How to reply to that PR pitch

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Cozying-up-to-the-cat

by Yvonne DiVita, BlogPaws' Co-Founder

I hear from our members that they are increasingly being pitched products or ideas for mention on their blogs. This is good news in that we know PR firms and brands are recognizing our power. They want us to talk about them to our friends. They realize we have influence. This is true even of a small blog that may only have 100 visitors a day. Those visitors count. 

As you grow, you will receive more and more of these invitations. Some will be relevant to your writing, others will  not. Some will make you feel sad because they are about shelters, rescues or a program supporting shelters and rescues, and you want to write about them but… you can't write 10 different posts about 10 different things going on, and still get your own writing done. And, some will make you mad. Because they will assume you're going to cover their product for free… free product, that is. It's not the message, sometimes, it's the assumption that your time if not worth anything. 

Here's the skinny on all of this.

Every time you do a free product review, you sell yourself, and your fellow bloggers short. Be selective. No, I am not advising you stop doing free product reviews. I am saying, weigh the free product and your influence carefully. Ask yourself, "Should I get paid for this review? Did the newspaper or major magazine in which an ad was placed for this product, do it for free? Why is my blog any different?" Truth is – your blog has more relevance than a major magazine or newspaper ad. 

When pitched a product you'd like to do a review on, but which you'd also like to get paid for, here's an idea – respond enthusiastically and say something like this, "I'd love to cover xxx on my blog. It's exactly the kind of item my readers love to hear about. Product reviews of this kind only cost $100 – since I will be taking at least 2 hours to not only test the product but write about it, with pictures." Note that you are asking to be paid for your time. And, your expertise. Not your review. 

Next, when you receive a pitch for something that you'd like to cover, but can't, what do you do? "Can't" is a relative term – maybe you're swamped with other projects and don't feel that it would be fair to take on a new one, knowing the new one will go to the bottom of the pile (or list). Write back to the people who pitched you, be polite, explain why you can't do the review, and let them know if they may write to you again. You should create reusable language for this so you don't have to write something new every time. Yoko-MomWestover-web

Last, when you receive a pitch obviously directed to a group…and your name is not even included, sort of like: "Hi! We'd love to share our latest news with you about our client's most recent productline…" you should do one of two things. You should delete it and ignore it. Why respond to a broadcast email? Do they even really know who you are? Or, you should write back and tell them why you're declining their invitation. Again, always be polite. "I do not accept pitches directed at large groups. This pitch makes me feel like a faceless person in a crowd." Or something like that. 

Be honest if the product isn't for you. i.e.: "I don't write about this topic/article/product on my blog. Thank you for thinking of me."

When should you just delete and not respond? Well, a couple of weeks ago I received a pitch which began, "Dear Mr. Divita." Yep. Mr. Divita. (for those who don't know me… I have never been MR Divita… it's Ms DiVita, thank you) Can you say delete without looking back?

Last word of caution – if you want to work with a firm, if they've approached you politely and shown they've actually read your blog, but you just can't do it now, tell them. Be honest. I always thank good firms for their patience.

We want you to be a success at your work. If you are planning to monetize, think carefully about accepting free pitches, no matter what they are for. If you love getting great free content, remember to be selective and make the PR firm do the same. Read Susan Getgood's post on "Should You Work for Free?" and consider all the options when you respond to a pitch.

You are an important voice – your opinion counts.

Any good or bad experiences to share? We're all ears… 

  • http://doggiesandstuff.com Doreen

    Great advice, Yvonne!

  • http://opcatchat.blogspot.com caren gittleman

    silly me! I never even thought of asking to be PAID (what a concept!) for products that I promote/endorse! Hell I just recently promoted one where I received NOTHING, not even the product! What an idiot!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/samsonmedia Samsonmedia

    What happens if you ask to get paid (which is a fair concept) but after reviewing the product or service you really think it’s horrible? What then? Do you write a truthful review discussing how much you didn’t like it and why (we’ll assume tactfully and balanced writing) and then send them a bill? Get paid up front, write the bad review and say “Sorry.” Or compromise and write a more favorable review because they paid? Believe me, I get the getting paid for your time and effort thing. But this sounds to me like a major conflict of interest. Thoughts on how to approach this?

  • http://doodlingdogs.blogspot.com/ Doodling Dogs

    Great post! Thanks :)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/gregbrooks Greg Brooks

    Full disclosure 1: I’m a PR guy and I’ve run newspaper sections that do reviews before, so I’ve got perspective on this from a couple of different angles.
    Reading through this, what strikes me is that bloggers need to figure out whether they want to be treated as newspapers, magazines or something completely different.
    Newspapers deliver much of their value through the notion that they’re objective and can’t be bought. Yes, there are advertorial sections where you can buy an ad and get a review — but they’re clearly marked as such. That’s why PR is valuable — not because of the work of the writer or the PR person, but because there’s value in the objective, third-party validation of the service or product under review.
    With magazines, policies are all over the map, and range from strict no-pay-for-play policies like those at newspapers all the way to not reviewing products unless they advertise. Readers aren’t looking for objectivity from most specialty magazines, or at least not to the standard of newspapers.
    So why not be something completely different? After all, it’s a new form of media, so you can make your own rules, right?
    Right — but not without consequence.
    If you *want* a lot of stuff to review, then you probably need to fit one of the existing molds — that lets PR people work with you in a manner that fits in with how they work with other media.
    That probably means: 1.) Objective reviews for free; or pay-for-play reviews that are clearly marked as such. The latter isn’t even the realm of PR at many companies; it’s lumped in with advertising.

  • http://www.kolchakpuggle.com Kolchak & Jodi

    Great post. As our blog continues to grow, I might need to think more about being paid for reviews. I am very selective about the products I am willing to accept reviews or Giveaways of – and right now, it is more important to me to be able to offer great Giveaways to my readers than to turn a profit on them. If you have a great product, I’m usually happy to write a review and do a Giveaway for free. LOL, I’m still more than a little awed that people even WANT to send me things!

  • http://www.licursi.net Megan Licursi

    As a PR person, I’ve yet to advise clients to pay for content. See my thoughts here: http://mlmcagency.blogspot.com/2011/11/to-pay-or-not-to-paybloggers-that-is.html.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5fabc4a970c twitter.com/Tom_Collins

    Hi Megan and Gregg,
    In Gregg’s comment and an email exchange with Megan, you both address the payment of bloggers for content they create using the analogy of newspapers and reporters. I think Gregg’s suggestion that we find a whole new way to think about the roles of content creators in social media marketing may be the key. But I don’t think it helps to keep using analogies to old media based on assumptions that were never true in the first place.
    With Megan’s permission and to provide full context for my thoughts, here’s what she wrote to us about Yvonne’s post:

    “It’s actually articles like these that get bloggers in trouble. As PR people, we don’t expect people to “work for free” and I have no problem sponsoring bloggers or paying for ads. I do not advise clients to pay for a review though. We treat bloggers like reporters. We wouldn’t ask a reporter to take money in exchange for a story. They’d frown upon that. Now, advertising in the reporter’s magazine? Completely okay. So, we’ll pay for advertisements on the blog, but not the review.
    “And, if that closes off some bloggers to me? So be it.”

    Here’s a slightly revised version of what I wrote back to Megan:
    I think your view of bloggers is founded on a faulty analogy. “Reporters” have always been paid for the stories they wrote. They have always been paid by marketers. In the traditional media model, they just made deals with middlemen called editors/publishers to pass the money through.
    This allowed the “reporters” to pretend that what we call independent journalism was/is somehow devoid of profit motivation. It allowed marketers to pretend that what we call “earned media” was/is, too.
    Neither pretension has ever been true.
    If your clients came to you with a blogger outreach marketing program intended to generate “earned” product reviews by bloggers, would they expect you to handle it for free? Would you do so?
    Your clients are paying for the reviews. You mention in your post over on your blog that you value the reviews at 9 times that of an advertisement. http://mlmcagency.blogspot.com/2011/11/to-pay-or-not-to-paybloggers-that-is.html
    Why should the bloggers who create the actual content that you and your clients covet most be expected to do so for free?
    Suppose a client came to you with a celebrity endorsement marketing project where they had a relatively low budget and wanted to get, say, a rookie athlete who was one of the late round drafted, not-yet-a-big-name players. Now suppose you went to his agent and suggested that he appear in a couple of endorsement spots for free to establish himself (as Stephanie Azzarone says bloggers must do in her Engage:Moms post, http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/154426/). How long do you think it would take the agent to stop laughing?
    As Yvonne always points out, when you pay bloggers for a review, you’re paying for the work they’re doing, not for their opinion. Just as you’ve always less directly paid “reporters.”
    I’d add that you’re also paying bloggers for their writing skill, web-style publishing talents, and access to the numbers and relationships they’ve built with their readers.
    It’s those relationships with our readers that make bloggers more valuable to you than most paid “reporters,” not less. A quality blogger has devoted a lot of time developing her writing and publishing skills, but poured even more into nurturing relationships with readers and fellow bloggers.
    It matters less (or should) how big the audience is, than the depth and strength of these relationships. When a blogger with strong reader relationships reviews a product and opens with the FTC required disclosure, those readers trust the part that says, yes, I’ve been paid by the company, but this is my full, honest, impartial review of the product/service.
    That trust is something a quality blogger has earned and will not abuse. It is something you and your clients cannot buy elsewhere.
    In the end, I’m talking about quality. Over the long haul, you’ll get what you pay for, or pretend you don’t have to pay for. It has always made a difference to your clients (and the fee you can charge them) whether you could get them written up in the New York Times, or a small town weekly. In the blogger review arena, you can work with quality bloggers who’ve come to understand their own value, or keep finding new bloggers who are willing to work for free.
    So, in my opinion, when you talk about being okay with being closed off to “some bloggers” that’s what you’re really doing: closing yourself and your clients off to quality.
    By the way, for me the term “earned media” in the blogging context should now refer to things like comments, trackbacks, shares, Facebook likes, Tweets, and so on. Which kind of bloggers are more likely to help your client spark those kinds of earnings?
    As I wrote to Megan, this comment is really a blog post (or series) that’s been rattling around my head ever since I read the Engage:Moms piece linked above. But Yvonne keeps preempting me! ;-D
    So I’m glad this one, along with the comments, gave me the excuse and inspiration to get it out.
    Thanks!
    Tom

  • http://www.mytailhurtsfromwaggingsomuch.com Michelle Maskaly

    Great points!
    After having a bunch of different thoughts on this, I’ve changed the way I do reviews and handle posts on My Tail Hurts From Wagging So Much. It’s still a work in progress, but I have a much clear idea of what I want, and not want, to do.
    I’m finding, it also depends on the person reaching out on behalf of the companies. Do they respect bloggers, reporters, journalist? Did they even look at my site? Do they know my dog’s name is Toby?
    There are several companies, I’ve decided to not work with because I feel their interactions are not genuine. I’ve come to this conclusion not just through email exchanges, but also from hearing them speak at panels or meeting with them at conferences.
    And the, there are other companies that if it means staying up till 4 a.m. to write a post about some great thing their flack told me they’re doing, I’m going to do it. This happens because either I think it’s something people should really know about or because I’ve met their rep at conferences and were friendly, they’ve always been reciprocal or they will reach out to me or comment on something I’ve written even when they’re *not* pushing their product.
    Companies know that for the most part, the pet community/bloggers/writers is not about getting free swag, treated to lavish parties or doing a giveaway a day {although some of those things do help}. Most are professionals, who want to use their expertise to help pets — and companies use it to their advantage.
    Have they ever went to a mommy blogger and said if you use this hashtag, write this blog post and promote the heck out of this on Twitter we’ll donate money to your favorite charity? From working on the PR side of things, I know the answer is no.
    Yes, that is a bit contradictory, to what I said about wanting to help pets, but there is a difference when it’s being taken advantage of.
    And, you can bet Mommy bloggers would not let anyone take advantage of them.

  • http://www.seattledogspot.com Robert Pregulman

    I’d love to see an answer to the question posed earlier in this thread by Samson Media -”What happens if you ask to get paid (which is a fair concept) but after reviewing the product or service you really think it’s horrible? What then?”
    Although I’ve never seen a negative review of a product, I’m sure some people have written them, but the majority of reviews are extremely positive. Is it because the products or good or because people don’t want to write reviews about products they were paid to review?

  • http://www.mytailhurtsfromwaggingsomuch.com Michelle Maskaly

    Robert,
    I’ve never been paid to review a product, but I have been sent products to review, and there have been times when it didn’t work out. This usually happens with toys, because my dog is a chewer.
    In one case, I really liked the product, but added that if your dog was a bad chewer, it might not be for them because of the small parts, or at least keep a good eye on them. I added that if their dog doesn’t do this, go out and buy it.
    My readers appreciated my honestly. The company thanked me for my candid review, but has never worked with me again.

  • http://www.blogpaws.com Yvonne DiVita

    @Robert, you’re being paid to review the product which means you must (a) read the book or (b) test the product. If you hate the book or dislike the product, you may opt out of the review, and tell the person who sent it why.
    The payment was for your time – not for the review. Reviews should not be gushing testaments of approval – they should be fair assessments of the product or book. So, if you can’t say something nice, revert back to what your teachers taught you in kindergarten, don’t say anything at all. But, please, tell the author or person who sent the product why.
    Rule of thumb is… open your review with a positive statement (let people know you got the product for free), maybe tell people why you were chosen to review it. Write something about what could be better about it – or, if you can’t think any improvements, look at other possible reviews and share what one of them said, and close with a recommendation or your thoughts on whether your reader should read the book or buy the product.
    Does that help?

  • http://www.blogpaws.com Yvonne DiVita

    @Michelle, great points! I think you have the right approach. This has really opened my eyes to various ways of looking at this issue. I thank Megan for helping us understand the PR side of things…and I thank you for telling your powerful story of the brand that “has never worked with me again”… very telling.

  • http://www.jojodawg.com Brian Safina

    Bloggers have tremendous marketing power, especially with the millennials (aka Gen Y). This is how they get information…a Google search, leads to a product review from some random Blog…and cha-ching. There is value here. Therefore Bloggers should get paid for their time. And like everyone has already said, it just comes down to ethics. Get paid for your time and don’t let your opinion be clouded by $$. Ultimately, the market will sniff out the fakes.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5fabc4a970c twitter.com/Tom_Collins

    @ Robert & Gene (samsonmedia),
    Others have addressed your question about what to do if you get paid to review a product that turns out to be horrible and provided good guidance.
    But I also think the way the question is asked is over-simplified and appears to set up a highly unrealistic and unlikely problem in a couple of ways.
    First, the question seems based on a scenario where a company sends a blogger both a product and payment without the blogger first making a choice to accept the task – and the particular product.
    If you’re doing product reviews at all, the most likely sequence will be a pitch from the company or agency. The blogger will get the opportunity to review the information about the product in the pitch and probably find more online, both from the company, media coverage, and consumer generated sources. In most cases, the blogger will be able to tell ahead of time if it’s a product she or her pet is likely to find “horrible.” And it’s at that point that most bloggers will decline the offer.
    Thus, the problem you postulate will rarely arise.
    The second oversimplification, though, is the notion of sending a blogger a product that he finds “horrible” in every possible way. In almost every case I can imagine, there will be something positive the blogger can write about.
    That does not mean leave out the constructive criticism. The blogger’s readers expect and deserve to hear his full and honest opinion of the product.
    And the company who sent it should expect the same — and be grateful to get it. There’s a wonderful book about consumer feedback called A Complaint is a Gift. That’s what the negative parts of a review are and how the company should view them.
    A really smart marketer would take part in the comment stream on all reviews of their products. On those reviews with negative or critical aspects, they’d see it as an opportunity to gain as much feedback as possible, while (if appropriate) providing additional information to the blogger and readers.
    A negative review doesn’t always have to be a negative, for the blogger or the company.
    Tom