Public Relations (PR) is a topic that I’ve wanted to blog about for a very long time because I’m very opinionated on this, and I have so much to share.
In case you weren’t sure, in an overly simplified nutshell, PR is managing information between a company or an individual and the public.
For all brands, it’s very important that the company’s information is consistent, accurate, and positive. It’s in PR’s interest to make sure that press releases are sent to the right media sources and that the public views the company in the best possible light.
There’s a lot of pressure for PR firms, and I really respect and admire their work – it’s not easy. Even when scandals break out, the PR team has to work their tail feathers off to do damage control and to ensure that the public still views the company in a hospitable light. That takes sharp wit!
When it comes to blogging, PR often spells press releases and samples. This is what I’d like to address in this post because, although I’ve had only a few questions about how to get on PR lists, it’s enough to make me want to help…or at least outline what I did in case it helps.
Blogging Goals & PR
First thing’s first. If you’re starting a blog because you just want free stuff from PR, in my opinion, you’re beginning on the wrong foot. (If you’re a centipede, starting out on the right foot may take a little time figuring out…)
Passion should always come first because genuine bloggers will trump greedy ones any day!
That being said, I don’t think it’s wrong to want free stuff. We all have bills to pay, and if you can get something free that you like, that definitely helps to make your wallet breathe a sigh of relief.
In my case, I am obsessed with nail polish, so if you offer me free nail polish, well, I’m over the moon and orbiting around Saturn! (However, I have turned down offers. And I think you should, too. If you’re swamped and you don’t have time to review something in a timely fashion or if you’re just not interested in the product, I think it’s not right to accept it.)
You should have many goals for your blog, and if one of them is to collaborate with PR firms, then so be it. But, just don’t make the mistake of putting that as your first or only goal. If you do that, I think your blog will spiral downwards. Readers are smart, and we can all sniff out a phoney blogger who has too much self-invested interest.
How Do You Get on PR Lists?
After blogging for Swatch And Learn for quite a while, I became curious about PR. It was a whole new world to me (other than what I had seen on shows like The City and Kel on Earth!)
Here’s what I did.
I made a list of some brands I loved. These were already brands that I bought lots of stuff from and even blogged about. I found their websites online and looked up their contact information. Then, I sent each a personalized e-mail.
E-mail Tips & Things to Include
- General information about your blog - Tell them how it’s related to their brand
- Specific information about your blog - Give them some numbers to crunch. Tell them how many total visitors, unique visitors, and total pageviews you get each month. Even if they don’t have time to read your entire e-mail, at least they can skim through it & see your statistics
- Reasons why you think your blog is a good fit for their brand - If you have a blog about automotive parts and you’re trying to get on the PR list for nail polish, that’s going to be a tough (or impossible) sell. Make sure that you have strong and solid reasons for why they should consider you.
- Be polite - If they wanted a pushy used-car salesperson, they would’ve asked for one. Don’t shove statements down their throats because that’ll just cement the fact that you should NOT be on their list. Ask nicely. Be polite. Don’t assume that you’re the greatest blogger in the world. Being cocky will only hurt you and will probably make them laugh around the water cooler.
- Include some links to reviews/posts you’ve already done on their brand - This will show them that you’re not just in it for freebies. You want to show them that you REALLY love their brand and that you want to work with them to help promote their company to give them more exposure and to hopefully make them more money.
- Be grateful - Thank them for considering you. People who work at PR firms are ridiculously busy, so if they are able to squeeze in time to read your e-mail, consider that a big deal.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting
Haha, sorry! But I just couldn’t resist using that heading!
Seriously, though…After you’ve sent out your e-mail, you probably have a lot of expectations. One of them may be to get a reply.
You have to understand that sometimes the e-mail goes to the marketing department, the general-inquiries department, or the PR department. It takes time for them to work through all the e-mails they get flooded with. You’re not the only person who wants to get on their PR list. Have patience, and keep on blogging in the meantime.
If you’re a new blogger, although this sounds discouraging, you shouldn’t expect the majority of companies to get back to you.
The first few times I reached out to PR, all I heard were crickets…and then crickets listening to crickets. That’s how much silence there was! But I understand now that I was jumping the gun.
Nobody has free money to just give away…Well, if someone does, please send me a cheque!
You have to understand that companies are not charities. When they give free products to bloggers, they’re hoping that you’ll review the products, which in turn gives the brand more exposure.
If you’re a new blogger who gets 10 visitors per day, you just don’t have the large enough audience to make it cost-effective for PR to send you stuff.
Sadly, it’s not all about passion. You have to prove to PR that you’re not only passionate, but that your passion can reach people. (Remember, PR is about managing the information flow between an individual or a company and the public. If you’re an individual without an audience, you’re missing that vital link to the public.)
What to Do When You Don’t Hear from PR
As I said before…keep blogging. Keep your passion alive. But try to network with more people and improve your blog and its reach.
After several months, you may consider contacting them again and updating them on your progress. If you’ve reached more people, your statistics will show, and it may perk up PR’s ears.
Sometimes, You Get Lucky
It’s not always about doing the grunt work and reaching out to PR. Sometimes, when you keep at it, they find you.
Case in point: OPI’s US PR firm found Swatch And Learn, and asked if I was interested to be put on the list. Of course I said yes! Let me tell you – it was one of the most exciting blogging days when I read that e-mail because not only did it tell me that they visited my blog, but that they could see my passion for nail polish and for OPI! I was ecstatic to be able to promote a brand that I truly believed in. (Afterwards, they forwarded my information to OPI’s Canadian PR firm, and the rest is happy history!)
What Happens When You Get Put on the PR List?
Just because you’ve been added to the PR list doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get free products.
A lot of times, you’ll receive press releases on new collections, products, or important publicity events. You don’t have to blog about them, but if they’re of interest to you and/or your readers, I highly recommend that you post them. Not only will this show that you’re interested in promoting the brand, but that you’re willing to do some work to help them.
It’s not the same deal with every company. Some put you on the list to receive press releases, but they won’t send you anything else. Others put you on the list to receive press releases and then you can request samples (as long as they’re still available when you submit your request). And then there are some that send you special invitations to exclusive events.
What Are Samples?
In the PR world, ‘samples’ are free products. They’re usually full-size products, and although most are identical to the retail versions that consumers can buy, some have slightly different labelling. (e.g. For some nail polishes, PR will send labels that just have plain text with the colour name that are different from the retail labels. However, some PR companies will send samples that are identical to the retail version.)
How Can You Request Samples?
Often, the press releases you receive will include information at the bottom letting you know that there are samples available (as well as high-resolution photos or more information). They always include the name and e-mail of the person to contact.
Also, don’t expect to receive full-collection samples right off the bat. A lot of times, you’ll get some items, not all. However, after you’ve built up some consistency in your relationship with the PR firm, they may very well offer you full collections one day, depending on their budget, too.
Don’t be greedy. Any samples sent your way is a huge deal! Be very grateful for that accomplishment in and of itself. Remember, you can be taken off a PR list at any time, so appreciate what you have!
If You Get Samples, Do You Have to Review Them?
None of the PR firms or companies I’ve collaborated with ‘forced’ me to review samples.
However, it’s a good idea to review some of them if you have time. Not only does it show them that you truly are interested in helping them, but that you’re interested in their products.
If you’re lucky enough to receive full collections, it’s understandable that you may not be able to review everything, but if they’ve sent you 3 bottles of nail polish, I think you should try to review them all because it’s not asking for a lot.
Do Reviews on PR Products Have to Be Positive?
No. I’ve actually given negative reviews and ‘Busted’ some products that were provided by PR. You shouldn’t feel obligated to give a fake positive review on anything. Your honesty and integrity means more than free products. And your readers trust your opinion, so lying to them is a crime.
Some bloggers feel bad about posting negative reviews, but I don’t. Just like how I love to drum up excitement over a new polish I’m loving, I’m also quick to help people save money if a product doesn’t live up to its claims and isn’t worth it. Ultimately, my loyalty is to my readers.
I’ve found that good PR firms won’t take you off the list, even if you give a product they sent you a negative review. They’re professionals, and they realize that products don’t work for everyone. Plus everyone has different preferences.
How Do You Organize a Sponsored Giveaway?
Sometimes PR will approach you and offer products for a sponsored giveaway. However, don’t just accept anything. Make sure it’s appropriate for your audience.
(I’ve actually turned down some offers because it was a bad fit. In one case, I had given a product a poor review because it just didn’t work, and the PR team asked me if I’d like to host a giveaway for a basket full of that brand’s products! Well, I had a hard time justifying why I should offer my readers something that I ‘Busted’ on Swatch And Learn. Why give something that I don’t even care for? So I said no…more than once.)
Most times, however, you need to reach out to PR and ask them if they can sponsor a giveaway. Make sure you have some good reasons to convince them, and try to keep your e-mail short because, as I mentioned before, they’re extremely busy people!
It really is as simple as just asking! If they say no, respect that. But, if they say yes, start bouncing off the walls for joy!
I hope that you found this post helpful. I’m definitely not an expert when it comes to working with PR firms, but since I’ve collaborated with a few, I have some experience and thoughts that I wanted to share.
If you have any additional questions regarding PR that I didn’t address, please feel free to ask me in a comment.
Also, if you have any topics that you’d like me to address in future From Mary’s Desk posts, please let me know. I’m open to good suggestions.
Other posts in the From Mary’s Desk series:
- Part 1: Some Things I Learned While Blogging
- Part 2: Pictures & Swatches
- Part 3: How to Plan & Execute a Blog Giveaway