Most brands + boutiques are a dream to work with. They’re fun, professional, and the result of your collab is quality content for your readers + solid promo for them (and maybe a little money/product as payment for you!). Unfortunately, not every brand out there is honest. There are bad eggs everywhere, guys, and this includes the world of blogging + branding partnerships. You’re not always going to be able to spot them in that initial, “Hey, let’s work together” email, either. Sometimes you won’t know until you’re in the middle of the relationship, wondering what to do and how to navigate a sticky situation. How do you look out for yourself + your readers? Let’s discuss:
What are the terms?
You need to be clear on the expectations of a partnership when working with a brand. What do they expect from you? What do you expect from them? These need to be laid out plainly (in writing; get it captured via email) so everyone is on the same page. When you know the terms of an agreement, you have something concrete to refer to if a brand decides to take advantage at any stage (suddenly asking/requiring you to do additional work they have not compensated you for, for example). A written record is smart in any situation, but most definitely comes in handy when things go south.
Are they asking you to do something dishonest?
Brands are running businesses. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t emailing you just because they really love your blog.) And what is a key tactic in good business? Try to get the most for your money. A brand will ask as much from you as they can for as little compensation as possible. That’s the best case scenario. It’s a business transaction, and everyone is looking to stretch their dollar in said transaction. The worst case scenario? A brand attempts to take advantage of you. This comes in many forms, but it all boils down to manipulation– of both you and eventually your readers. Maybe they don’t want you to include a sponsorship statement to make it seem like your post is completely spontaneous + happened organically (red flag: that’s illegal). Maybe they originally agreed to pay $XX amount via PayPal, but send you product rather than actual money. As you’re navigating this, your number one goal should be to protect yourself from a legal standpoint. You have to disclose when a product was gifted to you by a company/boutique/brand (via a “care of” statement, at the very least), and you have to disclose when the content you are writing is sponsored (ie, a brand has paid you XX dollars to create a post). Secondly, your goal should be to protect your readers. By not disclosing something, you’re misleading the people who have supported your blog. You’re prioritizing making a quick buck over the integrity of your content. Not a good game plan. This is where your media kit comes in handy. Write some guidelines around what you’re willing to do for XX (free product, a fee, etc.). Lay out what is included in a product review post, a sponsored content post, a giveaway post, etc. Does it include social media promo? Roughly how many words will the blog post be? This is also where you outline your inclusion of disclosure statements, preferred method of payment, and whether you require/ask the brand to do anything to promote your post. These guidelines help frame your initial negotiations, set realistic expectations, and will give you something to point to if and when a brand gets shifty. “Yo, my media kit clearly says disclosure statements are mandatory, sorry pal.”
Know when to cut ties.
Sometimes a relationship with a brand can’t be salvaged, and you have to terminate. Time to jump ship, cut your losses, etc. What do you do? Stay professional. If you are uneasy about what a brand is asking you to do, say that. If what they are asking you to do conflicts with your blog’s aesthetic, your brand, or your readers’ expectations, say that. If what they are asking you to do is illegal, say that. Keep it short and sweet:
- While I would love to continue working together, I feel uncomfortable including/not including XX as part of my post.
- My readers have grown to trust my product reviews, and I feel a responsibility to be honest with them to maintain the integrity of my word and my blog’s reputation.
- The FTC requires bloggers to disclose sponsored content/gifted product, and therefore I must comply and divulge the nature of our relationship. This is important not only to stay within the guidelines of the law, but also to maintain the trust of my readership.
- You are asking to me to do XX, which does not align with my blog’s brand/aesthetic/voice. While I want to create content that delivers promotion around your product/brand, it’s important to maintain my blog’s editorial integrity.
If you and the brand can’t come to terms even after you’ve politely expressed your concern, it’s time to walk. At the end of the day, the blog and the content belong to you; if you want to walk because you’re being asked to do something you’re not comfortable with, you absolutely should. Handy tip for your media kit: make a portion of your sponsored content fee non-refundable. This protects you + compensates you for the work you put into researching and writing a post that ends up not seeing the light of your blog. For example, maybe the brand asks you to remove a sponsored statement and when you refuse, they pull the plug on the partnership. You’ve still put in hours of work, and you should be compensated for that.
A final note.
No amount of money or free product is worth betraying the trust of your readers. I promise you– once it’s gone, it’s incredibly difficult to earn back. And it’s certainly not worth doing something illegal. Staying true to the integrity of your blog and maintaining an honest relationship with your readers is worth missing out on a few sponsorships from some shifty brands who don’t deserve to be working with you (or anyone!) in the first place. Keep that blogging chin up! There are amazing brands + boutiques out there; don’t let a bad experience get you down. On to the next one! ___ Ashley blogs at Le Stylo Rouge and is a co-founder of The Blogger Collective.