Fashion Week Flameout: Why the Industry Is Erupting at Tumblr and Rich Tong

Tumblr Fashion Director Rich Tong

Earlier this year Tumblr was the toast of fashion week. The company’s fashion director, Rich Tong, negotiated access for influential Tumblr users to cover swanky events. The bloggers, once the red headed step children of Fashion Week, got access beyond their wildest dreams. The brands and designers got their shows covered on a hip social network that drove a ton of traffic and engagement. It was a win-win.

Things are playing out a little differently this time. It started with the proposal Mr. Tong circulated to fashion brands and agencies. Unlike last year, Tumblr is now asking to be paid.

The proposal asked for $100,000 to have 4 of Tumblr’s “select bloggers” produce 15 posts for the brand’s Tumblr during the week, with the “exact nature of the content to be agreed upon prior to the start of the week.”

For $150,000 brands could get ad placement on the official NY Fashion week Tumblr. For $350,000 they could get ad placement on the Tumblr tagged “fashion” page.

For $10,000 big fashion brands could spend a little quality time with the 20 select bloggers at a private event. Product placement was also offered “At cost”, with the “influential tastemakers” being promised at a group rate.

It was an attempt to find a revenue stream for a company that thus far has focused little on making money. But the execution left something to be desired.

“They clearly don’t understand the first thing about ad buying,” said an agency rep with more than a decade in digital sales who received Mr. Tong’s proposal. “They didn’t explain how these ads would be served or offer us any way to track them, even through a third party. How am I supposed to present that to a client?”

Prior to becoming Fashion Director at Tumblr, Mr. Tong co-founded two fashion startups, Weardrobe and Index F. He also worked as a front end developer at UNICEF. None of these positions involved client services or ad sales, which he now handles as fashion director at Tumblr.

“He is David Karp’s friend and that seems to be his main qualification for this job,” said one very angry designer. “Now they are trying to have us pay for Tumblr bloggers to come to our shows, which is ridiculous. We would never pay a journalist to come cover us, so why would we pay Tumblr?”

No one Betabeat spoke with thought that Tumblr was a bad platform for fashion, quite the opposite. The ease of posting images and re-blogging items makes it a terrific platform which has driven a lot of eyeballs to brands and designers. “But they need an experienced ad sales team and someone who knows how to be diplomatic when they are turning people down,” said one brand manager.

Numerous sources bemoaned the lack of basic analytical tools. Tumblr’s inability to deliver these features made their requests for paid blogger placement and big name ad sales particularly galling.

“When I go into a meeting with a client to talk about Tumblr, I have to sit there and count out the number of notes on each post by hand, literally,” said one frustrated agency rep. “We would pay to not have to do that.”

Betabeat reached out to Tumblr for comment and will update with their response.

Update: This is perhaps a response….

Update 2: Nope, not a response, just a quirk of Tumblr. These two didn’t like my post, but a post by Mike Hudack in defense of Tumblr, which was a response to a Tumblr post by Elizabeth Spiers. Fashion Week Flameout: Why the Industry Is Erupting at Tumblr and Rich Tong