19 May 2010

Thirty pieces of silver

Rembrandt: Judas Returns the 30 Pieces of Silver

OK, I received two, count 'em, two offers for paid links and or posts today. By that I mean someone would pay me somewhere between $50 and $100 in exchange for a positive review in a post or even a link in my "Links I like Section."

I have never engaged in this behavior and I get approached at least once a day by someone dangling an offer. I think it's sleazy so I don't do it. I don't think I'm some kind of a moral guardian about it, but I like the idea of having my readers be able to tell what's my real opinion and what's a sponsored opinion.

Now, it's true that I accept products and I've been on more than my share of trips I didn't pay for. But I never accept anything as a quid pro quo. I have a cushy relationship with Brizo but I liked their faucets long before I met anyone associated with the brand. If they came up with a real dog I would say so. I don't feel compromised by my association with them, mostly because they don't expect me to treat them with kid gloves.

Accepting money to endorse a product I don't believe in seems different to me, less forthright. When someone sends me a book or a faucet and I review it, I say "Taunton Press sent me a review copy of [fill in the blank]." Accepting something and disclosing it to my readers keeps me on the stright and narrow so far as I'm concerned.

But the point of these paid posts is for me not to disclose that money changed hands. The expectation is that I'll write an endorsement that comes across as legitimate and honest.

That's the difference in my book. I'm writing this because I'm curious to hear how other people handle it. I'm turning down a not-insignificant amount of money these days but I worry that once I say yes the first time it'll just get easier to keep saying yes. Once I'm on that slide downhill I'll never regain something resembling integrity.

Of course, there are people who say I lost my integrity the first time I got on an airplane and flew somewhere to meet a vendor. For the record, that was Google in February '09.

I don't think I've lost anything, but it is a balancing act.

What do you guys think? How do other bloggers balance whoredom with integrity?

21 comments:

  1. I don't know the answer, Paul. But, I am commenting so that I can get the link to subscribe to comments, so I can hear what other people have to say.

    I would like to think preserving your integrity is not only the right thing to do in an editorial position such as yours... but also if you wanted to quantify it, a pristine reputation should pay off more (way more) in the long run than accepting relatively minor bits of silver along the way. A future Brizo would not be interested in working with someone whose opinion can be easily bought.

    Paid ads in a sidebar - ok. (Annoying, but ok.) Paid ads within the content of your blog - not ok.

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  2. I'm beginning to assume that all endorsements are some sort of paid ad - it's becoming so prevalent. How can you ever know for sure what's a true opinion and what's been paid for on the sly?

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  3. I meant to say in that post that I encourage people to use the anonymous commenter function if that will encourage comments on this topic. I'm just listening now.

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  4. What would said companies pay for an honest review? If you can't endorse the product positively, just don't.

    You are correct about your blog, though. I read what you say because I want to know what your opinion is. If you really really love Brizo, I really really want to know why. Otherwise you're just another glossy magazine with pretty pictures.

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  5. personally, i'd be happy to be paid to endorse a product, but it would have to be more then 50 or a 100 bucks- i 'm a high class whore! ;-)

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  6. Thanks Kathy, a glossy magazine I ain't.

    Christian I think that's one of the things that bugs me most. I want at least four figures to debase myself. $50? C'mon! I'm not some 20-something who's looking for a hot meal and a roof over his head.

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  7. Recently I wrote a blog for Supply House Times reflecting my thoughts on what really wow'd me at KBIS and talked about the Delta /Brizo booths and a particular glass that Fleurco had shown that was really cool. After the blog had posted I had several manufacturer's that I am friendly with make comments to me (which I was highly taken aback by) because I did not speak about their products. My explanation to them was quite simple. As much as I adore the folks over at Delta and Brizo the reason I chose to write what I did was not because of how much I like them but because the products they (and Fleurco) had shown really stood out as innovative, fresh and new (come on how could you not love all the proximity sense and touch technology). If I chose to speak about a company just because I happen to have friendships or connections with them I would loose my integrity and credibility-- that's just not me.

    When I look at your suggestions for blogs you like to read I trust that it is your honest opinion (and I am sure it is-- you're a real stand up guy) because of who you are and the quality of the sites you list. If you really are considering something I would go to a paid ad type scenario, but really research who you partner with because it will appear that you are recommending them. Or perhaps you might challenge that manufacturer to release a product that evokes a similar emotion in you to products you have featured in the past. I know hard to top Virage, but throw the gauntlet down!

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  8. I hear ya. My motto is "it's my blog and I'll write what I want to." My blog started as an extension of my day job working for a design-build firm, sharing tips, ideas and product knowledge with my clients. Part of what we do as designers is specify and recommend products to clients. I don't make apologies for what I write about and I never wrote about a product on my blog expecting a renumeration. With that said, I was honored and humbled to be selected to attend Brizo's think tank in New York. I have been specifying their shower fixtures for years and it meant the world to me to get to offer my opinion on their product designs as well as preview new products.

    I do get bombarded with emails from marketeers offering to write blog articles loaded with SEO links that they think may be of interest to my readers. Not interested. It's not worth it because it's not written from my P.O.V.

    Paul, you need make no apologies for your connections and exciting places your blog has taken you. You are top notch in my book.

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  9. There is authenticity and there is advertising. Your readership knows the difference. Lose your I calls 'em as I sees 'em editorial policy and bye bye readers. In other words. Stay as sweet as you are.

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  10. In the book "Professional Service Marketing" one chapter begins with the legendary story of the 1925 US Open playoff between Willie MacFarlane and Bobby Jones. In the second round of the playoff, Jones' practice swing moved his ball. No one else saw it. Still, Jones informed his playing partner Walter Hagan and accessed himself a penalty stroke. After the round everyone lauded him for adhering to the rules. Jones said, "You'd as well praise me for not breaking into banks."

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  11. You're awesome the way you are.. too many people's opinion is up for bids these days, it's nice to have somewhere to go that you know you're getting honesty.

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  12. Thank you one and all. Great story Chuck. I don't expect any kind of an award for doing what I see as the right thing and I don't understand why anyone does. I'm still curious how other people handle this stuff. I'm waiting for some anonymous confessionals frankly.

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  13. Here's one from Penelope Trunk's blog, which I found interesting. She gets much more than $100, and doesn't seem to think it's a conflict of interest at all.

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2009/05/28/conflict-of-interest-doesnt-apply-to-blogs-another-reason-newspapers-are-dead/

    As a reader, I'm Ok with reading "they're paying me, so I'm writing about this," kind of comments. I know how these things work. I am in PR and have paid spokespeople endorse products before, but not bloggers.

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  14. I think there's a difference between whoring out and selling out. Whoring is just a business transaction after all right?! ; ) Selling out involves a shameful sacrifice. But since your readers are the smartest on the interent Paul, I think we can tell the difference between business vs. deceit. Your integrity is WHY we read after all! Oh and the chickens.

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  15. I can't believe the timing of this post. Paul you know when I started and have been with me and my site from its infancy to the egomaniacal glossy (yet delightfully opinionated) thing that it has turned into. I have been at this for only 4 months and I too have started to receive offers for reviews and placements. I haven't really decided what I am going to do and haven't even responded to the offers (yet). I always wondered how you handled it, but over time and through visiting your site almost daily, I know where you stand on things and haven't ever thought you postured for products differently than how you genuinely felt. But making that decision, or drawing that line in the sand, is an easy decision.

    The challenge comes in being asked to write about something that you have no knowledge of or experience with using. It's okay for me to give an opinion, that is after all how my entire blog is based. But to receive compensation for that still hasn't found a comfortable place for me. Here's another wrinkle - what about getting offered compensation for something where you've already expressed your position? I wrote a piece on glass tile and one of the manufacturers of a product I really like sent me an email saying they pay $$ for photos of their product sent in by viewers. This was guaranteed money in my pocket and I didn't have to say anything...but I never sent my picture in. I don't think there was anything really wrong in what they said, this policy has been in place with them long before I said anything.

    I will weigh in and say that I don't have a problem with some boondoggles. That's marketing plain and simple - if you don't know about a product, you certainly won't ever use it. I suppose it matters on the conditions associated with any products, trips or services offered. It doesn't seem unreasonable for someone to send you a book and ask you to review it - unless they say that you can keep it if you give a good response but you need to send it back if you don't like it.

    My final wrinkle was I received a request to say something about a product and if I didn't want to keep it, I could sell it and pocket the money. What?! That was another easy decision. I still haven't figured out my personal set of rules but I need to get it figured out because I think it is a natural evolution for a blog like mine - or any site that discusses products and there uses.

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  16. This is an intriguing conversation. You make some excellent point Bob. It's clear that there's a line somewhere and as a blogger I have dueling loyalties. I put a lot of time and effort into this thing and I'd like to be compensated for it. Sometimes it comes int he form of freelance writing opportunities, or virtual design jobs or ad revenue. I don't feel conflicted by that. Additionally, I go on junkets all the time. I've been on three this year and have four more scheduled and just landed another one for February of '11. I don't think they compromise me necessarily either, even though I write about what I see and where I go when I'm on one of these junkets.

    Playing devil's advocate here, what's the difference between my accepting $100 to backlink to a vendor versus me publicizing the wares of a company who just flew me across the country?

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  17. Anon: Thanks for bringing up Penelope Trunk. If I were being offered as much money as she is for endorsements, I doubt I'd be this rigid about it. Standards are one thing, but some of them can be bought if the price is right. If I ever come out singing the praises of a product from Wal-Mart, know that they paid something north of $10K for the review.

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  18. I would hope that the dollar amount isn't a motivator to change your principles; therefore I don't see any difference between flying across the country versus providing a vendor backlink. It comes down to motivation and the relationship you have cultivated with your readers. There are some sites I go to specifically to hear what they think about this or that product; and I go in knowing that they received the product to review gratis just so that their product would be reviewed. No problem with that whatsoever - it's kinda the point of going to that particular site(s).

    Although a slightly different scale, vendors drop in our office with goodies to eat all the time. While we are shoveling their muffin payola down our gullets, they are telling us about their latest products. Are they more likely to get people to listen if they motivate the group with treats? You bet! My guilt prevents me from taking their goodies and not listening but that's the analogy - if I took their brownies and didn't listen to the presentation.

    I would expect anyone who receives some sort of compensation or consideration to be mindful of their actions and respectful of my time and trust. You want me to write something about your product? Contact me at bob@lifeofanarchitect.com - but be prepared for me to tell you my honest opinion good or bad. I owe it to the people who have to put up with my ridiculous posts and terrible grammar.

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  19. Pharmaceutical companies walk in the door with food every day in most practices. The marketing is less egregious than it used to be, since there are some laws governing drug marketing now. I recall one offer: $500 for each patient that I put on X medication ostensibly to enroll them in a "study," the nature of which was unexplained. There were free concerts, clambakes, ski trips, lunches, dinners, computers. No matter what anyone says, its all about positioning anti-depressant X so that its the first one that comes to mind during the few seconds you have to write that prescription. Fortunately more and more practices are banning pharmaceutical sales reps from their offices. People vastly underestimate the impact of marketing on all of their decisions. Its hard to turn down the sometimes significant benefits, but congratulations to everyone who does.

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  20. Excellent conversation; am glad I followed Bob here. I see three situations.

    First: No pay, no conflict exists. Readers are looking for our expert opinion. We developed a bond of trust with them by offering credible, useful advice. We can readily trust these blogs as an act of love, a hobby, or a marketing tool.

    Second: An ad in the sidebar is very clear. Readers can see it; they know that we have a business relationship with that organization. No ads for poor products. To honor yr current readers, communication about changes is essential.

    Third: For a review paid by hidden compensation (products, trips, events, food, cash, etc, even a requested review with no compensation, say it's a friend or family member), be very honest about any relationship, completely transparent. We carry three obligations: the advertiser, the reader, and The Bathroom Mirror. Readers come first.

    Readers should be cautious; they have to judge us on another level, for our character. It becomes more complicated, not pure altruism.

    Re, failure: When does payment cost us in trustworthiness? When we say things we do not believe because of compensation or relationships. Always explain the situation and give rock solid opinions that you can back up.

    I think we can be paid for writing and still be worth reading. We have to be mindful, building hopefully stronger credibility over time.

    In some ways, I think it's an honor to be paid (equally honorable to decide against it). You earned it. Be open and realize paid opinions warrant greater scrutiny.

    Re links, I would say: “Links I Like (Paid for and useful)”; and charge by the day, week or month. Only post the highest quality products or services. Write exactly what you think about that product, good points and reservations, telling readers why it's on the list.

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  21. How'd this get to be about me? :) It will be a cold day in hell when a sponsored link shows up in my Links I Like list and an even colder day when I write a post for money. On K&RD at any rate.

    But this has been a great discussion, thanks everybody for your comments and observations. I never close my comments, so if anybody else has something to add here, feel free to do so from now 'til eternity.

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