A while back on Twitter I was accused of writing a ‘dime a dozen’ review blog. The comment came from some chump who didn’t like my opinion on something or other and he was basically saying that I was happy to write glowingly positive reviews in return for something free even if I didn’t like the product. This chap very clearly hadn’t actually read my blog because if he had of done then he’d know that although I offer glowing reviews if I genuinely like something, I also am very honest when I don’t and will always say it like it is – plus, this notion of something being given for ‘free’ is bizarre as writing reviews takes time and skill.
Because I have ethics and consider myself to be a fair and honest individual, I assure you when I write a review that I write it with 100% honesty from the findings I have made. I take great pride in that and I told this guy very firmly what he could do with himself. Like I said, I’m straight talking and if you don’t like it, well, I suggest you read elsewhere!
I assume when I’m asked to review something that the company asking are well versed in my blog and the way I write it – I can’t imagine anyone would get into bed with someone they know nothing about? I also assume that if someone asks me to review for them then they are aware they are letting themselves be open to criticism as well as praise, that’s just the nature of it. I have never been offered something to review on the proviso that I only say good things and if someone placed this sort of condition then I wouldn’t bother. I’m not into bending truths or keeping people sweet because I want to keep them on side, I’m into writing honestly.
It is, however, awkward when you find that you really don’t like a product and because I like to be fair I would always offer the company in question the option of choosing how to proceed when that happens. I wouldn’t be able to omit certain aspects or lie but I would usually be happy to not write anything at all. I see no honesty issues in simply leaving everything unsaid and unless specifically asked for an opinion I would keep it that way. I’m certainly not in the business of blogging because I want to upset people or damage their reputations.
I write a professional blog and as such I make my living doing so. Rocknroller Baby Ltd is my company and I work under that name both on my blog and as a social media manager, freelance writer and consultant. I am in business, this is my job. I agree to take on some projects for free because I feel passionately about them, others because I am paid and the price is right and on occasions I blog in return for the item I am reviewing – very often when this happens there is a financial transaction as well. Like I said, this is business and my time using a product sufficiently to give it a rounded review is precious not to mention the use of professional time involved in actually producing the piece at the end of it.
Most times when I don’t like something I am asked not to publish and I say fair enough; however recently when I found I didn’t like something I was surprised when the PR team asked me to post my review anyway. Surprised but actually it made me respect them greatly for opting to publish regardless of negativity. I’d been reviewing an iCandy Raspberry (the review you can read here) and I really didn’t like it. I sent my contact a bullet point list of all I was not happy with and they had been concerned but wanted to send me another one to use because they felt the one I’d been using might be faulty. I was happy to give it a second chance but I asked them the question, ‘if I don’t like it how do you want me to proceed?’ I had an email back saying, and I quote:
‘we’re looking forward to reading your review. As mentioned in your below mail it would be fabulous if you could write an honest review as we wouldn’t want you to write anything else, all of your feedback has been greatly appreciated – therefore I don’t think I need to tell you how to proceed when it comes to the review?
So… I used the new buggy for a couple of weeks and found no difference between that and the last one I’d used. I also went into shops to have a play about with them on the stand as well as observing another blogger using the exact same model. I found that they all had the same problems for me and I personally found the buggy to be unsafe for the purpose it is advertised which is as an urban buggy. I wrote my review, which was as balanced as it could be and I made certain I included everything I liked as well as the negatives. I took a great deal of time over it, probably more so than when I like something greatly because I wanted to be absolutely sure I was being as fair as I possibly could be. I liked the company and I respected them very much for wanting me to write the review knowing I didn’t like their product – I wanted to make sure I did a good job for them. The value of the buggy came nowhere near to my hourly rate but that’s not why I took on this particular job, I took it on because I am a buggy geek and I love reviewing them. I never sell them on to make a profit and instead, when I’m done, I give them away to people who need a buggy. I actually give away (to people who are in need) a lot of the products I review, just ask my local SureStart centre if you want confirmation of that fact.
So I published late one Sunday evening and then I sent the PR team the link. Within a few minutes my contact had got back to me saying something I completely didn’t expect, I quote from her reply:
‘You’ll be please (sic) to know we will be organising for the Raspberry and iCandy Verity to be picked up due to your lack of professionalism. Please let us know which day this week the courier can pick up the iCandy products’
I couldn’t believe it, the same person who had told me to write my review and that they were looking forward to reading it had suddenly called me unprofessional because I had done as she’d asked and written it? Not only that but after completing the work she was telling me they would be taking the buggy back due to my unprofessionalism? And not just the buggy either but also a bag I had previously (and glowingly I have to point out) reviewed for them? This was a case of very unusual behaviour. I was starting to feel a bit set up because I just couldn’t work out why she would tell me to write it and then call me unprofessional for doing so?
It made me feel quite upset indeed but I am a professional running a professional company so I proceeded by explaining that I had carried out the work therefore I would be keeping the product which was my payment. It didn’t matter that I didn’t like the buggy, it was on principle and actually, if they’d asked me not to write the review and could they have the buggy back before I’d done the work then I would have simply billed them for my practical time and sent it back to them. I wasn’t going to do that after I’d completed the work and they’d called me unprofessional though.
Eventually another person in the PR department started to contact me and to cut a long story short they changed tack and said the reason they needed the buggy back was because they thought it was unsafe and needed tests done to find out for sure. I explained that it wasn’t a specific problem just with MY buggy and that it was a design flaw in my opinion but they wouldn’t back down from this line. They also accused me again of being unprofessional. After my bullet point list the buggy had gone into collapse mode when on the tube (this is because of the design of the handle as I had it lowered due to being on public transport – it IS billed as an urban buggy after all) and I immediately Tweeted them to let them know. I tagged them and expected them to come back to me but they didn’t. It wasn’t until they were accusing me of being unprofessional that they mentioned they had seen the Tweet at all. It can’t have been much of a worry to them though as they completely ignored it for 4 whole days before acknowledging it by using my Tweet as evidence that I am not professional. They’d have rather I emailed them so that they could sort it out straight away apparently, however Twitter is by far the quickest and easiest way of speaking to a company as well as being thoroughly transparent so I’m not sure what they meant by that, especially as they ignored the Tweet to start with?
This person then went on to tell me they were consulting with their legal department (which sounded like a threat to me) and that I HAD to give them the buggy back as they didn’t put in writing that it was for me to keep. I pointed out that they didn’t put in writing I had to give it back and that I knew no other blogger had been asked to do so. I told them very firmly that I would not be sending it back unless they paid me the value of it or provided me with a new one first. We were at stale mate and despite using tactics I am sure were intended to scare me into doing what they wanted they finally backed off and left me alone. I was relieved as I felt so badly treated by a company I had thought were good people to work with and I had felt, whether intended or not, thoroughly set upon, threatened and alone. It was a very unpleasant experience.
Luckily I had masses of support on line. So many bloggers, readers and even other companies I work with started contacting me by email, as comments on the blog and even by telephone to offer me their support. I may have felt terribly let down by iCandy but at least I knew there was masses of support for me and that felt immensely good.
I was absolutely shocked then when a parenting platform who advertise for iCandy started abusing me on Twitter because of my review. Loved By Parents, out of the blue, sent me a series of messages telling me my review wasn’t even a review and also accusing me of upsetting a staff member at iCandy. They next accused me of slander. I was gob smacked not least because this is a professional parenting website yet they didn’t seem to know the difference between slander and libel? Bit strange for professional writers but there we are. After I had pointed out that I thought they probably meant libel yet I was guilty of neither that NOR slander I asked them politely to stop. They refused and continued with the attack on Twitter. I then pointed out to them that to accuse someone of slander on Twitter when not true is libellous and suggested they had been a bit silly but they should stop there. Again they didn’t so I more firmly pointed out the same and let them know in no uncertain terms that I would only take so much. At that point they did cease the attack but I saved all their Tweets for evidence just in case.
Afterwards, when reading their timeline to see if I could work out why they had launched this on me I noticed that at the same time they were Tweeting me with these remarks they were also having a simultaneous conversation wide open on twitter with iCandy’s twitter account. Not only that but I noticed in the Tweet where they accused me of slander that they had actually tagged iCandy. iCandy were talking to them on a different thread at the exact same time so they were on line and would have seen it but they didn’t tweet that it wasn’t their opinion too meaning I can only assume they were also accusing me of slander (even though we can safely assume they meant libel). I was even more gob smacked and at that point knew I had no choice but to seek my own legal advice.
That’s when I found Barjinder Sahota of Sahota Solicitors (@LibelSolicitor). I sent him an email asking him if he could quote me for a letter to both iCandy and Loved By Parents, I was absolutely NOT going to be accused of slander when it wasn’t true. Their accusation was libellous and too many people go around on Twitter writing what they want without a second thought and that needs to change. As I mentioned, this is my business and my livelihood and Loved By Parents had attempted to tarnish my reputation by libellously accusing me of slander while iCandy had seemingly gone along with it. Luckily, Mr Barjnder Sahota has agreed to represent and defend me against any libel action over my review of the iCandy Raspberry and as an expert in the field of cyber bullying (just take a look at this article written by a former client of his), I know I am in very good hands indeed.
My aim is never to upset or hurt other people as a result of what I write on my blog but at the same time I am no walk over and I WILL fight fire with fire. If someone wants to accuse me of something I am not guilty of then I WILL make a stand to ensure everyone knows it is not true. I will not stand for being treated like this in real life and I certainly won’t allow it to happen on line! It feels very strange to be in this position as all I did was write an honest review when asked to. I fulfilled everything asked of me by iCandy and yet it exploded into something horrible involving other people who hadn’t even heard my side of it. I had no choice but to stand up for myself on this occasion and I would do the same again.