a peek inside the fishbowl

30 Sep, 2009

Yes, that was me

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Ottawa|Yaktivism

Thank you everyone for your kind tweets and emails about Bob LeDrew’s and my appearance on CBC radio this morning. The topic was bloggers and freebies.

As many of you already know, I do accept some freebies, but you may not realize how many pitch emails I delete and how few products I actually accept for review.

The interview has now been uploaded to the Ottawa Morning website in case you want to have a listen. Just  go to the archives page and scroll down to the link called “Bloggers and freebies”. (Emma told me afterwards that she thought I sounded “mechanical.” I’m still wondering what that means. Anyway, I can’t listen to myself, so I’m going to leave it to you to have a listen and reassure me that I don’t actually sound like a robot!)

It’s crazy how quickly the time flies by when you’re in the hot seat. Here are a few things I wish I had mentioned (and this is all loosey-goosey because it’s coming straight out of a brain which has only had about four hours sleep):

  • Bad pitch vs. Good pitch vs. Unsolicated Mail (remember THE BOX fiasco?) and the pitch policy that followed.
  • Bloggers who will do anything for low-value goods and not ask the hard questions …  and what that means to (a) the advertiser/maker of the product (HINT: it’s FREE ADVERTISING) as well (b) the rest of us bloggers. I wish that bloggers would band together and refuse to blog about low-value goods from big companies e.g. that box of cereal and that container of yogurt (and both are pitches I have received and ignored.)
  • And in that vein, are PR people taking advantage of bloggers? Personal blogs cultivate relationships. By sending freebies, PR people are capitalizing on that word of mouth. So where is this all going?
  • Does that fact that the blogger receive a freebie automatically make them biased in favour in the product? I would argue that no – my readers are my bottom line and I won’t ever jeopardize that relationship – but many people are divided on this issue.
  • Spreading the word for good, and not for profit. Blogging about community initiatives, charitable causes, creative projects … that’s using the Power of Blogging for good.  That almost deserves a whole other conversation, because social media marketing is actually pretty cheap to undertake. So how is it helping the little guy?

I would love to continue this thread. What do you think? What would you add to the conversation?

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11 Responses to "Yes, that was me"

1 | Brie

September 30th, 2009 at 4:06 pm


Sorry to have missed you this morning. I will have to give it a listen. All very timely given the Nestle debate on Twitter.

2 | BeachMama

September 30th, 2009 at 7:16 pm


I too missed you this morning, but this topic is dear to my heart. I take freebies and promoting other products very seriously and have turned down quite a few and promoted very little. I do however write glowing reviews of products I love (for Free) because I love them or great service, just because I feel the need to share great information.

My question is how much is too much when it comes to freebies?

3 | Rebecca

September 30th, 2009 at 8:41 pm


I’m sorry to have missed it, I will try to listen – your summary is spot on.

I’ve turned down over a dozen requests for PR because it just didn’t fit my readership, my life, my value as a blogger etc.

Thanks for setting a wonderfully high standard for those of us who are fairly new to blogging – you are a blog role model!

4 | porter

September 30th, 2009 at 9:50 pm



I’ve accepted almost all the freebies I’ve been offered, although I haven’t been offered that many. I love getting the freebies!

Some things I’ve accepted knowing that I probably won’t like them and other things have been fantastic or better than I expected (like my toothbrush).

When I accept the freebie, I always intend on blogging about them good or bad but sometimes I don’t get around to it. I will always say that I’m reviewing an item if that is the case. I won’t say I’ve felt obligated to post positive things about an item but I can see how a blogger might be more biased in favour of an item if they’ve agreed to review it…after all the person who sent it might send more items!!!!

I am not blogging for the same reasons as some. I do it because I think it’s fun, and interesting. I love when people read my blog but I am not seeking readers or trying to make a career out of writing (obviously). Also, I don’t have a big readership.

When people blog about products I don’t always read the post, it depends whether or not it interests me and I figure others will do the same when reading my blog. I’m fine with that.

I can see why you might be more selective about the products you review. You are a writer, you have a business, you are not anonymous, you have paid advertisers, you have a niche, the list goes on. Small bloggers can get away with reviewing a free candle even if it doesn’t fit into their typical blog content but a bigger blogger needs to stick with their theme so to speak.

It’s late so that’s the best I can do right now….

5 | shannon

October 1st, 2009 at 8:04 am


I heard you on CBC yesterday morning, and did not know you or your blog.

:-) I did not think you sounded mechanical at all. In fact, I thought, I’d like to get a coffee with this woman, I’m going to check out her blog.

I appreciate your level of awareness and responsibility as a blogger – in particular the need for transparency and respecting those companies that pay for advertising on your site (I can’t wait to go to the Candy Store).

Looking forward to getting to know via your blog.

6 | Laura

October 1st, 2009 at 3:31 pm


I just listened to you on CBC and thought you were very well spoken…not mechanical at all. I appreciate hearing different view points and enjoyed the discussion. Well done! :)

7 | DaniGirl

October 2nd, 2009 at 10:24 am


Oh wow, I missed this entirely! Will have to listen tonight – no streaming media here. Sounds like (um, looks like?) you covered all the hot points, though. Fun!

8 | andrea

October 2nd, 2009 at 12:32 pm


Thanks all!

I have been thinking a lot about this issue lately. I think it comes down to this (and Porter, I guess this is partially addressing your comment).

You wrote: “Small bloggers can get away with reviewing a free candle even if it doesn’t fit into their typical blog content but a bigger blogger needs to stick with their theme so to speak.”

I totally agree that bigger bloggers should stay on theme if reviewing and recommending products. But I’m interested in your point about the free candle.

I think we, as bloggers, big or small, have to seriously consider what it means when we accept a product for reviewing.

We need to ask ourselves about the dollar value of word-of-mouth advertising. I don’t have any figures to back me up on this but I’m willing to bet that word-of-mouth advertising is the most valuable kind of advertising there is. Public relations people CRAVE this kind of buzz.

Let’s look at it this way.

You meet a friend for coffee and she tells you about these amazing candles that smell wonderful and transport her to a happy place AND she can’t believe how much these candles have improved the smell of her house and her mental health. You’d believe her, right? You trust her and you have a relationship, and because of that trust you are likely to choose the same brand as she does. Who knows, her recommendation might even prompt you to switch brands, or prompt you to start buying this miraculous brand of candle and even recommend it to your own friends.

That same candle is advertised in a magazine. The candle is shown with a happy-looking mom who is portrayed as loving the whole I Have This Amazing Candle And My House Smells Like a Rainforest experience.

Which has more credibility? The friend you spoke to? Or the glamorous model pictured with the candle?

All this to say, if you post something about a product, you are giving that company hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars worth of advertising. In exchange for what?

That multi-million dollar company who sent you the candle (whose retail price is probably $5 and is manufactured for $1.50) is getting a LOT of value in return for mailing you a candle.

Catch my drift?

I’m not sure what the solution is. Pay-per-post certainly doesn’t solve the problem. I like getting freebies too, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think this is really fair, do you?

9 | porter

October 7th, 2009 at 10:42 am


I’m finally back to respond, sorry it took me so long.

I completely understand what you are saying, that the companies are getting alot in return for mailing me merchandise if I blog about it for free. I still don’t mind. I don’t get paid by anyone for my writing, and nobody (except BlogHer) advertises on my blog. I like the freebies and I don’t feel pressure or an obligation to write a post about the freebies so it’s little to no effort.

I look at it like accepting a sample and then reviewing it in a store or at home, or taking a survey for a discount on a purchase (typically it’s only 10% on the next purchase).

I think it is fair…I get to decide whether or not to accept the freebie and whether or not to post about it good or bad. It’s not like the company sending me the freebie has any control over what I decide to do once I receive the freebie other than stop sending me freebies!

I figured I wouldn’t have much company on this side of the freebie fence! BUT I do think there are more people who feel the same way as I do…people who would accept the freebies in return for reviewing them!!!

10 | andrea

October 7th, 2009 at 10:53 am


You do have a lot of company on the freebie fence! But to each her own, right? There’s no right or wrong here.

I totally see your point but I just think people who are accepting freebies need to think about what it means, and what kind of publicity they’re giving these companies, and whether it’s really and truly worth it.

If you are reviewing this product on a blog it is being viewed by a much wider circle of people than if you had just accepted an in-store sample and talked about it with your best friends about it, YKWIM?

I think above all it is critical to (a) be perfectly clear to your readers that you received this product for free (b) write honest and genuine reviews and not let the fact that you got free swag OR your relationship with the marketing person/agency affect the final outcome in any way.

11 | It’s been crazyweek here at the Fishbowl >> a peek inside the fishbowl

October 9th, 2009 at 6:31 am


[…] Last week I was on CBC radio talking about blogging, marketing and freebies. It was so much fun. I’m still buzzing. […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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