Thursday, 16 August 2018

Blog Detox - Step 3 - Working with Brands & PR Agencies

Before I get started on Step 3, I wanted to put some context around this blog detox as I work out in my head what I want to achieve from it and the longer terms changes I would like to make through it.

It's not just about writing a couple of ranty posts and then going back to doing what I always did. It needs to be a process that removes what's making the blog a less enjoyable and less creative space. So I'm going to focus on that as the ultimate goal but honestly, I'm not sure what that looks like. I might take a break from it all or I might just change the channels I use. I'm still mulling it over but for now, I'm ready to make one major change in the way that I work with brands and PR agencies.

I asked a group of online friends in a Facebook group I'm a member of about this one because they read the blog, and many other blogs too. They helped give me a good perspective on how branded content is perceived and whether it puts them off reading or following.
The consensus was very much that although #ad content is broadly unpopular, as long as a blogger is authentic in the brands they work with and the content is relevant, it's accepted as the norm for bloggers that have been established for a while and have a good following.

Constant gifted content was more of a bugbear for people than occasional paid for collaborations and I do agree with this. I feel like bloggers (me included) are quick to undervalue their contribution to a brand and accept product in lieu of payment.

So Step 3 is that I will no longer accept gifted items from big brands or PR agencies in return for unpaid coverage on my channels.  If a big brand wants access to my writing and my audience, they will have to compensate me for the time and effort involved. 

This has been on my mind for a few months. Just before we went on holidays, I did my tax return for last year. Between the blog and my job, I make a 4 figure part time income. I don't pay tax on it as it's below the threshold so it's just that - a part time income. However to earn this income, I'm working full time. Mostly 60-70 hours a week. I'm constantly online, constantly thinking about the next blog, the next image, the next post I have to put up.

When I chose gifted items to feature on the blog on an unpaid basis, it creates unpaid work. It's absolutely lovely to be given something beautiful but it doesn't pay the bills. And the effort I put into featuring that item on the blog and/or on social media, creates hours of work that takes me away from the paid work I could be doing - and from the family. I tell people all the time that I have created a part time role that I can fit around the kids but the truth is the family fits around me...as I sit with a laptop or phone constantly on. 

The wardrobe sell-off has also prompted this because about 30% of what I sold had been gifted to me. Yes, I loved and wanted the items & I was happy to wear them but did I need them? Definitely not. But I got sucked into the trap that so many bloggers are in where you want fresh content, and there's a certain kudos in working with these bigger brands. Maybe they would pay me at some stage in the future if I produced good content? Ultimately it gave me more clothing in my wardrobe than any woman needs or has time to wear.

This might seem like an obvious one for some people reading this but when something that starts out as a hobby becomes a business, it's difficult to ask for payment and brands take advantage of this reluctance to charge. There's always another blogger out there willing to do it for free so we worry that we will miss out on a potential collaboration and don't ask that all important question 'do you have any budget for this PR?'

It might seem like a cheeky approach to others, an ungrateful one even. But the PR and blogging industry creates so much unnecessary 'stuff' beyond gifted product. Take press drops which occasionally arrive at my door, though only if I'm unaware they're coming....if I'm asked beforehand, I always decline the delivery. They come in boxes or bags, wrapped up with plastic and ribbons and generally contain things that we don't need and although I often enjoy what's inside them, I am immediately under obligation to share the content on my social channels which presumably bores you and takes up both our times. No more.

So from here on in, anything brand led on the blog will be a #ad. I won't be disappearing down a #ad hole though as I'm not a big enough blogger AND I will still only work with brands and content that I love...it'll never be for the money. Trust me on that.

And I will continue to regularly feature my own content that isn't brand influenced. Try-ons, my visits to local boutiques and my genuine (considered and mindful - not forgetting the wardrobe clear out!) wardrobe and beauty purchases. And if there's a small/local brand out there that I think you'll enjoy, I'll give them a shout out for free. I know not every company has the resources to pay bloggers. The likelihood that it will interest you will be the priority here.

Does this all make sense? To put it in context, I've declined 4 approaches this week using this criteria. One brand came back offering to pay. That's 25% of the brand-led content that I might have featured before and it's 100% paid. Better for my livelihood and I honestly think it's better for you too. But you can tell me what you think - I'm open to your comments. I've had all sorts over the past couple of posts...some encouraging and some less so. I publish and reply to them all (unless they're spam!).

Oh and to finish, I am not in any way knocking other bloggers who create unpaid content in return for gifts. We are all at different stages on our own blogging journey. I know it's sometimes the only way to work with a brand or generate fresh when you're starting out. It's how I operated when I was in the early days of all of this. But maybe, now and again, ask the question. A mention on a blog for any brand, big or otherwise, is a massive plus in terms of how search engines rank a business. No matter how big or popular your blog is. It's SEO gold and it's worth rewarding.


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21 comments

  1. Avril, this is such a good move for you but also a very good message to the blogging community in general. I often get sent products I want to try but then as soon as they arrive I feel pressured to put together time consuming content and most importantly with beauty products I need to try them a few times before I can decide if I would buy it, then people start contacting you pushing you to talk about it before I've ebven made my mind up if I like the product. It puts me off working with brands because of this pressure and the way I have always seen it is that if it is not a product I would genuinely spend my money on then I am not featuring it. I hate the thought of people buying things they don't need and that's why I love making videos based on how to wear capsule pieces 5 ways. So pleased for you Avril, spreading the word of putting value on ourselves as content creators. Good luck with your detox. Emily x

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    1. Aw Emily thank you....I was nervous posting this as a blogger with blogger readers. We are all individuals and of course we should do whatever kind of content we want, including unpaid brand collaborations, if it suits us to do so. But brands also need to value our contribution to their PR and none of us should be afraid to ask if there's budget, as I think 9 times out of 10, there is! And none of us should be afraid to declare #ad for fear of backlash. Keep doing what you do - I love your videos and the emphasis on maximum wear per item. Thanks SO much for the support as always - hopefully see you soon xx

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  2. Well said Avril. You've presented a strong rationale. It's an ever evolving media landscape and this means constant reassessment and evaluation. With you all the way. Claire

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    1. Thank you Claire - that means a lot to me. Talking to you yesterday helped shape this finally....has been pending for a week or so!

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  3. Great post Avril, I really hope others take the lead and learn something from this attitude. I really don’t mind the odd ad from someone like you because I love your content and I find you completely genuine- also I certainly don’t have the budget to buy buy buy everything bloggers advertise, and I’m fine with that, I don’t crave stuff! (The odd pair of shoes maybe but not all the stuff!)
    I’m at a funny place with my blog at the minute, because it’s so niche (weddings, specifically NI) I need the local industry to provide- real wedding stuff etc - without them I don’t have valuable content but I’m finding it really hard to make that pay. They know without them I have nothing so everything is free, I don’t make anything! If you’ve any ideas I’d be all ears! Anyway, rambling now, but loved this post & your detox. Keep up the good work, Em xx
    Ps. Also loving the M&S bag I bought from your sale, exactly what I was after and in my mum of four budget!

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    1. Aw Emma - I appreciate it's so hard when you're starting out and you rely on brands instead of the other way around....shame they can't see the benefits, especially of featuring on an actual blog post (as opposed to social) because that kind of content is gold...and discoverable for many years after it's written and that is regardless of blogger size/following. Maybe if more bloggers said no, it would be easier....but I know that's unlikely to happen. Keep grafting and know that your content is so relevant and useful. In time, your hard work will be rewarded x

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  4. I admire your determination to stay true to yourself and to your original goal, Avril. I was drawn to your blog because I admired your style and I like the interesting local shops and brands that you find - I have made several purchases inspired by your tips. I have unfollowed other bloggers because, over time, I felt bombarded and manipulated, so I applaud your detox and look forward to what comes next.

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    1. Thank you - it's interesting how much clearer my head has become as I make these steps to change. It's taken a massive weight off my shoulders too. I should have said above that of course, I'm not saying working for free for brands is a bad thing for others to do - many bloggers want to do it and have the time to. I just know I can't anymore...7 years is long enough xx

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  5. HI Avril, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, as you know I am only at the beginning of my blogging journey and trying to learn and work out how I want to do this, but I am very clear that I do not want to bombard my readers with constant pressure to buy, I want to share with them what I wear, how I style things and what I do in my day to day life. I want to be genuine and not feel pressurised into being a business. I enjoy creating the content because that is what I want to do. So your experience is really so helpful to me. And as you may see from my recent blog post after my holiday in Sri Lanka I am more and more aware that we all have too much 'stuff' and I certainly don't want to add to that! Michelle xx

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    1. Thanks Michelle - you definitely have the right approach and are clearly in touch with the readers and the market. That'll take you far and will build your readership steadily. And I loved the Sri Lanka post - what a fabulous story about Anne. You are so kind and lovely to have taken the time to befriend her. And WOW at the dresses....you need to import them via Anne! But not until next summer...argh I am trying not to shop :) Thanks as always for your support Michelle x

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  6. I love your honest approach and wish many more were like you. There is only a small number of "bloggers" I follow all the time and you are one of them! I enjoy your try-on sessions and seeing how you put outfits together. I also like the way your content is varied- fashion/fitness/treatments/recipes etc. It becomes tiresome to see so many bloggers all wearing the same outfits (when do they get the time to work/attend to family/shop for these outfits?!). Some bloggers seem to have a lot of gifted stuff, which makes me think could I become a blogger just to receive the freebies! Ha ha! (I know it's not as simple as this and would never do it!). I've also noticed that in some competitions, other bloggers have won them! I could be cynical here but wouldn't want to think that way. Keep being true to yourself April, love what you are doing! Cathy x

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    1. Thank you Cathy - I'm definitely going to keep doing the try ons as everyone really enjoys them. It's such a funny old business blogging and SO over saturated - I'm not sure what to make of it at all. But the encouragement in the comments has really helped me to work my next steps out - can't speak or comment on anyone else but I know what I need to do. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and I'm called April all the time...I don't mind one bit! xx

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  7. Avril not April (hate predictive text)

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  8. Wow I honestly didn't know you weren't being paid for your work. Gifts are nice but as you say they don't pay bills. You may find this blog post helpful: https://thebloglancer.co.uk/how-much-do-bloggers-charge-for-sponsored-posts/ I just checked and you have a DA of 23. Your Instagram is rocking. You should definitely be charging separately for a social share on there. Which should be in the region of at least £10 per thousand. Or maybe offer a package of blog post and social share at a discounted rate. Sorry for going on but I feel very strongly about bloggers undervaluing their time and influence. Just look at that M&S dress, sold out several times over because of influencers. For one blog post with 'payment' of a free dress, you have to plan your post, you have to travel to the venue, spend time trying on, photographs, uploading on stories, planning your post, writing your post, uploading your pictures, editing the format and only then can you hit publish. You then have to promote the post and share on social. That dress effectively is making you work for less than minimum wage. So glad you are now taking the approach of being paid for all the hard work you do for PRs and brands. E x

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    1. Thank you - that's so helpful. I think that not knowing what to charge is part of the problem - so many bloggers ask me what I think they should be charging and it's so difficult! Really appreciate your advice on this and thanks for taking the time to comment, best wishes Ellen, Avril x

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  9. Thank you Avril for your integrity.

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    1. Thank you for reading Mary and for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate the encouragement x

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  10. �������� can't support you enough for digging deep and re-evaluating. I truly believe that the integrity you have shown is valuable. Mostly to you, but also brands that want to associate with more meaningful content. I'm old school marketing/comms and I believe there is a tipping point with social media right now and I'd say you are ahead of the curve. I've got a hunch that quality over quantity is going too have to happen, saturation point in so many areas online. Maybe I'm living in hope about that but happy you have realised you need to be in the driving seat of your direction and making positive strong moves to get you there x

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    1. Thanks so much for this...I agree wholeheartedly with you about the tipping point and how important quality is going to be. The more I think about it, it's the mass events and mass gifting that I'm struggling with the most. I honestly think it's putting consumers off - the exact opposite of what is intended. So I do hope I'm ahead of the curve and that I can work this one out while keeping a meaningful blog going. I know how lucky I am to have the support I do. Thanks again for taking the time to comment x

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  11. Love this Avril. Claire is right that the whole advertising, media and PR landscape is changing... I always ask myself (and sometimes the PRs pitching me a gifted product) ‘Would IMAGE/Ulster Tatler run a feature on this without payment? which sometimes helps - both in my role as a blogger/writer and in my role as a PR... I’ll refer to it (and the bloglancer post) in the Instagram with Influence event in September.

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    1. Thanks Cathy - really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. That's a really good question to ask for every approach - they absolutely wouldn't! I've worked with them from the candle side of things and even running competitions comes at a price now. I think it's great it will get a mention in the September event - no better woman to call it out. Thanks as always Cathy for the support - from Day 1 you've been behind me. Will always remember that x

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I love reading your comments and will reply as soon as I can if you have a specific question. If for any reason, you are unable to leave a comment, just drop me an email at avril@alifetostyle.com or leave a comment on the A Life to Style Facebook Page! Thank you xx

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