Devil’s Advocate

This was originally posted on my blog The Coveted. I'm reposting this because, well 1. not all of you read my fashion blog and 2. as fashion week approaches, we're running into a slew of murky pitches and ‘opportunities' for bloggers, so I thought I would share with you my personal experience with corporate seeding.

If you’re a fashion bloggosphere addict, you’ve probably heard about the newest fashion bloggers vs. editors cat fight erupted late last month. Personally I thought it would die down, it seemed to be an argument as old as blogging itself. Tavi also thought it would die down, and she unintentionally sparked this controversy. But it hasn’t, in fact is seems like there’s a new story popping up about it almost daily…and I haven’t even checked my reader (so apologies if some of you have also written about it).  The fact that I have been so engrossed with organizing the IFB conference, that my regular mornings with my RSS reader had to be put on hold for the month (as with a lot of other essential parts of my day, like sleeping) …and still I hear rumblings of this. People are upset from both sides, and  we need to talk.

In the Independent’s  story by Susie Mesure about Grazia’s fashion editor’s reaction to  Tavi’s giant bow at the Dior Couture show, noting that ‘former fans complain bloggers have been “bought off” by the industry.’

Mesure goes further to quote editors from Vogue and GQ (both owned by Condé Nast)

Robert Johnson, associate editor at the men’s magazine GQ, said: “Bloggers are so attractive to the big design houses because they are so wide-eyed and obsessed, but they don’t have the critical faculties to know what’s good and what’s not. As soon as they’ve been invited to the shows, they can no longer criticise because then they won’t be invited back.”

They did not use any direct quotes from bloggers in this article. There’s a very good story about that on Business of Fashion.

I’m not going to pretend like I know all the details of what’s going on with PR companies and other bloggers, or what’s going on with PR companies with fashion magazines. But I can tell you my experience.

While I’d like to scoff and say that the editors are wrong. They’re not. Well, they’re not entirely wrong. They’re wrong about Tavi being bought off by fashion houses. They’re wrong to grossly generalize bloggers, and they’re also wrong to assume that this honeymoon period between fashion houses and bloggers will last very long.

Where they are right is that in the past few years fashion houses have been making scrambling to engage bloggers to present a positive image to you, the readers, and so have the magazines themselves. The level of pitches that come through are increasing by the day. I literally get hundreds of pitches daily, and I’m not even that important. As for the campaigns, they’re getting more and more competitive to stand out as bloggers reach points of fatigue. And it’s true some of campaigns are sexy,  over the years the opportunities  I’ve gotten as a blogger included sponsored trips to Paris (granted it was only a 50minute flight from where I lived at the time) New York, Amsterdam, Berlin, gifts, items for review, sponsored posts… all of which I’ve disclosed to you, and all of which have added value to the content of The Coveted, as I could not fund many of these things myself.

So in this madness how does one determine what to include, and what not to include?

Experience.

In the beginning, I had no idea about the difference between good campaign and when I was being taken advantage of. And through experience, it’s easier see more and more where companies do try to manipulate bloggers into generating positive content. I don’t think that fashion editors could do a better job distinguishing if they were on this side of the fence and managing their own advertising sales. In fact many times they don’t do a better job distinguishing as they are notorious for accepting gifts and selling copy just as much as bloggers.

But just because they do it, does that mean I should?

At first it sounded ok, you know, ‘industry standard’ ‘that’s what everybody does.’  I felt bad, conflicted,  somewhat intimidated, and sometimes scared if I didn’t take an opportunity, or if I said something bad then it would ruin my chances to have a successful blog, that part about the GQ quote is true, and I’m not the only one. I saw The Coveted going down this road, reviews, giveaways, sponsored content, invitations, and though I was making more some money, I wasn’t enjoying it as much as the days when I just posted my own clothes and random thinkings. Sure, it made me look like I had reached some level of ’success’ but in reality, it wasn’t at all, so I’ve become so much more selective about what I say yes to.

It didn’t take long to realize that saying ‘yes’ has nothing to do with success, it’s the quality of my content and relationship with the community, that builds success. I’ve written bad reviews, said things that aren’t 100% positive. Griped about bad customer service. Had to face publicists who try to get me to retract words. And yeah, I’ll never be invited back to Chicago Fashion Week because I noted that I  did not receive the full designer listing even after I emailed them for it, and Zara probably hates me. But you know what? That’s ok.

It’s also ok to have sponsors. In order to provide quality content, it’s necessary. I run two blogs, one is a community (and will be launching a new blog soon) and there is not enough time in the day to work a day job. For the past two months I have been working 12-18 hours a day on the IFB conference, and because of sponsors, we’re able to offer it to bloggers on a suggested $20 donation, as opposed to charging $300-$400 a ticket which would be what bloggers would have to pay without them.

I didn’t start blogging to get the free things, or to start a business, I started this as a personal project. And as I loved doing this, and wanted to do this full time, I had to start positioning myself as a professional. The difficult part about that, is that were very few professional fashion bloggers at the time, which is why I started Independent Fashion Bloggers. I didn’t know, I don’t know and I don’t pretend to. Blogging is so new, and such a unique medium there is a huge learning curve for everyone, including the journalists who snicker at blogger naivete.

So are the fashion editors right? In a way…yes, but in an even bigger way, they are wrong. To imply that bloggers don’t have the ‘critical faculties to know what’s good and what’s not.’ misses the point of what’s really going on. Perhaps new bloggers don’t know, but neither do new journalists, and successful bloggers have to learn quickly or risk community backlash.  The quote misses entirely that like anything really, blogging is an evolutionary medium, and will take time to reach maturity…. and we’re reaching it faster than they think.

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12 Responses

  1. holierthannow

    This is a great summary of the issues and I’m glad you republished it here.

    The whole thing about not having the critical faculties – to your point – I really don’t think that’s NEARLY as true as these two driving factors:

    – Bloggers are seen to be independent (underline/italicize!) and fashion magazines and other fashion websites are not. This perceived independence is what makes them such a desirable venue for marketing (because their audience is OPEN to what they are saying/selling, whereas when you see an ad, editorial etc., there is a little piece of you that says, this is commercial and therefore I must protect myself somewhat from being just another sucker).
    – Bloggers are outside of the “inner circle” and yes, I do think SOMETIMES that makes them more vulnerable to influence/starry eyes as opposed to professional who may be either jaded/experienced or working for someone who is holding them to a certain standard. If you’re working for a PR firm, after like week 1 you do not want to be seen giggling with joy about gifts right? You want to seem and act above it all.

    I think all of this presents an interesting challenge to bloggers that we should EMBRACE. Remaining independent or at least unbiased (I’m not saying you shouldn’t take sponsors) keeps our audiences OPEN. The most valuable thing we have as writers/editors and as MARKETERS (of ad space etc) is an audience that believes our message – in turn, this is why the brands come to us. We all know – our audiences are not dumb – they know selling out (vs. paying the bills, or loving something) when they see it.

    XO!

    Reply
  2. F (For All The F's)

    1. – you addressed this question in such a reasonable way, that I have to ask (to the world, obviously): “how come there are people (who happen to not be editors, journalists or specialists in the overall accepted meaning of the word) who take an impartial, honest and just look on things, while people, who are t-r-a-i-n-e-d to do that, simply fuel the fire with their all knowing commentaries?

    2. – “bloggers don’t have the ‘critical faculties to know what’s good and what’s not.’” that was the phrase that got to me too.

    that even sounds absurd, how can grown up adults state that as truth? the only bloggers they know about, are the famous, successful and popular ones. they don’t even know about the existance of the others. and the ones who are popular, they didn’t become so well known because they wrote “look at this pretty dress from dior!” under every picture they borrowed from style.com or google.

    3. – this discussion is not going to blow over all by itself, and I think that, unless a miracle happens, the upcoming round of fashion weeks is going to be very, very bloody.
    .-= F (For All The F’s)´s last blog ..: The Thing About Galliano’s Equestrian Style (That Is Not Supposed To Be Pret-a-Porter) =-.

    Reply
  3. KLASHAA

    I am glad that you reposted this blog. As a beginning fashion/entertainment blogger and loner in “real life”, I look forward to being an outsider! ha! Blogging has helped me connect with people and express myself and many people DO this as a career. Just becasue we arent TRAINED doesnt mean we arent QUALIFIED. WE are the audience giving back.

    XOXO

    Great article.

    Klashaa

    Klashaa.com

    Reply
  4. Rosie Unknown

    Great summary! I was sort of confused about the whole issue before this, but I totally get it now.

    What really bugs me is how they lump all bloggers together, like we are just one collective mind. I find it rather insulting that they don’t take the time to consider that within a genre such as fashion blogs, there are countless sub-categories, and every blogger fits into their own unique mix of these sub-categories.
    .-= Rosie Unknown´s last blog ..What I Wore: Grammy Sweater =-.

    Reply
  5. vinda

    i really agree with your notion that fashion editors are wrong in the context of we bloggers don’t really know what’s good and what’s not.

    overall great summary, too. such an interesting issue to be brought forward.
    looking forward for more great posts.
    .-= vinda´s last blog ..balmain hommes SS2010. =-.

    Reply
  6. maria

    So well written Jennine and Holierthannow. As my blog grows I find myself struggling to keep up with the requests. So far most have been bad and not inline with my end goal, but some have made me stop and think about whether I was making the right choice or whether I was selling out. Sometimes the lines feel a bit blurry, but I just try to go with my gut feeling and stay true to myself.

    Reply
  7. Denise @ Swelle

    Beautifully put! And from someone we know, trust and respect, it’s very meaningful.

    About bloggers not having the ‘critical faculties to know what’s good and what’s not’ is indeed laughable. There are some brilliant fashion journalists most certainly. But there are thousands of people working in fashion whose knowledge/opinion doesn’t extend beyond ‘that’s cute’ and ‘that’s not’. And I hate being sold to in the big fashion mags and seeing what is obviously paid content passed off as otherwise. I read fewer and fewer magazines now in favour of blogs because that’s where the excitement is.

    Have you ever noticed that the blogs of the fashion magazines and the big shops typically get very little action? It must kill them to have to compete with us but we do it better and we present a view that is completely unique with no thinly veiled agenda. Hard to believe readers might prefer that!

    I’ve been getting the most extraordinarily talented people coming to me , personally, not through PRs, wanting to be featured on my blog and at one point I thought I should use these opportunities to pitch ideas to magazines. Then I thought ‘Why? Why would I give away my best content for a few quid? What will the editors do for me?’

    Bloggers take a pure approach to fashion – what could be more pure than undertaking something that requires all your free time if not all your waking hours with no guarantee of financial or material reward? The editors feel threatened and rightly so. They’re being shown how to do it better and they don’t like it. The truly savvy ones will adapt and use it to their advantage. The others, well, who cares?

    Denise ♥
    .-= Denise @ Swelle´s last blog ..A Farewell Far too Premature… =-.

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  8. Mary Beth Gibson

    I love the egalitarian nature of blogging now and hope that evolution doesn’t mean less opportunity. You participate or not, find people with a point of view you really appreciate and leave the rest. That there is not one vision for women or good style or good writing for that matter enriches fashion and provides the space for true self expression.
    .-= Mary Beth Gibson´s last blog ..Margiela boots =-.

    Reply