52 Thoughts | Full Disclosure & Blogging

Full Disclosure on Blogs, Honesty in Blogging

I haven’t seen many posts where bloggers open up the door on how sponsorships work or talk about it directly. Readers know it’s happening, so at the risk of losing all future business for myself, I want to shed some light on the process and how it compares to the larger entertainment industry.  

When I first starting documenting daily outfits, it was purely for fun. In the process of making this site into a business, I’ve spent countless hours learning how to edit photos, write HTML code, design the layout of my site, etc. I’ve also invested in the tools, like cameras and computer equipment, to produce professional looking content.

I continue this blog because I want a place to write and showcase my projects and share my art, which as silly as it sounds, comes in the form out the way I get dressed. Producing a blog with 99% original photography and 100% original writing takes a lot of time and energy. After Adam takes my photos, I’m a one woman show! Ditto to most other bloggers. In my opinion, the quality of content on a lot of blogs is just as professional and beautiful (or even more so!) as the magazines! But where am I getting with all of this?

This site is displayed at no cost to the viewer. To justify spending so much time on blogging, it needs to make me some money from other sources. I think the majority of my readers understand this and are supportive (my survey last year showed me that over 93% of you are ok with monthly sponsorships). Writers, artists, designers, bloggers - creative people in general - all need to make money when they create things for other people to enjoy. 

Now, as a point of comparison… 

Do you notice when a product has been placed in your entertainment? Not commercials or marked ads, but the actual placement on TV or in magazines? Probably not, because unlike blogs and social media, the disclosure either comes rapid fire in the teeny tiny credits at the end of the TV show or never gets openly disclosed at all. 

Paid placement is EVERYWHERE! Did you see the Lego wall in the recent episode of Fixer Upper? Placed. That date night at McDonald’s on The Bachelor? Placement. The Coca Cola or Nike Shoes or shampoo in a movie? Placement. The “what’s in my bag” feature in magazines? Paid placement! And unless you’re looking for it, most people don’t even realize it’s an advertisement, because unlike bloggers, traditional entertainment (TV, movies, fashion magazines) doesn’t have to scream from the rooftops (or very clearly mark their posts) that there’s a behind the scenes relationship. Do you want all of your ads to be clearly labeled? As consumers, how do we define marketing versus advertising?

Bloggers are held to different standards. We must inform our readers of every gift and every relationship. We are word of mouth marketers and our recommendations are more valuable that TV commercials. We’re real people, and real endorsements hold more weight. We have a different standard to uphold - and that’s a good thing! 

Here’s how I look at it with What I Wore: I treat my readers like my friends. I wouldn’t tell my girlfriends that I love a style of jeans or a brand of boots if I didn’t actually wear them. I would never want to mislead or lie to them or urge them to spend money or something subpar. I want the same honesty in my blog. I don’t separate my real self from my blog self. I am Jessica in both places! 

Every time I get dressed and post photos I’m making recommendations. In a way, all of my choices are endorsements! So when a brand comes into the mix, it’s fair that readers would question - does she really use that? would she buy that with her own money? If I can’t say yes, it’s not a good fit. Integrity is more valuable than a big paycheck. So what happens when I find a company I love, with products I use and they want to formalize our partnership? 

Here are the three ways I work directly or indirectly with brands: 

Sponsored Posts are how I make most of my monthly income and are negotiated by the post. These can take 2-3 times more time than a normal outfit photos (back and forth with the client, product selection, photography, editing, writing, reviewing, more back and forth) Some months are reeeallly slow and some months are more busy based on the nature of consumer spending (January, June and July are light while May, Sept and December are busier). I like to keep the ratio of non sponsored to sponsored content at 10:1 or less. Contractually I can’t give you a specific dollar amount per post. I’m not a millionaire, but I do ok. 

Affiliate Links are between $0.05 and $10 per item purchased (sometimes, very rarely, up to $40) depending on the price of the item referred. I like to make my own graphics most of the time, so the process can take up to an hour or more for each post. When I use these I’ve either purchased and used the product myself or am considering purchasing it.

Banner Ads account for between $0.006 and $0.00025 each time you see one. That’s less than a thousandth of a cent. After the code is in place, this takes no extra time each day but is dependent on a high volume of page views which come from updating the site with new material regularly. These are labeled advertisements, not endorsements, and I work as hard as I can to make sure they make sense with my site.

None of these revenue streams are a solid bet. There’s no salary or guarantee I’ll make any money unless I work for it! When I took time off after having a baby I didn’t have a paycheck to fall back on, because self employment doesn’t come with traditional benefits. Let’s talk about those…

A lot of employees get things like health care or company cars or expense accounts. At my old job in NYC I had benefits too - free clothes, international travel, paid vacation and sick days, etc.  If you’re lucky, you might even have your maternity leave paid for (but probably less likely if you’re an American woman… I’ll rant on that another day). Point being, when you’re employed you usually have benefits. For me, it might be a surprise box with coffee pods and cookies. Or a keychain or shampoo or makeup. It’s fun and exciting to get a little gift in the mail, but I think it’s fair to acknowledge that if you’re working, you’re probably getting benefits of some kind. (Self employment does offer other perks too… these are just a few!) Anyways… back to sponsored posts! 

In the eight years I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve worked with a lot of brands. I get to highlight a product or initiative and I want to be authentic when I do that. I believe it’s fair to tell you, the reader, that there’s a relationship between my blog and a brand when I write about them.  I want my posts to be honest and give you guys an insight into why I use and like those products. I also think it’s fair that I earn a living from the work I do. Clothing, beauty, home goods, baby stuff, travel and DIY challenges are all things that make sense for me. When ever the budget allows, I ask the brands if I can have an extra to give away to one of you. I want to navigate both business and blogging gracefully. 

Let’s circle back to the beginning. I don’t expect that every other person writing a blog will unveil how they run their business. I don’t think they need to! I do think it’s great that most bloggers are so forthcoming about their relationship and disclosures, which isn’t the case for so many other kinds of entertainment. So in a way I’m writing this post because I want to give kudos to the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of bloggers that are doing it right. I have so much respect for the creative ways writers weave in partnerships on their sites. They’re honest and upfront and they also deserve to be fairly compensated for creating their content - whether it’s directly from a brand or indirectly from banners or affiliates. 

I’m so grateful I can earn a living doing what I do. I genuinely love my job. The creative expression I’ve had in just the past three months alone has changed me as a person. More on that soon! I know it wouldn’t be possible without understanding readers. Or cool clients who support my creativity and point of view and sponsor those efforts. 

I’m thankful to both.