Who can you trust?

I have been thinking about this topic for a while, but a post over on Jamie Goode’s blog has inspired me to write a little something.

I get fairly numerous emails from a variety companies asking me to post about their products.  I generally ignore these emails.  More recently some have come with financial incentives – and last week I too received an email from a viral marketing company asking me to post a series of three videos from Douwe Egberts in return for money.  At the time I didn’t know how much but it turns out it is £50.

£50 – not a huge amount of money.  Easy cash or the destruction of any credibility?  Could you get away with it with full disclosure? Blogs cost money to run if you are hosting your own, the temptation is of course there.  It seems that invite went out to food bloggers too – interesting to see how many (or how few!) have disclosed that they are getting paid.

I hope I have been sufficiently clear in the past with disclosure with things I have not paid for – the ExtractMojo for example, though a freebie doesn’t guarantee a good review either.   If I have time I am happy to review things, but if someone asks I would rather give an honest opinion because the short term gain is easily outweighed by the long term relationship with a community.

The food blogging community is ahead of the coffee one (it is bigger, has a larger audience and a wider range of focus) and it is starting to see more and more issues with conflicts of interest, and non-disclosure souring reader trust.  There was an interesting LA Times article recently on the way food manufacturers (two words that shouldn’t really be next to each other) are interacting with blogging mothers.

We’re probably a little way away from Lavazza whisking Chris Tacy off to the factory, wining and dining Tonx or David Walsh in return for some nice press (though they did send Gwilym and I this year’s calendar which was genuinely very nice of them, thank you) – but if coffee blogging survives twitter then it suddenly doesn’t seem that ludicrous.

On a side note I’m becoming increasingly annoyed by the number of Press Releases I get sent for US companies, with US only special offers.  In the past I’ve just tried to ignore it, but doing that is hardly going to inspire a change in their practices.  However you can’t help but wonder about the skills of a public relations company whose efforts only sour my relationship with their client.

Thoughts?

14 Comments

  1. The thing that has set us as professionals apart from our predecessors is our constant questioning. We have never let things sit for what they are. We are always wanting something better and are not easily convinced about things. We tend to think about coffee entirely more empirically than the professionals before us.
    And even though we may all work for different companies, we have never had a problem sharing and communicating with one another. The third wave coffee community is definitely focused much more on transparency and interpersonal relations. We share a goal and don’t think it is wise to keep things to ourselves.
    I think though this may be a problem to be concerned with, we are far too close nit and concerned about the well being of our industry to let this happen, and we would be quick to separate that person from the rest of the community.
    Lastly, I think our industry as a whole is far too young to let something of this nature to happen. We dont have the credibility and history that the food and wine industry have. Quality Coffee is a new market and we get enough questioning and criticism as it is. It wouldn’t be wise to have people start questioning us as professionals but also our industry.

  2. Interesting post.

    For me, I don’t mind reading blogs where the user is reviewing something they’ve been sent, where they are open about it.

    I accept items to review only if they are items which genuinely interest me, which I might honestly put down my own money for, and which fit into what I want to blog about. And then I make it clear to my readers and I honestly believe I then post an honest and fair review. Some of the things I’ve said about items I’ve been sent for free have been far from complimentary, so I’d like to hope that my readers can see that a free product doesn’t garner effusive feedback unless it’s genuinely deserved.

    I think for me, what is more irritating, and I’m a guilty party as much as many others, is the boredom of repetitive posts where PRs have sent their items to way too many bloggers and my RSS feed is full of posts about the same item.

    I’ve made a mental note to try and ask about how many others are going to be reviewing an item, so I can take this into account when deciding whether or not to accept, along with the other considerations.

  3. Your (or anyones) personal brand should never be compromised by financial incentives, no matter how large or small (in the case of the company mentioned above) they are.

    I don’t think even full disclosure will help.
    Endorsements should be given without any financial motivation.

    There are too many uninformed people who may choose to take what an industry figurehead says, and when repeating it, easily distort it, because they don’t understand the reasoning or motives behind the initial comments, of the impact to credibility that these chinese-whispers comments may cause.

    The only way that I can see the benefits being realised (financial payment to you or your blog to cover running costs) without the expense of credibility is to offer an advertorial section where and paid advertisements can be placed, boxed off in their nice little bubble – very clearly marked as ‘Not endorsed by (insert name here)’. Sectiooned off as a click through (with further dislaimers) may work.

    Then, no matter what the value (£50 or £500) the client would get the exposure and you wouldn’t have to explain the motives.

  4. for the record, I am available to be whisked off, whirl-winded, wined, and/or dined (but it wont necessarily buy my endorsements). Please forward all offers of airline tickets, hotel accommodations, lavish dinners and per diems to my gmail. kthxbye.

  5. I don’t get offered much stuff free gratis. When I do, the most I promise in return is feedback.

    I did get asked by a UK based “roaster”, let’s call them Roderick’s Really Great Coffees, to publish some of their articles/guides on my blog. While the Chocolate-Rasberry flavoured coffee they offered in exchange was tempting, I declined.

    But you do see it. People trying to be honest, or at least trying to be perceived as honest , while excusing or softballing problems with products they’ve been sent free gratis. If they bite the hand that feeds them, it may be the last lunch they get.

  6. This is a challenge Neil & I come up against all the time at TampTamp. Since we’re consultants and we’re paid to give advice, we try to research and find the best possible products and services to supply our clients. Probably at least once a day we think about how nice it would be to get a commission or something for selling things that our clients wouldn’t otherwise know about.

    Ultimately we always come around to staying as non-sponsored/bribed/etc. as possible because it leaves a weird feeling in our guts. We’d rather be 100% sure that we’re recommending things because they are things we actually buy, rather than question if we’re doing it because someone gave it to us, gave us a commission, etc. As we grow we will surely face this challenge over and over, but hopefully our integrity will keep us around for the long run.

    Sometimes I wonder if it’s even worth it to be so principled though – in other industries there are commissions and kickbacks that seem to work out just fine. I lived with a banker who thought Neil & I were completely insane for not working out commissions. I still haven’t figured out a way to balance it morally though, so I’d be curious to see where this thread goes.

  7. Ever since the WBC in Atlanta, i’ve been receiving junk emails from companies with packing solutions and syrup solutions.

    I don’t remember ticking the box saying i’d like to receive emails from ‘associated companies’.

    Annoying.

  8. What do you think about obvious blog advertising such as Adsense by Google Ads? I’m running my coffee blog with small coffee-related advertisements under the posts, clearly marked as such. I get paid by visitors’ clicks, etc. I find the advertisements relatively helpful at times- not a complete waste. Am I souring followers by their presence? I realize my blog is small-time, but I’d rather close advertisements altogether than offend the few followers I do have.

  9. Douwe Egberts!!!!????
    I’m willing to pay you £ 50 for NOT writing about it.

    Myself, I refuse all publicity and reviews on command. (also inspired by you)

  10. I had an interesting offer from a major tea brand launching a new coffee range, they wanted controlled advertorial stuff. In discussions I said I’d have to refuse to comment on the quality of the coffee for reasons I saw as fairly obvious, but I was more than happy to discuss/promote good coffee preparation… effectively do a technique article, ‘cos that’s what I’m the expert at (allegedly).
    No big surprise, the tea makers went with a famous and familiar wine buff who’d say anything for a buck… I probably offered my complicity at too high a price

  11. It doesn’t really matter, one way or the other to review or not to review, as the noise of the world is already at a deafening roar. Not really any significant fault of your own, but I assume anything public domain is heavily biased.

    The only person I can trust is myself – my own opinion. The trouble is finding out if my opinion is truthfully my own.

  12. All are judged by the result of their reactions and in a free market each one can make that he believes. Those who are powerful, from character or money, they will resist, those who are not, they will “go with the river”.

    This sounds serious and for me who I have a nice blog for the last years, I will serious considered. Here in Greece we do not have these problems, with exceptions of concrete employees, but sure when the coffee takes the place that it deserves will have them here as well.

    Keep brewing everyone!

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