Disclaimer: I don't for one second think I'm an expert, nor do I rate myself as a top beauty blogger / guru. I just see a lot of new / potential beauty bloggers asking a lot of the same questions and generally worrying about making mistakes / breaking the secret (non-existent!) codes of beauty blogging, so I thought I'd share what I've learned in my three years of blogging. I hope this helps some people who are new to blogging or thinking about starting out. These are in no way 'the rules'! I'm just passing on my opinions, opinions I've heard from others, and information I've learned along the way. I'm happy to be corrected on anything anyone thinks I've got wrong (in a polite and positive way please!) and also to be enlightened with any relevant information which I could add to this post - just leave me a comment :)
How do you get PR companies and brands to send you samples for your beauty blog?
Now this is always a popular question on any bloggers chat I've ever seen. No matter what your motive for starting up a blog, you can't help being distracted by what amazing goodies other beauty bloggers are being sent to review, and you want a piece of the action. I've seen really well known and uber successful bloggers say that they get a bit jel when they see something amazing that was sent to someone else and not to them. We can't help it, it's human nature - we want what someone else has got.
Sometimes it seems like people get berated for asking about samples, and there can be a bit of fuss about 'blagger bloggers' which is a shame for the new bloggers who aren't blaggers but just curious. I think that yes, there are people out there who start a blog purely with the intention of getting 'free stuff', but I doubt those people get very far or last very long - as anyone who's ever run a blog will tell you, it's bloody hard work! If you've started a blog to 'get free stuff' I'll warn you now that if you're not willing to put the effort in and grow your blog using your own money / products you already have etc, you may as well quit while you're ahead. Starting up 'billie-bob's beauty blog' does not automatically entitle you to freebies nor will you instantly be contacted by hundreds of PRs offering you your pick of the shelves at Boots.
So now the 'blogger blaggers' have stopped reading, we can continue :) There are some key things you need to know about the way blogger samples work
PRs have a limited number of samples of each product (if any!) and there are hundreds of beauty blogs
PRs need to justify who they're sending a product to and why
PRs send a blogger a sample to get exposure for that product and to generate a buzz and hopefully sales
PRs don't have to be 'fair' when it comes to which blogger is sent a sample. They have targets to meet in terms of brand exposure, so if they choose a blogger with a wider audience over a new blogger with a few readers, you have to understand they're only doing their job.
So to answer the question - how do you get PRs to send you samples?
Make sure that you blog is found on google under relevant search terms. When you post about a product or brand, use keywords in your post title and when naming images. PRs sometimes find blogs by googling for bloggers already writing about the brand they're working on, or sometimes they'll look for people blogging about the brand's direct competition. Some PRs also use things like Bloglovin', Hello Cotton and Ebuzzing's top beauty blog ranking list - so having a presence on those may help you too.
It sounds obvious, but make sure your contact information is nice and prominent on your blog. If a PR has to spend too long trying to work out how to contact you they might just give up. I like to think I first coined the term 'PR friendly' back on one of the very first #bblogger chats, but I could be wrong (mini claim to fame attempt). Make it clear how to contact you and whether you're happy to work with PRs, receive samples, accept sponsored posts etc.
Join a free blogging network
Blogger networks are popping up lately which as they grow, look to be a go between for bloggers and PRs to help them work together. Best British Bloggers and Bloggabase are two you might want to check out.
Keep up to date with what's new
Ask to be added to mailing lists for press releases / respond to a press releases that are offering a sample by explaining how you would blog about the product - hi-light what you have to offer and why the PR should choose to work with you.
Blog about brands you like and use
If you want to start working with a brand you like, blog about them. Include the brand / PR company's twitter when tweeting the link to your post. They might see it, like what you did, and get in touch about working with you.
Not everyone in the community agrees with doing this, but it's up to you - there's no right or wrong. If you're going to contact a PR or brand, put the effort in to get noticed. Make yourself stand out - include your stats (monthly page views and unique visitors are what they're interested in) and your USP (unique selling point) or niche, give them some product feedback, or tell them why you like their brand
Appeal to what PRs are looking for
Make your blog and your posts look appealing to PRs by using good clear photos, including detailed product descriptions, links for where to buy etc. If a PR is considering working with you they'll usually look at some of your recent posts as an example of your blogging style and what they can expect from you if they ask you to review their product. There's more about this later on in this post.
If you want to work with PRs and be sent products to review, you need to think of your blog a little bit like a business and a brand. If you have a twitter account liked to your blog, PRs might look at your feed to get a feel for what you're like to work with. If they see lots of tweets with swearing or rowing publicly with another brand or PR, they're likely to be put off! I'm not saying you can't tweet what you like, but it's something to consider if you want to be considered as a professional blogger.
Slating products and brands in your posts is another way to potentially alienate a PR from wanting to work with you. I'm not saying you should never write a negative review or pretend to like a product you hate, but there are different ways of conveying an opinion. Instead of saying (and I'm sure you never would!) "I hate this shampoo, it's awful and I wouldn't even recommend it to my worst enemy" be specific about why it didn't work for you and why - "I didn't get on well with this shampoo - it made my hair really greasy so I wouldn't buy it again, but it might be good for people with really dry hair". You get the idea - you can write an honest review without trashing a brand and putting PRs off from wanting to work with you.
I know I'm really bad at this because I'm quite shy and rather forgetful, which can be a bad combination! Networking takes all sorts of forms when it comes to blogging, it can involve talking to brands, PRs and other bloggers on Twitter, commenting on other blogs, interacting with brand through their facebook pages and also chatting to people at events (more on that later in the series). Having said that though, tweeting a brand "@brand Hi I like you products, can you send me some free stuff to review?" won't make you all that popular with anyone.
Earn the PR's trust
I've noticed that sometimes PRs seem to be testing bloggers out. They might send a press release without the offer of a sample to see what you'll do. Or, they might get you to review one of their cheapest products if it's your first time working with them. Personally I don't really blog about press releases - I prefer to talk about things I've tried for myself and that takes up 6 - 7 posts per week as it is, so I can't really fit in any more.
Another good way to earn a PRs trust or respect or even just to grab their attention is through Twitter - you might retweet a few things for them, get involved in discussions about the brand with other tweeters etc. Keeping in touch is also important in my opinion - I always try to let a PR know when I've received something they've sent me, I give an indication of when I'll post about it, and when the post is live I'll send them the link.
Probably the most important thing in my opinion is that if you ask for a sample or accept a sample that's offered, bleeding well blog about it! I'm going to try not to rant here, but I feel the need to mention a conversation I saw on twitter once. One blogger was mentioning how she had lots of samples backed up and lots of posts to write. In response another blog said something like "don't worry, samples are sent for consideration, don't feel like you have to blog about them". Initially I thought this was one of the cheekiest comments I'd ever read. I think you have to have some manners when it comes to these things - if someone offers me a product and I accept it, what I'm really doing is agreeing to write a blog post in return for the free product. However, I believe there are two exceptions to this -
You didn't like the product - it didn't agree with your skin type etc. We're not going to love every product we try ever, that's inevitable. If you don't like putting negative reviews up on your blog, then in this scenario I think that's a fair reason not to write a post, but you should let the PR know. Plus, most PRs will tell you that they would prefer you to contact them about any problems with the product rather than going straight ahead and writing a negative review. Also if you contact the PR you might find that actually there's an application tip that will fix the problem you had with the product, or that they accidentally sent you the version for dry skin etc.
If you didn't have the option to say 'no thank you'. Occasionally, some PRs will send products to bloggers without contacting them first - it's a risk, because they might be sending you something you really won't like and would never blog about. It's this scenario that I believe the term 'for consideration' applies. If I didn't accept / ask for / agree to something being sent to me, then it really is just for consideration and I feel it's up to me to choose whether or not to blog about it.
So back to the point - if you've asked for or been offered a sample and have accepted, I believe you should blog about that product within a reasonable timescale, or if not, you should contact the PR to let them know the reason why. If I was a PR sending out samples to someone and not hearing back or seeing any posts, I'd take them off my list, as simple as that.
Easier said than done of course, and we'll cover events in another post, but generally when attending a product launch event, you might get to take a sample of the product home with you.
Phone the PR company
Now this is not something I've tried, so I can't really say how it might go, but you could try calling the PR company to introduce yourself and have a chat. I heard this tip from a PR of a well known agency at an event. She said she prefers the personal touch and is much more likely to respond well to a chat on the phone than 100 of the same old emails asking for samples.
What might PRs look for when choosing who to work with?
Your 'reach' - PRs are interested in how many people will see a post you write about their product and whether those people are within their target market. Your numbers in terms of monthly page views and unique users are one of the things PRs need to know to work this out. Don't be offended if a PR asks for your stats - offering these up to a PR you're talking to may help you out. Displaying follower counters on your blog can help as some PRs will look at those to get an idea for your readership, although there can be a lot of confusion around this and bloggers on Wordpress who don't have the GFC widget can be disadvantaged. If you are on Wordpress, telling a PR your stats is probably more crucial.
How often you blog - if a PR can see you leave huge gaps between posts and don't seem to post with any great regularity, this may give them the impression that you'll take a very long time to post about a sample.
What you blog about - PRs need to consider your audience and whether your post will reach the right type of consumer. If you usually blog about fishing, they probably won't see the relevance in sending you a mascara to review.
The effort you put in - as I mentioned earlier, your previous posts are like your references when it comes to working with a PR. They'll be looking to see how well you reviewed a previous product - were there clear images, a detailed and accurate description, and links to where the product can be bought?
Writing style - are your posts written in a way that's clear and easy to understand?
Engagement with readers - do you get comments on your posts, do you reply to them? If a reader asks a question, do you answer them?
Age of your blog - PRs have to be aware of 'fly by night blogs' which might have been set up just to get freebies and then disappear - it's happened. If you've been blogging only a very short amount of time, this could count against you. It could be 6 months to a year of blogging before you're offered a sample. If you're offered something earlier than that, consider yourself lucky and pat yourself on the back!
I can't say every PR will check all of these things all of the time - most of them probably don't have the time to do all of this - but I think these are good things to consider all the same.
It's not all about samples
If we all blogged about the same products every day, blogs would be very boring to read. Don't feel that you have to have all of the new products to have a successful blog. I find my readers can be just as interested in posts about your favourite beauty products, what's in your makeup bag, your blush collection, a nail art post etc etc.
That's all for my series of Beauty Blogger Tips - if you have any comments about anything I've said in these posts I'd love to hear them - also happy for you to point out if I have missed something out or got something wrong. Here's a list of the previous posts in the series.