Do Celebrities Need To Stop Asking Small Businesses For Freebies In Return For ‘Exposure’?

Coronation Star Catherine Tyldesley has caused a furore asking a bakery for free cakes


by Aaliyah Harry |
Published on

Do you think it's fair for celebrities to ask small businesses for freebies, offering exposure through social media in return? Well, the owner of Three Little Birds Bakery certainly doesn't think so.

After a PR firm said to be representing celebrity Coronation Street actress Catherine Tyldesley asked bakery owner Rebecca Severs for just this – Rebecca savagely declined.She also gave the ultimate clapback stating, 'Unfortunately, my mortgage provider doesn’t take payment in the form of promotion on their socials.'

For further context, in a Facebook post on 27 July, Three Little Birds Bakery put up a post with a screenshot of an email exchange between the bakery and the PR company that allegedly represents the Tyldesley, with the caption, 'This poor celebrity apparently can't afford to pay people for their products and services. Spare a thought! What happened to women supporting women.'

The email from the management team said, 'We are organising a 40th Birthday Party for a well-known celebrity on the 1st of September 2023 in Manchester. In return for being a supplier for the event, payment would be made in the form of promotion on their socials with over 700K followers, as well as promoted on OK Magazine. They will be crediting all the suppliers on these platforms. The party has a guest list full of celebrities and industry people from tv/film and music, so loads of work would come from it.' The email continued with them putting in a request for two cakes and 100 cupcakes with the theme 'camp as t*ts.'

In response to the email, the bakery said, 'I’m so sorry to hear that your client has fallen out on such hard times they can’t afford to pay small businesses for their products. Unfortunately, as my mortgage provider doesn’t take payment ‘in the form of promotion on their socials’, and my staff can’t feed their kids with exposure on Instagram, I’ll have to decline your very generous offer.'

Today, the Coronation Street actress made a video in response to the posted screenshots. Catherine told her Instagram followers, ' In a video this morning, the actress said, 'Utterly bizarre. I don't really know what to say. I mean I hope the cake lady got the exposure she was craving.' She also dismissed reports that she was working with the PR firm.

It’s really important to highlight the issue of small businesses, especially in female-dominant industries, not earning a fair wage for their time and skill

After posting their response, the bakery and Rebecca were met with an outpouring of support on social media. One Twitter user wrote, 'Well done Three Little Birds Bakery. More businesses need to start speaking up about this.' Whilst another user said, 'I agree with Rebecca - celebrities get paid enough and small business are suffering.'

However, some people were confused about why Three Little Birds Bakery would decline an offer from a celebrity client. So, we need to unpack why a small business would turn down this offer. You might read the situation above and see nothing wrong with this request. And indeed, there is nothing inherently wrong with proposing such a deal. In today's modern world, marketing has steered in this direction where social media has played a part in a number of deals. But, coming to a mutual understanding where both parties are comfortable is the key to any successful business endeavour.

The problem instead lies with the assumption made by some celebrities, influencers and businesses alike that the 'power' they wield on the internet is fair exchange for labour, no questions asked. There was no open discussion on the matter, and they didn't even provide the option of compensation.

As Rebecca so eloquently stated, exposure doesn't pay the bills. There is also no guarantee that a feature in a magazine or a social media post will equal sales and ultimately, money in the company's pocket.

Three Little Birds Bakery was first established seven and a half years ago. Rebecca told The Independent that she’s 'always been into baking' and said after baking cakes for her kids, she wanted to take things a step further. She told the publication that she started off the business in her own home, where she 'didn’t charge nearly enough' for her services. Speaking to local station Rombalds Radio, Rebecca said, 'It’s really important to highlight the issue of small businesses, especially in female-dominant industries, not earning a fair wage for their time and skill, especially in the cost-of-living crisis we are experiencing.'

Sally works for a small business, a swimwear company called Halocline and they often work with content creators on a gifting basis. She tells Grazia, 'We find this really beneficial as it gets our name out there. However, we have had issues where content creators have ghosted us, but they are few and far between and the majority of the content creators we work with are amazing and highly professional.' She explains that content outreach is essential for their small business. 'It's a big part of our marketing plan and we would be happy to work with creators who have large or small followings as long as it was for mutual benefit.'

But how do PR experts see it? Mayah Riaz, is a celebrity manager and PR to the stars. As someone who works so closely with the A-List, she weighs in on whether the PR firm made the right call. She tells Grazia, 'I think the Three Little Bakery owner was right to post about this as this happens often ( I know from working on celebrities end.) I would never expect any of my clients to ask especially small businesses for payment in promotion. It's just out of order. '

Whilst Natalie Trice, business strategist and performance coach for PR companies echoes similar sentiments. The PR expert states, 'the reality is, working with celebrities and influencers can be advantageous and the press interest can totally lead to success, however expectations need to be set from the start. Maybe a request for one cake with very explicit guidelines on what would be offered in return could have been a far more appropriate request, or they could simply be paid for the cakes and shared the publicity love.' Adding, 'Asking a local independent baker to make her 100 cakes for her birthday in exchange for social media and magazine plugs was a steep request.'

She continues,' We are experiencing a cost-of-living crisis and small businesses are being hit, so my advice is that if you want to collaborate with a small business, assess whether there is a budget for them and be prepared for them to ask for this, it’s only acceptable.'

It's clear that celebrity requests for freebies in exchange for 'exposure' has become just another normal for many small businesses already struggling with the cost of living crisis. But does the Three Little Birds' response show that the backlash to celebrity freebies and #gifted posts has begun?

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