this stuff.

      The “stealing recipes” issue is different from the trips, yes. Part of his job is to disseminate recipes to bloggers. Typically these companies or boards hire chefs to create recipes, and then recipe developers to fix them for a consumer audience. And then testers to make sure they work. Or maybe those last two people are the same. He sent me a book of recipes as an example.

  21. says

    Oh Wow, that is amazing. This may sound cliche, but I would enjoy the opportunity to do something like that. I love hearing the stories behind the product and company and I would never use another’s photo without premission, but then again I take my own. So to answer your question, it would appear education is definitely in order… Sheesh. :)

    • diannejacob says

      Some pr people are good at crafting the story behind the company and products, and making it palatable to the media. It’s still up to you to figure out what your readers want to know. And yes, no excuse to take other people’s photos.

  22. says

    I can certainly see both sides to this story, and do have sympathy at times for PR. I agree with some of the comments that they should do their ground work to get the most “bang for their buck” as you say Dianne, but with the amount of bloggers out there today, finding those perfect fits could be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

    I worked with one company on an ambassador program and the woman running it definitely did her research. Even so, it took a lot of trial and error to find that perfect team. In the end, it was really a great bunch, but in the beginning, there were many that just didn’t care about the brand itself.

    If you are going to work with brands, I feel it is the responsibility of the blogger to a) believe in that brand and want to genuinely learn about it and recommend it (even being a customer!) and b) find out upfront what the company is looking for and how they can help them. It always has to be thought of as a mutually beneficial relationship – not just a check!

    • diannejacob says

      I can see how you’d be a great fit for a brand, Alisa, with that kind of attitude. I do believe in using the product yourself rather than just endorsing it, and having it be a mutually beneficial relationship. For me, what’s paramount is having a trustworthy relationship with your readers, and being transparent with them about your paid relationships.

  23. says

    I don’t understand his gripe about changing recipes and stealing them. He doesn’t want them changed, but he doesn’t want bloggers to “steal” or use them as they are either. Can’t have it both ways. I think the better option is to keep their recipes and allow bloggers to develop their own recipes using the company product.

    This would also naturally allow for bloggers to talk about the company history a bit if it is appropriate to talking about the product. The truth is, company history is often dull, drab and boring. Not something most readers would enjoy reading about. If there is an interesting and specific point about the company’s history that actually applies to my readers, then I’d be more likely to talk about it. But droning on about company history just isn’t usually relevant to what I’m writing.

    I’ve only been offered one of these trips and I did not go. But when the offer was made, there was no expectation stated as to what the company wanted from me. I was under the impression that I could write whatever I wanted. If the company had presented me with a contract stating what was expected of me in return for the trip, it would have made a big difference. I think Mr Anonymous needs to reevaluate what it is he is expecting out of working with bloggers.

    When he says “He can’t prove that bloggers drive sales, compared to, say, putting a coupon in a magazine”, that makes me question what research the company is doing on the bloggers they are working with in the first place. Most companies know everything about the results of their advertising. They aren’t shooting in the dark.

    Yes, there are some folks out there who will always be unprofessional. That applies to any industry and blogging is no exception. But if you are going to work with bloggers as a whole, you have to understand who you are working with and make your expectations clear. And you certainly need to know if it’s an effective means of advertising for your company. Otherwise, of course you’re going to be losing money.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks for this long comment, Tiffany. To answer you:

      I think he wants bloggers to use the recipes as is and add a link to the company or board.

      Re the company or product story, I agree.

      I don’t think he makes bloggers sign a contract stating how many blog posts they will write, what they will tweet about etc. That is a good thing!

      Re results of blogging, yes, his clients can see which bloggers wrote posts and promoted on social media, but they can’t make a direct correlation to a rise in product sales because of that. Coupons have codes that show where they came from, so companies can track whether placing a coupon in a circular or online led to direct sales of a product. For example, can Kitchen-Aid state categorically that sales have risen because the Pioneer Woman gives them away from time to time? I think not.

      Re whether companies should work with bloggers, they do understand that some bloggers have tremendous reach and influence, and they want to get to that blogger’s readers. But it’s still an experiment at this stage.

          • says

            Oh, absolutely. I’m just saying that he’s frustrated and trusting in “good will” to get what he wants. Or so it seems to me. If he wants something else, he needs to communicate that. There are always bloggers willing to do that sort of thing. I’m not saying it’s right, but it might be more of what he wants in the end.

  24. says

    Wow, what an eye-opener. I cringed! I’m with Jamie and Domenica here and agree with their insights. I can’t believe people can be so unprofessional and unethical. Just curious, is this ‘bloggers’ behavior’ within the USA ? Or do brands see this bad behavior in other countries ? As always, thanks for providing another great post, Dianne.

  25. says

    Hi Dianne! The “fit” is so important. I recently accepted my first sponsored post arrangement – and yes, of course it will be very clear within the site what is going on. I will be reviewing classes from and the reason I agreed to is because of the “fit”. Bakepedia is educational and obviously focuses on baking and desserts. The classes have the same focus and are done with a very high level of professionalism – with awesome teachers like Alice Medrich! I checked them out as much as they checked us out. This was paramount from both sides. I am betting on the fact that because we will be transparent – and also that I have a 29 year long reputation – that readers will trust that what I am saying is truly my opinion. It is that balance. Baking and desserts are my passion and yet they are also my business. In order for the two to co-mingle successfully, one has to be smart and truthful.

    • diannejacob says

      It makes sense that you want to write about a company whose products you admire, Dede. And I’m sure that you will disclose that it is a sponsored post. But from a reader standpoint, since you are getting paid to promote, I would be more skeptical of your opinions than if you just wrote about how much you liked Alice Medrich’s online classes in a normal post. You can’t blame me for that.

  26. says

    I agree with all of the points listed– as both a food blogger, TV host and blogger matchmaker for big brands, I have worked with great bloggers and not so great bloggers. I think the truth is, that each blogger has to be taken at face value, before hiring a blogger (as in all streams of commerce) they should be vetted. A great blogger is not hard to find, all one needs to do is look at their social media and previous blog posts to discover how they will fit with the promotion.

    On the subject of tours… that is a wide open subject. Tours, from a client POV, are costly and they except big returns for no pay which is the norm in press junkets, but as a featured member of the press, most press are paid by the company they write for; as the case of the blogger, they are essentially working for free with the hopes of establishing a paid relationship with the brand.

    I love the dialog this started, it is a subject that is often at the front of each client discussion I enter. The bottom line is that all bloggers are not created equally, and less than 5% of bloggers work full time as content creators, the other 95% are part timers striving to build something.

    As the food blogging community grows, so too do the industry standards. Like all areas of commerce, eventually there will be a common vetting process for bloggers, a shared method of building business and creating business relationships — and unless, like me, you come from a business background, that process is learned on the job.

    I would love to see more food blogging conferences address best practice, business skills and client relationship tips. Likewise, I would like to see more brands creating more clear, defined expectations from bloggers — when people know what is expected of them, they often deliver.

    • diannejacob says

      Excellent, Coryanne. Definitely, this subject is evolving. Since so many bloggers write as a hobby, there is much less awareness of business practices. Suggest yourself as a panelist for next years’ blogging conferences, please. You can enliven the conversation.

  27. says

    I’m usually a lurker, seldom a commenter. But wow! This post really stirred it up. The behavior your anonymous interviewee describes would be unprofessional in any line of work, especially the taking of content without credit. I might pick apart the recipe adaptation comment though. One person’s idea of a “perfectly good” recipe isn’t necessarily another’s.

    I’d like to vent my frustrations with PR people behaving badly, some of which is highlighted in previous comments (note: I worked in PR for more than a decade!):

    1. They send pitches for products completely irrelevant to me or my audience.
    I write about FOOD. What makes them think I’d like to receive a sample of a handbag?

    2. They don’t bother to proofread their pitches. Every time I get a pitch that says “Dear [Name]” (yes, that happens!) my jaw drops. If you can’t get the first line right, I’m definitely not reading on to see what else you have to say.

    3. They jam up my inbox. I understand that some folks represent multiple clients, sure. But several pitches from one person in one day? Too much. Pick and choose. Be judicious.

    Stepping off my soapbox now. Thanks for another terrific post, Dianne!

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Alicia, nice to have a comment from a lurker.

      Good point about the recipes, if someone really has changed them for the better.

      Re PR people behaving badly, I’ve seen lots of posts on that, and your complaints are common (although I don’t get multiple pitches per day). I enjoy having so many emails to delete. It makes me feel so effective! (kidding.)

      I was also in PR briefly, as the vp of a firm in LA, when I momentarily decided I’d like to try the other side.

  28. Yvette {Muy Bueno} says

    Blogging is a business for some and a hobby for others. It’s up to the company to be sure they are collaborating with bloggers who are going to be professional and take on a project seriously.

    I do think bloggers need a better understanding of how to work with companies and their brands, but I also think that brands need to do their homework too.

    Great topic!

    Another topic idea for you: How do we find an agent? Would love one 😉

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, that is a fair comment, Yvette. And yes, they do need education on this subject. I might go back to Mr. Anonymous to get some tips.

      Re finding an agent, ask around. There is a comment from a blogger who has an agent. She’s fair game!

  29. says

    It is a little unfair to generalize here. There are a lot of bloggers who work very hard to develop a recipe, take appealing photographs and share it on their blogs. In every field there are some people who are dishonest, I blame him for not doing his homework. If he had one such experience, I understand, but if all of them were dishonest and unprofessional, clearly he is not doing his job of picking the right bloggers. It’s not just about numbers, (inviting bloggers with high traffic) it’s about brand and personality (of the blog) match. Ultimately, marketing is not just sales and numbers , it’s about building a brand and relationship with your customer and the people who represent the brand. If you are asking a turtle to fly, you are clearly setting him up to fail.

    • diannejacob says

      Mr. Anonymous does not think all bloggers are dishonest and unprofessional. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. I asked for a list of his complaints.

      I agree that it’s not a good strategy to go after only bloggers with high traffic. There are not very many of them, and they can afford to be selective.

  30. says

    When you take out the details, this almost sounds like a case of two people just starting to date, giving and taking, not knowing what to expect and then getting frustrated because of unmet needs and wants. :-)

    Kidding aside, it seems there is a huge disconnect between the company and the bloggers, and I honestly would blame the company IF they have not done their homework and are executing poorly-planned campaigns that have no direction and no contracts that include expectations from both parties. I know I’m taking this as black and white, but let’s face it–this is a business relationship. They should know that drafting contracts is essential if they want something specific in return. If not, then they only have themselves to blame. Issues #1 and #4 wouldn’t be problems at all. Bloggers would hopefully “behave” as expected, and they will get compensated as stated in their agreement.

    With #2 and #3 — are the bloggers they’re working with do this, or are they referring to other bloggers who take their content? If it’s the former, they should include this in their contract and/or they should do their research before working with them. These happen in almost every industry and just have to be dealt with depending on how much time and resource they want to allot to them. They’re wrong and a lot of us don’t do it, but it happens. And as with any other industry, having a few bad ones doesn’t mean everyone is the same.

    When it comes to agents — is it wrong? No. It’s their right to be represented if that’s what they want. As such, it’s also the company’s right to refuse working with them as well. Just like a company, they’re allowed to grow.

    I seldom work with brands or companies for my blog, given that I haven’t had much time to dedicate to it. Fortunately, the few companies that have reached out have more-or-less clearly stated what they expect of the transaction (either in kind or in cash), and if not, I usually tell them what I can do from my end.

    I think the important thing to take from this is that in any relationship it’s important to have clear communication and contracts — even in personal relationships, there is an understanding of expectations.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, this is what many of the commenters have said, and I suppose I should have expected it. It’s THEIR fault. It’s not OUR fault! We are human, after all.

      Of course both sides are at fault, and not at fault at all. This “working with bloggers” stuff is new territory for everyone, and there are people who can make the leap well on both sides, and people who can’t.

      I’m actually pleased that he does not require a signed contract. That gives the bloggers the right to write whatever they like. When I did PR all I could control was inviting the right people and giving them the right information. It might lead to a cover story, or it might lead to nothing. Fortunately, most of time we got some press, and the clients were satisfied. It was more about managing the client’s expectations. So I agree about the communications part.

      Re using recipes with no credit, his job includes disseminating recipes to bloggers. They are not necessarily the same bloggers he invites on trips.

      Re using agents, yes, more power to the bloggers. If they can demand more and get it, I say good for them, as long as they are not crossing any ethical lines.

  31. dotti cahill says

    i an understand his position on bloggers wsp those out for the $$$only and do not care about the other stuff

  32. says

    Aside from the “stealing recipes and/or photos”, I’m not entirely sure what it is this fellow is complaining about. If I were invited on one of his tours, I would make it clear from the outset that the company should expect complete honesty. There is no way that I would accept if I thought that I had to write only the things that they wanted to hear. (Perhaps this is why I am not invited.)

    As for changing a “post-ready recipe”, give me a break. How does he know what is post-ready in other people’s kitchens? That’s ridiculous. Unless the bloggers are being paid to test the recipes to ensure they’re correct, they should be able to do and say whatever they want.

    I certainly have no desire to read the kind of sycophantic blog that Mr.A seems to want. I may be misreading between the lines but it seems that this fellow doesn’t really understand exactly what a food blog is. In spite of the retainers being paid to the bloggers, he appears to be wanting to get something for nothing.

    • diannejacob says

      He definitely wants something, but it is not for nothing if he is paying lavish blogger expenses and a retainer on top of it. The question is what should he get? I like your response.

      Re changing recipes, I suppose it frustrates him that the company has paid professionals to create a recipe, and then a blogger changes it. But as you say, bloggers can do what they want with it on their own blogs.

      • says

        Allow me to revise… yes, he is paying but lavish blogger expenses and retainer, but what he doesn’t seem to understand is that by paying them, he is not paying them to write advertising for him (aside from perhaps expecting to have whatever product it is named).

        It still seems that he is expecting something for nothing. Because I suspect that the lavish fees paid to bloggers are a drop in the bucket of the complete advertising budget as well as being a fraction of the amount that would be paid to an advertising company to disseminate the product name to such a wide and diverse audience.

        I’m thinking that the main complaint is that he doesn’t like that he has zero control over what the bloggers write.

        (Heh. He should be reminded that negative advertising is sometimes beneficial too.)

        • diannejacob says

          Good point. Bloggers are cheap compared to advertising.

          And that is probably the complaint of everyone who works with bloggers (the good ones, anyway) that they cannot control what bloggers write.

  33. says

    I’m sure that his complaints are justified, because to have stated them means that he was hurt by those actions at one point or another. However, it’s sad that a few spoiled apples are ruining the entire crop.
    There are, however, plenty of bloggers that fit into the category that I do…We’re more than excited and HONORED to be ambassadors for brands and companies that we believe in, we don’t take for granted the fact that it’s an experience that doesn’t come along every day, and we also understand that there are mutual benefits to working together. We wouldn’t dream of stealing the work from a brand’s site, because we get equally frustrated and angry when our work is stolen from our site. We all (brands and bloggers) work long, hard hours to develop a product, so marketing it through the most professional channels possible is the ultimate goal.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, there are plenty of people who want to take their place. You’ve made a great sales pitch for the product side. Now you have to convince your readers that you’re doing the right thing, that they should trust you, and that you’ll be completely honest with them. Because without them, no companies would come calling.

  34. says

    When bloggers go on these trips and work with brands, are they functioning as journalists or extended advertising space (or maybe “content marketing”)? The answer to that question says a lot about someone’s expectations for participating bloggers. I agree with many of the above comments that clear communication with well defined expectations on the part of both parties is key to solving most of these “gripes” – and as with most things, in general you get what you pay for.

    • diannejacob says

      Those are good questions, Jenn. I am not a fan of advertorial, and I think many bloggers go way too far on the other side. And that would probably please companies, but not the bloggers’ readers.

  35. says

    This is completely fascinating, Dianne, both the post and the comments.

    I honestly think the fact that Mr. Anonymous only “hopes” that the bloggers he hires will write favorably about the trip is a large part of the problem. Presumably, all involved are trying to preserve the illusion of real journalism by not requiring that bloggers write a favorable post in exchange for the expenses-paid trip, plus the per diem? But it’s so obviously pay-to-play—and what’s wrong with that? Why not just call a spade a spade? “They paid me to come and see their cool farm, put me up for a few days, and in exchange I’m telling you, my readers, all about it.” I guess I just don’t see how that would be harmful to anyone involved.

    In any event, I’m happy to be able to talk about this issue. It’s not aired very often, and I believe it should be.


    • diannejacob says

      Any blogger who accepts a free trip or payment-in-kind must make that kind of disclosure on their blog if they write about the place/food/event in a positive manner, according to the FCC. If they trash it, no problem. But that is an unlikely scenario.

      What is harmful is the illusion that their opinions are their own. After they’ve been wined and dined, or given free stuff, most people seem to have a more positive view of a place/food/event.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks John. The comments are always good on this blog! I hope you will continue to be a reader and comment.

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