You Get What You Pay For

What’s the price of a glowing review of a restaurant?

In Doha, apparently it’s in the vicinity of Qr1000 or so I discovered recently.

This post is going to make me very unpopular in some blogging circles but really, this post has been a long time coming.

When I started this blog, I wanted to use my writing skills to talk about my love of cheese. It then blossomed into something different. While I still talk about cheese, I also do restaurant reviews, travel stories and a range of different things.

I work in PR (and have been a journalist) so I know that leveraging positive coverage as cheaply as possibly is important to clients and brands. It’s savvy.

As a blogger I am no clean skin. Yes, I have had and do have commercial arrangements with some brands and outlets. And yes, I do get free meals from restaurants, hotels and third parties and you can read about many of those here (and more to come).

That brands and others believe that my blog connects with people and resonates, fills me with immense pride. They realise that being up front about that association works for both of us.

Further that I have been asked to give workshops and speak to big groups about food, blogging and my social media skills because of this success of this blog is humbling.

Any free meals and relationships are stated VERY clearly in my posts and in other areas of the blogs whether it be a simple invite to a media dinner at a five star hotel through to a free holiday or an advertisement. It may be a giveaway for my readers. It may be an ad by a brand. But it’s all there – spelt out for the reader. They have to the right to know there is a commercial arrangement (and yes, a free meal is that too) of some kind. And, if you want, I can furnish you with my advertising rate card and media kits.

Further, and I will cover all bases here, there are some places I have a great relationship with. I may dine there often or stay at that hotel. I sometimes get special attention, free dishes, an upgrade, a free ride home, presents for holidays. These are greatly appreciated and come with loyalty but as I am also a blogger I try to acknowledge these too.

Smart PRs, owners and managers (thankfully Doha is blessed with some truly professional operators in hospitality and I am proud to be associated with many of them) know this is how the game works. Credibility is key.

I am increasingly dismayed to hear of “bloggers” and other social media enthusiasts who blatantly ask for freebies in return for reviews and positive coverage. Then there are those who “namecheck” brands in their tweets, posts etc with the hope of getting a free meal, an upgrade or whatever.

In the UK these are known as Food Blaggers.

And then there are the infamous reviews. That’s right. Bloggers soliciting payments wrapped up in “contracts” for positive reviews. It’s apparently becoming so common in Qatar’s foodie scene that recently I was asked what my “fee” would be for reviewing.

I can honestly say I gasped audibly during the phone conversation.

“For what?” I asked. “For the review” was the answer.

I can categorically state I have NEVER asked for money for a review nor have I accepted money. Free meals, yes (and for the record I always expect I have to pay anyway).

But regardless who sent the invite, my opinions are my own and I am brutally honest. And guess what? Anyone I deal with – PRs, brands, owners, managers etc – KNOW that.

I can also say this situation is frustrating for many of my friends in the mainstream media including websites (I am unusual in that I kind of straddle both) who work hard to establish their credibility.

I don’t begrudge bloggers the opportunity to make money from their blogs (this is an age old source of tension between bloggers and journalists). A gal needs to pay for her handbags. What I do hate vehemently is the lack of transparency that envelopes the food blogging scene here.

I don’t want to start some kind of war. I also don’t want to name and shame.

You might think who am I to be the thought police? I’m a writer, blogger, a reader and most of all, a food lover. That should be enough.


Categories: Cheese

Tagged as: , ,

13 replies »

  1. Well done, you! In trying to get my little ‘A to Za’atar’ off the ground here in the UAE, I take a lot of inspiration and professional direction from Life on the Wedge. Without a codified set of best practices, thank you for using your voice to share an opinion I hope others will share.

  2. Dear Rachel
    After having read your above post, I would like to say a few things on the article published above,
    1. Yes I do agree that bloggers are charging to write a review about a brand, a restaurant, a product or as simple as a movie, but they are not cheating the owners of their money, its their charge in return for their services provided to that brand, restaurant or product. Interestingly the so called restaurant, brand or product agree to pay their charges, so who are the other bloggers and the general people to decide whether it is right or wrong. Many PR & Advertising companies do the same but nobody targets them saying they are promoting a brand in a positive way because they are paid.
    2. If many bloggers take blogging as their passion and do it for free or in return for a free meal or a holiday, does not mean everybody should follow the same suite, every individual knows what his or her worth is.
    3. You have mentioned that there should be transparency on the blog, do you mean the headline should state the amount the person has charged “I have been paid QR ….. for this post and here is goes” or mention ” Yoo hoo I stayed free at this hotel for a night and here is the review for the same”
    4. Free meals for bloggers is the most common thing and I am sure the whole world knows about it, that is not a secret which needs to be mentioned in the post, in my personal experience I do not know any blogger who has paid for their meals
    4. Every person in this world is trying to make money for themselves and their family, as long as they are making it in a ethical way I don’t see a reason anybody should start a war against them or name and shame them. If anyone tries to that without a reason it could be seen as personal rivalry

    The comments made above are my personal view and in no way are targeting to anybody in anyways, if I have hurt certain people, please accept my apologies.

    • Hi Samuel thanks for your thoughtful reply. No people were hurt in the course of your statement so no apologies needed! you make some valid points. everyone should be able to make money, my point is don’t deceive readers and that is where the ethical point comes in. As for attribution, the common practice is what you state exactly. You also see this on mainstream media stories involving reviews of hotels etc eg “XXX was a guest of XXX”. As I said, naming and shaming is pointless but I am glad I have been able to stir up some debate. I am looking forward to getting back to my cheese and food posts! Thanks again for reading and your reply.

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