Why Earned Media Doesn’t Often Work for Bloggers

Please hear my heart. I genuinely want both bloggers and brands to succeed. And I want consumers (that’s pretty  much everyone) to feel good about their purchases. I’m not good at controversy. I don’t particularly like to stir the pot. I adore my blogging friends and I love working with great brands.




First of All What is Earned Media?

As a blogger for the past four years, the author of an ebook about how bloggers can learn to work with brands and someone who works with many brands on collaborations big and small, I need to say a few things to bloggers and to brands on the topic of a little thing called “earned media.”

Earned media (or free media) refers to publicity gained through promotional efforts other than advertising, as opposed to paid media, which refers to publicity gained through advertising. (Wikipedia)

What’s the Big Deal?

Bloggers I cannot even count the number of times I’ve read questions and complaints in private forums and Facebook groups about the most recent brand email asking you to share their latest and greatest on your blog…without compensation.

You’re frustrated and often quite offended.

I hear you.

Your blog is your business and it takes MANY hours of work to create content, photograph it, write about it and then share it all on social media. Whatever “it” may be.

It’s a job you love (there’s no other reason to work that insanely hard!) but it is also your business.

And a business needs to make money.


I bet you didn’t know that it’s not entirely the brand’s fault that they assume you want to post for them for free?

So Why Do Brands Ask Bloggers to Do Things for Free?

Brands became accustomed to free press coverage over the last several years. Okay, more like decades.

Say what?

Stick with me here.

What Earned Media Really Looks Like

In traditional media, say television, a brand can lend a daytime show a patio set (for example) for an outdoor segment. The television show gets a new scene to shoot, the brand gets mentioned by the host (and in the end credits) and they get the patio set back after the show. No money or product exchanged. But plenty of eyeballs on the brand’s stuff.

It’s a little something called “earned media.”

The same thing happens in magazines. Products get leant to the magazine by Company XYZ for a photo shoot, they get credit when the mag goes to print and the magazine gives all the products back afterwards.

Constant fodder for new content, no need to store products long term and the brand can still sell the products afterwards.

Pretty nice arrangement, yes?

Only, the idea of earned media falls apart when it comes to bloggers.

That bears repeating.

The idea of earned media falls apart when it comes to blogs and bloggers. <– Click to Tweet This

Blogs are NOT the same as traditional media.

Why Doesn’t it Work for Bloggers?

Oh dear Brands, we bloggers work for ourselves. We shoot the photos, write the content and pay all the hosting, plugin and web fees. Not to mention the rent (or mortgage), utilities, taxes and business fees.

Borrowed product (or even product we get to keep) doesn’t pay those bills. And it certainly doesn’t pay the taxes bloggers are required to pay on “in kind” income! (Google that one!)

We aren’t writers or photographers on salary at a magazine. We aren’t tv hosts being paid by the network. Our blog readers don’t want to read a press release and they don’t want “high quality professionally written copy” by someone they haven’t made a connection with. They want to read our words and see our photography because we’ve made a connection with them and we can help them.

Would YOU Want to Work for Free?

Let me put the paid vs “earned” another way.

What if you worked really hard for 5-10 hours one day and your boss told you at the end of the day that you could take a few pencils home as your reward for the day’s work – not money, just a handful of carbon or graphite wrapped in a neat wood cylinder. How eager would you be to come to work the next day? Would those pencils buy groceries or keep the electricity on?

I’m guessing not so much.

How Do We Fix It?

So, amazing brands: most bloggers (myself included) really want to work with you. We love you and your wonderful products. We have great audiences who follow us because they like our style. Which is your style too.

Occasionally we are happy to share a little something for a gallon of paint or to work on a project that we’d be out of pocket for anyway, in the name of building a longer term working relationship with you.

There have been occasions that I’m good with earned media here on AKA Design. But only when the scope of the project is large or in-line with our existing plans. Two examples would be our dining room table and our laminate flooring project. Both projects were planned and would have been out of pocket for us. So having brand sponsors was a great option.

But we love to work with companies who know our value and our relationship with our readers and are willing to pay appropriately for access to that.

Bloggers, the next time you get one of “those” emails, sit back and think for a moment. Is it from a brand you want to develop a long term relationship with? Are they asking for a lot of effort on your part for not much in return? Or is it worth it to you?

Each circumstance will be different. You can always reply and ask what a brand’s budget is for the particular project. You never know what the response will be unless you ask. If they say they have no budget, be kind. Perhaps they just don’t know the value of working with you yet!

Brands, please please please keep in mind how different we bloggers are from traditional media. We know this is a young industry. We know that not all bloggers are the same.

But know that so many bloggers are worth the cost. And if you treat our business with respect, you will have a happy customer and advocate forever!


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  1. 3


    Amen! Since I make VERY LITTLE money at my VERY LITTLE blog, I can’t advertising a product for somebody for free. On the odd occasion that I have had one of these emails, it’s always been a review without compensation and I’ve said no. I’m sure you bigger bloggers have lots of this and can’t imagine why you would take time away from earning to write for free. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • 4


      SOMETIMES it can be beneficial if there is potential for a long term relationship. But it can also be very easy to be taken advantage of. It also very VERY important to remember your readers and what will actually benefit them (inform, educate inspire).

    • 8


      I really would like to think we are all on the same side – that we’d all like to earn a living doing something we love while providing value to others.

  2. 9

    Jane says

    This is so true. I wish PR and brands would read this and really take it all in. I get videos to share, and PRs emailing me daily to promote their clients, press releases and other media to share. But I am not in need of content. And their content doesn’t even have the potential to earn. I am tired of sharing for free and only for free so I stick with areas that benefit my blog and stay true to my voice.

    • 10


      Definitely stay true to your voice and what your readers love. You can always to be removed from those media lists. I’ve messaged pr companies back asking them to keep me in mind for collaborations but pretty please remove me from the mass media email list.

  3. 17


    This is so bang on! I have always said, I don’t want or need more “stuff”. “Stuff” doesn’t pay my bills, and I can’t eat it. The very rare time I have written about brands with no compensation, they didn’t ask me to, I did it because I thought it was great information to share and I really love the brand. The only other reason I would do it, is if they were going to share my post with their mailing list and share the heck out of it on SoMe to drive traffic to my web site. Otherwise, just not interested.

  4. 24

    Amy @ Family Feedbag says

    Love this! Thank you for advocating for positive and mutually beneficial relationships.
    Amy @ Family Feedbag

  5. 27

    Bonnie P says

    I am not a blogger but just wondering about all the comments below who are using your comment space to promote their last post? I don’t think it is very tasteful.

    • 28


      Oh Bonnie. Thank you for being so sweet! I actually have a special plugin installed that lets commenters share so readers can see what others have posted too. :)

  6. 29

    lyle @ the Joy of Simple says

    Hi Shannon.

    I just found your blog via Lynn Terry and I gotta say I loved this post!

    My blog is beginning to get some notice and I have had my share of companies wanting to guest post for free thinking that I could use the content. This is hardly the case and while I accepted one guest post a while back, I felt “weird” about doing so after the fact and have decided to do that no more…unless of course they would like to pay me for my space and Page Rank. Of course, this also presumes that what they send me is related to my niche and beneficial to my readers. I guess it’s a fine line sometimes.

    Anyhoo, just wanted to say thanks for looking out for us. I had actually never heard of the term earned media before, but now now a little more :)

    Take care and all the best.


  7. 31

    Tiffany says

    Great article! Anytime someone is looking to provide me with “high quality written content” I just delete it. No need to respond. However, I find coming back with the budget question is the easiest way to counter ask:)

  8. 32


    This is a great article! Thank you for writing this. When I first started blogging, I wasn’t really doing it to make money, so when I was approached by brands to receive product to review with no additional compensation it just seemed fun! Now, that I am trying to grow my blog as a business I can see how this actually can hurt others trying to work with brands to earn an income. I had no idea how much work blogging would be for so little money. Now, the only time I will review products with no additional compensation is if I was planning a project anyway and the brand sponsors my post. The more bloggers can show brands that we have something valuable to share and cannot/should not work for free, the better it will be for everyone.

  9. 33


    Hi everybody,
    Fabulous article Shannon, very, very informative. Like Lyle @ the Joy of Simple, I once agreed to publish a fabric company on my blog. He had written a glossary of terms for fabrics, accompanied with a photo along side each definition, (80 to be exact). It took quite a while to load up, as he wanted it all pinable on Pinterest. As I am a Redesign Specialist, it did fit with my site, and was actually quite informative to me, and hopefully others. However, I haven’t agreed to any further “free-bies”.
    Looking forward to hopefully meeting you at BlogPodium in September.
    Have a great weekend, Judy

  10. 36


    For the past month, while nursing a fractured leg, I have been assessing my blog and looking for ways to grow my followers and make connections with brands and affiliates. This post is so timely, clear, helpful and honest! Thank you for sharing!

  11. 37


    Thank you very much for your post. You really explained very well what “earned media” is. Of course I would love to make money with my blog but on my terms not to showcase a brand and certainly not for free. Cash is what will pay my bills not a can of paint or scrapbook paper. Thank you again.

  12. 40


    Actually, I disagree with one statement… that it’s not the brands fault. Because what… they occasionally put stuff here and there for free and think we should put product for free on our blogs, too? It’s not comparing two like things. Truth is, what we do as bloggers are advertorials… in a magazine, that’s big bucks. Two pages of an advertorial in any magazine, with full color copy, is pretty expensive. Plus, when a brand approaches a blogger with ‘free’ product, it’s free for them cause it’s all part of an existing marketing budget. It’s not free for them if they want it placed in a movie or TV… I have a hard time believing any TV or movie would do placement without payment. And, when that happens, if it is free…there is no mention, no copy, no recommendation, as happens in a blog post. Just posting about a product is a ‘recommendation’…because blog readers are going to believe the blogger’s review and most reviews are positive ones.

    So… it IS a brand’s fault when they approach bloggers and want free. They know better. They are very much aware of how influential many bloggers are. They know a blog post is a FOREVER, FILL COLOR ad… it doesn’t get recycled to trash, like magazines, it doesn’t go away after time, like a TV commercial, and it isn’t canned content, it’s authentic, conversational, and inviting content.

    I also want to ad that most bloggers write a post then share it on their social channels. That is huge. Brands are pretty sneaky sometimes because they know they are getting more band for their buck via blogs, when bloggers are also connected to thousands of people via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram… etc. This makes even the smallest blogger worth every bit of the money they are asking in compensation for their hard work. NOTE: bloggers do not sell their opinion. They want to be paid for their work and their effort, and yes, their influence.

    So… I repeat, it is the brand’s fault. They know better. Yes, indeed, they know better.

  13. 41


    You’re being way too generous to brands here. Most companies only get the type of placements you’re talking about because they pay PR firms or consultants to arrange them. Even just regular old newspaper and magazine mentions that come about because of press releases cost the company something: either agency fees or staff salaries.

    So they’re well aware that earned media is not free. They just think bloggers are so desperate for any work that they’ll do this for free for the “exposure” or the “experience.” And some will. But I’m pretty sure those are not the ones you want representing your brand to the media…