Blogger Outreach Should Not Be PR
Bloggers Are Promotional Partners, Which Is Bad For PR
Bloggers Are Promotional Partners, Which Is Bad For PR

I’ve been ranting for some time about the disconnect between PR and social media, and particularly between PR and blogger outreach. In the evolution of social media, somehow blogger outreach became equated with public relations’ pitching to journalists, and so for years it’s been largely the domain of PR coordinators and account executives.

That’s seems wrong. I feel that PR should not be primarily responsible for blogger outreach. And likely not for other types of social media either.

I know, PR people, you disagree. You know how to do relationships, and you believe that social media is about relationships. You are communicators, and social media is communication. You diligently polish and protect brand reputations, and you can do the same in social media. I get all that and I’m not for a minute discounting all the hard work you do in all of the above.

Bloggers Are Paid Promotional Partners

Here’s the problem: Bloggers are not journalists. Blogger outreach programs are, most often, not earned media. Blogger outreach programs are actually paid media (even when no money exchanges hands). And therein lies the rub.

Where does the “paid” come from? Well, first of all, I am certainly not advocating for a blogger to get paid to write a product review. That seems wholly unethical and, as with any type of product review such as that which might appear in a magazine, is payola at its worst (though it does happen). However, with the exception of product reviews, everything else a blogger does to assist a brand in promoting a product or service is a promotional partnership. That’s right, bloggers are promoting, and therefore should be partners. Paid partners. Or fairly compensated in some other way (barter, donations, travel, whatever makes sense to both parties). And not only in product.

[But wait!, you say. Many bloggers are blogging for entirely personal reasons, and they don’t want to nor expect to get paid. You are correct – I know of plenty of bloggers who blog about their kids, their travels, their hobbies or their industry and none of them would ever think to take payment from someone to promote a product.  My question then is why is a PR person pitching them to promote a product (and especially if that product isn’t a 110% perfect fit for their audience) in their personal blog? I’d be pissed if I were such a blogger and was inundated by requests from PR people. And it most certainly does happen, all the time. Pitching bloggers appropriately is another topic I rant about a lot.]

So here’s the disconnect: Marketing budgets put the most money into media. Huge percentages of budgets are devoted to paid media. And PR firms rarely get OOPs (out-of-pocket) budgets beyond events, spokespeople or day-to-day operational costs. So when PR people go to the blogger and ask for them to help promote a product, and the savvy and deserving blogger replies with his or her standard charge for that type of promotional partnership, the PR firm has to say no, because they usually don’t have the budget for it.

That’s right: PR firms (most of them, anyway) do not have the budgets to do effective blogger outreach. They don’t typically know how to budget for it, how to ask for the budgets, and they’re not set up to pay bloggers effectively even if they have the budget. That’s why it’s not working, and why it won’t work, unless there’s a huge mind shift on both the client side and the agency side, and soon.

One tragedy of this dynamic, which has been playing out for a few years now, has led to the perception of bloggers (and particularly “mommy bloggers,” who should henceforth be referred to as parenting/lifestyle bloggers) as always having their hands out. And it’s also led to the recent tsunami of new bloggers who have entered the space just hoping to make money, without necessarily having a true passion for the craft. And when you’re a new blogger with a dozen readers, most of which are your book club, you don’t deserve to be a paid promotional partner for a blog.  Grow your readership, and establish your value, before you stick your hand out. So yes, recently it’s become a bit difficult to listen to all those bloggers who are whining about wanting to get paid, because many of them should not be paid.

But when a blogger becomes the media, when they are publishers who create informative, entertaining, touching or important content that reaches thousands or millions, they have power. And that power can and should be harnessed by brands in a professional way. By professional, I mean paid.

So PR firms, if you haven’t figured this out yet, here’s what you must do: you must convince your clients to give some of their media budget to you. To do that, you have to learn to budget differently, and then you must learn to manage it (because those media-like payments will turn your accounting department on its ear). Then, with those budgets, you must create smart and clever (and measurable – but that’s a topic for another post) promotional partnerships with bloggers. Because if you cannot, you will not be able to effectively play in the field of blogger outreach. And the digital agencies are going to eat your lunch.

(Authors note: Apologies to a few very savvy PR people I know who really, really get this. You know who you are. You guys (well, gals, mostly) are on the cutting edge. From where I sit, at the intersection of bloggers and clients, it seems most of the rest of the industry is not.)

img source: flickr (Amagill)

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About the Author

Stephanie Schwab
Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.
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  • Well said. Thank you

  • cookiesandclogs

    Brilliant write up and well-covered from both angles. There’s a huge shift in marketing and some are not open to that change. Thank you for according a respectful perspective of what many bloggers do and clearing differentiating between real, worthy content and just wanting free stuff.

  • I am impressed by the quality of information on this website.I match in with your conclusions and can thirstily look forward to your next updates.

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  • DorasWebWorld

    Nice Post. Helps sum up how pr and online marketing are connected.  Perhaps best that pr firms which have consistantly dealt with offline marketing activities partner with digital agencies or get consulting from internet strategists on how to make their regular offline reach initiatives appear seamless to their existing clientele while they pitch them the upsell of online reputation monitoring and management. 

  • Robert Johannesburg

    You make a good point, but it kind of toes a fine line. First you say bloggers shouldn’t be paid for reviews, but for promotions. I feel like the line between the two is kind of hazy. When they are paid to promote, bloggers essentially write a review. And, since they are being paid for it, it is most likely going to be a positive one. So what differentiates a review from a promotion? Personally, I think there are better ways to get paid to write that don’t involve gray areas.

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  • Normally I do not comment on blogs, but I would really like to comment on yours that this post really forced me to say, Great post! I am really impressed with your post! I have bookmarked your post for future reference.

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  • There has been a lot of discussion about this in several different fields, including everything from technology to fashion.  Either way, it creates a great platform for people to have their two cents.

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  • Well done Jason, blindingly obvious and true. 

    I think that this shift has happend in blogging as a whole (post the Huffinton post sell off) where bloggers are no bonefide businesses and want to be compensated in some way for their hard effort, whether that is in advertising, product or cross promotion with brands to raise their own profiles. 
    If the whole bloggersphere will eat itself now as it is moving away from the free and easy frontier days to now the ‘grown up media is now is perhaps a mute point. Especially as the public becomes more savvy to ‘partnerships between brands and bloggers’. This may reduce trust as people look for a more truthful media? 

  • I would have thought there was a set of budget already allloted for social media promotions, or at least blogger reviews? I’ve seen it quite often on many blogger sites that I thought it was the norm. Oh well, that shift would only come soon, social media is slowly but surely changing the way word of mouth works.

  • I guess I just don’t get the judgements and level of concern you all make about the way things “should be”.

    The genie on these “should be” or “how to” discussions is so far out of the bottle.
    Readers, and integrated marketing communications people are going to do whatever works for them, and stop doing what does not work.

    Follow the market. Follow what works for you in your current situation.  Follow your heart and interest and integrity.
    No formula is necessarily more… or less… “right”.  Paid… earned… if it works… fine.

    Should we lie or be disingenuous?  Are black hat techniques sustainable? Of course not.
    But mostly we are talking about gray areas that are going to stay perfectly gray.
    Sales people  (which most of us are at some level) also have integrity. 

    There is no exact formula for trust, influence, and/or marketing/financial success.

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  • I read some where “Bloggers are not journalists. Blogger outreach programs are, most often, not earned media. Blogger outreach programs are actually paid media” so got to agree with you. Nice post..

  • Well said!

    Both the bloggers and PR pros need education. I see very few who get it. Bloggers can be unreasonable or unprofessional. PR people can ask for the world and don’t plan to pay. Or they send pitches that are so off-topic that it’s annoying, insulting, or just a waste of time.

    I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve tried to educate clients (some are PR firms). I work with bloggers. I’m also a blogger who gets pitches. I’ve watched brands like McDonalds, Vogue and Aveda navigate through these issues.


    • Janet, right on. Both sides are struggling. It’s a new industry, and a new paradigm. It will work out. But I’m not sure PR will be on the winning side on the pitch side. It may be digital agencies, instead. They seem (to me) better equipped to do the paid media that blogger outreach is becoming.  And they’re not beholden to what PR people perceive as the ethical issue about not compensating (scroll way down for comment from @DavidGriner:disqus on that).  Thanks so much for jumping in to the convo.

    • Isn’t it interesting how many of us occupy every role in this play? Many of us simultaneously wear four hats: PR practitioner, business owner, blogger, and blog reader.

      It’s no wonder we operate in such a murky arena!

  • Hey everyone – I’m so sorry to not have responded to you fabulous and insightful comments. I was on a plane to San Diego when this post came out and am now at BlogHer – hobnobbing with those very bloggers that I think should get paid!  I will absolutely read and respond to all of your comments later tonight. Thanks so much for helping me stir the pot. :-)

  • Hey everyone – I’m so sorry to not have responded to you fabulous and insightful comments. I was on a plane to San Diego when this post came out and am now at BlogHer – hobnobbing with those very bloggers that I think should get paid!  I will absolutely read and respond to all of your comments later tonight. Thanks so much for helping me stir the pot. :-)

  • There is no problem with
    PR trying to get bloggers’ work for free. If a blogger works for a free, he probably blogs
    for fun & I guess his stats show the same. So the bloggers work is not worth much. If someone wants to cooperate with a blog with good traffic, I’m
    sure that the blogger charges for it. The question is how much!?!? ;-)That’s where most bloggers with better stats have no idea how much their work is really worth! Example: You get a blog trip, which got a value X. I offer my services with a value X. Then we are even! A blog with great stats & high social media influence, that could be 2 posts & 6 tweets. A blog with lesser outreach would have to triple the number of posts & tweets to get the same exposure.If someone would like to get more exposure from me. Sure! No worries! But then this would have to get paid!Easy as that! ;-)

    • I wish that every (established) blogger would put a little bit of time into determining how they want to be compensated and maybe even establishing a rate card. And certainly even the smallest of bloggers who is hoping to develop promotional partnerships should have a media kit outlining their traffic/stats, demographic, and types of promotions they’ve done in the past. That would all go a long way to settling some of the confusion around the whole compensation issue. Amy Bellgardt at MomSpark ( has a number of posts and a whole forum devoted to the topic of bloggers becoming more professional partners.

      • This is very good. I also do not agree with the notion that most bloggers are doing it for fun. I moved from journalism to blogging because I came from the newspaper world. It’s safe to say that ship has sailed; I don’t expect the print media to come knocking on my door anytime soon. I saw opportunities in “sponsored content,” “word-of-mouth marketing,” etc. I keep a good look on my stats and am sure to show them whenever anyone is interested in working with me.

  • Jen Zingsheim

    I worked in PR before blogs, and we did a lot of work in what was then called word-of-mouth marketing (also called peer to peer marketing, or grassroots marketing). Although it clearly had a marketing component to it, it was housed in PR because the work was primarily about identifying influencers of the target audience for whatever product the campaign was being conducted for, and providing that influencer with the tools to “spread the word” etc. Identifying influencers, targeting key audiences, developing messages, etc. were all within the PR toolbox. Furthermore, I cannot think of one instance during the time in which I worked on these programs did a single brand ambassador ever say “you should be paying me for this.” It could be argued that the entire efficacy of the program would be in question if anyone were paid–we were looking for people who would be interested enough about a product to spread the word–usually by either giving them product to share with friends or high-value coupons to share. In short, we were looking to accelerate the progress of the standard adoption curve.

    I can very easily see how the logic behind that transferred to blogs. If bloggers want to be paid for their reviews and work, that’s fine–more than fine, it’s up to them. However, a paid source does not carry the same weight as a peer who genuinely believes in the product.

    If the objective of the program is to generate trial through word-of-mouth, I do believe it can be considered earned media and is a proper function of PR. I think celebrity endorsement is an effective, albeit an imperfect, analogy. Celebrity XYZ loves your product, and says so when she is a guest on Ellen=word of mouth. Celebrity XYZ is paid to endorse a product, and says so during an infomercial=paid advertising. Both are celebrity endorsements, but for some the exchange of money in the latter example decreases the message’s effectiveness.

    For PR people, that distinction matters. Does it for bloggers?

    • Jen, I wish I could agree with your analogy about celebrities and bloggers. The reality is, that if a celeb mentions a product anywhere, they are almost certainly in a paid relationship with that product, even if it is on Ellen. In fact, particularly if it is on Ellen. I recently read (and wish I could get my hands on again) an article that said that bloggers have been found to have more influence on consumer purchasing decisions than celebrities. So why wouldn’t you pay a blogger for the same type of attention?  (And a whole lot less, I might add.)

      • Jen Zingsheim

        Thanks for the response–I think I failed to make my point adequately based on your reply though! I am well aware that people trust “someone like me” far more than a celebrity (check the Edelman trust barometer for some interesting data on this). But they also don’t trust advertising. And the moment money changes hands, it’s advertising. So in the long run, when people realize bloggers are getting paid to promote products, their voices too will begin to be ignored.

        So in answer to your final question, “why wouldn’t you pay a blogger?” I’d answer: Because in the not too-distant future, if this becomes the norm, people will tune that out too. Is this what bloggers want?

  • Anonymous

    Ahem- Exceptionally well written, Stephanie. The individuals the article was meant for should have no problem reading all of these lines and in between them. 
    I will throw out for consideration, as I extensively perform both PR and blogger outreach functions, that I consider paying for placement or review of a sponsored event no different than working with an advertising representative to get to the appropriate editor. All of media, in my honest opinion, is a larger network of simultaneous back-scratching. Your relationships, how you treat individuals and how you handle discrepancies in perceived value makes or breaks you– in traditional public relations, blogger relations or just life. 

    But– lets face it– seasoned PR pros can handle those personal relationships better than anyone else out there. :)

    • Mallie, there are lots of PR pros who do this exceptionally well. But IMHO, not the majority. Let’s hope the rest are reading.

  • I felt like I was following the article pretty well until the last third or so. It seemed like the premise in the beginning was that PR folks are not the right folks to do blogger outreach (since it is really paid media). But then in the end, it advises PR folks to start getting budgets and paying bloggers so that digital agencies don’t eat their lunch.

    So which is it? 

    • Shawn, my point was to say that until (and unless) PR can command and manage promotional budgets, they can’t effectively play in this arena. I do know of PR firms who do paid blogger outreach so it’s not like it’s not possible….just right now seems improbable to me that it will be very successful among PR firms, given what I know about how PR firms budget their pitches, manage their accounting, etc. So maybe they can learn….but not sure they will.  Hope that clarifies.

  • jnichs

    As a blogger myself, I signed on to the project knowing I wanted to share my experience and fully knowing that I couldn’t count on it putting bread on the table. I am flattered when companies offer samples but I don’t expect it and it doesn’t dissuade if I review or the tone of my review. Also coming from a background in PR, I have to say I don’t agree with this strategy. Regulations were put into place to keep trash from being on the web from “bought” bloggers. I don’t want to read that content and I don’t think anyone else does either. I’m sorry if what the blogger is doing on the side isn’t paying the bills but not everyone is in love with their job. I personally do not want more spam on the web but credible articles that weren’t bought.

  • Kim

    I was with you until you snottily said,

    ” And when you’re a new blogger with a dozen readers, most of which are
    your book club, you don’t deserve to be a paid promotional partner for a
    blog.  Grow your readership, and establish your value, before you stick
    your hand out. So yes, recently it’s become a bit difficult to listen
    to all those bloggers who are whining about wanting to get paid, because
    many of them should not be paid.”

    You make an excellent point and it’s something I do agree with but this level of condescension and arrogance is what puts off a lot of newbie bloggers from rising up. Some do deserve a slap in the face to bring them back to reality but talking down to anyone for being interested in making the effort is rude at best. Shouldn’t we be trying to encourage bloggers rather than making them feel like worthless losers?

    I don’t have a huge following and probably never will. Does that mean I and other bloggers like me are simply not worthy of earning a few bucks from our blogs? Chances are my blog will remain the way it is and not turn into a money maker because I enjoy writing about my life, my experiences. If that changes and my following is still small then what?

    • Kim, apologies if I offended you in any way, that was certainly not my intention. My point there is that blogging, like any other profession or hobby, has a learning curve. You cannot start a blog today and expect to get paid tomorrow, just as you cannot become a violin virtuoso overnight. Given that, I think it’s perfectly appropriate for newbies to do some work for brands for free in order to show their chops, hone their craft, build readership.

      If you write for the sheer joy of it, and don’t expect to monetize your blog, then don’t even consider the compensation question. Many bloggers do not intend to be compensated, they ignore every pitch, or they write editorial coverage (uncompensated) because they feel like it. I applaud that. But the volume of bloggers who are not that type of “personal blogger” has now far outweighed what used to the the mainstay of blogging, the web log of one’s life. Given that it’s now clear that using bloggers to reach brands is accepted, I only offer one point of view on how to best achieve that – for both brands and bloggers.

      • It takes work. Just like with any sole-proprietorship. You have to gain trust, network and prove you can do what you say you do. I’m in my second year of doing this full-time and am just now reaping some rewards.

    • As a blogger and marketer, I’ve seen both sides of it. And I have to say, the newest bloggers (at least of the ones approaching brands) typically are the most demanding, impatient and entitled. Sometimes, this is a sign of a blogger with a lot of initiative. But more often, if they’re rebuffed, they blast negative comments about the brand “not being willing to pay bloggers what they deserve.” Just as we wouldn’t pay top-dollar ad rates to a site with 1,000 readers, we’re not going to offer the same opportunities for new bloggers as we would for those who’ve proven themselves through years of hard work and professionalism.

      I really wish (selfishly) that BlogHer weren’t going on right now, because I think a lot of the people who have the most to say on this topic are probably too busy at the conference to comment this week. Always a hot topic.

      • Wpaigecoates

        That isn’t entirely correct. I’m a new blogger. I do approach companies BUT I studied other blogs like mine and talked to other bloggers and learned what to expect and how to help my blog grow and when I compared my blog to other newbies, I’m doing excellent. Anyway, I have a strict no brand bashing policy on my blog because I know that other brands will not want to work with me if they see that.If people do that, they don’t use their heads very well. Even if I receive an item to review and absolutely don’t like it, I will discuss my issue with the company and send back the product without a review. I like the fact that my approaching brands shows initiative. If I’m denied I just make a note of that company for when my blog is bigger and move on, no hard feelings. Because my blog is still small I don’t expect payment. I love reviewing products and find that it is fun. Even when my blog is larger I will not except monetary compensation. I do it because I enjoy it, not because I want to make money. I don’t see what the big deal is with bloggers not receiving monetary compensation when the majority of them do it simply because they enjoy it. I understand that it is a great opportunity to make money but not every one is out to make money every chance they get.

  • Becca

    I’m a blogger and am wondering WHY companies/pr think we are all eager and out there looking for companies and products to promote.  I mean really, I’m not all that excited about advertising your stuff on my personal blog (which I have worked my tail off to gain an audience) for free.  If you want an ad/review/link on MY site, you will be paying for it.  If it wasn’t valuable to you, you wouldn’t be asking for it… right? Why on Earth would I take the time to test a product, write up a review and promote the post to my audience for nothing in return?  Sorry, I’m not THAT bored.

    • Becca, I’m afraid I have to in part disagree with you here. I never believe bloggers should be compensated for a review. To do so would be akin to the payola of old-time radio – your objectivity could be seriously questioned. However, there are so many other things you could do for a brand -write a sponsored post on a topic that relates to the brand. Write a post for the brand’s blog. Agree to participate in a chat on their Facebook page. If you later write a review, you should still mention that you were previously compensated by the brand. But if you do the review first, uncompensated, it may lead to a marketing partnership down the road.  Just don’t do the review with that as an unsaid expectation.

  • I agree largely with the premise here. And have been trying to reinvent the relationship in my little piko of the universe here in Hawaii. I am just wrapping up a New Media Artist-in-Residence campaign that ran for 6 months and did include a per diem for the “bloggers.” 

    Yes, we did consider them promotional partners and yes we paid expenses and per diem. And yes, they had a contract protecting their right to free speech in their coverage of their trips. I do believe you can balance honesty, transparency, and promotion – but it takes a lot of time in putting both the contrat and the team together, while also educating the destination clients about how all this works. It was hugely successful from all points of view.Initial articles are here, with more follow up results to come:

  • A little off-topic, but related, I’m confused as to what the process is for PR people to contact bloggers. Recently, I got an e-mail from a PR guy for a golf course in NY. I would be highly surprised if the word ‘golf’ ever came up on any post on my blog.

    • Sounds like he’s a “spray-and-pray” PR guy…the kind who gives PR a bad name and ticks off bloggers and journalists. 

      • Did a search. The only mention of the word ‘golf’: 

        “Wales shares a long, ill-defined border with the English, including one place with a golf course where you drive from one country and putt in the other.”

  • (Applause) Terrific article. While there are still many bloggers that take the “journalist” approach to blogging, the vast majority of us have learned to harness our influence as promotional partners. The key is fitting the right brand with the right blogger and remembering that we’re business women. We don’t work for coupons or candy bars.

    • Or shampoo? :-)  There was a recent flap at a blogger conference about a certain beauty brand suggesting that they only pay in shampoo.  The tens of thousands of dollars they spent sponsoring the conference was dashed in the 5 seconds it took their communications honcho to say that. Smart bloggers with valuable audiences (small if you’re niche, larger if you’re not) will not work for shampoo.

      • Wow. It’s one thing to not have a budget for compensating bloggers, but to say it like that? Wow. 

        • "Working for shampoo" is the new "working for peanuts?" :)


  • Heather Eigler

    this post is spot on! I once had PR ask me to travel 8 hours to visit a location and then to blog/tweet/facebook/ about the venue.  I told them it would be a full day for myself and my family and while they were willing to cover travel cost I couldn’t take on the project for less than $$$….I didn’t even get an email back with a ‘no, we don’t have a budget’.  I don’t understand how they expect an independent blogger to do things like this.  They need to budget to pay us for our time.  It’s not like I was asking for a promo fee even…just that my time be compensated because I’m not drawing a salary like a journalist would. Often I agree to do the work for exchange of product or event tickets but this particular location wasn’t a ‘fun’ family outing.  It would have been a lot of work.  Love this post!

  • I couldn’t disagree more.

    Yes, a blogger who discusses your client/product can provide immense value to your client. That value can come in the form of brand awareness, positive reviews, link juice/SEO, and influence with readers.

    Blogger outreach can also include risks: The blogger has no interest in your product, doesn’t write about it, or rights negatively about it.

    The notion that a blogger should be compensated in cash because my brand/product benefitted from the coverage is absurd. What makes coverage by a blogger so valuable is the notion of free will: This blogger, whom I trust, chose to write about this product because s/he believes its a good product and felt sharing information about the product would be valuable and relevant to me, the reader.

    Take away that trust…take away that freedom of choice…and the endorsement loses value. It’s now little more than an advertorial, a billboard on the web paid for like any other ad.

    Do bloggers work hard? Yes.
    Do they deserve to generate income for their labors? Yes.
    Is the audience they’ve built valuable to my client? Yes.
    Should a client feel obligated to pay for access to that audience — to be the source of that blogger’s income? No.

    If a blogger and a brand choose to enter into a financial relationship, fine. And the blogger should disclose that information. But bloggers can generate income in many other ways, too: Speaking gigs, book deals, copywriting, etc.

    I agree that brands should try to harness the power of a blogger’s relationship with her audience. But to suggest the only way to harness that power is by cutting a check is demeaning to bloggers. Yes, income is a priority for bloggers, but it’s not the only priority. Some bloggers value other things: Integrity, quality products, excellent customer service, sharing information with their readers, exclusive access, audience growth, respect.

    To suggest paying bloggers is a necessity is also a cynical view of PR. The job of PR isn’t just to spin and polish. Good blogger outreach PR professionals invest time and energy getting to know bloggers. We try to understand them and their needs. We get to know their audiences and what they care about. We listen, we learn, we contribute. We provide feedback to our clients to create better products and service to meet the needs of the bloggers and their communities — our customers.

    I believe there’s a place for allocating ad dollars or marketing dollars to blogs, but to reduce blogger outreach to these activities misses the bigger picture.

    • You raise some good points, Scott, but I think I’ve just been too jaded by years of being a sort of middle man between bloggers (usually influential moms) and brand PR reps. PR pros feel their products should merit coverage. (“I’m excited to offer you an exclusive change to try the new…”) Bloggers feel their reach and influence merits compensation. In this conflict, I’ve come to feel bloggers are correct.

      Product reviews are not traffic drivers. Product giveaways have become diluted as audience builders. Both are still highly sought after by small-audience bloggers, but they’ve become time-consuming chores for more popular writers.

      I happily pay bloggers for their time and effort. I don’t pay them for their opinion. If I really wanted to buy them off (which I don’t), I could flood them with ad dollars and hope to crack their ethical trusses. But I feel it’s more honest and respectful to say “we’d like you to try this product, and we’re happy to compensate you for your time.”

      • You’re one of the guys I trust most in this space, David, so your response here is worth paying attention to.

        I hear your point re: being a middle man between bloggers and their brand PR reps. One reason we have different views may be our clients: Many of mine are new-ish to PR (they’ve always done mass marketing, but are just beginning to understand what PR is). I tend to spend more time supporting the blogger vs. pitching. As a result, it’s a little easier to ask for coverage when I need to.

        Still, I suspect you’re right: If you want more than one-hit coverage or if you want to win over a bigger blogger, the barrier for access is higher. @JessBerlin:twitter and I are having a great convo about that over on Twitter.

        Like most things in our arena, it’s a nuanced and evolving issue. Glad to have some sharp minds discussing it.

        • Most compensation debate occurs around reviews and giveaways, and I can occasionally be swayed either way, but where I’m downright insistent is when bloggers are being brought in as marketing partners. This isn’t a relationship we create lightly for our client brands, and we reflect that level of mutual respect by compensating them for their time and travel, just as we would a street team or a brand ambassador.

          I honestly feel every social media marketer should go to a few mom blogger conferences and spend a lot of time with the women who are hounded most by PR pitches. There’s an incredibly high level of frustration with our industry, and it’s hard to see that when we’re in our offices, writing pitches about mop heads. We think about the fact that OUR product is good and WE’RE the good guys. Surely they’ll see that! But in the end, ours is just one more email in a sea of crap pitches. Offering appropriate compensation is one of the easiest and quickest ways to set yourself apart, but as  @twitter-14108504:disqus mentions, that’s also the time to clarify exactly what you’re paying for (time, consideration and the effort to review a product, not a glowing review).

          Thanks for the great discussion, Scott et al.

          • I’m curious what you mean by “bringing bloggers in as marketing partners.”

            One area where I feel it IS appropriate to pay bloggers is when you’re asking them to do something above and beyond a mention in a blog post. Example: A local company called in a half dozen local bloggers and said “Here’s what we’re asking you to commit to…” The brand then rattled off a laundry list of items: 4 blog posts (1 on your blog, 3 on ours), 10 Tweets, 3 Facebook mentions, host a Twitter party, change your son’s name to “Brand”…you get the idea.

            Programs like that can be very effective — much bigger than a one-off post here and there. In this case, you’re essentially asking the individual (and I switch from the term “blogger” here intentionally) to become a corporate spokesperson or contract employee. For a demand like this, yeah, you better pay the person.

            Is this more in line with what you mean by “marketing partners.”

          • Yeah, you seem to get what I meant. We invite bloggers out to join our street teams for sampling, flash mob stuff, etc. That takes time and travel, and we compensate them fairly for it. Ditto for anything that involves creating content, which is admittedly a murky area, but generally means creating a video, blog writeup on a campaign, photo gallery, etc.

          • You got it, David. Well-said. Thanks.

      • I’m glad that you clarified that you’d pay a blogger for their time and effort, that you’re not paying for a positive review.  As a blogger, I think of my readers, I have to build up their trust, so they know if I say e.g. a hotel is great, it really is, it’s not just a fluffy review to keep me in the PRs good books.

        • Karen, when’s the best time to offer a blogger compensation for their time and effort, in your opinion? Before asking for a review, or after it?

          I ask because I’ve polled a few local bloggers about this. One local blogger explained her philosophy on reviews this way: If she tries the product and likes it, she’ll write a review detailing why she loves the product. If she doesn’t like the product, she’ll privately contact the PR rep to explain why she didn’t, rather than writing a negative review. That gives the brand an opportunity to improve, rather than having to do damage control.

          In that situation, wouldn’t compensating the blogger be, in essence, paying for a positive review? If she doesn’t write the review, should she still get paid? 

          Curious on others thoughts on this, too.

          • Scott, compensation for time and effort should be paid on publication of the review, therefore agreed upon in advance.  

            On one occasion a couple of years ago I ended up not publishing a review, as I had quite few negative things to say. The PR wanted me to only write about the good things, so we came to the agreement that I just wouldn’t publish. However after that incident I resolved to publish my honest opinion in all further reviews.

            If a PR does some research on my blog they will know that there is no guarantee of a positive review.

          • I agree with the compensation discussion coming up in advance. Put the cards on the table, find the common ground, ink the deal, then let me review honestly. 

            I also like your approach to posting full and honest opinions. Much as I love this local blogger, I disagree with the positive-only approach. The PR pro/brand needs to take a risk: If your product isn’t great, and a blogger pans it, improve your product. Down with spin, up with improving our products through exposure to the feedback of the marketplace!

            A PR policy is a fantastic idea for a blog. My friend (and sometimes pitch recipient) @MommyBKnowsBest:twitter has one on her blog — it’s a smart touch.

          • Scott, I can only speak about the travel blogosphere and there seem to be plenty of fluffy hotel reviews and glowingly positive press trip write ups. I think that some bloggers feel under pressure only to write good things, as it seems ungracious to criticise your host and/or so as not to jeopardise the next freebie.

            If I were a PR, I’d prefer to be working with a positivity blogger, as I can imagine my client isn’t going to be happy with a negative write up from a blogger.

            However, if you are serious about building a readership who trust what you write, you have to be honest and give clear disclosure.

          • Scott and Karen, so glad you guys had such a great convo on this topic!

      • Heather Eigler

        this is how I’d like to work as well.  Offer me a product in exchange for review?  I likely won’t take it unless it’s really amazing but if I was truly interested then sure, fine…no problem.  But ask me to do a giveaway too?  And tweet it, and blah blah blah…Not unless you pay me.  Giveaways are so much work to manage and it takes my time away from producing content that my readers really enjoy.

    • We bloggers still have to pay our bills at the end of the month. It’s not demeaning to be offered payment for your time and expertise (but no guarantee of positivity). It’s demeaning to be expected to give brands exposure for free.  IMO if a blogger, who is known to write about the good and bad, gives a product/service a predominately positive review, then readers will believe it is a great product/service.

      • Thanks for your POV, Karen.

        I agree re: paying your bills at month’s end. As a blogger myself and a single dad, I can certainly relate. My business model is to use my blog as a marketing tool to attract leads for my revenue generating activities, but it’s not the only model. I don’t have any problem with a blog being a revenue generator all on its own.

        And I agree that it’s demeaning to be expected to give brands free exposure. I believe BAD PR pros expect free coverage (and act childishly when you don’t give it). GOOD PR pros ask if you’d be willing to provide coverage, and are respectful if you decline.

        I hope I wasn’t unclear about payment being demeaning. I don’t mean to suggest offering compensation is demeaning…simply that assuming it’s the only way to motivate a blogger is demeaning. The point @DavidGriner:disqus raises about established bloggers vs. up-and-coming bloggers is a great one.
        It’s great, too, that David mentions the FTC requirements. Regardless of where we stand on to pay or not to pay, full and honest disclosure goes a long way toward signalling the integrity of the blogger, the PR pro and the brand.

        • Scott, there are a number of firms (@DavidGriner:disqus mentions one below) that do blogger outreach/paid promotions exceptionally well. I think they’ve evolved to meet the bloggers who have developed the business model which values cash compensation, often in conjunction with other forms of remuneration. But there seem to be way more of the “bad PR” firms you mention. If I can get just one of them to see why their actions are harmful to the industry, I’ll have done what I set out to do.

          An important point of this post, however, that I’m not sure has been acknowledged enough in the comments, is that PR firms don’t know how to evolve to this new way of thinking. They don’t know how to budget for media (which is what I believe blogger promotion is), they don’t know how to manage those budgets, and in my experience on the PR side, they also don’t know how to pitch clients on why they need those budgets in the first place. So while those firms are not the “bad PR” you’re talking about, they’re still hurting the overall effort because they don’t (yet) have the skills internally to make it an effective part of their service offering.

    • Heather Eigler

      it’s not just a review – I agree the review shouldn’t be compensated.  But when they are asking for anchor text links in the post, when they are asking for tweets, facebook sharing, when they are asking for spending time at venues or events then that is what crosses the line from “PR” to “Advertising” and those actions need compensation.

      • I think that’s where the problem lies – when PR people ask or expect too much from bloggers. Should PR pros (or anyone reaching out to a blogger) pay money for him or her to review a product? No. But should PR pros expect everything under the sun (review, travel to event, tweet/Facebook/Google+/create a video, requesting specific anchor links, etc.)? Absolutely not. They should present the opportunities to the blogger, and it’s up to that person how much he/she wants to invest time and resources sharing his/her opinion.

        I work in PR and just went to an event where parenting/lifestyle bloggers discussed this issue. Depending on which industry you work in, there will always be varying opinions on the topic of compensating bloggers. Bottom line is every party needs to be ethical, and every situation of a blogger working with PR pros on behalf of companies and brands will be a case-by-case situation.

      • We’re in agreement on that, Heather. A review is very different from the laundry list ask you outline here. 

        I think it also depends on the brand and your relationship with the brand. If Ben & Jerry’s asked me to do all those things, for instance, I might be more inclined because I love the brand. Tucks Medicated Ointment…er, not so much.

        The request for anchor text links raises a red flag. The only reason for that request is SEO. Something tells me there’s an SEO company behind that request. Not to pass the buck, but do you think its an SEO using PR tactic and giving PR a bad name? Or is it PR using PR tactics to obtain the SEO benefit and giving PR a bad name?

        I suppose it doesn’t matter. Either way, we need to do better.

        • Heather Eigler

          for me, it doesn’t matter what the brand is, or if I love it already or not.  If they ask me to advertise for them…then they need to pay me. (I might not take the job if I don’t love the brand…gotta keep it authentic even if money is involved.)  And yes, I’ve had the anchor text request from a PR company…must have had a convo with an SEO before pitching or something. 

          • Heather, you perfectly answer Scott’s point about why bloggers choose the brand relationships that they do. And I think also his point about integrity and respect too. If a blogger repeatedly writes about brands that do not match their readership, or even if the brand doesn’t seem to match the blogger themselves, even if it might be okay for their readers (such as, a mom of teenagers suddenly writing about a new baby bottle), they will lose readership. It may not be a mass exodus, but over time, with enough non-sequiters, their blog will decline. So for agencies, tailoring the pitch is critical. I’ve written about that a few times here on SME – search for my name and you’ll find them.

        • Hi Scott, Heather, Nikki and everyone on this (incredible!) thread. Sorry to jump in so late but I’m at BlogHer, building relationships with these very bloggers we’re talking about.

          Scott, you make some really important points here. I would in no way condone paying a blogger to review a product. But as Heather says, it’s now often way more than a review that’s being asked of a blogger. So when does a purely editorial review morph into something more? It’s a fine line that’s often hard to define. In my view, as long as the blogger makes it clear that the post, content, tweet, whatever was compensated (as per the FTC requirement), I think brands are better off erring on the side of compensating. Then the reader can determine if they trust the blogger, feel the blogger is selling out, etc. 

          I’ll respond more further down the thread.

        • Hi Scott, Heather, Nikki and everyone on this (incredible!) thread. Sorry to jump in so late but I’m at BlogHer, building relationships with these very bloggers we’re talking about.

          Scott, you make some really important points here. I would in no way condone paying a blogger to review a product. But as Heather says, it’s now often way more than a review that’s being asked of a blogger. So when does a purely editorial review morph into something more? It’s a fine line that’s often hard to define. In my view, as long as the blogger makes it clear that the post, content, tweet, whatever was compensated (as per the FTC requirement), I think brands are better off erring on the side of compensating. Then the reader can determine if they trust the blogger, feel the blogger is selling out, etc. 

          I’ll respond more further down the thread.

    • As always, this goes back to authenticity of voice. You start paying people to say nice things, they’re no longer bloggers, but bad copywriters.

    • Wpaigecoates

      I agree with this. I receive products to review but no monetary compensation. My blog is small though so I don’t feel I SHOULD receive it. I run I guess what you would call a “mommy blog”. I like to inform mother’s mainly of any information I find and I like to inform them about new products. I actually never knew that bloggers being paid for reviews was an issue. I can definitely see how larger bloggers SHOULD be paid. That is a big outreach. I think what gets me the most is companies that say they will send me information about a product and ask me to review but they will not provide an actual product. You can’t give your opinions on a product if you don’t try it.

  • Ashley Walkup

    LOVE it!  Very well said.  I’m going to share this all over the place in hopes more PR folk will read it and get informed. 


  • The first link also doesn’t appear to be working properly.  Just FYI.

  • This is a nice reality check for PR folks, especially when you consider the fact that even product samples are considered disclosable compensation by the FTC. At that point, I’ve never quite understood why compensating a blogger for their time is any more or less evil.

    My real beef with this topic is how it highlights the fact that many in the PR feel sullied by the idea of compensating bloggers. The implication is that PR exists on a higher ethical plane than marketing. Ethical boundaries of earned media were implemented and enforced by journalists, not by the PR industry or by the government. Now it feels that many PR pros want to take credit for these ethical guidelines and enforce them on every other information outlet.

    The best PR teams out there (I’m looking at you, Edelman Digital) understand that partnering with modern content creators and influencers depends on mutual respect and appropriate compensation. That doesn’t necessarily mean pay for play. That means acknowledging the fact that it’s the blogger, podcast host, etc. who is generating the value here, not the flack sending a free sample of turnip soda or washable mop heads.

    • Fine. Send me back the washable mop head. I’ll pay for shipping. ;)

    • David, Edelman Digital is absolutely on my list of those PR firms who “get it.” And I totally agree that PR has transferred the compensation issue over to bloggers, and maybe it seemed like the right thing at first, but clearly it’s not anymore. See below for my comment to Denis about the difference between the journalism business model and the bloggers’….

  • Sean Wood

    I think there is a certain sophistication to pitching bloggers, and unfortunately, our agency has not reached that level. Frankly, most of the bloggers we know or target aren’t at that level of sophistication either. It’s not a knock on those bloggers. We’re just not going after the “big guns” – the Jason Falls of the world.
    Even in traditional media, outside our daily newspaper and business journal, we encounter “pay-for-play.” If we want an article, our client had better buy an ad.
    I understand where Stephanie is coming from. We can’t treat bloggers like print reporters. Denis is right. The reporters are paid to provide content for a publication. But the bloggers, who may be doing this out of fun, should deserve something if we’re asking them to distribute their message to an audience they have established. They have value in their reach.
    The few things we’ve done with bloggers have involved behind-the-scenes tours with a little schwag, sneak previews of events or displays, those kinds of things. And it’s worked.
    Unfortunately (or fortunately) for us, many of our clients in South Texas still see value in old media. Rare is the client that wants on a bloggers radar. But we need to establish that dialogue and think about the best approach, because that will change.
    Thanks for the post.

    • I am far from the big guns. But flattery will get you everywhere. Heh.

    • Sean, thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. I think what you’re doing, the “semi-compensated” stuff, is perfect for bloggers who are just starting out and need to build their readership as well as their brand partnership credentials. I find it also works when you pitch non-profits (bloggers are often willing to work for a cause without monetary compensation), or, as you say, in a niche market.

  • There is one fundamental error with this thinking: everyone assumes that journalists are getting paid to promote a specific topic or product and that bloggers deserve the same. The reality is that journalists are paid to produce content that keeps the audience from switching to a different media outlet and the entity that pays them is the one interested in that particular audience: either an advertiser or the publisher who collects subscription fees. Therefore, if bloggers want to make money they need to figure out a viable business model that satisfies all players in the field (the audience, PR folk, and themselves).

    • Denis, not sure if we’re agreeing or disagreeing here. My point is: The business model of journalism is pay writers to create content that you can sell advertising on. The business model for bloggers is….what? Without a clear model it’s becoming established for many bloggers that their business model is to provide promotional content for brands. I submit that that’s a valid business model, so therefore whoever pitches them (PR, digital agency, whomever) should understand and accept it.

  • Though not so ‘anything new’, in the scheme of things social media itself is still really a relatively ‘new’ concept. Though there has been a successful paradigm shift to fully embracing social media in marketing budgets, this is decidedly a critical gap. 

    Very well articulated and useful post. Thank you!

  • I really wish this post had been written well enough (or edited a few times) enough so that I understood the point.

    • Thanks for the input Michael. We have two rules here (in the sidebar). Be nice and have fun. If you’d like to offer some constructive feedback next time, we’d appreciate it. This, however, doesn’t quite qualify. Just an observation.

      • My constructive feedback was that the article was either written poorly or edited poorly, as to obscure the point of the article.  That’s constructive — write or edit better.  Sometimes a little editing goes a long way to making a point and this particular article might be a fabulous one, just in search of an editor. Is the point, “PR companies need to come up with better ways to make the PR/blogger relationship a win-win one?”  If so, that’s a great point, but not made clearly.  Is the point “PR companies need some of the advertising companies budget to properly compensate bloggers to get what the PR companies need?”  If so, another possible great point, but not made clearly.

        Just because critique is sometimes critical doesn’t make it less valid.  In fact, I most often think the “do better” critique is a lot more important for a writer/journalist/any professional going forward.

        Thanks for having an interesting website. I look forward to getting more out of it in the future, as I have in the past.

      • My constructive feedback was that the article was either written poorly or edited poorly, as to obscure the point of the article.  That’s constructive — write or edit better.  Sometimes a little editing goes a long way to making a point and this particular article might be a fabulous one, just in search of an editor. Is the point, “PR companies need to come up with better ways to make the PR/blogger relationship a win-win one?”  If so, that’s a great point, but not made clearly.  Is the point “PR companies need some of the advertising companies budget to properly compensate bloggers to get what the PR companies need?”  If so, another possible great point, but not made clearly.

        Just because critique is sometimes critical doesn’t make it less valid.  In fact, I most often think the “do better” critique is a lot more important for a writer/journalist/any professional going forward.

        Thanks for having an interesting website. I look forward to getting more out of it in the future, as I have in the past.

        • Thanks for the additional information, Michael. That’s constructive, even if others seem to disagree with you. However, simply saying, “There wasn’t a point to this,” is not constructive. It comes across as rather mean-spirited. But clarifying your reasoning a bit is helpful into making it constructive. Thank you.

          • Sorry – I went for the short and sweet originally.  Sort of like the opposite of how I usually write  ;)

            And now more people are explaining it to me as an article about the PR verses advertising ongoing battle. If so, interesting topic, just wish it’d had have been more clearly put that way. From the headline I was thinking this post had more to do with something that is important to the blogging community.

          • Hi Michael – apologies in being so late to jump in, I’ve been at a blogger conference all day. Appreciate the constructive version of your feedback. Thanks for reading.

  • Oliver

    Good article but this isn’t anything new or that hasn’t been said before

    • Oliver, if I had a nickel for every blog post that echoed another blog post, I’d be very wealthy. Thanks for reading even if I’m boring you.

  • Lynnerosie

    Excellent article, thanks Stephanie.  Totally agree with what you say and it is good to see so succinctly written. 
    The excellent bloggers will last and the newbies, who want to make a fast buck, will soon disappear.  There are so many now that people can afford to be selective as to who they read.  It is quality that wins out every time.

    • Thanks, Lynne. I don’t want to discourage new bloggers, but it’s important that there’s a distinction made between bloggers who *should* get paid and bloggers who *want/expect* to get paid. You’ve got to pay your dues in any profession and this is no exception.

  • Wow, Stephanie. Fantastic post, and excellent points. I’m coordinating blogger outreach (specifically guest posting) for Compendium currently, and this post (and your pitch post) will be really valuable to me. Do you have any general guidelines/advice when it comes to pitching (reciprocal) guest posting?

    • Hi Ken – thanks for commenting. I haven’t yet written specifically about guest posting, but I’m pretty sure if you search “guest post” here on SME you’ll find a few things. I think generally I’d say the same thing about asking for a guest post/post slot as I’d say about pitching anything – know your target really well, interact with them prior to the ask (comments, RTs, etc.), and be humble.

  • As a professional travel blogger I need to earn a living from my blog.  Free press trips don’t pay my bills. Yes they give me material for my blog.  If you are a freelancer then you can write about the trip for several publication and earn from this. However if you mainly write for your own blog, you probably can’t afford the time to go on press trips. Never mind the issue of the virtual duplicate content produced by all the bloggers on that trip with you.

    I’ve written a post on this topic:

    • Excellent point, Karen. At some point you need more than product/junkets/meals to justify all the hours you’re spending blogging (and often for others). Thanks for pointing us to your excellent post.

  • As a journalist-turned-blogger, this is where I see the disconnect: In the old days, PR companies would send out media packets to reporters. Often these media packets would include samples of product; i.e., a CD, free samples of hummus, a book, etc. Some product for review. It was up to the reporter’s discretion whether or not reviewing the product would be appropriate for the magazine/newspaper/etc.
    But here’s the thing: These reporters were getting PAID by the news agency for which they were reporting. Bloggers with personal sites? Not getting paid. They are free agents; independent contractors. They create followings because they are talented writers, and should be properly compensated as such.

    • Hear, hear! Exactly my point. Bloggers are (most often) not on a payroll. And they are (typically) amazing marketers. Pay them as marketers!

  • Lots of my clients may not have media budget but they do have newspaper and some radio adverting that just don’t work..I convince them to put everything into seo.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”


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