Blogger True Story: “I Heard My Face Was On Times Square”

Last week a blogger from our community, Toni of The Fashion Cloud, got in touch with us after reading our post about blogger compensation. She blogged about her recent experience working with Forever 21 in Belgium, which culminated with her image, unbeknownst to her, being broadcasted on a Times Square digital billboard in New York City. Through her experience, she gained powerful insight about working with big brands and offered to share about her experience with IFB. (Read her personal account of the project on her blog, here.)

Previous to your experience with Forever 21, had you worked with many brands?

I had worked with a couple and in all honesty – and looking back – I was a bit foolish to do so, so candidly and without ever signing anything. I have come to realize that brands will try, and more often than not and if not asked by the blogger, they won't suggest to sign a contract or offer compensation. The damage is done quicker than one would think and then it is too late. This experience has put me off quite a bit, thus I stopped working with brands per se and have done only a couple of small collaborations.

Was there ever any talk between you and Forever 21 about a contract? How much time passed between the proposal to be on the digital boards and then appearing in Antwerp? And Times Square?

There was never any talk or mention of a contract, except when I brought it up after the whole “I heard my face was on Times Square” story. When I asked they responded this: “About the image release, in the past our legal team has said that a written confirmation (the email in which you give your permission) was enough.” Then again, this would have been for Antwerp only, as I was never asked or even notified for Times Square.

They then wanted me to sign a document that contained this sentence : “I waive the right to inspect or approve versions of my image used for publication or the written copy that may be used in connection with the images.” Something that I categorically refused to sign, and anybody in their right mind would.

When I agreed for the digital billboards of Antwerp, I sent the pictures on the 17th of September, and it went live on the 4th of October. For Times Square, I was first alerted by one of my readers who commented on my post about being on the digital boards of Antwerp i.e. the 14th of October, saying that she was in NY the previous month and saw me in Times Square on the huge digital billboards, thus around the same time they put me up in Antwerp they also put me up on Times Square it would seem, but just didn't tell me for the latter.


Have you heard anything from them since posting about the incident on your blog?


Actually, I was waiting for the call, and sure enough the same day I posted my article, my contact person from the PR agency they used in Brussels called me. I am not quite sure why as they didn't offer any further explanations. Furthermore, I stated fairly clearly that if Forever21 was sorry that had more than enough time and occasions to express this. I also stressed that I thought it important to share such a story and experience with my readers and that my article would not come down.


What are your biggest take-aways from this experience?


Glad you asked! There are quite a few actually. Firstly, I now understand the importance of contracts, this is a business after all – if you allow it to be or want it to be – and we need to make sure we are protected. Furthermore, if the company you decide to work with starts giving you excuses and reasons not to have a contract then I would walk the other way.

Secondly, no matter how well you get along with the person from the company that you are in contact with, you should never let your ‘friendship' get in the way of business, and they will understand this if they are professional. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, these brands need us much more than we will ever need them. Forever21 did not bring me anything, no compensation, no return of traffic from the billboards, only exposure I did not ask for. They wanted a nice image and to expand their European audience and readership/customers and they probably got it, as I talked about them and our project.

I would add to this, one last point: As bloggers, we are providing a service – our image, our audience, our time, dedication, effort and resources and our endorsement to that brand. This should be compensated in one way or another and brands should accept this, if they can't they don't understand the true meaning of hard work.


What advice would you give to other bloggers, after this debacle?


First, look up a company, check their history and ask around, before even considering working with them. Use communities such as IFB to talk to other bloggers and share both positive and negative experiences. If I had of done this, I would have probably never collaborated or shopped at Forever21, they track records is pretty ugly.

Second, never rush into anything, even if they press you and/or the project or collaboration sounds great. Take your time to make all the necessary decisions. If an offer is on the table, it won't disappear the next day. And if it does, then you probably spared yourself a lot of hassle.

Finally, before you sign a contract, have it looked over by a lawyer or someone that can help you read between the lines and spot out the fine print – because trust me it's there.


Any plans to work with brands in the near future? What precautions might you take?


Funnily enough, I was contacted by an agency the week or so before I published my Forever21 article. Though I probably would have declined their offer to represent me a year ago, I actually embraced it. It could not have come at a better time.

I have a full time job working in the European Commission, and blogging – even though I take it very seriously – is something I do during my spare time. Thus, dedicating a lot of time to negotiate with brands, respond to their numerous demands and look over contracts has become too time-consuming and un-manageable. This way, I will be able to dedicate 100% of my time to the content I deliver on my blog and will be able to work with great brands that suit both me and my readers. Without worrying about all the logistics and the contracts, I can leave all of that up to my agent.


 *We reached out to Forever 21 for comment, but they did not repsond in time for publishing. 

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28 Responses

  1. Tammy Trujillo

    I can’t believe that some brands treat bloggers this way, or anyone that they work with. I’ve worked at several brands who work with bloggers and all have had contract or at least agreements scoping the work agreed upon.
    Thanks for sharing this story and I hope that companies see this and do the ethical thing.

  2. Aves Gry

    Truly, I am stunned. And I hope that every blogger do get a chance to read this article.

    One thing for certain, I am no longer a fan of Forever 21.

    • Amber

      Same here. This article brought to mind the time when Zara was stealing images off of top bloggers and putting their photos on tee shirts and selling them! Betty from Le Blog de Betty found out when a reader sent her a photo!

  3. Kara | Glama Persona

    This article was incredibly eye opening, and I really appreciate Toni sharing her story and experiences with all of us on IFB. It gives me pause and reminds me to take care and address all aspects related to blogging.

  4. LaurenF

    Thanks for sharing this. As bloggers, it can be flattering when a brand wants to work with us, which can really cloud our judgment.

  5. snowblackblog

    Wow! I am shocked a brand like Forever 21 would be this sneaky, considering they have the revenue to pay people to do ad campaigns for them. And as for Zara stealing blogger’s images, I am very surprised too. I have had to delete emails or reject offers from brands you lur eyou with a free item but say in exchange we will use your picture for x,y and z. Next thing you know you are on some billboard in from here to Khazakstan and there is nothing you can do about it. SMH.

  6. Chic Streets and Eats

    Thank you IFB and Toni for being brave enough to share this with all of us as this puts us in the right path and opens our eyes for what kind of things to watch out for.

    Your honesty is refreshing!


  7. Pearl Westwood

    I am so sad hearing all these stories of bloggers being taken advantaged of, especially when the companies are making millions of pounds. Funnily enough I am currently in talks with a huge brand who want me to be part of a campaign, but it soon transpired they dont want to compensate me in any way other than some possible traffic from their facebook. It is so hard as you want to think the publicity will help grow your blog, but where do we draw the line that it becomes being taken advantage of?

    • Eliza

      Hmmmm…I was asked to be part of a online campaign by a company, but I wasn’t interested in compensation, I just wanted to be part of the campaign, cuz I thought it was a cool concept.
      But, I made a post about the campaign and in return I’ll get exposure/traffic through their facebook page, once they link my blog post on their wall. I’m just wondering, what was the company that wants you to be part of the campaign?
      cuz it’s similar to my situation.

  8. The Guilty Hyena

    Who would have a thunk it!! glad to have come across this, we can all learn a valuable lesson on the importance of contracts and mutual stipulation with these larger companies.

  9. Miss drifted Snow White

    I’d sue them if I were you. They’re clearly not in the right to use a picture for something you didn’t approve of.

  10. Maria V

    Shocking!!! I had a similar accident. One brand asked me if they could use my photo to which I answered they should ask my photographer. Next thing – my readers notified me that my photos were on their site. Most importantly they credited a wrong photographer. We were going sue them but never proceeded as I didn’t want to get this kind of exposure. Strange isnt it? Those brands can steal our images, our copyrighted work just like that and we can’t even stand up for ourselves. There is no protection for bloggers and everyone seem wanting to take advantage of us.

    Ps. Thanks for this article as now I know it’s not just me was so unlucky in dealing with brands but there are so many bloggers were treated badly. Unbelievable that such big brands like Zara an Forever 21 act so cheap.

  11. nitika bhatia

    Its really a shame that such a big name would treat bloggers like this ! Thanks for sharing Toni’s experience and guiding us to be more cautious while dealing with various brands! : )

  12. Kira

    Would shops ever think of using a model’s photo without her/her agency’s permission? Would a magazine ever publish an article or photo without compensating the author or photographer? Probably not. There’s a huge double standard when it comes to companies and brands working with bloggers, as if because we put our work on the Internet to view for free, it’s not worth anything.

  13. Lisa

    I have a story that everyone should know about. I had been in contact with the Forever 21 team to do a guest blog post. After some back and forth, they decided not to proceed. They screwed me over by taking the guest blog post idea that I pitched to them in detail and giving it to another blogger. This blogger then did a poorly written and very uninspiring post with my idea. I advise all bloggers to avoid them due to their unprofessional and unethical behavior. Toni is right, they take advantage of bloggers and they need us more than we need them. Boycott Forever 21!

  14. Lucy

    I do know both sides of the coin so to speak, I know blogging takes time and thought but also if you are for example a small business who are trying to get known and are out of budget you should get bloggers support. Back in the day when blogging was just starting, most bloggers did this. That’s one of the main reasons, in my opinion, why blogging grew so fast. Before the big companies understood the power of bloggers, it was a friendly relationship and most importantly, bloggers were an engine for indie designers. At this momemtn, some fellow bloggers are not very flexible. If you are dealing with a MAJOR company, then great, charge the way marketing companies do because after all there’s a reason why the major company is contacting you in the first place but if an indie designer or designing student or small business is contacting you and is offering you a compensation in the form of a garment for example I think bloggers should be open about it and not always try to slash $300 or more dollars out of you. I mean, if models, TOP MODELS are paid by VERY successful designers with garments, bags or shoes, why bloggers sometimes feel so special and only accept cash?

    In your case, the use of your image without concent and by such a huge brand is completely unacceptable. You should totally be compensated for this.

  15. Jace

    Oh boo hoo…you’re a blogger and complaining a photo of yourself was displayed in Times Square. Most bloggers would kill for that kind of publicity. Guess this falls under the category of Western Civilization problems.

  16. Eliza

    I’m honestly not shocked. Big brands are sneaky and greedy. They act a lot more cheaper than small brands, even though they make a lot of money, they just don’t want to pay a blogger, and do things behind they’re back and yeah use them. so sad. Who can you trust? 🙁

    Oh and, I always do research on a company/brand before getting involved, just so I can get some insight about them. And I also search about other bloggers who were or are involved with the company/brand. As that saying goes, ALWAYS DO YOUR HW, BY RESEARCHING! 🙂 It seriously applies everything in life.

    Oh and btw, I’m not so shocked that forever21 would be so crappy to work with, because, just working at forever 21, you’re a slave and the managers treat their employee’s pretty crappy. *shrugs*

  17. Denise

    I’m not surprised this comes from a company who produces such horrid clothes, the cheapness is reflected at every stage of business. Huge sympathies to Toni, how disheartening.

  18. Klara

    Wow.. that was pretty surprising in a way. Well, yes this is a business after all. Thanks for this post very much! I think this is an important lesson for each of us!

  19. Vogue & Vintage

    I am not stunned, I have been approached a few times by brands to work together and when you ask about compensations or a contract they act as if you should “volunteer” your services or never ask those types of questions. Our services and time is valuable and most of us have a regular 9 to 5 so working with a brand takes extra time outside of what we do to make sure we deliver a top grade product thus in return we should be compensated. Brands should get this and understand and respect our request as long as it not something absurd!

  20. Absolutely Faaabulous

    Would you mind explaining where we can find agent? I know IfB did not recommend it but it sounds like something I’d like to investigate just a bit maybe on my own (and will report back my thoughts on IfB of course!).

    Many thanks in advance,