Unfiltered Friday: Aggressive Website Tactics are Turning Golf Brands Off

Every day it seems a new batch of podcasts, websites, review blogs and social accounts pop up in the golf space. Options are always a good thing, as long as the newcomers understand that there is no formula to success — at least not a one-size-fits-all approach. Above all else, it’s important for newcomers to understand that doing the same thing as everyone else won’t help you rise above the rest.

Joining the Crowd

In 2002, while sitting in my college apartment watching a golf telecast on a hungover Sunday, I decided to start writing about golf. For whatever reason, I was inspired to create a Blogger account, come up with a haphazard title like “Chicago Duffer” and write my first post on whatever golf tournament I was watching. I felt I had read and listened to enough golf journalists to think, “You know… I wonder if I could do that?”

I’d imagine my origins are similar to those of any other sites. Over the next 17 years my growth in experience coincided with the growth of social media and digital news outlets. The industry was literally changing every day, and now with Golf Unfiltered, our mild level of success includes a growing podcast audience and what we think is an educated commentary on golf as an industry.

Always hoping to grow larger, I can honestly say I am happy with where we are today: relatively small in audience, but one that is comprised of influential members who appreciate the work we do.

Continuing to Learn

Around 2016, GU became more focused on telling the stories of the golf equipment industry. This was partially due to necessity — you can find PGA TOUR news at hundred of other sites — and I’ve met an incredible group of people along the way. As with any industry, you learn about “watercooler” topics on what worked well for one site versus what others attempted to do and failed. Everything is off-the-record, of course, because I truly believe there is value in having those conversations freely and among colleagues (however you define that term).

Trust me: I’m not naive enough to think others don’t have opinions about what we do at GU. It’s human nature.

One topic that seems to come up most often these days is the number of websites — new and old — that request services or products from brands on a grand scale. This includes sites asking for the full line of new products to review, sponsorships for absurd dollar amounts and timelines, or flat-out ultimatums that brands must pay for coverage of any kind.

Trust me once again: if a website says they accept zero ad dollars from anyone, and there are ads on that site, they aren’t telling you the whole truth.

A Disturbing Trend

Looking at it from the brand’s perspective, the volume of requests they receive is staggering. I’ve been told by one brand rep they received “hundreds” of requests a week from websites they’ve never heard of nor can provide traffic metrics. Another suggested that if they don’t provide product to the specifications requested in an email, “the website likes to bash our brand on social until that changes.”

In an extreme example, a smaller brand referenced an email that said unless the brand paid the website, coverage of their product “would never see the light of day.”

Clearly this is not the way to do business, but it’s not surprising. What is infuriating is how this aggressive tactic reflects on the rest of the industry, especially when you couple it with inflated traffic numbers and zero correlation to reader/listener engagement. It also affects the way brands choose to measure the success of their partnerships.

Luckily, brands understand one thing has remained consistent over the years: good content rises to the top.

They’re also taking steps to keep websites on their toes. Brands are hiring social media and traffic metric experts to monitor websites. PR firms are following up more frequently with websites to measure engagement and want to see actual data. Multiple brands are asking for products to be returned after testing. All of these moves make sense.

As new websites are created with the goal of joining the crowd who want free stuff or to make a million dollars from Instagram posts, expectations on the reality of that goal need to change. Access to information has never been more wide open than today, which makes it all the more important to establish credibility as a partner as opposed to someone looking for a handout.