Earlier this week, a hula hoop performer told the story of being asked to perform at a $1000/plate event for Oprah Winfrey for free. The producers suggested that the exposure would be well worth her time and expenses in performing. The problem was, she’d obviously already gotten enough exposure to come to the attention of Oprah Winfrey’s people, and the reward was… $0. Bupkis. Therefore the value of the exposure was $0. Therefore her career as a hula hoop performer was worth $0, so the hula hoop performer found herself a more ordinary job with a regular paycheck and gave up.
I keep coming back to “Why Earned Media Doesn’t Work For Bloggers” by Shannon at AKA Design + Life. In it, she points out that marketers have always enjoyed freebie promotion – or “earned media” – from TV and print:
In traditional media, say television, a brand can lend a daytime show a patio set (for example) for an outdoor segment. The television show gets a new scene to shoot, the brand gets mentioned by the host (and in the end credits) and they get the patio set back after the show. No money or product exchanged. But plenty of eyeballs on the brand’s stuff.
But this concept “falls apart” when it comes to bloggers, because free content don’t really help us. Our readers don’t want to read a company’s phony sounding press release, so we have to re-write it in our own language. They don’t want the company’s stylized photos either, so we have to take our own. In short, we do just as much work on “free content” provided by a company as we do on our own fresh original content. So, why should we do the company content at all? Press releases and free products to review don’t pay the bills.
And yet, we think we should do these projects because we’re building a relationship with a brand. But the relationship we’re building works a lot like the hula hooper’s experience with Oprah: it’s all about what you can do for the brand and not what the brand can do for you.
There are exceptions. When brands approach me to promote them for free, I politely decline unless their offer benefits me, too. Let’s say you’re a gardening blogger and you’ve talked about a particularly stubborn weed you can’t get rid of. A brand offers to send you a revolutionary product to help with it, and you like the sound of the product. It’s something you might have bought, only it’s not sold in stores near you. In this case, you might benefit from the free product in exchange for an honest review.
Brands need to realize that they must fit in with us and deliver us something we can use either with minimal effort or maximum benefit. We do not exist to provide them something for nothing.
Am I afraid of upsetting brands with this talk? Not at all. If a brand thinks a performer who’s had enough exposure to come to the attention of Oprah’s people can be bribed to perform for “exposure”, they are not even on a nodding acquaintance with reality. I want to work with brands who get the concept of “quid pro quo.” On my other sites, I get approaches from small companies who seem to get this – they customize their approach to actually be of use to me, and often get it right. I also get approaches from companies both small and large who think they can hand me a press kit and I’ll take over from there, providing them with targeted traffic in exchange for… a press kit. Wow. Thanks.