Fashion Blogs + Free Samples: The PR Community Speaks
With traditional media struggling through its reinvention and the voice of the consumer growing exponentially through social media channels like blogs and Twitter, the influence of fashion bloggers as powerful allies in the quest for online PR is a growing component of fashion PR strategy. Now the FTC is proposing blogger regulations around disclosure and eyes are refocusing on just what goes on between brands, PR and blogs. More on that later, this post is about the changing expectations for both PR agencies and bloggers when it comes to sending out client samples.
Fashion Street by SideLongFrom a PR perspective, there are several key benefits to developing relationships with fashion bloggers and including fashion blogger pitching as part of a client’s strategic plan. “I love print, but we are witnessing a paradigm shift to the web,” said Matt Meyerson, RPRT Communications and Management, who spent years working in product placement for fashion brands. “When you think about it, a blogger covering your client is doing you more of a favor than Vogue in a lot of ways, they are spreading the word immediately and to an international audience,” he concludes.
The immediacy of blogs can mean instant coverage as opposed to the much longer lead times required by print publications, passionate fashion blog readers find product reviews on blogs more credible than those from traditional media, blogs aren’t limited by their circulation so a blog hit potentially extends awareness to an international audience, and finally, inbound links from a popular fashion blog to your web site can provide powerful SEO benefits.
Top fashion blogs can drive significant traffic and awareness for fashion labels, and email-powerhouse Daily Candy has been known to launch more than one brand with their signature cheeky copy and monstrious database of trend-seekers. Fashion bloggers are regularly featured in Vogue, Teen Vogue, Marie Claire and Lucky, both on and offline. The L.A. Times has recently written several pieces on fashion bloggers, including one specifically about fashion designers working with bloggers for PR.
Despite all these positives, there have been a few negatives, mostly due to the fact that many bloggers are not trained fashion editors. Also, as a new form of media, PR has had to learn what works and what doesn’t work in the space. As a result, the relationship between fashion PR agencies and bloggers has been rocky, as both sides have blundered their way through a communication strategy that is at times more “show-time synergy” than your favorite Jem & The Holograms episode, and at others more like a cringe-worthy karaoke rendition of “Like a Prayer.”
To be fair, most the blunders have been on the PR side. In the last 3 years, the industry has seen fashion PR agencies hiring interns to post anonymous comments lauding the benefits of clients on fashion blogs, fashion weeks refusing any fashion bloggers press access and recently, a fashion designer going into a rage over a top fashion blogger posting pictures of herself wearing said designs on her blog.
With the increased media coverage and endorsement of fashion bloggers, we have also seen a great insurgence of new fashion bloggers, no doubt inspired by the success stories of fashion bloggers being flown to fashion weeks, consulting for major fashion houses, and of course, the allure of that fashion editor major perk, samples.
As a result, many fashion PR agencies now receive daily emails from fashion bloggers looking for samples to review as well as requests for additional product samples in order to host give-aways on their blog. This has created a bit of a conundrum for fashion PR’s and emerging designers as they try and figure out what the ROI is on sending out so many non-returnable samples. There is also the issue for agencies of negotiating the potential coo of easy coverage on smaller blogs, with realistic results, combined with growing client inquiry into quantifying the value of blogger outreach.
Anonymous fashion designer “K” is currently working with a PR agency, and shared her frustration this way, “it ceases to be a sample request when you root through my line and find the specific free goodie you want and ask for that item in a specific color and size. You aren’t asking out of journalistic interest, you are asking for free stuff. Second of all, my products aren’t “free” for me. There is a cost I incur from supplies and shipping and labor when any piece of merchandise leaves my shop and those costs add up when no name blogs hit me up for freebies every day. The bloggers don’t seem to get this and my agency doesn’t either. It’s not just a cost of doing business when the blogger isn’t actually really exposing my brand to anyone. It’s just ripping me off.”
Part of the problem may lie in perception and a lack of understanding about how the fashion industry works. As Lauren Rich, owner of RICHPR explains, “[I wish fashion bloggers had a better] understanding of startup vs. established brands. Bloggers must understand that asking large, established brands for samples is completely different than asking a startup brand for samples. From my experience, I feel a lot of bloggers don’t understand why small, newer brands won’t give samples when they’ve received samples from/reviewed numerous larger, established brands. While having those big names is certainly impressive, it’s not that the brand doesn’t want to give a sample, it’s that they can’t. Smaller brands typically only have the budget to produce limited quantities of samples, so not only are excess samples scare to begin with, but sending one out is literally money out of their pocket. It’s a shame because it’s these new brands that really need the coverage, and many times they don’t receive it because of “nonreturnable” sample policies which they can’t meet.”
Janna Meyrowitz, Founder and President of Style House PR explains the change in online media relations this way, “Five years ago, the online section of our media outreach lists included maybe 10-20 key, important online publications. Since then that has grown tremendously. When [our focus on fashion bloggers] first started to grow I remember there was a lot of pressure on PR companies to really fully do their research before pitching a blog, or any online publication, to really understand it and pitch on-topic, even moreso than with traditional print and television. Why? Because these bloggers could publicly chastise you on their site and ruin the reputation of both you and potentially your clients. I’ve seen a zeitgeist in the past year – the tables have turned. [At Style House PR] we have learned to regularly read the blogs/online pubs that we want to see our clients in so that we can adopt their language and pitch them items and ideas that we know they and their readers will love. Meanwhile we are getting an influx of inquiries from bloggers from all different backgrounds covering all kinds of topics who are pitching us before they have done any research on us or our clients.”