“Did They Pay You To Say That?”

IMG_0352Behind the Scenes via Angie Garcia

Let me preface this post by saying, I love being transparent. I have a background in PR and I was always taught, “If you can’t explain something first, do you really believe in what you’re doing?”

Lately, I’ve gotten some comments, questions and mentions in my survey saying,

“We can’t trust you when you say you have [c/o]. That means it is sponsored, you got it for free, so you’ll say anything.”

With social media booming it can seem like most things online are an ad. With everything from fad tea to teeth whiteners, it is really easy to question, “Is this worth my money?” I wanted to explain how COF aims to stay genuine and trustworthy and what is truly behind the business here!

My job as a blogger is to share my recommendations to my readers. In order to recommend, I have to test. I spend a certain amount each month in my business budget to test products- whether it is beauty, fashion or accessories. Just like a stylist roaming a store for a client, and a food critic eating free meals to review, I essentially test products for the every day girl and work really hard to find what I genuinely feel can help her feel her best!

When you start out blogging it can be pricey. I’ve mentored lots of girls who have hit a point [trust me, I hit it like 47 times] where you think, “Can I even afford to do this?”

Right after I graduated and wanted to grow my blog, I lived off of black-eyed-peas for an entire month so I could denote money to testing products, paying for my website, hosting and building a business. [My mother will attest, she was overly concerned I just ate beans for 30 days.] But I wanted to have the most knowledge so y’all didn’t have to waste money at Sephora or Target or whatever it may be!

I wanted to make the mistakes and find the gems for you.

After you blog for a while and sites start analyzing their SEO [who comes to their website], they might see that a certain amount of customers are going from www.XYZ.com to their site and then making purchases. In order to thank you, and continue your ability to shop there and test out they might send you a discount code, a box of new products or even a gift card! [P.S. This is just like when Tory Burch sends you a $50 gift card to say thank you for being a valued customer. They know you’re sporting their brand and so I think they send their top customers a gift card at the end of the year. My friends always get them and I don’t. So clearly I’m not shopping the sales as much! lol]

Before your eyes roll into the back of your head and you think, “WHAT?! I CAN NEVER READ A BLOG AGAIN!” Let me assure you, this is standard in any form of media and it’s done so that blogs AREN’T biased.

‘Lemme splain.

PR girls do a variety of things, but their main job is getting media hits, media feedback and buzz about a product. 10 years ago their major focus was traditional media [think Good Morning America or Forbes]. Now, with millenials being online oriented, their focus has shifted a bit to online publications, specifically bloggers, because sometimes people would prefer to read an article, a blog post or a video from someone they feel like they know and trust.

What bloggers do isn’t new. Pick up any newspaper or magazine and that writer behind the print tested and was gifted the same products. But because their persona might be a bit more private it isn’t easily questioned. No one really says, “Oh this writer reviewed this new restaurant. We can’t eat there because she got her food for free at their opening tasting.”

Brands allow writers to test product [from clothing to food], because writers love to be honest. Writers are able to say, “Hey, this mascara doesn’t work as well. I’d never share this. Maybe you should rethink the formula.” It’s a quick,easy and honest way to analyze a product!

So what does it mean when you see [c/o]?

It means this:

Because of my job testing and writing about the best products for my readers [who I am a heck of a lot more loyal to than a random PR girl I’ve never spoken to] I get sent samples of products. I am so thankful because I get to try products before and after they hit the market. I get to do conference calls saying,”My readers told me their number one concern about buying boots this year is price point. Could we do a discount code for your store? Will there be a more inexpensive option coming out? What would the launch date be?” And because of that, if I love a product so much, I get to share it! And I want to be honest and let you know, “Hey I got a discount. It was either free shipping, arrived in a box with a bunch of other stuff I didn’t share or I was given a gift card to test.” But let me assure you, this is only shared because it is the best of the best. I send back, I toss, I donate and I even complain about products I don’t care for. I’m honest with my industry and I wanted to be honest with y’all. Why? Because I value my relationship with each of you and want you to be able to trust the information and products that are shared. I think I donate and send back an average of 10 full boxes a day and I never share that with you all.

Why do you see [c/o] on my blog a lot?

Because I honestly share anytime a product was discounted or gifted. I know a lot of people in this industry that don’t do it because they don’t want to confuse their reader and I respect that as well! In truth, 90% of what I share on COF is what I purchased with my own money. It’s trial and error, just like any shopper. And only about 1% of gifted items I test make the blog. So sure, you might see a bracelet I wear daily that says [c/o]. But if I wear it every single day, wouldn’t that tell you I truly love it and think it’s worth your time? And to be honest, PR girls do not care if I share or don’t share the product. Their media list includes everyone from an anchor on Good Morning America to a blogger in Fort Worth, Texas. After sending out 750 gifted boxes, they don’t really keep up with who shares or who doesn’t. They are just doing their job.

Are you paid to say that?

This is one of my most asked questions: “Are you paid to say that?” And let me just say,

 HECK TO THE NO GIRLFRIEND. HECK TO THE NO.

The brands don’t pay you to say anything! They just let you try products. We aren’t billboards. We are just people who want to have a more personalized magazine to a more personalized reader, per say!

Most brands understand that, but I do get hundreds of e-mails daily from companies asking if they can pay me to say something or copy and paste what they want me to say. I just chuckle and don’t respond to the e-mails, I find that silly and not even valid! I know some mediums in this industry are paid to say things and that is a personal choice, but I’m saying for me and most blogs that isn’t how it works.

But what about partnerships or sponsorships?

What brands have found is that sometimes they prefer a blogger’s aesthetic, photography and branding as opposed to a random photographer they hire. So they want to make sure they get imagery from you.

If a brand you have used, tested or love asks to partner this is what it means:

They want to pay you to cover the costs of your website and have guaranteed, quality content.

I’m going to give an example to make sure it really makes sense and I’ll use Chanel as the brand, because LOL Chanel doesn’t read Chronicles of Frivolity.

Say Chanel likes my imagery [still laughing] and they love my audience they may want to partner.

Chanel does this because

A. It’s a lot easier for Chanel to pick a blogger to do the work for them. They don’t have to hire:

a photographer, someone to wear the clothing, a stylist to set the shoot, a writer to create content, a social media strategist to promote, a customer service representative to answer questions about size/fit or a brand strategist to make sure the audience they want is seeing the content.

B. They also want the rights to the images. They pay so they get quality images, they can repin, reuse and share.

C. They want evergreen [content that always lasts!] content they can continually share. If The Star Telegram [a local FW publication] reviews Chanel on their website, that article eventually dies online. If Chanel retweeted the article in 2+ years it may say, “We’re sorry. This page doesn’t exist.” Because of the server, hosting fees and our ownership of our website, our content lasts.

So, no way. I’m never paid to say anything. A sponsored post compared to a regular post you see on the blog has no difference. I was already planning to share those tips and I was already planning to wear that item. The only difference is on the business side. That brand can use my images, whereas if it isn’t sponsored I can legally go to the company and charge them for using my images and branding.

I’m genuinely proud to speak on behalf of any company I partner with. I also always say, “In partnership with XYZ. All opinions are my own.” And to be honest, it is what allows this industry to survive.

Story time: like over Thanksgiving when my server crashed and Paul and I spent 2 days and a scary amount of money to get the site back up and running for you all. After taxes and website fees this might be a hilariously large hobby, but it’s one I believe in. 

So remember back to when I said this is done so that blogs aren’t biased?

You trust a food blogger and he never pays for a meal. Why? Because he has eaten a lot of free meals and knows a good one.

You trust a travel writer for a publication and he never pays for a trip. Why? Because he has gone on a million free trips and knows a good experience vs. a bad one.

And you can trust a blogger who is sharing one bracelet that was gifted. Because girlfriend, out of the 45 bracelets this month I tested and wore, this is the only stinking gifted one I liked and shared, so I promise it is good!

I hope this clears up confusion for you all and if anything let’s you know that I value your trust and respect. But I also don’t want this article to alarm you. Gifted and partnered content isn’t that frequent on COF compared to the industry, but when questions do arise I want to answer to you. A lot of times even, I will be gifted a product, like it, give it to my mom and purchase it myself so I can make sure their online shipping is valid and quick. Then I still put [c/o] on my blog so you know I was able to first try it because of that. You are the largest part of Chronicles of Frivolity and if I’m not honest to the largest part of my site, what is the point?!

I promise this site will never share a product it doesn’t believe in/wouldn’t purchase 10x over or take a partnership it isn’t dying to take. My background is in PR and if this site becomes something I truly can’t afford I will go get a PR job before I go take a partnership that affords the cost of running a business.

Be sure to follow me on snapchat if you want more honesty about the business of blogging! I talk all about it! [@kateymcfarlan]

XOXOKatey-2

Edit: I do want to mention that it was brought up, some print publications have rules on gifting in the restaurant industry. When I worked in PR there was a number [say the meal or gift couldn’t go over $50] and a reader told me that her paper pays for a full meal. But with media tastings things are free. It all is dependent upon what type of paper or publication that journalist is writing for. But overall, whatever you review, you get gifted a lot of it for free. And just like I pay for things personally once I receive or order more, food writers will pay for full meals sometimes so there isn’t bias. I just wanted to make that clarification if you were curious. Magazines have different rules vs. on air media vs. paper media vs. blogs. 

Leave a Note

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

29 Comments

  1. I really appreciate your honesty in this post. I have a degree in PR as well so I love that you are 100% comfortable with telling people the ins and outs of the industry.

    I can also personally relate to the “can I even afford to do this” statement! It’s hard out here for a blogger. But you continually inspire me to just keep doing my best. So thanks for being a digital girlfriend I know that I can trust when it comes to beauty and fashion.

    Happy Saturday!

    Morgan Bryant
    mygorgeouschaos.com

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  2. Courtney wrote:

    This is so informative! It’s really eye opening to the blogger’s perspective and the brand’s perspective in this industry. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  3. Emily wrote:

    I loved this post Katey! It is so clear that you love your job, and that you have a strong sense of your purpose and values. Thanks so much for sharing. I read so many blogs, and I never knew most of this info!

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  4. Morgan wrote:

    Truly appreciate you sharing this Katey! You have such a heart for this industry and your genuineness shows! I am currently in the “can I afford this?” stage and your post actually gave me some more insight on how to work with brands. I also loved what you said about the many roles of a blogger – so true! Hope you have a good weekend!

    -Morgan
    How 2 Wear It [] http://how2wearit.com

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  5. Mallory Brasher wrote:

    Super informative! I love how honest you are.

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  6. Kaitlyn wrote:

    LOVE that you shared this! It bothers me when I see negative comments about being sponsored so I’m glad you cleared the air.

    Your loyals (me!) know you (or feel like we do) and trust your advice completely. Keep doing you girl! 🙂

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  7. Lindsey wrote:

    Katey,

    Thank you so much for your honesty. This post is exactly why we love you. Your loyal readers trust your opinion! I know that you work hard and are very pick about what even makes it out of your inbox to the blog.

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  8. Alaina wrote:

    I love this post! The way you broke it down makes so much sense, and even after blogging for a few years, you gave me a different perspective, I love it!

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  9. This post is awesome for me as both a reader and a new blogger! I love your transparency, honesty, and let’s be real the fact that reading your post is like talking to one of my girlfriends! Thank you for sharing this “behind the scenes” post, that is so informative! It’s nice to see the mechanics of how partnerships [and etc,.] work between bloggers and brands!

    As a new blogger, I feel like finding information like this can be difficult. While I love and appreciate every opportunity to work with brands, I feel that as a new [and often, uninformed blogger] there is quite a lot of opportunities to be taken advantage of! This was really helpful!

    I hope you are having a lovely weekend with your girlfriends! Can’t wait to see your upcoming wedding pictures!
    Morgan
    http://timelesstasteblog.com

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  10. Whitney Schmidt wrote:

    I love reading your blog in the mornings with a cup of coffee. I especially loved this honest post.

    But my favorite part was “‘Lemme splain” … Dying! Haha!!

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  11. Stephanie wrote:

    Love this! Thank you for sharing! I’ve been a loyal reader of yours for several months now and always wondered what those collaborations meant. So awesome of you to be upfront and honest; this helps me respect and value this site even more than before!

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  12. Alyssa wrote:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective! It’s a little frustrating to see some of the big bloggers NOT saying when they’ve been paid to share something. Without naming company or blogger names, there was a point recently where I was like, “Oh so you all just happened to purchase the same pair of shoes once a month and share them on your blog…interesting.” I work in marketing, so I’m not sure if everyone else sees through that – just how you have a PR background, so you see it, too. Appreciate your honesty, girl!

    Alyssa
    Feathers and Stripes

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  13. Ashley wrote:

    I like thos post but still confused how you afford/run a profitable blog with out the paid advertising. How can this be your full time job and pay the bills?

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
    • Katey wrote:

      Hi Ashley!

      Great question! I’m not sure if you mean me, or just bloggers in general, but a lot of payment is done for things that aren’t even shown on the blog! Most of our work is behind the scenes. But a few examples might be:

      1. If a blogger hosts an event somewhere, they are paid for their time and travel.
      2. If a blogger helps create an item [say they collaborate on a nail polish or a necklace] they are paid for their design and a percentage of the sales since this is a product they helped create.
      3. Bloggers get paid to speak at blogging conferences and share advice, tips and industry tips.
      4. Bloggers can get privately paid by readers wanting to help create a blog and grow it.
      5. Because of my background in PR there have been times companies have paid me to help create a campaign that other bloggers can use [research of a line, press releases, pitching, getting the item in the hands of the other bloggers to share.]
      6. Some brands do affiliate programs where if someone makes a purchase they might make 2-3% of the sale.

      There’s lots of different ways, but a lot really don’t have anything to do with what is even shown on the blog!

      I hope this helps!

      xo,

      Katey

      Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  14. Rose wrote:

    You are awesome! Love your honesty! I’ve quickly fallen in love with your blog over the last 12 months because it is clear that you truly care so much about your readers.

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  15. Alex wrote:

    Super informative! Thank you for sharing!!

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  16. Valerie wrote:

    I loved this post! I’m a newer blogger, and It always seems like I’m spending a lot of money on my blog, and it makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong! Now I’m glad I”m not the only one!

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  17. Briana wrote:

    As a fellow blogger myself, I still learned new things from this post. This was so well thought out, presented, and most importantly HONEST. That is what I love about COF and I don’t care if you write about 100 gifted things, I will always trust and appreciate your opinion (and style!) Well done! 🙂

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  18. I love how honest you are with your readers! As a fellow blogger, (who happens to be in the “Can I afford this?” stage…) I love learning from and reading content written by such a powerful and trustworthy blogger. You serve as such an inspiration to so many! Keep it up Katey 🙂

    Jordan
    The Teacup of Style
    http://theteacupofstyle.blogspot.com

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  19. SO glad you wrote a post on this! I get the same questions as well, and sometimes it can definitely be difficult to explain!

    P.S. Props to you on eating all those beans! lol! For me, it was Top Ramen on the daily. It’s also nice to know that almost every blogger has gone through that point where they are just like, omg, I literally have have no idea how I am going to continue doing this. I’m broke! haha. Definitely a scary period of time! 🙂

    BlondieInTheCity.com

    Published 23 Jan 16Reply
  20. Brit wrote:

    Hey Katey, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but wanted to clarify that as someone who has worked at a newspaper, the paper DOES pay for meals and doesn’t accept free meals just for this reason, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. It might be different with fashion mags or TV programs, but in journalism, that’s not the case. Just wanted to clear that up. Having said that, thank you for trying to be transparent with your readers! We need more of that in the blogosphere.

    Published 24 Jan 16Reply
    • Katey wrote:

      Hi Brit!

      Thank you so much for letting me know that! I think I was just speaking based off my personal experience and when we did “media tastings” with a new restaurant and “cocktail gifting or tasting” they never paid. But I remember there was a number we couldn’t go over! Like maybe $50? Or specific journalists had specific gifting numbers for their publication. I can’t even remember anything exact now! haha. I’ll add in an edit clarifying, thank you!

      xo,

      Katey

      Published 24 Jan 16Reply
  21. Kathryn wrote:

    I love how transparent you are in this post! Great information.

    xx Kathryn
    http://www.chicandshimmer.com

    Published 24 Jan 16Reply
  22. Taylor wrote:

    This was very informational, thank you! I just started blogging a couple of months ago, so this is great to know! 🙂

    Published 24 Jan 16Reply
  23. Bunny wrote:

    Thank you for this post and background information. I never knew how “care of” or partnership posts worked so it’s nice to know.

    Published 25 Jan 16Reply
  24. Caroline wrote:

    Hi Katey!

    I’m a relatively new reader, and I am absolutely loving following along with your blog. I’m definitely gravitating toward your unique voice which is totally evident in each post. You seem so down to earth and your blog has become a daily “must read.” Your blog is an inspiration to me and my aspiring blogger dreams!

    Published 25 Jan 16Reply
  25. Kari wrote:

    Thank you so much for your honesty, Katey! This was really helpful in understanding how sponsorships, collaborations and “gifts” work and are noted in blogs. I have followed your Instagram account for a couple months now and am so appreciative of how genuine you are. I love reading about your faith and appreciate you sharing that with us.

    Published 26 Jan 16Reply
  26. Kaitlin wrote:

    I love that you are so honest about products- both good and bad! If a product is junk, we want to know it’s junk! If you tried so many times to like it and it just wouldn’t work for you, we want to know! It’s so helpful and I think a lot of other bloggers are scared to speak negatively.

    Published 26 Jan 16Reply
  27. Lauren wrote:

    Thank you for your honesty and openness! I’ve always wondered how this all worked, it’s super intriguing! I would love to be a blogger like you one day. Would you also do a post on how you started out, and how you built your brand and followers? Also, how you strategically worked to make this a profitable business for you so you could leave your PR job. I love following you on Instagram and you blog. Keep on doin whatcha doin ?

    Published 28 Jan 16Reply