Five Reasons to Just Say No to Unpaid Work

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?


Yesterday, Arianne wrote a post about the new mom blogger council at Redbook. As a few of us were discussing this development, someone posited that the positions were unpaid. I believe this is the sentence from the Mashable piece that raised the red flag:

“Each is an established, highly opinionated blogger in her own right, and will submit original content to Redbook in exchange for promotion of her own blog and the search value attached to that — in addition to, of course, the benefit that comes with being associated with the Redbook brand, says Mark Weinberg, VP of programming and product strategy at Hearst. The five contributors will also be promoting the Motherboard blog council on their own blogs.”

I did some investigating, and an anonymous source has confirmed that this gig is UNPAID. So to recap, we have five contributors. They are writing original content for the publication, promoting Redbook on their own, highly influential blogs, and presumably acting as consultants. Unpaid.

In light of that, I wanted to share my five reasons why this (and programs like this) are harmful to both these bloggers and other bloggers within the mom blogging community.

1. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? If you do work for a company for free, they will not want to pay you to do it later. Additionally, other companies who see that you are doing work for free (or for gift cards or t-shirts or cute shoes) will ALSO not want to pay you to do it later.

2. Doing work for free hurts other bloggers I have a folder in my Outlook called “work for free.” This folder is filled with emails from agencies and brands that all say something to the effect of, “Sorry. We can’t pay your blogger. We have plenty of other influential bloggers who would be happy to do the work in return for the exposure.”

3. When earned and paid media get blurred, confusion ensues I’ve written about this elsewhere, but essentially, earned media is something written for free because it is editorially interesting. Paid media is written because money changed hands. When bloggers write something that is essentially paid media (specific requirements, inclusion of key messages) for free, everything gets wacky. What if the post is written in a way that upsets the client? If the blogger wasn’t paid, does that client actually have the right to ask for a change?

4. Exposure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be As I mentioned above, and as indicated by the Mashable piece, some brands apparently think that “good exposure” is a sufficient replacement for payment. I would argue otherwise. In my discussions with bloggers, the traffic that THEY send over to the brand sites is typically way higher than the amount of traffic that they receive in the form of inbound links. Yes, that brand might crazy high page views, but how engaged and loyal are the readers? I would argue that blog readers are much more likely to click a link than readers of a brand site.

5. When you sign a contract, you are bound to that contract whether money changes hands or not This point is especially relevant and scary when it comes to the non-compete portion of that contract. Are the gift cards and exposure worth enough for you to give up the opportunity to work for a competitor of that brand? Most contracts will prohibit you from working for a competitor for the length of the contract itself. Many of them also add additional time to that, which could mean that an unpaid (or low paid) contract signed for work to take place in 2012 could potentially prevent you from working for anyone else in that category until mid-2013 or even 2014. Are you prepared for that?

Where should you draw the line at doing unpaid work?


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