Tipping the Scales

Sir Millard MulchSo there’s been plenty written about why bloggers hate PR people.

From lazy pitches to not knowing names and audience, there’s a veritable mish-mash of scorn poured on us PR nuisances from a lot of bloggers.

And, yes, some of it is warranted and trust me, I’m the first to call out bad PR practices.

But you know that just like anything, there’s always a flip side. Here’s an example.

I was speaking with a very good friend of mine who runs her own PR agency. She’s established a terrific reputation as one of the best PR people around and has deservedly won awards for her approach. Simply put, she’s a role model for great PR.

We were talking about the relationship between bloggers and PR and how we can improve it (“we” being both the blogosphere and the PR industry). This was when my friend shared one of her examples as to why that improvement might be further off than hoped.

She was working with a client whose core audience were “mommy bloggers”. The client’s product was ideally suited to the thousands of moms that have families of their own and blog about products in that niche. So, it would make sense for the PR campaign to connect with the blogging audience it’s suited to. So far, so good.

When my friend approached some of the key bloggers in this field, she had this response: “It’s $75 for a positive review, $100 if there’s an image attached.” When my friend queried this, she was told, “Get your client to splash the cash. If you’re getting paid, we want paid too.”

Say what?

Now, I understand about paid blogging and I have no qualms with it, as long as the blogger is upfront that it’s a sponsored post and that the review remains unbiased. Heck, we all need to make a living, but if you can’t offer full disclosure and non-bias then don’t take the money.

But this isn’t paid blogging – it’s simply a company asking (through their PR agency) if you’d be interested in product testing. You get first shot at the new line and you get to use and keep the product.

But you’re saying that if I pay $75, I’ll get a “positive review”? Isn’t this false advertising, or marketing, or whatever you wish to call it?

What happens if the product is crap? Will you still tell your readers that it’s great, because you’ve agreed to offer a positive review? How do you think your readers would feel about that? After all, aren’t they your most important audience?

Or is this just another point in your one-upmanship game with the PR industry?

Now, I’m not saying all bloggers (mommy or otherwise) are like this, either when it comes to product reviews or in the relationship they have with PR. I have some fantastic relationships with many bloggers and I couldn’t do a lot of my work without them.

But to those bloggers that my friend had the misfortune of dealing with?

A blog is your personal voice. Your readers are your community. Is both your voice and community something you’d happily sell down the river for a few bucks?

Because if they are, then that’s the real bad PR.

Creative Commons License photo credit: rick

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  1. says

    Paid blogging is not real blogging if it is giving an opinion. It’s a paid testimonial if anything. Pay to play is a horrible precedent to set if your blog is a legitimate source of information. This kind of bs is what limits a lot of PR firms from committing fully into the bloggers.

    I guess the lesson to draw from this: Bad apples exist in both fields, so try and just work with the good ones. If someone asked me to review their product and it was a relevant pitch, I’d want to do it regardless. It’s just a cool concept/product.

  2. says


    Good post. Transparency, ethics, earned media. As the emphasis continues to be put on the earned part, companies and PR people will be challenged daily with the ethics part. It all comes down to which side you choose to play on, both with bloggers and those seeking earned media. If you want real earned media, then earn it, don’t pay for it. And if you want to viewed as a credible member of the blogging community, then do an honest review, for free, for your readers.

    Mike Lizun

    • says

      It’s definitely a subject that seems to be causing a lot of friction and confusion at the moment, Mike.

      Like you say, things have to be earned – trust, respect and yes, authority. If you’re known as someone that puts out for money, then no matter what authority you’re after in your niche, you’ll forever be seen as a pimp.

      I do think that paid views can come into play – after all, what are movie or music reviewers if not sponsored commentators? Yet there’s a difference between being paid to do a job, and demanding money to comment on someone’s job.

      By all means, earn money for what you do – just don’t think it’s a right.

  3. Kara Williams says

    You do not understand the number of “mommy bloggers” I come across who say things like, “Can you believe it?! The PR person wants me to talk about their product FOR FREE!”

    They do not understand how the traditional model of journalism works: PR peeps pitch a story (or product or destination), the journalist writes about it if he/she is so inclined. No money changes hands.

    With the hundreds of product-review blogs that have seemingly popped over night, many of which include paid links or “sponsored posts,” lines are blurring all over the place. Many “mommy bloggers” do not have editorial backgrounds and do not understand why the PR people are not offering them money for their reviews.

    • says

      I think this is a problem with a lot of bloggers, Kara. And I’ll firmly place myself in that camp, as I have no formal journalistic/editorial experience (although I have provided freelance work to magazines, if that counts at all).

      There is a big difference in the approach. Not with all bloggers, I’ll admit – there are some damn fine bloggers that put a lot of journalists to shame (and vice versa).

      But yes; the relationship between PR and journalism is far different from the one between PR and bloggers (at least in its current state). Unfortunately, examples like my friend’s don’t make it any eaasier.

  4. says

    Wow, that was a very eye-opening read. As I was making my way through it questions of credibilty and ethics were flying around in my mind (and as such I really felt myself agreeing with Mike Lizun’s comment). As a PR intern who is just starting to make her way in the field, this sort of inside and behind-the-scenes information is so useful. Thanks for the post!

  5. says

    but if it was $75 for an ‘honest’ review – who would pay? would you pay someone $75 for a review that was garbage? what if you loved your product and thought the world should too but you catch the reviewer on a bad day

    you throw $75 and one of your fab products down the toilet. Wasted.

    it’d be more beneficial to say “$75 for a good review providing i like the product. if not you get your money back with no review”

    now… how can i blog for money? lol you couldn’t pay me enough money to sell garbage – just not my style

    • says

      If the company was as ethical as the blogger should be, then they would still pay and take that risk (or at least they should take that approach).

      At the end of the day, if Company A really wants to offer the best product to Customer B, then getting the opinion of trusted Blogger C and D will go a long way towards getting their product right.

      And if Customer B happens to read either Blogger C or D and then finds out that they’ve been duped, you can bet that both Company A and Blogger C and D will have lost a lot more than their credibility.

  6. says

    I shouldn’t be all that surprise, but I’m speechless. If the review isn’t credible, it’s advertising – not PR. These bloggers should have a rate card and display it on their site. That way we know who should be contacting who, and why. And, readers are open to the fact that the review is paid for.

    • says

      That’s actually a great idea, Jen, and similar to something that I’ve brought up before in blogger/PR discussions.

      Additionally, have something like a “PR-friendly” gravatar (or even in your About page). This will make sure that we know we’re approaching the right people, or at least people that are open to being approached.

      There’s so much that could be done to make both sets of lives easier.

  7. says

    I am sure this post sounds familiar to a number of PR people as I have certainly had similar experiences. I agree with Kara in that because they have no formal journalistic training, there isn’t that distinction between church and state. I think for non-journalists blogging starts as a hobby and once they learn that consumers and companies value their opinions they get that the blog has suddenly revenue potential, and may not even realize there are ethics involved.

    If blogging is the new vehicle for news and bloggers want to be seen as the next generation of journalists, then the model needs to adhere to the same guidelines. Money is provided in exchange for ads which makes it possible for writers to provide us with un-influenced content. If readers can’t tell the difference between pay-to-play and advertising, then the new age of online news consumption is doomed.

    • says

      I think you’ve hit on the key point, Rachel – there needs to be a clear difference on what is paid/sponsored and what is not. Then let the reader decide if it’s unbiased.

  8. says

    As a product reviewer, editor, and writer I would like to say that any blogger who accepts money for an inaccurate review is not to be trusted. It is unethical. I work with hundreds of people in the PR world and not one of them pays me for my opinion. Monetary gain is through the free items received and kept for review and through ad revenue on the site. It is not sent by the PR firm in cash form.

    By the same token, this makes it 100% clear that whatever my opinion is, I’m going to write it! If I love it, hate it, or am indifferent to a product, I’ll be letting my feelings be known. Anything less is a disservice to not only the PR company and their clients but to the blog readers, who are the primary audience of said blog. If it becomes clear reviews are blase, phony, fake, or done for $$ then there is no way readers will continue to come back to a site.

    • says

      Hey there Dom,

      Thanks for chipping in from the blogger review side. I read a lot of your reviews and can definitely say that you call it as you see it.

      And why not? As I mentioned to Jac Star above, companies should use bad reviews to improve their product or service. Everybody wins – the blogger remains authentic, the readers trust the blogger, the company gets a better product and the consumer gets all three.

      What’s so difficult about that?

  9. says


    Give me $75 for a good review, $100 if you want me to include a photo…Say What?!?!?

    I would review ANY product for FREE as long as I got to keep the product AND give a 100% unbiased to the point review of it. If I like it, I will tell people. If I don’t, trust me, people will know. I did a 180 recently on a corporation because of an outstanding job they did with customer service. I blogged my experience. Even some of the past that had formed my view of this company.

    To my shock, my unbiased views (and yes some not so nice things were said by me) and what changed those views blog post has now be included in the company’s latest press release, had me interviewed by a major newspaper, and opened up other doors. Their PR gal personally contacted me asking if they could highlight my experience and include it. I can only assume because they knew it told a good story and a true story. Key word, true.

    Authenticity, honesty and transparency will never go out of style, no matter if money is exchanged, goods are exchanged, services are exchange or absolutely nothing is exchanged.

    • says

      Kudos to both you and the company/PR team in question, Bill. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be skewed to get results. And as you point out, it’s clear that companies – good companies – want to be the best they can for their customers. In these cases, bad or negative reviews or just as welcome as good ones.

  10. says

    I’m a relatively new blogger so this is all a learning process.

    Question…do we not all fall under “citizen journalism?” Anybody and anyone can report on something simply by being at the right place/right time, techonologically enabled to do so. Isn’t journalism the avenue to report “facts?”

    I started blogging out of passion…I never configured the monetizing aspect that everyone seems to be caught in the middle about…I recently came across an article in AdvertisingAge stating that before and after any exchange of money, the relationship has to “earned.”

    Please forgive my ignorance but I will fair better in the long run understanding both sides of the “coin.”

    Thank you!

    • says

      It is a form of journalism, Henie – some do a better job than others, while others would fall into the category very loosely.

      The problem that’s arising is the one that many of the comments here attest to – that as blogging continues to be a key outlet for news and opinion, it’s being done without any editorial training or guidance.

      This is fine for personal bloggers, but once you cross over into paid blogging (in whatever shape or form), then the editorial side of things needs to be addressed.

      Newspapers and magazines offer paid advertising slots in their publications. This is fine – we (as readers) know they’re adverts and treat them as such.

      But do we always know that a blog review, news piece, story, recommendation, etc, has or hasn’t been paid for?

      I’m all for bloggers making money from their passion, but do it the right way. Offer full disclosure; let your readers know that it’s a sponsored post; have a byline that informs visitors you offer sponsored reviews, etc.

      There are a host of ways that you can take a paid review and still make it your voice – but at least make sure your readers know this as well.

      • says

        Thank you for offering your thoughts on this, Danny!

        As I absorb this post and comments, I believe it all boils down to ethics, whether you’re Blogger or PR. It’s unavoidably symbiotic so there needs to be a definitive line established.

        Thanks all for being a part of my learning!:~)

  11. Karen says

    Very interesting post. And the challenge for PR people today — who in my experience sometimes have, as did Dan’s friend, stronger ethics than the “blogger/journalists with whom they interact. Sadly this “pay for play” issue is not knew, and is one I encountered years ago with print writers who touted themselves as journalists — I think the issue may be “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

  12. says

    I love this Chinese/Japanese (yes, they do both!) restaurant in Wicker Park in Chicago. Best Chinese food EVER and their service is great as well. I tell people about this place all the time because everyone thinks they’ve found the best Chinese food and clearly they have not because Papajin is the best!

    They didn’t pay me to say that. They don’t NEED to pay me to say that. Their food and service is so damn good people are going to tell other people and their business will continue to be good.

    If you’re considering paying someone to write a (positive I’m assuming) review of your product/service/company, you have bigger problems. You’re not confident in your product/service/company. And who wants to do business with a company that doesn’t even believe in itself?

    If you’re considering reviewing a product/service/company for payment, you don’t give a shit about the product/service/company – you just want $. Neither you or the company you’re writing for is fooling anyone. We know that your review is full of crap and provides no value to anyone whatsoever.

    So next time you’re in Chicago, stop by Papajin and tell me it’s not the best Chinese food!

  13. says

    C’mon, Danny, be a sport! Pay me and I’ll talk about you!

    The whole pay for the positive review (ala carte no less with the image add on offer!) is pretty pathetic. It really kills the spirit of things for me.

    I guess I am just going to stay on the poor side of the blogger tracks and feel good about who I am when I put my head on the pillow at the end of the day.

    I’ve read somewhere that we leave this world the same way that we came in – with nothing. If that’s the case then what I do means more than anything I acquire. Being bought and sold for your “opinion” seems like a shallow way to go.

    • says

      What’s your going rate, fella? 😉

      It does seem a shame that some people will only talk about you if you pay them to. As most people here have said (and Tim makes the perfect point above), if you like something you’ll recommend it to your friends and colleagues. If not, you’ll maybe do the same but from a negative slant.

      Fees should be involved? Why?

  14. says


    Great topic you have here. I believe this does not only apply in Social Media but anywhere in life. The principles you stand behind is what makes you who you are, if you choose to take a different route and sell your soul, so to speak, does that make you a bad person and who
    s the judge of that? There are many fine lines out there but I believe in doing the right thing always even when no one is looking and that is standing behind what you believe in.

    • says

      I think the key point you make there, Justin, is the “sell your soul” analogy. If you sell your soul, that essentially means you don’t have a conscience, so you don’t care how you treat others.

      If this then leads you to lying to others, that can’t be right, can it? Say you recommend a product in a positive light because you got paid, and someone buys it because they trust your opinion. That product clearly has a fault or safety issue, and the person that read your review is badly injured.

      I don’t think there’s anyone who would doubt you would have been in the wrong there, nor would there be a fine line involved – it would clearly be wrong.

  15. says

    Hi Danny,

    I recently had a few thoughts and a bit of a rant about the whole thing, but I took quite a different approach. Maybe because I have had quite a different experience with it.

    I review products and sites every so often, but simply because I enjoy or believe in the product. I could never give a false review about something whether I’m paid or not.

    The way I see it, if someone is going to pay me to review a product, they need to be willing to take the positive with the negative. It’s a chance they take when approaching bloggers IMO. They can read it before I post it, but there is now way I’d change my review to read more positive.

    If it’s a bad product, I simply won’t review it. The only exception would be if it cheated or harmed the ‘community’ and I can guarantee it wouldn’t be sponsored :)

    I always include the good with the bad is because if you leave out the bad, you lose the trust you’ve built up with readers. And let’s face it, it doesn’t matter what product you look at, if it doesn’t include the downsides of the product, it just looks plain fake (it loses it’s weight.)

    If the reader buys the product, they are going to find out about the negative sides on their own. If a reader disagrees with my views, chances are that person will come back and disagree with me in the comments starting a conversation. This creates the buzz around the product, benefits the blogger, and informs consumers.

    The way I see it, these reviews have little or no weight on new readers. It’s the readers who have been following a blogger for awhile who buy. These guys will be able to spot a ‘lie’ a mile away, and the blogger who chooses to write a fake post will pay for it in the end.

    This doesn’t just happen in the blogging community either. Articles are another one. I discuss this with clients all the time. “I don’t want this negative point or that negative point in the piece” “Do you want to look honest or do you want you customers to find out you lied?” “Well we want to be honest, but…”

    The trick is how you approach those negative points. Own up to them and offer solutions. Point them out, but emphasize the benefits of a product. Nothing dishonest in that as far as I can see.

    That ‘$75 for a positive review’ thing is BS and is exactly what creates the problems all the way around. I agree with the comments above that that is an advertisement and not a review. IMO, if you’re going to do it, do it right, or don’t do it at all.

    Angie Haggstrom
    Freedom Freelance

  16. says

    I keep a personal blog related to writing, and I follow some PR people and their blogs. From this vantage point I see a lot of the negative attitude certain bloggers have towards PR and marketing folks.

    I don’t understand it. It seems to me I can learn useful stuff from PR people. There’s nothing wrong with building good relationships with the public.

  17. says

    I am a mom blogger and have a review blog and the practice you mentioned (charging for a positive review) is wrong on SOOOO many levels in my opinion. Wow. I don’t know anyone that does that personally. It’s true one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. I have been discussing this with blogging friends and we are all appalled and hope that any blogger doing that will be called out on this unethical practice.

    • says

      Hi there Shannon,

      That’s the sad thing – there are a lot of great bloggers around (you, your friends and others like you) that obviously do things the “right way”.

      Yet it’s always the few that often spoil something for the many. Just ask the PR industry… 😉

  18. says

    This is shocking to say the least.

    I work with a lot of different PR agencies and have some great relationships built and honestly could never imagine charging for a product review.

  19. says

    I’m a Mommy Blogger (or a mom who blogs whatever) and here’s how I see it:

    Bloggers are NOT journalists. Journalists get a paycheck. Bloggers do not. If you pay me for placement on my blog, you are paying for my time not my opinion which is my own and can not be bought. A good blogger keeps these things separate – it’s like church and state.

    I don’t do a lot of reviews, because most pitches I get are so wrong for me. I seriously don’t believe brands have figured out the best way to work with bloggers. I also don’t believe that PR is the right conduit for reaching us. And yes, it often feels like PR reps are taking advantage of bloggers, asking us to promote their clients for nothing in return. That said, I have worked with a couple reps who have been stellar…but only a couple.

    Our readers are so flippin smart that they are already tuning out these ‘reviews’ and unless we get the kinks worked out I can see this form of promotion going the way of the dodo fast.

    Oh, and the dweeb who sells positive reviews should be publicly flogged.

    • says

      There’s definitely both sides to every story, and I agree that a lot of the time, many PR agencies don’t know how to reach out to bloggers. This is where I feel more PR people should blog, so they can understand the whole “mindset”, if you like.

      We – as in PR and bloggers – need to have some way that we can all work out best practices and relationships for all involved. I know there have been suggestions regarding official bodies to help this move forward – but until it happens, it’s still talk and the relationships continue to suffer.

      I definitely agree that some of the best ‘censoring” of fake reviews are the readers – they know your voice and they know if you’re BS’ing them.

  20. says

    “Additionally, have something like a “PR-friendly” gravatar (or even in your About page). This will make sure that we know we’re approaching the right people, or at least people that are open to being approached.

    Read more: “Tipping the Scales (or The Dark Side of Blogging versus PR) | danny brown” – http://dannybrown.me/2009/04/09/tipping-the-scales/comment-page-1/#comment-6920#ixzz0GuqrM9hQ&A

    Danny, there actually is one, it’s the Ethical Blogger Badge from PitchBloggers.com

    PB continues to be a great resource for bloggers and PR to bridge that gap and set up standards in practice.

  21. says

    I am completely Appalled!! As a mom blogger who does product reviews and giveaways to hear that some bloggers are trying to charge for a positive review disgusts me! Isn’t it enough that you are getting to test out a product first hand and keep it? Its bloggers like that that make the rest of us look bad. I don’t know of a single blogger who charges for a product review. Blogs are our opinions, you can’t “buy” someones opinion.

    Blogging is supposed to be fun, including reviews, which is why we do it and I think that when it becomes “work” then you shouldn’t be doing it anymore.

    However, I can understand a blogger wanting to get paid for writing up a post to promote a company when there is NO product review involved. They are using their free time to write it up, so they should be compensated on some level.

    Great Post!

  22. says

    When my friend shared this post, I can honestly say I was shocked and flabbergasted to learn that there are bloggers who are taking advantage of PR with their unethical practices by charging for a product review.

    I run a review and giveaway blog and I have never asked for compensation on top of being provided a review product. If I get a product for review, I consider that my compensation and will blog negative or positive based on my experience. I, however, would not do a review without a product so a paid review is out of the question as I feel that it isn’t right to blog about something you haven’t had any experience with, paid or not.

    Most bloggers, including myself, are not paid to write so I do charge for advertising space and I may charge for hosting a giveaway. That’s not to say if I use a product in my home that I bought myself and found that it was outstanding, I would mention that for free if I thought my readers would benefit from the amazing product too. Paying for my domain name and hosting isn’t free and neither is my time.

    I can see charging to run a giveaway (if no product review is involved) as we generally do not receive any compensation in writing the post, marketing the giveaway, and a go between medium between the company (through PR) and winner that can easily take an hour or more of your time. Being paid to write a review post and then having the gall to ask extra to ensure a positive review is grossly crossing the line! It’s no wonder some PR have a bad taste for bloggers when some bloggers are pulling these types of stunts.

    • says

      Hi Jacqueline,

      Thank you for sharing your views, you’ve given some great food for thought.

      One of the issues that seems to have popped up (certainly from the comments so far) is where compensation becomes paid. As you say, getting first shot at a product that you can keep is generally seen as compensation – extra does seem bizarre.

      I guess one way to look at it is from a PR slant. If a PR agency is trying to win a client and they wine and dine them and treat them to free events and tickets, is that in the same vein? Where would the acceptable compensation begin and end?

      I can see charging for hosting and web space as being reasonable – it’s like a company hiring a hall for a raffle event, still needs to be paid for and usually by the company wishing to run the event.

      With the FTC looking at paid blogging and advertorial practices in social media, perhaps this could help elevate the ethical bloggers and agencies while outing the ones looking to take advantage where possible?

      Interesting times ahead, for sure.