#NotSponsored: Let’s Talk About Me Being A Shill.
Just kidding. Made you look, right?
Let’s talk about the sponsored work I do.
Often, but thankfully not too often, I’ll be accused by some idiot on social media of being a ‘shill,’ especially when I promote a product that’s controversial. Campaigns for things like dairy products and MSG have been particularly triggering for people, but I get hate for pretty much anything I promote. People are weird that way.
Just to be clear, a shill, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is “an accomplice of a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others.”
And while I’m not a shill, I’d like to talk about WHY I take sponsored work and what it involves.
In my world, there are a few ways to make money. I could see clients, which I don’t do much of anymore. After 20 years, I’d rather focus on other stuff. It’s also really tough to rely entirely on client work to pay the bills. I’d literally have to build a huuuge practice with several associates for it to be my sole source of income. It would consume all of my time, so no.
I write, and I get revenue from the ads on my site, which is great, but I’ve recently cut the ads down because my page looked like fucking Disneyland. Sorry about that, I switched ad companies and was working out the kinks. I also work on campaigns for industry, which means that I develop sponsored content like blog posts and recipes for different clients. Companies pay me for my expertise as a dietitian, and my endorsement, because as an RD with a large platform, I have ‘influence.’
This is where the ‘shill’ part comes in.
Contracts with food companies aren’t easy to get. I’m always super-grateful and happy when I’m asked to work with a brand, because I know that they’ve passed up other people for me, and it’s a compliment on the work I’ve done and the content I put out.
Some of my past clients include Butterball turkey, Arla cheese, The Almond Board of California, and Barilla, among others. The work is fun, because I get to learn about how these products are made and all about the companies that make them. Sometimes, I get invited to orchards in California to see stuff growing. I’ve gone to Italy to attend the Pasta World Championships. I’ve seen fields of lentils and hemp hearts in Canada’s prairies. I get to see stuff that not very many people have access to, and I appreciate that.
It’s also fun for me to flex my creative muscle, thinking up recipes, developing them, and photographing them. It breaks up my writing days, and I really enjoy it. It’s sort of like ‘Chopped,’ where I get a food and have to invent a recipe using it.
Working with companies is lucrative, for the most part. It’s a fun way to make money. I try to limit how many sponsorships I take on, because one thing I absolutely can’t stand is when everything a blogger posts is sponsored. I think it dilutes their brand and it’s just not authentic.
So, I’m careful about that, and about who I work with.
On my mind at all times is not the amount I’m getting paid, but my reputation and the reputation of my profession. You can always get more money, but a reputation is priceless.
Also, I know you all trust me to give you credible and accurate information, and I never want to squander that trust.
These philosophies inform my decision to work with one company and not another.
Sometimes I’ll get offers from companies whose products I wouldn’t ever use. I pass immediately on those. An example of one of those products is a keto energy bar or something like diet soda.
At times, a company’s messaging will be unacceptable to me. If I’m asked to make claims about a product that aren’t evidence-based, I don’t do that. And, I’ll check the research myself before I accept the contract.
Or, I’ll get asked to represent a product that doesn’t align with my brand. Some of these include supplements and fast food companies. Nope.
I have done work with an ice cream brand though, because ICE CREAM.
Most often, I work with commodities like orange juice, nuts, eggs, or fruits, whose products are no-brainers in any household. I love these foods, and they’re nourishing, so why not represent them? Getting a commodity contract is always a win/win. Other products like the ones I mentioned above, I buy anyhow, so again – if it’s a quality product that I eat all the time, I’m happy to be a spokesperson for them.
I recently worked with MSG. I loved being part of debunking the gross racism of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome and that MSG is harmful in some way. Although I correctly anticipated that I’d get hate for promoting something that’s so controversial, in reality the reception was overwhelmingly positive. If it hadn’t been, I would’ve dealt with it.
Just because you might not like a product I represent, doesn’t mean that I secretly hate it too and am just out for the money, like the term ‘shill’ implies. I never blindly sign with any company without serious consideration of what the actual product and messaging are, as well as the optics for my brand and for my profession. A sponsored post is never worth my reputation.
I think what these ‘shill’ callers don’t understand is that everyone needs to make money. These people maybe don’t like the fact that companies pay me to promote their products, but I’m careful and transparent about it. I can’t think of any products that I’ve agreed to work with, that I didn’t try first. If I don’t like something – the way it tastes, looks, or how it’s promoted, there’s no possible way I’d ever promote it. If I’m contacted by a company whose product I’ve never tried, I go out and get it to see if it’s something I’d actually eat.
Sometimes, I absolutely hate the product and have to pass. I’ve tasted some really gross stuff *ahem stevia soda*
I don’t go to an office anymore from 9-5, but what I’m doing, in my mind at least, isn’t a bad thing.
At the very least, I’m giving you information to make an informed decision about what you choose to buy at the grocery store, and a delish recipe to go with it.
That being said, I try always to strike a balance, filling the pages of my blog with unsponsored posts that address the nutrition issues you all are interested in reading about.
Hopefully, I’ve given you a few little gems of insight into my business, my philosophy, and the reason why I do sponsored work.
Any questions? Just ask me.