In my day job as a beauty-writer, one of my biggest bug-bears is having to get ‘expert’ quotes to give a beauty feature some gravitas and weight. After all, I am being paid to pass on expert knowledge and product recommendations so that the beauty features are not all about the pretty pictures but can offer something useful and worth knowing.
These days though, there are so few actual independent experts who can give decent, impartial advice. Twice this week, trying to do a feature, I’ve come up against experts whose advice was to use their products. That, my friends, is not helpful. I wanted expert advice on how to give your lips a ‘facial’ before Valentines day – I know how to achieve that, but it’s not my view that counts. One ‘expert’ just listed all her own products including a brush from her range to brush the products on with, and another recommended brushing your lips with your toothbrush after you’ve brushed your teeth. Arghh. Needless to say, don’t follow that last piece of advice – use a clean, dry toothbrush and very gently sweep it over your lips to remove any loose skin flakes.
It is kind of an unwritten rule when garnering expert quotes that if an expert does pass on their knowledge, you manage to slip one of their products into the copy along the way – that’s absolutely fine, and I’d probably be recommending their stuff anyway, otherwise why go to them as experts. But, these days it is virtually unheard of for an expert to give their view without seeing it as a personal placement opportunity.
Some of the blame has to lie at the doors of the PRs who represent them. They’re paid to raise a therapist or expert’s profile, and by hook or by crook, they’re going to do that. So, if I use the PR as a conduit, I can be certain that there will be a hefty product placement involved. It is not my job to raise the profile and flog the products of your expert, people! It is my job to write beauty features that are meaningful and accurate with the best possible advice to beauty lovers and readers. Asking for expert opinion is not a commercial transaction.
Some brands have truly astounding experts who know every single thing there is to know about skin care and beauty, and I’d love to be able to tap into that knowledge, but it is more or less impossible unless I go back to the same experts time and time again. And I can’t keep using the same people in features otherwise it looks like impartiality. So, it’s a no win situation at the moment that makes me absolutely livid.
Needless to say, the expert recommending all her own products was dropped entirely from the feature, so both the therapist and the PR achieved absolute zero coverage on products or advice, thereby shooting themselves neatly in the foot. One product would have been acceptable but only because if I didn’t apply that rule, I would have literally no experts to call upon. Ideally though, I shouldn’t have to. It is cheeky, annoying and not in the best interests of the readers.