Navigating the marketing landscape has always been tricky, but increasingly so in an economic downturn. Recently, I had an experience that forced me to question my usual approach as a content creator. A new business (one that I would LOVE to support and share with my community) reached out with an offer in exchange for a blog post and some social media promotion.
Let me be clear, putting together a blog post is A LOT of work. It requires research, creativity, an interesting angle, quality photography, editing and finally, promotion. Many writers spend years at university, going on to work as editorial interns and assistants before landing their first full-time jobs. We have dedicated years of our lives to honing our craft and it’s disheartening that it can be undermined on a regular basis. Blogging is a space that has waned in popularity over the years, but something I’ve stuck with as a writer. After all, this space allows me connect with you all on a deeper level.
I wouldn’t typically agree to do a blog post in exchange for a gifted product, service or stay instead I would do one on my own accord if I loved the experience and felt like you all needed to know about it. That said, Prairie Girl Musings is also about highlighting what’s new and noteworthy throughout New Zealand and beyond. I spend a lot of my hard-earned money on flights, accommodation, new restaurants and products so that I can be a well-researched resource and go-to person for recommendations. I’m aware that it’s a privilege to be able to work in this industry and it’s something I don’t take for granted.
Christchurch has been through a lot, launching a new business pre-Covid was already a gamble. It goes without saying that there is likely a lot of anxiety and stress behind launching now with international markets essentially at a standstill. That said, content creators, sole traders, influencers, photographers, etc. are all in a similar position. We have bills to pay and need to put food on the table. If we don’t value our work, we devalue the entire industry. When we work for free, someone else misses out on a paid opportunity. Nobody should ever work for free.
Having been in this industry for awhile, I’ve seen it all and learnt from it all. Hopefully my experience can help those who are trying to navigate the ins and outs of this new (and often complex) industry. Whether you’re a content creator or a new business, the following tips might help you understand how these partnerships play out as well as any red flags to watch out for when working with a business or content creator.
I’ve also discussed this topic with a few content creators throughout New Zealand and Canada to make this a bit more objective, so I hope you enjoy our collective thoughts:
Always read the fine print
If a brand takes the time to put together a contract, make sure you take the time to read it carefully. The number of times I’ve quickly glossed over a contract without considering the repercussions is concerning. Some contracts ask you to sign your life away, so watch out for photo usage rights (you should always charge for this). Remember, you can put together your own T&Cs for the brand to sign. A contract needs to work for both parties.
Negotiate as much as you can
Do not settle for anything less than what you’re worth! If they can’t respect that, they’re probably not a brand who deserves your content. Every time a creator says yes to free work, it impacts everyone in the industry and devalues our services.
Education is everything
Give brands the benefit of the doubt, especially if they are new. View it as an opportunity to show them how this all works and that they can’t take advantage of you or other creators. Some brands will acknowledge their wrongdoings, others will try to undermine you or make you feel bad for not offering your services for free. Don’t work with these people.
Consider who else the brand has worked with
Take a look at the brand’s values and ask yourself whether they align with your own. Is the brand inclusive? Do they promote and uphold diversity in the workplace? If they are only hiring thin, white content creators that is at the expense of BIPOC creators. If they aren’t working hard to seek out a range of creators of different sizes and skin tones, that should be a dealbreaker.
Any brand that launches has to factor in marketing spend
Fact of the matter is that any new business needs to account for marketing spend. If they’ve approached you and asked you to work for free, they are wasting your time and failing to acknowledge the hard work you put into what you do. Free services don’t pay the bills in an economic crisis (or ever…)
Be wary of manipulation
I always try to give people the benefit of doubt especially if they are new to this industry. That said, it’s clear when one party is trying to take advantage of the other party. As I mentioned, Christchurch businesses have been through a lot over the past decade. Only the truly exceptional will succeed and sadly businesses can be quite clever at manipulating creators into working for free. As someone who likes to support small, local businesses wherever possible, I’ve been made to feel bad for not bending over backwards to ‘shoutout’ new establishments.
Brands do not hold all the power
In this industry, brands are able to approach influencers with no repercussions, but when influencers approach businesses, there is often backlash. It’s classic big guy vs little guy, and in my opinion, completely unfair. Partnerships should be a two-way street and communication needs to be open at both ends. When done effectively, pitching will benefit both parties.
Your audience’s trust is everything
Whatever you do, remember your word is all you have as a creator. You’ve likely spent years growing your audience, putting out quality content and helping your audience in a myriad of ways. I don’t care how much a brand deal is worth, it’s never worth compromising your integrity. Always be honest and truthful. If you’ve had a negative experience, write about it truthfully or don’t write about it at all. I like to keep this space positive, so I prefer to talk about things I like and if I need to say something negative do so in a constructive way.
At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If a brand reaches out to you, they’ve identified your value and should be serious about paying for your services. If they offer you something for free, the content you subsequently produce (if anything at all) is completely at your discretion.