Heater, Mother of Lance

I’m listening

Today I’m going to pull back the veil a little bit and address some very vocal, at times brutal, at times totally helpful criticism that was left on a recent sponsored post. I read through every comment, even the ones that made me wince, and I wanted to let my thoughts simmer a bit before I put anything down in writing. That doesn’t sound like me, does it? To stop and take a moment before reacting? Where’s the Heather who would start this post out with SPONSORED BY MY BUTT and tell everyone to suck it? That Heather is napping on my couch in her underwear and I just drew a swastika on her forehead with a black Sharpie. SHHH! NOBODY WAKE HER. Otherwise she is going to lose her shit all over twitter.

Many of you know that I have been making money from this website for close to eight years. In fact, this website has been my family’s primary source of income for almost that entire time. I was one of the first authors to sign with Federated Media and have remained a loyal partner with them ever since. Together we’ve enjoyed the growth of this industry and weathered the unpredictable nature of it’s ongoing transformation. I mention them here because I looped them in over the weekend, showed them what the response to that post looked like, and asked if they would go on record about why it’s good for people like me to work with big brands. I’ll get to what they had to say in a minute, but first I want to address the biggest complaint I heard:

Why don’t I label a sponsored post at the beginning of the post?

This is a very valid question. Many authors do label sponsored posts right at the top, but my personal policy is to disclose the sponsorship at the end of my story. I decided on this policy for a few reasons. There is a very fine line that authors like me have to walk when working with brands. I don’t think traditional publications have to deal with this complexity as much as someone like me who is an independent voice. I don’t work for a large corporation or answer to a board of directors, and the authenticity of that independence is at the core of why bloggers like me have an audience.

So when my ad partner comes to me with the chance to work with a big brand, I have to weigh several factors. Does this brand fit my voice? Does it make sense for my audience if I work with this brand? Will this brand in any way disrupt the way I tell my story? Add to that the increasing impossibility for blogs like mine to make money with traditional banner ads. If I don’t work with sponsors, then I can no longer afford to run my website.

I take my authenticity very seriously because it’s fundamental to my relationship with you. And when I sit down to write a sponsored post, my thinking goes like this: if I can tell my story the way I’ve always told my story, if I can share my life with you in the style that I’ve been writing for twelve years, if I can do this without the sponsorship affecting how you read my words, then I’ve done my job. Then I have been successful.

If I label the sponsorship at the beginning of the post, I’m wary that it will impact the way you read my stories. I am in no way trying to dupe you or deceive you or trick you. In fact, I work tremendously hard to do just the opposite, to preserve the genuine spirit of my voice. I make every effort to show that *Heather* is still here. Perhaps I am more successful in one post than I am in another, but I assure you that I give every word and paragraph the same seriousness.

However, I am open to changing this policy since there were so many objections. Going forward I will alert you immediately to the sponsored nature of a story and hope that you will read it knowing that I have done my best to write the content that you have come to expect from me.

Another complaint I heard was that there are too many sponsored posts. I think I’ve elaborated a bit already as to why I need to work with brands, but here is what Federated Media has to say about this component of the evolution of this industry:

Federated Media Publishing’s mission is to champion an ecosystem where independent and influential publishers thrive. To that end we support building relationships between these online voices and the brands that these publishers chose to partner with. We believe that the most high quality conversations online occur when both the brand and the publisher chose to collaborate. Just like print media, digital publishers cannot afford to create content on an ongoing basis without advertising dollars to support their work. Delivering content that inspires, informs, and delights readers day in and day out takes time, staff, photographers, research, materials, etc.

Just like any article you may come across whether in print or digitally, if the content doesn’t resonate with the reader, it’s their prerogative whether to engage with the content or not. Time, effort, research goes into all pieces of content that our publishers produce. And if an article happens to be sponsored, we believe publishers have an obligation to always disclose that so that readers understand the nature of the relationship between publishers and brands. If they chose to read the content, fantastic. If not, they can return to the site knowing that the content they enjoy will return because advertisers recognize the immense value of independent voices online. 

If you ask any professional blogger about what it’s like to run their business, I’m willing to bet that every single one of them will tell you that the amount of work and the hours spent making sure that their content is fresh and compelling and entertaining (plus bookkeeping, back-end work, and the mountain of administrative minutia required to keep things up and running) is all far more intense than they ever imagined it would be. I’m not saying that any of us are asking for a pat on the back as I’m sure that other small business owners in any other industry would say the same thing. Working with brands and writing sponsored posts are now what makes it possible for me to continue to spend these hours developing this product for you. These posts keep me in business and allow me to continue to tell stories.

Finally, I wanted to address the accusation that I was rewriting history and taking credit for all of the work and renovations performed on the homes that I have lived in. If you go into my archives and read about the kitchen remodel or the sewer line or the raccoon who lived in the chimney, you can see that I have not changed a word. I have not removed Jon from my archives, and he will always be there. He was an integral part of my life for eleven years. Going forward, however, he and I wanted to give each other the courtesy of not mentioning each other in any way online. That is the only reason I used “I” instead of “we” in that post. Of course I did not do all that work alone, and it was not my intention to give anyone that wrong impression. Again, I’m walking a fine line here of what is respectful as I navigate this very new, emotionally fraught territory. I may get things wrong from time to time, and I’m hoping that you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt.

I hope that I’ve explained why and how I approach working with brands, and even if you still disagree with me I wanted to give you my side of things. I’m going to open up comments in case you have any further questions or concerns that I can address. As always, thank you for reading and taking the time to share your opinion.

  • douglasmomma

    2013/05/02 at 8:54 am

    I think people take the world way too personally- I do not think the fact that a post is sponsored really changes that it is your voice talking about the topic Heather- and that’s what we come here to read— your voice. Even your sponsored posts I can almost always see why you are talking about the topic, meaning its not like you all of a sudden take on a sponsorship for a product that we can tell you would actually hate.
    I was dying to actually comment on your post with a legitimate response to the topic but there were so many comments so fast that were off topic that I felt it would get lost. Maybe some day you will talk about new houses- because let me tell you lady a brand new house is like a huge blank box. You would end up spending TONS of time and money customizing it after it was built. Not too different than your experience with older homes and remodeling. 🙂

  • Becky Lott

    2013/05/02 at 9:12 am

    I think you’re doing an amazing job. Of course you should be compensated if possible. I appreciate all that you share with us. Screw the people who don’t understand. Keep up the good work!

  • rick wion

    2013/05/02 at 9:27 am

    Thank you for this post and the great conversation that this has started. Coming from the brand side of the world, this really helps me understand the blogging ecosystem at a deeper level.

  • Becky

    2013/05/02 at 9:40 am

    Yay! An ENTIRE month sponsored by your butt!
    That is exactly what this DOOCE reader wanted…I even clicked an ad…smirk

  • Kurt Trumble

    2013/05/02 at 10:18 am

    Kudos for remaining an authentic voice through trail and tribulation.

  • mrs_k

    2013/05/02 at 10:35 am

    I actually prefer the sponsorship info to appear at the end of a post. But regardless, I can’t even begin to fathom why someone would care if a post is sponsored or not! You’ve always been incredibly authentic, and sponsored topics seem more like writing prompts or inspiration than anything. Considering the fact that you write for a living, I see nothing wrong with finding inspiration anywhere you can.

  • MelO

    2013/05/02 at 10:49 am

    I couldn’t give a rats butt if the post is sponsored or not. I’ll be here either way.

  • Jack Mayer

    2013/05/02 at 11:14 am

    I don’t usually comment…but I’ve been reading you from the “beginning”. I have NO issue with sponsored posts. I believe you tell it like it is – or as you see it. That is why I come back. And besides – the products (mostly) interest me….even though I am not a female with a child…. 🙂

  • Brad

    2013/05/02 at 1:00 pm

    Yep. I agree. And yet I do think it’s good to say if it’s a sponsored post at the top. Maybe it will scare away the idiots. It will also provide your grateful readers a heads-up that the motivation for the post is shared, even though we know that sentiment is always yours. The sentiment has always been yours.

  • Gm

    2013/05/02 at 1:01 pm

    No, in fact! Nice try, though.

  • Gm

    2013/05/02 at 1:04 pm

    I also pay for music, pay for cable, and pay for books. I just prefer to support radio without ads, to pay extra to be able to fast-forward commercials, and to read authors who aren’t shilling products.

  • Adina

    2013/05/02 at 1:22 pm

    Hi! I have been reading your blog since 2004. Yikes! I’ve been reading for 9 years. I have watched you and your website transform in a lot of ways. I myself have also transformed. I have been married, then divorced, and now about to marry again – all while reading your blog. I think I was reading you before you even had banner ads and definitely before your sponsored posts. I really appreciate your voice, and I haven’t noticed a tremendous shift in your voice (besides the inevitable shift that comes with personal evolution and the acquisition of a second dog). I think in life, we are just trying to figure out the best way in that moment in time to make our dreams a little bit more of our reality. I think you have done that in such an inspired and forward-thinking way. I am sure I have not agreed with all of your decisions but I have respected that they are your decisions and that your life is not my life. I rarely have read the comments to your posts, but I have commented a few times in the past, usually when you are giving something away. I love giveaways. Thank you for letting us into your life all these years. I am sure it has been a both pleasant and horrible unpleasant experience. You are a brave lady and I am glad you are able to earn a living by doing something at which you excel.

  • Hot like Bea

    2013/05/02 at 1:28 pm

    So what would you rather Heather do?

  • twinmomma

    2013/05/02 at 1:38 pm

    Maybe people could spend more time focusing on themselves and examining why they have a need to bash someone who’s trying to support her family in an honest and authentic way. Do what you do, Heather, someone’s always going to have something to say.

  • KymmiePNYC

    2013/05/02 at 1:41 pm

    You go Glen CoCo.

  • Dena

    2013/05/02 at 2:17 pm

    All I can say is, you are one of the few brilliant people who can find a way to elegantly tie in your business with a sponsorship without losing the integrity of your own personal brand. I used to work in a sports league where we would promote things like, “This Team’s Playoff Schedule is Presented by This Random Crazy Hat Company!” You know. Because that makes more sense than writing a post about finding a place to call home and having it sponsored by a company that helps people FIND A PLACE THEY CAN CALL HOME. OMG THE NERVE!

    I remember reading the original renovation posts years ago. Now I’m renovating my home, and I kid you not, when we have bathroom tile drama, I remember yours bathroom floor penny tile. Even back then you reached out to readers for their opinion, and some yelled at you for having money to renovate your home you UNGRATEFUL HUMAN BEING! AND THAT POST WASN’T EVEN SPONSORED! OMG THE NERVE!

    So you slapped a logo at the end of a post; sure as hell doesn’t take away from my connection to your stories or seeing pictures of a little Leta toddling through the old house. Because YOU are brilliant and talented like that. THANK YOU for continuing to write and entertain the world wide interwebs – and getting PAID for it because it’s your job. OMG THE NERVE!

  • Allie

    2013/05/02 at 6:11 pm

    What all the sponsored-butt-kissers, who are bashing those daring to speak out, are missing entirely is this: it is better for Heather to know what sort of “sponsorship move” drives readers away, than if nobody says out loud what bothers them (for example the end-of-post reveal of sponsored posts!) – but quietly drops from the readership.
    Have you failed to notice the steady drop in comments overall? that’s because Heather has left/lost her “author platform” of being honest, to a fault. Fart jokes/butt jokes keep people reading only for so long.
    I think Heather deserves to know what is killing her business. Otherwise, she’ll be looking for a different job sooner rather than later. Butt-kissing doesn’t really help her bring home the bacon…

  • Lori

    2013/05/02 at 7:53 pm

    Oh for crying our loud… who cares. You whiners have too much time on your hands. This woman gives us a slice of her life in a humorous and poignant way and makes a living for her family in the process. I just can’t believe what people choose to get fussy about.

  • Kathleen

    2013/05/02 at 8:47 pm

    I think a part of the negative reaction may be, honestly, jealousy. Kind of like saying, “Oh, I liked U2 until they sold out.” Wherein what you actually mean, “God, I wish I were Bono and making a shit ton of money doing something that I love instead of working in this cubicle and dreaming of success while I write angst felt songs in my basement on the weekends.” Kinda like Chuck, no? You do you, Heather! You do you.

  • Meg H

    2013/05/03 at 1:34 am

    Yes. One instance of passive voice isn’t bad, but repeated use is 1) awkward to read, 2) poor writing, 3) unrealistic (for example : “The door was opened” : no. A person, an air pressure change, an electronic device, something opened it.), and 4) frequently an attempt to deflect blame and/or responsibility.
    A professor gave an example as “You can’t say ‘I was failed on this paper’ because the true sentence is ‘My professor failed my paper because I can’t use active voice properly.'”

  • martadc

    2013/05/03 at 6:57 am

    same here!
    Heather, I love your voice and think you’re doing a very good job with your sponsored posts, thank you for all these years of smiles, laughs, tears and gorgeous pictures!

  • Erin

    2013/05/03 at 11:24 am

    I think that Heather feels like a friend to so many of us, so when some people see sponsorship, they feel like, “WAIT, SOMEONE’S PAYING YOU TO BE MY FRIEND?!?!!? YOU TRICKED ME! THAT MEANS YOU’RE NOT REALLY MY FRIEND AND THEREFORE YOU ARE EVIL!!” To that I say: Come on people, wake up! While I don’t doubt for a minute that Heather does respect and care for her audience, I know that she is not really my friend. She doesn’t know I exist. She gets paid to write the content that makes me feel like I want to be her friend. It makes me feel that way because she’s good at writing about her life and her experiences in a really relate-able, entertaining way. That’s why she gets paid for it. See how that works? And if she were really my friend and she worked for Major Corporation X, I wouldn’t expect her not to ever mention MCX or its products/services to me. I wouldn’t tear her down for saying that she likes MCX or that she used their product/service and it worked well for her.

    The large majority of the time, I can’t tell that a post was sponsored until I reach the end and see that it was. I like it that way. As Heather intended, I am able to read her blog as her authentic experience and not go into it thinking, “this is about Clorox Wipes.” If I wanted that, I would go to the Clorox website. I ask you to reconsider, Heather. People are dicks, you know this. I say leave it like it was because whether the post is sponsored or not doesn’t change how you are relating to us. Stating at the front end that it is a sponsored post does change how we read it.

  • Jen

    2013/05/03 at 11:46 am

    At the end of this post, you should have written ‘sponsored by your butt’
    I don’t care who does or doesn’t sponsor your posts either. You are a fantastic writer, photographer and mom.

  • Caramellsweets

    2013/05/03 at 12:26 pm

    If you get paid or not, sponsored or not, I’d still read your blog. You are a good writer and entertaining. If you can benefit from it, kudos to you. There are much bigger things to worry about in the world, so I can’t quite relate to those who get all upset by sponsored posts.

  • MarilynInTheUK

    2013/05/03 at 3:00 pm

    I really don’t see that it matters where you mention the sponsorship, beginning, middle or end. If people like your writing and want to read it then it shouldn’t make any difference. It doesn’t to me. We may never meet and you don’t know me but you share your family and your life on this blog and it’s all very personal content. If you couldn’t earn something from that then I’d be very sad. There are a lot of jealous people out there, unfortunately.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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