“You must get so much free stuff all the time?!” – I get asked constantly when I tell people what I do.
I’ve been meaning to resume these “blogging &…” series for some time now, thank you for your patience – I know you loved my first article on “blogging & relationships“. I should have probably continued with the most relevant topic for me at the moment, such as blogging and motherhood, but we all know how hot (or perhaps unclear?) the matter of blogging and “free stuff” is. So let’s dive into it.
I’ll start off by stating the obvious – nothing is for free. In life and especially in business. There’s an act of exchange happening around us at all times whether we choose to be aware of it or not. We give from our heart and we expect something back. Sorry, but we do. We are socially constructed humans. A thank you, to be liked more, appreciated more, to be seen as “the nice thoughtful guy”… we might often expect a change of emotion or mood of the receiver and in most cases we expect reciprocity. There’s a small handful of people who give to the world without expecting anything back and they do so anonymously. No big documented charity PR campaigns and… you get the picture.
But lets get back to business. I touched on this previously a few years ago when I talked about what it’s like for a UK blogger living outside London. We all know that the majority of brands, their agencies and HQ’s are based in London in UK and there are extra challenges for bloggers living far away from London. I also talked about doing work “for free” and the unfortunate reality of it in the creative industry. In any creative industry. Artists pay for their art to be displayed for free in galleries in the hope of a sale, musicians playing countless gigs for free (or beer) in exchange for promotion and so on. Bloggers, digital creators or influencers (what are we nowadays?) equally work for “free” on a regular basis. I, for instance have worked my ass off for the first two years of my blogging career creating content and building my community without any monetary returns. Zero. Occasional PR samples or “free stuff” as you may want to call were my rewards and yes, I was called crazy, laughed at and told I should stop spending so much time on something that doesn’t pay. I’ll hit them with this blog post I guess. Or something else. Ha!
I’ll assume here that you are aware of what influencer marketing is and how influencers make money. In simple words (or in a perfect world) – we create content we love and share it with our audience. There’s a LOT more behind the scenes though and it ain’t easy. We have a connection with our fans and they trust us. Brands want access to our audience and our authentic approach and communication with the audience. The demographic should match brand’s target market. In exchange for the access to our audience, our time, creativity and skills – we want something from the brand. Be it monetary payment, products and / or the affiliation with said brand to add to our portfolio, which I believe helps secure further work in the future with similar brands. Usually influencer’s style, photography and overall aesthetic is as important as the audience reach and engagement to the brand’s target audience. In my experience.
I started my blog because I absolutely love fashion and had a wardrobe full of pretty clothes but nowhere to wear. And then I got introduced to some blogs and there was a lightbulb moment – I can style and model my own clothes and share my creativity with the world. Done. I’ve always been creative and worked in marketing as well, so I was itching to do something that combines both. I should have done this sooner actually, but it was nonetheless the best decision I’ve ever made.
I remember my first ever collaboration with the “free” thing I received. It was a watch with a silk strap and I got to pick a leopard print one. Don’t think the brand is around anymore (and neither is the watch – oops!). I was so excited. This was about 5-6 years ago. No joke I spent around 3 hours creating the right shots and caption for Instagram. Can you imagine spending an entire day taking photos, writing something engaging and fun up for the blog post and IG caption and all for FREE? The watch value was around £30 I think and you and I know there weren’t any bills paid with that timepiece. Was I really crazy? Or was it necessary to take me to the place I am now? Back then content was ALL about staging, “perfection” (also another good topic) and LOTS of it. Nowadays we’re a bit more relaxed about content on Instagram and stories help with the communicating that “real” aspect of life. For the whole two years in the beginning though, I said yes to most gifted products that I liked (and several that I didn’t) just to get myself out there. I’ll never forget the first paid job either and that changed things hugely. The payment was quite high – almost as high as my old monthly salary. That job made me realise a couple of things. One, is that I’m definitely worth it and if the brand believes so, then so should I. Two, is that there’s money to be made in this industry and I should take it up a notch. Polish my content, rebrand my blog / brand and just be more professional, whilst being you know – me.
The slight change in the direction of my blog meant that I started to receive more paid work as well as non-paid work. I’ll emphasise that all gifted products and collaborations are still very much classed as work. The emails, the content creation, time spent writing, shooting, editing, optimising, promoting and so on. It’s a lot of work. I love the process and personally I love deadlines and challenges that this job can bring as it really pushes my creativity, but having done this for so many years I’ve learnt a lot of things. I am a busy mum first and foremost, so my time is a tad limited these days. I learnt to think differently and ask myself some key questions before taking on paid or non-paid work:
- I must be selective with work I choose to carry out.
- It’s OK to say NO.
- Brands reaching out to me doesn’t always mean it’s the right and well- researched match.
- My work MUST reflect me, my style, my brand.
- My work MUST be relevant to my audience.
- Think: will the time spent be worth the money?
- Is the gifted product beneficial to me and my audience?
- Will this gifted / non-paid work bring potential future paid work?
- Should I accept this opportunity just to build the relationship? What are the consequences….
Of course I accept PR samples, SPA days, hotel stays, treatments and gifted products on a regular basis. These are the perks of the job, but still – I need to think twice before I say yes. There are some “free” products I absolutely say yes to as I wouldn’t be able to buy them just like that. The heck, not long ago Samsung were running a campaign and some bloggers received a brand new washing machine costing big bucks. You’d be crazy to say no, but at the same time consider the deliverables before saying yes. The brief might be insanely complex and not worth it. Spa packages and hotels are fab and my family loves those too, but it’s important to communicate with the PR officers ahead of the agreement and negotiate on what sort of coverage I can realistically provide. Will my family be sat in a corner of the room while I go around taking photos and videos before the hotel room gets destroyed? Will I actually get to enjoy the experience, or will I be spending the entire day creating content and getting myself stressed out instead? Whether the work is paid or non-paid, it’s important to agree with the brand / agency on what deliverables and coverage is realistically possible for me. Events or trips can add that extra stress of “live” posting and sometimes negotiating to publish content a few hours later when I’m on my own can save so much hassle, spelling mistakes and make the overall job more enjoyable. These are not always possible of course and sometimes the adrenaline of challenges can actually make work more exciting – but considering all of those things ahead of saying YES is key for me now.
I realise I went off on tangents here and there – this topic is so huge and I could have probably written several blog posts on this. But the main points to take away from this is that there is no such thing as “free stuff”. Brands expect coverage from us even though we are not obliged to share or promote any gifted products that we didn’t previously agree to receive. These especially apply to regular beauty products in the mail with new launches. Be ethical – don’t take the p…ss. Communicate with the brand contacts and PR agencies. Agree on what you think would work for both parties and deliver. Disclose what’s what when sharing. Overdeliver if you really really really love the brand and products and want to better your relationships.
I’d LOVE to know your thoughts on the above. Are you already in the industry? Are you in PR or a blogger? Did you have any misconceoptions about the “free stuff” & blogging?
(PS! these shots were taken during Storm Dennis! Not bad for 90mph wind haha)
Knit – Acne Studios (purchased, old)
Leather leggings – Zara, purchased £20
Bag – Gucci Vintage, purchased
Boots – Zara, purchased