Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

When Bloggers Lose Their Voice

West Highland Way Race 2015

Four years ago yesterday, I wrote my first post on RedWineRunner. You can hop back then and have a look if you like; but the content isn’t great, I rather cringingly refer to ‘the blogosphere’, fangirl over US Healthy Living Blogs, and post far too many badly shot selfies. Oh the heady heights of 2010… a lot has changed about blogging since then, and after a while I like to think that my content took somewhat of an upward swing on the quality trajectory, especially as I realised quite how much bullshit those Healthy Living Blogs were full of.

After a while, I realised that these bloggers didn’t just love the products they were talking about; they were actually being sent them for free! This was before the days of the FTC guidelines on disclosure were made law in the States (read about this on Social Media Explorer HERE, and read the in-depth .pdf if you want more) and I felt betrayed and tricked by these bloggers. I began to view them in a totally different light, and like many critical readers it wasn’t long until I found my way to Get Off My Internets, where I found that I wasn’t the only one giving Healthy Living Bloggers the major side-eye and found out how many of these bloggers were manipulating and lying to their audience.

Fast forward three years and right now, I’m still in a love hate relationship with the blogging world. After I got fed up with the constant product shilling on US running blogs, I found a load of smaller UK running blogs which were far more relatable. I loved how reading these newer blogs was the absolute opposite of the American blogging scene; they were the real alternative to corporate publications at the newsagents with real runners writing about real struggles and gains in their training and diet, with no adverts, product placements, or sponsoring.

Oh, but bloggers. My dear bloggers. Where have you gone? Another couple of years later and 50% of my Feedly at any given time is filled with sponsored posts from blogs that used to be personal and a delight to read. We have now reached absolute peak sponsored content and I cannot keep a lid on my annoyance about this any more.  If the majority of your posts are promoting products or sponsored content, then you’ve really lost the voice which drew your audience in in the first place. The whole point of your once-unique blog is being lost and blurred into an anonymous sea of advertorial vessels. I am unsubscribing and stopping reading left, right, and centre.

I have a folder in feedly entitled ‘uk running blogs’ and looking through the posts in the last few weeks, this is what is being pitched at me:

Nuun, Spogo, Nakd bars, Kinesiology tape, Oatmeal, Chia seeds, Coconut water, yogurt, fitbugs, hairbands, Unilite head lights, Nathan hi-viz gadgets, Juicers, Quorn cooking classes, Sweaty Betty, Concerts, Holidays, Broadband offers, Go Pros, Endless London overpriced boutique fitness classes, crackpot nutritional supplements, undisclosed free race entries, free race entries that are only disclosed right at the end of the 1000 word post telling you how great the race is, MORE free race entries, brand ambassadorships, sponsored advertorials, and of course the ubiquitous free trainers and tonnes of kit from brands that no-one’s heard of…but are sure to be #thenextbestthing. #runhappy #lightupyourrun #elevateyourrun #sweatpink #fitfluential #hashtagitoryoudontgetpaid?

To a certain extent, I don’t have a problem with the odd product review whether sponsored or not as it’s always interesting to see what’s new on the market, but when UK bloggers are carpet bombed with the same item at the same time it’s insufferable and I don’t read the posts. There’s also an issue with a lack of blogger integrity – if your blog is about running and fitness, why are you advertising something that is completely irrelevant to your topic? Everyone has a price I guess – I’ve turned down several paid product advertisements/giveaways because the product had nothing to do with running, fitness or a healthy lifestyle. But would I have done the same if I was totally broke? You’ve got to make your crust however you can, but you still owe it to yourself not to sell out your own ‘product’ for someone else’s benefit.

There’s also the issue of non-disclosure, or very veiled disclosure, which is totally boiling my blood at the moment. These days most bloggers are well aware that the requirements of the advertising standards agency means they must disclose clearly when a product has been provided to them for free, whether they have been compensated for the review, or whether the entire post has been sponsored. Keeping this clear upfront makes it nice and easy for me to decide whether I want to grumpily scroll past yet another review of Adidas trainers, but it becomes a real irritant when disclosure is hidden at the bottom of a post.

I refer to the CAP code:

2.3: Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context.

If I’ve just read a glowing 1000 word review of a new race, or shoe and get to the bottom and see in tiny letters that the product/free entry was provided by ‘your friends at X’ then I’m going to disregard a lot of what I’ve just read, because hiding the disclosure like this is disingenuous. It is not uncommon for marketing team to encourage bloggers to hide disclosure or make it appear as if their product was not gifted, which devalues the whole product to me. Incidentally – they are not your friends; they are a team of marketing vultures hired on behalf of the company to make as much money for them as possible for as little money as possible.

This has been a hard post to decide to publish, because it’s a total hand grenade and I risk pissing off a lot of bloggers I interact with who might read it – but I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. This blog has sat in my drafts since September, but some gurning on twitter with some other disenfranchised bloggers yesterday made me think that it was worth posting after all. There is a time and a place for blogger/brand collaboration, but the saturation of the UK blog scene with product right now is just too much for me and I’m declaring that I’m out.

Why, to be a ‘good’ blogger these days, do we all have to be ambassadors for something? Or working ‘in partnership’ with brands? Or fill our pages with giveaways and freebies? If I want to read a magazine there are plenty out there and I yearn for when this trend wanes and we get back to talking about ourselves and our training constantly. Narcissistic perhaps, but ultimately more interesting.

The last time I did a review was over a year ago when Salomon, a brand I know and respect, offered me a pair of trail shoes to review when I was actually in the market for buying some new ones. I decided this fitted in with my blog integrity and I was happy to accept the product and publish a review. I haven’t accepted anything else since and recently updated my PR/media policy page to reflect this – I’m just not interested in partaking in this circus any more. I’ve built this blog up over 4 years of quality writing and talking about issues which relate to my readers. Under no circumstances do I wish to dilute this creation by changing the kind of content I create, so this is a public declaration that I’m out of the game. Redwinerunner.com is not up for sale.

I would LOVE to get some discussion going in the comments below – please leave me your thoughts if you have any as I know I’m going against the grain here. I’m also aware of the irony of the fact that I’m currently studying Digital Marketing and that my new chosen career area is responsible for all of this nonsense, however; the more I learn about the right way to market something, the more these slithery black-hat PR hacks piss me off…

43 Comments

  1. Interesting post; *long* before I met you, I originally found your blog through googling reviews of a certain running waist pack that you had reviewed after being sent it for free, and I loved your writing style and the general way that you seemed genuine with your review and very upfront on the fact you had been sent it. Amusingly, after I started reading more of your blog I found myself confusedly realising I knew yer boyfriend, more confusingly because I had no idea he was a runner! Anyway, I think my point is you didn’t change your general writing style in reviewing (endorsing?) a product you’d need sent to try out; you still had a clear voice – and the blog post felt like a genuine one.

    I’m with you entirely in noticing that most of the blogs I read, and have read for years, are much more full of sponsored content. I skimread, or don’t even bother – if I find I’ve not read the last three or four posts, they get bumped off my reading list. I think blogging is changing, with the growth of the much more instantaneous “this is what’s happening in my life” you get through Twitter, Instagram, etc. people turn less to blog posts to tell people what they’ve been getting up to. Most of the ‘local’ running blogs only ever seem to be updated when there is a race report to give, for example. I think this is just a sign of changing times and the ever-fluctuating ways we communicate with each other.

    I’m not sure what my conclusion is!! 🙂

    • “Most of the ‘local’ running blogs only ever seem to be updated when there is a race report to give, for example”
      This! Hardly any Scottish running blogs and pretty much none (barring our very own elite athletes) of the Scottish ultra blogs get targeted for sponsored stuff and I think that’s in part due to what you’ve described and also in part due to us not being seen as top market for selling shit. We don’t take no shite and our BS radars are too finely tuned. Also – Scotland isn’t exactly a hot bed of boutique fitness classes etc.
      I keep forgetting how we met in the beginning – seems a long time ago now! x

  2. This is one of the greatest posts I’ve had the pleasure to read in a long, long time. “The whole point of your once-unique blog is being lost and blurred into an anonymous sea of advertorial vessels.” Nail on head. I genuinely don’t mind occasional sponsored posts or product reviews, but every other fucking post? Like you, it’s making me stop reading, which is a real shame as the majority of the ‘buy this, buy that’ brigade are capable of great content. I’ve only been blogging for just over a year so have much less knowledge than you, but this product bombardment is getting suffocating, if not a little embarrassing. Well done on a very refreshing post.

    • Thanks for the lovely comment, Autumn! I think the tide is about to turn – it has to. There literally cannot be much more sponsored content fitted in to blogs unless they turn into online magazines which solely exist to review things. I suppose that’s the next step and real running magazines will slowly go out of print, but the ‘realness’ of the actual human blog cannot be bought and the increasingly desperate imitations are getting painful.

  3. Every time I see a blog now that mentions ANYTHING I immediately think ‘sponsored’ agree with you. I’ve fallen off the blog bandwagon, must climb back on

  4. Like you, my blog feed is fairly empty these days as blogs I followed have dried up or have turned into adverts either for a product or for the blogger himself.

    I wonder if we are seeing a fairly typical cycle in running blogs which is probably repeated across a whole range of emerging sports and activities.

    You start off with the pioneers – those interesting trailblazers who do it for the love of it and write openly about their enjoyment of the sport.

    As the sport and the blogging grows there are some who use their online presence to develop the cult of personality where they promote their own brand to the enthusiastic emerging readers who don’t know enough about the sport to put the writer and their achievements in any wider context.

    There are also those who gain a degree of popularity and are then manipulated by marketeers who send them gear which they then review enthusiastically, encouraged by the attention of the “Big Boys”

    To be fair, I can think of one or two bloggers who are just so genuinely knowledgable about their “thing” that suppliers come to them and they still remain a degree of independence.

    Next you have the chattering of the masses. New to the sport, the born again bloggers, rarely with anything to say beyond how great this new sport is and how much fun it was to run really fast or really long, attracted like moths to the shiny bright things created by the marketing people. (You have no idea how much I dislike motivational running memes!)

    The big companies try to absorb the interesting names and the whole thing gets very corporate and anodine. A shoe review is a shoe review no matter how novel you think the shoe is.

    Some long time bloggers move on from the sport, or life gets in the way, or simply run out of new things to say.

    Eventually the bubble will burst, the chattering masses will move on with the corprorate advertising agencies in close pursuit, and I suspect the grey beards will re-emerge to be able to be heard above the din once more.

    • I think you’re spot on with your concept of the idea cycle – there is a big draw for the ‘free swag’ side of things now as it’s become a bit more public how much the big bloggers earn – to the extent that you can legitimately give up your day job if you are doing it right. But how long will that last? Will we have a generation of young, educated people on the dole in 6 years time whose blog/youtube channels have dried up and no-one is willing to pay them for their opinion any more? It’s a very fickle market.

      And yes, I can only imagine how deep your dislike for motivational running quote memes go 😉

  5. As a blogger who regularly engages with companies and posts sponsored content on my blog I’m happy to engage in this discussion! Reading the list of companies/products above I can check off a few that are mine for sure.

    The interesting thing is when I read your last paragraph about why you worked with Salomon I was nodding. That is exactly why I accept the opportunities I do. Living in London I am probably offered more than people outside of London, but that’s not to say I don’t want to learn more about cooking (or really just enjoy eating free food… let’s be honest), or want to try a new spin class since I didn’t have any other plans that night. So, like you, I’m going to the event, accepting the product, and writing the blog because of what interest me – which in the end is why I blog about what I do – running, etc. because it interest me.

    I can’t speak for everyone who does “many” sponsored posts but I too decline many that are not of interest to me or I think are dangerous to blog about (juice cleanses, anything bikini body, anything weight loss, anything with a gross gender stereotype connotation, etc). I too get annoyed when bloggers don’t disclose their freebies and see a lot more of it lately. I’ve also had brands ask me to remove the “sponsored” wording from my review and even once the asked me to change the wording “Berghaus gave me this jacket” to “I bought this Berghaus jacket” (No shame calling the company out!) I didn’t change it because that was just lying and was insulted to be asked to do that.

    The only other thing that I can really think of to add to this discussion is that while these conversations are great, in the end there is no blogger police, and I don’t think there should be. While one may stop reading a blog and think it’s gone in wrong direction, a new reader might pop up enjoying the content. The other thing is that you don’t have to agree with someone’s blogging to be friends with them. A lot of bloggers I know are great friends in real life and while we may clash about juice cleanses we have a great time together over a few drinks post-race.

    • Thanks for your response, Laura! I was hoping you’d join in 🙂
      I recognise that living out of the way as I do I’m kind of blogging in a different world from you London/Southern folks. Opportunities to try the things that are offered to you guys to have a go at are non-existant up here, so it’s really make your own fun or do nothing which makes for more organic blog content (if it’s even interesting enough to write about!). It’s the same for pretty much the whole of Scotland and NE England too – although given that Sweaty Betty have opened up in Glasgow it will be interesting to see what follows in terms of luxury fitness soon.

      If I moved to London and exciting offers started pouring through the inbox, would my opinion be quite so strong? I’d like to think so, but I know I would find it hard to turn down the offer of a free race or to try some of the awesome looking classes you do. If I had started blogging down South I guess my blog might have evolved in quite a different way – from the outside looking in it’s easy to assume how I’d react to something but you can’t be sure un til it happens. I know four years ago my answer would be different to what it is today!

      Whilst you include a fair amount of sponsored stuff, I appreciate your clear disclosure and also love that you publicly call out rubbish thinspo/bikini fit press releases. This keeps your voice a lot more original and trustworthy than other bloggers can ever dream of!

      You’re right about the blogger police – I think we just have to hold ourselves to high standards and respect our industry to keep it clean. There are rules out there and if bloggers and brands could all just behave themselves and keep their integrity then we might be slightly better off than we are right now, but who knows… I await the conclusion of this trend with interest!

    • Berghaus asked you to lie? I AM DISAPPOINT

      • I know right?!? It was their PR agency but still. So weird.

        • You could totally dob them in for doing this – http://www.asa.org.uk/News-resources/Media-Centre/2013/Blurring-advertising-and-blogs.aspx#.VHZMwVesXBe

          We’re reminding bloggers who are paid to write positive reviews or comments about a product or service that they must be up-front with their followers by making clear that it’s advertising. Not only will this help bloggers avoid misleading people and breaking the ad rules, it will also stop them from potentially breaking the law.
          …..
          On top of this, the rules also state that falsely presenting yourself as a consumer. i.e. giving a view that appears to be opinion but that is actually paid for, is a misleading practice and one that is prohibited under consumer protection laws. In this instance, a blogger may find that it’s not just the ASA who gets in touch but also their local Trading Standards Office.

          All of this applies equally, if not more so, to those companies and PR agencies looking to enter into commercial relationships with bloggers. Under the Advertising Code, although the blogger would be named as part of any ASA investigation into misleading advertising, ultimately the buck would stop with the advertiser. If a paid for entry on a blog wasn’t disclosed we would investigate the advertiser and hold them accountable.

  6. Similarly I agree, and have been avidly decluttering my feedly for some time too. I review the odd thing on my site, but it’s always something that I am using anyway, and never anything that I’ve been given or paid to do. Like you say, that has to detract from the perception of your integrity.

    It’s ironic that somethings as simple as running, that you really need very little to do and should be pretty low cost, is becoming so commercial in terms both of gear and events.

    L

    • “It’s ironic that somethings as simple as running, that you really need very little to do and should be pretty low cost, is becoming so commercial in terms both of gear and events”

      A painful truth! I sometimes wish we could go back 10 years when nobody really cared too much about running and we just got on with it.

  7. This is really very well written. I think some blogs have indeed gone off the tracks right into marketing land. Some seem to have approximately 80% sponsored content at the moment.

    I also empathise with why you like Scottish bloggers- there is dramatically less sponsorship; whether that’s lack of opportunity or a different mentality, I’m unsure.

    I’m not against bloggers doing sponsored content at all; but I am for transparent statement, products that fit content and very minimal product placement.

    Difficult as I do understand wanting to take opportunities and the temptation of some funding.

    I hope there are still bloggers out there who fit what you’re looking for!

    • “whether that’s lack of opportunity or a different mentality, I’m unsure.”
      I mentioned in another comment that I think it’s mainly down to there being less of us, less companies employing agencies to push their product locally (i.e – outside London) and that the majority of Scottish running blogs are pretty niche, infrequently updated and really only concern race reports for ultras. They don’t have big audiences and probably wouldn’t be interested in promoting a Yoga and 5k Mimosa run around Holyrood Park (if there was such a thing); they write because they like to record their races and training, not because they hope to be brand ambassadors and receive some cool free stuff.
      However – it’s only a matter of time before Glasgow and Edinburgh hop on the boutique fitness bandwagon so we shall see. In Aberdeen the best luxury fitness facility we have is a David Lloyds so it will be a while before the invites start pouring in up here 😉

  8. I’m going to wear three hats for this comment: blog reader; blog writer and journalist. I’ve been given a lot of free stuff over the years both as a journalist reviewing it for a magazine or for my blog. There’s not a whole lot of difference, in my opinion, between the two situations. In fact a staff writer at Big Running Mag might have more to lose by upsetting Big Shoe Brand who has taken out a double page advert than Small Blogger.

    A lot of the free things I’ve had for my blog have been sent back and not written about if I don’t like them. As a reader of blog, if I like someone’s blog and respect them as a runner and a person, I’d much rather hear their view of a piece of kit than an anonymous staff writer at Big Running Mag.

    You can tell the reviews that are based on properly using and evaluating something from those that aren’t. Whether it’s posted in a blog or in a magazine. DC Rainmaker is full of in depth reviews of kit that go into more (IMO unbiased) details than you’ll see anywhere else when it comes to running and cycling kit.

    I don’t think reviewing free kit or races necessarily means rubbish content and similarly there are plenty if bad blogs that don’t review kit.

    I’ll continue to accept free race entries and shoes from PR companies who are happy for me to mention them in my own way (there’s no way I’m writing 400 words on a sock, however good it is). I hope people will see my thoughts on these things as genuine and, if not, I know they’ll vote with their feet.

    • Thanks for your comment Laura; you definitely bring a unique viewpoint from your various hats 🙂

      “As a reader of blogs, if I like someone’s blog and respect them as a runner and a person, I’d much rather hear their view of a piece of kit than an anonymous staff writer at Big Running Mag.”
      Absolutely this, I completely agree with you. However as bloggers we need to hold ourselves accountable to high standards and the standards that our readers expect of us. It just feels like every other running blog is saturated with reviews of things, many of which are either of poor quality and ill-considered, or of very low relevance to the blog and its readers.

      To me it feels like we owe it to our blog community to all just stop a second and think: Why am I accepting this product? Is this relevant to me and my blog?Can I produce a viable, insightful review worth reading? Do my readers want to read about this? I feel like it’s time to exercise a little quality control, however the lure of free stuff is hard to resist and as long as there are PRs willing to gift and bloggers willing to accept then there will always be some dubious product placement going around.

      I just think we can do better. It is a difficult balance to maintain though and a personal one at that – as mentioned, we all have our price. If The North Face came knocking at my inbox offering an all expenses covered trip to the US for one of their ultras in return for blog coverage, would I be able to turn them down on the basis of what I’ve stated in my post? No comment!

      • One of the things we do at Write This Run workshops is to go through a list of genuine things I’ve been offered over the years (including laser eye surgery and a class to make me taller – I kid you not) and ask bloggers whether they’d say yes or no and how they’d approach it if they did agree.

        It’s very easy when an email pops into your inbox to go ‘yeah, why not’ to things that seem attractive, even if they’re not that relevant – I’ve done it. We get them to draw their own line in the sand beforehand so they can be true to their own values when these offers appear. Liz doesn’t accept anything she gets offered. I probably accept 20% of offers. But we don’t judge people on what they will or won’t product test or how often they do it.

        We ask them to consider, too, what they owe their readers. Honesty is always number one. As long as people are honest, I don’t mind what they post on their own blogs.

        We all have comments boxes on our blogs – you seem pretty busy answering your own today. If a blogger is doing or posting something you don’t agree with, tell them. They’ll probably appreciate it.

  9. I loved some of your points but also felt like I had to comment to say that as a blogger I accept free relevant kit and sponsored posts. I spend a lot of time and money on my blog and don’t exactly get paid to do it- I do it because I love it, and so if something I feel fits with my personal interests comes along with a new pair of trainers then why not. I always try to be genuine on my blog with my reviews (my latest was very very honest) and I don’t post them all the time so I don’t see the harm. You don’t pay to read blogs (unlike magazines) and yet there is a lot fewer freebies in blogs than mags, plus mags never ever disclose!! I am completely with you when a brand has a scattergun approach to bloggers and gets far too many people to write exactly the same thng. Also disclosure is vital in my opinion. Sorry for the stream of concience written on the tube!

    • I see your point about viewing payment and free kit as payment in-kind for your time spent writing/hosting costs etc, but I think that could be quite a risky road to go down. A blogger could end up justifying putting just about anything on their page if that was their principal decision mechanism! It’s a fair point though – I try not to think about how much I’ve paid in hosting over the years or how many hours each post/maintenance equates to, as like you I do it because I love it.
      A considered approach like you describe, plus strict adherence to disclosure and advertising standards, makes the odd review a complementary part of a well-rounded running blog, but this approach seems to be few and far between at the moment. However, it makes blogs who do do this stand out and rise above the rest…thus increasing their appeal to marketers for further commercial partnerships I suppose! It’s a tricky circle to be stuck in which comes with the odd difficult decision to make I suppose.

  10. Sadly not unique to running blogs, see it in quite a few areas and even seen blogs I like and trust sold off to marketers. (I’ve also known people who run hundreds of accounts for dodgy promo/SEO which nned me more than it probably should)

    People still set up blogs just to get the freebies as well.

    I was looking through your reviews yesterday to see if you’d reviewed something I was looking at, need to read the most recent ones.

    I do like gear reviews, I like gear, you’ve seen me with my bag of toys at fests but if they aren’t honestly written folk rapidly learn they have no value. Once you break trust with your audience it is hard to get back.

    Many of the magazines tend towards too positive and light so personal blog reviews definitely can have value.

    Keep up the good work, hope you can find company that meet your standards.

    • “Once you break trust with your audience it is hard to get back.”
      Absolutely! There are too many online publishers who are dancing with death on that one. That’s why it’s up to bloggers themselves to hold themselves accountable for their content – take a reader-first approach always.

  11. Great blog post! I am not a blogger, but I do read a lot, especially fitness and marathons blogs – trust me, it does not take long to figure out the crap ones that are not worth bothering with. The smug tone is usually the first clue… then the preachy tone (usually from blogged who are fairly new to running or fitness) I find that many bloggers lose sight of their audience and very quickly become a poor man’s magazine with shoddy journalistic standards. The blogs that I do like however are more honest, and the bloggers engage more with their readers.

    • There is definitely a right and a wrong way to handle sponsored content – as I mentioned above in a reply to someone else, as part of a well-rounded and balanced blog covering lots of things, reviews of the odd bit of kit make for a an excellent read when unbiasedly and honestly written! As bloggers we need to hold ourselves to high standards and respect our readers – they are following you for a reason because they liked your thoughts on subject X…if you start covering subject Y because you are getting big juicy carrots dangled at you, then they won’t stick around.

  12. Interesting post! I must admit I’ve not been very aware of blogs that are just about advertising but I’ll be on the look out a bit more.

    I was also wondering whether I have been guilty on my blog. I’ve had a couple of companies (over 8 yrs so not too prolific) who have offered me a running product to try which I have.

    I also wrote to a couple of companies a few years ago asking to try their product and review with limited success!!

    Anyway thanks for posting your thoughts and I hope my blog isn’t one that you have stopped reading!!

    • Hey John! I think your blog is outstanding and an excellent example of content speaking for itself when it comes to quality. Everything you write is backed up by statistics and experience and that’s why I continue to love reading it 🙂 It’s ironic that you’ve not had a tonne of companies offering you things to try, because I know the reviews you would write would be in-depth, genuine and based on a huge amount of experience. Compare something like that to some of the two paragraph fluff reviews you see floating around the internet and I know which one I would take into account when making a purchase.

      Unfortunately, I think that majority of brands still like to see their stuff being toted by the pretty, young, popular lassies that dominate the blogging scene, so people who could actually provide genuine insight get looked over. Or perhaps they’re afraid you’d be too honest!

      Thanks for your thoughts, and hope to see you soon!

  13. I can emphathise with the view that some blogs now have very little real content, dominated by sponsor content and reviews. However, I hardly ever see anything remotely like this on any of blogs I regularily read so perhaps it’s a demographic thing – I like to read ultra running blogs, and running blogs with a science bias, niche are going to be widely read like blogs on diet/general fitness or written by types that value actual useful content.

    It’s only when I do general searches on a topic might I come across such a blog, but it’s pretty easy to spot so I simply skip stuff/speed read to the bits of info I’m intrerested in. I wonder if it’s a internet skill of being able to quickly sort the good from the crap/biased.

    As for Scottish running blogs not being dominated by sponsership. I expect this is simply down to how visible different blogs are. If your blog attracts lots of hits from the demographic that the interests a particular company marketting a product then you’ll be contacted. Scotland has a relatively small population so most of the running blogs specific to Scotland won’t get that many hits so won’t attract the attention of the marketers. I very much doubt there is anything more to it than that, marketers will simply try to make money as easily as possible by hitting high value targets.

    From my own experience, my own running blog is clearly well under the radar for the marketers as I’ve yet to have any kit or promo sent my way. My work website is an open source software project and is gets lots of hits so do get marketers badering me to put sponsership/ads on it, every single one has been rejected as I value signal to noise ratio on website real-estate more than making a few extra dollars.

    There are still plenty of great blogs out there, which retain their integrety and are written from what the authors really thinks, unswayed by monatary concerns. If there are blogs that are being taken over simply stop reading them, or make comment on a particular post is not well recieved and that it’s diminishing the blog and the brand being promoted.

    • There aren’t a tremendous amount of Scottish running blogs, and those that do exist are pretty niche and infrequently updated so there’s no way they would ever attract the same amount or kind of readers as running blogs down South who write about popular races and are ideally placed to attend press events and launches. However that hasn’t stopped agencies getting in touch with me based on my traffic/followers alone in the past and asking me to attend various events down South – by doing this they are outing themselves as not really being on top of their game; why would someone based in Aberdeen fly themselves down to London for a trainer launch event? Or do they think/know that bloggers are that desperate to be ‘noticed’ by the big brands that they actually would put themselves out of pocket like that? It’s always interesting to see which blogs end up covering events after I turn them down – when someone based in Newcastle goes to London for something I turned down because it was in, well, London, it makes me think they’re trying a bit too hard to climb the blog ladder.

      • I do wonder if marketting folk sometimes have to fire off hundreds of speculative emails to just get one taker and don’t do much background research on those that they contact.

        They might also be working off lists of people to contact that they been datamined by others, so it’s really just a anonymous set of emails.

        Another possibility could be that getting people from all over the country to attend launches helps spread the interests across the country as each blogger will have their “home” reader base.

        As an engineer what I see as most glaring is how much is spent on marketting vs actual product development. There is so much kit that is marketting led rather than actually designed to be fit for purpose. Shoe marketting is just drenched in pseudo-science. This is a bit off topic though 🙂

        • That’s exactly what they will have to do – some intern will have trawled the internet for a list of X blogs who have a good twitter following, a good page ranking, lots of comments, and if it’s an event, based near location Y. Then a junior account manager will write and send out umpteen emails with the goal of getting about 10 quality testers. The typical PR email to bloggers goes a bit like:
          Hey ____!
          Hope you’re having a great day 🙂 My name is ____ from ____ agency and I’m getting in touch with a great opportunity we KNOW you’ll love. Everyone in the office loved your recent post about _____ so we’d love to work with you on this 😉
          We represent _____ who are launching their new product _____ and….blah blah blah etc….

          And that’s a good example – most of them are non-personalised so clearly they are going to a much bigger list. I appreciate it when they at least take a look at my homepage, even if the fact they glean to make their email ‘personal’ makes them look even more fake. Sometimes you’ll get ‘Congrats on your latest PB – I KNOW how hard you worked for that!’ to make it seem like they’re long term readers…it’s when you haven’t PB’d for 6 months that they can’t get away with that one!

          So it’s that kind of toss that people are reading and going – “Yup – I want to work with that agency and put my name to that product” which is why it pisses me off that the whole uk running blog scene is being saturated with posts in response to terrible outreach like the above. As I’ve mentioned in a fair few other comments today – we can do soooo much better!

  14. I really enjoyed reading your post, which highlights a number of pertinent issues. I consider myself to be relatively new and inexperienced when it comes to blogging, having started Running the Line in May and only more only recently have found myself reflecting on the relationship with companies/sponsors/advertisers. This was sparked by an e-mail from a London-based PR agency asking if I would be interested in writing some reviews for some of their partners.

    I would never want my blog to become nothing more than a billboard, nor that my content/views be compromised or influenced by products that I had been given. I started my blog because it is a creative outlet, bringing together my enthusiasm for running and writing, as well as the desire to provide something slightly different to the already crowded blogosphere. This broadly speaking was the gist of my response to the agency. I did still review a new reflective running jacket that they sent me but this was because I was already in the process of penning an article on running in the dark, whilst my review was (I hope) both honest and balanced (and I made it explicit that I received the item for free). I suspect I won’t be receiving any more products any time soon.

    I have also been in receipt of a free place in a marathon on the understanding that I would blog about said event. In this case I donated the entry free to charity and also made it clear in my writing that this was the arrangement.

    The overarching issue for me is why do we blog? If one of the motivations is to forge links with companies and to receive free stuff then fine, but at least be upfront about this to your readers and don’t let this colour your perspective. Personally I give such websites a wide berth as this doesn’t interest me in the slightest, and find I roll my eyes when I see the inevitable tweet celebrating a run with the latest pair of trainers/hydration pack/gloves/socks etc.

    • Thanks for your comment Dave. I think theoretically there is nothing wrong at all with accepting the odd item to review as part of a well-rounded, creative and thoughtful blog, but we have definitely reached a tipping point where there is both a hungry buyers (bloggers actively looking for stuff) and sellers (PRs looking for coverage) market and this has resulted in what I see to be the saturation point. In time I think more and more people will get fed up of blogs with a heavy imbalance of sponsored/original content if that is not what they present themselves upfront to be, and then the advertising market will shift again but who knows what will happen next.
      I hadn’t seen your blog before and I really like how you write, so I’m glad you commented!

  15. I read this post yesterday and was itching to comment, but wasn’t on my laptop until today. I think this is a really thought-provoking, interesting post, and I’m really enjoying the debate it’s created in the comments.

    Personally, I find the balance that you talk about a difficult one. On one hand, I only ever started my blog to talk about running, and enjoy engaging with other runners. That said, as my teeny tiny blog has grown a little, I have had a fair few things offered to me, and accepting them means I do get the opportunity to use products I couldn’t otherwise afford as an extremely skint student. I know this represents a degree of ‘selling out’ and somewhat dilutes the individuality of what I write, BUT I try to strike a balance; if the balance of my writing was tipping in the direction of more sponsored/product content than original content, I’d probably be taking a long, hard look at myself. I try to follow the lead of bloggers like Laura Stewart in how she handles writing about products and experiences; to always be transparent about what I was given, and to still write interesting content. Like Laura Fountain, I much prefer to try and work a mention of a product I’ve genuinely loved using into a larger post with original content- because really, who can write 400 words of interesting content about some hydration tablets?!

    Like you, I also dislike the ‘scattergun’ approach of a lot of PR companies, so find myself turning down some offers- because I don’t think there’s anything more tedious than 432 reviews of the same little bit of kit that everybody has blatantly got for free. I also can’t stand the wave of bloggers who at the moment are literally only posting sponsored or promo content- there are a few that I initally followed for their interesting, unique writing styles, who have descended into being brand monkeys, and I am SO disappointed in them.

    You & Laura’s point about the location of your blog affecting opportunities and content is a really interesting one too!

    • Ultimately if a blogger is taking a reader-first approach to their content then I think it’s hard to go wrong. You can always tell when a blogger is churning out 400 words on a single product which is just to fulfil their obligations to the agency, or if it’s a totally sponsored post where it’s essentially a press release copied and pasted. Do your readers really want to read that…?

      I mentioned to Laura Fountain below that I wish we could all just stop a second and check ourself and ask when we receive an offer – Why am I accepting this product? Is this relevant to me and my blog? Can I produce a viable, insightful review worth reading? Do my readers want to read about this? Blogs who are becoming brand monkeys (love it!) will not last long – readership will slide and the offers will stop coming in so the content dries up. You’ve got to give your readers more than a string of reviews (the same which are appearing on every blog!) because if we wanted adverts we could open a copy of runners world.

  16. I think this is first blog post I’ve read this month! Not sure whether I lost interest or don’t have time.

    I do have sponsors and I do review products, but only products I was using anyway. I’ve always had good feeback, because I write about why I like the product – not just copy the marketing wording.

    Maybe social media -FB, Twitter, Strava – has taken over from blogging, but I don’t feel the need to tell everyone about my training. Through fear of boring them really! So, yes, I tend to only write race reports.

    • Well there’s sponsors and there’s sponsors… Your sponsorships are in somewhat of a different league to your average run-of-the-mill runner blog! I’d much rather read a review of a hydration vest or a pair of trainers that had won the Lakeland 100 than taken around Hyde Park for a couple of trots.
      Some privileges are definitely earned, not gifted! 🙂

      • I won the Lakeland 100 in a pairs of Salomon, even though I was sponsored by Hoka at the time. And the Adventure Show cameraman kept filming the Scott trainers on my feet at the Glencoe Marathon. Oops. I won’t endorse/wear products just because they’re free. At the end of the day, my sponsors don’t pay my mortgage 🙂 x

  17. Hi there – apologies for my incoherent rant above… I wrote it at the end of a very busy day and didn’t really address the issue of sponsored content (can you delete it, please?). I guess the point that I wanted to get across was that there were many crap bloggers who are more delighted to share their glee at receiving free stuff than they are about providing an honest review. Case in point was a very gimmicky class that appeared to be all the rage a few months ago: I’d been to it previously and found it highly impractical and not a particularly good workout, there was no way that anyone could get anything out of (nor afford) going regularly. Yet all the bloggers were getting carried away, proclaiming that this was the next big thing when it was nothing more than a fun opportunity to take quirky selfies at a free class. Over the years, I’ve become savvy and cynical enough to be choosy in what I read and what I believe – I’m being fooled by nobody. There does seem to be an explosion of fitness blogs in recent years, and I do sense that there is probably going to be some kind of blogger backlash on the horizon, where brands become a bit choosier about handing out freebies to bloggers and start investing more in ways to engage with their loyal customers who have spent hard-earned money with them over the years… Apologies if I seem to be negative about blogs – there are still some really good, grass-roots one out there 

  18. Great discussion, and I’m glad you raised it.

    All the clever stuff’s already been said, so I’ll just waffle on with my thoughts on it. When I get sent stuff, I still feel excited and bemused in equal measure, but I’m growing increasingly fed up with the way it’s often done. I’ll quite happily try out must products, but I don’t think my humble blog is really a marketing firm’s cup of tea. I tend to just blather on vaguely about the product and, more often than not, end up slating it a bit. This is probably one of the reasons I’ve never been offered a sponsored post. What really irks me though, is the way companies insist on bloody hashtags, regardless of whether it fits the tone of the blog/writer (#runreallyquickinourlovelyshoes). The whole thing just feels so bloody prescriptive and heavy-handed.

  19. Totally agree with this post. I much rather reading a blog, such as yours, with experiences of races, training schedules etc. I like hearing how others approach running and fit it all in with their busy lives. You have had some fantastic achievements this year and your blog inspired me to start my own! Keep up the great blogging!

  20. An interesting post and a thought-provoking debate. I’m not sure I’m going to add anything new, but still feel compelled to comment as I can see where you’re all coming from. I too have stopped following some blogs lately as there were too many sponsored posts which were just not relevant to me. I read a lot of blogs and have limited time, so I have to be quite choosy in what I follow.
    One reason I found this debate so interesting was that your post co-incided with the first approach I’ve ever had to publish sponsored content (I was offered a couple of books to review). On this occasion, I chose to accept as I have published (completely independent) reviews of running-related books I’ve read this year and felt that it was relevant to the sort of posts I write. There were no demands as to the format of the post or the number of words, etc, so I was comfortable with the approach. It was exciting to be asked, yet at the same time I know plenty of other bloggers will have been asked to post reviews also so am not flattering myself that I’m in any way special.
    Interestingly, while deciding how to approach my post, I visited this blog as I remembered you reviewing products in the past and as a trusted source wanted to see your approach. That was when I first noticed the change to your policy and now I understand the reason for that change.
    I think there is a place for some sponsored content, however each blogger needs to carefully consider why they are accepting that particular sponsor. The post needs to be relevant to their blog content and their readers. There can’t be so much sponsored content that it changes the whole feel of the blog (the reason people began following it in the first place) or dominates the content. And most importantly, the blogger has to make it quite clear that it’s a sponsored post so readers are not misled. Hopefully all this is something that I managed to do. I would be open to the possibility of future sponsored posts (bearing in mind the considerations I just noted) but know that my wee Scottish running blog is unlikely to be inundated with requests!
    If I were to accept any sponsored content in future it would have to be relevant, I would have to be able to write it in my own way (as noted by Laura Fountain and others above) so as not to betray the trust of my readers and it would have to be balanced with plenty of other non-sponsored content (which in my opinion should form the majority of the blog content – people want to connect with a person rather than a sponsored “brand”).
    I can understand why people perhaps get a bit carried away with sponsored content – after all, it’s nice to get a freebie from time to time – but for that blog to retain any “life”, the needs of the reader need to be considered. There are plenty of blogs out there – some good, some bad – and if the needs of the reader are not met, they will simply go elsewhere.
    I want to read about people’s experiences of training and racing, alongside the occasional review of relevant kit/races/books etc. My reading of this blog and others which met that same criteria were part of the reason I was inspired to start blogging too. There are plenty of great blogs out there which demonstrate how a blog can grow without becoming a slave to sponsored content. Perhaps that is what we should all aspire to…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2019 Red Wine Runner

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑