Monday, May 23, 2005

[responsibility] when someone asks for a plug

this topic has been covered here and there in the last few posts, as well an in the comments, but just want to ask it outright - what do you think about someone/some business asking for a plug on your blog?

i received an email over the weekend specifically asking me to make mention of their product on my blog. i'm not sure how to respond becasue 1) i actually do use their main product, 2) but the new product has nothing to do with l.a. right now, and 3) i've never even seen/read the product.

in fact, i'm pretty certain that if i actually DID see the product, i wouldn't like it, just based on the main product that i use (but i still "use" it anyway - lol!), so i guess i could make mention of it, like - here's something new, but i also feel a bit *hmmmm* about them asking me in the first place.


paul said...

I've just been asked to plug a new product in exchange for a pound of chocolate. Sorry folks, but every man has his price.

However, I won't put any banners or ads on my site for that sort of exchange, and also wouldn't make the plug the sole item in a post, unless I was reviewing the product. I'm going to mention the new product as a news item, much like a newspaper or magazine would handle a press release.

A year or two ago I recieved some free samples of some low-carb cookies. I did the maker a favor by not mentioning my opinion - they were inedible.

Culinary Fool said...

I think everyone has the right to ask and we all have the right to handle in whatever way is comfortable for us.

Smart PR people are seeing blogs as another medium for getting the word out. The line between professional publications and blogs is very gray and people in newspapers/magazines get sent things, asked to review things on a daily basis. We're just seeing that spilling over into the blog world.

You could mention them without endorsing or mention them and be a bit more upfront about your assessment of the original product (without directly saying it stinks...) or just not mention anything at all.

Maybe you want to set a policy as Kate (accidental hedonist) has done.

I think mainly feel complemented! :-)

Derrick Schneider said...

I think culinary fool has the right of it: Newspapers and magazines get bombarded by these things, and p.r. people are turning to blogs. Not only are we a new medium currently untapped for its shilling ability, but our readers probably "trust" us more than say, something they'd see in Bon Appetit. This is more because they feel like they know us than because we are inherently more trustworthy than BA.

When I get a publicity email, I usually ignore it. The chances that I'll like their product are slim, so it's probably better for everyone all around. Magazines and books get more consideration, because I support them more. A lot of wine bloggers (and people like me who devote a lot of space to wine without being a "wine blogger") get hit on to receive samples, since the practice is very common in the wine industry. I have strong opinions about these, not all of which center around ethics.

If I did review a product someone contacted me about, I would always disclose that. That's just a personal feeling about transparency and integrity.

Sam said...

I personally have such a problem with this and if the PR people were were really smart they'd realise that by trying to give me a free sample they are more likely to ensure I actually never write about the product even if I liked it.

I might change my mind some time, or in special cases. Like derrick I would make a disclosure in that case.

I used to edit a magazine, so I know what its like. Being a blogger gives me an independence from that way of doing things. I want to try and hold on to that independence.

Owen said...

Well, since most of you have already received more than enough plugs from me personally, I'll try to avoid that altogether!

I have never been approached about plugging something in my blog although I have been approached about reciprocal linking by commercial sites. Now that I am on the selling side of the equation as well as the receiving, I am just as ambivalent as I used to be. I should say that I was a professional journalist for over 15 years (including a chapel secretary for the NUJ when I lived in England).

I really don't think there is a rule here. Not even with the blogs that take advertising - at least not google ads. Since you have NO control over the google ad placement, how can anyone claim influence over editorial? (BlogAds are another story). But if - like Sam - it isn't your style then don't get involved. And if like Kate at AH you are OK with it then fine too.

I do think that if you either get a lot of requests or obviously will take samples, then you should have a stated policy. (That's the one thing I would change for you Sam - you are high profile now - really - and it isn't fair to you or to people approaching you to not spell a policy out). I'm not high profile, so I can slide by with my customery equivocal ambivalence! (big grin)

Amy Sherman said...

In general I agree with Culinary Fool (who's no fool at all!) but I have another issue which is when PR folks contact me, they are in all likelyhood contacting a bazillion other blogs.

How many reviews have you seen of the Oxford American Southern Food issue? Wanna know why? I got my free copy too, but too many blog posts on the same subject get b-o-r-i-n-g fast. (ok, IMBB is the obvious exception!)

I don't mind being "pitched" but I am rather choosy about what I recommend. I REALLY have to believe in it. That said, I don't see a huge difference between a stranger telling me about a product or a friend telling me about a product. Just because someone is paid to shill doesn't make their product lousy--just potentially over-exposed.

Alice said...

I get free produucts all the time at work, since we publish our work all the time and companies want us to use their goods so they get mentioned on the publications. I always try to products and if they work very well, then I write them into my publications.

I'd do the same for my blog without thinking twice about it. My policy is to never pitch anything I don't like, so whether it is some new enzyme from the latest thermophilic worm or a free dessert at a restaurant, if it's good, I'll write about it. If it's not, I won't. I don't mind being exposed to new things via free samples, but I do mind if the samples are free because they think I'll write them something nice just because they gave me something for free. It definitely doesn't work like that!

Sam said...

I guess i do have a policy, but seeing as only one company has approached me so far to try and promote their goods, oh two if I include Owen, I have just written to them personally, waffling my apologizes about why I wont do it. I am obviously not as high profile as you think I am ;)
It is a good idea. I will put together an official policy in case the scenario so happens one day that I am suddenly flooded with offers to promote things.

Derrick Schneider said...

I'll second Amy's comment. I remember one of the first pitches I got was someone who said they loved my site, and wanted to share some information about low-carb diets (ooh, I thought. Some great info that they're bunk). I read on, only to discover that she was pitching an Arby's low-carb salad option or something.

Now, you don't need to read my site very often, or even very carefully, to realize what my response would be.

So she was just hitting every blog on the planet. Way to make someone respond. (Though I requested the free issue of the Oxford mag because in general I support the movement to preserve and understand regional cuisines; I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet).

When I pitch a magazine, I try and only pitch ones where my idea would make sense. Shouldn't PR firms do the same to me? I'd think a smart PR firm would just make a little dossier of each of us (OWF: big on artisanal food, cooks a lot of European food, doesn't trust shortcuts, studies wine; Cooking With Amy: knows a lot about Med cuisine, reviews cookbooks and local eateries, recipes; so forth and so on).

Owen said...

Sam - I am actually a bit shocked that you have been approached so little. Smart PR people know that it is the rising stars to whom you hitch your bandwagon. You are clearly a rising star. Of course, REALLY smart PR people will actually read your blog (as Derrick suggested) and will have discovered that pitching you would be bad. But my experience with PR is that they'd rather flood the market than not.

I've already been pitched infinitely more at the book's commercial site by people desperately wanting to be published than by anyone for my blog (which would be nobody).

On the subject of pitches, I have recently heard some amusing stories from when I wrote to the 40 bloggers I invited to be in the book. (A different kind of pitch). Several of them have since told me that they initially thought I was running a clever variant on the Nigerian oil scam. I hope nobody got put off by it but I couldn't think of any other way to go about it. And since 24 of the 40 ended up in the book, I guess it worked out alright. Only a few directly turned me down and they all had cogent reasons.

Culinary Fool said...

One thing I haven't seen anyone mention is that it is possible to write a "non-endorsement". In other words, if you try something and you don't like it say so and say why. If people who are asking for plugs realize that you will post your true feelings they may not ask so often.

Right now, I hear everyone saying they will only endorse things they actually like - makes perfect sense - but most just ignore anything they don't like. If you wrote a little entry like "I was asked to try this and it looked like it might be cool but when I used it I found that I didn't like it and this is why..." that might also be a service to your readers.

Right now it's really a win-win for the people asking. They might get a write up with an endorsement if you like it, but there is no risk for them if you don't.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it! :-)

Kate said...

I've been hit on by PR firms a fair amount lately, which led me to writing the guidelines that Culinary Fool mentioned above. One thing I think should be added...

PR firms do not have your interest at heart. They work under the idea that any press is good press, even if you write that you hated their product.

As such, the e-mails sent to me all had the same basic implication, "We'll send you these products, but only if you write about it".

No one dictates to me what I write about in my blog, and I was tremendously offended at this tact. Also, not to be overly paranoid, but PR firms tend to have legal resources and I am/was loathe to agree to anything that might be legally defined as an obligation. Realizing that is what made me write that PR firms have the right to send me items, but I also have the right to let them collect dust on my shelves.

My point here is that your blog is your blog. Not only are you the writer, but also the editor. As the editor, you and only you should have say on what you write about. Be wary of anyone who tries to dictate otherwise.

cookie jill said...

I would feel a little uncomfortable putting in a plug after being "asked to do so."

But if I used the product and liked it, I would do it on my own. Gratis.

But because they are "using" you to promote their product, you might consider charging them for an "ad", because that is what it is. Or you can ask for a reciprical "plug".

I just feel uncomfortable that they want you to help them out at no charge to them and to try out the newest "hip form of marketing" and assuming that you would gladly oblige.

Elise said...

I was recently pitched on some new Hefty product with the request, The plates and bowls are absolutely free, and in return the only thing my client has asked is that you post a review of the product on your blog.

I responded with, Thank you for your offer.

I think you may find that most of the more influential food bloggers will not agree to write a review in exchange for free product. Unless perhaps that free product is a Viking range. Even then, we are a rather independent lot. We also talk to each other via email, comments, and forums just for food bloggers.

You can send me free product, but I won't guarantee that I will write about it.

Many of us however, do take advertising. Advertising with food bloggers is extremely inexpensive generally. See the rates over at

I then gave a long list of food blogs that I knew took some kind of advertising beyond Adsense.

Advertising on food blogs is incredibly cheap compared to what these companies are used to paying. I know that isn't what the PR guys and gals do, but if they want a guaranteed mention, paying for an ad is an upfront way to do it.

I only write up products that I really like or really hate and want to warn people about. I did get an offer for a free HP printer after I wrote a scathing review about the one I bought. Which was nice of HP to do. I didn't take the printer. But only because at this point I didn't need it.