Editorial or Promotion? How to Decide & What to Do if it Crosses the Line


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]

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19 Responses

  1. Anastasia Polosina

    I did post promotion disguised as an editorial – but it was a pair of items that matched the subject of the post (i made a roundup of bags), so i inserted a couple of them among other brands, so it looked ok. Actually i think that to “disguise” well something promotional into the editorial requieres good skills of blogging!


  2. Tahmina Begum

    what do you do if you work with a major brand and would like to continue to be invited as press to things but arent being paid at all?

    • Bisous Natasha

      Generally press days are for people to come view a collection. I would not expect them to be paid because they are opening their doors for you to see their collection before everyone else . HOWEVER I have had PR then pressure me to write about it or share links and I refure to do that. There will already be enough newsletter going around and frankly the most I do with Press days is take pictures for instagram / twitter and sometimes if it’s an amazing item, share it on Facebook but I DO NOT blog about press days. It’s like blogging about Fashion Week ; everyone will eventually get info on it.

      This topic is good because I always want to know what is an advetorial, etc and when brands should be prepared to pay money. I know with big bloggers, they will practically do what the blogger wants, but the rest of us have to fight for what’s our right.

      • Tahmina Begum

        To answer to that comment above, I don’t think just because many people cover it like LFW, one shouldn’t because if everyone thought like that we wouldnt have anything!

      • Bisous Natasha

        I am not saying you should not bother covering LFW but because hundreds of people do it for FREE, don’t expect to get paid.

    • YM Ousley

      Not the author, but this is probably one that falls more on the editorial side. Some magazine editors do get gifts and compensation in the form of product, but generally even when they’re invited to see collections it’s for consideration in the publication, and not paid. If you see something at the press preview that’s worth sharing with your audience, and you write about it, that’s editorial. If you’re invited to the press preview and required to write something specifically sanctioned or dictated by the brand, that’s advertising. Advertising should be paid, editorial should not.

  3. Kendall with Sex and the Suburb

    This is such a tough topic. We are a relatively new blog – just coming up on one year – but have received many offers from companies. Some we took and some we didn’t. Mostly event invitations and beauty products for review consideration. We make sure that we always disclose that the item/event invitation was gifted but have never been asked to use set links or content. When it comes to giveaways, if it is a product we think fits our blog and our readers would like to win then we will do it. We think it’s a fun way to give back to our readers.

    At the beginning it was more difficult to say no because it was all so new and exciting but as time passed it has become easier for us to know the value of our site and what we are willing to do when it comes to working with brands.

  4. Chelsey

    This post is really helpful. I’ve noticed that companies tend to “cross the line” once your foot is already in the water, which puts us bloggers in that uncomfortable position of deciding whether to stick it out or end it there. I think the key to this is thinking of your blog as YOUR business, and everything you agree to post reflects directly on you more than the company itself. Your readers aren’t going to dislike the brand for wanting coverage, but they’ll certainly let it be known if your sponsored posts don’t match your niche.

  5. Camille Sioco

    I’ve been fortunate to gain sponsors for giveaways and outfits (I always disclose sponsored posts). My blog is more fashion related but I try not to steer too far away from “me” and be too “fake”. I’ve seen far too many people blog and when they blog, they lose themselves and they’re not the same person you know in real life – this really annoys me! I don’t see anything wrong with sponsored posts/outfits/clothes/accessories as long as you’re ok with it and it fits in with your blog. I see it as a win-win really. You get content and at the same time, they get exposure. I’ve gained really good partnerships since then and work with a lot of companies on a regular basis for my blog posts. It’s been really handy.

  6. Nancy

    This is a great and helpful post. I think I’ve already experienced one of these, but didn’t want to turn it down since I’m new to blogging and want to expand my relationships with brands. However, after reading this, I know I need to be careful because I value my readers and want my blog to be as successful as possible. Also, I really don’t like when bloggers try to deceive their readers by putting promotional items in their post without mentioning that they’re sponsored. I feel like it’s being dishonest to your readers.

  7. Justine

    This is a great article to maintain a professional relationship when saying no to certain offers, but also being able to stand your ground. Personally, I have to build up relationships with brands and grab my followers’ attention.

  8. Katie

    This is so relevant right now.

    I had a fellow blogger e-mail this morning wanting to be featured on my blog, and I turned her down. It was in no way editorial, it was her wanting free advertisement. I love reading featured bloggers on blogs, I think it’s great when one blogger recognizes and wants to introduce readers to them, but sometimes, it’s blatant advertisement. There is a difference between “this person is so awesome, her stylish is great…” and “here is so-and-so she’s at so-and-so.blogspot/wordpress.com follow her”. And, frankly, I will never feature another blogger on my site if it becomes advertorial. Though blogging is all about the community, I kind of want to keep my readers.

  9. natalie famula

    This is a really important topic.

    Unfortunately this is something we see all the time. There are some blogs I see that appear to be run completely by marketing and pr agencies and no where does anyone address that to the readers. At the same time, as readers who are genuinely interested in fashion we know these ones blog for the money and not for their interest in fashion/beauty.

    This used to be a problem for me with professional photographers. They all wanted me to create concepts, style the clothes, model and then credit them on my site in exchange for the photos. They would claim that professional quality photos would make all the difference. Now I use friends and self timer and I own my work 😉