Blogging, PRs, Brands and All Of That.
I’ve been thinking about this post all morning since I saw a fantastic feature by another blogger, Bonnie Garner, HERE, about her experiences as a blogger with brands at a trade show.
Her experiences veered wildly from being treated with utter indifference on announcing that she is a blogger, to the other end of the spectrum and being told all she could ever want to know about products. Interestingly, she points out that where she was treated with the most kindness was with an Irish brand, and that, I think, is because Ireland ‘gets’ blogs in a way that many other countries still don’t. I was nodding in agreement with almost everything that Bonnie said, particularly the parts where she clarifies why she blogs.
So, that made me think about how bloggers are treated here and whether how we behave as citizen beauty journalists affects how brands treat us and whether we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to having a beauty blog, and also clarifying in my own head about why I’m blogging at all. I almost wish I’d never read the feature because now I can’t get it out of my head and these are big questions to be answered!
The blogosphere is split in the UK between a relatively small number of established blogs with thousands of readers and many, many smaller blogs with smaller readerships. Some blogs are now brands in their own right and act as the umbrella for the term blogger. I hate to use the words ‘bigger’ and ‘smaller’ in blogging but it’s relevant here because what brands want to do is chase the bigger blogs for their numbers, not their words. And where they are concerned, brands can’t get on their blogs fast enough because the ‘word of mouth’ buzz that blogs can create is proven and established.
Established bloggers have spent years working on their sites – it’s rare that a blog goes from zero to hero in a few months. This is not a trodden path; it’s one that is still being created one footstep at a time – leading the way through longevity and innovation is something that comes with mistakes and learnings, many of which happen in a public arena and create ripples through the blogosphere. It’s thanks, in part, to established bloggers carving the path and passing on their learnings, that on the whole, beauty bloggers have a legitimate place in the beauty industry.
But for brands who’ve had their fingers burned, I can see why they might baulk at blogger outreach or view bloggers with disdain. Bloggers who send brands ‘shopping lists’ – it still happens. Bloggers who are nothing short of rude when they’re told no – it still happens. Bloggers who ‘threaten’ brands – it still happens. Bloggers who aren’t even bloggers who call in products – it still happens. Bloggers who complain that there wasn’t enough champagne at an event – that actually happened! Most brands accept that honest reviews can go either way so the reviews aren’t the issue. However, brands can often be contemptuous of bloggers, labelling all under the same umbrella, when 99% of bloggers take what they do seriously and review with respect.
Which brings me round to the way that PR has changed to incorporate bloggers. Some use the scattergun approach – send out enough releases and product and you’re very likely to get some traction in terms of coverage. Others are more selective – and that’s a positive thing because they’re investing time in relationship building and recognising that blogging is a key area of media that’s going to pay dividends down the blogger line for years to come. However, just say the word ‘blogger’ still, and you can hear the energy fall out of the voice at the other end of the phone; it’s happened to me so many times I can’t even count. I’ve overheard conversations (no, I don’t have a glass to the wall!) where blogs are clearly considered easy PR. “Oh, we’ll just send it to the bloggers and that’s the coverage taken care of..”. In the world before blogs, mass send outs were no guarantee of print coverage – everyone had to work harder on relationships and now they don’t. The PRs are the guardians between the brands and the bloggers – and as the brands are the ones who pay the bills, that’s the primary relationship. Which then makes being discerning about what you blog about and how you blog even more difficult.
In many ways, I’ve pared back how I’m blogging to how I used to blog – I’ve been through all the variants in between on this path and what sits most comfortably with me is to take it back to nearly the beginning, where it’s about talking with anyone and everyone about beauty. It’s really quite simple; I know I don’t want to talk ‘at’, I want to talk ‘with’ and that connections with women who have that same common interest is more personally valuable in terms of validating what I’m doing than any work with brands. There’s a commercial side to my blog and where products and brands (in my view) genuinely bring something to the beauty table, it’s not a dilemma about whether to work with them commercially. Nonetheless, I’m turning down more commercial opportunities than I’m taking rather than wondering if there is a way I can make it work. I want to walk this path without being influenced by what others are doing so I don’t really look any more (peer pressure has been an on-going ememy – entirely self-inflicted, I might add) and I’ve no doubt I’ll continue to make clanging mistakes along the way! I’ve got some very good relationships with brands and PRs which makes saying what you really think quite awkward, but nonetheless, I don’t work for the brands and I don’t work for the PRs. I work for anyone who cares to read BBB. I don’t really look at my stats any more – in fact, Google Analytics fell off my blog last year and I’ve never bothered to put it back.
Which then does answer the initial questions right back at the beginning of this tome – not playing ball or not playing quite how the brands and PRs would like you to play will make you your own worst enemy in terms of leverage, but it will also make you your own best friend in terms of integrity. How we behave in the blogosphere does affect brand and blogger relationships – there’s no doubt about that, but you can’t herd rabbits – thank god! And as individuals, we’re not responsible for how anyone else behaves, only ourselves. I think we just have to keep doing what we’re doing in our own way and let the PRs and brand sort it out for themselves. Just as there are different remits for blogging, there will always be different remits for outreach.
I stopped writing posts like these for a long while; they can be very divisive and I also wonder what non-bloggers who read them make of the blogosphere because of them. But as part of paring back to how it used to be, I want to bring the blogosphere and general blogging discussion back a bit more. Sharing learnings and experiences has to be good, right?
*all products are sent to me as samples from brands and agencies unless otherwise stated. Affiliate links may be used. Posts are not affiliate driven.