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Mommy Bloggers are not the Indentured Servants of the Marketing World


So you get an email and it starts with

Our client has this great new gizmatic that we’d like to introduce you to…

What do you do? If you’re like me, you reply with:

Although I’d really love to be your marketing department and write about your gizmatic for free, I’m unable to do so. You see, I’m trying to make a living here and I can talk about my vagina and get more readers than if I talk about your gizmatic. If you’d like to buy some advertising space over there on the right —-> I’d love to send you a rate sheet. Otherwise you can send whatever product, and if I have time I’ll talk about it at GreenOptions, Celsias or one of the many other places I write.

And then usually I never hear from them again.

You know why? Because they can get a review for the price of overnight shipping and their gizmatic. From a spreadsheet POV I understand the decision. Long term, NotSoMuch.

Other times a week passes and they realize that the sites I write for are actually much better than this one and they clamor for a review up on Green Options.

Other bloggers make it much easier for PR firms. It might be a good review too. It might take a blogger four hours to set the product up, she might promote it on her personal blog and she’s probably got a really good following, but then the unthinkable happens.

There’s an email, “Did you notice the return shipping label?”

Huh? Really? Yes, that happened to a seasoned, established and reliable Mommy Blogger today.

AT&T has hired a PR Firm that they found an amazing Mommy Blogger, sent her a telephone device, did not read the review guidelines that have been on her site since the beginning of time (6 years or so) and then had the nerve to ask for a product to be returned.

She is humiliated. She feels ashamed and taken advantage of, her feelings are hurt and she’s wondering why she agrees to do product reviews at all. I wonder too. I had the opportunity to speak with Elizabeth a few hours ago. Her voice was cracking. As bloggers all we have is our words and our integrity.

Oh and crap. We get sent crap. I got a box full of sustainable non toxic cleaning supplies today, they were in a box full of Styrofoam packing peanuts. My Great Great Grandchildren will have to deal with those peanuts.

Naturally, I put a deet up on twitter asking other Mommy Bloggers how they feel they are treated by publicists. The answers are mixed, and no one wants me to use their name except one. Jo-Lynne from Musings of a Housewife says:

I concluded that the products I receive are usually the only payment I get for the work I put into a product review.  By the time I go back and forth in email about a product, receive it, try it, and write up a thoughtful post, I have committed several hours to the product.  A free product is actually a very moderate compensation.  Companies have no problem paying hundreds of dollars in advertising, but many expect to promote their products with bloggers for free.*  They should realize that the exposure they are getting by promoting their products on my blog include my audience that I’ve grown over several years of writing, sharing, and building relationships based on authenticity and vulnerability.  That same audience would have little trust for a TV commercial, but they trust ME because I’m an authentic human being that they have relationship with.  That is worth a lot — certainly a complimentary product.

Wow. Jo-Lynne runs three blogs and still has time to talk about products? Then she has the time to answer my twitter query? Look at the two women willing to bare themselves, why would anyone take advantage of them?

Why wouldn’t you want women like this to succeed?

For the record, I interact with a minimal number of publicists. Why? Well, I’m not a very consumer, I like good quality items and I don’t plug my kids in. I went to a Wii Fit party at Bliss and had a great time, I’m the one in the green shirt. Nintendo is a company that seems to do a great job of woo’ing it’s mommy bloggers. I also hosted a Quaker Inauguration party and if you sign their fan page on Facebook, Quaker will donate more to local food pantries. They didn’t pay me, I just believed in the mission. I read food labels (so that eliminates most of them) and I don’t imagine Johnson and Johnson will knock my front door down, Joe’s gave me a discount code to share with you, but I really think that the money is in the content.

I’ll have to stick with writing about my underwear and my relationships with murderers. Frankly, those posts get a lot of traffic, and I don’t have to worry about sounding smart. Plus, I still get to go to all the parties.

*I feel a need to correct Jo-Lynne, companies are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise a product.

32 thoughts on “Mommy Bloggers are not the Indentured Servants of the Marketing World”

  1. Well said. And I’ve had the whole return-a-product issue MANY times. Dealt with it YESTERDAY in fact. Oh, and I run three blogs AND a blog design business. :-) But I always have time for Twitter!!

    So let me get this straight, if I stop talking about products so much and blog about my vagina, do I get invited to the parties too? ;-) ;-)

  2. I emailed with Liz about this already but I’ll say publicly…. Liz put up her review policy. End of story.

    When I started my website seven years ago, (geez I’m old), I made it clear no product that shows up requested or not will be returned. And thats whether or not a product is included in one of my television segments or written about on my website/blog.

    Point is, whether its a five dollar sample or a five hundred dollar sample, they should read the return policy of the blogger before they contact them.

    I have to think Liz is never going to forget this experience and now that PR firm is going to have trouble getting her to review something else in the future. Oh and its probably going to annoy a few other bloggers who read about Liz’s experience. Probably won’t help their client either.

  3. That’s a really great point that I’ve never thought of. I have a lot of blogger friends who review products constantly. I’ve even reviewed some myself, but I don’t think any of us have every been asked to return the product.

  4. I adore Liz, she is one of my favorite blogging friends, and that makes me so upset for her.

    I had something similar happen to me where I accepted a product and then opened it to find a return shipping label. I called the company and told them that it would be returned the next day and there was no way in heck I was taking it out of the box to review and return it it. I held my ground. Guess what? They let me keep it. I know many people reviewed it and had to return it, which made me sad. We should have all gotten the product.

    I don’t like feeling taken advantage of and I work really hard. I have too little time to invest it in companies that want me to return products. Five years of my life have went into my website and there will be no returned products ever on my blog. If that means I miss out on reviewing the latest gadget…so be it. I have found my time is more valuable than I give myself credit for sometimes.

  5. As a D-list (or possibly lower) blogger, I don’t get product review opps very often, and when I do I jump at them, especially if they are things that I want anyway. I have not had a similar experience but i am grateful that you shared it with your readership so I can be on guard for such things. It reminds of when a PR firm says “would you like hi-res images of our product to feature on your site?” WITHOUT offering a sample. Um, no.

  6. That’s interesting especially for the company I work for as we enter into the space. I have my own blog as well and I definitely understand the frustration of getting pitched to all the time. Thanks for the wake-up call!

  7. For the most part, I have had really good relationships with the agencies and companies that I do reviews for. A couple of weeks ago though, I had an experience that will go in my “don’t” file.

    A pr person sent me a big box of bedding from a company. I was already planning the giveaway in my head…

    Then, at the bottom of the box, I saw a sheet saying that if they didn’t receive the samples back in a two week period that I would be charged for the value of the product(?!) That was bad enough, but what was even worse is that they hadn’t included a return postage label (?!!)

    Fortunately, they’re NYC based so I can just drop it off, but you better believe I won’t be requesting samples of their products for review again.

    I do have a “policies” page on my site stating that we don’t return review samples. I guess that in the future though (especially for large/bulky items) I will reiterate my “no return” policy before agreeing to do those reviews!

  8. I’m at that point where I’m starting to want a bit more compensation than a free product (I’ve never had a return requested). At least one package shows up at our door pretty much daily, especially for my educational blog and I’m now bogged down in product clutter with no extra time to try to sell them or give them away locally (the companies have to pay for shipping the giveaways on my blogs – I’m not paying for that!).

    Would love to read a second article on this subject, with the subject of how much to request for reviews and giveaways. I’m hoping to get some input on that while at Blissdom’s conference this weekend.

    ~ Lori

  9. As a publicist who works with mommy bloggers all the time, this is upsetting and not the impression I hope most have about us. When I talk to a mommy blogger and offer my product, it’s because I think they will share in the belief that it is something that can benefit moms and at the very least make their lives a little easier. Having a blogger share this with their readers in a thoughtful manner, is a big favor to say the least. I’m gracious for the time and effort mommy bloggers have put in, and for that reason am never hesitant to go the extra mile with a giveaway or contest, that will at least ensure some of the readers will get to experience our product as well. To say the least, I disagree with the tactics employed in the incident above. Sharing products with mommy bloggers and having them write about them is a great thing that shouldn’t be marginalized to a loan or business transaction where products are pedaled emotionlessly.

  10. Jose, that is nice to hear.

    There is an interesting conversation at Mom Bloggers Club today about charging to host giveaways. I’m considering it…

    Kim and I have both weighed in over there.

  11. I think you bring up a lot of good solid points in this post and it has certainly prompted me to think in much more detail about even asking for someone to review my product. I too agree with Jose… ‘When I talk to a mommy blogger and offer my product, it’s because I think they will share in the belief that it is something that can benefit moms and at the very least make their lives a little easier. Having a blogger share this with their readers in a thoughtful manner, is a big favor to say the least.’ That said, to me it is a true compliment that the Mommy Blogger enjoy and keep my product not only because they reviewed it but because they truly like it. And being a mom and an occasional blogger I really appreciate the time and effort that goes into a review. I am glad you wrote this piece because it is good to be reminded about things from the reviewers perspective.

  12. I’ve dealt with this a few times – I’ve been offered a product for review but told that I would have to return the product. Each time I told the PR rep that I don’t return review products, and each time they said I could keep it. But I was annoyed that I had to push.

    It never occurred to me to state this policy on my blog, though. Off to change it now…

  13. I am a new blogger, but experienced freelance writer and I am former editor of several magazines . So far I’m not into doing either product reviews or carrying advertising. What concerns me from what I’ve observed are 1. professional writers, because of supply and demand are always going to be taken advantage of 2. women are taken advantage of because they undervalue themselves as bringing something of real value to the table. In any industry there are good and bad eggs, on both sides (pr/ad side and the freelance writer/blogger side.) Unfortunately it only take a few bad eggs from both sides to really mess it up for everyone. It seems to me having voluntary pay/free product standards in place based on circulation wouldn’t be a bad idea. That way the market would shake out so that smaller or new companies would end up working with smaller/newer bloggers and the cos. that can afford more, can work with the higher circulation/more experienced writer/bloggers . It would also motivate bloggers to keep raising the bar on the quality of the writing and site. I just hate thinking about women writers being taken advantage of… which is what this amounts to. The last thing Elizabeth should feel is any embarrassment or shame… this company should!

  14. I do book reviews in exchange for free books because I like books, but otherwise – I am not a mommy blogger and I wouldn’t have readers if I tried to write what amounts to ads on my blog.

    I have toyed with the idea of ads in the sidebar and stuff but ultimately blogging is just about connecting with the readers through my writing and working on the craft. It’s not about pimping stuff that I wouldn’t have unless someone gave it to me for free and even then, I would probably decline.

    Your friend should keep the product and redirect them to her policy and send a really “don’t insult me and undermine the integrity of my blog again” email. They messed up. Not her. It’s business. Not personal. Let the heat fall on the idiot at the PR firm who didn’t read her policy. She should be indignant and stand up for herself.

  15. Like annie, above, I have only done book reviews on my blog, and then only for books I love. As a writer, promoting other writers seems like paying it forward. As a writer, I also think we need to guard against giving our work away for free. The Internet is cheapening the craft and trade of writing, and we are letting it happen by giving away our work without compensation. Let’s stand up for ourselves and each other.

  16. My blog is clearly not getting the attention that your blogs receive, and I don’t consider my random blogs witty enough to deserve any sort of payment or recognition. I blog for the joy of sharing my culinary creations with whoever is interested. My National Soup Month giveaway wasn’t a product that was donated. The aprons were paid for out of my hubby’s pocket, but I did receive a REALLY amazing discount from the company. I chose the aprons because I liked them. I wanted to have a giveaway to get a few more readers and share my love of being domestic. I would love to product review the latest cookware, kitchen gizmo, etc. but I haven’t received any offers. LOL I don’t get the traffic you all get. Maybe I should invent a soup recipe that has medical benefits for the vagina? Like a soup recipe that includes the miracle yogurt that the commercials claim have weird named bacteria in them that I’ve never heard of, yet are supposed to help my vagina and digestive system.

  17. I only agree to review products that are interesting to me. It’s not worth the time I spend unless I think I’m going to have some fun with it. Big ticket items (like phones that would usually require a service contract or uh, CARS) are lent with the understanding that I use them long enough to get a feel for it and then it is returned. I have NEVER been expected to foot the bill for shipping myself. Those PR people who gobsmacked Liz will be sorry for treating her so poorly.

    That said, it would be nice to be paid for reviews — but I worry that would make them harder for me to write, especially if I have something negative to say. Right now, I just don’t write the review if I didn’t care for the product.

  18. Thank goodness I only review nail polish. I can’t imagine that they’d ever want my used nail polish back hahaha!

    But that is seriously offensive that a company would ask for a product back. Just tacky.

  19. I agree with Margo M. I was a lifestyle reporter for 10 years at our local newspaper, and the newsroom policy was that nobody could keep any of the freebies that arrived. Everything was donated or given away — even books. We could review the free books or CDs we were sent but nothing else. Anything we reviewed we had to buy ourselves locally just like our readers would. I didn’t always agreed with that policy but it did eliminate some of these issues.

  20. Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for this and I really appreciate the chance to hear your readers’ thoughts on the matter.

    I’m glad to see that others feel that blogging is complicated. Makes me feel less, I dunno, schmucky.

    Just so you know, I wrote a post to sum up my thoughts (hopefully, my last one on the subject) and I have since heard from the public relations firm representing AT&T and we are in mutual agreement of the oversight.

    So…yes…I am willing to work with them, again…now that we are on the same page.

  21. Why would I want to return a product — emphasis on the word — given- to me to use? In PR we give away Books, CD’s, DVD’s, Photos and whatever it takes to make em’ happy on the other end.
    And for all you lifestyle journalists out there, boy do I have photos, bios, great stories to give you.
    GIVE is the word.

  22. Well, I have a little blog that I occasionally update with products and clothes and books that I’ve used or read and really liked (or hated) or things that I really want to obtain. I think maybe five people on any regular basis read it at all.

    No one has ever asked me to review anything, though, and I certainly do not receive any compensation for it. I created the blog to move all the book/fashion/cosmetic stuff off of my regular blog. Well, that, and to write about stuff I think is really cool.

  23. Update on my “situation”. I felt compelled to share blogger protocol with the PR person. They were very receptive to learning and offered for me to keep the product or to send a messenger to pick it up.

    It confirms my opinion that most PR people want to do the right thing. We bloggers sometimes just need to pleasantly inform them regarding what that is! (Blogging and traditional media – I do both – really are two different worlds!)

  24. I totally agree. It really angers me the way many companies treat bloggers. The problem is that there are many bloggers (usually new bloggers) that are thrilled to receive a $2 free product and are willing to compromise their readership for it. As long as there are bloggers that will do it, it will continue to be the norm. I did receive a very nice $400 product once for a review. The worst one I heard about was Dyson recruiting bloggers to try out a Dyson for two weeks and then ship it on to another mom, and chronicle those two weeks on their blog. That was just insulting. Reform is definitely needed here.

  25. This is great insight from the other side of the pond. I used to work at a PR agency where part of it was the “how many hits can you get!” pressure game. It’s a bummer that bloggers feel whored out (and understandably so…. asking to send the product back!?!?!) because I think when done right, it can be a great outlet to share products that have personally helped your life run smoother from one mom to another. But then again, I’d much rather read about your underwear and relationships with murderers. Thanks for making me laugh!

  26. I totally understand the “us” vs. “them” mentality of both the blogging world and the PR folks. I am far from a publicist but I am in the middle of trying to reach out to the blogging community regarding my companies product as I write this (no details on who/what here obviously). The things is that we are a medium sized *(100 people) US based textile weaver with no $ to hire marketers so it comes to me as “the web guy” to run the social media side of things.

    The one thing I made very clear to our owner before I agreed to take on the product is that, if we were doing this, it had to be no strings attached in any way. Any products were freely given with nothing more than a shipping address needed and that was where our expectations would end. This is an exact, word-for-word quote of the letter I have been sending to bloggers:

    ” What I would like to make very clear is that we are looking for an honest review and not simply a promotion in exchange for a product. If you like our process and the final result, we would, of course, love it if you told the world. However, if we don’t meet expectations, pan us by all means. We are not a new company, having been family owned and operated for over 20 years, but we have not extended into social media until now. The only feedback we are interested in is real feedback. This isn’t a “strings attached” offer… There isn’t a sign-up or membership. We really just need you to experience our service and see it for yourself. You could take the [product] and never write a word about it, but I am confident that will not be the case.”

    It doesn’t seem difficult to act in a respectful and honorable manner when dealing with folks, especially people who’s goodwill you are trying to earn… why is it so hard for so many marketers?

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