As long as I've been a blogger and known other bloggers, a common topic of conversation is our love-hate relationship with brands and specifically, PR. We love PR and we strive to create and maintain relationships with them. By strive, I mean slave away for, compete viciously against each other for, and cause breakdowns amongst us for. Yet, I think, and I believe many I know would secretly agree, that if PR spent even a tenth of the amount of time we spend thinking and planning on how to work with them, learning how to work with us, all would benefit. So here I am, writing this post and really hoping it doesn't screw me over for life.
Here are the five things that PR people should really know about bloggers.
1. Some bloggers rock, but a lot of us really suck.
If you choose to invest in blogger outreach, focus on the long-term, not short-term gains. You're going to reach out to a lot of bloggers and a lot of them will likely not live up to expectations, e.g. giving bland, one-liner reviews, or not even writing about you at all. You'll have to play the odds if you want to find the right types of bloggers to work with.
Many bloggers are just in it for the free stuff and they actually don't give a damn about you or your brand. Maybe that works for you, but hopefully, you're seeking something more. That leads to my next point...
2. Please actually visit the blogs you apparently "love" and want to work with.
I can't believe I have to say this, but #2 happens quite a lot. I would rather get a generically addressed PR release with an obvious bcc: address, than a faux "personal" email where it's obvious that the person emailing me has
- no clue what my blog is about, e.g. pitching me gardening tools, maternity wear, or vitamins for the elderly
- wrote the email like a version of mad libs. I can tell because you inevitably "love what I do" and insert a link to a post I did last week which is still on the front page, OR better yet, telling me you love my OLD blog which I deleted. Three years ago.
- no clue where I'm even located, e.g. inviting me your store opening in Miami, your runway show in Turkey, or to try a product you won't ship anywhere near Canada
Please please PLEASE for the love of gawd, at least skim through some of my posts and read my About and PR pages before contacting me. Have your interns do the work they were hired for and research! Create a spreadsheet with blogger's names, up to date urls, topic areas and details of our relationship. You should know what a CRM is. Use it.
At the very least, do what I do, and create a spreadsheet documenting these things. I can even send you my template where I detail out each PR contact I have, who they represent, and whether they are an active contact or not. It's simple and there's no reason not to do this.
3. The bloggers that do rock, do this out of love.
At least when I started blogging way back in the day, people did it out of love and not for the goodies. That has changed somewhat, but I think most of us still do it out of genuine love for beauty products, fashion and the community. Blogging is life-changing. It opens your eyes to this welcoming sub-culture that really gets you and can be very addicting. The saddest thing though, is that one of the top reasons I see some of my favourite bloggers fade away forever is because they get burned out dealing with PR and trying to get products.
There's a voracious obsession that gets a hold of you once you start working with PR. It's utter FOMO; you get tons of things, but you see others getting more than you, so then you want more and you start obsessing over blogs and stats and doing anything you can to chase that next PR connection. I went through that; several times in fact. I would check my stats everyday and jealously bitch about how so-and-so doesn't deserve this-or-that because I wrote so much better, or took better photos, or just deserved it more for some reason or another. It's awful and the antithesis of all that makes blogging fun. Eventually we all realize this and we either change our outlook or quit forever.
As PR people, I'm not sure what you can do to change this. Maybe try to make it clear what your strategy is - do you just want those with numbers, or are you seeking people with engaged, niche audiences? Personally, I hope you want the latter because the former is a race to the bottom of SEO tricks and high bounce rates with little conversion, but to each their own.
4. Bloggers have lives.
This ties into the previous point as well. Bloggers do this out of love and without pay at the sacrifice of their time and money. We spend weekends and weeknights blogging when we should really be spending time with family and friends. Each post takes hours of time to do. We are our own writers, editors, marketers, photographers, graphic designers and web designers. Maintaining a blog is basically a second job, so when you demand us to post reviews right away, or to jump through all these hoops to work with you, it just becomes annoying and too much to handle. And then when we do jump through all these hoops and get zero response from you? Even worse.
Here are some tips to make this process better:
- If you have a timeline that you need to work by, then let us know before you send anything. A lot of bloggers keep editorial calendars, so they should be able to tell you approximately when to expect a review.
- Also, testing products takes time, so anticipate that a blogger will want to try out a product for awhile before they can reasonably write an opinion about it.
- Expect that we will take vacations, have exams or busy periods at work. Don't send us a box of twenty items a week before Christmas and then ask when your post is going up.
- Don't email us asking when a review for a product we didn't even ask for will go up; instead, ask us if we received the package you sent and when we might get to posting about it.
- If you do want to be able to send unsolicited products, then I suggest re-reading #2 and having profiles on what bloggers will likely want certain types of products. While I love receiving surprises in the mail, I also feel horrible when I receive products that don't apply to me or that I'm not interested in as then I feel guilty and obliged to write a half-assed post.
5. Realize that there are others out there who are also working with us.
Most bloggers will have relationships with several brands. I have a policy that I usually test a product for 4 weeks before posting. That timeline is slightly shorter for makeup as I like to wear it out a few days and in different ways to test wear time and such, but generally, 4 weeks is the norm. That timeline gets extended even further if I'm testing other products that I can't test in parallel; for example if I'm testing an eye cream all February, then I won't be able to test another one until March. Add on 4 weeks to that, and that review of your eye cream isn't coming out until April.
There's only so many products a person can reasonably track and test within their spare time, so ask your bloggers when you can expect a post either before or after sending product. Not all bloggers will be organized enough to give you an accurate answer (see point #1), but some will. All too often I experience PR people sending products based around their marketing timelines and not taking into account mine; then when I'm unable to produce to that timeline, and there is no follow up by either party, then that relationship dies with the PR person thinking I am a lame blogger, and me left wondering what I did wrong. I realize that bloggers are pretty low in terms of priority for marketing, but considering the budget that is allocated to us, I think these small considerations would allow for that money to be spent more wisely.
If you've managed to get through this post, bravo! I hope this was enlightening and useful to read. I've been fortunate enough to work with some really great brands and this post was meant as a plea to those who are perhaps newer to working with bloggers to learn more. There's a lot of great work we can do together, if we only take some time to learn about each other!
To my fellow bloggers: what things do you wish PR would know about working with us? Please share in the comments!