In my last post (really? August 24th? Whoops.) I ranted on about how bloggers shouldn’t solicit or accept payment for endorsed posts on their own blogs. And I still firmly believe that. But there is a way for bloggers, especially those with a specific area of expertise, to work with companies and corporations, and that is as a consultant. The oft-touted theory of “I deserve to be paid for my time and effort” doesn’t ring true when you’re being paid to say nice things about a product on your own blog, but when a company comes to you, asking for your help with something they’re producing, you most absolutely deserve to be paid a fair price for your work.
I bring this up now because I have been contacted, yet again, by a corporate entity that expected me to “help” them for free.
The person in question represented a very well-known show on the Food Network. The host of this show has a product line and endorsement deals. Their show is aired internationally. It is safe to presume that the major players involved are making a decent amount of money.
The request I received was for me to call the show’s researcher (long distance) and advise on some places in the Toronto area that would be appropriate for the show to visit on an upcoming trip here. I am familiar with the show only peripherally; I watched part of an episode once and didn’t much care for it, and since we cancelled our cable about six months ago, I haven’t watched anything on the Food Network at all. So I calculated how much research I would have to do to learn about the show and the types of places they covered, as well as how much work I’d have to do to come up with a short list of places that would be appropriate, and I replied via email stating a rate for my consulting services.
In pretty much every conversation I’ve had with a chef in the past, oh, month, the topic of bloggers has come up. Usually it’s the bloggers who show up on the first day of a restaurant opening and trash the place in a review because things are not perfect. Chefs and restaurateurs seem not to know how to handle this kind of criticism, and when they ask me for advice (like I’d know!) I’m at a loss as to what to tell them.
I mean, it’s not as if I’m anti-blogger. I really believe that the future of food writing exists online; I run a number of blogs myself, run a blogging network and somehow convinced myself that creating the Canadian Food Blog Awards would be an easy thing to do to promote food bloggers in this country (umm… yes, I did pretty much just make a 2nd full time job for myself). But I still don’t have the answer.
What I really want to do is give the bloggers who do these (usually poorly written) too-early restaurant reviews a smack in the head. I mean, there’s one school of thought that says that some person on the internet with no qualifications or expertise isn’t going to be able to affect the business of a restaurant, that most people don’t even pay attention to blogger restaurant reviews, instead relying on long-time experts for the major dailies and weeklies who have the experience and writing skills to back up their opinions. But I’ve also seen (and talked to) a lot of restaurant owners and chefs who are mighty worked up about a shitty review or comment on some site like Yelp or Chowhound.
If you’ve never received one, then consider yourself lucky. If you’re a recipe blogger, you might never know the greasy, depressing feeling of opening up your email inbox to be assaulted with fake flattery and a patronizing cut and paste formula-based invitation. But eventually, because that’s their whole premise, the viral marketing companies will get to most of us, luring innocent food bloggers with flattery and booze, hoping you’ll sell your soul for a party and a gift bag, or some free samples.
While not a new phenomenon, in the age of the internet, viral marketing has become more and more pervasive. The original viral marketers used kids to inadvertently sell their products – put a pair of (free) fancy sneakers on the feet of the most popular kid in the school and watch as his classmates flocked to the store to buy the same gear. It works for clothes, technology (“hey, cool phone!”) and even vehicles – Torontonians should wonder any time they see a shiny new scooter parked on a sidewalk in front of a hip club or restaurant.