Hola, friends! I’m back with the promised follow up to my last article, What Bloggers Want Brands to Know. After that spicy tirade about the content creator struggle, let’s put the shoe on the other foot and chat about working with brands, shall we?
I worked in PR agencies for almost 10 years before I left to travel and explore the freelance/blogging/influencer life. Now I do both, so I wanted to share a behind-the-scenes look at what brands, publicists and destinations wish influencers, bloggers and journalists knew. Much of this advice goes both ways, so take a look and tell me what you think in the comments.
1. Publicists Are Crazy Busy.
PR is one of the top 10 most stressful jobs in America. Know why? Because everything is on fire all the time and publicists are the ones with the hoses. Your average PR person is a hard-working machine with dozens of plates spinning at once. Most agency publicists* work on anywhere from two to seven accounts. Think of how many people a publicist has to answer to – dozens upon dozens!
Knowing that, please accept that your request for a comped hotel room is probably not the top priority of the day, and it may take time for her to respond. In a perfect world, you’d get an insta-response, but this is just the way it goes when working with brands and destinations.
2. Diva Behavior Won’t Get You Very Far.
Throwing a fit if a publicist doesn’t answer your email from yesterday is going to get you nowhere fast. If you don’t get a response overnight, take a deep breath and wait it out. We have legal teams, licensed properties and probably 140 miles of red tape to deal with before we can make anything happen, so chances are there’s a good reason we haven’t responded. If you haven’t heard from us in a while, feel free to follow up in a non-diva fashion.
Please note: anyone behaving like a jerk over email gets put on my personal blacklist. Who wants to work or travel with someone who’s so demanding from the get-go?
3. We Love When You Say Hi!
Before the Age of the Influencer, when PR peeps only had to know the journalists covering their own beat (travel, health, business, etc.), life was so much easier. We could hone in on a few key reporters to get our clients’ news out. Now, we have media lists consisting of print journalists, TV producers, influencers, Instagrammers, YouTubers, bloggers and everything in between. And as you know, every group is unique in the way they work with brands and destinations. A publicist can’t possibly know what every qualified writer is up to, so be proactive and help us out.
Tell us who you are. Say hi. Toot your own horn. Send your press kit. Make it easy for us to work with you.
4. Be Honest About Your Credentials.
You don’t have to have 1,500,000 followers on Twitter to get a brand to look your way. (In fact, that might actually raise eyebrows. You’re a travel blogger, not Justin Bieber!) If you’re just starting out, be honest about your numbers. Highlight your strengths and what makes you a fit for the brand/destination. It’s not all about numbers, y’all! When it comes to working with brands, a good fit is more important than numbers any day!
For bloggers who have been around for a while, toot your horn humbly. No one wants to work with a braggart or worse, a bold-faced liar. Don’t say you’re the No. 1 Blogger in the World if your only proof is some rando blog post from another rando blogger. I’m extremely wary of bloggers who send pitches touting they’re the No. 1 such-and-such because so much of that is subjective. Sure, you can be No. 1 on Klout or Alexa, but those metrics hardly matter because they’re so easily manipulated.
Integrity matters. That’s why so many brands and destinations are hiring consultants like me to help weed through the hordes of bloggers.
5. Publicists Have to Show Value.
Destinations and brands aren’t working with you because you’re cool and they have millions of dollars lying around waiting to be spent just for fun. Yes, there’s usually an element mutual good feelings involved when entering a business partnership, but bottom line: brands work with you because they want to publicize their offerings, and your online presence is a means to that end.
It costs a great deal of money to host bloggers and influencers. The publicist has to get paid, the influencer has to get paid and just think of the travel costs! If you are getting paid on behalf of a client or destination, that money likely came from taxpayers and hotels, so the publicist has to show results so the client can go back to the shareholders and taxpayers and say, “Hey look at all the business this campaign has driven! Your hotel is sold out! Woohoo!”
6. My Job Is On the Line.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve invited a blogger on a trip or to participate in a campaign, only to be so disappointed when they produce crappy content or act like wild animals onsite. I’ve experienced so much shocking blogger behavior over the years that now I can’t help but wonder…
- Will the blogger show up on time?
- Will the blogger wear appropriate clothes to the fancy dinner, or will she show up in a bikini top again?
- Will the blogger ask for a +1 the day of the event?
- Will the blogger get fall-down drunk at dinner?
- Will the blogger hit on the client?
- Will the blogger bring enough memory cards or will he give up midway through the African safari?
- Will the blogger bother to check the names of the destination and attractions to ensure he’s sharing the correct info?
- Will the blogger complain about how tired and bored she is on social media, rather than touting the destination she’s being paid to visit?
- Will the blogger write anything at all, or will I have to chase her down over the next 12 months to deliver?
Any inappropriate behavior, missed deadlines or subpar content on the influencer’s part reflects poorly on my ability to choose quality content creators. Please don’t get me fired because you are lazy, unprepared or just don’t care all that much about quality.
7. Be a Pro in Every Way.
When I’m looking for influencers and bloggers for brand/destination campaigns, I’m looking for:
- A professional, self-hosted website with quality design. I can’t imagine hiring someone with a Blogspot at this point.
- Eye-catching photos that demonstrate you know how to do more than point and shoot.
- Excellent writing, attention to detail and a unique voice. I need to know you can tell a story differently than the last 48 bloggers who were here, and I need to know you can do it with accuracy and correct spelling, at a bare minimum.
- A definite brand. It doesn’t always have to fit a specific niche (romance, solo female travel, adventure) but your online persona should be evident from the very first glance at your blog and social media accounts.
- Engagement with your audience. A blog post with no comments and no social shares doesn’t put heads in beds for my clients.
- Longevity. I’m looking for bloggers who are in it for the long haul. Brands want someone who’s committed to paying their hosting fees for years to come, so their investment isn’t short lived.
8. Fake Followers Are No Bueno.
Don’t fall into the trap of buying your social media following. That is straight up manipulating numbers to get more money and invitations. It’s gross and it’s fraud, and my is it ever easy to spot. Don’t be that guy.
9. Fact Check Everything.
Alternative facts should have no place in your content. If you’re a blogger in today’s news economy, you’re a member of the media, whether or not you attended J-School. There’s an inherent responsibility to get your facts straight, and to report ethically. (This applies to what you share on social media, too. If you’re sharing inflammatory articles based on headlines alone, thus perpetuating nonsense, you’re doing it wrong.)
You can tell the pros from the amateurs because pros churn out consistently accurate, quality content. There’s no excuse for incorrect facts when working with a publicist. We’re literally here to help you get everything right.
10. Passion vs. Paycheck.
No one is more adamant than me that content creators should be paid in some monetary fashion for their work – whether by a magazine publisher or by a brand – but it’s all too easy to see who is in it just for the perks. It’s not hard to sniff out the folks with all sponsored posts, all comped trips and life of freebies. Strike a balance and never lose your authenticity.
11. Mind Your Manners.
Back when I was just a baby publicist in New York, I introduced myself to a blogger I really admired at TBEX. She was so rude and dismissive to me, to the point where I just backed away into the shadows. I never forgot her behavior. And of course, I’ve never tapped her to work on any of my client projects since.
If you want to be a blogger or content creator, all you have to do is start an account and start writing. If you want to do it professionally for many years to come, you’d better be a pleasant human being. You just never know who is watching your behavior on a trip, or on social media. Reputations get around.
There were maybe 200 others in the same space when I first started this blogging adventure. Now it’s estimated there are more than 10,000 in travel alone! Competition is thick and while the world is certainly big enough to provide experiences for the whole gang, the talented writers who are also pleasant professionals will rise to the top and push out the demanding divas in the end.
12. Be Patient. It’s Not Our Fault. (Usually)
The only time I’ve ever dealt with meaner people than journalists/bloggers was when I was a hostess at an Italian restaurant in high school. At least they had a good excuse: they were hangry!
Travel is the best thing in the world, and sometimes it’s the living worst. Things go wrong. Luggage gets delayed. Reservations get misplaced. Complaining and whining will get you nowhere with the publicist who’s likely even more frustrated than you that her carefully crafted itinerary has gone off the rails. The best travelers roll with the punches, as do the best content creators.
I say, err on the side of patience and tact, and please understand that most publicists are striving for perfection. When things go wrong for you, they go wrong for the publicist, too. Save your freakouts and meltdowns for the secret Facebook groups designed for such rants.
13. Be a Multi-Platform, Multi-Talented Communicator.
If you’re keen to start working with brands, you have to bring more to the table than a big Twitter following. What happens when Twitter goes under? And who cares if you have a lot of followers on just one network if you are bankrupt everywhere else?
My go-to influencers have successful blogs, freelance careers, TV gigs and well-rounded social media presence. Shoot for that.
All that said, there are plenty of brands out there who don’t know any better, so you may be able to skate by with subpar work. I mean, look around. It’s a meteor shower of crappy content and boring blogs. But I promise you that good publicists are constantly on the hunt for the stars in the midst of it all.
*Some publicists are terrible, so let’s just tell it like it is. Sometimes you get spammed with 100 press releases and when you finally respond with a request for more information, it’s radio silence. Sometimes you work for months to plan a campaign and then the publicist says, “Oh, budget? We don’t have any budget now.” Sometimes a PR gal will send you a sample of something to consider for a future story, and then rudely demand it back within 24 hours leaving you unable to try it out and having to fit in an unexpected trip to the post office. Sometimes the PR-creator relationship is not fun. I get it.