This week I was contacted by a blogging friend who asked for some advice where a gifted item was concerned. She had been offered some freebies in exchange for this, and this, and this, and this, and this…
In fact the list was so long, I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. The PR had made it clear it was an unpaid project, yet the list of deliverables was as long as my arm. My friend (whose name I won’t disclose in this instance) sent their email to me and asked:
“NO MONEY, 5 free XXXX that I probably don’t want, and an unbelievable amount of “do this, and do that” as well as sending my blog post into them for approval! My gut reaction is that I haven’t been made to jump through hoops like this for paid posts let alone freebies. I just wonder what your thoughts are.”
It made me cross because this is a classic example of a PR* asking for something for pretty much nothing. No, make that EVERYTHING for almost nothing.
What many non-bloggers (including PRs and brands) don’t realise is just how much time and effort goes into writing a blog post. It doesn’t take an hour or so. Good bloggers that take pride in their subject matter, photography and writing will take hours and hours to produce a blog post, and that doesn’t include the time spent promoting it on social media. Depending on the subject matter, a blog post can be up to a day’s work – I don’t mean an average 9-5 kind of day, I mean the WHOLE day, all through the evening until bedtime. It might be double if a photo shoot takes you out and about for the day.
My blogger friend was asked (told) to do the following:
- Write a blog post that includes everything outlined in the blogger brief
- Include the requested hashtags and handles, as well as ensuring that XXXX is spelt a specific way for branding purposes
- Not obligatory but they’d be “grateful” if she could include an Instagram post
- Do not mention it being a collaborated or sponsored post as it was unpaid and do not use #ad or #spon
- Ensure the content goes live between Monday 24th – Friday 28th July
- Send a copy of the content for pre-approval 48 hours ahead of going live
- Sign a contract agreeing to do all this
Apart from the time that I was contacted by a Chinese jewellery company who wanted me to produce two videos, a blog post with minimum six quality photos plus posts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in exchange for a $20 bracelet (I kid you not), this is probably the most ludicrous list of demands I have ever seen in exchange for NO MONEY.
As you can probably imagine I told her to politely tell them to get stuffed.
*When I say “the PR” I mean brands/PR companies/blogger outreach programmes, etc. as a whole, not necessarily the actual person who contacts bloggers. The actual contact is often not the person who decides what they want to offer bloggers – the contact is either working with a non-existent blogger outreach budget, simply following instructions or are sometimes interns and very inexperienced.
IF A PR OR BRAND APPROACHES YOU AND OFFERS A FREE GIFT, THEY SHOULD NOT MAKE ANY DEMANDS UNLESS THEY ARE PREPARED TO PAY A FEE. AS SOON AS DEMANDS ARE MADE IT BECOMES SPONSORED CONTENT, AND SPONSORED CONTENT SHOULD BE PAID FOR.
My simple formula for gifted items
After six years of blogging and much trial and error and questions posed to other professional bloggers and key industry influencers about this, I have come up with a very simple formula when it comes to dealing with freebies:
If a PR or brand approaches you and offers a free gift, they should not make any demands unless they are prepared to pay a fee. As soon as demands are made it becomes sponsored content, and sponsored content should be paid for. Otherwise what you do with the gift is entirely up to you.
After all, it was their choice to offer it to you – you’re under no obligation to do anything at all.
I’m not saying that every blogger should be charging fees. I know that many are happy to stay as hobby bloggers, and I totally get that. But making a list of demands when you’re not prepared to pay a blogger for the amount of free promotion you are going to get out of that blogger, as well as the work they will have to put into it, is totally unreasonable.
Therefore I’ve written this post to show all bloggers – both professional and hobby alike – that there is an easy way to know how to deal with offers of gifted items, and I’ve listed 7 things you should do when accepting them.
These are guidelines, not rules
Remember these are NOT rules, they are guidelines, and this is what I do because over the last six years of blogging I have found this works best. It’s all through trial and error – I simply don’t want you to make the same mistakes I made… I learnt the hard way!
What you should do when accepting gifted items or services
1. Realise you are under no obligation
The golden rule is to remember you are not under any obligation to do anything at all. As I’ve already said it was THEIR choice to offer something to you. Of course it would be extremely bad manners to not do anything ever with free gifts – you will only get yourself a bad name – but it’s up to you exactly what you do with it with regards to writing a blog post or showing it off on social media. If the item is the best thing EVER then you’re more than likely to blog about it anyway… likewise, it might be awful. Stating you are under no obligation covers you for both scenarios.
2. Have a gifting policy in place
This is SUCH an important thing to have in place because it means that you can get the thing about no obligation in black and white and point PRs in that direction before they send you anything. It can be in the form of a page on your blog (see mine here: Product gifting policy) or included in your email signature. For example, the most basic statement could be,
“If you choose to send me a free gift it is on the understanding that I am under no obligation to feature it on my blog or social media platforms”.
A great policy I’ve seen is the one by Hayley of London Beauty Queen (scroll to the bottom for her sample policy) if you wanted to check hers out.
3. Get it in writing that they’ve read the policy
Ensure you have it in writing that they have read and agreed to it – there’s no point having the policy if you have no proof that they’ve seen it! I usually state in my reply email that I will send them my address for posting as long as they agree to my policy. Once I have their agreement I’ll give them my details.
4. Disclose that it was gifted and include no-follow links
This is probably the greyest area – disclosure. All countries have different laws about disclosure of gifted goods or services or payment, and some are stricter than others. The FTC in the US is probably the most well-known (see their guidelines for influencers here), but all bloggers need to find out what rules exist in their own country. My advice is simple – it’s better to over disclose than not disclose at all. It’s also more ethical to disclose because hiding it from your readers makes you untrustworthy, and transparency is key to maintaining a loyal readership.
As well as disclosing, you must make sure that any links to the product or the brand’s website on your blog are no-follow to comply with Google’s link schemes. Read my explanation on what no-follow links are and exactly how and when to use them if you’re unsure or confused about no-follow links (skip to point 3).
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5. Set clear agreements
Just because I’ve said that demands mean a blog or social media post becomes sponsored and is therefore chargeable, it doesn’t mean you HAVE to charge a fee. You may be much happier not ever charging money and continuing as a 100% hobby blogger – that’s totally fine. However, if you DO agree to guarantee coverage, you must make sure that the exact deliverables are outlined and agreed upon. Put every last detail in there to ensure there are no grey areas or comeback afterwards because you haven’t included X, Y or Z.
For example, what dates will it be done by? What hashtags or tags will be used in social media posts? Will the brand name be mentioned in the blog post title? What will be the minimum number of words in the blog post copy?
Hopefully you can now see why I charge for all these deliverables – it means the brand knows exactly what they’re getting and they can’t come back to me with complaints about what I have or haven’t included – it’s all thrashed out beforehand.
6. Let them know it’s arrived
Let the PR/brand know you’ve received the parcel and thank them – it’s basic but something that could easily be forgotten! Likewise if/when you have featured the item drop the PR an email and send them links of where it’s been featured. They’ll appreciate you doing that and will put you in a good position for any future opportunities (which may be paid next time)!
7. Declare it as earnings (depending on where you live)
Depending on your country’s laws, you may have to declare the cost of the item as earnings. In Germany, for example, I know that the laws are strict and all gifted items and services have to be declared as earnings. However, in the UK it’s very unclear. I’m not sure strict rules have even been put in place by the HMRC yet, and everyone I know who has spoken to them about it has had a different answer depending on who they spoke to. I’d recommend that you do the same – contact them and ask.
What to include in your gifting or sample policy
Again, there are no hard and fast rules here. Here are my guidelines for the basics to include in a gifting/sample policy:
- The fact that you are under no obligation to feature any samples sent to you
- That you reserve the right to feature the item(s) in whatever way you see fit and in your own timescale (prevents them chasing you)
- That all goods will be clearly marked as gifted
- That any blog post links in relation to the brand or product will be no follow
The more you include, the better and clearer it will be. Keep a regular eye on your policy and update it as necessary.
What to do if the product is not suitable
This is a tricky one, and something I’ve only had to deal with a few times. Remember that not all offers will be something that you choose yourself – sometimes you’ll be asked if you’d like to “receive a gift” from a brand… it could be anything. I certainly don’t accept ALL the freebies I’m offered, and I’d recommend that as nice as it may seem to receive gifts you should be choosy and only accept things you really love, or something from a brand you really love.
But if you DO receive something that’s either unsuitable, not what you chose or just plain awful (it happened to me recently – I was only given thumbnails of clothes to choose something from, and a dress turned out to be hideous), contact the PR straight away. Tell them the problem and ask if it can be sent back or collected. I include in my policy a clause that says any return costs for unsuitable items must be covered by the PR/brand (to save me postage).
If they do not respond, however, chase up once more – after that I’d leave it at least six months before you decide to give the goods away or similar. They may choose to cut their losses and not bother to get it collected as that often costs cost more than the value of the item itself.
When these gifting rules do NOT apply
As with all these things there are exceptions… There is a very clear scenario when the “no obligation” guidelines don’t apply!
Something I do very rarely is contact a brand myself and ask for free items. Talking to brands and PRs I know that many bloggers (especially younger bloggers) do this all the time – there is a right and a wrong way to do it so choose your brand and the way you approach them carefully. It can be done right and work well, though blatant requests for freebies is sorely frowned upon and will probably give you a bad reputation.
If YOU contact THEM and request goods, it would be very rude (and exceptionally bad practice) to then not feature it – the “no obligation” doesn’t apply here. Again, it’s not a rule, it’s just good practice. The best thing to do is to give an outline of what you’d offer the brand in return, and in what timescale. Therefore no one is left wondering what they will get out of it and no one will chase you asking where or when their product will be featured.
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Some final thoughts…
So I hope that’s given you some guidelines on how to deal with free gifts. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have if you leave me a comment – or drop me a DM on Instagram or Twitter, @notlamb is my handle on both (you’ll get a more direct answer that way which is easier to track).
The life of a blogger where it’s imagined that we get sent free stuff every day and swan around the world without paying for anything or doing very much work couldn’t be further from the truth for 99.9% of bloggers. Even the 0.1% have to work bloody hard.
But please believe me when I say the perks of the job are great – I am very lucky to receive a lot of goods and services that I don’t have to pay for – but I also don’t get sick leave, paid holidays, pension contributions or company bonuses which I see as the “perks” of a 9-5.
I DO believe in playing fair. And playing fair has to work both ways, so unreasonable demands are not something I think any blogger should put up with.
WHAT’S YOUR APPROACH TO ACCEPTING GIFTED ITEMS, AND WHAT ARE YOUR BEST PRACTICES? COMMENT BELOW, OR TAKE IT TO TWITTER @NOTLAMB!