Friday, March 16, 2012

PR-Friendly Bloggers, What Would You Do if the PR Company Did This to You?

Last weekend, I wrote a review of a health care and insurance website as requested by a certain PR/Social Media Marketing company in the US. I notified the company that the review post was live and I received notification to make some edits. Fair enough, as they had not seen nor requested to see the draft before it was published.

They also told me to "remove the disclosure that this article is a sponsored post." When I first read that, all I thought was "but whyyyyyy????"

Reason they gave? "It is our current policy that we want the article to look really natural as if the owner really posted the site and not because it's compensated." Am I the only one that sees something wrong here?!

Now, when I decided to let Sakura Haruka be PR-friendly, I spent a lot of time researching on best practices & reading about what other bloggers do when they accepted advertising on their blog. Blogging is not my full-time job, but I am serious about keeping my blog authentic to me and being a credible writer my readers can trust. I may not be a big-time blogger, but I have my principles.

In October 2009, the new US Federal Trade Commission {FTC} policy on blog disclosure went into effect. You can read the original FTC document to understand it better but basically it is trying to say that if you make a plug for something, you must disclose it even if you are promoting it in "non-traditional contexts" like blogging or tweeting. Simply put, don't mislead the consumers into thinking that you are endorsing something just because you like it.

I am not a US resident and maybe this does not apply to me, but being truthful on a blog is something that I advocate. Why would you cover up about being paid for writing something? Are you scared that the reader might view the endorsement differently if you were paid or given the product free?

On Sakura Haruka, I write a lot of reviews. If you look back, you will see that most are actually not even paid or sponsored reviews and I wrote them because I wanted to share the experiences. And even then, I explicitly state that in each review post to remove any ambiguity that I wrote it due to some benefit. Even if I did receive monetary compensation {none so far, this would have been my first} or the product free, I would write an honest review about it. Because that is how I stay true to myself and my blog.

I thought about the request from the company to remove the disclosure. It is a simple act and all I had to do was to delete that sentence and I could receive a nice amount of money. Not much, but still something. However, I cannot bring myself to do it. Call me foolish but I emailed back that sorry, I cannot do it because as a blogger, I need to uphold transparency and in the first place, they did not say that they did not want a disclosure in the post. I even linked them to the FTC policy but they blatantly disregard it. If I knew from the beginning, I would not have taken up the job.

In my mind, I felt cheated disappointed that after all the time and effort spent to go through the website, write a review post with pictures thankyouverymuch, and promote it on my social media accounts, I would not have gotten the payment that was promised. But, if they understood, yay for me for sticking to my guns, if not, it would be a lesson learnt.

And so my fellow PR-friendly bloggers, what would you do in such a situation? Who can we turn to for help if we are not compensated for work we already did? Also, please help me with the following questions on accepting sponsored reviews.
  1. Do you receive payment before or after the post goes live?
  2. Do the advertisers vet your draft first?
  3. How do you disclose that payment was received?
  4. Anybody uses the word "advertorial"?
  5. If you don't mind, how much do you charge for each sponsored review?
As of now, I have not received payment for that review because I did not remove my disclosure and I have taken the review down. Let this be a lesson learnt for anybody that receives a PR pitch from that company. Leave me a comment/message me if you want to know more details.


Kaycee said...

Hey, Umm... WOW! I agree that is so wrong! How dare they pull that! Honestly, I am not as nice as you. I'd have pulled the notification, sent it to them, then promptly written another post saying that the other blog post was a paid post! :D I'm just rotten, I think. I would have also went back and linked the two together. I agree that you were *cheated*, and frankly you are much nicer than me, as I would have included the name of the company if I were writing the article I just read!
As for your questions, I am about to do my first paid post. However, I AM being paid a small sum to REVIEW the product, not just say what they want. Generally, as far as I know, payment is after it goes live. Also, never heard the word "advertorial" but it's so funny to me that now I want to use it! LOL

Kaycee said...

As a side note, it's not that I'm unethical. I just don't appreciate being wronged and have the lovely temper of a Southern woman!

Ai Sakura said...

No judging here on each blogger's actions. I just want to understand the various views on this.

Should I list the company name?? I really want to but hubby told me better not.. If anybody wants to know I will tell though.

Glow said...

I take payment up front now because I've had to wait too long before.

In my media kit I state that all sponsored posts will be declared as such - I have had companies ask for it to be removed or changed to "This is a featured post"... um how bout no? Even in magazines, a page that looks like a review but is actually an ad must be marked as such.

I always show the client before publication if they've paid - some ask me to change a few words, some are surprised that I even sent it to them because they didn't expect it.

I think you did the right thing - readers have to be able to trust you or future reviews and sponsored posts will be ignored as just "ads" and no one wants that.

Cassandra Louise said...

I have only recently decided to make my blog PR friendly. I have done some unpaid reviews before, when I found a product that fit in with the theme of my blog and I really liked.
If I was asked to write a paid review without disclosing that it was a paid review, I don't think I'd do it, I also feel that's just wrong.

LOVE MELISSA:) said...

Hi Sakura,

As you know, I do a lot of reviews- both paid and unpaid (if product sampling). I realize that a lot of companies don't like sponsored posts, so I change my wording to partnered post and write a disclosure that all my opinions are my own and not swayed by outside sources. I feel like this is far for both of us. As far as sponsored posts, I usually do it after it goes live. I trust people and feel it is only fair. I have never been wronged before but I know if I did, I probably would have perhaps request it upfront.No, they do not vet my draft. If you want to know my rates, email me. I don't disclose them publicly but will be happy to share. I hope I helped you- did I?

Unknown said...

That's really unfortunate! Especially with it being your first experience being paid for one. I haven't been paid for one yet and really just got started as PR Friendly. I do get nervous about companies being like that. BUT, on that note, I do think you're handling it the right way and in a mature fashion. I always say "be the better person"! I would not give that company any attention that they don't deserve and would not post that review because it would just draw attention to them....negative or positive, it's still attention right? But I can imagine how bad you want to expose them LOL. After this, I would update your PR disclosure if I were you and next time, state up front how you conduct your review and give them option as to whether or not to still go through with it. I definitely think it's wrong how they handled it. Where I am from, there's a Better Business Bureau to report businesses/companies that are in the wrong. Don't know if you have something like that there? I would report them that way ;) I haven't had anyone ask for my drafts first, they just like a link afterwards when it's gone live. I love how you're handling it, it reflects positively on you as a blogger and as a person :)

Madeline Heng said...

According to my sis, if u received a free product to write about (n the company does not dictate what u write) its called sponsored editorials. It's only called advertorials if they pay u (n then can demand the right to determine what you write). But then they shd still be ok with ur disclosure policy because it is only fair to your readers.

I think it's very unfair of that company to promise to compensate n then not. They shd have stated their terms earlier n not back out now (u shd have blasted them about it!!) I think it's great u are sticking to your principles. Integrity is worth much more than gold :)

Kellie @ Three Li'l Princesses said...

This stuff irks me no end. As a PR person and a blogger, I feel it's only fair to readers to let them know you've been paid to write the piece or that the company has paid you to place the post on your blog. So I think you've done the right thing.

In a newspaper, if a company pays the newspaper to place an article/feature in the paper, it has to feature the words ``advertorial'' or ``advertising feature''. I think bloggers should follow this lead. The words ``sponsored post'' protects your integrity as a blogger. If the company wrote it, I would also include a byline or even an introduction revealing this too.

I don't have a problem with them wanting to look at the copy, this is pretty standard practise in the media. As long as they say that up front.
I also haven't had any problems with payment so far. But a good lesson in why maybe I should be asking for payment first.

This is all just my opinion, of course!

I so feel for you though. I know how much time and effort goes into these posts. xx

Ai Sakura said...

Glowless: thanks for the feedback. I now have a clearer view on how to deal with companies that want paid reviews :)

Cassandra: yes, not all reviews need to be paid!

Melissa: thank you, that did help :) You wrote "as far as sponsored post, I usually do it after it goes live." Do you mean add in the disclosure or get paid?

Brandi: that's true. I felt like naming and flaming.. but why bother to give them extra publicity?? I state clearly on my blog as one of the pages on how I write my reviews and posts.

Must remember that not all companies actually read your blog when asking you for endorsement haha.

Madeline: It is hard to blast just over emails. If they were a Singapore company I would have gone straight up and speak to somebody of worth. Thanks for help on those terms :) What does your sister do?

Kellie: thanks for your support. Appreciate it :) I love knowing that other bloggers that I follow believe in the same values too.

Veggie Mama said...

I think first of all, my problem is with the words "paid review". I don't think they really exist. A review is or should be something you are sent or you have bought and you try it out and give your opinion. I don't believe these things should be paid for, as it can seem like your good opinion is being bought.

This is half the reason I don't do reviews.

If they wanted to pay you for your time in supplying your readers with information about their product, then that is sponsored content/advertorial/featured post. Not "review". You should absolutely be paid for this, and paid well. You might have an opinion on the product, and include it in your post, but you're being paid to provide information. first and foremost.

If you decide to review something in the traditional sense, and then want monetary compensation for actively promoting that in your social media channels (which is reasonable), you might like to introduce an admin fee, as you can see Squiggle Mum has done here:

As far as your questions go, I normally get paid at the end, and no the advertisers don't vet my draft first. It would depend on what the content was before I decided to let them. If I were to review a product they sent me I absolutely would not let them vet my draft or demand edits - it is and should be nothing but my personal opinion. Sponsored content is different. Advertorials are usually used in traditional media, especially magazines and newspapers and as Glowless said, it is legally required to be disclosed on the page, usually the top right corner. I prefer "sponsored post" on the blog.

I hope this helps somewhat - I think what you both were looking for were very different things. I think they should still pay you for your content, as you did what you were asked and if they had stipulations, they should have mentioned them prior to you agreeing to their deal.

EssentiallyJess said...

I haven't done any paid reviews yet. I was approached a few weeks ago, but what they were offering was not worth my time, and I never even replied to them. Besides that, I didn't feel that it would be something I would normally write about anyway.

I think you were treat very wrong. I think this kind of behaviour is unacceptable, but Thankyou for writing this. It makes it easier for the rest of us to set clear guidelines now.
I find I'm being a lot more upfront in my emails now. All they can say is no.

Ai Sakura said...

Veggie Mama: Mmmm yes, I see your point now. There are just so many different terms used e.g. paid reviews, advertorials, sponsored content etc. that it all gets very confusing. Thanks for the link, I'll be checking it out.

Jess: I'm glad I wrote this to get different perspectives too. I've learnt so much just from the comments :) I need to be more explicit in my emails, not just on my blog because I won't expect them to read all the details now.

Amelia Rhea said...

Seems to me that alot of people are doing it. Especially if you look through YouTube with all the makeup gurus. I've never written sponsored posts before, but maybe the lesson is that to make sure every party involved knows that they are on the same page. Might help drafting out some "guidelines" and templates for yourself so that you can just feed the information to people when you get enquiries. I hope this doesn't stop you from expanding your blog!

Veronica @ Mixed Gems said...

Something indeed sounds fishy about this arrangement. I don't work with brands or companies so really haven't any advice or suggestions.

I think your choice to remain honest and authentic to your readers is paramount. Mrs Woog said something relevant to that sentiment today in comments to a post by Edenland ( that might be relevant:

"I owe nothing to anyone apart from that person who clicks onto my site every day for a read. THAT is the person that counts. I also make a living out of/from blogging and social media and I know that my readers are not idiots. I need to look after them first and work out why they return, tell their friends and are influenced but what I have to say." - Mrs Woog, Woogsworld

You seem to have received a lot of great advice already and as raised in the post and comments on Eden's blog today, it seems like the idea of printed standards and guidelines as a reference book for bloggers would not go astray. How easy it is to put together, I wouldn't know. But there is a lot of wisdom and experience out there and collectively it would be so empowering.

Miss Cinders said...

*jaw hit ground* Stuff that! Good on you hunny!

I think it's awesome that you blogged your experience, because it gives bloggers like me who are only just thinking about taking the next step, some food for thought.

Awesome xxx

Ai Sakura said...

Amelia: I've already stated clearly on my blog, it's just that they don't bother reading it. Now I won't expect anybody too and will just reiterate in actual correspondence. Lesson learnt.

Veronica: indeed, there's a lot going on and it will be nice with an actual "handbook" of sorts haha. I've read Edenland's post and the comments too.. Very insightful and I will be gathering what was mentioned in the comments here for a post too. Everybody should benefit from what is discussed!

Miss Cinders: I'm glad it helps you in your next step! I'm still at the beginning of the learning curve too, as you can see :)

Grace said...

Good on you for sticking to your guns, Ai ! And I think you've received some great advice from reading through your comments.

Overall, I think the key is communication.

While there are some great PR companies to work for, there are still those who think that the control is at their helm. These guys still have a lot to learn.

As for what you charge for sponsored posts, there's lots of variables on that one - your traffic, your readership, etc.

But it should be all negotiable and again, it comes back to communication. I think the good companies will be open to both of these...and in return, they will definitely leave it in your own discretion what you write.

P. S Talking from personal experience, that's great advice from your hubby NOT to disclose the company name.

YummyMummy said...

Kudos to you for sticking to your principles. I think disclosing their names now will give them the publicity they don't deserve.

Chandra said...

New follower of your blog and appreciate this post as I too have been a little cautious about pr/advertising. I just accepted my first one in which the retailer allowed me to pick the product to review and write my own post {without their edit} There were no restrictions on what I could/could not say...their only request was that I included two links in the post which would send readers directly to the product/page. Sounds like the company you teamed up with may have received some bad reviews in the past and this is their way of making sure they have "control" over the content you post.

Sarah Haney, M.A. said...

1) I always get compensated after a post goes live, but I think that's because of the sponsor sites I use.

2) Sponsors usually read my drafts but sometimes they don't.

3) I always say that I received the opportunity from the sponsor site or company and I post my disclosure policy (which is also a tab on my page).

4) I've never used the term before..I haven't seen it until I read your post

5) I usually get $10-$15 per post if I didn't receive a product to review.

That's really not right that they asked that of you. Transparency helps your readers to trust you. Nice job for sticking up for what's right!

Theresa Mahoney said...

I haven't done any reviews other than for Bzzagent on my site (which is not mandatory to post a review on my blog). I've gone back and forth on doing reviews, but this is the kind of thing that really scares me away from doing it. It take a lot of time and effort to create a post people want to read, then getting it listed on various social media platforms takes a good chunk of time.

Maybe I'm not as nice as the other bloggers, but I would call the company out on my blog if this situation happened to me. You took the time and effort to create a well thought out post, gave them publicity (even if it was short lived), they should have the decency to compensate you for holding up your end of the bargain. Fair is fair, and if a company wants to play dirty like that, I have no problem drawing attention to it.

Kathleen said...

I've run across this problem too, but luckily before I did the post. I am not in the US either but I follow the FTC law because it makes sense.

Not much you can do I guess. Perhaps I should add that into my media kit, that sponsored posts will be marked as such. I suggest you do to (and if you don't have a media kit, get one!)

As for your other questions, I usually receive payment after but have received it before too. Depends on the company.

I don't usually like having to run a draft by them first. Only place I do that is Social Spark.

I've been included them as such in the disclosure text at the end of the post and social spark sticks in it's own thing.

No I don't use the term advertorial and I don't call my posts editorials either but that's what they both are. I use the term sponsored posts. How much you charge is based on your traffic. I get anywhere between $20-$50.

That's why I don't get why blogvertise is so popular. EVERY offer I get from them says to not disclose the sponsored part AND they want to pay me pittance. No thanks.

Dominique@Dominique's Desk said...

I stopped using Blogvertised, sponsored reviews etc and a few others who don't want to adher to FTC.. recently passed on another sponsored post which was as shody as you mentioned.. Normally I get paid once the post go live and it's anywhere from $10-$50..depending on what is posted and who is the sponsor.

Ai Sakura said...

I'm so glad I wrote this post and got to read about your different experiences and views... thank you all for taking the time to explain to me what this means to you :)

Unknown said...

Some great info here! I stopped through from the Friendship Friday hop from last week and have been clicking through posts for the past 30 minutes :) I'm definitely hooked! I'm just getting into sponsored posts and still on the fence as to how I want to incorporate them in my blog or if it's worth it. I'll definitely be bookmarking this post to refer to some of the great info/advice given.

sharon said...

Hi Ai, Appreciate this sharing. I think this boils down to responsible journalism. In addition to PR. I am PR-friendly, but I am also a responsible journalist and by blogging we are a journalist/advertiser to some.

From this experience, I too would abide by FTC disclosure and put it up on my blog clearly or detail some terms. I would only accept what fits my 1) blog objectives 2) terms agreeable by both party 3) (like you) review what I think is true. If the 'client' decides that I do a bias review then I would drop it too, no matter how big is the compensation in terms of reputation or monetary. ON payment

- I'm curious who states the payment terms too. i.e: I suppose a website with > 5K fans are paid more than someone with < 1K fans. But really those terms are not upfront, and it also differs from industry/ blogs/ categories.

Its a learning journey for us. Hope this episode helps us all learn something.

SengkangBabies said...

Sorry to hear about your bad episode, Ai. Never lower our principles, more so for PR agents who are not forthright.

I need to be honest to my blog fans, and I will highlight upfront that I will indicate "advertorial: in my blogpost :)

Our readers/fans are always intelligent enough to know whether we are writing an advertorial. If they do not find out today, they will find out from another source later.

It is nice of you to share bloging-pitfalls with others :)

cheers, Andy

Tony Johor Kaki said...

After reading this post, I am full of respect for you as blogger! Well done Ai!