You can’t pay your taxes with free lipstick samples

Posted on 01. Jun, 2012 by in Digital Marketing

I stole the title of this blog post from Kevin. Kevin works in a department in LBi bigmouthmedia that is entirely dedicated  to working with bloggers. Hopefully the concept does not sound strange; outreach experts are increasingly common in adland.

Agencies have a number of reasons for getting in touch with bloggers. The outreach might be inspired by a social media project where a brand would like some coverage of a new product, service or message. The agency may be hoping that bloggers may link to clients, socially share content or help create other valuable quality signals for search engines to recognise. The agency may even be involved in affiliate recruitment and actively trying to connect quality publishers with merchant brands.

With so many reasons to get in touch with bloggers it is safe to say it happens a lot. I run, as a hobby, a number of blogs and experience the blogger side of the situation too. On one occasion, a blog attracted its first outreach mail from an agency before I had even finished tinkering with its WordPress widgets. It had been live for less than 24 hours.

All this communication between bloggers and agencies is not always harmonious.

For a start, agencies are not always very thorough in explaining the importance of disclosure to bloggers.

In the UK, and in many countries, there are laws against bribery. That’s a fine and somewhat badly defined line just waiting to be crossed. There are trading regulation issues as well. In the UK the Office of Fair Trading have issued warnings to blogging groups and in the States the FTC’s instance on disclosure is well known.

The FTC’s concern may also be expanding. Just the other day the Federal Trade Commission held a workshop to look at how companies encourage social signals such as Likes.

When it comes to search marketing some agencies use link acquisition tactics that place the blogs they persuade to cooperate at risk. As Danny Sullivan said on Search Engine Land;

No one seems bothered that some SEO firm was potentially getting a third-party web site into trouble with Google. That’s the most disturbing aspect of all of this. That’s not new, either, but it ought to be stamped out.

Much of this frustrates bloggers.


I know I get annoyed by clumsy and demanding outreach emails that come my way – even though, as a digital marketer myself, I fully know the work load and client demands the sender is likely to be wrestling with.

Some bloggers want nothing to do with the whole drama. I’ve seen blogs with “no agency” policies. I’ve seen instructions on how to “pitch” a blogger over Twitter (keep it short).

Other bloggers want to try and make a living from blogging. This is a valiant cause and one I support. It would be great if the internet allows lots of writers to earn a living by covering subjects they are passionate about.

This is hard work.

It is certainly very hard to make a living off the revenue from blog ads. If you manage to push your way over the £1 CPM mark you will need to be running a blog with enough traffic to challenge resources on a typical shared resources host if you’re running WordPress before you can think about quitting your day job.

You certainly don’t make any money from free lipstick samples, or loanware of tech or by posting infographics. It’s not surprising that some bloggers ask for money in exchange for coverage or time.

There is, though, a disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to coverage. Any blogger who’s sophisticated enough to been active in affiliate marketing will know just how hard it is for a blog to drive sales.

For example, an also-run tech blog that posts once a year about broadband speed is unlikely to generate much in the way of affiliate income from broadband deals generated as a result of that coverage. However, the “advertorial” cost of a broadband article could be hundreds of pounds.

British Beauty Blogger expressed the disconnect well in her post on the changing game. She wrote;

However, as Blogger stats started to rise, their value to the brands also started to rise. More eyes on product basically, and a good review means that more people will want to buy the product. And, in essence, that is what an ad does – it puts eyes on pages and cash in the tills. And yet, as far as brands are concerned they still want the massive leap in eyes on pages to equate to a free mascara. And, it just doesn’t any more. That is not to say that blog posts should be paid for. Far from it. What I’m talking about is the heavier demands that form an entitlement attitude from brands.

The entitlement is a tricky one. If you are about to release a brand new smartphone then surely that up and coming smartphone blog would like to know about it. Being able to lend the blogger the new smartphone, before it comes onto the market, can only be positive. Or is it? Is this brands and agencies wallowing in their own sense of entitlement again?

Is there a crisis brewing around blogger outreach? Or will all these complications simply sort themselves out naturally as supply and demand meet, as they often do, at the equilibrium of the marketplace?

This blogger would love to know your thoughts.

Picture by PJ Trash | Pondering post by Andrew Girdwood

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