I won’t work for free, so please don’t ask me to.
If you’re not a blogger and you’re just happening upon this well-intentioned rant while searching for travel stories about yoga in Costa Rica or dressing up like a cowgirl in Wyoming, you’re probably thinking, “Um, yeah. Me neither. No one *works* for free. Why would you?”
Take a walk with me into my professional sphere — the mythical, magical travel industry — where every single day of my life, I get emails from companies (with plenty of money) trying to get me to do work for them for free.
It can be a little tricky condensing all that my job entails into an easy explanation, but for the purpose of this post, I am a content creator. Sometimes I write whatever I want* based on my adventures, and I don’t get paid for that. That’s how my existence as a blogger began in 2006 with Big Apple Angie, and it’s why I created Angie Away, as a place to share the tales of my RTW trip.*This hissy fit today is a prime example of me writing whatever I want. For free. Because ain’t nobody paying me to rant.
Sometimes I write for magazines and newspapers, sometimes I am invited to speak at conferences or on TV shows about my travel experiences. I get paid for most of these endeavors.
Now that I’m an established online influencer, brands/destinations invite me to experience their offerings (hotels, tours, cars, products, etc.) and I’ll write about them or create YouTube content or take compelling photos they can use for their marketing/advertising campaigns. Other times, a brand or company will pay me to write a post about my experience for their website. There are dozens of variations on how these relationships can work.
What’s important is that the partnership is a win-win for both entities. I get something and the brand gets something.
Sometimes I get paid in cash (not Breaking Bad suitcases of it, but a reasonable amount depending on the project) and can I tell you a secret? I like those times the most! I can use cash for such luxuries as toothbrushes, chai lattes and not living with my parents.
On occasion, I’m happy to work out a trade provided I feel both parties are being compensated fairly. For example, if I want to experience a destination and I reach out to them, I might offer public relations or social media consulting in exchange for travel. Again, there are a dozen ways the deal can work, but it has to be of value to both parties.
That all seems easy enough and like a heaping dose of obvious common sense, right? Come over and take look at my inbox, which daily is filled with requests from companies trying to sneakily get me, and all the other bloggers out there, to create content – a.k.a. to do the job that pays the bills – for free.
There are three major tactics for requesting free work. First, they might offer something useless, like…
Here’s an excerpt from an email I received yesterday:
“We want you to create an article where you discuss XYZ and link back to our page. What you include is totally up to you! We will be giving bloggers who write the most creative posts a shout out on our social media channels, so be sure to send the link along when it’s finished! As for a timeline, we would love for it to go live within the next couple of weeks.”
I should start by saying that the gal who emailed me was incredibly nice and I am sure we’d be great friends outside of this silliness. When I responded to her request for an article asking about payment, she said,
“Unfortunately, there is no compensation allocated for this campaign. We will be giving bloggers who write the best posts a shout-out on our social media channels!”
What in the actual heck?
And can anyone tell me what the exchange rate is for “shout-outs” these days? ‘Cause I need to check with my landlord how many Tweets she will accept for this month’s rent.
If I spend my time creating content for companies, also known as advertising/public relations, then linking back to their site, which gives them authority and rank in search engine rankings, I’m gonna need more than “exposure.” I’m gonna need moolah.
Exposure is not a payment. It’s absurd to offer a TWEET, or even worse – the chance to maybe be considered for a Tweet — to a professional writer in exchange for hours of work.
Would you go to the dentist and offer to pay in exposure? Would you tell the guy who’s got pointy tools in your mouth that, unfortunately, there is no compensation allotted for this procedure, but if he does a really good job, you might Tweet about it later? Not if you wanted to leave there with teeth. It’s so icky! And patronizing! And condescending! And insulting!!!!!!!! (Can you see how serious I am based on the use of exclamation points?! !!!!!!!!! I’m really serious about this!)
Writing may not be as complicated as dentistry, but by Jove, it is a job.
If a company wants you to do what you’re trained to do, they need to pay for it (preferably with money) so you can do your taxes on it and make a decent living.
(It doesn’t just happen to bloggers! Check out this absolutely absurd request from Mayweather/Showtime asking graphic designers to work for free. Mayweather won $80 million for his last fight, FYI.)
2. Sneaky Contests.
Queensland’s Best Job in the World competition in 2009 was a groundbreaking campaign because it was the first destination that really harnessed the power of social media for a worldwide PR effort. Finalists (me, in case you were wondering why I always cite it in posts like this) created a YouTube video and then amassed votes for the chance to spend 6 months as the social media-posting/ blog-writing Island Caretaker.
In the 5 years since, destinations have struggled to recreate the magic of this campaign. The problem? They often want to do it on the cheap, so they leave out the parts that made Queensland’s campaign successful… usually, the $100,000. Still, for your average consumer – NOT writers / bloggers/ online influencers – the chance to win a free trip is often reason enough to create a YouTube video and clamor for votes. (Note: regular people who win free trips aren’t expected to do work on behalf of the destination on these free trips.)
I’m not irritated by consumer-facing BJITW clones, so don’t get me wrong. What makes me crazy is the destinations who now try to recreate the Best Job experience with influencers — inviting me to create a video (something I get paid to do) and to harangue my followers who I work very hard to entertain for votes (so annoying), to win a chance to go on a press trip to their destination.
A press trip! A.K.A. a WORK TRIP where I will spend the entire visit churning out content for the destination.
Again… ex-squeeze me?
Sure, these trips often take place in beautiful destinations, but they involve spending time researching, writing and creating posts not to mention the actual hours spent onsite at the destination, not working on other projects. The amount of work that goes into a week of this type of travel is staggering, and it lasts much longer than the actual week. It can go on for months. A trip I have to work on is not a prize.
Oh, and did I mention that after you get done competing against your colleagues, spamming your fans with requests for votes, attending the trip, writing up a bunch of posts and social media content, there’s usually no $100,000 paycheck at the end of the tunnel. Most of the time, there’s no monetary compensation at all.
Imagine emailing all the plumbers in your area to ask them to create YouTube videos for the chance to plumb your house. And then once you choose them, they get to plumb your house FOR FREE! Good heavens.
My motto: I am not going to compete with my colleagues for the chance to do my job. I’m not going to beg for votes so I can go DO. MY. JOB. FOR. FREE.
3. Free Product.
Every day, a publicist offers me something truly amazing, like a $6 bottle of suntan lotion from a well-known international brand, with the simple request for 500 words on my website about how it changed my life. Not gonna do it.
But, dude, FREE sunscreen! Get outta here!
I realize I may sound like a whiny, ungrateful jackwagon to all those who do really difficult jobs like nursing, firefighting and like, anything with math, so let me just caveat this whole post by assuring you that I LOVE THIS JOB and it’s the best and that’s why I chose to do it instead of, I dunno, accounting or something.
Yes, this job comes with perks and passport stamps and jealousy-inducing selfies, and yes, there are plenty of people who say they would do this job for free because of the perks. But once those free workers realize that they can’t pay for web hosting fees or visas or plane tickets with Instagram likes, they’d see the light.
The bloggers who do accept every free offer for exposure are the ones who mess it up for everyone else who’s trying to have a career, pay student loans or just, you know, eat food a few times a day.*
If we all agreed, as an industry, not to participate in these ridiculous contests or accept “exposure” as payment, we might actually stop getting these insulting requests and start commanding some respect as an occupation. Anyone else willing to pick up a pitchfork with me?
/rant over. Now I could use a drink. Hopefully the bartender accepts Tweets…
*Sometimes it’s ok to work for free. Here’s some perspective from Seth Godin.