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Responding to Total Beauty’s Suggestion That Companies Should Not Work Directly With Bloggers

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).

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  1. Well said!!!!

  2. This is shocking I think that bloggers are always targeted due to questioning their integrity; however, like anyone else in media, you can’t group us all into one section! For me, I love my direction relationships with the brand or the PR firm. I enjoy being able to have that direct link so that they provide me the right items that work with my site and they understand when I pass on something as it doesn’t fit within my scope. I only write about what I like and what I feel my readers would enjoy. Have I taken trips, product, etc – yes but they are written about and I build a relationship with my readers and also those that are providing me these items. For TB to feel this way but to use this as a way to have more power over who should or shouldn’t get something, that’s really shocking!

    As a Beauty Brand (Chella Skin Care), I don’t speak for everyone, but in our case, as a small but growing and fabulous skin care line (blatant self promotion), we need to be reviewed by as many Beauty Bloggers as we can. Do I worry about negative reviews..of, course! But I also truly believe in our product or we wouldn’t put it out there and I would never hold it against a reviewer for a negative review. The most obvious point that was overlooked is that this is the 21st Century and Beauty Brands, big or small, must keep up with the social networking scene or be left behind in the dust. As far as submitting products to his network, I did that 3 months ago and *crickets*.I assume that,as a new brand, I guess I don’t have enough pulling power (read advertising dollars) to be included in his network of reviewers. Having said all this, I am sure I will not be reviewed by TB any time soon..so, please review us! ;-)

  4. Carleen, I truly appreciate your well thought out and rational response to this nightmare of a release from Total Beauty.

    And you are absolutely correct- a PR firms actual working relationship with a beauty editor/writer/blogger whose website features exactly that specific type of product is mutually beneficial. If a hair product blog is featuring Chapstick, that’s not a fit.

    Thanks so much for your level headedness,

  5. Carleen,
    I just wanted to stop by and say wonderful article. I’ve read a lot of different responses to Mr. Kovacoglu’s comments and your article was spot on. Thank you.

  6. Wow Carleen,

    Exceptional article! I am so glad that there are beauty bloggers out there that can stay level-headed and rational in times like these. I would have never thought that Total Beauty would turn on us like this! I agree with Jami: thank you for taking the time to write a response and staying calm, cool and collect! :)

  7. I don’t expect his response to be anything special.

    I commend you for writing a post. It is not easy to write against a place that you are a part of.

  8. Carleen, thanks for the well-written article on this issue and your thoughts.

    I would agree to a point 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.” I would hope to classify myself in the same category, and most of all I do feel that, like you, I hold myself to very high professional standards. Unfortunately, there are also a surprising amount of “amateur” beauty blogs out there, who’s writers may not have the same high standards and would thus give other bloggers a bad name.

    At any rate, I was hoping TB would have a substantial enough vetting process to allow it to stand up for its member blogs with confidence, but it looks like that hasn’t been the case. Thanks for exposing some issues that need to be addressed!

  9. This guy is a piece of work. If I get this post correctly he is basically saying :: pay me instead. Give me your ads and we’ll give your products to bloggers we know won’t write negative reviews.

    Would that fall under the irony category? I signed up with TB when they first launched but they’re not very good with actually supporting their bloggers so I hit the road and get my ads through Adify.

    My thought is that companies realize his self-serving plea for what it is and they’ll stick to working with the bloggers they have a relationship with.

    This guy is nothing more than a self-serving sycophant. Though I AM a classically trained journalist turned blogger, so what do I know?

  10. I joined Total Beauty back when you let me know about it. I received the first two products very quickly after joining and have received nothing since then. Mayhaps they didn’t like my reviews. Who knows…

  11. Carleenp says:

    Amy: Was that part of their community sneak peak thing or the one for bloggers? I heard that people in the community one got one shipment, but then hadn’t heard about any more. I’m not sure what is up with that.

  12. Well put! I’m still shocked at Kovacoglu’s audacity — how DARE the bash the bloggers that comprise his own network? To suggest that beauty bloggers are incapable of adhering to ethical standards of conduct or that they lack the know-how to properly and thoroughly cover their areas of expertise is simply ludicrous. As for the issue of swag, that’s almost comical — the only “freebies” we get are products which are used for the purpose of review (and I don’t know if any respected blogger who would feel pressured to post a positive review simply because he/she received a free sample). That would be equivalent to suggesting that music journos feel compelled to write positive album reviews because they received advance copies of said records. Puh-leeze! This whole saga is just offensive.

  13. Great post, totally agree. Really pleased that so many of us beauty bloggers have come out to defend ourselves against the article.

  14. Agree with everyone’s comments. We filled out all the TB extensive paperwork at least 3 months ago. When we inquired as to the status, we were told the paperwork was in but the person who was handling it was gone. Then we were told it had been lost, and we would have to start all over and this was the final word; “…we are working on inputting a whole new blog strategy. By orders from the CFO and COO, I cannot sign up any new blogs or finish the sign up process on existing bloggers such as yourself. Everything is on hold.”
    After reading the CEO’s “editorial” and listening to his video, we are no longer interested.

  15. Funny that Mr CEO talks so much about PR’s when clearly he needs one himself for damage limitation! Let’s face it – beauty blogs are a time consuming hobby for most of us…not many people make a lot money from it, so the pompous, arrogant pearls of wisdom from Mr CEO sound like they fell from some very self important lips. There’s strength in numbers, as Total know, that’s why they’ve swept the board in scooping up blogs before bloggers knew better. Let’s hope he has shaken the ground he stands on and see if he is so confident then. Thanks for your views on this…I read with great interest. BBBX

  16. Bravo, well said and it is about time someone pinpoint that Total Beauty is all about its advertisers.

  17. Great post. There is no need for an intermediary. Companies should and must have relationships with brands to be able to improve on their products and customer service. That is exactly the future and not the old media ways that Mr. Kovacoglu is trying to impose in our community. Andrea

  18. Great article! I’ve also read a few other great posts about this on other blogs & plan to write up something myself. As a blogger & University educated I find Emrah Kovacoglu comments unprofessional & quite frankly why is he CEO of TotalBeauty media? As a member of Total Beauty myself I am questioning if I should remain a member, my blog has never actually received any benefits for being a member, other than acquiring a few extra readers. Anyhow, you have written what I have felt therefore no need to repeat. Thank you for this post couldn’t have written it better.

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