BLOGGER HOW-TO: HOW I DEALT WITH RIDICULOUS DEMANDS FROM A BRAND AND A PR COMPANY
Prepare the scones and clotted cream because I'm about to serve some tea. The flavour of the day is blogging, or rather the pieces of work I occasionally encounter as a 'social media influencer'. In my first chapter of Nasty Encounters of The Blogging Kind I detailed some especially unpleasant bloggers I've had the misfortune to encounter both online and offline. So, in the spirit of balance I thought I'd follow up with a hello from the other side - today, I'm discussing bad behaviour from brands and PR companies. I'm appalled by the bold-faced audacity, entitlement, and cheapness of some brands and PR companies who try to wear down less confident bloggers into compromising the precious time, effort, and integrity they invest in building their online presence by appeasing these brands with (often disingenuous) content created for nothing in return; or worse still bamboozling bloggers with friendly offerings and then later manipulating a seemingly nice gesture into leverage to get what they want. It's unethical and fallacious at best, downright disgusting and possibly unlawful at worst, and I'll be damned if I don't call out these atrocious actions.
Bloggers, I'm writing this post for you that we may seek solidarity in the face of our occupational hazards and also in the hope that my anecdotes may help you understand what you are or aren't obligated to do in this relatively young and less-regulated industry. Brands and PRs, specifically the ones I mention in this post, pay attention - I'm schooling you on how to do your job without resorting to harassing bloggers when you don't get your (undeserved) way.
*Names of the offending persons changed. The intention of this post isn’t to name & shame, but rather to explain how i dealt with these situations.
**No actual tea was harmed in the making of this blog post, but I did power through 3 mugs of lemongrass and ginger tea while writing this.
EXHIBIT A. Last summer, a PR on behalf of a mobile network company invited me to a small shindig they pulled together. The event was a modest affair, certainly not on the scale of The Royal Academy Blogger Evenings nor the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup polo, but nonetheless a cute and cozy gathering in an East London warehouse. I had just opened a boutique and was running myself ragged juggling a start-up, freelancing as an illustrator, and of course blogging. I put in an appearance anyway because I thought an evening of build-your-own hotdogs would be a welcome break from the hectic pace of my life.
Even though the brand and its event was not what I'd describe as relevant to my lifestyle and blog - I had a mobile phone contract with their competitor and the vibe of the event was decidedly more casual than the glossy style I am partial to - I posted live updates from the party on my social media because when I enjoy myself, I like to thank my hosts.
My enjoyment and any positive awareness I had about the brand (the whole intention of hosting an event) quickly evaporated. After the event, I'd receive emails from the PR person who invited me - we'll call her Jemima* - once a week with demanding to know when I was going to 'review the event' on my blog and promote the latest smartphone they were pushing. Excusez-moi? No where in the invitation was it stipulated that a review or write up was compulsory in exchange for attending your fabulous party, besides, how do you expect me to dress up 'we played beer pong' for a luxury lifestyle blog?
Even more audaciously, Jemima's emails were labelled with the subject 'Urgent Update required'. Darling, no. 'Urgent' is me desperately seeking a co-pilot just in case my fractured foot couldn't heal in time for me to fulfil the obligations of my campaign with Fiat and waiting for a follow up X-ray at the hospital to determine just how able I was to drive on a scale of ouch to someone just kill me now (what can I say, I have a strong work ethic). Urgent is not you trying to stronghold me into doing your job for nothing while you get paid to outsource it to some sucker. I have more pressing matters to attend to, namely creating content I actually care about including working on paid campaigns to my clients’ satisfactions.
Jemima's pushy emails continued on a weekly basis for over a month, each message more reprimanding that the last. Fed up, I tried to put her (mostly me) out of her misery by replying:
"As it's the summer and I've been powering through a lot of work; my boutique opening, blogging, and freelance illustration, on this occasion I have had to give priority to commissioned work, so I'm afraid I won't be blogging about the event."
Take the hint, Jemima - I'm trying to be as polite as possible! It's a good thing Jemima doesn't work for the United Nations because she couldn't spot diplomacy even if it smacked her on her face. She pounced on me with: "...we can always discuss extending the deadline!"
EXHIBIT B. I don't even know where to begin with this nightmare. In fact, my dealings with this particular brand is what inspired me to write this post because the whiplash not only I but also my talent manager, Sadie endured must surely set an all-time low.
It all began with a press sample, and a slightly misguided one at that: if this athletic apparel brand had even bothered to do their research they'd have known that I've declared myself 'allergic to exercise' - the only gym I go to are Pokemon Gyms - and not bother to send me a gym bag. But send me a gym bag they did. This beast of a carrier stuck out rather incongruously among my collection of Prada, CHANEL, Anya Hindmarch, and Louis Vuitton. More pressingly, this gym bag was irrelevant to my lifestyle and blog content, least of all because I was recovering from a fractured foot and couldn't even fake a 'look at me working out in my pristine Nikes with makeup on!' post.
Follow up emails to Sadie from the brand ensued - the vibe of which I judged to be rather passive-aggressive and rather at odds with the sanguine tone they expressed toward me (even if they misspelled my name and got my injury wrong - you don't need to have a PHD to know the difference between feet and ankles!). Now, at this point I could've easily ignored their missives and done away with an unwanted (and frankly unattractive) press sample. Instead, Sadie and I offered to host a giveaway because even it the gym bag wasn't to my taste, I could find it a loving home while giving the brand a little exposure.
Of course, a giveaway was beneath the brand (hey, I tried). Instead, they asked me to return an unwanted press sample and expected me to pay for the postage and packaging. Wow. They could've at the very least offered to pick it up rather than have me hobble down, on crutches, to the post office. The demands didn't end there. The brand insisted that Sadie 'made sure' I packed the bag in a 'big enough box'. By then, my eyes had rolled so far back into head I could see into the time-space continuum (spoiler, Trump becomes the Emperor of the Galactic Empire and meets his end in the hands of a Sith Lord).
Far too polite to tell the brand to go do one, I bought the biggest box I could find, 5 metres of bubble wrap to keep the precious cargo nice & cozy, paid a not-small sum to have it delivered (Signed For, First Class - because when you travel with me, it's First Class all the way), and heaved the behemoth down to my post office and sent it on its way.
Just when I thought I could close that irritating chapter, I got another email from the brand.
They wanted to send me an invoice for the bag.
The bag that they sent me as a press sample. The bag that I didn't ask for but offered to promote yet they deemed unworthy of the cause. The bag that they decided wasn't a gift after all, then asked for it back, and expected me to pay to have it returned with so much of an offer to reimburse me for the P&P.
Unbelievable. It took every ounce of grace I had to call them out on their nonsense with this firm email:
Thank you for your email. I’m glad for this opportunity to give you my feedback on this ongoing ‘conversation’.
My feedback is based on my experience as blogger who has had the opportunity to work with various brands and PR companies over the past 3 years. I have been lucky enough to work with brands as diverse as fashion, beauty, technology, hotels, tourism boards, and even automobiles. I do not profess to be an ‘industry expert’ but I daresay that I have some insight into expectations between PR companies, brands, and bloggers.
Many brands, whether directly (as in your case) or via a PR company, send products to bloggers, sometimes ahead of release. Whether its a full set of makeup from the latest Charlotte Tilbury range or the latest Huawei smartphone, these gifted products are exactly that - gifts without a guarantee of a positive review, or even a review at all. Brands understand this and allocate a budget for products to be sent to bloggers. It may seem to some like a game of roulette, but then if a brand wants a guaranteed review (and an honest, transparent one too, if the blogger adheres to ethics and advertising guidelines) the brand pays the blogger for a write up.
You know by now that I am fortunate enough to have Sadie manage my campaigns, advertising rates, and communication. Not all bloggers are represented by agencies, but the same rules or at least understanding applies.
As I understand, you sent a gym bag to Nuffnang which was intended for me. Among merchandise, I also receive invitations to events which I attend and inspect. Not all merchandise sent to me nor events I attend receive a write up in my blog, which brands understand as it is important for me (and to most bloggers) that we review only experiences that is relevant to our brand and blog content. As bloggers, our audience expect a transparency that some feel is lacking in traditional print media, and so we bloggers are careful to only write about the things we would, in all honesty, recommend to our friends and family. This transparency is our bread and butter - you’d be surprised how many events and PR samples I don’t blog about! If I were to sing the praises of everything I am sent/am sent to my blog would be incredibly disingenuous and therefore defeat its entire purpose.
Sadie has made it clear that I charge a fee for a guaranteed, extensive review of products. Brands and PR companies are aware that of the hundreds of bloggers they send samples too, only a handful will love the product enough to mention it on their social media or blog for free. That is the name of the game.
Unfortunately, as Sadie and I have mentioned, I was unable to review the bag in a way that was relevant to my blog, brand, and lifestyle because of my injury. By the way, thank you for asking about my ankle - it’s perfectly fine, but then again it was my foot that was fractured. It’s healing along nicely though, I can walk without crutches now.
I am in no way obligated to review merchandise that is sent to me as a PR sample, nor am I obligated to return it. Most bloggers simply discard unused and unwanted press samples, which I personally find wasteful. Sadie and I went out of our way to suggest a giveaway, which is not something I usually do, but I thought it would be nice to offer. You did not agree, and you are entitled to that opinion. However based on mine and most, if not all bloggers’ experience, I do not agree that you entitled to have the merchandise returned, at a cost born my myself and Nuffnang, according to stipulations that you decided to add after the return was made (ie. the way the bag was packaged. I believe in legal terms this is called a post-contractual clause? But then again no contract was made in you sending me that bag, and I am not a lawyer - just a blogger).
Despite your tone to Sadie in emails that I was not included in, which I found to be rather less forthcoming and professional than the warmth extended in emails directed to me, Sadie and I have tried to be as accommodating and helpful as possible. On a personal level, I must say it rubs me the wrong way when brands are polite to me but less so to my colleagues - I believe the same courtesy should be extended to all.
Sadie and I have tried our best to be as helpful as possible. I received a press sample that I am well within my rights to ignore, discard, and do with as I wished. Yet I offered to do a giveaway as a favour, which you rejected. Then, as per your request, which I am in no obligation to agree to, I return an unwanted press sample to you at my own time, effort, and cost. This is unheard of among bloggers and brands, yet Nuffnang and I did so anyway as a courtesy to you.
To be sent a product I did not request, a press sample I am not obligated to review nor return, and made to return said product at my own cost and then sent an invoice for it is nothing short of unprecedented, shocking, unprofessional, and crass. I’d like to think that it is simply an oversight on your part, but I’d like to make it very clear that neither Nuffnang nor I am in any way obligated to buy a product sent to me as a gift.
Thank you and have a lovely day. Best,
You'd think that after my very clear email these bag ladies would've known to call it a day. Nope.
I immediately got an email, which acknowledged not even one of the many points I brought up - their apparent lack of understanding on how brand and blogger relations work, the way they spoke to my talent manager vs the way they spoke to me, how vulgar and grabby I found their conduct - but instead, them "simply displaying their dismay at the way their product had been treated." Yes, because how you treat your products is so much more important than how you treat people?
My dears, allow me to humbly suggest that if you want someone to return a gift to you (itself a request lacking in class) you arrange to have it collected so as to minimise any "dismay" you may feel toward the condition your treasure returns in.
...to end this post on a positive note...
Last week, Columbia Creative Floral invited me to a Christmas wreath-making workshop at The Islington Townhouse. No impositions or conditions about posting/blogging were made in exchange for attending this event - we were invited just to have a fun evening of getting our hands dirty while sipping on Gosset champagne supplied by Louis Latour.
I left with a Christmas wreath I thoroughly enjoyed making, with a huge respect for the intricacy and patience of florists, and with so much fondness for the event that afterward I made the effort to style and shoot my wreath for an Instagram post and tag Columbia Creative Floral by way of thanks. That’s how it’s done - to the PR and brand mentioned in this post, take notes! You wood do well to take a leaf out of their book and branch out.
Bloggers, what are the most ridiculous demands you've had to deal with from brands and PRs?
Tell me your Nasty Encounters Of The Blogging Kind! *sips tea*