Blogging has changed so much in recent years.
It wasn’t very long ago that people would stare blankly when I told them I was a blogger, now there are so many of us out there that competition is intense. It’s no longer enough to write your blog, sit back and let the opportunities fall into your lap – if you’re serious about making a living you need to go out and get those jobs you want.
Sounds easy, right? But in reality, it’s difficult to know where to start. What do you say? What do you offer in return? What if they publicly blast you on social media for being a shameless blagger?!
After the White Moose Café debacle unfolded I imagine many bloggers started second-guessing every email they sent in the fear they’d be judged as chancers, rather than writers who invested great time and effort into their work. I know I did.
It got me thinking about what brands and PRs really want to see in a collaboration pitch: what makes an idea stand out, and what has them instantly reaching for the delete button? So I asked some of them, and the advice I got back might make the difference between you getting that next job, and not.
TO PITCH, OR NOT TO PITCH
Firstly, I asked whether unsolicited pitches are actually welcomed, or are they viewed as ‘blaggy’? Yes, pitch away, was the overwhelming response.
One PR working in beauty, fashion and interiors (who preferred to remain anonymous, so I’ll call her *Tara) explained: ‘Even if it doesn’t lead to us gifting or paying the blogger, it puts them on our radar. More often than not, we do end up keeping their details for future projects.’
Ellie Mack is a Senior Outreach Executive at Visibilis, and says unsolicited pitches are always welcomed. ‘We work across so many clients, with so many projects,’ she says. ‘It’s a great way for a blogger that we’ve yet to come across to make themselves known to us.’
Grace Scott, PR & Outreach exec at Bozboz, agrees. ‘There are always going to be bloggers out there who I might not find myself, but would be perfect for something I’m working on,’ she explains.
BE GRACIOUS IN DEFEAT
Megan Hallinan is head of PR & Social at MBA and also a blogger at Got To Be Gourmet, so understands both sides of the pitching/commissioning coin. She reiterates that pitches are always welcomed, but reminds us that we always need to be prepared to get a ‘no’.
‘We won’t always have a budget or even product available,’ she says. ‘Bloggers I’ve spoken to sometimes don’t believe this, but it’s true – we’re often given a set allocation of product samples or a set budget for a campaign; there’s very rarely an extra pot of money hiding away.’
It’s a thought echoed by Megan Mepham, a PR at ThoughtShift and the Blogger_Hive Twitter community. Megan has been working in PR, and later digital marketing, for eight years, and in that time she’s worked with thousands of bloggers, on projects ranging from straight-forward product reviews and blogger events, to creating sponsored content for websites and social channels.
‘Brands have different marketing budgets and a limited number of product samples, so PRs can’t say yes to everyone,’ she says. ‘A brand might not be able to offer exactly what you suggest initially but may have other things they can offer, which could lead to bigger and better things.’
Don’t be bratty if the PR says ‘no thank you’, she advises, as you’ve still managed to get yourself on their radar. ‘Remember that PRs at agencies usually represent many brands, so befriending them can open up other opportunities you were unaware of.’
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Make sure you put some effort into your pitch – a tired old form letter will not cut the mustard. A relevant and well-thought-out idea shows you’ve taken your approach seriously, which in turns makes the client take YOU seriously. It could even convince them to collaborate on something they’d never have considered otherwise.
‘The emails that get binned are the generic ones where you can tell that they haven’t done much research,’ Grace reveals. ‘They’ve just found a list of somewhat relevant brands and emailed every single PR on that list, and the only thing they’ve changed is the name of who they’re addressing.’
‘Anything that comes across as arrogant goes straight in the bin, plus anyone who can’t clearly demonstrate the value they add – it makes it quite clear they just want something for free.’
Ellie says: ‘Just as we would approach a blogger in a personal manner, ensuring we’ve done our research before pitching an appropriate campaign, we’d like this to be reciprocated. Make sure you’ve checked us out, what our agency stands for and the kind of clients we work with, so you can tailor your pitch.
TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT, WHAT YOU REALLY, REALLY WANT
‘Detail how you would specifically like to work with the brand, and how it will benefit them,’ Tara recommends, ‘and link to similar post examples to help the PR visualise the style of the post/review/content you’d be providing.’
If you expect payment, she adds, make it clear in your initial email.
Years ago, job pitches were expected to be formal, but today’s constantly-connected world is much more relaxed. Tara advises staying true to your usual style and blog voice: ‘My industry is quite laid back,’ she elaborates, ‘so friendly is definitely key.’
Ellie says: ‘For us, our style is always conversational, we like things to be personal, in order to build a natural relationship between ourselves and bloggers. However, it’s definitely important to ensure that your original pitch email includes what you can offer us; it’s more likely to make us think, ‘Wow, yes, we want to work with you!’.‘
But casual and sloppy are two different things – check for spelling or grammatical errors, and ensure your email and overall design is contemporary and appealing (particularly important for visual industries).
A genuine love for the brand is a huge advantage, Tara also reveals. ‘Believe it or not, it really does make us want to work harder to please (the blogger) by offering a bigger budget or more gifts.
‘This is because we believe their genuine love for the brand and desire to collaborate will feed into how they speak about the brand; this will increase the likelihood of them featuring us over and over again, which will ultimately lead to more collaborations with the blogger.’
So basically, if you feel passionate about a product or brand – shout it from the rooftops! Don’t just restrict your thoughts to the one blog post – look for ongoing ways to tie in with the company and its products. Not only will it continue to promote your own blog, but you’ll also be building trust and loyalty with the company and/or their PR firm.
Put all your stats in one place, either via a media pack you can quickly send out or by listing them on your ‘Work with Me’ page. Megan M recommends a free tool, called COVERAGEBOT, which takes an e-shot of your blog post and pulls all the reader stats and social shares.
‘It’s is a nice way to share ‘here’s one I made earlier’ with a PR if they ask for an example,’ she explains.
Grace appreciates a pitch that has all the vital information in one place, saving her the trouble of searching for it all. For her, that includes domain authority, follower numbers and examples of previous campaigns you’ve worked on. Interestingly, she says big numbers don’t necessarily guarantee a collaboration – she always checks the blog to make sure the quality is high, and the style is relevant.
‘Great pitches are all in the details,’ she adds. ‘Small touches about the client I’m working with, points on what value they would add, a personalised section about the client or product – I think the more detailed and intricate the pitch, the more clear it is that there’s been thought and care put into it.’
Megan H likes to see carefully-tailored pitches bursting with personality. ‘(My clients are) all fun, lifestyle-focused brands, so (your pitch) doesn’t need to be formal,’ she reveals. ‘Getting a glimpse into your personality and blog style is more important.’
‘We’ve had some really great pitches for the kitchen appliance brand we look after, where the blogger has put together a nicely designed one-page PDF where they say which product they’d be interested in receiving, and then clearly detail what they would do – i.e: full review, recipe, social posts, etc – but most importantly, why!
‘In other words, they’re not just looking for a free appliance but they actually have a planned activity that the content will be focused around. For instance, one blogger was looking for an ice cream maker as she was planning a series of ice cream recipes over the summer months.’
STATS JUST THE WAY IT IS
But, while they appreciate beautiful, well-thought-out content and your perfect target audience, you also need to back up your pitch with the facts. ‘I hate to say it,’ Megan H says, ‘but the client will always ask about the numbers.
‘We completely see and understand the value in creating beautiful, well-thought-out content, and having a great target audience – all of this is key. But we will still need to know your average monthly readership figures and your social media stats.’
Figures are a vital part of any pitch you present. ‘We’re quite stats orientated,’ Ellie also admits, ‘so impress us with yours.’
But don’t be put deterred if you have a modest following. ‘As a digital marketing agency domain authority and social followings are important to us, but so are engagement levels,’ she explains further. ‘We want to know that your audience is engaged with your content, so it’s not always about huge numbers.’
And how far should we go in our pitches? Do PR’s prefer a simple ‘hello’ or a fully-fleshed out feature concept? The answer is, both.
‘I think simple post ideas are more than enough,’ Tara says, ‘as it gives the blogger the opportunity to do it their way, which is what we love about collaborating with bloggers – seeing how they bring our products to life in their own unique way.’
‘I welcome full-on campaign ideas as well as simple requests to ‘Keep me in mind for your next campaign’,’ Grace says, ‘as it means a lot more people are on my radar.’
‘For us, it all depends on what we’re working on at the time,’ Ellie explains. ‘As we work across so many different genres of clients at one time or another, anything and everything can work. The more detail the better, so it’s always good to include both your rate card and any special packages that you offer for social promotions.’
Megan H, however, prefers to start out slowly: ‘If it’s the first time working with a blogger, I find it’s usually best to start on something small, develop the relationship and do more work over time,’ she says. ‘For instance, if a blogger we’ve never worked with gets in touch with a great pitch, and asks for three different products with a fully fleshed-out campaign, this is much harder to get approved than the blogger asking for one product and seeing how it goes.
‘It’s always about building those relationships initially and working together to understand what works best from both sides.’
STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD
So how else can you get the attention of those brands and PRs? I asked about Twitter shoutouts, using hashtags such as #PRRequest or #BloggersWanted, and the response was mixed.
Depending on the campaign, Ellie often turns to social media for inspiration: ‘It’s a great tool for getting yourself out there,’ she says. ‘We’re definitely not opposed (to people Tweeting for collaborations).’
‘I’ve never personally found a blogger this way,’ Grace admits, ‘but I wouldn’t be opposed to it; if a blogger is looking for a product and a PR is looking for a blogger, why not use the hashtag to help find each other?’
Megan H, however, isn’t so keen. ‘I personally find this quite frustrating; #PRrequest was initially set up for people in the PR industry and it has been overtaken by bloggers requesting everything under the sun! If there’s something you’re looking for as a blogger, find the contact details of the person you need to speak to and e-mail them. Don’t just send out a blanket tweet and hope someone will pick it up.’
Tara is also wary of this ‘scattergun approach’.
‘I often find bloggers asking paid sponsorship are bloggers are similar to those bloggers who write generic pitches,’ she elaborates. ‘You’ve got to put in some real work to get results, and that’s by approaching brands directly.’
So how else do PRs discover bloggers to work with on paid and/or gifted campaigns?
Tara reveals she looks at competitor’s pages to who they’ve worked with, and how they approached the campaign. ‘Bloggers also have a lot of blogger friends,’ she says, ‘so that’s another great way to find some real gems.’
Grace uses social media to source collaborators, so make sure you’re promoting yourself wherever you have an online presence. ‘The more information the blogger has in their Twitter name & bio, the easier it is for me to find them,’ she advises. ‘I find it so frustrating when bloggers don’t have enough detail on their profile – it means I can’t work with them, even when I really want to.’
Ellie agrees: ‘(We have) certain in-house tools that we use,’ she reveals, ‘but social media is definitely a big player for us; being active and visible on your social means we’re more likely to find you.’
‘We use a number of different methods, including tools like Gorkana and ResponseSource and rating systems like Tots100,’ Megan H says. ‘But then it’s important for us to do the necessary research to read the blogs and make sure the bloggers are the right fit.
‘We search specific terms on social channels (for instance, people talking about cheese for our cheese client), and we search on Google.
‘But none of these should exist alone – good PR people should be doing all of these things. I like to call it ‘professional stalking’ (!). But in my mind, that’s what we’re here to do; we need to know who people are and build those relationships, rather than relying on an online database.’
THE MAGIC FORMULA
So, in a nutshell, approaching brands and companies directly for work is both accepted and encouraged, but put some effort in. Research your brand and be clear and upfront with what you want to achieve from your collaboration and what you can offer in return.
Inject your personality into your pitch, and don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the response you’re hoping for – a no today could easily become a yes tomorrow.
If you’ve found this helpful, please let me know in a comment.
Image ‘Blog Blogging Homepage Social Media Network Concept‘ courtesy of Shutterstock