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Go to Merriam-Webster online and look up entitlement, and the second definition you’ll see is this one:
When I first started blogging it never would have occurred to me to act entitled about anything. I’d started blogging for fun, and as a way to express myself without cornering people at parties until they faked heart attacks to escape my rants. Seriously, I’ve had people close doors in my face to end conversations. I like to talk. A lot.
I had no idea that you could actually get free stuff for blogging, let alone cold hard cash. So when it started happening, it seemed too good to be true. Products started showing up at my door for me to review. I got gifts as thank-yous for attending events (at which I’d already eaten my weight in free food; it’s a good thing for all parties involved that I don’t drink).
But as the years went on the tide started to turn. What started out as a fun hobby turned into a (still fun) business. What started as a blog with twelve readers and a twitter following in the triple digits turned into a blog with thousands of readers and tens of thousands of twitter followers. The actual writing, while still being the most important part of blogging, now takes less and less time compared to networking, emailing, negotiating contracts, invoicing, tracking, pitching, answering pitches, and promoting.
When blogging went from fun hobby to a huge demand on my time, I had to start demanding things in return. I’m pretty sure that when people talk about entitled bloggers, they’re talking about me, and I don’t have a problem with that. More bloggers should be like me.
What amazes me the most in this business is how much money and effort companies waste trying to get me to write about their products without paying me directly. Even though many, many companies have found success in paying bloggers, most still believe that earned media is worth more than paid media, because it doesn’t have a stigma. Oh, if only the public understood what went into that “earned” media. They might not feel the same about that car review or movie write-up if they knew the exotic locations the reviewers were taken to and the perks they were given, but hey, no money changed hands! No stigma!
The simplest thing in the world is when I write about something I find interesting and get paid money in exchange for that writing. I mark it prominently as a paid or sponsored post, and anyone who is a regular reader knows that I’m not going to squander my readers’ trust by lying to them. With a zillion things to write about, sponsoring a post isn’t buying my opinion, it’s simply buying space on my blog and giving me a topic to write about. Straightforward. Easy. Helps me pay the bills. Makes all of the time I spend on my business worth it.
What Happens When You Don’t Want To Pay Bloggers
But when a company doesn’t want to pay bloggers to write about a product, it’s not always because they don’t have the budget. I have been taken on trips in helicopters, taken up in hot air balloons, flown across the country, introduced to celebrities, had my hair, nails, and make-up done by pros, and offered more special experiences than I can count, in an effort to get me to write a few paragraphs about a product that had nothing to do with the destination. And every single time I would have preferred to stay home, try the product out myself, and write about it for pay.
But since I don’t rule the world, sometimes I do go to events in the hope that the experience will be so ridiculously special that it will be worth it, or that it will lead to a bigger relationship with a company I want to work with. And this is where the entitlement charges come in.
In these cases, I’m not being paid for my time, even though every single other person involved is getting paid, from the drivers to the venue owners to the sign printers, waiters, caterers, photographers, and especially the unfortunate celebrity, who is paid to spend hours taking pictures with strangers. And, of course, the pr team putting it all together and getting me on board.
When I’m not being paid, when I can’t turn a post into a car payment or a bag of groceries, I have to make sure that the event will be worth my while somehow, or at the very least not a giant waste of my time. For some strange reason companies seem to think that bringing me to a room with a product on display is better than sending me the product to try in my own home. Going to their event usually takes a minimum of three hours to get there, participate, and get home. That’s not counting any time spent writing, should I choose to write about the product.
So, the first charge of entitlement that I embrace is this one:
I am entitled to not have my time wasted.
If you make me get out of my sweats, get on the subway, and come to your event in order to see and use and receive your product for review, you are most likely wasting my time in a big way, and your product won’t get written about. While getting to stand around in a room with people I know (and often like), eating hors d’oeuvres and sipping drinks might seem fun to people on the outside (and bloggers outside of NYC, who don’t get these invitations daily), for me it is torture and a giant time suck.
So when I get these invitations I try to ask, as tactfully as I can, whether anything will be going on at the event that couldn’t happen in my living room. And the answer is almost always no.
I think the feeling is that if we make the effort to show up, we’re more likely to write about the product. But the opposite is actually true: After spending hours of my own time, I usually feel like I’ve given you enough. Instead of writing a thoughtful post, I leave it at a few tweets or an Instagram photo because now I’ve been gone all afternoon and have to catch up. And when my kids were little and I was paying babysitters while I was seeing your product? Ugh.
The next charge of entitlement happens when I’m invited to an event that’s open to the public. I go to public events all the time, not connected with blogging. I wait in line just like everybody else, sometimes for hours. I do not, under any circumstances, mention that I’m a blogger in the hope of getting special treatment. That is just tacky, and something that should be worked out with the pr or marketing or media contact for the event ahead of time.
But what drives me crazy is when I’m invited to a public event, as a blogger, with the expectation that I will promote whatever is happening, and I’m not offered any special consideration: VIP area, expedited entry, meeting with the guest of honor, something to make it worth my while to show up to something on your schedule, for your benefit. Otherwise, I’d rather go on my own and not have any expectations placed on me.
So charge number two that I embrace is this:
I am entitled to be treated differently than the public at public events, when you’ve asked me to attend and cover the event.
I mean really, if you’re going to treat me just like the rest of the attendees, why not pull some of them out of the crowd and ask them to tweet and facebook and write about the event? Oh, right: You asked me because I have an audience. Well, I deserve something in return for access to that audience.
Treating Me Worse Than I Would Treat Myself
When I buy tickets for shows, I almost always buy the best seats available. I like to have a good view. It’s worth my money. So when I’m offered tickets for a show in exchange for a review, I now turn most of them down, unless I’m promised tickets as good or better than what I would normally buy for myself. I learned early on that free tickets for bloggers are often just a way to get rid of seats that were going to go empty otherwise.
This also happens when there are unpopular dates. I take my kids to shows on Friday and Saturday nights when I can, so that they’re not out late on school nights. I’m not going to take them to a Broadway show on a Tuesday at 8pm and send them to school half asleep on Wednesday. But the tickets I’m offered are almost always for weeknights.
This is an incredible waste of resources. My review has the potential to sell more tickets for a show – that’s ostensibly why I’ve been invited. But if I’m so far back that I can’t see well, or can’t hear, or am behind a pole (yes, THAT HAPPENED!), then it’s not worth my time.
So, charge number three:
I am entitled to the best experience that a regular audience member could expect to have.
I’m amazed that bad tickets are a promotional tactic. When you want me to write about your show, you should present it to me in the best light possible, not stick me somewhere some time I would never choose for myself.
Being Accurate In Invitations
If I do actually decide that a product or event is worth my time and will lead me to a good post, I get very aggravated when the invitation doesn’t match the reality. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been invited to “lunch,” showed up hungry, and was greeted with a few tiny appetizers or a fruit plate.
I do not need to be fed in order to learn about your product. But if you say you’re going to give me a meal and don’t, I will leave your event hungry and frustrated and I will probably associate your product with hunger pangs for the rest of your life. When I see it in a store I will suddenly have the irresistible urge to stuff my face just in case.
The fourth entitlement charge that I embrace:
I am entitled to a fair representation of how my time will be spent.
This also holds true for events where I’m told I’ll get to sit down and speak with someone, and it turns out all they have time for is a quick picture (and unless you’re Mitch, who has built a career out of pics with celebs, that’s worthless).
Or if you tell me that my kids are welcome, but it turns out that you’ve done nothing to accommodate children aside from letting them in the room.
Or when you say that I’m going to get my hair and make-up done and then have a new headshot taken, but when I show up with stringy damp hair you say “Oh, yeah, we decided not to do the hair, sorry for not telling you.” I didn’t ask for the headshot, and I’m capable of doing my own hair. But I believed what you said on the invitation, and I now have a worthless headshot with ugly hair and a photographer I can’t promote, because of your mistake.
Here’s The Thing About Entitlement
I don’t think I’m entitled to anything just because I’m awesome. I’m entitled to these things because you asked for my help. If you don’t think I’m worthy of these things, that’s your choice to make. I turned down a trip because a company didn’t feel that I was worth car fare to the airport, for a trip whose only purpose was for me to learn about their product, on my own (unpaid) time. That was their choice. I’ve turned down many events that wouldn’t send a car service for me when the event was in a place that wasn’t easy to reach by subway. These events cost tens of thousands of dollars to put on, but if they’re drawing the line at an extra $60 to get me there, again, it’s their choice to make. I’m not entitled to those things just because. They get to choose if my audience is worth it to their product.
That’s the thing about a business like this, without strict and open rate policies: I get to tell you what I’m worth, and it’s up to you to take it or leave it. I am entitled to what I ask for in exchange for attending your event on my own time. You are entitled to not give it to me and to not have me at your event.
When I’m being paid to attend an event, I do not ever quibble about the small stuff. I can get myself to the event and feed myself afterwards if necessary. I will write about my experiences in a timely manner and promote them. This is what you’re buying. And I guarantee you it’s worth the money.
And it sidesteps the whole entitlement thing.