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Money, products, integrity – it all comes back to you

I’ve started this post a bunch of times over the past couple of months.  I do OK for a while, then it gets out of control and rambles on.  There are so many different issues having to do with mom blogging for money, or products, or trips, or access to celebrities.  Recently I’ve seen enough arguments, scandals, and condescension to fill dozens of posts.

Charging for giveaways, letting companies look at drafts before they’re published, keeping review products, getting paid to write about a product, getting sponsored for conferences, blogger junkets…any one of these topics could fill several posts.  If you say something nice about a company, are you then responsible for everything the company does?  Are you responsible for everything a pr company does, with every product they represent?  Do you cheapen yourself by writing about certain products?  Should you go within a hundred miles of writing about medical products or procedures? Is insisting on a car or other perks entitlement?

There are so many different aspects to the umbrella topic of maintaining integrity while blogging, and I could (and should and probably someday will) go into detail about all of them, because detail is helpful and I like nitty-gritty stuff.  But in the end, for me, it all boils down to a few certain principals.  As long as I follow these – and my gut – I’m proud of my blog and the little career I’m carving out for myself online. 

There are as many different opinions about this stuff as there are bloggers, and what works for me might not work for someone else.  But this is how I do things – for now, anyway.  In the three years that I’ve been blogging my opinions about making money and working with brands have evolved, and continue to evolve.  What I do now in certain situations would not have worked when I was a new blogger.  But they’re working for me now, and I continue to figure things out as I go along.

I work with companies that I like. (I’m not talking about reviewing products, that’s different – if I’m sent something and I don’t like it or don’t want to review it, there’s no obligation for it to ever appear on my blog – I haven’t actually worked with the company.)  If something feels like a bad fit for my blog, I say no thank you, even if (actually, especially if) they’re offering me money to write.  And since it’s my blog, nobody else gets to tell me what a good fit is.

I don’t bluff. I don’t start out negotiating for pay and then do the job anyway for free.  There are many, many things that I will write about for free.  When I’m offered a fantastic writing opportunity, it doesn’t even occur to me to ask for anything, because I’m just happy to get the editorial content.  But the less interested I am in a subject, the more I ask for.  It’s simple supply-and-demand.  I always have a huge list of fascinating topics to write about for free, so in order for me to make room and take the time to write about something else, I ask for compensation.  Unfortunately, a lot of pr people take offense at this, but it’s not a reflection on the product, and I never have any hard feelings when I’m turned down (although I do often wonder how exactly they value my blog – if the brand isn’t going to get enough out of the post to pay me for it, then why do they want it on my blog in the first place?).

I’m never afraid to walk away from a deal. It’s happened about half a dozen times since I started Selfish Mom, where I thought I had a deal with a brand and then things got weird.  A couple got all the way to the end before they fell apart.  It sucked to do the research and writing and then not get paid for it, but the posts didn’t get published so at least the brand didn’t get anything out of it either. (Honestly I was tempted to post them anyway, just because they were good posts, but I didn’t want to set a precedent or get a reputation as a bluffer.)

Once I had to refund money for an ad because the advertiser insisted on a change I just wasn’t willing to make, and that had never been mentioned before the ad went up and payment was made.  I’m pretty sure they did this on purpose, figuring that once the money was in my paypal account I wouldn’t want to give it back.  They were wrong: the ad went down, and the money got returned (minus 10% for the three days the ad had been up).

I ask blunt questions. Unfortunately I’ve heard that I’m getting a reputation as spoiled.  If people want to think that, they’re free to do so and I won’t bother to try to change their opinions – it probably wouldn’t be worth it for me to work with them anyway.  But the fact is, it’s incredibly difficult to tell when an event is going to be worth my while and when it isn’t.  I expect to waste a certain amount of time, it’s just the cost of doing business.  But it’s better for everyone involved if I know what I’m getting into.  It does nobody any good if I spend an hour each way on the subway and two hours standing in a pretty room drinking a Diet Coke and learning nothing about a product I couldn’t have gotten from an email.  If I pay a babysitter – or actually bring my kids – and get nothing out of an event, nobody wins.  I have nothing to write about, and I took a space that could have gone to somebody else who really wanted to be there.

So how do I avoid those situations?  By asking questions.  By finding out if I’ll have one-on-one time with a celebrity, or where the seats will be located, or if I’ll be going home with the product.  What one person may call entitlement I call smart use of my time.

And that’s it.  I’ll get around to writing about the specifics someday, but it all boils down to being able to stand behind what I’ve written – no more, no less.  If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.  If it feels like I’m being taken advantage of, I probably am.  If I feel like I’ve wasted my time, I’ll look at everything else that ever comes from that brand or pr firm with suspicion.  And if I’ve done things right, my writing will be good and readers will be interested whether I’ve been paid or not.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen, a part of SelfishMom.com. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn and the NYC Moms Blog.