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Both sides of the fence…

Words by Lisa Hollinshead, Senior PR Account Manager
Ok let’s begin by putting it out there, my name is Lisa and I am a lifestyle blogger. Phew, feels so good to get that off my chest… no seriously!
Why am I glad to get it out there? Let me tell you… I am also a PR senior account manager (by day) and have been working in PR for almost ten years (shhhh don’t tell anyone).
Now you know, it’s out there, I admit it, I live on both sides of the fence, fighting both corners and day by day getting better (hopefully) at both!  Oh I forgot to mention, I don’t just write one blog… I write three. Yes, I admit it, I can also add glutton for punishment to my ever-expanding CV.
In my ‘day job’ I work with my valued clients each day to carve out new angles, blogger engagement strategies, plan events and pull together their media and digital strategies. Then I go home in the evening to find myself excited to be on the receiving end of pitches, invites, info’ on new events in the city, oh and the dreaded: “hello blogger??? e-mail – kill me now!
I frequently take key learnings from my ‘blogger life’ to use in my day job, such as remembering what I like in terms of approach and what I don’t. Just to be clear I don’t like to be called blogger, I don’t like to receive press releases in JPEG format (seriously who does that!?), I don’t like receiving high res images (I work online!) and I don’t like it when people invite me to events when I’m in work – Massive FOMO sufferer!

As a lifestyle blogger I choose to blog about the cities that I’ve lived in, I write about where my readers should go, tell them what’s on, I also review bars, restaurants and hotels. My blogging journey started when I moved to Sydney in January 2009 and didn’t know where to live, where to go for food, what was going on or even who to ask! I decided to take matters into my own hands and started up Sydney Social 101 for travellers, expats and Sydney-siders alike.

I moved back to the UK in November last year and still run Sydney Social 101 remotely with my team of contributors. I have also recently started up both Manchester and London Social 101.
On each of my blogs I write features on fashion and beauty tips and review music gigs, festivals and attractions from across the cities. From time to time I also do competitions, I choose however not to do sponsored posts – a personal choice of mine. I also don’t host advertisements on any of my blogs, I’m happy for their growth to be organic and I also don’t want to cannibalise the industry that pays my bills and I love so much.
I understand it’s an interesting turn of phrase and I must stress that I don’t think that there is anything wrong with brands, PR agencies and marketing managers paying for quality content. What I do oppose is brands and PR agencies paying for ‘Sponsored Posts’ to merely get ‘runs on the board’ where the quantity and the resulting quality of the posts is of detrimental value to the brand in the long run.
As with any PR outreach, the media/ blogger target has to be valued in terms of its audience, tone of voice, relevance and quality. This is something I enforce here at Smoking Gun PR.

I understand that sponsored posts have to be declared by law – however I have spoken to a number of bloggers that admit to driving ‘a few miles above the speed limit’ and will pay the fine if they are caught – i.e. not disclosing a sponsored post all the time and dealing with it if they do! This I fundamentally don’t agree with. (I must clarify that this is absolutely in the minority and by no means the norm.)
I just think we all need to remember why blog readers find value in bloggers! They like the word of their peers and take on board the recommendations made and make judgements on brands and products based on the opinions or advise by bloggers.
We are meant to be bloggers as we write a diary online about a topic we’re passionate about and want to share it with similar minded people. The minute you start paying for their / our/ my comment, it enters a whole other area.
Let’s cast our mind to Australia for a moment, where there are many well-respected successful bloggers, they have had over 2,000,000 hits and are ‘celebrities’ who dine with the Prime Minister and appear on TV. Fabulous I hear you cry, well done them! Yes absolutely, but let’s consider that the top bloggers in Australia now have an agent called ‘The Remarkables Group’ – all PR requests are to go through their agent, of which they take a cut of sponsored posts. I won’t say anymore on that, it is of course for you to decide how you feel about that, all I would ask you to consider is that: are they still bloggers? Can there be no way that the money they receive from brands can sway their view on a brand or product? I feel it is an interesting discussion point, if nothing else!
When it gets into the realms of ‘blogging for free stuff’ this too is a whole other ball game. If you’re blogging as you think you might get sent some free stuff, or invited to a few cool events, then I might venture a suggestion that you’re not doing it for the right reasons!
Whilst I don’t receive payment for my posts, I do get invited to trial a lot of products, attend VIP events and I dine at some of the greatest restaurants. I am open about this in my posts as I feel it is so important to be transparent with my readers.
In conclusion, transparency is of the upmost importance and when writing a blog, it is essential that you’re passionate about what you’re writing about and that you’re doing it for the right reasons. Similarly as a PR practitioner, we should always consider the brands we are working with, as with all media engagement we should analyse each target to ensure that they are the right fit.
If the target blogger is the right fit and they require payment as they plan to cover their overheads, or want to be compensated for their time, absolutely make a call if it’s the right decision for you and your client. Just please make sure that you enforce that they make it clear that they received payment, as quite honestly if you’re ‘driving a couple of miles above the speed limit from time to time’ it is inevitable that somebody will eventually get hurt!

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