There’s no such thing as a free… five-night stay in a Dublin hotel

Paul Stenson and Elle Darby have got massive publicity from their online spat

There are two sides to every story and that’s certainly the case in the much-publicised tale of the White Moose Café’s response to vlogger Elle Darby’s request for a room in exchange for some ‘influence’.

If you haven’t heard, Elle Darby wrote to the White Moose Café in Dublin asking for a free five-night stay for her and her boyfriend before Valentine’s Day in return for a review to her 150k+ audience on YouTube and Instagram. (See YouTube vlogger accuses Dublin hotel of bullying – Daily Mail)

There’s nothing wrong with a vlogger contacting a hotel and asking for a stay in return for an appearance in a blog or vlog. You need a thick skin because it’s a sales call and like any salesperson knows, you have to take a lot of knocks on the doorstep.

It’s the norm

Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with a journalist, critic or reviewer asking similar. I have done it extensively with events, books, theatre, and in my role as same, I’ve been offered meals, accommodation, products and services for that reason, and without even having to ask.

Call it pro bono, gratis, complimentary, on the house, collaboration or just a plain old freebie, in the nitty-gritty of the marketing world, it is normal practice for suppliers to supply stuff at no charge in order for people to start talking about you. It’s called PR.

There’s equally nothing wrong with saying no to such requests, and any sensible business person would decide whether the offer was in their favour or not. It’s called value exchange.

The above happens thousands of times every day all across the land.


So why did the internet explode this week because Paul Stenson, owner of the White Moose Café said no?

I have several observations:

  • It was a slow news day at the Daily Mail.
  • Paul has done this stunt numerous times. Elle should have researched the venue.
  • Paul has vlogged about freebies he got from KLM. He’s been called out as a hypocrite (
  • Claiming to be an influencer is a red rag to a bull. Suppliers should be deciding who’s influential not the vloggers themselves.
  • Elle had a hissy fit. As a professional, she should have spiked the response, or called him out calmly. But then again you could say Paul’s fit was as hissy as hers.
  • The ensuing publicity has nothing the do with influencer marketing, it is good old tit-for-tat – a staple of newspapers like the Daily Mail for decades.
  • You can review a hotel in one night. Asking for five is pushing your luck. She would have been better to review the fair city and stay in five different places for one night, package it up and quantify the value better.
  • And finally, and perhaps most importantly, Elle was polite, Paul was not.

They’re both business people at the end of the day. If the White Moose Café didn’t want to ‘collaborate’ they have every right to refuse. They’ve both gained massive publicity out of this argument, and both garnered quite a few extra eyeballs as a result. Elle Darby told Paul Stenson she had 87,000 YouTube subscribers. As I write this on the 20th, she has amassed a further 4000 in two days.

James McCann, MD of Dublin PR agency Clear Story, in his analysis, calculates the pair got a combined €6.3 million of advertising value, so it certainly hasn’t done either any harm, but the ensuing discussions have attracted much criticism to the notion of ‘influencing’. And I have to say I agree.

In my mind, and this is not directed at Elle specifically, but all ‘influencers’ as a whole. The weak point in this controversy is the word itself.

I’m sorry, but you can’t go around calling yourself an influencer and expecting doors to open. The influencer marketing industry has grown to mean ‘give me free stuff and I’ll say nice things about you’, that’s certainly not the way of journalists, critics and reviewers of old, and it’s not right. So much so that the ASA (Advertising Standards Asociation) had to make changes to its code of practice to reflect the misleading nature of vlogs which weren’t declaring their ‘gift’.

In becoming publishers, vloggers are bound by the laws and morals which exist to protect consumers from misleading information, just as newspapers, TV and radio is.

If you’re good at vlogging, you’ll make money out of it, then you can pay for your holidays and write an honest review. You don’t have to declare it as sponsored or advertising, and when the influencer bubble finally bursts, you’ll still have a job.