There has always been a great deal of debate on the subject of when and how bloggers should be compensated by brands for what they do. Making money blogging is not the easiest thing in the world to pull off and very little about it is cut and dried or “one size fits all”. Brands, PR agencies and bloggers all have widely varying policies when it comes to when compensation is appropriate and what that compensation should be.
I attended a blogging conference this weekend in Park City. Evo: The evolution of women in social media, is always a really great time with panels and 3-hour hands-on workshops.
I had a great time.
One of the more interesting (OK, maybe THE most interesting thing) that happened was when I sat in on a panel about working with brands. There were PR people and brand representatives that spoke on how PR agencies, brands and bloggers can all work together and presented case studies on how their brands and agencies utilized blogging and social media.
Evan Miller, Director of Global Communications for Aveda, was last on the lineup.
He did a great job highlighting how the conference co-founder, Jyl Pattee of Mom it Forward (and all around great person) went with the Aveda team on a trip to India to see first hand the things that their brand was doing to help get clean and drinkable water to the population. I followed the social media and blog postings Jyl made while she was on the trip, so I was intrigued to see all of this from Aveda’s point-of-view. It was a great presentation full of really good examples of how social media and blogging can help stretch the reach of a brand’s mission statement.
Then he gave a case study about a campaign they came up with regarding a bottle of one of their top-selling products. A blogger used that product for a month. During that time, they required social media use of Twitter and Facebook, 4 blog posts and a youtube video. Then the blogger hosting the campaign selected a reader to “pass” the product along to and that reader posted 4 posts, a youtube video and had social media engagement. Then THEY ‘passed” the bottle along to another reader. And so on and so on.
Evan said how successful the program was for Aveda.
I remember thinking, “Wow…that’s a lot of work and reader exposure for one product. What is their compensation for it?”
And that’s when things got really interesting.
One phrase uttered by the Aveda rep pretty much turned everything on its head and created the most talked-about panel at the conference. It caught me so off guard and by surprise that I tweeted it:
The fact that Estee Lauder was brought into the mix and the fact that they were joining in with Aveda on this stance didn’t exactly calm things down. (Edited to add that Estee Lauder purchased Aveda in 1997, which makes this united standard on blogging compensation make way, WAY more sense, IMO. But at the time and if you are an average person (like me) that wasn’t aware that EL owned Aveda it sounded like major corporations were forming a mafia and having some back room meetings to sign a beauty corporation Magna Carta of “WE WILL NOT PAY BLOGGERS MONEY” or something.)
And things kind of erupted–both online and in the panel.
I don’t know that I can recall sitting in a panel with so much heated debate, tension and passionate feeling.
It was DEFINITELY the talk of the conference.
The community took over and Mr. Miller didn’t really get a chance to clarify his position and many left feeling confused, impassioned, heated and engaged. On Twitter, people were talking up a storm about it with very strong opinions from PR people…
…and strong feeling, reaction and commentary from bloggers:
“So… after these two great speakers, the third got up there. Oh boy! Evan Miller from Aveda began speaking about his Company’s philosophy of working with bloggers. In a nutshell… Aveda does NOT believe in paying bloggers. Well… one thing you do not tell a room full of bloggers is that you don’t believe in PAYING them for the hard work they do promoting YOUR Company! Big No No! There was certainly a hush in the room until Ted Rubin spoke up to defend the blogging process with regards to promoting brands and their products. Thank you Ted for being our voice. Needless to say, the incident spread like… well, like a social media wildfire.”
And I left the room still wondering if Aveda wanted all those posts, social media engagement and a video for a bottle of hair goo? (Awesomely effective and insanely delicious smelling hair goo, but hair goo none the less.)
Fortunately, Aveda took to Twitter and said that they would be willing to have a sit down to clarify their policies with anyone who wanted to discuss it. So, I went to The EVO Aveda suite and spoke with Mr. Miller while sipping some of their very delicious water.
Evan was a great guy, very gracious in conversation and he readily agreed that his wording in that panel was poor.
Not only did I appreciate this but I could totally relate.
I felt for him big time.
I mean really, how many of us put things out there or online that we regret or that could have been worded differently? I DO IT ALL THE TIME. Heck, I totally tweeted that “OMG! ZACH BRAFF IS DEAD?!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” And then promptly felt like an ass and spent the next week of my life apologizing, eating crow and pretty much saying non-stop “GAH! I AM SORRY! HE IS NOT DEAD! I AM A STUPID HEAD THAT FELL FOR A TOTAL INTERNET HOAX AND TWEETED WITHOUT THINKING IT THROUGH!!!!”
(It was awesome.)
Evan did exactly the right thing for Aveda by making himself available and accessible (even on the weekend and off hours) to engage with anyone who had questions. AND I GOT MY QUESTION ANSWERED: YES, they do additional compensation for the month-long campaign that is above the one bottle of product. No, it is not in cash. It is with a gift card to an AVEDA salon. (I’m not disclosing how much. That is Aveda’s business. I’ll leave it that it was absolutely way more than a bottle of shampoo.)
He also put this quote out to PRCog (see tweet above) about Aveda’s compensation policy for bloggers for PR work:
Since Aveda began working with bloggers *in a PR capacity it has abstained from compensating them with cash payments. Aveda has offered bloggers compensation in the form of Aveda.com gift cards, product, and salon/spa services. Aveda’s digital marketing team has conducted, on occasion, *more extensive campaigns with bloggers in which it has compensated via monetary payment.
See where I bolded, italicized and put an asterisk in his quote? Those are the little nuggets I wanted to talk more about.
After a lot of wresting with how I feel about compensation (and having several ‘devil’s advocate’ conversations with bloggers/PR people and brand reps alike) I’ve come to some conclusions. To me, and many others, not paying cash for review work and editorials that result in PR buzz is a non-issue.
I don’t mind not having cash compensation for editorial work. There are plenty of other definitions for “compensation” besides cash. Whether or non-monetary compensation for editorial work meshes with your business model as a blogger is, well, up to you.
I also do NOT agree with paid product reviews. I think it creates too much of an ethical issue. Danielle wrote a post when she was at Edelman (now of The Sway Group, below) that had a great quote in it regarding this:
“As a PR practitioner, I have certainly been involved in review campaigns. We have absolutely sent out product to bloggers in the hope that they would write a positive post. However, my team has never paid for reviews. We have never required bloggers to write anything at all in return for the product. When we send out product, do we hope that bloggers like it and write something positive? Sure we do. But we also understand that the most valuable blog post is one that is honest and REAL.”
And frankly, blogging has been mightily hurt by those that would sell their soul for a buck. You know who I am talking about. The greedy. The entitiled. Those that don’t disclose compensation. Those that so completely overvalue themselves and the ROI they can give to a brand (which IS important, people) it’s just plain offensive. The type of blogger that caused a restaurant by the hotel hosting BlogHer ’10 in NYC to put a handmade sign in their window that said, “I DON’T CARE HOW MANY PEOPLE FOLLOW YOU ON TWITTER OR HOW MANY PEOPLE READ YOUR BLOG. WE’RE BOOKED. YOU ARE NOT GETTING A TABLE”. (Yes. For reals. Ask her.) People like this hurt the integrity of the product review. As a blogger I don’t appreciate it. As a consumer that relies heavily on blog reviews for purchasing decisions I appreciate it even less.
But when you get into sponsored and promotional work the game changes.
NOT EDITORIAL WORK.
And this is where I think a lot of misunderstanding happens. (I myself am hugely guilty of combining and confusing many PR definitions and jargon in my head.)
What is the difference between editorial and sponsored work? The Sway Group put up a post that had a really general (yet great) definition in it from Kristen Chase with the difference between sponsored and editorial content:
If [they]‘re saying, I’d love to send you product to try to see if this is something you might want to feature on your site = editorial.
If they’re saying “We want you to try this, mention this, tell your readers about this, and include link graphic etc” = sponsored post.
I have done sponsored work for non-monetary compensation. Heck, I’ve done it totally and utterly for FREE. Because what drives me is the product or the brand, not my pocket book. And some of my best memories and experiences did not come with an amount of dollars in my pocket.
But, I also like to pay my bills with actual money so when I am looking at a PR pitch and program I have some additional qualifiers I ask myself in terms of what payment I need like “Did I help structure the promotion?” “Did I brainstorm to determine ways to further the end goal for the product?” “Did I have to display a widget, graphic, banner or other images given to me by the brand?”, “Did I take time to participate in focus groups?”.
But where I draw the hardest, FASTEST line is when the brand wants to exert some control over the content that I write. That is the biggie for me. (Especially if their legal department gets involved because nothing says. “Holy headache, Batman!” like a corporate legal department. Heh!)
From where I am all “Hey, I love your product! Would love to accept that as compensation BECAUSE AS A BRAND YOU ARE ALREADY INVESTING INTO BLOGGERS” to “I want to work with you because I GENUINELY LOVE YOUR PRODUCT but this is a lot of work for me and a lot exposure to my readers so I will need more than a box of cereal to run the program. Let’s talk!”
And this is where I take issue and had a problem with Aveda:
I think in regards to the particular case study that Aveda provides for us (the month-long campaign where they wanted 4 posts, 1 youtube video and social media engagement) between “Editorial” and “Sponsored” is getting blurred.
As Stephanie Smirnov, President of DeVries PR (and who is my Bible and Personal Jesus when it comes to PR) said this to me on Facebook:
“A product review should never be compensated. If product is given to blogger so she can experience it, fair enough, but she has to disclose she got it for free. That should never carry with it an expectation of multiple posts or other deliverables, though, that blurs into territory of “promotional partner.” in other words, even if brand isn’t dictating outcome of review, the minute they want to control how and where posts appear, that’s going beyond editorial pitching.”
I’m still not entirely sure where I put the program Aveda laid out for us in the panel at EVO in my head. One thing that stops it for me from dumping it square in the sponsored category is that Aveda does not dictate the content at all. There is no ‘key message’ to portray, there is no approval from their legal department, they don’t want certain phrases used.
It’s not really pure editorial either.
They DO want deliverables.
They have a set list of how many messages and what medium that message should be delivered to the audience. (And for many bloggers the deliverables expected from Aveda for this campaign would be labeled ’extensive” on the part of the participating blogger.) They want to pay in product to ensure authenticity but doesn’t that mean that should include authenticity of HOW the message is delivered? Would someone authentically post that much about it?
So it’s kind of a mixed ball game with this particular example.
Some bloggers will have a problem with that and their form of compensation.
It’s Aveda’s prerogative as a company to decide and outline what compensation they give to the bloggers they work with.
And it is a blogger’s prerogative to say, “Sure! BRING ON THE AWESOME HAIR!” or tell them (politely, of course) that as awesome as their shampoo is, you can’t pay your grocery bill in shampoo.
It’s up to you.
And in the end, it’s been GREAT conversation and material for discussion.
Zach Braff STILL isn’t dead.
Just so you know.
*Edit: I have no idea who or what prompted the business owner to put that sign in the window in NYC at BlogHer. (And to be clear, BlogHer certainly had nothing to do with it nor do they promote or encourage unethical blogging behavior of ANY kind. :) )
P.S. I have been a loyal Aveda products and salon customer since 2007. Ask my (fabulous) stylist.