The Expert Series: Working with Brands & PRs
Lifestyle Pr and Brand Consultant, Deborah Johnson, has been working in the PR industry for 11 years - 9 of which have been at Pure Public Relations and 7 of which have been spent working with bloggers and influencers - as well as acting as the brand manager for the up and coming London afro hair salon, Simply Gorgeous. Here she shares her knowledge and experience about working with brands: how to approach them, when to talk money and what gets you blacklisted. Pay attention people!
1. How have your experiences working with bloggers been?
Pure PR was one of the first agencies in London to hold a dedicated bloggers event - that was about 7 years ago. We really did champion and support the whole blogger movement. I love the fact that it’s more autonomous, so I’ve always been a huge believer and supporter of blogging. I think it’s great to have women finding voices for themselves and documenting things that they are really interested in.
There’s a reason it’s so well received. The bloggers you follow are people who you feel you know and start to trust. For me, it’s more authentic than hearing a review from an editor who I don’t know, might not relate to or whose experiences are not similar to mine. It doesn’t matter how big or popular you are, as long as I’m in line with your sensibilities then I’m more inclined to listen to you.
2. How do you work with bloggers or influencers?
I’m finding more and more that stats don’t really matter. You can work with someone who has hundreds of thousands of followers and yet the return is very little. I tend to look at the brand I’m working with, what sort of consumer or potential customer do I imagine they have, and work with a blogger who is smaller, in terms of their numbers. I try to make the relationship develop organically and work with people that are lined with the customer base of which my brand is looking for.
Stats are great on paper but in terms of getting a return, I find they are not are pertinent.
Also, I want the relationship to be ongoing. You can pay someone with 100,000 followers to do one piece of content for you and that’s it. It’s superficial and has no longevity. Tomorrow, you might be old news to them and their reader. I’d always prefer to establish something long-lasting.
3. From a brand perspective, do stats play a more important role?
Generally, brands do push for the bloggers with higher numbers but we always try to suggest working with micro-influencers. Brands might see the numbers someone has and think that if they have a presence on that person’s page it’s going to resonate hugely. However, from an expert perspective and with our experience, that’s not necessarily the case. If someone with 500,000 followers is reviewing lots of products every single day, why would our product stand out to their readers? It might be smarter to work with smaller influencers or even someone who is more lifestyle-focused rather than just beauty specific. By making sure your product fits in with their aesthetic and content, it stands out on a lifestyle page better because their readers aren’t seeing beauty so often.
In terms of paid-for content, if you’re willing to pay a macro-influencer £5000 for a post - or £15,000 in one case - why not work with fiver smaller influencers and split the budget between them. There’s more opportunity to see the product and it resonates better.
4. Where do you go to source influencers?
We have a database of bloggers that we regularly contact and work with. I tend to give our clients tribes of ideal influencers. I look at the brand, where it’s stocked, its ingredients and from that build a profile of who would engage with that brand. It could be bloggers or people who are prevalent on Instagram. Lately, I’m enjoying coming across individuals, who aren’t necessarily bloggers but inspirational women with a strong presence online, like Phoebe Lovatt or Sharmadean Reid. I go to their suggested followers and then search on there, repeating that cycle until I come across others I like. It’s time-consuming but worth the effort, especially if you build a very clear profile of the type of person you want to be working with.
5. What does an organic, successful relationship look like?
I thoroughly research - aka stalk - the people I want to work with, trying to gain a proper understanding of what kind of person they are and how they work. We are encouraged to do that with journalists in order to pitch the right angle to them and the same principles apply to working with influencers and bloggers.
It’s about building a natural understanding of what said blogger or influencer is going to gravitate towards and then positioning things with them that way.
We are coming to you because we like you and what you do. We don’t want to mold what you do into what we need. If it’s forced, it’ll look off key and won’t actually resonate with your follower base.
By building that organic relationship, there’s a higher chance that these individuals will really back the brand.
6. The Money Element - When Should You Be Asking?
If myself or the brand haven’t worked with you before, to put money on the table straight away is always a turnoff. We prefer to develop relationships first and from that, I can go to my clients and push for a budget.
It’s important to remember that not all brands have big budgets, especially those that are independent. When we do have a budget, we'll work with people who have supported us in the past. It’s a give and take relationship.
The monetisation of blogging, for me, has been its downfall. If everyone has a fee and the brands without budget aren’t getting featured, we then have a monopolisation of all the bigger brands being featured everywhere. I get it, everyone needs to make money but we can work together in a more meaningful way. For example, if you are going to ask a brand for money, offer a unique concept. Email them with a great idea of content for their product launch and if they like it, charge them. They may not have the budget for it then and there but they’ll come back to you later. Or they may find a budget for it if they think it’s a valuable asset. That method of approach will be more positively received.
7. The Blacklist - is it a real thing?
Every agency does it differently but it’s about respectful relationships otherwise, we won’t want to work with you again.
People that are really demanding and presumptuous over email make a bad first impression. Whenever I get emails from very new or inactive bloggers with a shopping list of products they want to review, I feel like they’re taking the piss. I’ve got to look after my clients’ interests at the end of the day and if your demographic isn’t right for that particular brand then sending out samples (which are expensive) to just anyone would be doing my client a disservice.
There needs to be value for us to send products out and the value might be as simple as you getting to know the brand and enjoying the product. We don’t expect you to post a review straight away but please don’t feel entitled to anything. Also, if you have been sent a press sample and you don’t like it, let us know and we will arrange for you to send it back to us at our cost. Don’t sell it online because we track stuff like that.
Finally, I think it’s improper for you to turn up to an event with people you’ve not asked for an RSVP prior to attending. If we’re hosting a sit-down dinner and you’ve RSVPed as confirmed, please don’t cancel a couple of hours beforehand. We’ve already paid for you to be there, so it’s really inconsiderate. While at the events, if you’re disrespectful with the press bags, such as taking display products, that’s a no-no for me.
Generally, it’s just about being as professional as possible. Bloggers who are more established get that and there’s much more nuance to the way we engage with them.
8. Is it okay for bloggers/influencers to get in contact with you?
Yes definitely! This is not an exclusive club. If you do want to get involved with our brands, get in touch with us. We’re really passionate about developing organic relationships with influencers and finding the right people for our brands, so love to come across new faces that I haven’t seen before.
When reaching out, just explain to us what kind of post you’re planning on writing, any particular brand you’re interested in and pitch an idea to us. It’s better to put more thought into the pitch, rather than simply sending a shopping request.
9. If someone emails you and they don’t get a response, is that a no?
Please email again. I try and be as vigilant as possible but I get over 150 emails a day so sometimes emails do slip through the net. Give me a week to respond to you and if you hear nothing, then email again. I always persevere to respond to every email I get.
10. Social etiquette for attending events?
The primary purpose of an event is to inform our guests about a new launch of a product or activity and so obviously we want exposure. Any live content at the event is very appreciated, especially using the hashtag. If it can develop into a post later on, even better. Make sure to introduce yourself to someone there from our team, especially if you’ve only communicated with them over email - it’s always good to put a face to the name. We love answering questions about the brands or products for you so please come over and have a chat with us.
Post-event, send us your testimonials because we do a debrief for all of our clients and that feedback is so valuable to us.
The Dos & Don’ts of Brand-Blogger Relationships
1. Do what you’re doing
We’re existing in this world where people are being so creative in expressing themselves and brands love getting involved in that too. Keep on doing what you're doing, it's great!
2. Do Get in Contact
We are always open to working with new people, discovering new talent and seeing how we can present products online creatively.
3. Do Manage Your Expectations
Don't get offended if brands say no to your initial request. Bear in mind that we need to establish if what you’re asking for works with the clients.
4. Do Share Coverage
Instagram Stories are great but they are hard to capture. If you post a story about our brand, please send it to us, in case we missed it. If you do post, please send us the link or tag us in it so we can make sure we pass it on to the client in a timely manner.
5. Don’t only focus on the money
Not every brand you work with will be able to fund content - especially not initially - so don’t assume you’re going to make a quick buck from the beginning. Yes, we’ve all got bills to pay but think of the reasons why you started doing this in the first place and allow that to shine through and direct you.