I’m Being Investigated By Staff & Reporters From Major Publications. Don’t Make My Mistake.
Is what I'm about to tell you going to hurt my business?
Will it hurt my reputation?
Will it hurt my friendships?
Did I screw up?
Am I sorry?
I struggled for many months deciding if I was going to write this article. I didn't know if addressing it was the right thing to do or to let it be like it never happened. I'll be completely honest, when I first heard I was being investigated I was scared.
It started last October with a few messages I received from previous clients. They were asking me if I was in trouble because they were getting emails from staff at the publications. Then, another buddy of mine was contacted by multiple reporters about a couple of days later and that's when I knew things were really getting serious.
About a week after that, I got a message from a former NBC T.V. reporter asking to interview me about a "big" story. I answered all of her questions normally and it wasn't until 10 minutes into the Facebook conversation that she told me she wanted to be fair and let me know I was under investigation. She also told me she wasn't the only one aware of the story. So ultimately I don't know if I'm still being investigated or not since this was months ago but I still wanted to share this story because I believe it's extremely important.
For the people who know me on and offline they know that I'm not the type of person to dwell on problems. They see me as someone who will overcome them.
While there's truth to that, I'm 19. I'm human. I have emotions and I screw up. However, this time my screw up wasn't a "normal" one that you can brush off.
I probably should have written this post a long time ago. But I didn't feel it was right to address my wrong doings & say that I'll improve...without having any proof to show for it.
So what happened?
The best apology is one of changed behavior...It doesn't take away the fact that yes I was bartering and yes I did offer payment and even paid a few people - but I do want you to know that this can be a learning point for anyone reading and it sure has been for me. Ever since I received the first message from my previous client - I've been doing everything in my power to make it better.
My intention was never to “game the system”.
I was ignorant to the fact that you're not supposed to do any of that type of stuff. I also learned later on that journalists can't receive gifts. Now I should have known since I was getting into PR and it should have been obvious that journalists can't receive gifts of any type. Instead, I let myself get caught up in what looked like standard practices.
The unspoken truth is that a lot of contributors barter. They do post-for-post. They won’t talk about it, but they do it. I remember getting started, I would try the right way of pitching and I would get questions like "what's in it for me?". Keep in mind this was back in September when I didn't know how to pitch. So they wanted a value exchange.
So naturally as I was just getting into that space and seeing that happen - I thought it was a common practice. Here's a post of me trying to do a trade-for-trade and not following up with it and him replying to me still wanting to do a trade.
I was the one who started off that initial conversation asking for a trade. But after he said no I didn't want to keep bartering. However, the conversation didn't stop there.
I used to have other messages where people would come to me wanting to trade or offering me $500 for a post on my column at Business.com. I don't have those messages anymore because I delete messages that aren't relevant in my inbox to keep it organized. For the skeptic out there - yes "how convenient". But here's a message I got when I stopped bartering completely.
To add to my ignorance...I've never even taken a class on public relations before. I didn't take journalism in high school or in college. I actually dropped out after my first year.
Influencer Press is my first real profitable business. I was bound to make a mistake. It's not even common knowledge that you can't do trade for trade. Here's a recent conversation I had with someone a couple of days ago. I asked him to send me the conversation since I deleted it off of my Facebook messages.
So this time I'm the sender. My messages are on the left which is why I didn't black out my profile picture.
I'm extremely upset that I made this specific mistake...but I'm so glad that I made this mistake early on instead of later in my career. I should have started out this way but I can't change the past. In fact, ever since I started doing it the right way - I've gotten much better results and meaningful relationships. I haven't bartered or offered payment or paid anyone in months. And I will NEVER do it again.
So I have no idea if they’re still investigating or waiting for me to mess up... but I won't mess up. The short term success isn't worth sacrificing the dream.
I apologized to one of the writers a while back for offering to trade.
I’m doing everything in my power to make it better.
To fix the damage that has been done.
How will this all work out?
I don't know.
What I do know is ... don't make the same mistake that I made.