Here’s what happened. A friend sent a link over to a food challenge. Sounded like Chopped–use these three ingredients (ham, beer, rosemary) in an original recipe, post the recipe and photo of the dish, and possibly win a prize. Why wouldn’t Phil enter, he loves this kind of stuff. The bonus? A really cool prize that Phil and Zane had been wanting for a few years now–a Belgian waffle maker. And if you know anything about Phil and Zane, you know they spend a lot of time making big batches of those teeny waffles and freezing them. Every time they make a batch they talk about one day finding the perfect Belgian waffle maker. And yes, we recorded the Alton Brown episode about everything waffles and waffle irons.

So Phil spends a ton of time creating this bean recipe (and my goodness, it was phenomenal!) There were only two other entries in the contest, both of them for beer bread. The contest closed January 28. Phil and Zane kept checking the contest site to see if they’d won.

An email for Phil arrived late in his inbox, ten at night, on February 1 saying:

Hi

Because I had so an overwhelming amount of feedback about the beer ingredient, which caused for low entries, I’m reaching out to the three of you who did enter and see if I could offer you $25 as a prize. I’m embarrassed about doing it but I really need more participation for the sponsor to be happy so that I can get more great prizes for future food challenges.

So I need to know if this is acceptable to you and if so, what is your preferred payment method?

Thanks so much and I am sorry about this.

BlogOwnerJaneDoe

Needless to say, there was some disappointment. Phil asked me how he should reply because I’ve run contests on my blog and had low entries. He asked what I did. I gave away the prize I offered. I tried harder next time to bring in more entries.  Both of us felt rather insulted that an email like that was sent. What the email said to us was that BlogOwnerJaneDoe valued her sponsor over her the people that visit her blog.  Some bloggers butter their bread with sponsorship.  I get that. I also get that I was sick of catering to sponsors, so I ended the game. That doesn’t mean I don’t think anyone should have sponsors. All it means is that the game is tiring to me and I get kind of perturbed watching people make bad business decisions while pretending to be a “professional” blogger. Yep, you’re getting paid, that gives you the right to call yourself a professional, but being a professional is about more than just getting paid.  It means making good decisions and taking time to run your “business” with integrity.

Phil had received BlogOwnerJaneDoe’s email at 10am February 1. At 6am February 2, BlogOwnerJaneDoe had the next month’s food challenge posted on the blog offering the waffle maker as a prize again.  Without having heard from Phil. I don’t know if the other two contestants had answered.

To me, that said that BlogOwnerJaneDoe didn’t really want to hear from Phil. We hadn’t decided how to respond, but we felt like taking a “payoff” wasn’t the best decision. By taking the $25, we were saying with our actions that it was ok to offer a nice prize and then yank it for a lesser prize if a.) the blogger wasn’t happy with the results or b.) the sponsor wasn’t happy with the results. And giving permission by way of action for the blogger and the sponsor to make bad decisions was something we didn’t want to do.

I consulted three blogging friends and all were in agreement, separately, that I should contact the sponsor since BlogOwnerJaneDoe had already made her intentions clear by not waiting to hear from Phil and by posting a blog offering the same prize again.

So that’s what I did and here’s what I said. Word for word.
Thanks Ms. PR Rep. I appreciate your time.

I’m writing in regards to BlogOwnerJaneDoe’s monthly recipe contest with YourCompany as the sponsor of the challenge.

I’m a blogger, so I do understand working with sponsors. I decided in October to end my commitments with any sponsors to take my blog back to what it meant to me early on. I’m finishing one last commitment this month, then that’s it. I’m telling you this only to let you know I don’t want anything from anyone. This is a matter of principle.

My husband, Phil, entered BlogOwnerJaneDoe’s contest, meeting all the rules listed. Late last night Phil received this email from BlogOwnerJaneDoe:

From: BlogOwnerJaneDoe
Date: Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 10:02 PM
Subject: food challenge
To: PhilsEmailAccount

Hi

Because I had so an overwhelming amount of feedback about the beer ingredient, which caused for low entries, I’m reaching out to the three of you who did enter and see if I could offer you $25 as a prize. I’m embarrassed about doing it but I really need more participation for the sponsor to be happy so that I can get more great prizes for future food challenges.

So I need to know if this is acceptable to you and if so, what is your preferred payment method?

Thanks so much and I am sorry about this.

BlogOwnerJaneDoe


****************************************

At around 6am this morning, before my husband had a chance to respond, BlogOwnerJaneDoe had already posted the February challenge, with the same BrandName waffle maker as the prize. She also changed up the rules and guidelines for contest and the ingredient requirements (which is her prerogative.)

What I’m most concerned with is fact that BlogOwnerJaneDoe is advertising for BrandName and when things aren’t going her way, she yanks the offered prize and pays people off on the sly? My husband and I both posted links on Facebook and Twitter to promote this contest and his recipe, which includes promoting BrandName. I find the email BlogOwnerJaneDoe sent rather insulting. I understand being concerned with the low number of entries. But, the low entries are not the fault of the contestants. I feel like she’s saying, “Here’s $25 to keep your mouth shut about this.” That might not be the case, but that was my first thought when my husband showed me the email and asked my opinion in the matter. I consulted with three bloggers with as much, if not more, reach than BlogOwnerJaneDoe, and the consensus was unanimous: contact BrandName.

I’m disappointed both with the way BlogOwnerJaneDoe handled the “payoff” and that she put up another post offering the same prize before even hearing back from my husband. Also, she states in her “Giveaway Guidelines” (a separate page on the website) that she won’t list winners. This coupled with the other facts leads me to believe what happened today might be a common occurrence.

My husband Googled and found out she did this same food challenge last year, offering a prize of a $50 gift certificate, and had 8 entries, which suggests she might have been able to be proactive in advertising the challenge this year instead of waiting until 4 days after the challenge ended to email him with a lesser “prize” and bogus apology.

Again, my husband and I are not willing to accept the $25 offer from BlogOwnerJaneDoe, nor do we expect anything from BrandName. This is bad business practice and worse, it is a bad moral decision on BlogOwnerJaneDoe’s part.

Thank you for your time.

~michelle pendergrass

I expected BrandName to have a talk with BlogOwnerJaneDoe and set some guidelines and/or disclaimers for future contests. I expected some conversation about how this could have been prevented or how to prevent it in the future. Maybe the current contest could be held open longer? Maybe a push for more recipes? There are a lot of options other than a “payoff.” So I waited for that conversation to occur.

I’d been working on the computer all day and I was tired of staring at the screen, so I went outside to take some pictures of the blizzard, came in, made dinner, and vegged in front of the TV watching Tuesday night’s NCIS and NCIS:  Los Angeles episodes.

BlogOwnerJaneDoe had sent Phil an email during that time and Twittered me saying she’d like to talk and she’d wait for a reply. (Again she’d “wait” for a reply. I had no reason to trust that she’d wait.) But, in good faith, I answered her and told her I assumed it was me she wanted to speak with and I was available at either 1pm or 3p central on Thursday. She chose 1pm.

THEN I find out, she’d blogged about all this. Again, her prerogative.  As it is mine to tell my side here and now.  And again, she showed to me that I cannot trust her word.  She’d waited less than an hour and hadn’t heard from me before posting a blog blaming me for all future food challenges to be canceled.  She made it sound like she offered everyone a waffle iron for playing along. And a lot of other passive-aggressive nonsense.  From her post, it’s clear to me that she didn’t read the email I sent to her sponsor. Which is why I posted it, in full, today.

Lessons learned…

This was a good opportunity for us to teach Zane that not everyone follows the rules.  Which has been terribly hard for us since Zane is kind of ocd about rules. He (bless his heart) is like his mother in that if we see rules, we believe they should be followed and feel a sense of injustice when they’re not followed.  (and yes, sometimes rules cause me to rebel, but that’s another day’s story.)  We’re also trying to teach our son how to make good business decisions.  Phil and I both work out of our home and homeschool.  There’s discipline involved in that. We stress  how important it is that we do what we say we will do.  Because people should be able to trust us to stand behind our word.  We try to teach him (and each other) to not act-out because of emotion, but rather, to take some time to think things through, and then deal with the issue at hand.

Actions do speak louder than words, mine included.

I chose to go to the sponsor and not BlogOwnerJaneDoe. I own that.

I don’t want $25 and I don’t want a waffle iron.

I’d like to see people blog with integrity.

I’d like to see people put PEOPLE over the almighty dollar and the swag.

Is that really too much to ask?

* * *

I spoke with BlogOwnerJaneDoe and apologies were made and accepted and there’s no hard feelings from my side. I am posting this as my side of the story since she already posted her side.  There were misunderstandings and it’s over. That’s that.