I will never forget the first time I was approached by a PR rep asking for a blog post about their product.
At the time, I was not working for my own website but as the primary blogger for another person’s brand. We were primarily news focused, but we did have a section for various categories like most news sites. One of which was Health and Beauty.
While we did not do them often, reviews were not unheard of when myself or someone else on the site found a product they were especially fond of. I had done a couple myself, and those reviews had generated a fair bit of traffic and social sharing, back when links of social networks were just starting to take off.
My editor, seeming a little pissed off and bemused, forwarded me an email with the header message, “You won’t believe this jerk…” It would turn out that his comment would be a massive understatement.
Paraphrasing, the message went something like this:
“To Whom It May Concern,
I am a representative of XX Brand Name, makers of XX Product We’ve Never Heard Of. We noticed your reviews of other health related products on your website, in particular [link to three reviews done by myself]. We would like to have a review done of our product for your blog.
“Conditions are as follows:
- You will remove the aforementioned reviews of competing products, as well as [a couple more links for good measure].
- Review will be 500+ words, and will contain the brand and product names with no less than a 7% density, each.
- You will use only the images provided you from our press kit, including images of results.
- You will use the attached script to describe the effects when product is used, rewritten to sound as though it were coming from the experience of the blogger writing.
- We would like [my name] to handle this review.
We cannot pay for this initial review, as we wish to see how positive the response will be. However, if it does well, we will pay for future reviews on your site.
I Must Be Joking, The Grandmaster Of Bad Pitch Emails”
This is not an exaggeration, he really was that demanding, and he really did insist on those conditions. He was not asking for a review, he was telling us we would do it. For free. While removing competing product reviews. Without actually reviewing it, but instead pretending we had.
The Art Of Blogger Outreach
If you read through the above email and thought that it had to be fake, congratulations. You have a functioning sense of rationality that the writer of the email clearly does not. I am sorry to inform you that it really did happen, and people like that do exist.
Needless to say, we did not write the review. We did not even send an email in return, though I practically begged my editor to send a scathing break down of everything wrong with the pitch, with some sarcastic advice on how to improve in the future (starting with jumping in a lake).
What it shows us is that blogger outreach has been around for years, and that it is a valid form of brand promotion. But it has to be approached a certain way, and taking into account a code of ethics that every PR rep and blogger should be following.
Keeping Things Real (and Ethical)
Let’s deconstruct the email itself, before we get into what ethics should actually be applied to blogger outreach campaigns.
They begin badly right off the bat by stating “To Whom It May Concern”. This shows that they have not even bothered to check who is the managing editor who takes review or guest posts requests, which was clearly stated on the contact page.
From there it seems to go more smoothly as they introduce their product and company, and state what they want. The greeting could have been a minor hiccup. Until it gets to their demands.
- You will remove the aforementioned reviews of competing products. There are no words to express how speechless I was when I read this. The sense of entitlement is bad enough, but the total lack of awareness of how insane it is to request a total stranger remove reviews for you unaffiliated product? Pure crazy.
- Review will be 500+ words, and will contain the brand and product names with no less than a 7% density, each. Forget for a moment that this makes it sound like they are keyword stuffing, but they are demanding a certain style. It is the blog that has a style guide, not the company seeking a review.
- You will use only the images provided you from our press kit, including images of results. There is nothing wrong with asking that a specific set of images be used. But if the blog wants to use some of their own as well, showing them using the product or the results for credibility, it is perfectly reasonable. However, it does makes sense with the next demand…
- You will use the attached script to describe the effects when product is used, rewritten to sound as though it were coming from the experience of the blogger writing. So, basically we would be hosting their blog post saying whatever they wanted, without providing an opinion, and lying to our readers about it. Gotcha.
- We would like [my name] to handle this review. This would not have made me angry if they had been asking. But they weren’t.
All of this, and then they tell us in the next breath that they won’t be paying for it, there may be future reviews if we give them good enough (free) hosted product placement on our blog, and we should apparently be grateful for this. We would like [my name] to handle this review.
How PR Reps Can Ethically Behave
I would hope that the majority of PR reps read that message with the same disbelief that bloggers did, and would never make such horrifying mistakes with their own pitches. But that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally screw up.
Having a clear code of ethics before beginning a blogger outreach campaign should be a personal decision, based on your brand, goals, and the needs of the bloggers you contact. However, a few rules can be (and should be) applied unilaterally.
- Respect the talents, influence and benefits of bloggers.
- Understand that it is the blogger’s decision whether they can (or will) endorse your brand.
- A tentative connection in industry is not enough to tether a relationship.
- Bloggers should have the final say in how they review your product, including negatives.
- As human beings, bloggers are not faceless tools for you to use for your brand’s benefit.
- Fostering a working relationship is more valuable than occasionally thrusting up reviews on their site.
- Pitches should be personalized, and made out of a genuine interest and enjoyment of the blog in question, not just out of a need for publicity.
- Nothing comes for free.
This is a rather small list, but it is something to work off of. It also shows you the kinds of considerations you should be making when you begin planning a blogger outreach program of your own.
Don’t be like the idiot who pitched to my former employer. Have a strict code of ethics, and follow them.