Nadine Jolie Courtney

Beholden No More: The End of Sponsored Posts

Last week, the day after the Newlyweds finale, my blogging agent fired me.

The reason? My social media numbers weren’t high enough.

Back in 2010, the idea that bloggers might need agents seemed preposterous, but the industry was changing at lightning speed: bloggers suddenly had influence, brands were desperate to harness it, middlemen were (apparently) needed to intervene.

Suddenly, brand partnerships and sponsored posts were everywhere. The money was excellent (I’ll be doing a post on this), but looking back on it, it feels like I went from being a full-time blogger to a full-time shiller. The landscape changed, and you had to fight much harder to find quality content. It was (and is) there—but there was (and is) a lot of noise, too. (Read this Harper’s Bazaar piece about Instagram sponsored posts and tell me you don’t want to bang your head against a wall.)

I’ve been uncomfortable with the sponsored post game for years now. It took the joy out of blogging and distracted me from the reason I was doing it in the first place: to connect. To share. To create a space that was different from what you could find in magazines. I got into blogging because I loved beauty, but when I’d sit down at my computer to write, I felt depressed. The PR packages would pile up. The products would go untested. It felt stale and I needed more.

Even before the show finished, I resolved that I needed to make a serious change. I loved the money that came along with a sponsored post, but hated the feeling that I was selling my soul, one product launch-review at a time. I knew that friends and bloggers I admired were able to maintain that tenuous balance, but for some reason, I just couldn’t.

The initial motivation for doing the show was a hope that it would catapult my good-in-the-real-world but lackluster-for-a-blogger social media numbers. My finances had all but dried up, Erik was completely supporting me, and I hadn’t yet sold Wisteria. I needed a Hail Mary, and badly.

I spent the better part of a year fretting about my Instagram photos: a wine glass stem here, an artfully arranged flower bouquet there, all designed to perfectly highlight that just-launched beauty product without making readers (oops, sorry, slip of the tongue there: followers) feel like they were being marketed to.

I used to say I loved beauty because you can be beautiful for free. It’s not necessarily about consumption. You don’t have to buy anything to look or feel beautiful if you’re armed with the right knowledge and attitude. But that wasn’t what it was starting to feel like.

I moved further and further down the rabbit hole of seeking sponsored posts, trying to please my agents, trying not to anger brands, and muzzling what I really thought about various launches (sometimes impressed, but often wildly underwhelmed)…because if I pissed everybody off, my income stream would vanish.

I know that we live in a world where you wouldn’t have I Love Lucy without Philip Morris: somebody has to pay the bills, and if you’re doing this as a job, that comes with certain grown-up, realistic, way-of-the-world trade-offs.

But it gnawed at me. You read those posts: I wrote about my discontent over and over and over.

When I finally relaunched this site, I decided to remove the ads. If I’d still been making thousands of dollars a month, that would have been a much harder call: I’ll be the first one to admit that. But I wasn’t making thousands of dollars a month anymore: I was making less and less money blogging, had those damn stagnant social media numbers, and stopped going to beauty events and having energy to play the game altogether while I instead focused on my personal life. I started making noises on Facebook about the evils of sponsored posts, and the need to connect with readers instead of please brands. I let it be known, loudly, that things needed to change.

And then last week: the nail in the coffin. Fired. A chapter closed.

I wasn’t surprised when my agent let me go. It was a pleasant, amicable conversation about the state of the industry, the requirements for high social media numbers, and brands’ need for ROI—and I get it. If I were on the brand side, with bosses and spreadsheets to answer to, I’d probably make the same call.

It’s a business, this beauty industry, and how could I begrudge anybody else their bottom line when I have mine, too?

Although I initially felt fine after the chopping block phone call, later that night, malaise set in. How on earth was I going to make money moving forward? Were Erik and I doomed to be a one-income family—right when expenses were higher than ever because of Aurelia? Could I even get a real job? Should I take a position in marketing? Work as a travel agent? Get a job at Starbucks?

When I first moved to LA, after I’d sold two books to HarperCollins and was taking meetings at CAA—looking for all the world like a mid-20s success story—I simultaneously worked at a juice bar and as a receptionist, walking four miles a day through West Hollywood because I didn’t have a car. At my core, I’m a hustler, and I’ll do whatever necessary—pride and ego be damned—to keep moving on up. It was scary and wildly surreal to feel like my back was to the wall right when everything else was going so well, but that’s life, isn’t it? Onward.

Then Erik made a good point. While it was a blow to my ego, it was a wonderful opportunity to refocus and unleash my creativity. It meant I was no longer shackled to brands. I didn’t have to muzzle myself for fear of pissing anybody off. I could get back to the honesty that started me on the blogging journey more than 10 years ago.

I could stop worrying about curated Instagram beauty photos and instead post AS MANY DAMN PHOTOS OF MY DAUGHTER AS I WANT (which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past week). I’m sure I’m losing some followers after I’ve posted the fifth photo in a row of my chubby baby—like no human being in the history of the world has ever procreated—but that’s okay. It makes me happy: and it doesn’t have to be about the numbers anymore.

My blogger friend Felicia Sullivan—whose own site Love Life Eat is a brand-free space—shared an excellent blog post today: Why I Abandoned My Popular Social Media Presence. (I urge you to read it.) It’s all about quieting the noise, something that I know resonates among many friends and fellow bloggers, regardless of how much some of them are joyfully, deservedly killing it online. And beyond that: it’s about the idea that sometimes the numbers don’t mean a damn thing.

So here we are.

I’ve pressed the reset button. It’s the natural evolution of what I’ve been writing and thinking about for the past couple of years, and which has recently reached a boiling point.

For obvious reasons, I don’t have as much time for blogging as I used to. I live my life in Aurelia’s naps, and am still hurrying to finish my Wisteria draft before the due date. But if you click on my Q&A section and send me your beauty questions, I’ll get back to you at some point, post it here, and flood this space with as much honesty and truth as I can.

Beauty brands and PR firms might never send me another product for free. I might never get another brand deal, even if it’s a company I do actually like and believe in. Beauty press trips? A thing of the past. I need to make my money elsewhere and that’s scary: I’m still figuring that part out, and plan to freelance and pursue my career as an author. (A sure path to miiiillions of dollars! Just kidding. A sure path to about $20K a year.) I had a pretty good thing going for a while, and now I don’t. It’s partially the industry, and it’s partially me.

But I hope to to blog until the day I die. And I’m not going to let anybody tell me I’m not valuable to you.

Because I’m no longer beholden.

Because the industry is changing.

Because we may be few, but I know that people like me—who love beauty, but crave real answers—are still out there.

Because there’s too much noise and not enough points-of-view.

Because if you don’t evolve, you die.

Sometimes you need a push to make that leap. So here we are. I was pushed, and now I’m leaping and I’m moving forward.

This is not just a beauty blog anymore, and I want to be honest with you across the board. So let’s do that together. Let’s not mince words. Let’s talk about the things that people are afraid to talk about.

Get at me with your questions. Let’s get real.

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32 Comments

  1. Jodie

    Love your blog! Just found it as a result of the show – I freaking love you on there. Surely you’re even more real and awesome in person but all the same…I got a nice taste of your personality! How old is your baby now? I’ve got four year-old twin boys and I’m just starting to take a breath. I think moms are often afraid to REALLY admit it’s not a good time, a lot of the time, for the first few years. There’s bliss, then there’s new teeth, and ugh…it never ends. Cheers to a fellow mom!

  2. Danielle

    I have to first say that you are the first beauty blogger I ever followed back on Jolie in NYC. That being said, I have watched the beauty blogging industry explode with bloggers just looking for free merchandise and money. After hearing 5 of them read the same script and say “I love it” over and over, I feel like they assume we are all brainless lemmings. I have always loved your writing style and I have nothing but respect and admiration for you as you chose what you love over money. I can’t wait to hear what you have to offer in the future and finally, I love the pics of that chubby baby! Good luck in all you do and love that family of yours to pieces.

  3. Melinda Walker

    This is a perfect blog post. Good for you! Will be a continued reader!

  4. Emily

    “Then Erik made a good point. While it was a blow to my ego, it was a wonderful opportunity to refocus and unleash my creativity.”… // I could just hear Erik helping you work through this when the initial relief shifted to anxiety. You two are such great sounding boards and soothers for each other, whenever the other one needs it. And he’s right–cheers to your creative opportunity!

  5. Jessie

    1. Spend your time kissing baby cheeks bc it goes so fast. Drink it all in, every little moment and treasure this time.

    2. You didn’t write Nick and Jessica Break-up Watch for the money, you did it for the love of the game! You will innovate again when the time is right. You are best when you are you, not posing with a product. You’re no lemming or poseur. Be you and where you are meant to be will unveil itself naturally.

  6. cindy

    I can relate. When I switched from reviewing the conventional beauty products in favor of toxic free, green and clean products, I lost many great brand connections, friendships with PR girls, sponsored trips and opportunities.

    But at the end of the day, I knew how toxic certain products were and felt terrible not being true to myself. How could I write about brand XYZ when I knew there was lead in their lipsticks and parabens in their skincare? But I HAD to be true to myself and my way of life. I felt I needed to be honest to my readers. All you can do is be yourself and do what makes you happy. Your readers will find you. XO

  7. aprila

    I am a blogger and I agree completely. I started to be more mindful of sponsored posts, reviews etc. I stopped caring so much about my numbers and just posted what I wanted to post.
    I absolutely love watching you on the show and can’t wait for next season. I also love reading beauty posts and of course seeing beautiful pictures of your daughter.

  8. Adrienne

    Aww! This is why I have been a fan of yours for years :) first it was just because of the beauty blogging (and I won a giveaway for Stila back in 2008!!) but when you write your voice is so down to earth and loveable. I relate to you through your blogging and have felt joy for you after learning about your wedding and then the baby!! Congratulations on starting a new chapter and I’m sure you will keep doing a fantastic job because it comes naturally to you. I’m sure your momma is smiling down on you and your family now cheering you on. Best of luck and I’m looking forward to keeping up with your blog :)

  9. Yessenia

    Great blog! I appreciate your honesty. I just started my own blog yesseniaslifestyle.com with the intent to share my thoughts with my 2-3 readers (lol) I have. However, I am feeling the pull to blog for extra income BUT it’s been a tug of war. Because blogging is so new to me, I often wondered how people make money and how they feel about it. Thanks for sharing your true thoughts and blogs. Best of luck in your new endeavors.

  10. Megan

    Wow, that sounds like a boat load of pressure! Which is the last thing a new mommy needs! I’ve always been curious about how lucrative blogging can be….thousands of dollars a month?! Sounds wonderful! But not if you have to edit yourself and conform to someone else’s idea of what a blogger should be. So, I guess I should say congratulations you were fired!

    I have to say, from the first episode of “Newlyweds” I did not think I was going to like you or your husband. I (wrongly) assumed he was “too techie” and for some stupid reason, I thought you were the type that submits to her husband! Boy was I wrong! I love you guys as a couple and think you will be one of the few that is still happily married in 20-odd years. I have NO idea where I got my stupid judgements from….but I’m glad I was wrong. I am amazed at how honest Erik is about his parents and his feelings about his mom becoming a Nun. I cannot imagine being 17 and having my mom tell me she was leaving our life to become a Nun! Kudos to him on being so open minded and forgiving towards her! And you are awesome for joining in on his love of Star Wars! And the costume while pregnant?!? :)

  11. Jami

    I followed your blog for (3?) years… And sometime in the last 3 years I quit. I missed the personal touch… The “you” I felt I had come to know so well seemed harder to find in your posts. Recently, seeing your posts about Aurelia on fb, I’ve been tuning back in. So this change (return to authenticity?) has brought at least one old friend back in!

  12. steph mignon

    I remember when social media was actually about connecting with people, about quality over quantity, about the connection. Now for every follow, I get an unfollow because that’s all it these days. It’s frustrating at times, 1. Because I too have an agenda (world domination through authordom), and 2. Playing the game is a necessary evil, even if I secretly hate everything about it except the actual writing part. I’m not a regular reader of style/beauty blogs, but I will be now, of this one at least.

  13. Lauren

    hi Nadine!

    Haven’t spoken to you since you were working on Beauty Confidential, but I’ve continued to follow your blog and watched your season of Newlyweds.

    Just wanted to say.. The moments where you are most REAL (this amazing post, the no makeup crying shots of you on the show) you are at your most beautiful.

    Congrats on your marriage and on the delectable baby Aurelia!

    – Lauren Williams

  14. Lynda

    I’ve been a longtime reader and Twitter follower and always appreciated your authenticity. I think quite a few of the ‘original’ bloggers are reassessing and evolving which can only be an awesome thing. Staying the same = stagnation. I look forward to reading whatever you write.

  15. Alexis

    Bravo! As a formerly avid blog reader, you have expressed the reason why I, and so many readers, are turned off by blogs these days. They’ve turned into product placement ads and all traces of honesty and realness are gone. I can’t wait to see what you post next, Nadine!

  16. Elizabeth

    Nadine –

    I dated one of your cousins a few years ago and they introduced me to your page. I have been addicted since 2009! Even when you were “branded”, your posts still exuded so much of YOU. You could tell (even if you didn’t believe in some of the products 100%) and you could hear your ‘voice’ in yours posts.

    Pish posh to your agents and sponsors – you’re so good, smart, and creative that you don’t even NEED one! I love your funny, smart, and adorable posts – even if they are mostly pictures of chubby babies! :P

    You’re awesome! Excited to see where your next post runs to!

  17. Claire

    Well, now you’re a mid-30s success story, with a beautiful family and an always refreshing blog! Kudos!

  18. Leanna

    Great post! I started reading your blog because of seeing you on Newlyweds. I love the blog, follow on Twitter and Facebook, I also found your book and love it! You are an excellent writer, with an easy to read style.

  19. Erin

    Nadine,

    It’s really amazing how the dollar signs can effect your work, which is totally understandable. I’m at a crossroads now b/c I would like to re-brand my blog, possibly change the name, and start to produce content that isn’t exclusive to beauty. But I do get nervous about losing my current audience. I love the idea of pushing the reset button and just being true to me and what I love at the moment. Thanks for writing this honest, inspiring post!

  20. Mitch Mitchell

    Looks like I’m the only male who’s going to comment here, thanks to Flipboard. I never went down the road of writing sponsored posts because I wondered if I would eventually compromise myself for the money. In a way you confirmed my belief that I might not have enjoyed blogging as much. Good for you in making the switch back.

  21. Liz S.

    I’m so sorry you had to deal with such negativity, with blogging :( However, please know just how many loyal readers you have – keep doing what you do with this blog. I’ve always loved every post, and know I will continue to look forward to each one! :)

  22. Chrysta Baker

    I hear ya, girl, and I feel your pain…not the birthing pain, but the blogging pain! Hey, you can’t be a starving artist without the starving part. I found your blog after watching Newlyweds and I’m here to stay. Stay true to your voice, keep fighting the good fight, and blog on sister…we’re all in this together!

  23. Tanja

    I’ve followed you since 2006 (?!) because I instantly connected with the “you” in those early yearly years. A reset is proof that you are awesome, talented and brave. You will triumph! Congratulations on your beautiful family.

  24. Kristen Wu

    Nadine! Omg I loved watching you on Newlyweds and this post just MADE my day. I recently started blogging and have been getting down on myself that things aren’t happening fast enough but you reminded me of why I started in the first place. I’m definitely going to use this post as a continual reminder that I’m doing this to do what I love and to share with others. This post just made me subscribe!

    Thank you,
    Kristen

  25. Lena

    Hi Nadine,
    I’ve been reading your blog since circa 2006, mostly for the beauty reviews. I think those were the golden age of awesome beauty blogs where personality shine. Then the industry discovered bloggers and I would say since 2010 or so, I could not believe the reviews anymore, and the swatches galore are becoming sickening. I was writing blog posts for a community site, but couldn’t really stomach being linked with them anymore, with all the sponsored posts of crappy stuff.

    Anyway, the blogging landscape is evolving and will still evolve, and I am sure you will find your niche in it, don’t worry so much. Be your awesome self, and readers will flock.

  26. Kim

    OMG, can I please share this!!!!! I have absolutely no idea how I found you but you hit the nail on the head but let me tell you what happens on the other end. I am a small brand and it use to be that if I discovered a mommy blogger I liked I would send an e-mail and they would be overjoyed to get free products and the arrangement was if they liked it they would review no pressure. It was simple, it was easy and it was personable. Hey we are all women mostly just trying to fuel our passion and pay for ballet lessons right? Well what the hell happened? One day I reached out to bloggers and there were agents, fees and OMG really nasty e-mails back at how dare I ask them to review a product for free. I went into hiding from bloggers for a year. My take is that P&G and all the big guys as well as some really greedy bloggers ruined the honesty and the true connection to what this blog thing was supposed to be. I can’t compete with Proctor and Gamble and I can’t even fathom paying a 16 year old Youtuber $2,000 for a one minute video. “OMG, Seriously” as said in my best 13 year old imitation voice. Big business, and phony people have ruined it for the little guys. I just want to tell you I was so happy to stumble upon your blog. Please know that there are brands like me out there who are passionate, real and do really appreciate bloggers who are true to their readers. I just wanted to let you know that I found your post really refreshing and if you don’t mind I would like to share a link to it on my twitter page.
    Warmest Regards,
    Kim
    Owner, Good For You Girls Natural Skincare

    P.S. Your daughter is adorable. Enjoy every precious second—it truly goes by faster than you can imagine.

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