How To Approach A Publicist 101 // Blog Biz

By Elly Michelle Clough

By day I am a publicist working in-house for a theatre company, by night (and early mornings and weekends and lunch breaks…) I write about one of my favourite things, gin, on my blog The Ginstress. I really love media and working as a publicist, and as a blogger I’ve seen a lot of confusion in this gorgeous community about how to work with publicists and I am in a great position to help clear this up. These are some of the most common concerns I see, and how you can work through them while being true to your blog.

How do I start working with publicists?
Start where you are! Even if you’ve just started your blog you can start approaching publicists you’d like to work with and ask to be added to their media list. This means that they will send you media releases about their clients. 

The great thing is that what bloggers want and what publicists want can align really perfectly. Bloggers want to share things they love with their audience. Publicists want to find people who will love the thing they are selling. If that matches up with what the blogger and their tribe love, that’s a big win for everyone. Publicists are always looking for new ways to reach new people, so they definitely do want to hear from you.

If you ask for samples they will probably ask for your stats (see the next point). It’s important to keep in mind how much samples cost the PR agency or their client. Small cosmetics have a huge mark up and actually cost very little so they will probably be pretty generous, a bottle of gin on the other hand has a high built in cost and a huge tax charge even when it’s given away. So there will be very different expectations based on the value of the product.

A publicist asked me for my stats, should I send them?
This is really up to you. My rule of thumb? If a publicist approaches a blogger, they should have done enough research to know they want to work with you without seeing your stats. If a blogger approaches a publicist, you should expect to be asked for your stats as they won’t necessarily know much about you and will need more information before they work with you.

A publicist wants me to write about a product for free. They don’t work for free, why should I?
This is something I see in groups and forums a lot. I really do understand the frustration, but this is misunderstanding of how publicists have traditionally operated. Traditionally, publicists have been hired to talk to the media about their client or product and find ways for the product to be newsworthy and interesting journalists, so they will create a story about it that engages their audience. The publicist is paid by their client, and the journalist is paid by the media organisation they work for. There is no financial exchange between the journalist and the publicist. In fact it would be considered pretty dodgy for a publicist to offer any inducement beyond a sample of the product or an interview with the client. 

Blogs have turned all this on its head. To us, blogs have been around forever, but for a lot of publicists the idea that they would pay someone to write about a product is very new and confusing. This is changing, slowly. More and more established media organisations are moving into paid native content, but that is often handled by marketing or advertising agencies rather than PR. For blogs to be a profitable and an ongoing part of the media landscape there will need to be significant change in the structures of who pays whom, but it is taking a long time.

Don’t take offence if a publicist pitches you a story or a product without offering payment, it possibly never occurred to them that they should pay you. And if they say they don’t have budget for paid posts, they probably don’t. I certainly don’t!

They didn’t even get my name right on the media release!
Yes, this is sloppy. Most publicists will have a media of list that runs into the thousands, there are bound to be errors. There shouldn’t be, but there are. You know how I get around this? I don’t put names on media releases. I follow up with personal emails to journalists and bloggers I know have a particular interest in what I’m talking about and I have a relationship with, but I’m in a really small niche. In fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) it’s much more of a scatter gun approach. When you’re looking to sell millions of units all over the country, it becomes more of a numbers game. Remember you can always ignore and delete the email, don’t dilute your energy worrying about it. 

I was pitched baby formula, my youngest child is 7!
Oh I hear you! I write about gin in Sydney and get invites to pizza restaurants opening in London. If you get an off mark pitch, ignore it and delete it. You are not obliged to respond to every media release you get, and no one expects you to, you won’t be blacklisted or anything. If it’s from a PR agency you want to work with send them a quick email saying it’s not the right product or story for you and let them know what you are interested in, it can be a great way to start a relationship.

Is this publicist having me on?
I see lots of comments from people about not feeling comfortable with something a publicist has offered them. In this situation, go with your instincts. Your blog is your hard work and passion, your loyalty is to your readers, not to a product or a publicist. Always do what you feel is best for your blog and your tribe. Be firm but polite and good publicists will respect that.

The most important thing to remember is that there is a person at the end of all those emails. Often a very young person who is just learning the ropes. They are never setting out to upset or offend you, they are learning and trying to balance the demands of their bosses and clients on one side, and media and bloggers on the other. We’re all in the business of getting good news about things we love to people who will love them, we’re all on the same team and the collaborates can be a big win/win/win.

If you have any questions about blogging and publicity, come find me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. When I’m not talking about gin I love talking about media and publicity for bloggers.

Image: Tealily