On Brands and Blogging: 7 Bad PR Pitches I’ve Received Lately
I wasn’t going to publish this post.
It’s been sitting in my drafts folder for weeks now: I hesitated to hit “publish” on it, because the fact is, I have a lot of respect for PRs, and the brands they work for. Hell, I used to BE a PR once upon a time, so I know it’s not easy. I also know that, despite the constant predictions of the imminent “death” of blogging, the medium is not only alive and well, it’s still pretty new, which makes it uncharted territory, for PRs and bloggers alike.
When you deal with “old” media – journalists, and copywriters, and the like – everyone knows exactly where they stand. There are clear expectations on both sides of the fence: a PR wouldn’t dream of asking a magazine to run a full page advertorial without being paid for it, and they certainly wouldn’t ask a copywriter to write that advertorial for free. Or, at least, I hope they wouldn’t.
Blogging, though, is different: a blog can be anything its author wants it to be, and there are as many different types of blog out there as there are people to write them. You have people like me – former journalists who now blog full-time, and treat their blogs the same way they would any other professional writing gig – and then you have people who blog purely as a hobby, with no expectation of any kind of reward for it. The fact that the “hobby” blogs are often every bit as professional as the so-called “pro” blogs only serves to muddy that uncharted water: there may be no difference in the blogs themselves, or the quality of the content, but there can be worlds of difference between their authors’ expectations. The professional writer, for instance, expects to be paid for their work. The hobbyist may not… or they might*. It’s hard to tell.
Regardless of the author’s status as a pro-blogger or a hobbyist, however, I think it’s important for brands and their representatives to treat bloggers with respect if they want to build relationships with them. Lately that hasn’t been happening. Now, don’t get me wrong: there are tons of excellent PRs out there, who are absolutely spot-on in their approach. (If you’re a brand or PR I’ve worked with, you’re one of them…) I don’t for a second want to imply that ALL brands are bad, or that all PRs are the same in this respect: absolutely not. Lately, though, I have to admit that I’ve been getting significantly more “bad” pitches than good ones: and some of them have been downright insulting. I’m sure the brands who send me these requests don’t INTEND to insult me, so I thought I’d share just a few of their pitches (without identifying them, obviously), to illustrate where I think the PR industry is going wrong in its approach to bloggers like myself, in the hope that it might help.
In recent weeks, I’ve received…
A request for me to create “a few” blog posts about a particular brand, and promote said brand on my social media. In return, I’d get a small discount on the products I’d be writing about. Sounds great, yeah? I mean, everyone likes a discount, don’t they? Well, sure, but this arrangement still means that I’m essentially paying THEM for the privilege of working on their behalf. They get the benefit of exposure on my blog/social media, but in order for me to benefit AT ALL, I’ll still have to spend my own money – and this wasn’t a cheap brand, so even with the discount, it wouldn’t have been a particularly small amount of money.
If brands can persuade bloggers to work for them AND buy things from them, then that’s honestly pretty smart of them, but I expect at least SOME compensation for the work I do, and if I’m paying for something myself, I expect to be able to decide for myself whether or not I want to write about it.
An offer of a collaboration with a dress hire company. Basically I would choose a dress from their website, photograph myself wearing it, and then return it. Oh yeah, and I would also have to pay for the hire, although, to their credit, as with the example above, they were also offering me a discount on the rental. I can’t remember the exact price, but I do recall working out that it would cost me around £70 – £80 of my own money, which is a lot to pay for a dress I wouldn’t even get to keep. Again, if I’d agreed to this, the brand would’ve got my money AND my promotional/writing skills. I, meanwhile, would have some photos of myself in a dress I didn’t own, and a large dent in my bank balance.
The day I find myself paying someone to allow me to write a blog post about them, please feel free to reach through your screens and slap some sense into me, because really, why would I pay someone £80 to “allow” me to promote them? Seriously, I wish I could persuade people to PAY ME for the privilege of promoting MY brand! Anyone up for that? For £80, I’ll allow you to write a post on your blog, all about meeeeee! Anyone? Didn’t think so…
A household-name brand, who asked me to write an article on fashion (heavily featuring their products, of course), which would then be published in “a national publication”: I’m guessing from this that they’d purchased advertorial in some magazine, and wanted me to write it for them. Now, an advertising copywriter would charge quite a bit for this kind of work (it was a fairly lengthy article), and I know this because I used to do it. I, on the other hand, would get nothing but a “byline”. As a former journalist, I am used to writing articles for newspapers and magazines, and I’m used to getting an OMGBYLINE on the pieces I’ve written, so this wouldn’t be the big thrill for me the brand seemed to think it would be. Crucially, though, I’m also used to being paid for my work, and found it absolutely astonishing that this nationally-known brand (who I’m sure could easily afford to pay a copywriter) would expect me to write for them for absolutely nothing, just because I’m a blogger. If my writing is good enough to represent your brand in the national media, it’s surely good enough for you to pay for it, no?
An approach from a US PR company looking for “high-profile UK bloggers” to collaborate with them on a campaign they were running. The idea was that I would create and photograph a “capsule collection” of clothing, from which I would style three separate outfits, all of which I would photograph myself wearing, and post on my blog, while extolling the virtues of X campaign. I would also create a short video of myself, again talking up the campaign, which the brand would be able to use as they saw fit. I would have just over a week to do all of this. Now, I don’t want to get all, “Waaaah, outfit posts are haaaaaard!” on you here, because let’s face it: they’re really not. They are, however, fairly time-consuming, and creating these three posts, plus the video, would’ve taken up quite a chunk of the week I was being allotted for it: oh, and it would also take up Terry’s time, as I need him to take the photos and video.
In return for many hours of two people’s time, plus essentially taking over my blog for a full week, I would get … a t-shirt. I know, you were thinking I was going to get to keep the three outfits, didn’t you? So did I, but no: actually, in addition to completing all of this work, I was to be given no budget for the outfits, so I’d have to either buy them myself, or use clothes I already have. In my case, because there were very specific requirements for the outfits, I would likely have had to purchase at least a couple of things in order to meet the brand’s requirements.
So, I spend my own money, do hours of work, and provide a large amount of coverage for this brand, and I do all of this for… a t-shirt. Regardless of how you feel about blogging for a living, would YOU do several hours of work in exchange for a promotional t-shirt? I’m going to just assume you answered “no” to that, and I’m also going to assume that every other “influential UK blogger” they approached said no to it too, which is why they were forced to approach me, a week before the deadline. Insulted? Yeah, I was, to be honest, because this brand were essentially telling me that my time is worthless – or worth no more than the cost of a t-shirt, which is more or less the same thing.
An email from a brand, asking if I’d like to review their product. I was just about to answer this in the affirmative, when I happened to check the comments section of the site they wanted to be featured on, and saw that they’d gone ahead and posted an advert for the product in question on one of my posts. Make no mistake, this was blatant spam: they hadn’t even bothered to try to disguise it as a genuine comment – it was an advert, of the type I’d generally charge for. I deleted the comment, and emailed the brand representative to let them know why, and got an instant apology, along with the explanation that they’d “assumed the comments section was an open forum for discussion”. (And, I mean, my comments section IS an open forum for discussion, but spam isn’t “discussion”: spam is the internet equivalent of you charging into my house yelling, “BUY MY PRODUCT, IT’S AWESOME!”)
I accepted the apology, but declined the offer of the product to review: not because I wanted to spite them, but just because the whole incident left a bad taste in my mouth, and convinced me that if the brand were unprofessional enough to use spam to promote themselves, they probably weren’t a brand I’d want to be associated with anyway.
Numerous requests to enter “competitions”, all of which involve me creating content to promote a particular brand and posting it on my website, in the hope of winning some kind of prize. Just to be clear, I’m not knocking anyone who does take part in these contests, because everyone has the right to decide for themselves what they want to post on their own blogs, but this is my business: it’s how I pay my bills. I just can’t afford to spend my time creating blog posts for people in the HOPE that I MIGHT get paid for them. Think of it this way: imagine if I approached 50 different PR firms, and asked each of them to create and implement a PR campaign for my blog, on the understanding that ONE of them would be paid for their work. There’s an obvious benefit to me here – I get 50 PRs promoting my site, and I only have to pay one of them – but there’s not much in it for the 49 firms who DON’T “win” their fee, is there? So it is with bloggers and “content contests.”
Multiple demands – and “demand” is not too strong a word – that I promote a product launch, sale, or other brand event, on my blog or social media. I’m offered no incentive for this whatsoever: all I get is the blunt request to “please promote this on your social media”. And to be honest, a lot of the time I don’t even get the “please”. I’m always tempted to respond to these demands with the question, “And, in return, you’ll promote MY brand on YOUR social media, yes?” but I know there’s no point: these particular brands seem to feel I owe them free publicity, and speak to me almost as if I’m an employee, which is… cute.
Now, I’m very aware that I’m in danger of sounding like a prima donna here, and I want to be really clear that I’m under no illusions about what an appearance on my blog is worth to brands. My blog is not the biggest or the best one out there: it’s not even close, in fact. As for me, while I may have some writing credentials, for what they’re worth (not much, it would appear), I have no fashion credentials whatsoever: I am not a model, a stylist or an expert of any kind, and I don’t expect to be treated as such. All I ask is that you treat me with the same respect you would any other businessperson – or any other PERSON, period.
My blog may not be the most influential fashion blog on the internet, but the fact that you’re asking to be featured on it tells me that you obviously feel you’ll get SOMETHING out of it. All I ask is that I get something out of it too (something that makes it worth my while, I mean: a t-shirt, or a “byline” doesn’t really count…) : so, if you want me to post photos of myself wearing your dress, for instance, you better be prepared to AT LEAST send me the dress. That’s only fair: you get something (exposure on my website), I get something (a dress). If, however, you ask me to actually go out and BUY the dress and THEN post photos of myself wearing it (To your timescale, and with specific links and messages dictated by you), you’re treating me like an idiot, because that’s not a fair exchange. In THAT scenario, YOU get two things: you get exposure on my blog, AND you get a dress sale – yay! As for me, well, I still get the dress, but I could’ve bought myself the dress anyway, WITHOUT being obliged to spend hours promoting your brand as a result of that purchase. Not exactly a great deal for me, huh?
These are just a few examples of the type of pitches I’ve been receiving lately, and again, I really want to stress that not ALL brands are like this: I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of really fantastic ones, and I’d like to think the examples here are the exceptions rather than the rule. As I said though, these insulting pitches have now become a daily occurrence, and I know I’m not the only blogger who’s becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of respect shown to us.
For me the bottom line is this: if my blog is good enough for you to want to feature on it, it’s good enough for me to be compensated for my time.
And if you “don’t have a budget for advertising” (Which I hear over and over again, from brands who want me to promote them, and don’t want to give me anything in return), then you don’t get to advertise: end of story.
And end of rant.
* Although this post is more than long enough, I think it’s important to add that I realise that although I personally find these requests insulting, there are plenty of other bloggers who don’t, and who are perfectly willing to go along with them, and I want to make it really clear that I don’t intend this post to be a criticism of those bloggers. I have never subscribed to the idea that those who work for free “spoil things” for those of us who don’t: I think every blogger has the right to decide for themselves what they’re willing to publish on their sites, and no one is responsible for anyone else’s business. In other words, you don’t owe it to me to turn your blog pro, just so I can continue making money from mine. If you’re happy to work for free, or think it would be fun/good content to enter a blog contest, I have absolutely no quarrel with that: my quarrel is with the brand who asked you to do it in the first place, and my feeling is that, regardless of whether you consider yourself to be a “professional” blogger or not, it’s disrespectful of a brand to try to take advantage of you by asking you to invest time, skill, and often actual money, without at least offering you SOMETHING in return.