I thought that for today's post I's sit down and talk about a hot topic in the world of blogging, YouTube and Instagram: PR. I was actually going to talk about sponsorship and affiliate codes in this post but it was getting way too long, so keep an eye out for those instalments over the next few weeks! Hopefully this is helpful both in the context of being a consumer but also for creators trying to understand how all of this works. I want to cover what PR is, dispel some myths, set out how I approach things, discuss my experiences and talk about how I see other people approaching it.
What is it and how does it work?
PR (Public Relations) in this context comprises of activities intended to generate a positive buzz around a product or place, which can be done via events, print media content, social media or a host of other means. This can be done directly by the brand or by a PR agency acting on their behalf (agencies will represent a number of companies).
Obviously sending a few products to a beauty influencer is a relatively cheap in comparison to splashing out on an event or paying for sponsored content, whether in print or online. There are obvious drawbacks in that there's no guarantee they'll use the product or that they'll like it, but on balance it's a cost-efficient way of increasing awareness and creating a buzz.
Some brands have 'PR lists' and you give your details to them once and they'll send out new products as and when they're released. There are often what I can only describe as 'tiers' within this; some people will get the entire collection whereas others will get a smaller selection or some people get every single launch whereas others don't. The other way of doing it is emailing you to see if you'd like to try a product.
Obviously numbers count but whether or not you get PR depends on a whole range of factors. Maybe you tagged the brand on social media and they just really loved your flatlay style or makeup skills. However a lot of the time it feels quite random - sometimes you're singled out to receive something where other (often bigger) influencers aren't and sometimes a load of similar influencers to you will receive something and you don't. PR managers obviously can't be expected to have come across everyone!
Getting taken off 'the list'
I see so many people saying they don't trust the bigger YouTubers because they're only giving positive reviews to stay on a PR list. I'm not sure if the people saying these things are familiar with how things tend to work but you definitely don't just get taken off the PR list of a professional brand for not liking a product! Most PRs worth their salt understand that honesty is why people value your opinion, so although sometimes that will mean they don't get the positive buzz for the odd product here and there, they understand and appreciate that people truly believe it when you say you love something. Also, why would you even want to be on a PR list if you genuinely thought more of the brands products than not weren't very good...? A lot of the time the PRs actually appreciate your opinion - I reviewed a fragrance recently and mentioned how lovely the scent is but that it didn't last that well on me and she passed the feedback on to their development team, plus the brand still sends me their products! Not every product can work for every person and most people understand that.
At the same time, I'm not saying I've never had any negative experiences. There's a particular brand I used to use a lot and they sent me PR, however I have mentioned several times that they have a really poor shade range in their foundation and I don't receive anything from them now. To be honest - I don't really care! It's not a brand I really purchase from any more and the whole shade range thing left a sour taste in my mouth. Sometimes you just have to nail your colours to the mast and what happens happens. I also once reviewed a very high-end product and wasn't even negative about it but just wasn't sure if it was worth the splurge. Obviously if I think a product is worth it then (within reason!) I'm happy to recommend and to buy it with my own money. However I got a disgruntled email from the PR. Although they represent some brands I really like, I can buy those products myself without the aggro! I know it's harder for people who blog full-time because unless you're huge, you do have to hustle a bit more, but I have a good job outside of this with a regular, stable salary. At the end of the day; if I want to review something and a brand doesn't want to send it me, I will just buy it!
There are definitely some bad eggs in there but most are professional and if you build a relationship over time, no one is going to be mad at you for not liking a product. I definitely think there's a pressure when you first start out and you're a smaller influencer receiving PR for the first time but my advice is just to stick to your guns - it's much smarter in the long-term. There are also many reasons why you may stop getting PR from a brand - people move on to other agencies or companies and you lose that relationship, PR strategies and budgets can also change, so it's not always some big, dramatic thing!
This is a pretty controversial topic that so many people have opinions on! Personally, I wouldn't really reach out to a brand unless they do PR via you signing up to some sort of influencer program (which generally operate like PR lists if you're approved) or network, or if I've worked with a brand before and really like their products but haven't heard from my contact in a while so want to reconnect. I guess I just feel as though I get a lot of parcels and emails so don't want to add to that because I do think if you approach them, you'll feel more of a pressure (rightly or wrongly) to write about the products. I would carefully consider whether you have the time / content space to feature the products within a reasonable amount before reaching out. It's also not a good idea to go along with a shopping list - just be as open-ended as possible and maybe send over some examples of content you've put out on the brand in the past.
How else can you get noticed?
I can stress enough how effective it is to simply tag brands in your Instagram photos and tweets! Obviously you're already using enjoying their products if you're posting about them, so this means that when they're compiling lists of who to send products out to then - if they saw your post and liked your style - they might think of you. I'm pretty sure all influencers who get PR now know that when you first start out, you do have to invest quite a bit of money into buying all of the products you want to talk about yourself, so just keep doing what you're doing but make sure you tag the brands and use their hashtags and you never know! I've had a lot of enquiries come my way from brands I never would've thought would reach out to me in the sea of much bigger Instagrammers but because I was talking about the products I loved and tagging them, somehow they saw my features and reached out.
Trust and your readers
I often see people say they don't trust YouTubers because they receive gifted items. I personally choose to make it clear exactly which items on my blog have been gifted and what I've purchased with my own money, so there's no ambiguity. I think the bottom line always has to be whether you'd buy the product again with your own money and I think it's important to address this in particular if you usually talk about more affordable product and you're sent something very high-end to review.
Do you have to review it? How long is reasonable time to post within?
Personally, my rule of thumb is that if I'm asked about a product and I have too much of that product category lined up to test out already, or if I just can't think of where it would fit in with how I want to do my content over the coming months, then I'll decline. I always at least have the intention of reviewing it. Sometimes you're asked something like 'would you like to try this brand?' and get sent products you wouldn't have chosen yourself, so I tend to just let my contact know that whilst I'm grateful for them sending some bits over, I won't be reviewing them. If it's simply a product that doesn't work out for me I'll let them know and if I think it warrants it I'll put it in a Disappointing Products roundup. If a product was sent to me without asking me beforehand then I don't really feel obliged to feature it, though I appreciate them giving it me.
I do find it frustrating that a lot of PR companies don't seem to appreciate that you're often trying and being sent lots of products, not just theirs. In addition you want a good period of time testing a product before delivering your verdict on it. A good way of managing this is to have a press page on your blog that states you typical time-frames (I also have it in my email auto-reply) - it's definitely reduced the amount of email chasers I receive. At the same time, make sure you keep a record of your coverage to email across to your contact once it's all live - they're only emailing you because they don't want to miss it! I think a reasonable amount of time is 30 days for makeup, 60 days for skincare, but I often take longer depending on my content plans. Just make sure you get any specific requirements (e.g. if it's a gift set and they'd like you to pop up something in time for Mothers Day) before they send the product.
Do you receive PR for your blog? How do you approach it? Do you trust reviews of PR products?