I work incredibly hard on this site: it’s my full time job, my income source, my pride and joy. I spend hours taking photos, testing products, coming up with exciting and innovative angles that will really engage and inspire my readers. A lot of people trust my opinion, brands love to be featured and a lot of companies are more than happy to pay for collaborative work – because they understand the value it brings. However, the last few months have seen a resurgence of the one thing that drives me crazy and questions whether or not we’ve actually moved on from the outreach strategy of 2010: blogging competitions. Essentially, being asked to write about something in the hope of winning a prize of varying value and relevance has become an incredibly lazy and ineffective way for brands and PRs to generate coverage and establish conversation with bloggers. We all like to win things, be treated to money can’t buy experiences and flown to exotic locations, but if there’s little in it for us than giving away valuable space on a site for a slim possibility of seeing a return, then why on earth would we participate?
More and more brands seem to be reverting back to these tactics, used with a huge level of success when blogs were just starting to be recognised as a valuable source for information. I have entered (and won) a few different blogging competitions in the past, being asked to come up with innovative ways of reviewing products or creating a specific look – however, this was a few years ago when it was seen as a unique and slightly different way of working with brands. Now the goal posts have changed, blogging has moved on and it’s all the more commercial. The space on my site is incredibly valuable, with only products and information I’m genuinely interested in making the cut; I write about what I love, what I hate and what I think my readers need to know. I don’t want to fill the pages writing about a dream holiday I have an incredibly slim chance of winning, my perfect movie night in for the chance of nabbing a new telly, or even homemade beauty products to help promote a new fridge – it’s not exciting for me, and it’s certainly not exciting for my readers.
The main objective of these kind of outreach campaign is to generate coverage in a space that you wouldn’t normally be able to secure; it’s also about securing valuable inbound links to a brand’s website that gives their SEO a boost. Essentially it’s a lazy way of doing a job that has completely evolved over the last few years into a whole new ball game. Although there are thousands of smaller and newer bloggers that would probably jump at the chance to enter a competition or blog about something for the chance of scooping a shiny prize, if brands want to work with the more established and respected sites they need to start thinking outside of the box. These style of posts would normally be categorised as ‘sponsored content’ and so should be treated as such; I’m not in the habit of giving away valuable page space just because there’s a slim possibility I may be in with a chance of winning something I really don’t need. (I’d much rather write about something my readers are going to enjoy thanks, rather than generating irrelevant content for lazy brands.)
At the dawn of blogging the emphasis was placed on securing inbound links from high quality websites; with Google ever evolving and their algorithm changing ever other week, it’s hard for brands to stay on top of their game and ensure they’re as high as possible in search results. However, the emphasis is now truly on valuable content that’s qualitative and from a reliable source – twenty blog posts writing about your favourite girlie movie isn’t really going to do an electronics store much good. So why do the emails keep coming? Why am I still having the same conversations? Why as a respected and valued blogger am I still being asked to spend my time creating innovative and well thought out content for a brand, when it has no value whatsoever for me? I’ve had enough – and so has the majority of the bloggersphere.
Of course everyone is free to operate their site and content plan as they see fit, but for many of the more established bloggers that have seen it all a million times before, this outreach tactic is incredibly frustrating and disrespectful. It’s like using a guy for a free dinner and having no intention of ever calling him back; it’s like going into a hotel room and slipping all the fluffy towels into your case; it’s like walking up to someone in the street and taking a slurp of their coffee. It’s not cool, I won’t participate and I won’t work with brands that think it’s ok. I was asked a question recently by a PR company that were trying to understand why they had to pay to work with bloggers of a certain reach and caliber; they asked “why should we pay to work with you when we don’t pay to work with journalists?” My response: “That journalist works for a publishing house who provide them with a salary. That publishing house probably receive hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of advertising revenue from your brand over the year; they work with you to keep you happy and to keep the money coming in, not for the good of their heart. I don’t have a salary; I don’t have an income that’s generated from paid advertising, and definitely not from you. If you want to secure coverage, work collaboratively and essentially produce an advertorial, then that comes with a fee.” They finally understood it.
There are so many creative ways brands can work with bloggers, it’s so frustrating to see the same dull and irrelevant emails land in my inbox. For the majority, they totally get it and are happy to come up with ideas that really excite and engage their target market – however, the minority (and SEO agencies specifically) are giving brands a bad name by using untargeted and irrelevant tactics. If brands really wanted to generate awareness, engagement and excitement around a product launch or idea, then they could do it quite easily; social media is key (blog links aren’t everything) and understanding the value of a few Instagram pictures could revolutionise the way they work. However, until brands understand that we see right through their cheap and nasty tactics, they’re just going to be going round in circles with little return.
What do you think of blogging competitions? Do they frustrate you as much as me?