7 Things You Must Do When Accepting Freebies As a Blogger

Blogging tips: 7 Things You Must Do When Accepting Freebies As a Blogger (pictured: Charlotte Tilbury make up)

This week I was contacted by a blogging friend who asked for some advice where a PR sample (gifted) product was concerned.

She had been offered some freebies in exchange for this, and this, and this, and this, and this…


[Reading time: 6 mins]


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) forwarded 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 PR¹ 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, there’s all the SEO optimisation to do make sure it’s visible, 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.

¹When 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.


My simple formula for PR samples (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 PR products:

If a PR or brand approaches you and offers a free sample, 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 item 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 PR samples, 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 PR samples 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 samples – 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 sample it is on the understanding that I am under no obligation to feature it on my blog or social media platforms”.


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 a PR sample and include no-follow links

This is probably the greyest area – disclosure. All countries have different laws about the disclosure of sample goods, 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 you should find out what rules exist in your own country of residence. 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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7 Things You Must Do When Accepting Freebies As a Blogger (pictured: Charlotte Tilbury make up)

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 to 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 sample 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:

  • You are under no obligation to feature any samples sent to you
  • You reserve the right to feature the item(s) in whatever way you see fit and in your own timescale (prevents them from chasing you)
  • All items will be clearly marked as PR samples/products
  • Any blog post links in relation to the brand or product will be no follow or sponsored
  • On social media, all items will be marked as Ad/PR sample as per ASA guidelines

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 things I’m offered, and I’d recommend that as nice as it may seem to receive samples 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 are 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.


Some final thoughts…

So I hope that’s given you some guidelines on how to deal with free PR samples. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have if you leave me a comment – or email me notdressedaslamb[at] gmail.com.

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 then the 0.1% have to work bloody hard!

Whether you find yourself being offered something fabulous like a luxury watch, a pair of winter boots or something simple like makeup or skincare, the principle remains the same: it’s all under no obligation without payment. However, it’s up to you to choose whether the item is something that brings enough value to your life that it warrants you agreeing to guaranteed coverage without payment. A holiday break, a new mattress for your bed or a kitchen refit (I wish!) are all the sort of items that you might need anyway and would also cost a small fortune to purchase yourself – having them as a PR product would add value to your life so foregoing payment isn’t a bad idea.

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 PR samples, and what are your best practices? Comment below…



  1. Natalie
    21 October 2022 / 11:40 am

    Hi there, thanks for your post! It really cemented a lot of things I’d already suspected (but still feel a bit cheeky setting out as a policy). I recently had a brand on IG offering to send me some free products in exchange for a post, and I replied saying that if they wanted to send it to me there’d be no obligation to post on my part and if they wanted specific content that would come under a paid partnership. Thy sent them anyway, and I happened to mention/share the products when I received/first used them in my stories. I’ve just found that they have screnshotted my stories and shared them as their own grid post. What would you do/say here? It feels a bit cheeky to me!

    • Catherine
      28 October 2022 / 10:14 pm

      Hi Natalie – I’m afraid they can’t/shouldn’t be doing that: they didn’t ask permission to use your images and you didn’t give it to them! So if I were you I’d ask them to either take the post down or ask if they wanted to pay you a fee to use your image(s). The images do NOT belong to them and they didn’t ask if they could use them… that’s really bad practice. Some people might say “oh but that might sour a potential working relationship going forward” – I say that they’re not worth working with in the future if they use your content without asking or paying!! (And if they didn’t even credit you: that’s even MORE appalling!)

      And if they don’t take it down then I’d share it as a story on your account and say how they’ve used it without your permission and without payment. Hopefully it won’t come to that but it might make them think twice, or even employ someone who knows the rules better!

      And finally, going forward it’s best to say in your T&Cs that permission needs to be asked for photos to be used. I’ve learnt the hard way, as it seems you have done as well… put it down to experience and at least you now know for next time! Oh and one more thing: if a brand does pay you for content, then it’s up to you but I usually throw in X month’s free content usage. So if they pay a minimal amount (driving down your price for example), then you offer one month. If they pay REALLY well, offer six months. Everything costs, whether it’s your time, your expertise, your clout or your past experience 😉

      Hope that all helps – let me know what happens! Good luck, C x

  2. 8 August 2021 / 3:57 pm

    Thanks so much for this. I’m just a few months in and haven’t always done the right thing with gifts. I’m going to adapt your suggestions to my own blog today.

    • Catherine
      9 August 2021 / 7:04 pm

      Joanne I’m so pleased it’s helped you! C x

  3. 23 October 2020 / 9:16 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, I’m definitely going to include a gifting policy on my site.

    Just a quick question. I was recently sent a gifted item by a PR company but they marked the courier’s paperwork clearly to say that I am responsible for duty and taxes. I’ve ended up with a tax bill from Fedex now since the item came from America. I’m pretty sure this isn’t supposed to happen. They haven’t paid this, despite me asking for them to pay it and them agreeing. Do you think it is now acceptable to simply not review the item and cut ties with them? My only agreement was to wait until an embargo was lifted on the item.

    • Catherine
      24 October 2020 / 1:40 pm

      Hi Lacey, I’ve had a similar happen to me a couple of times – due to the hassle with customs and taxes on overseas goods I don’t actually accept anything from abroad anymore! It’s also a good thing to put something about any charges are payable by the brand in your gifting policy too… but obviously that’s for the future, you still have this issue now!

      So yes, I’ve had bills sent to me from Fedex (or maybe it was UPS?) saying I need to pay the bill otherwise they’ll “send the bailiffs round”, you know what I mean. You simply need to send a copy to the PR company and say that they are due to pay it. If you’ve already done this then you could just ignore it – as long as you’ve kept the emails from the PR company saying they’ll pay you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. In the grand scheme of things that bill isn’t large enough for Fedex to worry about, and in my case it just eventually went away. In fact, I think I just rang the number on the bill I had and spoke to Fedex/UPS – they said don’t worry, this isn’t outstanding anymore as they’d sent the goods back to the sender. And they stopped sending me bills.

      You could always ring Fedex yourself and say you didn’t actually buy the item (which you didn’t) and that they sent it to you as a gift, then pass on the details of the PR company who have said they’d pay? Or just wait for it to be sent back, as long as you’re happy not to receive it. My theory is that if I’m having problems with receiving something from overseas, then I sure as hell don’t want to promote something that the majority of my readers (i.e. those that are in the UK) will have problems with as well.

      Hope that helps and that you get it sorted… either way I shouldn’t spend time worrying about it! C x

    • Catherine
      24 October 2020 / 1:43 pm

      Oh and in terms of reviewing the item: even if you receive it eventually, I’d definitely not feature it! They’ve caused you much hassle and it was bloody cheeky of them to mark the parcel as you agreeing to pay for the charges without even consulting you about that. They 100% don’t deserve a review AT ALL 🙁

  4. 29 May 2020 / 6:25 pm

    Very, very helpful Catherine. x Many thanks for posting. x Jacqui

    • Catherine
      29 May 2020 / 7:17 pm

      I’m very glad, Jacqui! Hope it helps x

  5. Katie
    2 April 2020 / 1:02 pm

    Thank you for this post! I am a small instagram blogger and just been offered free samples of a product that fits in really well with my instagram/content and would love to try it out but had no idea how to respond as I’m completely new to all this! So this post was really helpful thank you 🙂

    • Catherine
      2 April 2020 / 1:47 pm

      Pleasure, Katie – hope it goes okay for you! Just remember never to promise to do anything if they contacted you and offered you something… that was THEIR choice, not yours! x

  6. 20 January 2018 / 8:01 pm

    Hi, just found this, and it’s really interesting.

    One thing I’d point out, in the UK if you don’t use #ad on promo content then you’ll get rapped on the knuckles by the advertising standards agency. Obviously they might not spot it, but generally their investigations arise from rival companies complaining. If I was to promote a product I’d be clear that I am obliged to use #ad and will be doing so.

    Hope that’s helpful!

    • catherine
      21 January 2018 / 11:34 pm

      Hi Flash, this wasn’t a post about sponsored or paid content but for what to do with freebies when you’re under no obligation to feature something you’ve been sent. If I haven’t agreed to feature something then it’s not promotional content and it’s definitely not an ad because I haven’t done anything the brand has asked me to do – that’s why I mentioned in the post that every blogger needs to find out what rules exist in their own country. I actually calling something an ad when it’s not is very misleading, and that’s why I choose to clearly disclose something as simply gifted rather than controlled content in the way that an ad would be 🙂

  7. 3 November 2017 / 12:24 pm

    Some food for thought. I am surprised how much this still happens in the industry – being sent an item for review and then expecting lots for it free of charge. xx

  8. 2 September 2017 / 9:17 am

    Hi Catherine, Thanks so much for writing this. I am so grateful to you for helping me through that outrageous experience (yes it was me folks) and yes, there have been several more! But, as you know, I haven't been at this long and like all bloggers just starting to receive attention and collaboration offers I was unbelievably naive initially. (unbelievable for a journalist!) Not any more! I have become much tougher and am now saying NO THANK YOU on a regular basis. And it feels good! No more Mrs. Nice Lady….. New School Term, New Start! Thanks again you amazingly knowledgeable, wonderful self. xx

  9. 23 July 2017 / 1:00 pm

    Hi Catherine,
    I just discovered your blog via the Blog Awards and first of all I would like to congratulate you on the prize and second of all, thank you for the amazing content you put up here. I have already read some three posts and I know I will be coming back. It's great to have someone offering blogging advice so honestly and clearly, so that emerging blogs (like mine :)) can start off with the right foot and have higher chances of succeeding. Wishing you a lovely day ahead,

    Saida | She talks Glam

  10. 21 July 2017 / 9:04 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! I have been blogging for a year and over the past six months, have begun working with brands. This has given me much needed insights and clarity. Thank you so very much. Nina http://www.sharingajourney.com

  11. 17 July 2017 / 5:11 pm

    I don't mind when accepting a freebie to do a couple of things but that list was ridiculous. If they asked me to do all that I would have sent them my fee because that would of been a lot of time focusing on that one product. Time is money. 🙂 xx

  12. 16 July 2017 / 9:15 pm

    I didn't think they could legally ask for a gifted item to not be disclosed as such. Shocking that brands think they can control content so much. But some bloggers much comply or the brands wouldn't think they could get away with asking. Depressing and makes me very cynical. I like be your guidelines and disclosure policy

  13. 16 July 2017 / 3:12 pm

    As always, sage advice and clear and concise guidelines for both hobby and professional bloggers alike.
    It sometimes makes my jaw drop when I see what hits my inbox – the demands some PR's make are ludicrous! The more excellent information (like this) that's out there for bloggers the more I'm hoping that PR's, etc will see us for what we are – hardworking and worth more than 'trinkets'.
    Like you, I see the value of accepting freebies now and again, especially when we first start out as the posts we write give us a great platform to showcase our work. But I think the key is being choosy and very clear on what the brand should expect in return.
    Great post Catherine xx

  14. 15 July 2017 / 7:15 am

    Thank you so much for writing this. I've found it really useful. I hope to start working with brands soon and I value you're advice x #SaturdayShareLinkUp

  15. 14 July 2017 / 6:45 am

    Dear Cathrine, thank you very much for this detailed post! It is very informativ and helps me as a rookie in the world of bloggers to find my way. Even after only some months of blogging I had experiences with PR companies/brands wanting for example to use my pictures for free. When I told them they have to pay royalties I never heared from them again …

  16. 13 July 2017 / 7:11 am

    Super post Catherine! I've been sent things unsolicited before (including a dress two sizes smaller than I wear..) and the whole thing was just odd with zero communication. I never got chased up about it either. Weird. If I was to commercialise my blog I'd definitely draw up some gifting terms, thanks for all these tips x

  17. 13 July 2017 / 2:40 am

    Thank you for this post – it's such an interesting read! I like your point about disclosure to readers and being perceived as honest — sponsored reviews are such a tricky thing to do well and I admire bloggers who retain their authenticity when working with brands. And I really like your idea about gifting policies — such a great way to spell things out clearly! #brillblogposts

  18. 12 July 2017 / 11:57 pm

    I appreciate when you make posts like this Catherine, because I know that you have done your research. Thanks so much for making it a little easier for the rest of us. I am currently a hobby blogger, but would be okay moving into blogging to make a little money, so I am glad you put this all in writing. I'll be saving this in my need to know blog posts folder. Thanks! – Amy

  19. 12 July 2017 / 6:51 pm

    This is such sound advice Catherine!
    I get offered things and most I say "no thank you" to…. mostly because they are not very 'me'.
    I have tried to work with items that I wouldn't normally buy and didn't feel that good about it, if I'm honest.
    Trying to find the positives and be honest is a balancing act.
    I have had to 'toughen up' with a couple of brands who were starting to take the piss a bit…. it's fine sending something but to make demands for someone to work for free is a bit cheeky!
    However, most of the brands who have sent me items have been lovely and a pleasure to work with.
    Often I am more than happy to feature items as I would have happily bought them anyway!
    The cheekiest ask was for two posts, plus social leads, plus "do-follow" links (naughty naughty) plus publishing an infographic thingy, plus not disclosing collaboration for the whopping fee of £50….Wow!
    Erm….. I think I'll pass thanks :oP

    I'm off to check my gifting policy is up to scratch.
    Thank you for another helpful post.
    Fake Fabulous | Style and Fashion, over 40

    • 12 July 2017 / 8:12 pm

      I don't judge any new bloggers for accepting lots of freebies in the beginning, Samantha – it's a great way of getting some "collabs" on your blog and showing off how you can work. But as you've said after a while you can get more picky and only accept the really good ones. And if you love the product you'll talk about it, won't you…!!! Thanks sweetie x

  20. 12 July 2017 / 6:48 pm

    Thank you lovely for this post. It really clarifies a lot of grey areas and as Michelle said above, it serves as a reminder to make sure our policies are clear xxxxx

    • 12 July 2017 / 8:01 pm

      A gifting policy prevents SO many problems and misunderstandings later on, Liz! And thank you x

  21. 12 July 2017 / 5:33 pm

    Great and interesting post! I am just a hobby blogger and rather receive gifts then money! But if there is a list of things I have to do I say no! I decide!

  22. 12 July 2017 / 5:11 pm

    Ack my first thought for your blogger friend was say no thank you. I say no to a lot of gifts. A lot. I only say yes if I actually really want it, I mean really want it. Otherwise why bother? I definitely need to update my gifting policy though, thanks for reminding me! This is a terrific reference article Catherine, I'll pin it fo sho �� xx

  23. 12 July 2017 / 5:10 pm

    Ack my first thought for your blogger friend was say no thank you. I say no to a lot of gifts. A lot. I only say yes if I actually really want it, I mean really want it. Otherwise why bother? I definitely need to update my gifting policy though, thanks for reminding me! This is a terrific reference article Catherine, I'll pin it fo sho �� xx

    • 12 July 2017 / 7:58 pm

      Thanks MT! You're right about saying no, but the brand/product was a good one so I can't blame her for saying yes initially. x

  24. 12 July 2017 / 4:57 pm

    Great post Catherine. It's great when well known bloggers talk about all this because brands need to learn too.

DISCLOSURE: Items marked* are PR products (I never accept anything I wouldn’t choose for myself) and my opinions are 100% honest. I also use affiliate links where I may earn commission if you click through and buy, at no cost to you.