I was approached by a PR agency I have dealt with for a few years (I won’t name the agency or the person, they’re great people and this is really about me) and asked whether I would be prepared to accept a payment for a sponsored mention and possibly a story about an upcoming launch. I initially said I don’t mind as long as the brand understood that I express my opinions and will disclose the sponsorship. I have no idea how to value that sort of exposure and asked my followers on Twitter.
I’ve been approached by a company that wants to sponsor a product mention. Any idea how I would price that? Mention on blog and Twitter
— Paul Jacobson (@pauljacobson) March 7, 2012
I received a number of responses from people I respect who urged me not to accept payment for mentions or posts.
@pauljacobson first ask if you want that to. Your brand is all about independence.
— Sarah Rice (@ricegirl2) March 7, 2012
— Kerry-Anne Gilowey (@kerry_anne) March 7, 2012
@pauljacobson Don’t do it! Not on Twitter. Brand & products mentions are fine, but sponsorship taints them.
— Gus Silber (@gussilber) March 7, 2012
— Simon Hartley (@SilverStreak2OV) March 7, 2012
— Aiden Choles (@aidencholes) March 7, 2012
@pauljacobson You have huge cred on Twitter – I value your opinions. Blogging, I think, is slightly different. No probs there.
— Gus Silber (@gussilber) March 7, 2012
Irrespective of how I approach the announcement or the brand, the issue is that I will be perceived as not being authentic and honest when I write about the brand. I encountered a little of this a couple years ago when I wrote about Nokia quite extensively. I didn’t do it because Nokia offered to or actually paid me. I did it because I believed in the people and their work even as I criticised their products. Eventually I moved to Android and then to an iPhone and wrote less about Nokia products (I have a Nokia Lumia 800 review unit for 2 weeks so expect something in due course). The only gift I received for blogging came from Nokia, ironically, a few years ago when I participated in a campaign to promote the Nokia N97 on my blog. I was one of several bloggers who were offered a N97 after the campaign came to an end as thanks for our participation in the campaign. It was offered to us on the basis that we were free to refuse or accept and most of us accepted the gift. We discussed it a little and decided that it wouldn’t be problematic and I made a point of disclosing the gift on my blog (although I don’t know where the page is now). The proposal I received this last week is different. It is an offer to pay me for something I haven’t covered yet and while I believe the agency has honest intentions, there is an unavoidable implication that the coverage should be favourable.
Something else I have become very much aware of is that some brands are paying attention to what I say about them and they are responding more frequently and in ways that sometimes surprise me. I don’t ask for anything from them but I have had the occasional benefit because I have a profile marginally higher than sea level. As pretentious as it sounds, its probably fair to say that many people who follow me do pay attention to my recommendations and criticisms from time to time too. I have found that I am more circumspect about writing about my experiences with brands because my words have some weight for some people and that is a responsibility not to be abused. Its important to me that I retain credibility because I want my recommendations and criticism to mean something. One very recent example is my post about Europcar SA yesterday. I write about the brand because I believe in the work the people behind the brand are doing and I have had genuinely good experiences with them. As much as we are empowered to take issue with brands that misbehave (and we should exercise that power judiciously), we also have a responsibility to talk about the brands that do a good job.
I don’t always write about brands when I receive products to try out but when I do, its because I have an opinion about them. I also strive to write about what interests me, not regurgitate lists of specifications and press releases like I used to. That is probably why I tend to receive fewer products for review and that’s ok. The main thing, as I said, is that when I do write about a product or brand, that it counts for something. Whether that happens depends almost entirely on my credibility and when I am perceived to be a shill, that irreparably harms my credibility. There are probably still a few people who roll their eyes when I talk about Nokia because of my posts in the past.
Anyway, this feedback in response to my tweet has reminded me how important my credibility is. I’m not a professional blogger but I have an influence in my own small way. I have spoken to the PR agency’s person and declined a payment. Instead, I will do what I always do: I will write about what interests me and what I feel is worth writing about (good or bad) and I won’t accept a payment for it. It might mean free publicity for the brand if it announces something I like but that’s ok. If or when I write about the brand and its announcement, you’ll at least know it is a reflection of my authentic and honest opinion.