She Works Hard for the Money

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.

To be fair, I high-balled the figure, because I was absolutely sure that they were going to reply telling me that they didn’t pay consultants. I’ve yet to encounter a show on the Food Network (US or Canadian version) that was willing to pay bloggers or local food writers for advertising or consulting fees, and when Greg and I were running TasteTO, we got hit up for free promotion for Food Network shows on a regular basis. We would always direct the contact person to our ad rates, only to receive a reply that there was no budget for advertising (meanwhile the bus shelter in front of my building sported a full-size ad for the show in question).

As I figured, the reply came back – no money for consulting, but they surely would appreciate my assistance anyway if I could spare the time. This was my reply:

I’m curious to know WHY you don’t pay consultant fees. From what I can tell, this is a hit show for Food Network, with endorsement deals and lines of merchandise. I assume everyone else who contributes to the program gets paid a reasonable rate and does not work out of the goodness of their hearts… why would you expect that from me?

I’m a professional food writer and restaurant consultant with a book due out next month. That someone from an international television series would contact me and expect me to give my time for free – and based on the inclusion of your phone number and request that I call you, you were also expecting me to pay for the long distance call – is incredibly insulting.

Even if I was just a local food blogger and my blog was the only thing I did, your request would be insulting merely based on the fact that the show you work on presumably turns a profit. It’s reprehensible that people in your area of the food industry (you’re not the first person from a production company associated with the Food Network who has contacted me asking for free work or free ads/promotion on my site) are not willing to pay bloggers for their time and effort. Are we all supposed to be so flattered and happy that you’ve contacted us asking for our help that we’ll work for, or help promote your shows, for free?

Seriously not cool, and I suggest your company rethink the way they deal with consultants and fixers. If you’re not willing to pay people for their time and effort, then you need to use the magic Google box and do your own research.

I’m not expecting a reply to my reply, and if they’re smart they’ll not bother anyway, because this issue makes me livid.

Whether a blogger is a professional food writer or consultant or simply someone running their blog for fun, expecting them to give of their time and expertise to assist a for-profit company for free is completely ludicrous. It’s also utterly insulting. Even with my high-balled consulting fee request, it would have cost them a teeny tiny fraction of what the host gets paid. It’s probably less than what they spend on coffee and snacks for the crew on a day of shooting. In terms of the host’s merchandise, it’s the cost of a frying pan and a set of branded squeeze bottles.

Apparently I, as a mere blogger, am supposed to feel honoured and flattered to be helping out such a high profile show without  sufficient compensation for my time and effort. So maybe I can watch an episode of the show when they visit Toronto and feel all wonderful and special as I think, “I’m the one who told them to go there!”

Yeah. Sorry Food Network folks, but it takes a little bit more than the rosy glow of a vague association to inspire me to do your legwork for you. Rosy glows, they don’t pay the bills, yanno?

If you’re a food blogger and the Food Network or any other mainstream media entity (television production companies, magazines) comes knocking at your door asking you to help them for free, demand a fee for your work. Even if the work will only take an hour.

If a publication wants to use an image you’ve taken, demand a usage fee and printed credit (and don’t forget to ensure you retain copyright).

If a production company for a TV show asks you to use your blog to help promote the show, or a casting call or contest, by writing a post about it, direct them to your advertising rates.

All of these companies are willing to pay mainstream media for the things they ask bloggers to provide for free. Everyone who works on these shows, or on mainstream food magazines or publications, gets paid for their work, right down to the guy who sits in the lawn chair by the production bus and moves the pylons back and forth. If someone from a TV shows thinks you have enough expertise that they come to you and ask you for your help, then you deserve to be paid for that expertise.

Rosy glows don’t pay the bills.