Let me first say, that I am so grateful for the trainers, sports bras, leggings and energy bars that I have received over the years as a blogger. I do my best to rigorously test and share the products I like best with you on my blog and social channels, and donate, recycle, gift or sell the rest for charity (we recently raised £500+ for the California campfire survivors and another £50+ for a school in Madagascar – my Mum’s personal passion project after visiting in October!).
I just had to write a rather awkward email to a PR, she was asking when the kit they sent me would feature on my Instagram.
I get this quite a lot. However, in this particular instance, the kit was sent two months ago and was not actually the style that I would wear at all. I had chosen an outfit from the look book, but when the actual outfit came and was nothing like the picture (I’m talking hoody dress with foiling). If you’ve ever met me – you’ll know that I am not cool enough to pull that look off.
The truth was I hadn’t heard from the brand since telling them that the outfit looked awful on me and I wouldn’t feel comfortable posing in it, and that if they wanted to collect it, they could. A month passed… I donated the outfit to charity.
Then they emailed me.
It was recently brought to my attention, while doing my taxes, that HMRC are now looking at the extent to which ‘freebies’ – gifts, products etc, are being given to bloggers, athletes and celebrities, and in future, these freebies will be included when calculating taxable income. How these are valued for tax purposes is currently being disputed, however, the reality is that gifts and products are going to have to be declared as part of our ‘income’. Lawyer and fitness blogger, Lucy (lucyfitness), thinks this may only be for payment in product situations or when bloggers sell the freebies for a personal profit, rather than simple press drops, however it will be interesting to see how this develops.
As Laura Dryden (LauraFat2Fit) put it, it may literally not be worth accepting product for review unless you’re paid aswell otherwise you’re out of pocket paying the tax on the item.
And where will this leave us when it comes to unbiased reviews such as my post on the Best Commuter Running Backpacks?
Combine this with the fact that many brands are now requiring bloggers to disclose freebies as ‘ADs’ when no money has changed hands and, journalists and publications are not (I’m looking at that ‘nutrition win’ by Herbalife in Women’s Running – conveniently a major sponsor of the magazine, but maybe that is a different story for a different day).
I asked in a UK Fitness Blogger’s group that I’m part of how others felt about freebies, and whether having to declare them on their tax bill would change their attitude. Bethan (aprettyplacetoplay) explained that often the things she’s sent isn’t what she actually needs, and wouldn’t have bought it being on a low income (she’s writing her PhD) so wouldn’t want to be financially penalised when it comes to tax season. ‘Others simply said they either refuse all gifts/freebies due to increased posting expectations.
One of my favourite non-running bloggers, In the Frow, wrote an article about the ‘End of the PR Package’ citing, the packaging and waste and product overkill as reasons why she thinks the blanket PR drop has and should be stopped/reduced.
She discussed a need to;
- reduce the packaging that gifts are sent in
- ask the receiver whether they want it (this will be even more important if bloggers will have to pay tax against the value of these gifts)
- let the receiver choose the product to ensure it’s something they will actually use
Personally, when I see bloggers show their massive deliveries from brands, it feels like a bit of a humble brag. I am not one for box opening thank you’s on my social media, I’d rather use the kit and share the ups and downs with you guys in a more constructive way. But each to their own.
Similarly, when a brand sends running kit to a bunch of bloggers/influencers who vocally don’t run (or share any pics of them running, ever) Who is that helping?
I realise that this may be an unpopular post, and that many will think I should be grateful for the things I do receive. And I really am. However, I agree with Victoria (inthefrow.com) that something has to change, not least to cut down on the waste created.
Realistically, I probably get a lot less than other bloggers out there do, both with a bigger and smaller reach then mine often because I say no to products that I won’t use, and won’t post every single thing I’m sent. I don’t accept payment in product (I know many others feel this way, or simply don’t see product as payment), because lets face it, trainers won’t pay the mortgage, and I don’t do unboxing videos. I am not a PR dream!! lol – and maybe this post will make me even more unpopular. However I am passionate about sharing products I genuinely use and love with you. As well as being truly honest about the items I don’t love.
And thank you to all the PR’s who take the time to ask if a product is of interest before sending, and work hard to ensure that what they send is relevant, useful and a good fit for me.
Bloggers/influencers, and readers – I’d love to know your thoughts on this.
Well, I guess I’m glad I’ve never actually gotten anything physical! 7 years ago I got a free something or other, maybe a pedicure? But now I think that that would be a violation of my visa terms and I don’t really want to mess with that! I always wished I had gotten some kit or trainers out of blogging, but I wasn’t consistent enough and I certainly am not now as I just don’t have the time or motivation after over a decade of blogging with no one really reading it.
No-one read mine for ages either – don’t despair!!
It’s so interesting and a very tricky area to navigate, like you’ve said. I do wonder how it works for the bigger brands on Instagram – all those fashion posts and affiliate links. Form the sounds of it HMRC are trying to keep up with the very fast moving world of social media and influencer market. It should work similar to magazines and print but it’s far more dynamic than that.
I’m small fry so realistically this isn’t really going to affect me but it is interesting to understand how it works (or IS to work). I think what you did was right with that brand.You were transparent and at the end of the day that’s all you can be to remain authentic and professional.
Thanks Anna – quite embarrassing but I always try to be honest with brands and with readers/followers 🙂
I absolutely respect you for this! It is the way it should be. I don’t begrudge bloggers getting the free stuff. I get it. But I appreciate the honest reviews
Thank you Sarah!
I think it’s crazy how many products bigger bloggers/influencers are sent. I agree that companies should ask if it’s something the received would actually use. It would help with product waste so much!
And if a blogger does share about something they were sent for free then I just want an honest answer even if it has some cons.
I do think these freebies need to be reconsidered. I used to receive freebies all the time as a buyer for a retail chain. Most of those things end up in trash because I have so many things to try that I don’t use it all up. Or it is just something I would never have used. The environmental impact was horrendous. It is important for companies to be more ethical and thoughtful in the way the push their products and engage influencers.
In an way I feel I can trust your reviews more, knowing you share the good and the bad and stand by what you feel is right. It’s refreshing to hear the other side of blogging as it often just looks like 24/7 glamor.
Personally I don’t look to bloggers to find out what products they endorse. This is especially true because I live in Australia and half of the products / services etc. aren’t even available here. I’m more in it for the “real” content as I am nosey and like to hear about others people’s lives / travels / running recaps.
I’ve said here before and I’ll say it again, I think that receiving products for free should be acknowledged and counted as “payment”. No, a pair of trainers won’t pay the mortgage, but the money you don’t have to spend on them does. I have no idea about the tax side of things so won’t comment on that, but I do think that bloggers should be honest about what they receive if they are going to feature it. And for heaven’s sake, don’t be raving on about how one brand is the “best ever” one week and say the same thing about another brand (of the same product) in the next post.
The idea that brands should actually check with you first before sending lots of rubbish using wasteful packaging is a very sensible one. Otherwise, if you receive things you don’t like or won’t use, you should be able to send them back, postage paid by the company.
I really appreciate that you don’t do that awful unboxing thing on IG, it’s such a turn off. I think this is a great topic and you’ve handled it well, popular or not.
Interesting scenario to consider (taxes from HMRC on these goods) but appreciate the honesty. I honestly unfollow or hide people who advertise too often on their feed as it generally doesn’t influence my opinion or perception of products because it seems forced.
Similar but not- When I worked a job with much longer hours, we were entitled to expense dinner on a corporate credit card but I also knew I had to pay tax on that dinner as it was counted as “income” so did the same debate in my head in whether paying the tax on the dinner really made the “free” dinner worth it. I understand the need for them to try to be more consistent with rules across mediums/jobs though if it all has to be self reported, I’m curious how many will ignore it (and end up in court for tax evasion later)
Thank you taking the time to explain this as I was clueless. I have a full time job and don’t wish to make money from my blog so I only ever accept free items and don’t do paid sponsors etc, however its a bit a shame that I may have to stop this otherwise I’ll need to declare it on taxes. I hardly ever get free items so when I do iI often feel obliged to take them and write about them out of gratitude, but I am strict with myself about only ever accepting items that I will like and use. All brands have always asked me and I think that’s the best approach. The huge sacks of items that are sent to the likes of Zoella and Tanya Burr is just rediculous and there’s no way those people can use or feature every single item.
Let’s hope you get found out and HMRC stamp down on it. Nice way to disclose your posts when you don’t even out #AD it’s more so just AD. You and the rest of the fitness bloggers all do it. It’s so damn sneaky.
Thank you for your concern- but my accountants are making sure I declare everything appropriately for 17/18 to HMRC. I always make sure to put AD when it’s a paid post – in the UK you don’t need to put #ad as long as you discolose that it is indeed sponsored. I’d be happy to discuss further if you weren’t posting as an anonymous troll.
I really appreciate you are being honest about your opinion regarding gifts from brands although this might no make you a popular blogger amongst the PR. But it makes you a popular blogger amongst your readers. This is the genuine content that keeps me coming back to your blog.
I think you’re so right! It’s also not easy seeing people unboxing even more trainers and freebies every day. I’ve stopped following people who seem to be constantly receiving gifts these days. It’s boring and obviously not realistic. If you’re on a low income, why endorse an overpriced goodie bag and claiming you love it when you’d never ever buy it in real life! I follow people because I find them interesting. I didn’t follow to buy everything they are asked to post!!
Thank you for your honesty. It is definitely a tricky situation. On the one hand, posts like “what is the best commuter backpack for running” are incredibly useful. I like gear posts and learning about what people think is best in order to make my own decisions. On the other end, there are a few (ok, more than a few) blogs which just seem like one gigantic advertisement, like the whole point is to sell something. I don’t love that and find myself soon unfollowing those bloggers. xo, Ali