When I started this blog it was not in the hope that people would offer me free stuff (nor is that the case now). It never once crossed my mind that anyone would want to do so. When the offers came in I tended to ignore them, mostly because I knew in good conscience I would then have to write about the product, and I didn't want The Sunday Best to turn into a PR shill regurgitation machine.
When companies I like or even admire started to contact me, my position became a little trickier. These were companies I would have written about anyway, and now they were offering me things that I, to be honest, really wanted. This might have blurred some ethical line, but since it was a line I had created myself I rationalized the blurring.
For one thing, this blog is at least partly about supporting the people and things that I like, and if a company thinks that sending me something will help them then I am not going to argue - except when it doesn't.
Why Most PR to Blogs is a Waste of Time and Money
Recently I was contacted by a PR company to announce a collaboration between Threadless and Gilt, where classic Threadless designs were placed on softer, more "tailored" t-shirts and sold through the Gilt website. I wrote back saying I was a fan of both companies, if not the models' posing, and would be happy to review the shirts.
The wrinkle - the sale went live the next day, and they wanted me to write about it before then. I said I couldn't write about something I hadn't seen, and that I wouldn't simply "report" that the sale was happening. This was all understood before anything was sent.
Enough time passed between this exchange and the shirts arriving that I actually forgot they were being sent. And when they arrived they came with a stated value of $230, meaning duty had been assessed. I had thought I was being sent one or two t-shirts, but they had actually sent 15 of them, the weight and value of the package obviously attracting the notice of Canadian Customs.
I felt genuinely bad that a) I hadn't written about the sale and b) they had sent so many of the shirts. I wrote to the PR company explaining the situation. I haven't heard back from them since.
I'm not trying to take food off anyone's table, or even saying that blog PR can't or doesn't work. But I do think that in its current model it tends to be mostly wasteful. For one thing, it is far too shotgun in its approach. On an average day I'll receive press releases and offers about Miley Cyrus and her choice of jeans at the Teen Choice Awards, mascara that lasts all day long, the perfect handbag for a busy day, and stirrup jeans. Clearly someone is sitting at their computer, firing email after email into the abyss from a generic list of "style" blogs. The return rate on this may justify it to an extent, but, as ad network The Deck will tell you, it's not the number of eyes that matter but the depth of attention.
Since companies seem intent on using PR to contact bloggers, here are a few ways I think they can improve on the process.
1. Hire PR that blog, or at least read the blogs they are contacting.
I know PR mass mailers are probably getting paid by saturation and not hard metrics, so this will take a shift in the entire company-to-PR relationship. Companies - demand a higher level of PR interaction with the media they are engaging. PR - demonstrate the more immersive quality of your PR, and then charge accordingly. Neither of you should be happy with the current state of your PR.
Think of it this way - if you hired someone to buy space in magazines, wouldn't you want those people to actually read those magazines? Shouldn't they, in fact, be aware of a lot of magazines, the better to tailor your product to the reader/ultimate consumer?
2. Write more persuasive emails.
Leaving the actual quality of writing aside for now, most PR email that I receive seems to assume that I will, without prompting beyond the email, be ecstatic to report on whatever is written there. This "hey look, shiny!" approach is exactly what most people don't like about fashion. Dig a little deeper - give me a reason to care about what you're saying. Don't assume that simply putting the label name at the top is enough, especially if you're a new label.
3. Use proper grammar and full sentences.
Nothing is more likely to get me to stop reading than when a writer can't be bothered to trace a verb to its noun or go on and on with sentence or something link to another idea or junk.
4. Don't disappear.
Sometimes I get into a ten response deep interchange with a PR person. We'll reach a point where company information is about to be sent, or some question is about to be answered, and then the PR person will completely disappear. Now, maybe I don't understand the job. Maybe interacting with the people being contacted is not part of the overall package. But maybe, just maybe, it should be (see 1).
I like Threadless and Gilt. The t-shirts are soft and fit well, and the designs look great blown up a little larger. I would have been happy to write about them if I had received them on time. Hell, I'm happy to write about them now. And I didn't even need a PR prompt.