PR agencies must not pay bloggers

On Sunday, Lolly published a post on Blog Till You Drop Should bloggers get paid to write blog posts? where she shared how she’d been approached and asked to write about something in exchange for payment.

Lolly said:

An agency recently offered me €70 to write about their latest social media campaign; this made feel somewhat uncomfortable as I don’t think that bloggers should be paid to write about brands/products and I think this is a worrying trend…

This is a matter that I feel very strongly about, and I think that my comment on the post reflected that.

I’d like to go through my thoughts on this as simply as possible…

It makes your client look stupid

By asking a blogger to write about your client in exchange for payment, you are calling in to question the quality of whatever it is your PRing. If your client’s product isn’t very good, you should let them know that, and work with them to create some great content that will get people talking around the product. It also calls into question your client’s judgement – why would they choose you to do PR if what you’re executing is an advertising campaign?

What do you do if they write negatively?

If you offer to pay a blogger to write about your client, and they do so negatively, will you still pay the blogger? Probably not. This will annoy the blogger and give them plenty of reason to call you out, and deservedly so. What’s more, i’d bet that you didn’t ask them to disclose that you got in touch and asked them to write about your client in the first place.

It’s setting a dangerous precedent

Once you’ve paid one blogger, word will spread and other bloggers will expect you to pay them to write about your client. This is unsustainable as a PR plan because it eats up a lot of budget that could be better used to, for example, create some cool content. It also raises the question of who do you pay, and how much? Why should one blogger get paid more than another?

Paying bloggers to write about your client is fraudulent and unethical

By throwing money at a blogger, you are asking them to publish a post they might otherwise not have in exchange for a rare commodity. This is essentially bribery. If you don’t give the blogger the opportunity to test out your client’s offering and simply ask them to write a positive blog post, you are questioning their integrity, asking them to lie to their audience and risking their credibility. You are lying to your client because this isn’t coverage you have worked hard to sell in, it’s coverage you’ve paid for and is in effect, advertising. If this is what your agency does, why not advise that the client just does a load of banner advertising?

Yes, bloggers should be given a reason to write about your client
Bloggers are seeing the fruits of their labour, writing mountains of content may well see you build up a reputation that then gets you pitches from PR agencies. PR agencies will want to find ways of getting a blogger to write about whatever it is they’re working on, be it by sending out product for review, an invitation to an event or offering exclusive content. That is great, why not make being a blogger a little bit fun?

Bloggers should be incentivised, but bloggers should also be aware that sometimes a client’s budget is so small that they cannot afford to always offer great stuff and content really is the only thing they can offer.

I found myself in a situation recently when I got in touch with a blogger to offer them a story where they refused to even think about my client despite them being highly relevant, because they weren’t offering them anything tangible alongside the story – this is a direct result of the sort of unethical behaviour I have just outlined.

PRs are making a rod for their own backs, whereas bloggers are doing exactly the same. We will find ourselves coming to a point where bloggers will only accept pitches in exchange for cash, and PRs will only be able to pitch because they can offer cash. At that point we will have found ourselves in a state of advertorial and the entire ecosystem will collapse.

That may appear a little melodramatic, but it is a fear I hold.

I do not want to be in a position as a PR where I must ask my client to stump up some cash as a reward for a blogger who will falsely write about how much they love xxx product.

I do not want to be in a position as a blogger where I do not get any pitches because a poor PR thinks I won’t write about something because i’ll only accept payment, despite it being relevant.

We must put a stop to this sort of practice now before we get an FTC equivalent barging their way in to the blogosphere dictating how we must behave and holding us accountable. We should be holding ourselves accountable. Anything less in unacceptable.

5 thoughts on “PR agencies must not pay bloggers

  1. I agree whole-heartedly with this, and I’d never accept a cash payment for writing about a product. but as I said over on Lolly’s blog post, I don’t think it’s that cut and dry.

    What about the bloggers who don’t want to write bad things about a freebie? If you’re not writing your honest opinion about something you’ve received, surely that’s very similar to accepting a cash ‘bribe’? I’ve stopped paying attention to some bloggers who only write about freebies they’ve been sent because it just doesn’t ring true. They’re so worried about upsetting the people giving them a trail of free stuff that their reviews sound hollow. Isn’t that just as bad as accepting £50?

    It’s not just cash that can make a blogger want to write nice things about a company and while I’m not saying that PRs shouldn’t send of freebies, I think they need to look into *why* they’re sending something out for free. There’s other ways to get coverage – the freebie isn’t always the answer, just like buying someone’s opinion isn’t.

    I’m in an unusual position as a professional blogger – I get an awful lot of freebies and I do indeed get paid to blog. But my opinion always stays the same, even if that upsets a PR company (and I’ve had some very frosty conversations with some after difficult blog posts). But most bloggers don’t blog full-time, they give up their spare time to write. They’re going to choose the press releases that benefit them, and I’m not sure that’s always a bad thing. It’s not just PRs at fault in this instance, I think bloggers are shooting themselves in the foot as well.

  2. Pingback: The business of buying off bloggers « Social Web Thing

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