“Dear Simon. We are big admirers of Permanent Style here at Luxit PR and think that several of our brands would be a great fit. Could you let me know what your rates are for articles on the site, and what other options you have for sponsored content?”
I get this kind of email more and more these days. Random inquiries from PR companies are always a nuisance, but they used to ask about coverage and advertising. Now the majority inquire purely about ‘advertorial’ or sponsored articles.
The fashion industry has always been like this. Advertising contracts with the big magazines usually include a guaranteed number of pages of editorial throughout the year. Brands that advertise complain that they don’t get enough ‘support’ when they’re not in one piece or another.
But blogs used to be different. Indeed, many used to proudly carry a badge declaring ‘Ad-free blog’. I’ve always had advertising on Permanent Style, but I feel (and readers have told me they agree) that this is the most transparent way to fund it. There is no advertorial. There are no sponsored links. There are no affiliate programmes.
PRs themselves often find the new world frustrating. “There used to be lots of little blogs run by enthusiasts, who wrote what they thought and loved being involved with the brand,” a PR at a Jermyn Street company was telling me last week.
“Then at some point they get big and decide to monetise it. That’s fine I suppose – but they have no clear policy on anything. It’s not clear if brands are paying for content, what product is provided for free, how advertising works. It’s confusing for me and I’d guess it’s confusing for readers. I just want to sit down with them and ask: are you, or what is, for sale?”
I have a lot of sympathy with such bloggers. (Or indeed Instagrammers – which is generally worse; there are no ads on Instagram). It’s hard when you’re starting out, to turn down money or free things when they are offered. But at some point you have to decide on a business model and communicate that clearly.
“I often get to know these guys quite well – it’s a very personal relationship,” says a PR at a mid-size tailor (I asked a few). “One day they’ll phone me up and say ‘Guess what! I’ve decided to make the leap and quit my job.’ I have to stop myself from sighing. Everything gets more complicated from then on.”
“Things are particularly hard as media and platforms merge together,” she adds. “When every shop has a magazine and every magazine has a shop, it’s hard to know where content is coming from.”
I believe there can be a better model. One that sits between brand-led magazines and ad-free blogs. Where opinions can be open and honest, independent and substantial.
I’ve always been clear that no one can buy content on Permanent Style. We have some great advertisers that fund everything we do – from clothing to photography to travel. The fact they’re advertisers makes no difference to how much I write about them.
(You’re free to disbelieve that of course, but at least you know who the advertisers are. There’s no way to tell that a link is sponsored.)
We have collaborations with brands, which obviously make money. So do the books – though they often, like Permanent Style 2015, involve a good deal of investment and risk.
And finally, we often get discounts on clothing. But as I have said many times, that’s never going to make a difference to what I write about. The blog’s income means I can afford anything I wish to cover, and I have far far too much clothing to accept things just because they’re free.
As many of you know, I also have a regular job as the product manager for a FTSE 250 publisher called Euromoney. Which helps to not worry about where and how fast the blog is growing.
This is a lovely position to be in. But hopefully it has benefits for readers too. It means I can write about all products equally, and from personal experience. It means I don’t have to listen to people saying I should have a Permanent Style clothing line. And it means I can write bad opinions as well as good ones. (I never understand people who think just not writing anything is the same as writing a bad review.)
Image: Outside milliner Pauline Brosset in Paris, photograph by Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man