I woke up this morning to an uproar on Twitter and other sources about an article from Emrah Kovacoglu, CEO of Total Beauty Media, entitled Beauty Brands Should Not Be Working With Bloggers…. In a nutshell, Kovacoglu suggests that companies should work through intermediaries, such as Total Beauty’s Sneak Peak program, to obtain product reviews instead of working with bloggers directly. He further insinuates that bloggers are not responsible or do not abide by professional standards. Considering that a large portion of beauty blogs are members of the Total Beauty Network, and generally rely heavily on company public relations contacts to receive the latest industry news and samples, it is not surprising that Kovacoglu’s comments caused quite an uproar.
Beginning with a discussion of free items that bloggers receive, including some very atypical examples, such as free trips, and moving to pending FTC regulations that would require disclosure of such items, Kovacoglu suggests that industries should be concerned about the ethics of direct relations with bloggers. That discussion then morphs into what appears to be the real reason for his comments--a pitch for the Total Beauty Sneak Peak Program—a program whereby Total Beauty acts as an intermediary and sends products to bloggers for review. My observations have been that typically the products come from advertisers in Total Beauty’s vertical ad network.
The upshot is that suddenly Kovacoglu appears to be willing to insult his network publishers and foster misconceptions about items and compensation that bloggers receive in order to pitch something for the sole purpose of fostering advertiser relations and increasing Total Beauty’s pocket book.
The bolded sentence alone should raise questions about the validity of Kovacoglu’s comments. Regardless, I would like to specifically address a few items. He states:
Professional mass-media journalists are bound to these standards: objectivity, accuracy, truthfulness, fairness, public accountability, and limitation of harm. They're bound to presentation standards such as clarity, correct spelling, and formal dialect. But most bloggers are not classically trained professional journalists; they are individuals who had the guts to start talking publicly about an area of passion that had.
*** Bloggers must stay true to their readers. It's what will keep and grow the reader base -- and it's what drew brands to work with them in the first place.
The fact of the matter is that most beauty bloggers, particularly those who work directly with companies and public relations representatives, do abide by high professional standards. Many are professional writers and are well educated. Outside of that, all generally have a passion for their topic and are very knowledgeable about it. Interestingly, when I have heard similar concerns using terms such as “accountability”, it has been in the context of concerns that bloggers do not feel bound to advertisers, and hence, will often tell the truth. Of course bloggers seek to be true to their reader base. It is only those who rely on advertising dollars to the extent that it affects their publishing who tend to turn such a proposition into a negative. Consider the print magazine. It traditionally places advertisers first by recommending and promoting their products. To truthfully state that something might not live up to its claims would risk losing large advertising accounts. That blogs can be free of this, even while running ads, is a positive, not a negative. Brands should be willing to risk the occasional negative review for the greater and more personal exposure that they get from working directly with bloggers and by forming strong professional, and direct, relationships.
Kovacoglu also states:
One of the things we encourage our bloggers and brands to do is work through Total Beauty for product reviews via our Sneak Peek program. The reason? We have developed a community of vetted bloggers who are impactful, truthful, and not compensated for their posts/reviews -- and we continue to monitor that community. We guarantee to get your products in the hands of the right bloggers, and that they will use your product as recommended, post about it on their blog, and review it on TotalBeauty.com. What we don't guarantee is whether it will be a positive or negative review. That fate falls upon the performance of your products.
And on the flip side, why do bloggers work through us? We can ensure a buffer between their blog and brands, so that they are not penalized by a negative review, if that is what they truly feel. I've had many bloggers complain to me (three in just the last week alone!) that they sometimes receive products from brands they just don't like, but they fear if they don't review it (or review it negatively), they'll never hear from that brand again. We at Total Beauty prevent that from ever happening.
My observations of the Total Beauty Network is that as a vertical ad network, it will happily accept most blogs who desire to join the network. To the extent there is vetting, it isn’t extensive and it provides nothing more than what any public relations person can do on their own by perusing any given blog. In any event, by working directly with a blogger, a company can more likely be assured that the blogger is getting a product that they want to review and will feel favorably about. Personally, I do not accept products that I think I won’t like. When I find negatives in a product, I also usually still have good things to say. If the event I hate something, I often forgo the review or if I don’t, I communicate my problems to the company and allow them to respond. I don’t need or want a buffer, particularly not at the expense of my relationships with companies that I write about.
The Bottom Line: I was a member of the Total Beauty sneak peak program and withdrew some time ago after feeling pressured to write reviews of products that I was not interested in and in a time frame where I had not yet completely tested the items. The result was that I often gave those products a short and quick review because of lack of time. I also tired of seeing numerous blogs all posting about the same sneak peek items in the same time frame. A company in the program could receive a huge number of reviews, but I’m not sure that flooding the blogs in a short time frame is really the best way to promote a product.
I do not plan to work through any other such intermediaries in the future. Certainly companies could chose to forgo direct relations with bloggers in favor of such programs, but I suggest that what is really in their best interest is forming direct lasting relationships that will result in bloggers covering items that actually interest them and cause more meaningful feedback and reviews.
I also must express my extreme disappointment with Mr. Kovacoglu. One of my fellow Beauty Bloggers, Amber Katz of Beauty Blogging Junkie, stated that she felt his comments “threw us under the bus.” I understand that Total Beauty is an ad network, and as such is in the business of pleasing advertisers, but it needs to please its publishers as well. Insinuations that bloggers are an irresponsible lot who should not be directly dealt with is not the way to go about keeping publishers.
And that “blogola” Mr. Kovacoglu speaks of? Usually it is nothing more than free products for the purpose of review—something necessary to the reviewing process. A very small minority of beauty bloggers have received luxurious swag or trips, and when they did, they have usually disclosed them. As much as many of us would love to get true swag, we generally don’t. Kovacoglu’s suggestions to the contrary are reminiscent of a New York Times article last year that also rubbed may bloggers the wrong way. I am disappointed that he would promote those misconceptions.
Oh, and by the way, the only free trip I was ever offered, came from Total Beauty itself (I did not take it because it required joining their ad network and I chose to join a different network for ads).