I recently attended a conference, and had a great time. I am not going to lie to you – going to conferences are extremely exhausting and time consuming, it is time away from your family where someone else is required to pick up the slack. I almost always walk away from a conference feeling completely drained. And that is not even mentioning the cost – each conference costs me somewhere around the $1,000 – $1,500 range depending on ticket cost, airfare, hotel, and meals. You have to look at a conference as an investment in your future business, and with that in mind you expect to get certain knowledge out of a conference that you would not be able to get easily on-line. But if you put your nose to the grindstone and go in with a game plan, conferences have the potential for big returns in either blog growth or company partnerships.
At this particular conference, I got to talk with a lot of companies as well as fellow bloggers. One of the topics that came up a lot between friends and companies, was the topic of working for free product. This is not a new topic for bloggers, and in fact has been covered pretty competently.
There are those that are pro-free product, and those that are adamantly against. Here is where I stand, and my take away from the conference as to where some companies stand.
*Please note – I will not mention any company names, nor will I tell you who they are if you e-mail me privately.
Working for Free Product.
Is it legit?
Companies attend these conference because it is a great way to get their latest product that they are marketing in front of bloggers eyeballs. Their goal and hope is that bloggers will promote said product via Social Media and posts. Multiply that by each bloggers followers = this is essentially cheap advertising. It is extremely smart on the companies behalf. Especially when you factor in the booth prizes. Give away a T-shirt for a social media share. Hello – most of these companies have stockpiles of t-shirts in their office closet. And who doesn’t love a free t-shirt? I know I do, and I am willing to share something via one of my social media channels to get it. Especially if it is say, Twitter – where the tweet is literally here one second, gone the next.
But here is what I saw happening. Bloggers would Instagram the crappy taken-in-a-booth-photo for the product, then immediately delete the photo once they walked away. Is this kosher? No. But guess what…neither is the company demanding a free social media share for their product.
But this is the easiest way for a company to justify to the CEO the cost of being a sponsor at a conference. The number of social media reach needs to outweigh conference cost to justify conference sponsorship.
That being said, companies have now spent some of their blogging advertising budget by simply sponsoring the conference. Some companies do not have a huge blogger budget, and need to be extremely resourceful in who they choose to work with. We all need to be smart with our money, am I right?
SO DON’T BE FOOLED BY BLOGGERS SAYING THEY NEVER WORK FOR FREE!
Some of the biggest bloggers I know were privately talking about free product posts at this conference. I am not against working for product…on occasion. If there is a large ticket item, that I happen to WANT and was going to spend my own money on, then I would consider working for free for said product on a one-off post. Let me give an example. Say there is a $1,000 sewing machine that I desperately wanted. I would consider contacting the company for the product to be used as compensation for the post.
This is not working for free. This is saving me $1,000 out of my own pocket – and getting the product I wanted. Meanwhile, I am doing the work for the product by promoting it properly through blog posts and social media channels.
I still have to pay taxes on that ‘free’ product. Furthermore, government laws state that I need to promote that post as an advertisement with sponsored content.
I will reiterate, the only way I find this form of ‘payment’ acceptable is if I already happened to want that product and was going to purchase it on my own. And of course it has to fall above the price tag of a sponsored blog post for my rates.
WHAT FREE-PRODUCT COMPANIES SAY.
Before I begin, I will state for the record that not all companies feel this way. In fact, it was a pleasant surprise to hear that many companies at this conference were talking money. So a big huge YEAH for the turn around.
But not all. In fact, I was shocked that not all had come around. Many were still defending their product for posts stance. I did not ask them specifically, after all – I was not a reporter at this conference grilling companies on their financial stance or anything. But some marketing people at this conference were surprisingly defensive on their stance of free product when discussing their companies focus and desires.
I had one company representative LAUGH when talking to me about free product for post. I believe her quote was, “How dare they ask for $50 per post, when we are sending them a $300 machine!”. And this was the main woman there representing their huge brand!!! My head just about fell off my body. Ummmmmm…yeah, ok. Let me just call my cable company and see if they will accept a machine for paying my bill this month. And furthermore, I am pretty sure her company is not giving her a machine at the end of the week to pay her employment check.
Some people are just stupid. Or maybe not stupid, but quite simply don’t have the capacity for putting themselves in other’s shoes. There is a huge disconnect between their brand and bloggers as PEOPLE with bills to pay, instead of vehicles for promotion.
And she was not alone. Although she was the only person who was boldly proclaiming it. Many fliers I picked up from the sponsor companies were looking for ‘product post partnerships’. Where you would be a part of some cool-kid inner club, and they would send you free product.
But I guess if you happen to want the product and were going to pay for it anyway…than revert to my first section. Just know beforehand, this will probably never turn into a paying gig so keep in mind it is a one-off deal. There is no goodwill or harbor for your personal livelihood by companies that expect you to work for free product. They simply want the promotion that goes hand in hand with their product.
WHAT PAYING COMPANIES SAY.
Many, if not most, companies have jumped on the affiliate bandwagon. And while this is not an all-out compensation for your work – it is at least a willingness to share the profit of your work. Which is kind of a win/win as it really puts the ball in your court to be successful. Do you have an engaged audience, that trusts what you say? Then an affiliate program could be really lucrative for you. This is really easy for a company to set up, and at least puts forward an effort on their part. So while they may not have a budget in place for bloggers, they are willing to share profit income if you bring them sales.
Fewer companies are willing to outright sponsor / pay for post content. Well, actually, I tend to believe that ALL companies are willing to pay for sponsored post. It all depends on if they want to work with you. Many companies will not admit this to a group of 300+ bloggers though, as the response and demand would be overwhelming. But there were indeed a few who marketed paid sponsorship posts, and my hats are off to them in a huge way!
STAND OUT IN A CROWD.
The problem with these conferences is that you really need to stand out in order to make an impression. Often the companies only see the larger fish in the sea, and will court them in private parties and meetings. So smaller fish need to really jump up and down on a couch, ala Tom Cruise style, in order to be heard. But hey – if jumping up and down is what it takes – then get your shoes ready and hustle baby!
For example, I had the absolute BEST conversation with one company in particular at this conference. I walked away thinking, I’ve GOT this. You know that feeling? Everything was coming up Jessica. Later on that night I was at one of the parties, and the sponsor lady came over. She completely ignored me and talked with the lady in front of me who happened to have a huge blog…and they made plans for a private meeting. I mean – this company lady looked straight at me, and looked away. Humbling to say the least.
But guess what, the ball is truly in my court. Don’t expect for these companies to come knocking at your door after a conference. YOU need to follow up, and follow up again and again and again. make yourself known to them in a way that cannot be ignored. And DO NOT BE SHY about asking for money. The woman who laughed over your $50 post rate compared to her machine cost? Forget her. Keep moving on and keep knocking, and the right company will open their door to you.
LASTLY, I BELIEVE THAT SPONSORSHIPS NEED TO BE LOOKED AT LIKE PARTNERSHIPS.
Just like we want companies to view us as real people with real bills, we need to look at companies as real people who need to make money to pay their bills. A company does not just have free product or cash lying around that they want to throw out the window. So if you are going to take on working with a big company, then you need to accept the responsibility that goes with it. Don’t write a ‘throw-away’ post that no one engages with, and expect the company to be okay with that. You need to do your absolute best to let the company have a return on their investment. When they work with you, they are viewing you as an investment. Which is why accepting the right partnerships for your brand is KEY.
So working for free product, is it legit?
No one person can answer this for you. You can only do what is right for you. But here are my final thoughts…
If you are going to work for free product, than let it be the right product. Not just anything. And view that post as a stepping stone into paid content posting. Do your absolute best, and put that company name on your media kit as a resource for future company pitches. You want to do such a good job, that when the free-product company returns to work with you again – you have positioned yourself to ask for a paying rate that they will be unable to refuse. Why? Because they know working with you is worth the investment.