A guest post by Krizia from Eat Smart Age Smart
I’ve been blogging since June 2007 when I launched my beauty site . In April 2009, I launched a healthy eating site with the encouragement of my Internet coach Yaro Starak and in the last few months I’ve noticed a shift in the way I deal with publicists.
When I first started blogging, I actually went out and bought beauty products to review them on the site.
During a conference, an exhibitor told me that in my position (promoting skincare and make-up brands on the Internet at no cost to the manufacturer), I should never have to pay for products and I should be getting them for free by contacting the companies.
I didn’t need to hear that twice. On the following Monday morning, I started calling and emailing skincare and make-up companies to get review samples.
I crafted an introduction letter with the most important points about my blog and the reason why I was asking for samples.
In very little time, I started received samples and before I knew it, I became inundated with products from the U.S., Canada and as far away as the U.K.
It got so bad, that the guys at my pick-up area (I rent a UPS address) started complaining about the number of parcels (I’ve received several thousand dollars worth of samples) I was receiving and they were threatening to seriously increase my yearly fee. Luckily I received a few samples I could share with them and they quickly forgot about the idea of increasing my fees.
The samples were taking over my home and I couldn’t give them to friends and reviewers fast enough. In order to keep up with the flood of samples, I started running contests on the blog in order to give away products to 1) clear my home 2) put my readers to work so they could write reviews that I could post on the blog 3) secure some sponsorship dollars from beauty companies to keep up with these contests.
In 2007 and 2008, publicists (who I dealt with to get these samples) would email me to let me know they would gladly send me the samples I requested and asked that I email them once the post was up on the blog.
In many cases, publicists liked the concept of the product review so much that they would recommend my site to their marketing departments for paid reviews or other paid advertisement opportunities that were incredibly lucrative to me.
I still remember that in 2008, I got a really incredible contract via my ad service company (I have a company that takes care of selling ads on my blog) with a large pharmaceutical company to write six posts for them to try educating readers on the benefits of their product. The deal was to net me $8,000 for those six articles and the only thing I had to do was to get the copy reviewed by the pharmaceutical company to ensure that I wasn’t using any medical words in the wrong way.
This was an exciting point in my blogging career since that type of contract is far more lucrative than running site ads or Google AdSense ads.
Everything came to a stop in October 2008. As the stock markets were tumbling, panic was setting in, real estate prices were falling, companies were laying off workers and hard copy magazines were folding, I received an email from my media company informing me that the pharmaceutical company was ceasing the campaign I had started and that they had to cut back on the fees I was supposed to get (I only got $1,600 in the end for three features).
It was a devastating moment for me, but I thought things would get back to normal soon. I don’t think at that time that I understood how things were going to change.
Life as a blogger since the recession and my relationship with publicists
It took me some time to realize that things where changing; but because I was so busy working, I had not noticed the signs of change.
It’s only spending 90 minutes in one day answering emails from publicists that it hit me.
>>> Here’s what I was observing:
1) I was getting at least two to three times the number of pitches to review products. I was spending a lot of time emailing back publicists asking them to send basic essentials like photos, a press releases and price information. Some of these emails from publicists contained only a few short lines “we love your blog, will you feature our product, here’s a link.”… that’s not much to work with.
2) I was getting more requests from non-bloggers looking for link exchanges. These requests were coming from companies that had sites which sold beauty and hair care products on the Internet. They wanted me to add them to the front page of my blog, while they would give me a link on their blog on a page that was almost impossible to find and not visible from the homepage. This happened a lot and it floored me that these companies didn’t get that I didn’t want to give them free publicity while my site was buried somewhere on their site.
3) I was no longer receiving ANY offers for sponsorship opportunities on my site.
4) The few requests for free samples that I had sent were returned to me with a long string of questions:
- “How long have you been blogging?”
- “What’s your PR rank?”
- “Are you on Twitter?”
- “Are you on Facebook?”
- “How many unique users?”
- “How many page views?”
- “How fast can you get our review on your site?”
- “Have you won any awards in the past?”
- “Send us links to past reviews you’ve written.”
- “What angle will you take with this feature?”
- “I need all your company details before we release any samples to you.”
- “Will you promote this on social media networks?”
- “Are you going to shot a YouTube video like you did for other brands?”
- “You said the review would be up last week, WHERE IS IT?” … etc.
As you can see, I’ve started dealing with really demanding publicists and in some cases rude and impatient publicists. I was never asked so many questions in the past when I requested samples.
>>> Samples are being denied or scaled back:
I’ve contacted companies that in the past had sent me boxes and boxes of samples (and I do mean full-size products) and when I contacted them recently, they would say “sorry, we’re not sending any samples right now, but if you want we can provide you with information for you to write a review on your site”. Well, it’s hard to be excited about a product you’ve not tried.
In some cases, companies were sending those ridiculously small samples you get at your department store and it’s still unclear to me how they expect me to write a review when I can only test the product for two days (we usually test products for two-to-three weeks before writing a review.
Here’s a photo of products I received the same week for review:
As you can see one company sent me the smallest possible size while the other company sent me full size products.
Maybe it had to do with the niche?
The interesting thing is that I launched a new blog on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles in April 2009 (www.EatSmartAgeSmart.com) and my relationship with publicists is vastly different from one niche to another. The blog tackles healthy eating, but I also focus on fitness. The fitness publicists have not been really easy to deal with during this recession.
One company (which manufactures supplements) that contacted me to send products for review also wanted to know how much it would cost to sponsor spots on my site. They actually wanted to pay to have banners on my site and not only receive a free review!
I remember that when I sent them the finished post I wrote for them, the publicist sent an email thanking me for getting their company circulating in the social media networks. They were thrilled and I was thrilled.
In contrast, I’ve contacted a number of fitness companies who have said “NO, we don’t send samples to bloggers. We only deal with major media. If you want to test the product, you’ll have to buy it”.
In the cases where a fitness company was willing to send me samples, I’d be subject to daily or weekly emails asking: “When will our review be up?” to “The client is getting nervous and impatient, WHERE IS THE REVIEW?” to “I saw the review and there are things that you wrote that are wrong.” to “We don’t like ‘this word’ you need to change it in the review NOW”.
Most fitness reviews have been received with a string of negativity, while my healthy eating reviews are usually quite well received and the publicists or owners of companies jump for joy at the idea that I’m helping get the word out.
So how am I dealing with publicists since the recession?
- In the case of negative backlash, I’ve decided to ignore those publicists and not let them affect me or affect my work. I usually won’t work with that publicist anymore.
- When I get praised for a review, I quickly email the publicist and company back and thank them and I’ll usually get my traffic assistant to take that link to more social media networks.
- I’ve created an auto-reply that delivers an email with a link that takes publicist straight away to a PDF they can download that gives them all the requirements we need to write a post. If we don’t get all those elements, I will pass on the review and will not chase after publicists. This also has helped cut back on the number of follow-up emails I send publicists.
- I’ve set clear expectations in that PDF and do make it clear that a review will take eight weeks before it’s featured on the site. And that once the review is up, I will send them a link.
- I’ve said ‘no’ many times to publicists who had a burning deadline to meet if I couldn’t make it fit in my publishing calendar and if that would be adding to my stress level.
- When I contact a company for samples, if I feel that getting samples is hard work and I’m being asked loads of questions and am given tons of excuses why they don’t release samples to smaller media outlets, I’ll usually walk away and find another product to review or another topic for my blog post.
I’m not the only one finding it hard dealing with publicists these days
I’ve spoken to other beauty bloggers and editors of magazines (who were not bloggers) and they’ve also found that more and more publicists are being quite pushy, demanding and sometimes rude.
They also feel things are quite different since the recession and they’ve found themselves having to put their foot down and ask the publicist to no longer contact them on a daily or weekly basis and tell them that once the review is ready, they will be contacted.
My theory is simple: Publicists and companies now know that bloggers have a lot of weight on the Web and with the recession hitting advertising budgets really hard, publicists are turning to bloggers to get the word out about their products and also as quick way to getting into social media networks without having to spend any money.
Manufacturers realize that buying a full page ad in a magazine that would costs several hundreds of thousands of dollars will affect their profits if they aren’t able to calculate the rate of return on investment, while hiring a PR firm to get a few samples (that costs very little to the company) out to thousands of bloggers and demanding quick turn around on the features is much cheaper.
They get their new launches to circulate all over the Internet and thousands of bloggers telling their readers to go out and buy the product, and they don’t even have to write a cheque to the bloggers.
This situation could be quite specific to lifestyle bloggers, but I’d love to know if other bloggers also feel more pressured when dealing with publicists since the beginning of the recession.