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?
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.