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PR People Getting Pushier with Bloggers Since the Recession

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:

Samples

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.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Di says:

    The audacity of PR? The audacity of YOU. Why would you be offended by the question of how many page views your blog gets? If you’re proud of your work you should be proud of your viewership. It’s shocking to me that that question shocks you. With tens of thousands of bloggers out there, who’s to say what is read and what is not. I can pull up your blog and see that it is well done but that tells me nothing about how many people have found it and find it valuable/interesting. Traditional media had readership stats, why should you not? You probably get the report every month with your web stats, why would you be not willing to share? Again, it is shocking to me that you are shocked by the question “what angle this feature will take”? Maybe you’re bashing some touted ingredient, publicists need to expect honesty but also that their product will be cast in a reasonably good light otherwise why participate? In addition, to think you deserve free everything for nothing necessarily in return is ridiculous.
    Get off your high-horse bloggers. You know who you are and how well you’re read but not everyone does. Who could reasonably sort through all the blogs out there? You should be thrilled to explain what you do and how well you do it before expecting anything.

  2. Matt Robold says:

    I actually don’t have a problem with the question of pageviews or angles. The brand is looking for coverage and I’m looking for access.

    I’ve turned down samples when I felt that the rep on the other side of the equation wanted more control than I was comfortable giving, but for the most part they’ve been pretty good about me saying, “I’ll review the product honestly and would appreciate it if I could use you or one of your contacts to get some additional information before writing the review.”

    For me the “pushy” factor is much bigger with getting spammed into oblivion with press releases and the electronic equivalent of glossies with no real meat to them, or reps sending me inquiries about reviews in which they claim to be long-time readers of my blog and then demonstrate that I’m just someone on a list. I don’t need to feel special, but I don’t appreciate the farce.

    I think the market is just in flux. Bloggers and marketers are both trying to figure out how things work. It’s not an easy process.

  3. Few others who have commented come from a background similar to mine: I’ve worked in public relations professionally for several decades, both for PR agencies and w/in corporate communications departments of several publicly-held companies. And I’ve also worked as a freelance writer in print media in the past. I am now a full-time professional mommy blogger, enjoying growth on my blog http://MommyBlogExpert.blogspot.com which I wasn’t expecting.

    Coming from that perspective, I think the following:

    PR agencies are doing their jobs when they check creds for media and bloggers — which I think should both be treated with the same amount of professionalism, scrutiny and respect. As a PR person, I always targeted my pitches to specific media that were my clients’ targets; we didn’t pitch to everybody, only the media we wanted to write about our clients.

    True, PR is NOT the same and should not be confused with publicity. However, all publicity isn’t necessarily inferior to PR; likewise all PR is not necessarily superior to publicity. You just can’t generalize because there are those who lack ethics in both courts; there are also both PR pros and publicists that should be held in the highest regard.

    I really don’t have a problem with the FTC stepping in to monitor bloggers writing to ensure that they fully disclose how the products they review are acquired and if payment was involved. In fact, I am a member of BlogwithIntegrity.com which was set up before the FTC action, and always disclose exactly where the products I write about have come from.

    It does cost money and time for a PR agency to run a blogger outreach campaign on behalf of a client — that’s why the client pays the PR agency to represent them plus reimburse the agency for expenses related to that effort. But this PR agency needs to realize that product reviews are just that — an opportunity for a writer to try out a product and write his/her subjective opinion about it in the media (blog or traditional outlets). Therefore, samples are essential for anyone who is asked to do a review — bloggers or traditional media. Also remember, that just because a product is submitted for review, doesn’t mean that the media outlet is required to write about it. That’s the difference between believable product reviews and paid endorsements or advertisements.

    Lastly, now that I am a mommy blogger, I’d be remiss not to note here that most mommy bloggers I know (including some very successful ones) HAVE day jobs, in addition to blogging. And they are not producing much of an income directly from the blog, but from having sponsors or pay-per-click ads on their site. These mommy bloggers might work for an employer or they might do occasional consulting such as I do, but the ethical ones are not blogging about anything that is ever a conflict of interest.

    For certain, ALL media: blogs, traditional media and others need to act professionally all the time.

  4. @Di – I’m VERY proud of what I do and I’m happy to chat about my web site until the cows come home.

    It’s not the question, but more how they are asked. Also, in many cases, these are publicists I’ve worked with many times in the past.

    I don’t own a horse and I’m not on my high horse.

    This is base on my experience and my desire to know if other bloggers where dealing with the same situation as I am.

    ” “what angle this feature will take”? Maybe you’re bashing some touted ingredient, publicists need to expect honesty but also that their product will be cast in a reasonably good light otherwise why participate?” – dear friend I’ve been writing for long enough (I have 3 books that I’ve self published) and I can assure you there are many ways of respectively expose your views about a product that didn’t work for you.

    We do it all the time on the site when a product didn’t work for us and we open the floor to readers to see if anyone agrees with us or not.

    I hope thins answers your questions.

  5. @ Michael Hampton – I hear you my friend. I hear you!

  6. @ Matt Robold – thanks for your comment. You really bring great points to consider!

  7. @ Monica O’Brien – I’m quite humbled by the fact that my post got you thinking!

  8. A. Journalist says:

    Heavy sigh.

    This post–and 99 percent of the replies–is wrong (and not in the sense of ‘incorrect’) at so many levels …

    What a sad place the world has become. And what a waste we’ve made of the Internet.

  9. Cecelia says:

    Interesting post and perspective from a niche different than my own with is baby and kid products. As a small business owner and blogger, I can see both sides of the fence. I began in 2007 at the start of the “review blogging” explosion. And while my site could not continue without products to review since we long since ran out of cool finds in our own household, I can understand companies wanting to target audiences using the best blogs. As a business owner I see free product as the cost of doing business, and as long as the relationship is mutually beneficial and full disclosure is made, I’m all for professionalism on both sides of the fence!

  10. This is so spot-on, I can’t tell you. I’ve been a film critic for a major daily for 13 years. On my blog, WeekinRewind.com, I give away a lot of DVDs, which my reps at the studios provide for me (the major giveaways I buy myself). Lately, the product has been reduced drastically, especially with Paramount, which has stopped even giving out review screeners to those critics who disliked the theatrical releases of their films. What the hell? It’s beyond frustrating–and actually, rather stupid, since I’ve written about it on my blog and also for my newspaper. If they want the bad press–and I’m talking about Paramount here–I’m more than happy to give it to them (not for the giveaways, which I consider an extra bonus, but for review screeners). I have to do my job. Without that product, I can’t. My reps are increasingly rude, which is uncalled for, especially since the combined unique hits on my blog and my newspaper’s site is about 5 million per month.

  11. Companies are doing everything to get their products out there no matter what it takes. It is sad but that is what they are told to do.

  12. titan says:

    interesting article. No wonder many people love to read your blog because it full with many explaination.

  13. fas says:

    What I have noticed is that these guys are losing it. You are reviewing products for just a sample. Magazines take $$$$$$ to do that!

  14. Blogbooze says:

    The start is always the hardest. but when you got the basics and the track right, money is coming to you like you have never imagined.

  15. Karl Bradley says:

    I’m new at this and was really hoping I’d end up with some toys for my step-daughter, son, and niece and nephew to play with. Guess I should’ve started a couple of years ago.

    On the upside, I can start out in this economy without having to compare it to the affluent way things used to be. While I hate I missed out on the affluent times, I’d also be frustrated if I’d had to “downshift”. For someone with the frustration tolerance of an Egyptian war god (such as myself), I suppose that’s not too bad a trade-off!

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  18. Flight fares says:

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