Total Beauty’s Blogger Blunder

by Jami Summers on June 25, 2009 · 17 comments

Wednesday morning dawned late for me- I got the exceptionally rare chance to sleep in, grabbed my coffee and sat down to check emails, catch up with my Twitter buddies, and write some product reviews. My productivity ended there. The beauty blogging community was in an uproar. Total Beauty Media’s CEO, Emrah Kovacoglu, had posted an article Beauty Brands Should Not Be Working With Bloggers – …directly, anyway. But more on that in a second. First, my take on why this is all blowing up right now.”

The title was enough to incense many writers. And the content just went downhill from there.

This is your blog on Blogola - Just Say No!

First, let’s step back for a little background- TotalBeauty.com was founded in late 2007 as an online beauty community for women. Community members (anyone can join) can post reviews, watch video tutorials, sign up for newsletters, etc. They also launched a Blogging Community which was open to all who wished to join (I believe now the membership requirements are a little more stringent). I joined Total Beauty on May 30 2008 and with that came the few ads you see on Bionic Beauty. A few months later, I joined the optional “Sneak Peek” program (let’s call it the “SP” for short) which meant Total Beauty would send me a few items every couple months to review on both my website and the Total Beauty website. I actually withdrew from SP last month because I felt the products being sent did not fit with the brand’s I typically review.

Now back to Emrah’s article.

Mr. Kovacoglu opens with statements about blogs having “a passionate reader base” and “now they have nice big reach, too. Leading blogs now draw as large an audience as some major media publications”. I’m with him there.

Big numbers like this means big interest from ad/marketing/PR firms. In their fervor to court bloggers to write about their products, they’re offering incentives — from free products, to trips, to outright compensation. It’s at a fever pitch, drawing attention from mass media who’ve labeled this phenomenon “Blogola”.

Hold the phone… what? I admit that beauty editors of magazines and websites can get free products to test. However, in my personal experience, that is the extent. Looking at my recent expenditures and product reviews, a little over 70% of the items I review on Bionic Beauty have been purchased out of my pocket. If I like it, I buy it. It’s just that simple.
As for trips… Nope. And I don’t accept any payment for my reviews, paid-to-post articles, etc. My product reviews are 100% of my opinion. You get the good, the bad, the pros and the cons- because you, as readers, deserve no less.

“Professional mass-media journalists are bound to these standards: objectivity, accuracy, truthfulness, fairness, public accountability, and limitation of harm. They’re bound to presentation standards such as clarity, correct spelling, and formal dialect. But most bloggers are not classically trained professional journalists; they are individuals who had the guts to start talking publicly about an area of passion that had.

Add in e-mail, texting, IM, Tweeting, etc., and the presentation standards in blogging are blurred. As in, it’s acceptable (sometimes cool or funny) to misspell, cut corners, or not be as polished. That is what establishes your authenticity.”

I’m with Emrah again, to a point. Everyone and their mom thinks they can make money blogging by throwing up some press releases and not worrying about the dedicated hours, content, layout, design and standards. But to say that all bloggers are unethical, not trained, or “cut corners” is a load of waffle.

Personally, I worked in the Defense Engineering field before turning to online writing. Due to life changes, and I needed something to keep my brain occupied while I was stuck at home. That’s how Bionic Beauty was born. I wanted to share my knowledge of cosmetics, not to mention the lovely freebies I kept digging up! I never dreamed a PR company would send me a sample to test. I wasn’t, nor will I ever be, in it for the “blogola” Mr. Kovacoglu references. Speaking of not being as polished, I’ve never heard the term “blogola” before.

Accountability, objectivity and accuracy open a whole new can of worms when you consider traditional print magazines and advertiser relationships. Can you recall seeing negatively toned product reviews in a magazine? And do you think those “Top 10 Beauty Products for Summer” were not influenced by a Press Release or ad campaign dollars? It’s standard knowledge in the magazine world that advertiser relationships have to be cherished and placed foremost. In the blogging world- I don’t worry about what a certain advertiser considers a “proper mention”.

“One of the things we encourage our bloggers and brands to do is work through Total Beauty for product reviews via our Sneak Peek program. The reason? We have developed a community of vetted bloggers who are impactful, truthful, and not compensated for their posts/reviews — and we continue to monitor that community. We guarantee to get your products in the hands of the right bloggers…”

Finally we come to realize the intent of Emrah’s article. Pushing the Total Beauty Sneak Peek program to both cosmetics companies (i.e. potential advertisers), PR companies, and bloggers themselves. Because if bloggers feel the only way they can get the “blogola” we have to be part of the Sneak Peek program, right? Not exactly. Since most of us are truly beauty addicts/fiends/junkies, we’d just buy the products anyway. I certainly would not be able to review as many products however, due to realistic budget constraints. And if PR reps “shouldn’t work directly with bloggers” then they would be forced to go through Total Beauty (and all that those lovely ad dollars and donated products probably involve) to get products mentioned on a blog or website.

As for that “community of vetted bloggers” and getting “your products in the hands of the right bloggers”- remember how I mentioned Total Beauty accepting all beauty blogs? And the “right bloggers” is exactly why I withdrew from the SP program. My focus at Bionic Beauty is promoting brands, items, looks that you may not have heard about. Whether those are amazing indie makeup brands or lesser-known drugstore eyeshadows. The SP items just didn’t fit.

“And on the flip side, why do bloggers work through us? We can ensure a buffer between their blog and brands, so that they are not penalized by a negative review, if that is what they truly feel. I’ve had many bloggers complain to me (three in just the last week alone!) that they sometimes receive products from brands they just don’t like, but they fear if they don’t review it (or review it negatively), they’ll never hear from that brand again. We at Total Beauty prevent that from ever happening.”

I have never felt pressure from companies or PR representatives to provide a positive review. In fact, constructive criticism is usually embraced. I realize that some bloggers do not feel comfortable posting a negative article, so they refrain.  My thoughts are how are will my readers know I tried something and disliked it if I withhold that information?

No kidding ladies, I spend over 50 hours a week on this website- writing articles, answering emails and comments, promoting the site, and working with Public Relations (PR) representatives. If those 50 plus hours translate to me “cutting corners”, I wonder how many hours print editors put in?

So Mr. Kovacoglu “my take on why this is all blowing up right now”: That’s a simple answer. You wanted to stick your finger in a process that was already efficient, established and does not require a middle man.

Personally, I will never approve of having a middleman handle my PR relationships. I value the ability to say yes or no to items before they are even offered. I know some items will not work for me, my readers, or are so far out of focus for Bionic Beauty that it’s quite humorous. Plus, PR reps and brands are intelligent enough to realize a productive, honest and quality blog over one that just regurgitates the same old content.

It comes down to the fact that I am passionate about Bionic Beauty. I love writing, I love beauty items, and I truly respect my readers. That’s what keeps me working the long hours.

Want to see what other beauty bloggers are saying about Total Beauty-gate?

And now back to your regularly scheduled Bionic Beauty. If you have comments on this whole hoopla, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Cheap Chick June 25, 2009 at 10:10 am

Once again, we see a prime example of some blowhard, well, blowing up about a topic he knows little about.
Your integrity and professionalism will never truly come under fire, BB, because any idiot with half a brain can see instantly from your site that you are fair and balanced.
Unlike, say, Lucky Magazine or InStyle or Vogue or Glamour or…..

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2 Sapna Parikh June 25, 2009 at 10:12 am

This is so on par. It is sad how a company can try to squash an industry.

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3 DWJ June 25, 2009 at 10:24 am

I’m a beauty and accessories blogger, I’m pretty sure I don’t fit the mold for Total Beauty since I’d don’t focus only on beauty so I haven’t applied to join or been asked. That being said, I have a degree in journalism and a master’s degree in Publishing (that’s actually how my blog was born, out of grad school) and I think I run my blog in a very professional & ethical way. I pay for the majority of what I review. It’s only been in the last 6 months or so that PR folks have started to send me things but I’m not trying to make a living off of blogging, I think it’s fun! I also don’t feel bad saying I don’t like something. I’ve acutally gotten positive responses & more questions when I do say something is bad. I think Total Beauty just wants to be the only source for beauty blogging and product sneak peaks because if everyone can do it on their own, they’re irrelevant!

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4 S. Vanessa Hailey June 25, 2009 at 10:43 am

Well written! I agree that having a middleman does not help us at all because with the Sneak Peek we are forced to try the product regardless if it would work for us or not. Our readers see us posting about something that we would not normally try. It is a waste of their time to even read it.

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5 Toma June 25, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Well said! I posted your article on my Facebook page.

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6 Jessica June 25, 2009 at 12:13 pm

You tell em!

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7 Yvonne C June 25, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Good morning Jami-

Although I have only been visiting your site for about a month or so, I have yet to experience that you are being biased or “selling-out” to a certain product line. This is what attracts me to your site. I feel that your site provides a informative, witty and down- to -earth insight to products in the Beauty Industry.
Contrary to this individuals comments- I find you to be quite polished, smart and fun. Keep up the great job! There will always be haters.
Oh, thanks for the heads up, at CVS, just this morning picked up Revlon 3-D Extreme Mascara and Revlon Color-Stay Eyeliner in Teal. It was buy 1, get one free and I had a $3 off coupon-Sweet!
This will be my first try at a different mascara in 5 years. I will let you know how it goes.
Again, thanks for all you do!!!!!!

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8 Tashi June 25, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Rock on, Jami! I echo the sentiments of the other folks above. We greatly appreciate your hard work!! We readers THANK you, from the bottom of our ever-lovin’ beauty product junkie hearts. :-) You go, girl!

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9 Kara Brown June 25, 2009 at 6:28 pm

I love your blog because you have so many reviews of different products and try things out that we may not know about. That is why I have ordered some mineral makeup that I would have never tried if not for the reviews. This blog is informative and fun. That is why I stop by daily to see what is new. Keep up the good work.

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10 Robyn @ PurelyCosmetics June 25, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Very well written, and right on the point. I’ve had my response to this morning’s video up on my monitor half written (it took all day to write my opinion yesterday, I was so flustered) – you’ve given a very real, and very honest view of the Sneak Peek program itself.

The program looks to me to be made largely of corporate brands who have decided that “blogs must be the new way to advertise” – like blogging is a fad. They don’t care WHAT blogs; they just want their presence out there. When will Corporate America realize that blogs have personalities?

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11 Mo June 25, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Oh, I could go on for ages about this…and not in a very nice way. I have been a cosmetics junkie for ages and have been so thrilled to have the chance to share that passion with others. I think the public can flesh out those who are in this just to try and get free stuff and money, while those who do this for joy and knowledge end up being the ones who stay around longest. This was an attempt to belittle the hand that feeds him and he obviously underestimated the intelligence of beauty bloggers. Poor show Mr. Kovacoglu, very poor show. Your arrogance and attempt to garner the spotlight for your gain are to solely to blame for this backlash, enjoy.

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12 Kristi June 26, 2009 at 2:04 am

I am sorry but I did not like his article one bit. He sounds almost jealous. To be honest, I found a beauty site that was having a giveaway intitially and that is what drew me to a few blogs. Now, I absolutely love reading the reviews, hearing about new products and yes it is fun to have a chance to win something. I just got laid off a few months ago so times are tough right now and it’s fun to have a surprise arrive in the mail every now and then.
I don’t know what it is about beauty blogs but I simply relate to them better than magazines and I hardly ever pay attention to commercials. Because of a blogger’s review, I have went out and bought a few products that a couple of them especially are now some of my favorites so I plan to keep buying those and isn’t that what the advertisers and companies want? For us to learn about there products and go out and buy them?
Another thing that is nice about beauty blogs is you can immediately post a question about a review or product and you get a personal reply or either the blog owner replies back on the comments which is nice.
I am rambling a little bit but that guy has me feeling a little perturbed. I am just now really starting to take an interest in the “beauty world” again and I would hate for the blogs to go away.
Even being laid off, I have still bought more products since I started frequenting the beauty blogs and now even have my favorites I visit several times a week.
I say to you girls, keep on doing what your doing, many of us out here like things just the way they are! :)

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13 Kristi June 26, 2009 at 2:10 am

Btw, it seems like when a big company takes over a blog that it’s not that interesting anymore. It’s the personal aspect…kinda like friends sharing the same interest with other friends. And besides, there is one big beauty blog out there that is huge and and it must have thousands of members. I tried going there for a while but everytime I would visit, my computer would freeze up and I do have cable so I don’t know why that would happen. Anyhow, that’s enough out of my mouth! lol

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14 Tashi June 26, 2009 at 5:33 am

“Personal aspect”, yes! You hit the nail on its head. When magazines advertise products, even within so-called “features”, they say stuff like, “Cameron Diaz likes this facial cleanser.”. So?? That’s good, but is there something about it she doesn’t like, even if she may, overall, like it? Its smell, consistency, etc.? That personal aspect of honest reviews from people like Jami, make product reviews all the more believqble and helpful. I don’t glean anything helpful from a “fashion magazine” saying Cameron Diaz likes such-and-such cleanser. We need more info, and honesty.

Btw, Kristi, hang in there on the job hunt!! I’m in the same boat as you. :-) Isn’t it fun to have blogs like Bionic Beauty, especially now?

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15 PRIIA Cosmetics June 26, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Jami- you go girl! Your article was extremely well-written and thought out. I just wish these corporate ‘suits’ would decide to step down off their soapboxes for just a moment. Maybe, just maybe, they’d realize that they sound like total jacka$$e$. *sigh*

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16 Tashi June 26, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Priia, wouldn’t it be a hoot if this corporate suit at Total Beauty, had a teenage daughter, wife, gf, sister, aunt, who’s an independent (non-TB-associated) beauty blogger? Wonder how he’d feel then.

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