Press Samples, Spending your own Money and Getting Paid

I’ve been sitting on this for almost a week now because I didn’t want to publish an emotional reaction, but rather some well organised thoughts. I have also been in bed for the past four days with a very sexy sinus infection and thought it would be best if I let the fever wear off first*.

Yet I’m still typing through gritted teeth because I’m more than a little annoyed.

Making It Big

You see, I’ve been blogging for more than five years and I haven’t made it big in any way – there hasn’t been a breakout post or a magical spike in traffic that lead to giant success. I’ve gained a fair amount of loyal readers, but by no means do I have traffic that is going to impress anyone. I’ve watched plenty of younger, newer blogs whizz past me on their way to the top.

Why? Many reasons, I guess. I have a full time job so I’m not super consistent. I’m not focused enough on the very pretty details that everyone seems to love. I’m not the most diplomatic writer/reviewer around, and that’s something that scares some brands a little (or a lot, in some cases). And which ever other reasons the wordpress gods have for deciding which blogs make it big and which ones don’t. But there’s one thing that I know that has cost me loads of money and opportunity – the fact that I stick to my guns.

How To Burn Bridges

I’ve declined plenty of paid blog posts and trolley loads of ‘free’ products because there was something involved/expected that I didn’t agree with. It can be one of many things – I may not have enjoyed the product or agreed with some of the claims that were being made. Maybe they didn’t want to pay me what I was willing to work for, or they wouldn’t allow me to disclose that it was a paid project.

This is, as you may be able to imagine, a tricky thing to do if you have a four year relationship with the brand manager/pr person and you hope to continue working with them – and also if you’re trying to make some extra money. But integrity is something you can’t get back once you’ve lost it, so I suck it up and explain it as well as I can and hope for the best. In most cases it turns out fine, but it has cost me some brand relationships. It’s not easy, but there’s nothing I can do about this – it’s the way I choose to roll.

press samples, spending your own money& getting paid

I’m Too Poor For This, Apparently

So imagine my dismay when I start picking up loose ends of discussions where it’s suggested that reviews of press samples should be valued less than reviews of paid-for products. Don’t get me wrong – when I see rave reviews on the most mundane products that I’ve tried and tossed** and I see that wishy washy content shared over and over by brands and fellow bloggers alike, I get ANGRY. Like, probably too angry. But what baffles me more is that I am now being penalised (let’s be honest, mostly by fellow bloggers and influencers) for not being able to afford to spend a couple of grand on cosmetics every month.

There are two reasons I don’t spend much on cosmetics lately: I can’t afford it and I can’t justify it. I’m a (reasonably) responsible adult – if I have to choose between filling up my car’s massive diesel tank or buying a new eyeshadow palette, it’s obviously going to be the former. As much as I am obsessed with fragrances, it has to be a very special occasion for me to buy myself a new bottle because I own almost 50 and that is just excessive no matter how you look at it. I’m not going to go buy my favourite cleanser straight away if I have three options that are waiting to be tested – it just doesn’t make any sense.

Them Samples

I realise that blogging mostly from press samples can look like the greatest thing on earth but let me tell you, it’s not all that wonderful. Let’s start by calling a spade a spade – they’re not freebies. They’re products that are sent to you for consideration. Someone else ideally wants something from you in return for them. You don’t (or very rarely, rather) get to choose what is sent to you. The more things you receive, the more pressure you’re under because honestly, unless you regurgitate press releases for a living there’s no way you’re featuring them all.

I’ve tried to calculate, and I would say that I feature a pretty small percentage of what I’m sent – it can vary from anything between a quarter to a tenth. If the math sounds a little wonky, bear in mind that product type also plays a role – I may feature 70% of nail polishes I’m sent but only 10% of face creams, for example.

I am beyond the point of trying to find ways to feature products I’m on the fence about – for years now. I do not commit to featuring anything upfront. I don’t even test products that I think would be unsuitable – I will feature ones that look good in features like Beauty News though, because you don’t all have the same skin colour/hair type/makeup taste as I have.

I’m not trying to sound as if receiving press samples aren’t a cool thing – it’s obviously freaking amazing to rip open a box that contains the latest Chanel/MAC/Lancome makeup collection.

vichy idealia skin sleep

Picking Sides

While there have been some temptations along the way, I’m proud to say I don’t write to keep brands happy – I write for whoever stumbles across (or subscribes to) my blog posts. I have some knowledge, opinions and wit on my side, and I’m not afraid to use it. Ironically this has made me gain favour with many brands that I’ve had long, mutually beneficial relationships with.

The Bottom Line

Yes, I do write mostly about products that have been sent to me – but I’ve never tried to hide that – see disclosure here if you haven’t yet. It doesn’t skew my view. It doesn’t make me feel that I have to say good things. For every one L’oreal/Dermalogica/Dove/Chanel/Lancome product you see on the blog there are three or four more press samples from the brand that didn’t make the cut.

I do not see featuring press samples as advertisements. It becomes an ad when I’m being compensated (whether with money or a gift of significant value that’s intended for me, not my blog) in exchange for featuring a specific product or brand. I’ve declared every single paid post I’ve ever done, and I’ll continue doing so even though I am under no legal obligation. I can’t tell you why some of my fellow bloggers decide not to disclose – that’s their business, not mine.

Gloves On

So. Do you agree with/accept my definition of what qualifies as advertisements? Do you need me to indicate more clearly which products are press samples***? Is there anything about the way I blog/or the way others blog that puts you off? I’d love to hear from you whether you’re a reader, blogger or both.

C x

*Today is the day I plan to get up and get dressed.

**Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s crap. But sometimes it actually is and you know it.

***It’s 90% of products featured on my blog

PS – I also wrote this post on ethics in blogging more than three years ago. Still pretty relevant.

 

40 Comments

  1. June 22, 2016 / 7:25 am

    Such a great post and I agree with all you have said – this is always such a touchy subject but the fact still remains, bloggers have the right to blog about whatever they want to. People just need to accept that and move on 😛

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 9:43 am

      Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate, right? I do love that people care enough to voice their opinions though!

  2. Charmaine
    June 22, 2016 / 7:26 am

    Such a good honest post! Well done! I read your blog and twitter posts all the time and love the content. Having a full time job and blogging must be crazy hard and busy. Your reviews are genuine and honest and for that a big THANK YOU!

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 9:41 am

      Thank you so much for the encouraging words, Charmaine!

  3. June 22, 2016 / 8:08 am

    Brilliant post, thank you! I completely agree with being a responsible consumer. When there are cars to fill with petrol, groceries to buy and bonds to pay, you can’t always splurge on all the make up/skincare that your heart desires. I have no problem with bloggers only discussing items that they receive from PR, my only gripe is when a blogger only ever raves about press drops and it is obvious that it is only to get into a brands ‘good books’. There are bloggers that only feature products that they loved but you can always tell in their writing if that is how they truly felt about the product. Thanks again for a GREAT post!

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 9:40 am

      Yes, the show-and-tell brigade gets on my nerves too – I think I *maybe* post one out of 50 press drops on social media, if that. And you’re right, it’s so transparent when someone is just going through the motions – it’s as if you can see them typing with crazy eyes and big fake smiles to just get it done. Thanks so much for reading and weighing in!

  4. June 22, 2016 / 8:20 am

    I don’t see featuring press samples as ads either. Just because you are sent it doesn’t mean it will feature or that you are going to make up a rave review just because it is a press sample. I think people are getting their panties in a twist for the tiniest things. And I agree, why buy another nail Polish if you have 20 of the newest shades unopened. Meh

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 9:37 am

      As I said – I can’t afford or justify buying loads of additional products at this stage. Doesn’t mean I don’t WANT to, I just have to restrain myself 😛 Some people would unfortunately rave about a glitter-covered piece of shit because it was a press sample – but that’s their problem, not mine 😛

  5. June 22, 2016 / 8:34 am

    I LOVE this post SO much! This has been coming up a lot – there are always these spells where something is noticed then brought up and many weigh in on it – I enjoy it!
    Firstly, you are one of the bloggers I trust – you have always been open and honest about things. You are not the typical post a picture a day of something you receive and love immediately even though you have just smelt it.
    Secondly, it is hard nowadays to know whether a person really loves something or if they are just trying to get brownie points from a brand. This is where I feel the line becomes blurred. In most cases the purchased products are reviewed more harshly because obvs money was spent whereas the free products will be reviewed with favour. This annoys me because whether you paid zero rand, one hundred rand or one thousand rand, if you don’t like the product, you don’t like it. Tell people why you don’t like it, it should be that simple, but clearly it is not.
    I do understand it can be hard because nobody wants to ruin relationships and nobody wants to purposely say bad things about something but that is what readers are relying a blogger for. Don’t make me waste my money on something that doesn’t deliver what it promises just because you want to play nice with a brand (I do understand that things work differently for everybody so what works for you might not work for me but I think you know what I mean).
    At the end of the day, a blogger wouldn’t get ANYTHING if it wasn’t for readers so stay true to those readers and give them honesty – it is the least they deserve.
    That is my 2 cents – it is a long 2 cents but it just came out.

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 9:35 am

      Hey Kerry! Thanks so much for sharing this along with the other posts, it was good to read some different opinions. I totally get what you’re saying – if I see someone raving about how a brand is ‘spoiling’ them I vomit in my mouth a little, because how are they going to be objective about those products when they actually start testing them? And on samples vs paid-for products – I try my hardest to forget that I didn’t pay for it, and I judge it according to the cost – i.e. I’m harder on a R500 mascara than I am on a R150 version. Thank you for your 2 cents 🙂

  6. June 22, 2016 / 12:37 pm

    This is a great post and while I’ve read it, I just kept nodding my head. There are a lot of beauty bloggers, that are super successful that I simply do not follow, because I believe their content and opinion aren’t true. I think it goes back to the show and tell (brag) method, featuring mostly “see what I just received” and rave reviews of products I’ve personally tested and didn’t think lives up to the hype whatsoever.

    Having said that, I’m here as a book blogger, so my opinion probably isn’t relevant. It’s a little different in our world. Yes, I do receive books for consideration and even though I don’t legally have to disclose, I have always disclosed whether the book I was reviewing were sent to me. My opinion on the book has always been honest. If I didn’t like it, I would specify WHY it wasn’t for me, but who the target audience likely would be. If a book really is bad, I won’t feature it.

    Having said that, receiving them puts additional pressure on us who have full time jobs – and a book is something that takes anywhere between 2 – 5 days to read (depending on how much I like it). To me, that is valuable time invested, which means I’m agreeing 100% with you that none of the things bloggers are sent are truly FREE.

    I’m now at the point where 80% of the content on my blog are purchased by me – to relieve pressure of having to “get that review out”. Thanks for your honesty and thanks for writing reliable content. I follow only 2 beauty bloggers and you are one of them and this post just proves again WHY I trust the reviews from you 🙂

    Keep well

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 3:28 pm

      Thanks so much Melinda! Reviewing books is so personal, I’m not sure if I would be able to do it.

  7. Kerry-Ann
    June 22, 2016 / 12:57 pm

    Chantelle – integrity is everything… I am on the sending rather than the receiving side and as a PR one has to accept that sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. I would far rather know that when a product I have sent has been featured that it has earned the right to be there. Not every product is good for every person. It IS our job to get products featured as much as possible but with that comes the understanding that coverage is not guaranteed and that the person reviewing it may not love it as much as your client would like them to. I would far rather get a fair and honest appraisal of something I have sent than just see my press release splattered onto the page. And paid for posts are just that – paid for and even when not stated, it is fairly obvious. So, you stick to your guns and rest assured that your opinion, honesty and integrity is valued!

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 3:30 pm

      Fortunately most brand managers and PR professionals kind of get this – every product can’t be for everybody. Five honest reviews (that may even point out one or two negatives) are way better than 10 gushy but false reviews in my book! Thank you for the vote of confidence x

  8. Azima
    June 22, 2016 / 2:01 pm

    I totally agree with your views. It retains your integrity, and its one of the reasons I adore your blog, and I take your product reviews pretty seriously. I have actually un-followed quite a number of bloggers because their reviews are blatantly paid for, and I don’t have time to read adverts.

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 3:31 pm

      Thank you Azima. Just to be clear, I have no problem with accepting paid work or with reading them on other blogs – I just like to know when someone is being paid to feature a specific product or brand.

  9. June 22, 2016 / 3:49 pm

    This was a great post to read Chantelle.

    On one hand, I’ve been a reader of your blog for almost two years now. I love the products you feature and I always trust your judgement. The fact that you do disclose that the item was sent for consideration is sufficient.

    On the other hand, I’m a blogger myself and the posts that scare me most are the sponsored ones. Being sent a ‘freebie’ gives you the ability to review it honestly, good or bad, but I find when other bloggers are given sponsored opportunities, it often sounds as if it’s been written by the brand themselves. No doubt there are many bloggers who have integrity and selectively only choose to write about products they love, but when you see sponsored posts every week across all platforms, it starts to become unnerving. It might be for exposure, they need a bit of money in their pocket, or they just want to try the product. At the end of the day, it’s hard to distinguish who’s reviews you can trust or not.

    I feature 90% of products I have purchased with my own money and test items for weeks/months before reviewing them if they were sent to me for consideration. If the product stinks, burns, fails, I have no problem saying so. Why should I do work for a brand that doesn’t trust me.

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 4:54 pm

      Your last line is so accurate – why should you give free publicity to a brand that doesn’t trust your opinion? As for the rest, I think its best to judge each case individually. If you trust the blogger, you should be able to trust their sponsored posts as well – the ‘sponsored’ part is only supposed to mean that the brand wants coverage of a particular product at a particular time. They very seldom dictate the tone or content. I’ve seen the same paid campaigns handled differently by 10 different bloggers – you can spot the pleasers a mile away.

  10. Heather
    June 22, 2016 / 4:25 pm

    So true Chantelle , I absolutely agree. I have also been around for some time and initially I put a lot of pressure on myself and gained some traction back then. I have since changed jobs and am now in Social Media full time , this means that the last thing I want to do is feel pressured in doing what is supposed to be for enjoyment and creative release.

    Sure I have lost many PR Brands and the press drops are fewer, is this sad …sure! Does it make me want to pack it in? No, I have discovered a new and more personal aspect to my blogging, once again it is my happy place with a sprinkling on reviews from brands that have supported me through thick and thin … and they remain to be a pleasure to work with.

    I also can’t afford to splash out every month, we are all adults and some of us single which mean the bills and expenses land on one set of shoulders … mine.

    My advice … love what you do , do it for the love and the rest have to fall as they may!
    x Heather

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 4:50 pm

      Wise words, thank you Heather!

  11. Monique
    June 22, 2016 / 4:40 pm

    I can’t actually believe that you have to explain yourself like this. I’ve been subscribing to your blog for about two years now and not once have I ever questioned a post or the reasoning behind it. I’ve recently gone on a bit of blog/email clean up and yours is one of the few I’ve kept. I think your posts are honest, straight forward and real with great advice. It’s crazy that by following your passion, you’ve encountered such ridiculousness!

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 22, 2016 / 4:49 pm

      Thank you so much for the vote of confidence – it means a lot!

  12. June 22, 2016 / 6:17 pm

    Interesting comments. As a former beauty editor and now a PR and marketing practitioner (yes, fancy word) I’m on the other end of this discussion. I am pro paid-for posts BUT as long as it’s clearly defined as such to a blogger’s audience. Readers aren’t ignorant and they can smell a paid-for gushy post a mile away. It’s the old advertorial posing as editorial. If we do go with paid-for posts, it’s important for me to get the blogger’s participation in the initial pitch and clearly outline what the campaign is about.
    When we’re putting together press drops, we give careful consideration to who gets what with sensitivity to a writer or blogger’s audience. I thoroughly enjoy reading posts by bloggers who have gone out and of their own accord, bought products to review. I also appreciate constructive criticism. I recently picked up a Tweet where a blogger dissed a product (not mine) without qualifying why. I don’t think that gives value to her audience and lowered my opinion of her. In fact, I’ll never work with her because I think it was unprofessional and was a disservice to her audience.
    We’re lucky with what we do, we work on some amazing (affordable) brands that we ourselves buy and use every month. We don’t get them for free either. It gives you a better appreciation when you’re opening up your own purse to pay for a lipstick or nail polish.
    I do feel for the bloggers, they do this because they love it we appreciate that, but I know firsthand that you can’t put perfume in a petrol tank. So don’t close the door on the paid-for option. I do believe you can do it without selling your soul.

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 23, 2016 / 12:48 pm

      Thanks Nicole, some valuable input here! I’m not opposed to paid posts as all, I have done quite a few – as long as the brand and I can both communicate what we’re happy with it works well. And I agree that readers aren’t stupid – if I see a gushy post in the tone of an advertorial I don’t even finish reading.

  13. Deidre
    June 22, 2016 / 7:25 pm

    I have been a reader for probably more than a year or two, and enjoy reading your posts on products. I have also gone out and bought quite a number of the products you tested and blogged about. You tell it like it is and I like it.
    I have unsubscribed from a number of other blogs on skin care etc, for a couple of reasons, one of which is time. But mainly because the products the other bloggers blog about are way out of my pocket, and not always available at the local pharmacy or discount stores.
    Love your honesty. Love your blogs. Keep doing what you are doing.

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 23, 2016 / 12:42 pm

      Thank you so much Deidre, your opinion means a lot!

  14. R Fourie
    June 22, 2016 / 9:33 pm

    Hi Chantelle, I enjoy reading your blog 🙂

    I want to read your thoughts on a product. It is important for me to get a honest, proper, detailed review. I will search for a review before spending my money.

    You are transparent – thats good enough for me. Ek respekteer jou omdat jy by jou beginsels staan – dit beteken dat ek altyd jou opinie kan vertrou.

    And then I admire you for having a full-time job and then put precious time aside to blog for us. 🙂

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 23, 2016 / 12:40 pm

      Thanks so much for the encouraging words, Rochelle! I always appreciate your comments.

  15. June 22, 2016 / 9:56 pm

    I totally agree! I don’t read many blogs any more because I became jaded about all the BS. I don’t give a fig about what people think about me, what my stats are, and refuse to be a dancing circus monkey for brands. At one point that is what I felt like, but I think it is a journey bloggers go through and you have to decide which direction to go in. I don’t know where the bandwagon is heading, but more people should just jump off.

    I just write about things I like and want to write about, whether it happened to be sent to me or I bought it myself. I’m long over writing about things because I feel I should or bankrupting myself buying products to try so I can weigh in on public opinion. But your blog is one of the few I will always read when I see a link pop up somewhere because you are honest, funny, call a spade a spade and your personality is in your writing. That makes your blog much more unique and in a way more successful than ones which might have more traffic. People love to complain either way, so just keep doing what you’re doing 🙂

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 23, 2016 / 12:39 pm

      I have no idea where this wagon is heading but I’m fairly certain I’m no longer on it 😛 Thank you for the generous compliments! Saw your snaps and I thought ja, I could have shut up about it but here I am again with my opinions 😛 xx

  16. June 23, 2016 / 10:58 am

    I follow your blog for all of the reasons you mentioned above. I know what I am getting is truth only. get better soon.

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 23, 2016 / 12:35 pm

      Thank you Celeste!

  17. June 23, 2016 / 11:04 am

    I completely agree! I was sent something by Beauty Bulletin. Almost every other person raved about it and I was like “it was crap”. So I gave my honest (yet, less crude) review. I can’t stand it when bloggers post positive reviews just to be in good standing with brands

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 23, 2016 / 12:35 pm

      An unpopular opinion isn’t always easy, but I’m not going to kiss bums and jeopardise my readers.

  18. Niecole Smit
    June 23, 2016 / 12:21 pm

    I love this post! Thank you for keeping things honest, because ultimately that’s what I (as your reader) would want. I don’t want to read about how great something is and then in the end when I try it it’s actually really crap. I appreciate honesty above anything else. I’m trying to get a blog going myself, just with some things I love, a bit about reading, animal welfare, beauty and skin products, and I want to be honest about the things too! I know how harsh people can be, I’ve done a couple of book reviews where the author was very unhappy, but I love how you are confident enough to, as you say it “call a spade a spade”.

    You’re really blogging for the “average Jane” out there, cause hell I can hardly afford the Clinique foundation I’m using, but we all would LOVE to have that brand new Smashbox or MAC Pallet. But alas, the only one’s I can afford are Essence hehe. So I love to read an honest review because let’s face it, loads of times these expensive products aren’t that great, or the more affordable alternative is just as good!

    And as a reader of your blog I want to tell you how wonderful this blog is!! I love reading your posts, so thank you.

    • Chantelle Bester
      June 23, 2016 / 12:30 pm

      Thank you so much for the feedback, and all the best for your blog!

  19. June 27, 2016 / 8:31 pm

    Your guns are the reason I love your blog Chantelle. I don’t care if you buy the bullets yourself or if they’ve been sponsored, you always hit your mark bulls-eye when shooting 🙂
    I don’t feel that you have to buy your own products in order to have integrity when reviewing, no. What I will add, is something I’m missing from beauty blogs all around. I like knowing to what a product can be compared to or not, if it’s better than its rival or not and if it’s worth its cost or not. If it was a PR sample: Would the blogger buy this with her own money, is it worth the cost?
    But I have to admit, I realise why one can’t do comparisons in sponsored posts; a PR is not going to pay you to say the rival product is better than theirs. And to say a product is good but still not worth its price tag, will most probably burn bridges between the blogger and the PR company, so I kind of understand.
    And so random, I know, but yay for driving a diesel, haha!! 😛

    • Chantelle Bester
      July 1, 2016 / 10:44 am

      Thank you for being so supportive! And you raise some valid points re comparing – I prefer not to most of the time, but maybe I should start listing similar products at the end of a post where applicable. And haha re the diesel!

    • Chantelle Bester
      July 18, 2016 / 2:48 pm

      Dankie dankie 🙂

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