Dear Mr. Kovacoglu, Founder and CEO, Total Beauty Media, Inc.,
It was brought to my attention today that you're no longer even pretending to advocate for beauty bloggers anymore. Your recent newsletter to members of the TotalBeauty community was quite clear on that! I was stunned to read the title, "Beauty Brands Should Not be Working with Bloggers". When I saw the rest of that sentence,"...directly, anyway," all became clear! Life would be better if everyone filtered their business through yours, is that it?
Toward the beginning of the newsletter article, you state that some bloggers have readership rates that may rival printed beauty magazines. You continue:
Big numbers like this means [sic] big interest from ad/marketing/PR firms. In their fervor to court bloggers to write about their products, they're offering incentives -- from free products, to trips, to outright compensation. It's at a fever pitch, drawing attention from mass media who've labeled this phenomenon "Blogola" -- and even drawing attention from the FTC (see article here); in the near future, the government may mandate that bloggers disclose potential conflicts of interest, like receiving incentives, free products or money for a product they're covering.
I'd like to address that. I certainly field pitches from various ad/marketing/PR firms, and they often offer me samples of their products. Maybe when I began blogging I was impressed with the free products, and certainly even to this day certain packages give me a thrill. But I echo many other bloggers when I say that the implication that I am reduced to an unethical puddle at the site of a free product is absurd.
It's very openly stated by Beauty Editors in traditional media that one of the best perks in their jobs is that they get "swag". Free products line the shelves of these Beauty Editors, most of which don't even make the pages of their magazines. In contrast, I struggle to make sure that almost every item sent to me is mentioned or reviewed honestly in my pages. I will also point out that those Beauty Editors get paychecks to do their job, which is certainly a nice perk I do not get! I work long hours on my website while juggling all of the rigors of the rest of my life, all for no pay whatsoever. The occasional free lipstick or eyeshadow is a perk, yes, but not one I hide from my readers.
Many of the products I review, in fact, are items that I paid for out of my own pocket. I have yet to hear that from an editor or writer in "Allure", "Cosmo", or the like. I have no idea if some of the larger blogs receive money or other weighty incentives for accepting products for review, but I certainly do not.
Mr. Kovacoglu, I've yet to be offered money, trips, diamonds, drugs or any other type of bribery for a review. In fact, most of the time I am offered only a press release and maybe some high-resolution images. Yes, this is quite the lavish life I live! I doubt I will ever be desperate enough to sell my soul for some good product images. Do I sometimes cringe when submitting a less-than favorable review? Yes, but submit it I do. My readership is loyal, and I believe most of the reason behind that is because they can trust me to tell them what I really think about something I have had the opportunity to sample. I would rather lose contact with 40 PR reps who are bitter about unfavorable reviews than I would one single reader.
While insulting my ethics and calling me greedy is bad enough, then you imply that there's only one "right" way to conduct the business we're in.
"Professional mass-media journalists are bound to these standards:
objectivity, accuracy, truthfulness, fairness, public accountability,
and limitation of harm. They're bound to presentation standards such
as clarity, correct spelling, and formal dialect. But most bloggers
are not classically trained professional journalists; they are
individuals who had the guts to start talking publicly about an area
of passion that had. [sic]
I agree, mass-media journalists should consider themselves bound to certain standards. How dare you assume that I throw standards to the wind? I am completely objective when looking at products, and I struggle to be truthful, fair and accurate. I strive to use correct spelling and proper grammar, which is certainly "professional," though I'm sure we've all seen errors slide by in "mass-media" vehicles, just as I'm sure you'll occassionally spot them on my website.
You mention accountability. I can't imagine more public accountability than writing for the world while in friendly competition with all of the other beauty bloggers out there. If I drop the ball, my readers know it because they also read numerous other blogs every single day. As for "limitation of harm", I think I'm more responsible than even some of the "mass-media"; I have seen products mentioned in major magazines that should have had health-related disclaimers on them but did not. This does not happen on my website. I am not a "classically trained journalist" but I am not an unethical moron. I do consider myself to be a professional, albeit a very poorly paid one, and conduct myself as such.
The very next paragraph really burns me.
"Add in e-mail, texting, IM, Tweeting, etc., and the presentation standards in blogging are blurred. As in, it's acceptable (sometimes cool or funny) to misspell, cut corners, or not be as polished. That is what establishes your authenticity."
Let me get something straight: you created TotalBeauty, right? In other words, you started a community of bloggers. Maybe you're confused, but we're referred to as "the new media" because we are not the traditional media. Puzzling, huh? In other words, my blog does not look like or sound like "Vogue" because it's a blog. Bloggers use a writing technique referred to as "voice," which is the way each writer employs his/her own tone, word choices, sentence structure, and so forth. The voice of each blogger is different, and most bloggers use a different voice from that heard in traditional media. This is how our readers like it! If you dislike slang, buzzwords, beauty fan jargon, creative punctuation, or other writing techniques employed by bloggers, maybe you should have started a community for mass-media magazine editors. Just a suggestion...
Let's get to the crux of your "concern" for journalistic integrity, shall we?
"Whether you are a
professional journalist or a blogger, publishers have a responsibility
to hold true to ethical standards in journalism. It's not worth
ruining a reputation or selling out in the short run for small amounts
of money or free products. Bloggers must stay true to their readers.
It's what will keep and grow the reader base -- and it's what drew
brands to work with them in the first place.
It is also the responsibility of brands, agencies, and companies like Total Beauty to hold our bloggers true to those standards. It isn't worth it for brands to force bloggers to post a positive review. This only taints the world of blogging, and could end up killing the marketing machine that has helped so many brands be able to reach a passionate audience."
Again: how dare you? I think you have a lot of nerve to think that we are not "staying true to our readers". I love what I do because I love beauty products and people. There is no point to blogging if I do not consider my readers, and so I think about them constantly. It's why we bloggers take pictures of makeup in the Sephora. It's why we wander around the mall with lipstick stripes on our arms looking for the perfect light to take swatch pictures. It's why we Twitter from vacation. It's why we spend our own money to buy the new "it" collection or to take trips that will make us better bloggers.
I would never tout a inferior product to please a brand. And while I'm throwing that word around, let's not blame "the brands", either. I have only been approached by one brand that I considered unethical, and when told I must submit my review to them "for approval" before posting, I told them to shove off. Judging from the fact that I never saw any of my blogger friends review that brand's product, I believe I'm not alone in refusing to "sell out". Any time I have expressed a less than favorable review, I have immediately been contacted by "the brand" and thanked for my honesty. I don't know what world you live in, but I'm actually surrounded by a lot of people who enjoy what they do and don't want to ruin it by tossing ethics to the curb.
Getting back to your newsletter, I believe this the point you were trying to make:
That's it, isn't it? The real reason you stuck your foot into this mess. I believe you set out to share a convincing argument as to why bloggers and brands alike should be banging down your door. Joining the Sneak Peek program will solve all problems, and you're willing to stand up and take responsibility for maintaining journalisitic integrity. Talk about perks! Not only do you get to be the voice of responsibility and ethics, but you also get all of the revenue from brands and from adertising as we all click madly on your site reading and posting our reviews. Well played!
You pretend to be concerned with journalistic standards, but I believe your concern is actually directed to your own bottom line. Regardless, I fail to see how your education in electrical engineering gives you the right to defend the field of journalism. While I am not what you refer to as a "classically trained professional journalist," I am an intelligent person, a professional makeup artist, a devoted cosmetics fan, and a pretty fair writer. I write a small blog, and product reviews are only a part of what I do. I am proud of my work and my own "brand". I have never misrepresented myself or a product or my opinion of a product.
You started a network of bloggers or, as you refer to them, "citizen journalists," with the understanding that they would write for you and link to you and you would scratch their backs in return. Yet now you turn on them, which I find fascinating.
It's quite clear: you don't want brands to work with bloggers directly because you want to be the go-between and reap the coins that click into the coffer. There's not much I can do to stop people from visiting your site, but I can certainly say I'm quite pleased to be independent and small if the other option is be part of your network.
Beauty School Blog
Full disclosure: Yes, I was a part of the TotalBeauty network. I joined when the network was quite small and I left earlier this year because I no longer saw the benefit in it. You, my readers, weren't finding me through them, and reviewing the occasional product for them under their guidelines was not something I felt I could commit to anymore once Lulu got here. Time is a premium for me, and I did not have time for TotalBeauty anymore. Now, I'm even more pleased to have severed those ties.
The Washington Post covers the potential monitoring of blogs by the FTC.
Mr KIovacoglu's orginal article is here.
Watch Mr Kovacoglu's reply to bloggers here, on YouTube.
Read other bloggers' responses to Mr Kovacoglu:
- Bionic Beauty - Total Beauty's Blogger Blunder
- Robyn from Purely Cosmetics - Blogger Product Review Uproar
- Carleen from Beauty and Fashion Tech - Responding to Total Beauty’s Suggestion that PR Should Not Work Directly With Bloggers
- Beauty Junkie London - TB Gate: Beauty Blogging Uproar
- British Beauty Blogger - Say What, Mr. CEO?
- Gloss Menagerie - Total Beauty’s Drama Llama Extravaganza
- Casual Lavish - TotalBeauty.com CEO Knocks Down Bloggers
- The Nail Phile - Total Beauty Media’s CEO Turns On Us
- Beauty in the Bag - Blogola Schmogola