We ate. We drank. Now we’re blogging.
This weekend (9-10 November) I joined 80 Australian food bloggers at the Annual Australian conference, Eat Drink Blog. This year’s conference was held in Perth (woo!), and featured a jam-packed program of non-stop eating, networking and food-related activities.
I always find conferences an interesting social experiment. They bring together diverse people with a common interest – we’re united, but different, and it’s that difference which can be inspiring, motivating, and sometimes, downright challenging.
The afternoon panel on working with PR and ethics featuring Phil Lees (The Last Appetite) and Cynthia Chew (The Food Pornographer) generated some great discussion in the room and on Twitter.
As it developed, I realised this topic cast a pretty revealing light on each and every one of us, and started to think about where I considered myself to be on the sponsorship spectrum.
The perks of being a blogger
As bloggers, many of us find ourselves on PR mailing lists; invited to launches of new restaurants, and being offered the latest (and greatest) product to try.
The urge to accept every freebie, and to go along to the opening of just about any envelope is strong for some. It’s dazzling, when you’re a new blogger, and you find yourself on the receiving end of opportunity after opportunity. You may even find yourself thinking: ‘this means I’m legit. They know me now. I’m a real blogger!’
The recognition can be intoxicating. You feel validated.
On balance (or, on avoiding being a mindless, spineless shill)
I’d encourage anyone new to blogging (food or otherwise) to be clear and up-front about your personal views on accepting opportunities from PR or marketing.
Being clear about it, where ever your opinions lie on the spectrum, makes it easier for people who are interested in working with you.
A third-party is never going to understand your view if it’s not clearly stated, and it’s even harder to enforce it if you’ve not explained it.
When working with PR, I personally find it helpful to ask about what’s required (if anything) when you’re offered a product or invited to an event. Tell the PR person what you’re comfortable with. Don’t accept anything without feeling comfortable about it.
Include specific examples of what kinds of work you’re willing to do with PR or marketing representatives in your media kit, or explain it in the media section on your blog.
Right, wrong or just different?
Opinions were polarised on sponsorship. (As an aside – regarding the term ‘sponsorship’, I think some of us have different ideas as to what this consists of.)
On one end of the spectrum, there are some who see no moral issue with working with PR. Others, at the opposite end, suggest it’s a problem - one which compromises your ability to be objective as a blogger. Though the word ‘wrong’ wasn’t strictly used, there was certainly no mistaking the implication that a blogger who accepts freebies is morally compromised in in the eyes of some purists.
While I acknowledge that as a blogger you’ve got a responsibility to provide your readers with fair and balanced information, I just don’t think there’s one foolproof way that any of us could find, that would help us to separate our personal views, beliefs or relationships from our posts. That element of ‘you-ness’ is something which I feel is inherently part of blogging – and nearly impossible to remove.
But are we naïve to think our views as bloggers are uncompromised when we accept these perks? Maybe we’re all just a few steps away from a John Laws-eqsue ‘cash for comment’ scandal of our own.
I don’t think there’s a clear right or wrong for the majority of bloggers, who don’t actively deceive or misrepresent their views to their readers.
My own opinion about working with PR is most definitely shaped by my own experiences in my day job, working in public relations, marketing and corporate communications for the last six years.
I understand the role PR plays in blogging, and I’m perfectly happy to work with PR representatives. Others may feel differently about it, and choose to be conscientious objectors – if so, that’s completely fine with me.
I’m still as committed to sharing my honest thoughts about my experiences with my readers as I was when I started this blog over three years ago.
If we’ve not met before - Hello, I’m Juji. Also known as the ‘Girl with too many opinions about food’.
Though I work with PR representatives through this blog, I don’t feel like I’ve ever been forced to compromise my own beliefs or this blog because of that relationship. Sure, it’s often a mutually beneficial one, but that doesn’t mean it’s dishonest.
Consumers: the other white meat.
I was disappointed by the suggestion that by being a blogger who is open to working with PRs that you’re perpetuating some sort of mindless, endless consumerism sprial. It seemed to be implied that blog readers are ready to be influenced – open to persuasion and easily convinced to buy the minute they see a post featuring PR provided product (regardless as to whether a blogger even liked it).
As a consumer, I regularly seek out opinions and information about things I’m considering.
It’s not a passive process by any means.
On any given day, when I’m thinking about what to buy for lunch, when I’m about to pick a new shade of nail polish, or if I’m planning to upgrade my fridge, I will always, always, seek a second opinion and look online for a review.
I’ll consider opinions from others who are interested in similar products or I’ll find a review from someone who has already tried it.
Although I definitely prefer to know when a blogger, vlogger or any other reviewer has received a product for free, at the end of the day, how they’ve come to receive a product doesn’t specifically bother me.
With full disclosure, I’m able to work it out for myself as a reader (or viewer), and I can make my own judgement on whether a person’s views are genuine, or if they’re simply regurgitating a press release.
And I’m still always mindful that a person’s opinion is simply that – their opinion.
I don’t consider working with PRs inherently fraught with danger, and I don’t feel that sharing my honest opinion has been compromised at any time, even when I’ve been given an opportunity.
I read each and every product pitch I receive, and carefully consider every opportunity that comes my way. I’d say I turn down four out of five of the pitches I’m asked to consider daily – for a whole range of reasons, from schedule to location (PS. I live in Perth, not Sydney), and more often than not: simply because an idea just isn’t a good fit.
I never publish anything provided by PR word-for-word. To be honest, I’d say I spend more time on posts instigated by PR opportunities, as I find I tend to try harder to give my readers a different point of view or unique information with these posts, knowing that there may well be a dozen other bloggers across the country, writing from the same media release.
You’ll see posts here on Juji Chews which feature PR-provided product. You might also see me mention launch events from time to time on this blog. I don’t accept advertorial content , ever (i.e. posts written by someone else (usually PR people) and published on my blog).
Working with PR representatives is just one way I use to find out about what’s new and what’s happening around Perth and beyond.
I always provide my honest opinion when I post about PR provided products, and I’m careful to be clear when I’ve attended an event by invitation from PR.
Going forward I’ll be working behind the scenes to ensure that this is always clearly disclosed at the top of each post, rather than at the bottom (where I’ve usually posted this information).
PS. I’m impressed that you read to the end, if you did. Did I ever mention that my Masters was heavily focused on social media and blogging? ;)