Is accepting ex-deals worth it?
Updated: Jun 17, 2018
There was an issue that became viral a few days ago, about a UK-based social media influencer and a luxury hotel in Dublin. You can read more about it here. A couple of friends actually sent me private messages about it, asking me what Blogamomma's thoughts on the matter are, curious about what I have to say.
On the one hand, the business has enough and perfectly acceptable reasons to ignore the message or (politely) decline the request, but then influencers asking for complimentary stuff from businesses is actually common practice (that is unfortunately abused by some) nowadays. I'll talk more about that on the last part of this article.
Giving ex-deals (products, GCs, services, etc.) is commonplace in the industry for many reasons (insights taken from my network of professionals in PR & media relations):
1. Many bloggers/content creators/influencers don't know this, but PRs don't really have allocated budgets for paying for content, because by virtue of being in PR, their job is to work for earned media. Paid media is a different thing altogether, and when PRs pay for content per se, they cannot put that amount in their books or even consider these pieces of content as legit pickups (for the very reason that they are paid). Client brands pay PRs for the man hours, not the pickups.
2. In relation to #1 above, it's important for brands (through their PR arms) to create a comprehensive story around the customer journey, most especially during the awareness and consideration phases. Ex-deals are there for influencers to personally experience the product, and then (hopefully) help amplify the message that the brand wishes to communicate in line with their personal experience. The authenticity of the experience has to be there.
Basically, ex-deals are there because brands have a message to communicate and a story to tell, and telling this story through collaborating with influencers is one of the best ways to go about amplifying a message and earning consumer trust. However, business-wise and with respect to the inherent nature of the job, PRs don't really pay for content.
Let's discuss something that's more interesting. We are all influencers. We all have something to offer -- whether it's our personal view on poliltical/societal issues, love for pets, advocacy for environmental sustainability, fashion sense and style, anything! You have your own scope of influence, whether that's 200 or 200,000 followers. Now imagine there's a brand that approaches you and tells you that they're sending you products for you to review. Say they're giving you a pair of shoes to take for a spin and post (if you like it!) -- no strings attached. Of course, you'll say yes, right? Who doesn't love free stuff? And then imagine if you post about the product, and then another brand gets in touch with you (because hey, you post for free, right?), and then another, and then another. Suddenly you get all these free products that brands send for review and posting, no strings attached.
BUT there will always be strings attached! Posting (or non-posting) tells a lot about you as an influencer: do you post just about anything and everything under the sun, just whatever products you get? Are you a "promiscuous influencer", endorsing one brand today and its competitor/s the day after? Do your blog and social media accounts truly reflect what you really like, who you really are, what you can really speak about and stand for? Because remember, in the business of influence, authenticity is the currency. Free stuff is fun at first, but then of course you'll feel obligated to post about it and next thing you know, your blogs and social media channels will look like an online billboard and suddenly you're not in control of it anymore.
Having said all of that, here's some pointers from the Blogamomma, for brands/PRs and influencers alike, with regard to dealing with ex-deals:
- Make sure to send ex-deals only to influencers that are relevant to the brand. It's important to identify who these influencers are from the get-go, and not just send out free stuff to everyone in your list and pray for pick-ups.
- If and when the influencers decide to post about ex-deals they receive, do not expect positive words all the time. Influencers shall talk about their personal experience, and by virtue of it being personal, this varies from one individual to another.
- Put the influencer at the driver's seat of the content. These influencers worked hard to amass their followers; trust that they know their audience better than you do. Provide content guidelines if you wish, but grant them the autonomy to create a post that is aligned with their content strategy and timelines, their tone and voice, their personality and personal branding. Through time, you will see which influencers create really good and helpful content and separate them from those that post just because (1) they're your friend, (2) they just want to get it done so you won't have anything to say, or (3) they only want to feel popular/regarded with favor by the general public (i.e., "oh look I have this and you don't").
- These are ex-deals, basically unpaid, so guarantee of posting should not be presumed, regardless of relationship. Remember: In advertising, we pay. In PR, we pray. :)
- Accepting ex-deals is totally fine, but be selective in what you post. Choose to only post/talk about what you really love and/or believe in. Respect your clients (and yourself!) enough to say no to posting ex-deals that you know will not be relevant to you, your audience, and/or your content plan. Do not say yes to all ex-deals (or worse, shamelessly ask brands/PRs for free stuff), just because they're free!
- Always be authentic in what you post, because at the end of the day, the ones that will have real staying power are those that have chosen to be authentic every step of the way. Classic case: Kris Aquino.
- Protect your audience from feeling constantly being sold to. You worked so hard to build this huge audience so take care of them. Don't feel pressured to post about ex-deals you get but don't like. Your audience deserves great content; be unwavering in giving them that. (Oh, please say no to "post PR for token" because unless you really, really like or believe in the product, what's the point?)
- Determine what you can offer and come at the heart of service. You know your audience best and you know the most effective way to create content for your brand partner that's going to make your audience take action.
Going back to the issue about the UK blogger and the hotel in Dublin, I think it's OK for influencers to approach brands to ask for complimentary stuff (within reasonable quantities, of course), if and only if they come at the heart of service. I know a lot of travel bloggers who request for complimentary stay in hotels in exchange of online content and promotion, because this decreases their travel costs in epic proportions. In return, they stay committed to create content for the brands in a way that's useful, helpful, and really has the power to convert. The bottom line of ex-deal transactions is always a fair and agreeable value exchange.
However, the idea of online posts in exchange of products/services is still foreign for many brands, and so influencers should not expect anything at all when they ask. Some will say yes, some will say no. Businesses incur costs when they do business, and at the end of the day, businesses are for-profit organizations that need to make money to pay salaries, bills, and reinvest in the growth of the business. In the spirit of fair and agreeable value exchange, many businesses will not see the congruence of the value of online content and the monetary value of the actual product/service. And that's totally OK.
I think influencer Elle Darby's response in her video argues a real point: her request has been made in good faith, it wasn't imposing or demanding, and the hotel is always free to say no anyway. I believe though there was no need to create a video to defend herself, but I totally understand why she did that. All the same, I believe there was no need for the hotel to (intentionally, I suppose) shame the influencer, and I think the hotel could have declined the request in the bounds of private communication over email. I think it was totally unnecessary for the business to share the (private) email message in their (public) Facebook page. It is not wrong for the influencer to make a request and it is not wrong for the business to say no. However, I think the situation could have been handled better, and I think both parties have a share in the blame.
The business-influencer relationship is entangled with plenty of complicated matters. This is why Blogapalooza exists: to create offline and online environments that foster professional interactions and systematized engagements between businesses and online content creators. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for help!
And for any questions, comments, suggestions, violent reactions -- please send an email to email@example.com. I'd love to also know your thoughts and learn more from you. :)