On Saturday I took part in a panel at the BritMums Live blogging conference about writing reviews. There were many things I wanted to say that we simply didn't have time for, so as promised I'm posting them here.
One of my first jobs in media was setting up product reviews for Richard & Judy on the TV show This Morning which was really good fun. Reviewing can be fun, though if you're not careful it can turn into a chore.
This post is about how to get started writing reviews and engaging with brands and PRs who might want to send you cool stuff to review.
The next post will be about writing tips to make your reviews engaging and useful to the reader, so check back here for that in a couple of days.
How do I get started writing reviews?
Well - just by doing that, by reviewing things you're interested in. It's not like you have to wait for the magic PR fairy to unlock her golden cupboard and shower you with gifts.
Review the things in your life that you love - or hate. What were your last best buys that you really want to recommend to people? What have you bought that proved to be disappointing?
Think about whatever you'd like to be offered to review and start to review things like that on your blog. For example, I like writing about travel and would like to do more, so when I go somewhere I generally write a post about it. I'll probably review the hotel I stayed in for the conference on Saturday, even though I paid for it myself and it wasn't a pre-arranged review.
How do I make sure that PRs find out about my blog?
There are a few websites where you can register for a profile and PRs will see your profile and possibly put you on their mailing lists.
The ones I'd recommend are ResponseSource and the News4Media group (this is segmented depending on your interests - there's Kids4Media, Beauty4Media etc). These sites allow you to send out a mass email to lots of PRs at once but the smart thing is not to do that because it can look terribly blaggy.
A better way to use these sites is to register your profile so that PRs can find out about you. Update it regularly as your blog grows. Log on to see recent press releases - this will tell you who's got something to promote, and you can contact any that interest you.
So for example I wanted to run a chocolate competition, went to Food4Media, found a company who were promoting a new range, asked if they were interested in providing a competition prize, and that led to this competition which was incredibly popular.
Join at least one Facebook blogger group as bloggers tend to be very generous in discussing PR contacts and passing on opportunities. There are multiple Facebook blogger groups so ask your blogpals which ones they recommend.
How can I use Twitter to engage with PRs?
First of all, work on increasing your own Twitter network to at least 1000 followers. Then look for PRs to engage with.
Go to the Twitter feed of any major blog network in your sector, or of any blogger you know who does regular reviews. Click on the 'Followers' tab and look at which PR companies/individuals are following them - this tells you that they are obviously interested in engaging with bloggers. Therefore you can then follow and engage with any of those people who seem relevant to you.
See which PRs people namecheck during events and review campaigns - instead of feeling cheesed off because you weren't invited to something, look out for whoever those who were invited are thanking, and make contact with that person.
It's very popular right now to put PR Friendly on your Twitter bio but personally I think this is outdated. It's become over-used to the point of being meaningless, since most blogs engage with PRs in some way. Also some brands definitely see this as the mark of the blagger, and will be put off. You only have 160 characters to sell yourself on Twitter - find something more unique and memorable for your bio.
Nobody ever seems to offer me stuff to review
Well, just because you have a blog it doesn't automatically entitle you to free stuff. Maybe your blog's not ready yet. Maybe you're not active enough on social media for PRs to have heard of you.
Maybe your contact details aren't obvious enough on your site for anyone to contact you (create a gmail address just for your blog if you don't want to broadcast your usual one).
Could the content of my blog be putting PRs off?
Possibly - some brands are very conservative and if your blog contains a lot of swearing and references to your stonking cocaine habit then yes, that could be a bit off-putting.
But do you really want to dilute what your blog is about in order to snare some swag? If who you are isn't enough to engage a brand then would you really want to promote them anyway?
The other thing to consider is whether there's anything about your blog that puts off readers - bad spelling and poor photos being the main culprits. This you probably need to pay attention to.
What do I say if I want to email a PR to ask about doing a review? I don't want to look like a blagger.
If you don't want to come across like a blagger, don't make your first approach one in which you're asking for product. A more professional approach is to ask if you can go on to their mailing list for news about their client. Then when you receive a press release you can respond to this if it's of interest (and delete if it's not).
What I tend to say is - I wondered if you're interested in blog reviews? I'm very polite about it because I realise that not every brand wants to be on a blog. I send a link to any similar posts I've written, so the PR can get a sense of how my reviews are presented. So when I was asking to review Iron Man 3 toys, I sent a link to my review of Batman toys etc.
How do I know if a brand is interested in working with bloggers?
Often you won't know until you ask. Don't take it personally if you don't get a reply.
Many companies have links to their press office on the home page of their website.
You can also search under "Company name + press release" which should bring up their most recent release which will have contact details on it.
PRs are communication professionals whose job it is to engage with bloggers like you. They aren't hiding under a stone hoping that you won't spot them. They're very easy to find once you start looking. Many brands also monitor social media to see who's talking about them. Mention a brand on Twitter and you may find that they see this and get in touch.
Do I need a Media Pack?
For reviews - no, you probably don't. A Media Pack makes the business case for your blog and as such is more appropriate when you're selling advertising or sponsored posts.
Media Packs are very fashionable amongst bloggers at the moment but a personal, 3 line email will probably serve you just as well.
So if you've followed the tips above you should be well on your way to building up relationships with PRs and creating great reviews for your blog.
But once you've got the product to review - what next? How do you write a review that the reader will find useful? What happens if you hate the product and have to give a bad review? That's what the next post is all about so stay tuned.
thumbs up image credit Sal Falco