Life, Simply Led

Blogging is a Minefield

I don’t often write about blogging, preferring instead to blog, but this week has seen a shift for me. When you have been blogging for a while, as I have, your inbox fills with the flotsam and jetsam of the corporate PR world and the tempting possibility of making money from blogging becomes a reality. Some of the approaches are interesting, most are not and some look too good to be true.

It is this last bracket which has caused me angst.  Back in January I  turned down a large (to me) sum of money to take part in a campaign run by Actimel/Danone, this week I am walking away from an association with CBias/SocialFabric. Both decisions have been made because my conscience bellowed loudly in my ear as it is wont to do.

When I signed up for CBias/SocialFabric as it started its foray into the UK blogging scene I had no idea how close its connections with Nestlé were. I signed up under the proviso that I would not be working for any companies which didn’t fit my blog and its ethos and I specifically mentioned Nestlé in that email. However, it has become apparent this week that CBias/SocialFabric and Nestlé are very cosy bedfellows indeed and I will not be hopping on in there with them!

Nestlé is my line in the sand, a line I will not cross. I have boycotted their products for about 25 years – which isn’t easy as they are pretty insidious, popping up where you least expect them!

I boycott them because, in spite of years of protest and appeals to their better nature, they are still aggressively marketing baby milk in countries where the water to mix with that milk is not clean and where families are spending more on this product than they are in rent. I took part in the recent Save the Children campaign where, once again, Nestlé and Danone were presented with information clearly outlining  the impact their actions have on communities and families in the developing world.

Danone appeared to listen and:

‘announced plans to conduct regular and independent audits of their operations to ensure they align with the international code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes. They will publish the first results of these audits on their website in the coming weeks.’ (Source)

Nestlé, however did not:

When we asked Nestlé about their plans to respond to our research and report, they reiterated their existing policies. However, they did commit to reading our research in depth and announcing their response in the coming months. (Source)

They are going to read the research. Jolly good. I shan’t hold my breath.

What Brie O’Keefe doesn’t say in her post is that Nestlé CEO, Paul Bulcke, dismissed the [Save the Children] email campaign by saying the messages were identical (Source)

To arrogantly dismiss over 4000 emails, hundreds of Facebook comments from customers and members of the public about the Save the Children report and a 12,000 signature petition seems typical of a company whose former CEO Peter Brabeck thinks water should be privatised and a company which is currently trying to patent the medicinal properties of fennel.

This is why I cannot work with CBias and Social Fabric, I cannot be a part of an orgainisation which actively promotes a company which seems to have no moral compass and which is happy to make money while putting children’s lives at risk. If you want to see how much work CBias have done with Nestlé in the US look here.

Now, I know a Nestlé boycott is not for all of you, I am not trying to tell anyone what to do that’s not my style. I shan’t stop speaking to you if you eat a Kit Kat anymore than I would if you chose the beef off the menu when we were out for a meal together. This post is about me and my line in the sand and I would love your feedback in the comments at the end.

So, what have I learned from all this? I have learned to do my research better before jumping on the latest Big Thing, I have learned that if things look too good to be true they probably are and I have learned that I have the guts to admit when I’m wrong and to walk away.

I have also made a Big Decision prompted by feedback from Kat and nurtured in conversation over coffee with Gemma. It was Kat who first pointed out to me the Nestle/CBias connection and who gently pushed me in the direction my little boat has always wanted to sail and it was Gemma who filled my sails with confidence. Watch this space!

This is me…ploughing my own furrow (it really is me!)

ploughing

So – tell me – are personal ethics and a moral code important in blogging and how on earth do we tiptoe through the minefield of PR approaches and temptations without blowing ourselves up?

You might like to read Aly’s post about bloggers, brands and ethics which touches on similar issues

I am, frankly, stunned to have been shortlisted in three categories of the  Brilliance in Blogging Awards – Commentary Inspire and Outstanding!  You can vote for me here but only until May 12th – so hurry up! Thank you!

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76 Comments

  1. Great post. Like you I have lines I will not cross, brands I will never blog about because I dislike their associations. In my professional life working in magazines of course I’ve had to bite the bullet (and my tongue) on many occasions over the years but my blog is a reflection of me, and my values. There are also brands I will never blog about because they are not ‘me’, or my blog.

    • You’re right Liz, this is my space and I won’t have it nabbed for a few pennies!

  2. Good for you, Chris. When you are trying to make an income from blogging it is very easy to be blinded by any money offered to you. What we should all do is a little research on the brand, just to make sure we’re comfortable. It is difficult to do no harm, but we do what we can. I do miss kitkats though ;)

    • Thanks Sandy, I did rather feel as though I had tripped over myself. It’s that ‘doing what we can’ bit which is important. I don’t claim to get it right or to be perfect (*falls over laughing at the very idea*) but I do, at least, try. Aeros for me – the mintiness still waves at me from many a petrol service station display, it takes all my willpower to ignore them. ;-)

  3. Good for you for sticking to what you believe in. Aly from PLus2.4 wrote a post last week on blogging and ethics as well and it really feels like a time when more people who are starting to explore what lines they want to draw and why.

    I’m anti-Nestle and that’s what I haven’t gone anywhere near the Actimel Family WellBeing Campiagn with a barge pole – if I’m honest there are two main reasons for this:

    The Nestle connection
    Reputation. Mine I mean. It’s not squeaky clean, it’s not the best, but to me it’s important and I value what little bit I do have. I’ve not got an issue with anyone taking part in the campaign however I must admit to closing browser windows mid post when I have realised that it’s an Actimel funded post.

    Love your honesty and admire your ethics x

    • The Actimel chap told me he admired me for my stance ;-) With so many companies and PRs now approaching bloggers it really is becoming a bit of a minefield, it is nice to know I’m not alone as I pick my way through it, thanks Annie x

  4. Well done for raising this issue. I think as bloggers & more significantly parents we do need to be aware of these issues. We need to examine what’s for us and what isn’t. Nestlé is one that really doesn’t sit with parents.

    • Thanks Gemma and thank you for your support :-) You’re right, it really doesn’t sit well.

  5. I did one of the first cbias shops, not knowing of any connection with Nestlé at that point. I don’t honestly know what to do now. like you I’ve been boycotting Nestlé for years, it was one of the first words my children learnt to recognise as we shopped, knowing that that got put back.

    I’m going to talk to Jo when she gets back from the conference. What do you think of cbias sponsoring a party at cybher?

    • Snap Jax and I’m kicking myself now, but we live and learn. I have had an email conversation with Jo about my decision, she’s lovely. I wouldn’t be comfortable with cbias at Cybher but I’m not going so I won’t have to face that one.

  6. I think it’s great that you’re standing up to what you believe in. This post is also a useful tool for people like me who are new to the blogging arena and who don’t have a clue about any of this. So many people wouldn’t think twice about joining up for such a seemingly lucrative opportunity, so it’s great that you have dug deeper.

    • Thank you. I do think we need to share information and experience as a blogging community or it can feel a bit like floundering around in the dark. x

  7. I’ve never got involved in the money side of things as hubby gets in a state about tax etc. Mind, I’ve never been approached to do anything other than write a post about something. Well done Chris. It’s only by saying no that the messages can be sent to these firms.

    • Thanks Julia and thanks for the tweets too! :-)

  8. I like that you have written this Chris and found peace between what you do and who you are so so important. My line is pay day loans!!! (ick) and I will never have a leather/meaty post (i get asked more often than you would think) really important to know and be true to your values i think. :-)

    • Oh yes pay day loans! I’ve had approaches from a few of those, horrible things. Thanks for all your support lovely, you’ve been a star xxx

  9. I agree with Annie that it is our own reputations at risk anyway – we spend a lot of time building our own brand that people can trust and it’s not worth trashing it for a few pennies. To me personal ethics will always come first anyway. Great post – and I didn’t realise Nestle was involved with all those brands.

    • Absolutely, it’s horrible to feel you’ve been tripped up which is how I felt last week, I feel much better now I’ve walked away and written about it!

  10. I think everyone has their own line, and if it’s your personal blog then it’s your choice as to what you put on it and who you work with. I’m fairly open (well apart from obvious gambling, dodgy loan companies, tobacco) and probably wouldn’t get offended by people choosing to blog with brands they wanted…just wouldn’t be that interested in reading any about those (think it’s likely nowadays.

    Nestle- I don’t like what they do, but I don’t feel strongly enough to boycott their whole range. Having worked in the food business though, I’ve turned down recruiters who’ve rung me offering jobs in certain businesses (usually with ties to tobacco).

    The one thing I find people get put off by is during shooting season, I find I make one comment about my OH being on a shoot day (he’s a farmer, and shoots during pheasant season), and lose lots of followers on twitter. That’s personal choice – I don’t shoot, don’t want to shoot, but we live on a farm and it’s a fairly nature winter choice of lots of people. I don’t mind eating pheasant at the end of the day, but it’s personal choice and obviously that puts people off listening to anything relevant I might say.

    • You’re right, it is about personal choice but it is also how you perceive that choice affecting the lives of others.

  11. Well said Chris. I think everyone has the right to do whatever they wish with their blog, but it can be a minefield, with unclear approaches from unknown brands, the whole follow/nofollow thing and other issues to consider. Personally I’d love to make money from my blog, but haven’t yet found a way to do that which I am comfortable with – sponsored posts don’t sit we’ll with me at all, and I haven’t even looed into CBIas because it’s coming across as the same kind of thing. I appreciate though that I am lucky in that I have a job that pays the bills, and blogging is merely a hobby. I know other people don’t have that luxury. As you say, it’s a minefield.

    • It is Ruth which is why I am considering my options and have an exciting new project up my sleeve which, I hope, will tick all my personal boxes :-)

  12. I applaud your integrity and determination to stick to your principles. I suspect that CBias just doesn’t see the same kind of response to the Nestle situation in the US that we have over here, but I know that Jo was taking a strong message to them. Things are so complicated.

    • Thanks Kelly. I think you’re right and that CBias have a completely different situation to deal with in the States. It may be that they decide not to promote Nestle in the UK, I certainly hope so, but I can’t ignore the fact that they have done so much promotion of the brand in the US. That and the ‘gun safety’ twitter parties which I didn’t have room for in my post but which Sonya links to in the comments just don’t sit well with me.

  13. Thanks for linking my post Chris.I do feel a bit naive as I hadn’t investigated who they had worked with until last week, a couple of weeks after I had already signed up(despite their Twitter bio stating they work with Nestle).I haven’t done a shop with them yet, but I still feel I have sullied my reputation a little.I know in future I won’t be so laxed and I’ll do proper research when something similar gets offered to me again.I have tweeted and shared on FB your post.

    • I don’t think you need to feel naive Aly and your reputation is certainly still intact! I did actually mention my aversion to Nestle in emails in advance of my original sign up, but I obviously didn’t do enough research and was too trusting. Lesson learned!

  14. Excellent post and as a previous commenter points out by writing this you are raising issues that I wasn’t aware of at all. I have no idea who CBias is but I do know now to stay clear of them should they ever crop up in my inbox.
    It is difficult to sort out the good from the bad and we do make mistakes and some are very cleverly concealed, I put my hand up to a couple of ignorant posts form my part, as you say we live and learn.

    Consequently the deeper I get into blogging the more I am turning away
    Thank you for this post

    • Thanks Mari, it is very difficult to sort out the good from the bad and it is really only by talking to each other and sharing experiences that we can get a fuller picture. Thanks so much for your comment.

  15. Chris- I cannot agree more, as a relatively newcomer to the blogging world I have maybe naively stayed away from posting reviews and competitions on my blog. It’s not what I want it to be. I’m not saying everyone should do the same not at all – but I don’t want my blog cluttered with products I wouldn’t really buy for what is sometimes no payment at all!!! There are a couple of PR people I talk to about different features for the future and that is how I will cultivate the commercial element of my blog. Everyone needs to be very wary and do their research. Remember the Ben Fogle debacle! I got the email and said to Rich I know I might sound mean but there’s something that just doesn’t fit for me and I’m so glad I did. Great post on a tricky subject. Glad to hear someone really speaking their mind with great links too. Thank you

    • The more I see of PR approaches to bloggers the more I think there needs to be a bit of a shift Lucy. I do indeed remember the Ben Fogle debacle…I was a bit mouthy then too! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, I’m looking forward to meeting you soon!

  16. Well said. I too have been questioning my own membership, both for the reasons you talk about and the ‘gun safety’ twitter parties I http://www.outnumbered3-1.com/2012/12/join-bb4me-twitter-party-january-8th.html) I have discovered since joining. Not comfortable with it. Glad you spoke out. X

    • Thanks so much for adding that link Sonia, I wanted to include it in the post but it was all getting a bit convoluted and complicated! The ‘gun safety’ twitter parties are a total eye opener to those of us living in the UK, it will be interesting to see how cBias approach the UK audience. Thanks for your support, it is much appreciated! x

      • Did you click through and read the sponsored shop for a child’s BB gun? I can’t frame a response.

        • There are no words Jax

  17. Well said chris – I too boycott nestle and did the save the children post. As an antenatal teacher, it is frustrating knowing the connection between nestle and formula and seeing mothers make ill informed choices about nestle milk being better than their own breast milk. I had no idea of the collective bias connection with Nestlé, and although I am on their email list, I shan’t be accepting their work either. I think standing by your principles is important, so well done x

    • Thanks Clare. I’m not anti formula in the UK where water is clean and mothers do have a choice (although I’m not keen on the marketing even here) but Nestle really need to clean up their act in countries where that is not the case and they are endangering children’s lives. Thanks for popping by. x

  18. I didn’t know about some of these connections either! More research is being added to my growing to do list!! Great post!

    • It’s hard to keep on the ball! That’s where sharing information really comes into its own, I hope that this makes some people stop and think, do a bit of research and then make an informed decision for themselves. x

  19. Hi Chris,

    I just wanted to say, as the Collective Bias lady in the UK, that if anyone is worried or in two minds and wants to get in touch and chat about it then please do! I am Jomiddleton@collectivebias.com. I totally appreciate that it is a personal decision, and no campaign or company is always going to appeal to everyone, but if it helps I have chatted to the team about the stength of feeling in the UK and there are no plans to work with Nestle here. Also of course you are totally free to pick and choose opportunities that you want to take part in.

    That’s all!

    Jo x

    • Thanks Jo, the problem for me is that they have already done all this work in the US promoting Nestle. I see this as a global issue and therefore a global responsibility, Nestle promote baby milk to women in developing countries, I feel a sense of responsibility to those families and their children. Not working with them in the UK doesn’t cancel out the work done in the US.

  20. I’m not in the position of having lots of PR people courting my blog, although I have recently started a relationship with one brand.

    Like my others here, Nestle is a big no-no for me. I’ve boycotted them since my first year at uni, some 21 years ago and I won’t do anything that helps them build business. Their continued arrogance, flouting of WHO guidelines and general attempts to monetise the basic needs of many clearly show that they put profit ahead of life and how little value they put on the life of a child.

    • Thanks Mahala, it is that greed – that profit at all costs mentality – which makes me seethe.

  21. I signed up with Jo and CBias but I got so bogged down with their website & how much there was to get through, I kind of gave up! I had no idea about the Nestle connection either, thanks for writing this post, bit of an eye opener for me, will be interested to see how they handle the UK market from here.

    • I shall be watching with interest too! (The sign up was a bit complicated, like swimming in honey!)

  22. I’m finding the more I learn, the more picky I become about who I want to be associated with and find myself googling and double-checking companies before I consider a blogging opportunity. Nestle is a massive no-no and I’ve considered leaving Tots100 due to the Cow and Gate links and adverts. Not because I’m anti formula (although I am anti follow on/toddler milk) but because I am against the advertising of formuka especially where breastfeeding is grossly under-represented. Completely agree with your stance.

    • Absolutely Kate, I’m usually so careful, this one slipped through the net but it has taught me a very important lesson.

  23. Bravo Chris, it is so important to stand tall and be true to ourselves. Mich x

    • Thanks Mich x

  24. You’re right about lines in the sand and I admire you for it. My personal line is finance and loans; I will not blog about it despite being asked repeatedly. I also won’t blog about bingo sites etc. I refuse to promote losing money when this world is hard enough to survive in as it is.

    • Thank you, bingo and payday loans are a huge No No for me too. x

  25. Oh gosh this is a tough one for me. I also boycott Nestlé and gun twitter parties make me nauseous. However I consider Jo a very good friend and friendship is something I take seriously so I want to support her endeavour. I am going to have to do some serious thinking about any future connections with CBias. Glad I steered clear of Actimil too as I instinctively didn’t want to go near that project.

    • Jo is lovely and I have hated having to do this because I count her as a friend – she has been very supportive and understanding and I am very grateful for that. x

      • Absolutely, it’s really lovely to see this being dealt with in such a friendly way. Makes such a change from some of the squabbles I have witnesses. Friendship can absolutely endure differences like this.

        • They totally can, thanks Ella! x

  26. I have a lot of respect for you, for not just having your line in the sand, but for being prepared to stand by that publicly and open yourself up to scrutiny.

    (That said, it’s brilliant to see so many supportive comments on here, and respectful dialogue even with those who hold a different position.)

    Really good post – informative and passionate without being preachy or judgmental at all.

    Yay you! xx

    • Thanks Ruth, I value your feedback so highly! I’m delighted that people have felt they can talk this over here, on Facebook and on Twitter and that (so far) it has been civilised and reasoned. I do like a good debate!

  27. Good for you! I have recently worked with a couple of companies and earned some much needed pocket money. I turned down one offer because it was to publish a guest post that was so obviously nothing to do with anything that interests me. You have to be true to yourself or your blog will not be authentic. I also feel that nestle would be a betrayal of all I believe in. I also wouldn’t work with e.g. Coca Cola or Macdonalds (not that they’ve asked but you know what I mean) for similar reasons.

    • Thank you, it’s hard to turn down cash when you have 6 mouths to feed but they wouldn’t respect me if I suddenly said ‘Hey…actually kids…you know what? Nestle’s OK if there’s money in it!’ I ran this whole scenario past the kids and they said ‘Yeah, of course…you can’t do that!’

  28. Chris, you make such a good point about staying true to our visions of who we are and what we’re trying to do with our blogs, as well as our political views. I remember when I was working at a website for women we were approached by a company that wanted to do a special project around feminine deodorant spray. All of us editors put our foot down and the company backed us up and said no to the project. You gotta do what you gotta do.

    • Thanks so much for commenting Jen. It is so important to keep our values in mind as we tiptoe through life both on and off line, I really appreciate your support.

  29. Thanks for blogging about blogging and bringing this to my attention. I have signed up with Cbias but haven’t even had time to log in and see what it was all about. I won’t be now.

    • Blogging about blogging is an odd thing really but I couldn’t zip my lip, it was keeping me awake at night!

  30. Fantastic stuff. This has got to be the best and most informative blog that I’ll read this week. I really didn’t know all this – how could that be? But I DO now, thanks to you and I’ll make sure that others know too.
    It’s a very useful thing to earn money, but any money earned which causes us to have “toilet moments” (which I’ll probably now have to blog about as this is a family saying, but so true) just isn’t worth having. Have a chocolate biscuit – you deserve it, just make sure it’s Marks and Sparks!

  31. Totally with you here, great blog post. I’ve boycotted Nestle all my adult life, only recently conceding to a kitkat when i found out there were FairTrade, but have since stopped as its still Nestle (another topic me thinks). I think personal ethics in blogging is important because I believe personal ethics is important full stop. What I meant is its only imp. if the blogger thinks its important – the main question to ask is Is my Blog true to me? If its not, then its NOT a blog. This is the key question I think, and one which so many people fail on as we get lured into earning money or, even more powerful, the adulation and praise of other bloggers who say nice things about our posts. My blog focusses on this issue of competitive/comparative parenting, adn I’m realising how much that is expressed in blogging too. I’m going to be writing about this to tie in with the BritMums confce, a time when everyone is comparing themselves with each other. Watch this space! (and ps thanks for raising this issue!)

  32. Great post Chris. I too have turned down some great offers (and some not so great ones!). I don’t personally boycott Nestle, but understand why you and others do so.

    • Thanks Lisa :-) x

  33. Yes, I totally agree with you and of all the issues out there, the Nestle one is a massively important one to stand by your moral code on. On a much lesser level I just decided not to do a PR led piece on a parenting topic that really resonated with me, because the research had been commissioned by a sugar-filled soft drink brand. Given I like to get a bit ranty about this topic, it felt very wrong to give one of the main sugar filled drinks brands any space on my blog, no matter how fascinating its latest study.

    • Oh well done you! It is a matter of personal boundaries I think, if it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t do it!

  34. Absolutely! If you don’t have integrity in your blog you’re fighting a losing battle. You are much bigger and much better than that, and it will show, without any relationships with social media start-ups!

  35. Well done for putting your head above the line and writing this Chris and for sticking so true to your values. I know from my work at Save the Children how important it is that brands hear what people think of them and how much this can be used as leverage to get them to change their behaviour. Blogs and social media can have real power in this area – you know yourself that we have managed to get Danone to agree to independent audits of their formula marketing which is, in part, due to the volume of conversation that there was on social media around this. Sadly we’re still working on Nestle though!

  36. Totally get you. I’m a boycotter too. I guess my query on this is, if it were a PR company, would you refuse to work with a client of theirs you approved of even if they had another client you weren’t happy with? For the time being, I’ve decided to stick with CBias and work only on brands I feel OK about. That said, I totally get why you’ve made this decision and respect you so much for it.

    • It would depend upon the PR company and the brand and the closeness of the relationship between them. It’s very difficult for me to unsee something once I’ve seen it. x

  37. I completely agree – and then of course there is the massive issue of palm oil that nestle use – since cadbury’s was bought the chocolate appears to contain a lot more of that oil which obviously affects the rainforest…..Lx

  38. This is a brilliant post! Not that I have any offers or anything being so new to the blogging world, but if that ever happens I fully intend to stick to my principles.
    So far this is what I am loving about blogging..the freedom. Not like having a “proper job” where I have to compromise my principles daily. Also not like a “proper job” in that I am not getting any money from it either….but hey.
    And I am trying to avoid Nestlé too..but their products are everywhere, I need a Nestlé detector or something.

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