The Weekly Edit: Saying ‘No’ to Sponsorships

Dec 19, 2019

The holiday season is a time for togetherness, joy, and last-minute shopping.  And during the holidays, retailers and brands are eager to partner with influencers to endorse everything from $2,000 exercise equipment, to Tiffany bracelets, to gourmet sipping chocolate (“for all your holiday cocoa needs”).

Initially, I was excited when a handful of brands reached out to sponsor posts on this blog.  But one after another, all of the opportunities fell through.

A PR rep for a cult beauty brand told me they didn’t “have the budget” for a cash payment, but could compensate me with $200 worth of product.  The company sold just weeks prior for a nine-figure sum.

A jewelry designer wanted to partner for a post about “glittering gifts for Christmas.”  When I asked why the contract said she would own the exclusive rights to the photos and prohibited me from promoting any other jewelry brands for two years, she stopped responding to my e-mails.

I backed out of three other partnerships because the brands wanted me to use kitschy, inauthentic phrases or promote items that I would never buy.  The worst of which wanted me to wear a Santa hat, while drinking boozy cocktails by the fire, and pretending to spend “a tipsy night in.”

Some of my favorite bloggers do a wonderful job creating sponsored content that feels authentic and intentional.  They test the products, take beautiful photos and write helpful reviews.  But I realized through this experience, that sponsored content just isn’t a good fit for me.  I also realized how little respect some brands have for their potential customers.

Many of the women pitching these opportunities truly believe that a few pretty photos and some focus-group-tested phrases can make any product seem like a winner.  When I would push back that my readers were too savvy to fall for some of their gimmicks (like buying the product with my own money, so I could say in the post that I bought it with my own money ????‍♀️), a few of them acted like such a thing was impossible.

And on top of all that, creating sponsored content is a lot of work.  I didn’t realize how much effort went into a single pretty photo until I was on my second hour of  standing next to my dining room table holding the product in one freshly-manicured hand while balancing a collapsible light reflector in the other.

Long story short, I’ve decided that it will now be the official policy of the blog that Capitol Hill Style does not solicit, nor accept, paid editorial content.  Frankly, I’m just not very good at creating sponsored content, and I’ve realized that I don’t want to be.  This decision will cost me some money, but it’s worth it.

If you support keeping this blog sponsor-free, the best thing you can do is just continue to share CHS with your friends, co-workers, and mentees.  Please follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.  And just continue being the vibrant, supportive community that you’ve always been.

Now, back to The Weekly Edit.

Meet the Splendid Pillow Soft Pajama.  I purchased a pair last week at Nordstrom, and I am in love.  The “pillow soft” name might be the most honest advertising ever done about a product. They are gloriously soft.  Like a hug from a fluffy bunny, soft.  I’m was genuinely sad that they were in the wash, so I ordered another pair.

I finished a few lackluster podcasts last week (The Missing Crypto-Queen and To Live and Die in L.A.), so I was planning to take a break from podcasts for a while.  But then, I started Noble Blood while cleaning my kitchen, and I am totally hooked.

The pod “explores the stories of some of history’s most fascinating royals: the tyrants and the tragic, the murderers and the murdered, and everyone in between.”  One episode — about the tragic final days of Marie Antoinette — had me completely enthralled.  The episodes are the right length at just over 30-minutes, and the narrator has a voice that I could listen to for hours.

Spending five hours in the car isn’t much fun.  It’s also fairly uncomfortable.  But because we’re stopping halfway for lunch with friends, leggings aren’t really an option.  So I’ve decided to wear this Daily Ritual dress with a pair of thick tights, a black over the knee boot, and a chunky boucle cardigan.  Just all black everything.

Also, if you need affordable, good-quality loungewear for the holidays, Daily Ritual is my only recommendation.  Their split-side tunic is my favorite.

I didn’t grow up with Christmas traditions, but Kyle did, so he is adamant that we need to make our own.  So I’ve chosen to bake this Snowflake Pull-Apart Bread on Christmas morning.  It seems like an easy, light breakfast option that will please the crowd.  We’ll add some hot chocolate, a bowl of fruit, and a simple egg frittata to the menu as well.  It’s a good choice because everything can be done the day before and then just put into the oven while we conduct our first family Santa Swap, another Kyle-endorsed tradition.

{this post contains affiliate links that may generate commission for the author}

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  1. Lee says:

    Would you check your link for the pull-apart bread? It’s taking me to Amazon, & I’d love to see this recipe. Thank you! Easy on Christmas morning is the way to go. Our tradition is to cook brunch for my parents & my husband & son. The past 2 years, we’ve made French Toast, along with fresh fruits, & some sausage. Quick & easy! I may need to add this bread to the rotation.

  2. Monica T says:

    Gah, that all sounds awful. I’m with you, whenever someone says I’d be good at technical marketing or tries to recruit me to sales away from a technical administration role, I’m like “I’m only good at this when I’m real.” If I have to be this way to sell your product no one is going to buy it. If I love your stuff I’ll evangelize the heck out of it for free, and if I don’t…then you should make your stuff better.

    Those pajamas are so cute! And that bread looks awesome! My mom makes pecan sticky buns for Christmas morning, so we always need something slightly less sweet to go with it. That looks like a keeper.

  3. Susan says:

    Thank you Abra, as always, for being authentic (I know, an overused term these days!) and just being true to you! And you’re absolutely correct, savvy adult readers see through the spon con BS and ignore it at best, quit following people at worst. I keep reading about how “influencer culture” is dying and we are on the downward spiral of that stuff…you will always be you and true and consistent and that is why we are here!

  4. Kelly says:

    As a customer I think brands should pay bloggers/influencers. Creating content is work, and no one can pay their bills in free product.

    • Belle says:

      But the brands sure seem to think that that fur-trim hat or holiday greeting card is more than just compensation. And the biggest lie they sell is that the freebies lead to money later.

  5. Norcalgal says:

    Thanks so much for your integrity, Abra. It’s one of the many reasons I visit your blog every day (and recommend it to others). Happiest holiday wishes.

  6. Ab says:

    Thank you so much for staying true to yourself. I’ve chimed in several times and I hope it encourages you to keep this blog what it is. I have been a faithful follower of yours since pretty much the beginning, and it’s because I appreciate your style, and trust your recommendations so much. I have followed others, and find that all the joy is sapped right out as soon as it feels like they have sold out. I will keep clicking your links and buying things you recommend in hopes you find a balance where you’re adequately compensated, because I really do value what your produce!

    • Belle says:

      The reason I was pursuing sponsorships (beyond paying for our bathroom remodel) is that it opens up relationships with brands that can help the blog grow through exposure. I’m really looking for the growth more than the cash. I’ve seen bloggers partner with the right brand and just gain a rush of readers.

  7. Mary says:

    Why on Earth would they suggest a blogger say that they paid for the product with their own money in a sponsored post? (Assuming the blogger has to disclose sponsored status, which I thought was the rule.) If I saw that in a sponsored post I would be like… what?? I always sort of assumed that sponsored post means a brand has given someone a product to review. What’s not clear is whether the blogger also got money on top of product.

    • Belle says:

      So I try to be very intentional with my disclosures, but the semantics have gotten murky. #gifted is supposed to be for free product without cash, #sponsored or #ad for cash payment. But the last two have started to encompass all of the categories. If you see #sponsored, you should assume they were paid.

      The brands are asking people to buy the product themselves for two reasons: 1) time, they want the posts fast and mailing out product eats time, and 2) so that the blogger can say they bought the product with their own money, which I’ve seen in sponsored posts a few times.

  8. Shanghai says:

    I would be fine if you accepted sponsored or editorial content because I trust your sense of what is right for you and your readers. I also think bloggers deserve to have a path to be compensated for the labor they do on content.

    But my goodness! It is so annoying how heavy-handed many brands are being with content and language this year. If you think an influencer is the right match for your brand, TRUST THEM to write an authentic post for you. I can understand providing some talking points, but so many posts this year are clearly just copy written by the brand, it doesn’t sound like the blogger’s voice at all anymore (this is even happening with some of my favorites…which makes me think it’s some brands which are leaning heavily on it).

    I don’t mind sponsored content, but I prefer it to be in the voice of whoever I’m following. Otherwise I *do* want to tune out.

  9. Jenn says:

    Abra, I’ve only seen you do something sponsored maybe a couple times in the years I’ve been following you. We trust you and if there is a brand that will truly allow you to do an honest review the way you want it.. you should go for it. We will support you. We want you to be compensated.

    Regardless, admire your stance and your policy. You do what’s best for you!

    • ral says:

      Completely agree – I value your integrity & honest opinions. I believe that you (and also other bloggers) should be compensated for your time & efforts. And because I trust you, I’m fine w/ sponsored content b/c I know you’ll always give your honest opinion. Don’t forget to look after yourself a bit too.

  10. Sara says:

    I can’t believe the ridiculousness of some of the sponsors! I love that you are questioning them, it’s the wild wild west out there. I don’t mind sponsored posts when they are authentic in terms of an influencer already using the product and loving it, but I appreciate your due diligence and making a decision that suits you!

  11. Kath Gregg says:

    THANK YOU! While I follow some great blogs, yours is the only one I trust. I recognize sponsorships are an important source of income for you and it takes a lot of strength to set that boundary. Please know that by doing so you have deepened my commitment to your blog. Happy Holidays!

  12. Carolyn says:

    “For all of your cocoa needs.” <—Nailed it!

  13. Katel says:

    This is why I love your saw it on social – you put your own money on the line and write truthfully about products. I’ve NOT purchased things that were epic fails for you …

  14. Rachel says:

    have you seen season 3 of Mrs Maisel? There is a funny bit about being paid in goods not $$. And its so not ok!

    But I appreciate your stance, and that this wasnt an ad for headspace. Frankly, I try and accept that people will do sponsored content, but when everyone you follow comes out with the same ad campaign at the same time, it feels so disingenuous. I think that’s the failing of the brand and not the influencers and something they all need to consider.

  15. mxj says:

    Echoing the sentiment of many other commenters: your honest opinions and the fact that I don’t feel like you’re shilling for companies is why I read your blog every day and have for over 7 years! The rest of the blogosphere/Instagram feels like one big sponsored post, and I don’t trust anyone else! That said, I definitely think you deserve to be compensated. I know I buy lots of things through your links, so hopefully that helps, but if there are other ways for you to get the compensation you deserve while maintaining the honesty that keeps me (and others!) coming back, please don’t deny yourself that.

    • Janine says:

      I had a similar thought – I actually want for you to find some way to be compensated for your work! Your honest thoughts and keen eye for style are valuable in my own style journey.

  16. Amanda R.Walker says:

    YES! It is beyond refreshing to see a woman take a stand. It made my day, week, year! It is that very reason we follow you. You are a leader. That was brave and refreshing. Bravo. Merry Christmas.

  17. Megan says:

    Do you have a sense how accurate Noble Blood is? I love this kind of content and always need more, but as a historian, glaring errors will annoy the crap out of me.

    • Kim says:

      For the episodes that I’m familiar with the subject matter (like Marie Antoinette), the host does an excellent job of being 1) accurate and 2) not falling into the same trope you always hear about certain famous figures (like “Marie Antoinette was just a pretty, stupid, spoiled queen”). I’m not a historian by trade, but my BA is in history and I frequently go down the rabbit trail of reading everything I can about a figure after they’ve been featured.

    • Belle says:

      I was only familiar with the story of Charles II, from a paper I did in school, and it tracked with what I remembered. But people with a deeper knowledge might find it lacking.

  18. Rachael says:

    Abra, this is why you are my favorite blogger: no BS. I cringe at sponsored posts on other bloggers’ sites. They feel completely inauthentic, and my trust in those bloggers is jeopardized. But if you recommend something, I know it is because you actually like it. Keep staying true to yourself! 🙂

  19. TheLOOP says:

    Abra, how about doing something like Brandon at HONY does? He has Patreon fund where people who choose to participate can give as little at $1.50 a month. He uses it mainly to give something back to the people he interviews, especially those in need. But being a Patreon doesn’t give you any greater access to his content. It remains free for everyone. I am sure your readers would gladly do something like this, even if the funds went for you to purchase products to try.

  20. Jessica says:

    As always, I really appreciate you being so upfront and direct about the sponsorship stuff. Good for you for realizing it’s not a good fit for you and owning that rather than trying to force something that isn’t working. I applaud you!

  21. V says:

    I have long loved your blogs and the brands you have introduced me to.

    I wish you’d name names, because these companies sound horrible and I don’t want to send them any of my $.

    [In fact, if you launched an anonymous blog where people could provide contract terms and name names (or even put them in there redacted), you’d be doing the world a huge service. Let the sunshine in!]

    • Belle says:

      A lot of times the person communicating with you works for a third-party PR shop, so it’s entirely possible that they have no idea what people are saying in their name.

  22. SaRah says:

    I’ve said this before but you’re the only blog like this I read. You’re the only one that makes sense to me, is helpful, and has a normal idea about budgets and office-wear. That being said, I’m all for you getting money. I appreciate your policy but to be honest, I trust your discretion such that if you wanted to take a sponsored post, I’d probably consider the product and I’d be all for it.

    • Sarah says:

      I recently bought a few things you suggested, the Regent Blazer (found on eBay yes!) and one of the things on Kyle’s list for my husband for Christmas. Both fantastic purchases. So yes I really do trust you!

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