Rules & Ramblings

Photo: David Simms

Now I’m pretty sure you have all read (or seen on the news) about the latest ASA and CMA guidelines that have been released for ‘influencers’ and celebrities? I put a few things on Instagram (some that perhaps, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have – nothing too dramatic/exciting, but perhaps a little too flippant…), about my frustrations with some of the wording (I have absolutely zero issues with the introduction of the guidelines – I am 100% for them and the new transparency). I’m glad I didn’t publish this post at the beginning of the week (as planned), because I now feel like I have got my head around them properly, and can write about them in a much more clear-headed (I hope) way. So here are a few of my thoughts and feelings (mostly ramblings) on the subject.  I just felt I wanted to chat a bit about it, so you know where I’m at with it all (and things related to them), and also to keep you guys in the loop. I just didn’t feel I could go ‘deep’ enough on Instagram. You may want to grab a cuppa (substitute tea for wine where necessary) and a comfy spot, it’s a long one…

Let’s talk about gifting…
Ok, first up, gifting. This seems to be the most hot topic right now, so let’s dive straight in and focus on that. So… gifting. Urgh, that word, how I loathe thee. Yes, I am extremely lucky to be given things for free on a regular basis, absolutely. And this is not something that I take for granted, or indeed, ever have. As I have mentioned previously in another post, this however, is not a novelty for me, which I do think is relevant, and worth pointing out (stay with me…). When I worked as a Fashion Editor (and before that as a Shopping Editor, and Fashion Assistant) at various glossy magazines (Marie Claire, Glamour, Red, and The Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine…), I was regularly sent amazing presents (it was kind of part of my job in a funny way – it certainly helped supplement the, for the most part, tiny salary) – designer handbags (the ones you really wanted, the then called ‘it’ bags that had long waiting lists),  shoes, wallets, coats, dresses, jewellery, beauty products… You name it, we (‘we’ being the Fashion Department) were sent it. Now this is not meant to sound glib, jaded or blasé, it’s simply a fact. And I feel, allows me to make very considered decisions about which free products to accept or decline for Little Spree. There’s free stuff, and there’s free stuff that you actually want; that is relevant to you, your lifestyle and your brand. Ok, so you might not buy that exact (gifted) item, but if you could, would you? If the answer’s no, then my answer is a polite ‘thank you, but no thank you’. These ‘things’ can range from clothes and accessories, jewellery, makeup, skincare, perfume, home accessories, a car for a week with unlimited petrol (that was a random one),  holidays (with and without my family!), sofas, mattresses, facials, a house clean, garden landscaping, babysitting services… I have been offered them all. And plenty more besides. And turned most (around 90%) of them down.

I get offered things, pretty much on a daily basis (this sounds horribly braggy I know, but again it’s a fact, and one that I feel is relevant. And I want to be as honest as I possibly can be here). That’s a lot of ‘stuff’! I say a very polite ‘no thank you’ to most (honestly!) of these things. Sometimes these things might be wildly inappropriate and not relevant to Little Spree in any way. And trust me, these can range from the sublime to the plain ridiculous. Some offers, I think hmmm, maybe? But I always ask for more information/details if I am unsure, as I don’t feel I can make a considered decision without first having all the information about the said product/item and the details of a possible collaboration (more of those later…). And finally, sometimes I would simply just rather buy the item/s in question myself, and not be ‘obligated’ to anyone (this can be more stressful than it sounds – you feel weirdly indebted to people, which isn’t necessarily a feeling I enjoy).

There are so many assumptions/myths regarding gifts or (worse) ‘gifting’ (I just hate this term –  sorry, I know that’s a little irrational, but it actually sets my teeth on edge; and I can’t really even explain why?). Perhaps because it just seems almost exclusively associated with bloggers/influencers and Instagram? It was certainly a term that was never, ever used at magazines when I worked at them. Maybe that’s changed now? So I am going to try and break it down (well, my experience/s of this process at least – others may have a different take on it of course) for you, in case you’re unaware of how it works. This is how is normally goes (for me anyway)…
A brand (either via a PR/an agent, or someone from the actual brand (even the designer themselves, depending on the size of said brand) will contact me/my assistant. They will ask whether they can send me something/if I would like to choose something from their brand (sometimes I am not given the option to choose, and I sometimes they don’t even disclose what the item might be). Sometimes it’s said, and sometimes not, but the general assumption is that in exchange for the ‘gifted’ item, I will then feature the item/s on my Instagram feed/on the blog (although generally these days, a ‘post’ seems to normally mean an Instagram post by default).

Sometimes it will be a brand I am familiar with (for example & Other Stories – I was very happy about that particular email (which was quite a recent one – they approached me about a regular gifting relationship towards the end of last year), which I was happy to accept), because this is a brand I genuinely love, regularly buy from anyway, and know that you guys love and wear too.

Sometimes it will be a brand that I am not familiar with at all, maybe even never heard of; so I will take a look first at their Instagram feed – this will always give me an instant ‘insight’ into the overall look and concept of the brand, and normally this is enough for me to make an instinctive decision as to whether to work with them or not. If I like what I see, I will  then look at their actual  website. I aways, always look, as I have found some really amazing brands this way, that I otherwise would never have been aware of, and may have not considered. So thank you to those of you (who may well be reading this), for ‘cold calling’ me (in the nicest way). These are the brands that help me strike the balance that I love so much for Little Spree – a bit of designer, a lot of high street, with a nice sprinkling of new, independent brands.

Ok, so if I like the brand, and want to take things further, we will then start the conversation about the expectations of the exchange. For some time now I have been very clear in explaining that I cannot guarantee exposure/coverage, or a specific time frame for posting, particularly as far as things for the kids are concerned. I am SO strict about keeping Little Spree (the website and the social media platforms) as authentic and ‘organic’ (urgh, I always cringe at this word in this particular context, but there really is no other word to replace it) as possible. By explaining this upfront, brands can then decide whether they still want to proceed or not. For me, it’s about managing expectations. Interestingly, most still choose to proceed. If not, no harm done.

I will now only accept gifts that I am able to choose. Now this possibly sounds a little greedy/grabby/spoilt/ungrateful/ungracious, or a combination of all of these. And I did used to find this an uncomfortable term to articulate. But hear me out. It can be tempting to just say ‘yes please!’ to a ‘freebie’, without thinking. Firstly, because, put simply, it is flattering to be ‘chosen’/asked, and secondly, in my book at least, it’s generally polite in life to say thank you and accept a gift graciously. Whether you like it or not. Period. But when there is an ‘expectation’ that comes with that gift, this is a little more complicated. I actually always say now, that in terms of coverage on Instagram, I can’t guarantee if/when this will happen.  And that I understand completely if this means a withdrawal of that offer of a gift. I would just rather be honest, and not mislead people (unintentionally or otherwise).
This is because I do still like/want my Instagram feed/grid to be as ‘genuine’ and ‘real’ as possible; and have worked extremely hard to maintain that (often at the cost of follower numbers I suspect?); and to a certain extent, instinctive; and in the past have found it quite stressful knowing that I need to post a picture of something I have been gifted (either with me or one of my kids wearing it, which is becoming less and less of an option). So I want to able to do it when it feels right, and as genuine/natural/authentic as possible. Yes, I could get one of the kids to take a quick snap of me wearing a pink tulle and sequinned Preen dress on the school run, but honestly I would rather die/not.

Occasionally I (or my assistant) might approach brands (only ones I absolutely love, and really want to work with, and are a perfect fit for Little Spree) about a possible collaboration of some sort; and sometimes I might ask if they would be interested in letting me choose a few pieces in exchange for coverage on Instagram (in lieu of payment). Sometimes it’s a yes, sometimes it’s a (polite) no. No harm done.

Here’s a good example of a ‘gifting’ situation, that also just so happens to be my most recent one (just last week in fact). So Amazon sent me a gift card, specifically to choose things from the brands under their Amazon Fashion ‘umbrella’. I’m not going to lie, I was dubious. My instinct was to say a polite ‘no thank you’. But then I actually had a quick look online, at the collections, and immediately found these boots (you’ll have seen them on Instagram by now, as I’ve worn and shared them a couple of times) . And you know what, I bloody love them!!! If I had found them ‘organically’, I would have bought them for sure. I still had some money left on the gift card, so then went on to order these (they haven’t arrived yet – I’ll report back…), which I’m hoping I will love as much (but for different reasons). So in the end I ended up going over the gift card amount, and adding some of my own money. And that’s fine by me. But my point is, I chose the pieces because I genuinely loved the look of them, regardless of the gift card.

I wear the same things in my wardrobe, time and time again, as you probably already know. I keep things for years (and not just the ‘designer’ pieces either – I keep favourite high street pieces too. If I love it, I keep it, and wear and wear it. It’s as simple as that. I constantly worry that you’ll find my Insta feed increasingly dull and uninspiring, as I’m most definitely not wearing a different outfit every day. And honestly, nor do I want to. I actually find the very idea of wearing a completely different outfit every day, very stressful. I’m definitely more of a ‘uniform’ dresser. Maybe that’s an age thing? I don’t know. But I also know that many of you love this about Little Spree, which is great, as it’s 100% genuine, I can promise you that.

So, onto the ASA new guidelines.  I will always state #ad if it’s a ‘paid for’ Instagram post (as I always have done; plus most brands I work in this way will stipulate this as part of your contract anyway). I don’t do that many anyway to be honest (Goop, M&S, Gap, J.Crew off the top off my head…). When I do it’s usually a combination or ‘package’ of a blog post, plus Instagram posts and Instragam Stories to support the main/blog post.
Now with the gifting I will be adding more detail to enable full transparency for you (this is the main thing the new guidelines have been put in place for). So from now on, I will always state when I am showing something in my squares that has been given to me (I am starting to list everything I’m wearing in the copy below the image: I think many of you find this helpful anyway?), stating the brand, and #gift where applicable. With my blog posts, when I have collaborated with a brand and am being paid, I will always (as I always have) state that clearly at the end of the post (usually: ‘this post was created in collaboration with…’). If you don’t see it, there was no paid-for content.

Now the thing with me being a wearing of a ‘uniform’ of sorts, and re-wearing things over and over, is that you’re now going to be seeing #gift on my Instagram feed rather a lot (because if I have been given something, I must add #gift every time I share an image of me wearing it). Which is a little annoying, as it’s going to look like I’m being ‘gifted’ all the time, when in fact it’s more a case of me wearing the #gifted items again and again, because I genuinely love them and want to wear them (again, highlighting the fact that I only accept gifts that I genuinely like/love) again and again (a good example of this is my new-ish & Other Stories checked jacket, which I have barely taken off since I got it). And that I haven’t just accepted a gift for the sake of it.

So, just to be crystal-clear, from now on I will list all the credits for my Instagram pictures below the image (as well as tagging the photo as I always have done). I will them type #gift next to anything that was given to me. If it doesn’t state that, it is safe to assume that I bought it myself. And, of course, always ask me any questions in the comments below. I always try and answer each and every one if I possibly can.

I would love to hear what you think of it all? Please feel free to email me: And equally, if anything is still unclear and you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I’d be happy to answer anything!

Sarah xx

Yes or No?

If I haven’t actually parted with my own hard-earned cash to buy something that I have featured on Little Spree, does this mean I don’t really love it?
No. There are so many things I LOVE, and would LOVE to own/wear, but simply can’t afford at the time of posting. This doesn’t mean I love them any less (or that I won’t buy at a later date). I know I sometimes feature things that may be a little beyond my personal budget, but the whole ‘hi-lo’ mix really works for Little Spree, and it’s how I shop (ok, more ‘lo’ than ‘hi’), and how many of you shop too.

When I am given something as a gift, do I really like it, or just ‘faking it’?Would I actually buy it?
Yes. If I could afford to/money was no issue, then yes, I almost certainly would. Honestly, I would not suggest/recommend you buy something that I wouldn’t buy (in an ideal world anyway). Anyway, I am way too fussy – I wouldn’t be seen dead wearing something I didn’t like/wasn’t ‘me’, believe me. Also, my career hinges on my taste levels. This is not something I am going to jeopardise for a quick buck, or a free trip to Soho Farmhouse.

If I write a blog/Instagram post about a new brand, does this always mean I was gifted something in return for the coverage/mention?
No. If I like something, believe it fits in with the overall feel/aesthetic of Little Spree, and I think you will love it too, I will write about it. I know this is something that many people are often surprised about.

If I tag/link something on Instagram, does this automatically mean it’s something I have been given/gifted?
No. I always tag everything wherever possible, for the simple reason that I know people will always ask me anyway, so I may as well make its easier for everyone by tagging it when I post (although admittedly, sometimes I do forget if I’m in a rush when posting…). Also, if I post something, then am busy and not checking my phone, I may not see all your questions until much later, which in turn can be frustrating for you.

Are ‘swipe ups’ always affiliate links?
No. And if they are affiliate links (where I receive a percentage of the sale), I will always write #afflink. I just like to add the ‘swipe up’ function to make things easier for you guys, and save you time trying to look for that particular item (after all, we’re all ‘time poor’ right?), whether it’s an affiliate link or not.