If you promote companies for free, don’t complain about monetization

A few weeks ago I received an email from the San Antonio Tourism board to help promote a contest they were running. They only thing they were offering was all the incredible traffic I’d be getting from them

Needless to say, I declined.

I’ve seen this song and dance before and I knew exactly what was going to happen. In a few weeks a bunch of travel blogs were going to start promoting this contest. Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. I’ve seen this happen with consumer electronic companies, hotels and other tourism boards. They have a list of travel blogs and work their way down the list until they find enough people who are willing to do whatever they want for free.

If you are running promotions for companies with nothing more than a vague promise of “traffic” or “exposure” then quite simply you don’t deserve to make money from your blog.

Think about the following:

  1. If they had the amount of traffic they are promising, they wouldn’t need you. Think about it.
  2. If a dozen other blogs are taking part in the same program, then whatever benefits they can bring to the table will be diluted by a factor of 12.
  3. By doing promotions for free, you are setting your market rate. That rate is zero. You are worth zero.

Here are a few rules to consider when working with companies who want something from you:

  1. Don’t be afraid to say no. You aren’t losing out on anything if you don’t do something for free. If anything, by holding out you are increasing your long term value and not wasting your time. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Don’t believe promises of traffic. Unless it is a media company you are talking to, they almost certainly can’t deliver you traffic.
  3. Demand exclusivity. Why would you want to do something that a dozen other bloggers are doing? I always ask to see who else they are talking to. Ideally I want to be the only one they work with, or if not, it should be a very small number. If they are contacting everyone, there is no point in participating. You don’t get ahead by being part of the pack.
  4. ALWAY get something in return. Even if it isn’t money, get a trip or something. Do NOTHING without some sort compensation.
  5. Don’t fear your pricing. Everyone is worried about pricing themselves too high and not getting anything. Stop worrying about it. There are a ton of companies in the world and there will be another. It is better to have a company pass on you because you are too expensive than to undersell yourself.
  6. Don’t apologize. It isn’t greedy to ask for something in exchange for what you are bringing to the table. It IS greed to ask people to do something for free. If they say they have no budget, just tell them how sorry you are that they got stuck on a doomed account.

No matter how big your blog or what size your audience, there is no reason to ever provide promotion to a company or organization for free.

By Gary

3 dimples. 7 continents. 130 countries.

14 replies on “If you promote companies for free, don’t complain about monetization”

Every business person, regardless of genre, should have this tattooed on his/her arm. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to do something for free, because it will be GREAT EXPOSURE. Yeah? Well that’s awesome, but remember, a person can die from exposure.

It’s so true and you see it over and over again with book reviews, hotel reviews or some obscure product they want reviewed. Normally I’ve seen them target the new blogger as its a wow someone noticed me moment and everyone jumps all over themselves to do it.

But as you said Gary if you are giving away exposure for free then you might as well give up on your dreams of making money because you are going about it in all the wrong ways. Worst still is that 10 other bloggers all did the same thing and it makes you look silly.

I understand your point, Gary, but in this case the participating bloggers (disclosure: such as me) were invited to San Antonio to play in a sort of Amazing Race type of fun game. There’s an iPad2 involved as well.

I definitely think it’s a “to each his own” type of situation. We don’t charge money to run giveaways or product reviews, but we typically DO get something in return (maybe not all the time, but usually a product or comped hotel nights…). I know other bloggers charge $$ for reviews and giveaways. That’s their business model.

We charge for ads and sponsored posts (we’ve done 4 sponsored posts total in the 2 years we’ve been in business together). We charge freelance rates when we write for other sites; we haven’t been paid for any speaking gigs, but sometimes we get free conference entry or travel expenses. This is our business model.

If a business partnership/relationship doesn’t appeal to you, by all means, say no. That’s your prerogative. We say no a lot. We say yes a lot. What works for us may not work for you.

It’s not black and white, IMO.

And we’re not complaining. 🙂

If what Jennifer said is true for all those participating, I guess they are getting something out of it.

However, I am a bit conflicted about this one. I do agree with the notion that we shouldn’t jump at every offer that we get just because someone wants to throw money at us. I think we need to keep our integrity in check and set a high standard for what we do.

On the flip side, I don’t think it is a bad idea to promote these contests from time to time? Why? Because the main focus of our site is to benefit our readers. So what if we don’t get paid for every opportunity. The key here is that we can give away a free trip to our readers while getting more exposure.

I don’t advocate taking every offer than comes along or selling ourselves out by giving away lots of freebies. However, some trips might be worthwhile just as a benefit to readers. So I think there can be a balance where you can meet somewhere in the middle on monetization and giving away stuff for free.


1) The best thing you can do for yor readers is provide good content. That’s why they are readers in the first place.
2) a contest doesn’t benefit everyone, just the winner.
3) it still values you and your hard work for nothing. A good promotion should benefit the company running the promotion, the blogger AND the readers.
4) I speak from experience when I say contest traffic isn’t that great. I wouldn’t make an exceptions for contests.

Kara, how is running free promotions working for you?

You are free to do what you want of course, but based on experiennce I just don’t see the traffic benefits.

We see traffic benefits on our giveaways. Maybe not astronomical, but significant to us (remember, our monthly traffic is a fraction of yours). We like the boost. Maybe it’s not sustained traffic, but it’s traffic.

On a side note, we also like building goodwill with PR folks, especially with destinations and hotel brands with whom we might want to work (read: enjoy some travel perks) in the future, even if the offer isn’t immediate.

I liken it to your writing for free for HuffPo. I’d never do it, but it worked for you. You may never run giveaways, but they work for us.

Gary — totally agree with your message, however I also know several bloggers who request compensation in exchange for promoting contests. So I know for a fact that *is* happening, although as an outside observer, we won’t necessarily be privy to the terms.

My friend, I’m glad you’ve arrived at this enlightened place, and it’s certainly food for thought.

Like Kara & Jen, I’ve just participated in the San Antonio giveaway. My aim was to grow my new Facebook page, and having just wrapped the promotion today, I feel that my “likes” (and new subscribers) for their post resulted in a decent exchange.

I agree with Jeremy that participating in a giveaway from time to time is good exposure and a fun perk for readers — but yes, only if we’re ensuring that the promotion is right for our particular niches. For instance, at my request, San Antonio altered their original family-friendly trip-for-four to suit my culturally-focused, all-couples readership.

I didn’t delude myself that this was going to be a great windfall of traffic, and certainly don’t see this as valuing myself at or my blog at zero; I saw this as a chance to join valued members of my work community in offering a fun perk on behalf of a new PR contact, as well as some new social media fans and readers in the process. To me, it was a success.

My question is, what did ANY blogger get out of the “7 Links Project”? Didn’t participate as it seemed like Trip…. catered to blogger ego instead of pocket books and got the entire industry to link / talk about them.

What did the industry get? Nothing, not even a link from Trip… Perhaps I am missing something but don’t believe I am.

Noticed you didn’t participate either.

Regarding the San Antonio giveaway, when they approached us, they were offering a free trip for the two of us and an iPad2. Aside from not being the best fit for us, we asked the question: Is it worth our time and effort? Ultimately we decided against it.

I suppose what you are saying in the case of San Antonio is a “cross-promotion only” package is not worth it. That’s easy. Agreed. However, if you are being offered a bunch of free stuff that’s of value to you (say, a free trip…you’ve taken a few of those, haven’t you?), I imagine you are evaluating the exchange.

I especially like “Don’t fear your pricing.” Lowballing helps build a racecourse to the bottom.

Melanie what sort of competition did you run with your facebook page? I only ask is I thought facebook changed the rules awhile back in that everything pretty much has to be run from a 3rd party site (ie your blog) and not directly on your page otherwise they have the right to suspend/ban your page.

Rob I skipped the 7 links Project for the same reason. It was all about helping the organiser and nothing about helping me. Maybe if they had posted a directory if the posts on their site it could have be a worthwhile exchange but to me it looked like we just gave them all some extra backlinks.

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