Dear Brands, Exposure is Not a Real Form of Payment
All that glitters ain’t gold and a lot of bloggers have prestige without matching pockets. Many of us are fighting an uphill battle because we constantly have to prove that we’ve earned a seat at the table. And far too often, brands do not really value us like they should, like we’ve worked so hard for and like we deserve.
That is why I’m writing this letter. This is to all the brands and companies who have and continue to ask us bloggers and digital influencers to work for free. No, wait. They want us to work for “exposure.”
Every single day, you’re planning campaigns and projects and initiatives and “such great opportunities” that involve marketing budgets, staff salaries and logistical expenses. And every single day, you email a blogger and digital influencer asking them to work with you. Far too often, you follow it up with the fact that “We don’t have a budget for this campaign but we will promote you. This will be great exposure.”
NOPE NOPE NOPE! ALL THE NOPES THAT EVER NOPED IN NOPELAND!
What are you doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING??
You want us to work for free and our compensation is “exposure?” Listen. Exposure is not currency and we surely can’t take that to the bank to pay our bills. I can’t buy shoes with exposure. Shoot, exposure won’t pay my hosting fees. Unlike MasterCard, it is not accepted everywhere (or anywhere).
Are you going to make money off this campaign? Odds are, you are. You want us to work for free even though we’d be making you money, placing you in front of our audience and doing work that will take us hours (and sometimes days to complete) on your behalf. But you want to pay us with exposure.
Stahp. STAHP IT RIGHT NOW.
Do you understand how insulting it is? Do you know how much it speaks to the fact that what we do is not really valued? Do you know how tiring it is to feel like you constantly have to prove that you’ve earned a seat at the table (that you’ve sat at for 11 years)?
I’ve worked with some great brands and companies who recognized my value and we did mutually beneficial work. They recognized that even though I’m not a blogger who falls into the beauty, hair or fashion space, I am one who falls into most spaces I want because pop culture covers all that and more. Plus my audience is highly engaged, they trust me and they know I won’t work with just anyone who drops in my inbox.
But far too often, it’s the opposite. A big TV channel’s rep called me wanting me to work on a campaign for them for a show. I asked them what the budget is and they tell me “Oh we don’t have a budget. This is PR, not marketing.” Or the countless times when companies wanted to compensate me for a campaign by just giving me a phone or *insert product here*. How many gadgets does one person need and if I’m so pressed to get one, I’d rather buy one from the check you hand me for the work I just did for you. OOP.
It’s incredibly frustrating because a lot of these brands are big names, Fortune 500 companies, have huge budgets for seemingly everything else but anything they want to do through digital. Asking us to work for “exposure” is basically donating our time and unless it’s for charity, that is not worth it.
Exposure hustling is writing for one of the biggest news outlets on the web and not getting paid anything but four new clicks to your Twitter account.
It ain’t worf it, Miss Celie.
There are some opportunities where we can choose to donate our time but those need to be few and far between. Many of us are doing work for companies where millions are being spent on campaigns but those companies just don’t want to spend thousands on US. THAT is a shame.
I know what I’m worth and I know what I bring to any partnership so it’s become very easy to say “NO.” That is not a bad word. I’ve said it many times because what I will not do is compromise myself. Like Nicki Minaj said “if I had accepted pickle juice, I’d still be getting pickle juice.”
I am also aware that when I say “NO” some other person will say “yes” but you came to me first for a reason, right? MMHMMM. In this blogging game (and in other creative professions), people work for free far too often! I implore my fellow digeratis to say “NO” more when asked to work for free because when you do not get compensated for what you do, you make it harder for those of us who ask to be paid to be taken seriously.
We’re so afraid of charging what we’re really worth because we fear that people will walk away. I say good riddance to bad things.
Let them walk, because if you want people to respect the work you do, you do not base it on how “cheap” it is. Because when you’re good and you stand in that dopeness, folks will know you’re worth what you ask for even if they can’t afford it. Sometimes. Ideally. But even for those who want to price you down, be firm. Ask for what you want with a period, not a question mark.
But brands, STOP PRESENTING US WITH PICKLE JUICE COMPENSATION WHEN YOU WANT CHAMPAGNE WORK! Don’t come to collegiates with elementary expectations. Don’t come to this rice party with a kale dish.
I get that you might not have a large budget but you should scale your expectations and govern yourself accordingly. If you can’t come up with a budget, then maybe your campaign needs to not happen right now, BIG COMPANY THAT’S ON THE FORTUNE 500 LIST. Maybe you should sit this one out.
And these “diversity” budgets you all have that basically means “give the people of color less money” is completely ridiculous because WE have a $1 trillion spending power. So when you show up at our doorstep saying you only have a tiny amount of money to work with, you’re insulting me and my skinfolk. It is reductive and it is not ok.
Brands and PR companies, when you come to us with these offers, ask yourselves why we need you if you aren’t going to come with payment that is quantifiable. Some of us even have more followers and engagement than you. Why would we need your “exposure” in those cases? I get when the smaller brands who are just starting out do it but when the HUGE ones do it, it is inexcusable.
I’ve bent over backwards for the opportunity to work with some companies before. I’ve charged what I knew was less than my value just to “build relationships” and in the end, all I feel is cheated. And THAT is the greatest suck of all. When you realize that you were taken advantage of and you let it happen, that’s when you decide you don’t want it to happen again.
All my life I’ve had to fight to be taken seriously (like Miss Sofia). I still fight. People see the goofy but they don’t see the grind. I’ve been in this blogging game for over a decade. I’ve paid my dues so now pay me MY dues.
I am not parched just to say I worked with SO and SO. You want me to work for free even though I have numbers, impact and proven influence? Why should I give access to my audience and to my name when you won’t access some money to compensate me? Chile… bye. In the words of Miss Jackson (if you nasty) what have you done for ME lately?
The next email I get that says “we don’t have a budget” might get an autoresponder email that says “LMAOOOOOOOOOO NO.” Or I might just send them a link to this post.
We can work together but you’ve got to be willing to compensate us fairly so we can ALL win.
I asked some of my fellow OGs and long-time bloggers/writers their thoughts on this and here are some:
“Link love is not a form of payment accepted by the mortgage company, and spending five hours writing, taking pictures, designing your posts and begging your Twitter and FaceBook friends to read them for the privilege of giving away a $25 basket of face wash is, in my Bernie Mac voice, some bull. Simply put: working for free is for suckers.
I do recognize the value of influence, networking and blogging for the greater good. But really, like the love between Nina and Darius in love jones, it’s become urgent like a m#th*f^ck@ for me to get paid for my work. Because my writers need to eat. My designer needs a check for her services. And I’m underpaid right now. Which just won’t work if the babies are going to Yale. I gotta save up for the tuition. Nothing personal.” – Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby
“It takes money to make money. Coming to us for exposure is taking away time, energy, and resources from all the other things we could be doing with/for our audience. If an agency wouldn’t do their promo work for free, they should feel some kind of way asking US to do the same…” – Erika Kendall of A Black Girls’ Guide to Weight Loss
“My kid can’t eat exposure, it’s not one of the food groups.” – Britni Danielle
“I already have exposure. It’s how they FOUND me. I was exposing myself.” – Kelly Wickham of MochaMomma
The Bloggess once put it in the best way:
“Please know that we agree with you completely and that we will be happy to accept a high-res picture of “Nathan Fillion holding some twine” in return for publicizing your product just as soon as that becomes an acceptable form of currency anywhere in the entire goddam world. Until then, please take us off the mailing list of bloggers-who-are-so-desperate-for-content-that-we-assume-they’ll-write-for-free-about-pretty-much-anything-we-hand-them. We would, however, be thrilled to be placed on your list of bloggers-whose-time-is-worth-real-compensation-and-whose-highly-reasonable-rate-sheets-are-available-upon-request.”
IMPORTANT: Note that I do NOT allow the republishing or reposting of my blog posts in full. I allow TWO PARAGRAPHS (maximum) and a link back to my site for people to read the rest. I repeat, DO NOT copy and paste my entire blog post to your site. This has happened TWICE with this one.