One of the joys of travel blogging is the amount of exciting emails I get. I have to limit my looking or I’ll just keep dragging down on the iPhone to refresh when I should be working away at the never-ending to do list.
In among the press trip offers, reader requests, newsletters and spam there are always requests from companies presenting me with a once in a lifetime offer to blog for them for ‘exposure’, despite the fact it’s obvious they’re up to their armpits in cash.
I’ll get my name in lights on their Facebook page which, yes, has an impressive number of likes, but where’s the interaction? I’ll be featured on their site, which has millions of views, yes, maybe the site does, but the blog? Nada. And of course if I want to link back to them to promote the article once it’s done, on all the social media feeds ever, that sure would be swell. I don’t even have to give them any money for this level of exposure, wowee!
Opportunity vs free labour
If the company contacting me are genuinely of interest, and the contact knows this because they’ve researched me so well and seen the genuine ‘synergy’ they speak of, I get it. If they absolutely, genuinely think it’s a golden opportunity and we’re going to have a long and happy life together, cool. Let’s have a look, maybe a go, and see how it works to benefit us both.
– From The Oatmeal
Most of the time though the requests arrive from a PR or content agency – already a sign that there are tens of thousands of pounds in someone’s pot, somewhere – and they want me to write about some vaguely linked product, app or service in return for said ‘exposure’.
Basically they want to use my work to advertise, for free.
This post has created quite the conversation in the comments below and on message boards –
make sure to read them too to get a fuller picture!
Social media shares for pay
I think of the person who’s got in touch. They must love PR / SEO / marketing, I presume, that’s why they managed to bag that job and pursue careers in competitive worlds. I love my job too. That’s why I’ve worked so hard to create this blog that companies now want to use as a free advertising platform. But no matter how much anyone loves their job if you don’t get paid for services given, you’re not going to last very long.
Love doesn’t pay the bills.
What if the person responsible for paying those guys for their time turned around and said:
“No salaries this month employees, we’ll just talk about how great you are on the Facebook page. We have 20k likes!”
Nothing to pay for the technology you had to use to do your job, or transport costs, or even the electricity to power your work. In return for all those years you spent in training, the hours you spent building up your blog, and time spent answering their email you’ll get a mention on their Pinterest account.
This video from Zulu Alpha Kilo puts the whole working for free thing into perspective by presenting the concept to restauranteurs and personal trainers, who find it ridiculous.
“Do you do what you do for free?” – personal trainer
“Err… no.” – customer
“So, why do you want me to?”– personal trainer
Travel blogs vs travel magazines
There are a lot of variants in comparing travel blogs and travel magazines, I can see that, but as an interesting benchmark I thought I’d have a look at how much it is to advertise in the UK’s leading travel magazines, and note their circulation.
The prices I’ve listed below are for whole page ads. As a blogger what we’d put together could better be described as an advertorial, which, for example, Lonely Planet would charge an extra £4,100 for, taking the money up to £10,600 from £6,500. Their circulation is less than my average unique visitor count.
Most of the figures come from six months worth of ABC stats – the independent assessor of the UK magazine industry – so I’ve done the same. My circulation figure is the average unique visitor count from the last six months (May-October) on my blog.
|Magazine||Circulation||Whole page ad|
|Food and Travel||27,000 (source)||£4,950 (source)|
|UK National Geographic||219,254 (source)||£24,598 (source)|
|UK Conde Nast Traveller||78,060 (source)||£12,626 (source)|
|Sunday Times Travel Magazine||56,624 (source)||£27,040 (source for the paper)|
|Lonely Planet||46,000 (source)||£6,500 (source)|
It is a difficult industry to put a price on sure but that’s upto an individual blogger. The fact that the post can last forever, and gather momentum as the years go by means that, if I was an advertiser, I’d see blogs as a much better investment of cash.
How I do ads on my travel blog
I’ve worked with a few companies to advertise their wares. InnTravel wanted to give me a Kindle Fire to give away to my readers and write about ‘switching off’, IHG wanted me to talk about their new business gadgets and Hotels.com wanted me to go ‘unrooming’. I label them, as required by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) in the UK, and am happy to work with a company I know and like.
“The ASA requires bloggers who are paid (directly or in kind) by a third party to write reviews or comments about a product or service and who cede editorial control of the blog to that third party to be up-front with their followers by making clear that it’s advertising” – from cap.org.uk.
Sponsorship and advertising is a personal choice for bloggers but for me it’s one that allows me to carry on travelling and to provide all the free content that I do. It makes up a notable part of my income. Doing this often gets discussed negatively at blogging conferences, or bloggers like to give it a different name to make them feel like they haven’t sold out. In reality, pretty much anything worth advertising on, gets advertised on, from films to festivals to buses to blogs.
Sneaky magazine advertising
It annoys me that bloggers come under fire for advertising products they like, especially as it’s just accepted that magazines do too.
I’ve worked on a few leading UK magazines but my first job in London was for a different kind of magazine company. They’d pick a topic, for example beauty, and then sell as many ads as possible pandering to the advertisers requests just to get the money in. Then, the flatplan for the magazine would be created based on the ad space and what the advertisers wanted. I was shocked and thought it a sketchy way of working. It was only when I moved on to more credible magazines that I realised that’s what they all do, base their content around their advertising. How else would they survive? The £2ish cover price barely covers production and distribution, it’s the advertising that brings in the cash.
Even though advertorials are labelled in magazines, and the adverts tend to be fairly obvious, often the content on the opposite page has been written specifically to keep an advertiser happy. The content is meant as a taster for the ad, which is what they’re officially paying for but the ad will need context in the form of editorial.
No matter how much free stuff a magazine gets it needs money to survive, and the same goes for blogs.
3 examples of ‘blogging for exposure’ requests
I’d imagine any bloggers who are reading this to nod along. Any non bloggers who’ve made it this far by curiosity may be wondering what exactly these requests look like. Here are three of the most common examples of ‘blogging for exposure’ I’ve received over the last week. Some concepts and companies have been changed but you’ll get the jist.
You’re included in a round up post of the ‘best travel bloggers ever’ by a company that boasts millions of pounds of profit. They now want you to write a post on your blog about the fact you’re included in the list.
I’d always share these lists on my Facebook and Twitter feed – it’s an honour to be included. At the moment though I have one particular company who included me in a round up – which was liked and shared by me – and now they’ve sent me approximately six emails wanting me to write a post, for free, about the fact I was included in the round up. As I said, this company claims some of the biggest profits in travel.
I may have done this naturally, who knows, but the fact they’re hounding me to do it is driving me crazy. People who give to receive do my head in, so I’m not writing about them.
If you freely decided to do a round up post of the best plumbers in your area, and then asked the top ones on your list to come and sort your plumbing for free, would they?
Just in case you don’t know, here’s a little lesson on how the internet works to explain why they want this.
For most people in the UK the internet is Google and Facebook. They want to know something so they type their query in Google and the answer appears. Google’s job is to find the page among the millions on the internet that will answer your question. They’re here to serve their customer. Google uses thousands of indicators to determine how relevant a webpage is and one of the key ones is how many people have linked to that page because it shows that it’s a good page. This is why the company in question wants me to write about them – to link to them so that Google thinks they’re a knowledgeable page about the top travel bloggers and so shows them as a top result and they get more views.
I won’t go into it further but one of the best sites on the internet for learning about all this stuff is Moz.com. The intricacies of the internet will blow your mind.
A new start up wants you to review their app on your site, host a competition to give 5 away to your readers and write about them on the App Store. In return you’ll get to be one of the first to try the new app. You go back and tell them that’s advertising and will cost but they ‘don’t have the budget for that’.
So, they want a good few hours work, and access to your audience, in return for an app you didn’t ask for or want?
If it’s a new company and they haven’t budgeted for marketing, that company will not be around for long making any inclusion pointless. If they had the money to build the app they should have the money to tell people about it.
If you take them up on the offer you’ll need to pay for a tool to host the competition, take time to encourage people to enter via social media, to pick a winner, email them, stay in touch with the client and to write the review. And to download the app and try it out. I’d estimate about 5 hours work, in return for downloading an app you don’t want. No thanks.
Why should a blogger do this? If I really like the product, sure, sure, but if I don’t then pleading ‘we’re just a small start up’ doesn’t really work for me.
I’ll bet I’m a smaller start up than them!
You’ve been sent a 600-word brief to write about whether you prefer Berlin or Munich. The company is one of the top 5 in it’s industry. You’ve been asked to cover 7 specific points in the body text, to use brand messaging, link back to them, to promote on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and to use the designated hashtag. If you could include the video that they’ve provided that would be good too. When you checked back there was no budget for this advertising, but they can put you on their mailing list for press trips in 2016. Oh and could you get it done in the next week?
I probably get something along these lines every week. I despair and don’t want to waste time answering but they keep on with the ‘have you had chance to read my email’ emails. This request is clearly advertising and I wouldn’t want to pretend to my readers any different. They want a very specific message written on my blog, which I’d be happy to do as long as it’s marked that it’s an ad and they pay me. And I wouldn’t even charge the £6500 that a magazine of a similar circulation to me would.
And as for the offer to be on the ‘press trips list’ I’d rather have some money so I could afford to go on the trip myself.
Turn the request around Mr ‘Advertiser’, would you do it?
Sometimes, just sometimes, it can be worth it
Of course, there are a few brands and / or opportunities in the world where it may actually be worth working them for free. You’ll be rewarded for giving your time in return for genuine exposure to the right crowd or an incredible experience which you can leverage to make money a different way. Those particular brands will change in reference to where you are in your travel blogging career with the pool getting smaller as you become more established.
5 ways to decide if it’s worth it
1. How many social shares do the company’s blog articles have?
They might be big sites, but how big is the platform your work will feature on? Do your research.
2. Have you heard of the company before?
If big brands like Lonely Planet, National Geographic etc want to work with you and genuinely give you valuable exposure for your time, you’d be mad to say no.
3. How big is your following?
If you’re just starting out one of the best things you can do is to get yourself noticed on other, bigger platforms. And because every platform is bigger than yours it makes sense to carefully select who you’d like to work with. Anyone in the same field, with a bigger following than you, could provide value to you in working for them for free but just check the terms and conditions of what you’re getting yourself into.
4. What will you get out of it?
I recently wrote for the Travelettes ( I approached them, they weren’t asking for free content) and when they shared my post on their Facebook page I got a good boost in Facebook numbers from people interested to know more about my experience and work. Travelettes is a site I love – I was proud to see my work on there – with people who were cool to work with, and I got some new readers out of it. I’d be happy to write for them again.
5. How long has the company been around?
I’m not saying it’s not worth it if they’re new but so many start ups fall down fairly quickly, especially if they’ve got questionable work ethics, like not paying people. The best way to find a company who’ll be around for a few years is to find one which already has a few years under its belt.
Do you work for free?
Blogging for exposure is something that’s been around from the start and is bound to continue into the future. One one side if companies know they can get you to work for free they’ll do it. Look at it a different way and if you manage to skilfully manipulate bigger company’s audiences with your witty and intelligent writing that they share across their genuinely large, engaged, relevant audience groups, then you can make it work for you.
And if you manage to get £4500 for an ad on your site, send them my way!