Reality Star x Lauren Aston Designs
I want to be honest with you from the get go and tell you that I have agonised over todays post and whether or not I should write it. As you can see I decided to address the matter in the end but it was a tough decision as I'm nervous about appearing unprofessional or ungrateful with this topic.
Because of this I'd like to make it clear from the offset that I get on very well with a lot of bloggers and completely understand that working with bloggers and celebrities can be a very successful marketing strategy for both parties. I also understand that bloggers are people too just like you and I and they work hard doing what they do and they too need to earn a living.
What I'm discussing today is a very specific circumstance that I think is unacceptable and I hope that comes across rather than seemingly scorning every blogger and celebrity who does collaborations - that is NOT my intention!
So onto the issue at hand;
In the interest of keeping it as professional as possible I've decided not to name names, this isn't a witch hunt against one person it's simply me, on my own website, sharing a story that shocked me. What I will reveal, as I think it's relevant is that the celebrity in question, (I'm going to call her 'Janet' from now on) is famous for being on the "structured reality television series" Made in Chelsea, and to hone my point further, this show "chronicles the lives of affluent young people in the West London areas" (according to Wikipedia) aka it's a show about rich people being rich and all the dram's that comes with.
Let me set the scene:
Just over a week ago I was working away when an email pinged in. The subject of said email was 'Janet x Lauren Aston Designs' (remember: not really 'Janet', thats the pseudonym I've christened her) I'll paraphrase so as not to bore you, but the email went something along the lines of "Hi Lauren, Janet is a big fan of your chunky knits and I wondered if you'd be interested in gifting her one of your blankets in return for 1x IG story" - now if I may, I'd like to quickly focus on 2 things;
- I'm almost 100% certain that in fact Janet has never heard of me, seen my particular blankets or referenced me specifically in her life. Nonetheless I am of course honoured that her agency has chosen to email me. Regardless of what happened next, in a market that is becoming saturated with chunky knit businesses popping up on a daily basis (...that's a rant for another day!) they'd somehow found and chosen to email me and that really is flattering.
- For anyone unfamiliar with Instagram, an "IG story" is a picture that sit's 'behind the scenes' of your Instagram feed. People can see it but have to make a conscious effort to click on it, so they get considerably less views** (as a VERY GENERAL example, less than 9% of my Instagram followers view my stories) and vitally, they only last 24hrs then they're gone forever. Now it is important to say that Janet has over 1 Million followers so even if her story stats are better than my 9% that's still an awful lot of people. Leading me to ask the question - what is this worth in terms of a marketing budget? If i'm giving away a blanket that costs me a lot of money and time... would that money and time be worth it for the 24hours slot on janet's Stories?
**please note that this was written in 2017 when IG stories were relatively new - stories can now generate a lot of engagement but at the time were far less relevant.
Having considered the points above and a number of other factors I decided that, since my blankets retail between £200-£500 and a huge chunk of that costs me in wool, I would need more. I thanked the agent for her email, said how happy I was to hear that Janet liked my work and explained that it seemed like good timing as I am just beginning to consider working with bloggers and collaborators as a form of marketing. To try and put it in perspective I went on to explain that as a small business and practically a one-girl-band the wool is my greatest expense and as I'm on such a tight budget myself, when working with collaborators and gifting them blankets, I will be asking for a number of things in return, such as blog posts and up to 6 images across all social media platforms so that I, as a small business, can justify the expense. I then clarified that, as Janet has such a large following and isn't in fact a blogger that I wouldn't expect all of that from her but asked if there was any negotiation on the 1x IG story. I said that if she was able to post a picture of the blanket on her main feed and tag me in it, as well as the Instagram story, then that would be very much appreciated.
and here's the clincher...
The agent got back to me in under 10 minutes, "Dear Laura" (...already not a great start, if she can't get my name right, what hope do we have for Janet?!) she stated that she totally understood my situation and went on to say, that it sounded great to her, she then concluded that the collaboration would now include:
1x Instagram Post, 1x Instagram Story and £2k
I'm not even joking I nearly fell off my chair. If this was an episode of Miranda I'd have comedy-spat my tea out at the screen and flopped to the ground in shock.
It took me half an hour to respond, the Lauren in me wanted to be rude I admit, but the Lauren Aston Designs in me said to keep it as professional as possible whilst making a point.
So here's what I said ...
"Dear (Agent) Thank you for your email.
As I mentioned, I’m just a very small business working from home doing the best I can on a very limited budget. That fee is MASSIVELY out of my price range. When you got in touch I was assuming that (Janet) was looking for a chunky knit blanket and was willing to help promote a small UK business in exchange for one, which I was happy to consider. My blankets cost up to £500 which I was assuming was, in itself, the fee.
If she would like to help promote my small business in exchange for a blanket please do let me know as I’d be happy to discuss it further, however I don’t have the money to pay her, in addition to the cost of the blanket."
Let's get real:
If I'm brutally honest I felt quite disgusted. The worst part isn't even that someone who's famous for being rich has people approaching small businesses to get free products on the basis of a 24 hour slot on their least viewed platform, I get that that's life now. But that when the small business asks for a little bit more in return, they are requested to pay actual thousands of pounds. At the risk of becoming repetitive I think it's worth hammering the point - This isn't me asking someone for promotion/advertisement, where I would understand and expect a fee... this is someone coming to me because they want something for free and then charging ON TOP of the cost of the free gift...for 1 photo. *insert gobsmacked face*
I've gone back and forth on this so much (I think it's to do with the fact that I was born guilty and slightly insecure) I've ended up doubting myself and telling myself that I don't know the full story and it's unfair to judge Janet, she may not even know about the money, maybe I shouldn't put it out there on the internet, what if everyone else thinks that's a valid request? what if she has secret 'famous' powers and can ruin my business? I really have tried to consider it from all angles, but actually, I realise that I'm allowed to feel saddened by it. I also find it a mixture of distressing; that this is acceptable behaviour in todays social media society and hilarious that anyone would think that's going to happen with my 'budget'.
I know we all work hard and I'm not trying to put small business owners on any kind of 'hardest workers pedestal' by any means, but I can't get over how insulting it is when something like this happens. Because of those numerous sleepless nights worrying about how we're going to pay the mortgage, if we're in too deep or what happens is nobody ever buys from us again, we try our hardest to be imaginative and to set ourselves aside from everyone else doing the same thing. We can spend a fortune giving things away in the blind hope someone 'good' will share a picture and introduce new customers to our brand and the excitement of when it actually pays off is just wonderful.
In this regard Celebrities have the opportunity to help both themselves and a small business, one picture in exchange for a lovely product that they then get to keep and enjoy for years to come. And in this particular case when that 1 product could cost £500, is that not worth enough? Do you really need an additional £2000 on top of that? *Cough* despite the fact you're already rich and constantly flaunting all your diamonds and holidays? *Cough*and yes I know, the rich and famous work hard to get where they are today and they also need to earn money but I don't think this is an appropriate form of income if I'm honest. On the other hand I also don't think it's their 'duty' to promote anything they don't want to ...but if you ask for something for free because you like it, then don't you at least owe that much?
To me, it's basically a slap in the face and I mean that in the grander scheme - the principle of it, in regards to all small businesses who have ever been put in that position where they then feel like they owe someone just because they have more followers, even though the other person wanted that product in the first place (but isn't willing to pay for it) it's as if, despite all your efforts, you and your products are unworthy.
I really don't mean to tarnish all bloggers/celebrities/collaborators with the same brush - SO SO many are honest, fair and willing to purchase products and even when it's gifted, as long as it's fair it's so generous and empowering. I LOVE those kinds of collaborations. Olivia from Lust Living for example, purchased her blanket from me and then took me with her on her incredible journey ... for which I'm beyond grateful. It's fair and it's mutually respectful. She worked just as hard helping to promote my business as she would have done if I'd have gifted her the blanket. And even with 'gifting' I know that when it's a good match it can work wonders. Not everyone can afford to purchase my products and I totally understand that but in my opinion, those who can, yet decide to take advantage of their position by constantly demanding more sets a bad example.
So to conclude ...
For some bizarre reason I felt like I shouldn't share this because to begin with I felt embarrassed. I felt slightly ashamed and naive that I hadn't seen it coming, worried that I was the poor fool and scared of seeming unprofessional for discussing it in public. That was to begin with; now I've given it some thought I know that's not right. I'm not the one that should feel embarrassed. Again, this isn't a witch hunt and I'm not looking to publicly shame anyone, but to draw attention to the fact that this type of behaviour isn't OK. Just because you're famous or work for famous people doesn't mean you can abuse that platform and take advantage of small businesses trying to gain promotion. In what world is a £500 blanket not enough when that is the 'thing' you wanted in the first place? Please let's try to work together to help each other rather than using our privilege to only help ourselves. (yup, I just got well deep!)
So now I've got that off my chest I hope we're all still friends and I haven't offended anybody...Do I need a third disclaimer?? haha. I really am looking forward to working with bloggers in a fair way that works for us both. And on that note - If you are or know anyone who's a cracking good lifestyle or interiors blogger (and isn't now afraid I'll scorn them on the internet!) please do let me know. I'll be honest and say I am looking for people with a decent and engaged following (I'd say 30K+) and crucially, they need to have the right audience as it's a big deal for me to give things away.
Bye for now,
Thank you so much for reading, hopefully see you next week on a happier note!
P.S It was so hard trying to find pictures that fit this post as it's not exactly a visual one so forgive the totally random pics!