While in business school, one of the first things I learned was the old adage,”There's no such thing as a free lunch.” Even if you say, “but what if…” or “but it seems like…” or “but this one REALLY is…”. NO. Think again. This analogy can easily be applied to the world of blogging with everything from literally a lunch or dinner to an invite to an event, request for editorial coverage, inquiry about a “guest post,” or gifting of products. Even when there is no experience or physical objects exchanged, the thing desired of you can be something more intangible like a consultation, advice, or a referral.
I feel like multiple times per week I get emails requesting things that fall under the suspicious “free lunch” category, in which I feel compelled to gracefully decline, point out that this is in fact a promotional, paid opportunity and would ___ be interested in seeing my rate card, not respond at all, or decide to make an exception.
When you are a newbie to the blogging game, it can sometimes be hard to justifying saying no or asking for money while you are fresh to the game and building your network. I think just being able to identify the opportunities that present themselves as being more skewed toward a brand's favor, as opposed to yours/your blog's, should make you take pause and decide if this is someone taking advantage of your site.
Here are a few scenarios that may have played out for you already or will in the future, and some tips on how to respond to them (p.s.- for further reading, see Jennine's post on The Difference Between Advertising and Editorial):
Scenario #1: The “Guest Post”
“I would love to have a guest post on your blog…I'm not looking to place an advertorial post but an article that is well-written, and has something to give to your audience. I provide my article for free, but I would like to include a link or two to trusted sources and products.”
Red Flag Signs: Not willing to pay for it, he/she will write it and provide it for “free,” and he/she are going to drop links into it. No, no, and no. This is certainly a paid placement, trying to sneak around and come in the back door as a guest post. New blogger or not, there's no way you should accept this proposal and publish this on your site, as there is clearly of no benefit for you to have an extra post in this capacity.
Response Options: Most likely this could be a bcc mass-blast, so it may be best to just save your energy and not respond. If this person is persistent and continually emails you about publishing his or her “guest post,” calmly explain that this in in fact an advertorial post, and if they so strongly value the placement of this post on your site, they would be willing to pay for it. Almost 100% guaranteed, you won't get a response, or they will say “sorry, never mind!”
Scenario #2: The “Product Review” or “Giveaway”
“I'd love to send you X courtesy of Y to have (or review) for your blog” or “We'd love for you to host a giveaway…with the rules of entry being sending readers to our site, Facebook page, etc.”
And/or requesting later any of these: “when you use the product, can you also add in these links? Mention X specifically? Can you wrote X posts referencing the product? Send out to all of your social media channels, or tweet it X amount of times?”
Red Flag Signs: Not being 100% upfront about their intentions and requirements when you are first approached about a product or giveaway on your site. Trying to have links or all of the promotion directed toward them.
Response Options: This one can be tricky, so if this offer is truly of interest to you to do/review/write-about, then negotiate better terms that brings it to a comfortable point for you. Also, don't be afraid to be straight forward; for example, if late in the game a publicist asks for you to include specific links, lay down the guidelines of the site. For example, one of mine is that I usually only include two relevant links per product review: one to the brand's homepage, and the other to the specific product. If an exception seems reasonable, then do it, but do let the publicist know that you are making a ONE-TIME exception. Or, if you feel like they are pushing it too much, you can basically tell them that the deal's off, and you are no longer interested in hosting the giveaway or reviewing the product, as the logistics of it aren't in line with your brand. Most likely, if the publicist values the placement on your site, he/she will be willing to work with you on it.
Scenario #3: “We'd Like to Pay You”…and then “Can You Just…”
“We'd love to inquire about sponsored post rates for your site..” And then later… once published or the final draft is being reviewed “can you not mention that this is a paid opportunity”
Red Flag Signs: So this is admittedly a promotion that wants your help in tricking your readers into believing that it is a truth-be-told editorial. Asking for it to not be a sponsored post comes up later in the conversation (when everything is pretty much finalized), so the odds may be in the publicist's favor for you to concede. This is a big no no x one million! This basically goes against the grain and cache of why readers gravitate toward blogs in the first place! Unless this is the first time he/she has ever worked with bloggers and you are the very first every to be reached out to, whomever you are dealing with certainly knows better, and most likely he/she is testing the water to see how much they might be able to get away with.
Response Options: The FTC guidelines are not underground, insider knowledge, especially if you work in digital media of any capacity. It's something that is fair to assume everyone knows exists. Disclosures are important, and trying to get a blogger to not use them or make them hard to find or unclear is just not going to fly. A great way of dealing with this kind of situation is to obliterate it before it even exists. When a digital strategist or publicist contacts you wanting to place advertorial content on your site, you can respond with your rates, and your guidelines, which can include details such as a mandatory top of page/subject line sponsored post disclosure, number of tweets/wall posts, etc with a disclosure, and content specifics such as word count, number of images, and number of links for that particular rate.
Have you busted a free promotion, disguised as a request for editorial coverage?
[Image Credit: Shutterstock.com]