You started a blog, you set up your Twitter profile, and now you have found yourself with hundreds of people hanging on your every word. Maybe humor’s your thing, maybe you like doing reviews of stuff you buy, maybe you’re a budding photographer or an amateur chef – whatever it is, you’ve found an audience. Then it happens…you get an email from a company or brand representative introducing you to a place or a product. Congratulations! You have just gotten your first PR pitch!
I remember when I got my first PR pitch and I remember the feeling that people are really listening to what I say. You want to jump up on your chair and scream “YOU LIKE ME! YOU REALLY LIKE ME!” For me it was almost an out of body experience, because for the past 12+ years I was usually on the other side of the email – as the PR professional that was doing the pitching. So I knew the rules of the game. I knew what the pitch was aiming to do and what the PR professional on the other end wanted from me. But a lot of bloggers out there don’t have my same experience, and I’m seeing a bit of confusion from parent bloggers on how to work with PR agencies respectfully and thoughtfully.
In 1982 the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) formally adopted this definition of public relations: ”Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.” In layman’s terms, PR is a way for companies to communicate with the public and manage the thoughts and opinions of its brand or product. PR practitioners are hired by companies to strategically implement on how to communicate, what messages to communicate and how to help increase the awareness of their product, brand or offering through mentions in the traditional or digital media. Most of these forms of communication come in press releases (official statements from the company often announcing important internal news, new products or financial figures), pitches (the direct emails which aim to tell you more of the company’s story), and digital media posts (blogs, tweets, media alerts, etc.). These activities are basic tactics to get the news of the company out to the general public via as many mediums as possible. Each activity has been talked about, strategized and planned. If you are on the receiving end of a pitch, that means that someone, somewhere, has deemed that you are someone they want to have mention their product.
Public Relations vs. Advertising
There has been a lot of talk in the momosphere about asking to get paid to do a product review, and in order to understand why this is such a controversial topic, it helps to know the difference between PR and advertising. PR is influencing the media to want to write/talk about a company or a product because that company/product is a good story, while Advertising is a PAID placement. When you are reading an article in Allure about which makeup brands are offering the hottest new nail polish color, that is the work of public relations. (It’s pretty easy to spot what the Advertising people do.) It’s crucial to remember that brands and the PR agencies that represent them DO NOT PAY PUBLICATIONS TO USE THEIR PITCHES. And it’s equally important to know that the vast majority of respectable publications do not take money from brands. Ethical journalists do not take money from a brand to review a product or brand, and the vast majority of respectable newspapers and magazines will not run a review if they know that the author received money from the brand. Now, I’m not saying that it’s not done, but think of it this way: do you want your readers to trust you and your opinions or just see you as a PR shill, willing to do and say anything for money or free products? Consider your ethics and your personal brand, and make the choice that sits best with you.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be hired as a brand-ambassador or to get to go on a cool trip courtesy of a big company. In fact those are perks of “the job”, but always remember to disclose this information. In fact the FTC has strict guidelines in place to ensure that bloggers are being completely transparent when it comes to receiving products or money from brands; these guidelines also help make sure bloggers are not taken advantage of by big companies with deep pockets. If you decide to engage brands, it’s a good idea for you to have a short disclosure policy on your site detailing how you will work with brands. Post this on your blog for PR professionals to review before pitching you, because it’s a clear statement on you want to operate. Lay out a strategy that answers the following questions: what types of products will you review? What will you do if you are less than pleased with a product? How will you conduct the review or the giveaway? Will you do sponsored posts and endorsements as well as reviews, and how will you make those distinct from each other? This guideline can be fluid and change over time, but it’s a great tool for you to have for yourself and to effectively communicate with the PR person.
You have the product or you took the trip or went to the event. Now what do you do? The goal of the PR campaign is to have you blog/vlog/mention the product/store/brand. But be honest with yourself and your readers. You are not going to like 100% of the events/products you are asked to review. Is there another angle you can take on the story? Did you not love the color of the nail polish but noticed that it lasted a week longer than other polishes? Did the drinks at that new restaurant rock your world even though the food left you wishing you went to the drive-thru at In and Out instead? If there were aspects that you liked, highlight them.
If nothing about the experience was positive, I always suggest first contacting the PR person you spoke with and explain the situation. Maybe it was a bad day at the restaurant, maybe they realized it was a bad batch of nail polish, or maybe you just don’t like it. Out of professional courtesy, give the PR person a heads-up about what happened and give them a chance to respond, or at least a heads-up that a bad review is coming. A good PR person will get to the bottom of the issue in a timely fashion – and will most likely continue to work with you, even if your review is not positive, provided it’s written in a fair, honest and professional manner. And even if the situation is irresolvable, at least you maintained a professional relationship with the PR team.
Wrapping it Up
If you really loved a product – let them know. Write a post about it, Vlog about, gush about it. PR professionals work hard at making sure you think the world of the company’s they are representing because that’s their job. Establish a good, positive and honest relationship with them and they will help you as much as you help them.
Beth Avant, aka HipMamaB, boasts over 12 years of experience in marketing and public relations and is a co-founder of Avant Communications, a MARCOMM/Social Media consultancy located in San Diego, CA. In addition to traditional Public Relations, Beth’s day-to-day life is entrenched in social media via blogs, twitter and Facebook. Beth truly believes in the power of social media, and knows that properly leveraging it for business is both an art and a science. Being a blogger as well as having a career in public relations/marketing has helped her to see both sides of the coin, and she uses this experience to help companies grow and succeed and tackle today’s digital market.
Make sure to visit HipMamaB’s site for more fabulousness!