For some time now, I have been wondering if I should write to fragrance companies to get on their press list. This might be an easy decision for some – after all, you would be invited to press releases specifically for bloggers, receive samples of releases that have yet to be launched as well as numerous other freebies. Yet I – and perhaps some of my fellow bloggers – value having my own independent voice and being able to write my own honest opinions on a fragrance, without having to worry about offending some brand and being black marked for it. Just recently, Persolaise penned a thought-provoking piece titled ‘Who Do You Work For? – Thoughts on Blogs and Perfume Criticism’, where he made extremely valid, relevant and incisive remarks on the state of independent writing with regard to perfume criticism.
I have no doubt we’re still years away from a time when impartial fragrance reviews are a regular feature of mainstream media; I think most of us are resigned to that sad fact. But I’m aware that many of us net-based scentusiasts had hoped the internet would be the site where honest, independent voices could flourish and gain legitimacy. I’m now beginning to wonder if these hopes were unfounded. Yes, there’s still plenty of excellent fragrance writing on the blogosphere, the audience for which appears to be growing. But the “climate of fear” alluded to by James seems to have affected the output of several online writers, to the extent that quite a few are unwilling to write about a scent in negative or extreme terms… presumably because they’re worried about being struck off a brand’s press list and not receiving freebies any more.
I have considered that it might be possible for a blogger to both remain honest about his/her views while being on the press list of a certain company. After all, most bloggers do leave some sort of ‘qualification’ on their blogs that they are not obliged to write reviews about samples they are sent, nor are they obliged to write positive reviews. Yet when the freebies and perks become of a significant scale, to the extent that bloggers seem to be paid to write good reviews, it remains highly questionable if what they write is really true to how they really feel about a perfume.
I also echo Persolaise’s thought that everyone on the internet has the right to publish what they see fit, “even if this means acting as an extension of a brand’s or a retailer’s PR machine”. But what this really means is that it becomes harder for the reader to sift through and distinguish between reviews that are a genuine reflection of the reviewer’s thoughts and reviews that aren’t perhaps as honest or transparent. This would be fine if readers only want evocative, raving reviews of perfume. But for the large part, I believe readers can discern when a glowing review is warranted and when it is not. So the question is: should a blogger compromise his/her independence and credibility for the perks that might be
It so happens that I was out shopping at Harvey Nichols in London today (in the perfumery section, of course) when I happened to strike up a conversation with Monsieur F (name changed to protect his privacy), who works as a trainer for a British company that distributes niche fragrances. Over the course of our conversation, I let slip that I was a perfume blogger, to which he responded by asking if I was on the press list of certain brands. He also informed me that the best way to get onto a brand’s press list is by writing a favourable review of one of their fragrances and tweeting it to them in order to let them know of my existence and potential as a reviewer. I replied that I didn’t want to get on any brand’s press list as yet, until I had sorted out the impact that doing so would have on my credibility and independence as a perfume blogger.
And then Monsieur F said something (and I thank him for his candid honesty) that really stuck with me, and which I reproduce ad libitum: “These bloggers, they start out with their ideals, and they want their own voice, but eventually they all give in… especially when you have big companies like Hèrmes inviting them to exclusive press releases and handing out beautiful goodie bags…” [As a fragrant aside, we also talked about Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour Le Soir and how terribly ‘naughty’ and filthy it was].
If being on a brand’s press list means that I’m setting myself up for potential tensions in the future that might cause me to compromise on my writing, then I’m happy to be off them, even if this means that I’ll have to wait, like the average reader, for a perfume to be launched before I try it, and even if it means that my reviews of a new release come out weeks after everyone else’s has. I’m happy to retain my independent voice, be able to speak what’s honestly on my mind and be humorously irreverent when the occasion calls for it, even if this means that I’ll have to slowly hunt down the perfumes that I want to try, and even if it means that I end up reviewing perfumes that are ‘old’ or ‘passé’ (they never grow old or passé, just so you know). After all, I’m not anyone special or of any particular importance in the perfume industry – I’m just a regular guy like all of you are, who decided sometime back that it would be fun and nice to jot down my honest thoughts about the perfumes I encounter, whether good or bad (obviously, with some degree of subjectivity – it’s just one person’s opinion, after all). And I’m most certainly not an extension of a brand’s PR department, because if I really wanted to work in PR, I’d be earning money for my writing. No, this blog is as much a personal archive and journal of my scented journey as it is for everyone’s reading pleasure. It is a record and testimony of the privilege that I have of being able to enjoy things using my sense of smell. And it is my sincere hope that this independence and credibility that I value as a writer will equally be valued by the good people who read my blog.
~ The Smelly Vagabond