By Gordon Wright
“County finals? I didn’t even know you were running track.”
My mom, who was raising two kids on her own, was far too busy to know that in my eighth-grade year, I was running track for Neil Cummins Junior High School.
“Yeah. I kind of need a ride, because it’s at College of Marin.”
“When is the meet?”
“Um…in about an hour.”
After grinding her teeth for a bit, Mom calmly put down her Saturday morning coffee, changed out of her sweats, and bundled my gangly 13-year-old body into our Mercury Cougar.
On the way to the local community college, she asked what events I was running. “Sprints,” I said, “The 100, 200 and the 4×100 relay.”
It was the relay that worried me. We weren’t a fast squad, and we’d be facing fearsome Del Mar of Tiburon and their legendarily fast anchor, Jim Detomasi.*
After a fairly quiet ride, my mom glanced at my shoes. They were clunky, awful things — canvas and suede proto-tennis shoes that merged all the performance benefits of Hush Puppies with the weight savings of backpacking expedition boots.
“Honey, are you running in those?”
Well, yes, I was. I had been, all year. Things were pretty tight, post-divorce, and I didn’t want to ask my Mom to buy me new running shoes when my boats still had a good sixteen or seventeen years left on them. Plus, we needed to…you know – eat.
With a sigh of resignation, my Mom took a quick detour, over my protestations, to the local sporting goods store, and spent $35 dollars she didn’t have to buy me a pair of fly Nikes.
We didn’t beat Del Mar that day, but I flew in those shoes. I wore them until they were so threadbare that my Mom threw them in the garbage, where I found them, pulled them out, and wore them another year.
Bottom line is: I don’t like to ask for stuff. I’d rather suffer for ages than ask for anything.
Which brings me to bloggers.
Way back in 2007, when we first started really devoting ourselves to publicizing our clients to the blog world, we made a critical decision: we would treat bloggers like journalists.
This had a profound effect: because we treated all bloggers seriously, because we devoted the same sort of care and diligence to our interactions with them, they responded well to us. Our clients, in turn, have enjoyed expansive coverage in the blogosphere. Everyone wins.
But things have changed.
As of this writing, two new trends are developing that has caused us to write our very first Policy Statement Regarding Blogs.
The first trend that we are noticing is the proliferation of blogs that ask for product from our clients despite the fact that they don’t have any readers.
I do not understand this.
If you don’t have any readers, you may have a blog, but it is not a blog that is a credible outlet for our clients. There are dozens of blog posts devoted to the subject of developing readership, and developing that audience should be a requirement before you approach a brand or PR agency to review their gear.
I’m not trying to be harsh. You may write beautiful, thoughtful prose, but if you’re asking for gear for your blog, and you have no readership, or very small readership, it isn’t a proper venue to ask for free gear, for one simple reason: our clients are commercial enterprises. They absolutely believe in giving product away, but only if it increases their sales, and they can’t do that if you don’t have an audience.
How big an audience? That’s a fair question. You don’t need to be as big as Beth Risdon or Steve Stenzel, but let’s take them as examples. Not all blog sites are listed in measuring sites like Quantcast, but those two are, and that tells us that they have 54,511 visits per month (Beth) and 15,301 (Steve) trending over the past six months. Those are big numbers; in Beth’s case, almost as large as some magazines.
Let’s just take our own agency blog as an example. We have about 115 monthly readers and most of our posts get zero or maybe one comment. Would we feel ok about asking for free gear to review? No, because we simply don’t draw a big enough audience. We recently got a request from a blogger to provide him a very expensive pair of running shoes to review. He seems like a great guy, but his site is ranked 30,000,000 by Alexa; while our own site ranks somewhere around 9,000,000th. We did not send him shoes; only an apology.
What about other social media functions that support your blog? Well, yeah, we count that too. If you have a bigger Facebook network (we have a very small audience of 578 Likes) or Twitter following (we have 862 followers), then at least that counts towards your overall audience. But if you have fewer followers/friends than we do? You probably shouldn’t ask for gear.
We work with hundreds of blogs. We love bloggers. Build your audience and come see us – we’d love to get you free gear, as long as it makes business sense for our clients.
Which brings us to a second Policy Statement Regarding Blogs. This hearkens back to the manner in which we treat bloggers: like journalists. We have noticed, increasingly, that some blogs ask for money in exchange for reviews.
Again, I do not understand this.
We work with media outlets ranging from UltraRunning Magazine to the New York Times. They do not ask for money, and neither should you.
“But that’s my economic model,” you say. OK, that’s fine, but we still won’t pay. If you ask us, we recoil like slugs in a salt storm.
“But big PR firms do it all the time,” you say? Fine. But they and the blogs they’re working with are not doing PR, they’re doing something else, something that isn’t proper journalism.
We’re a bit old school about it, and we’re not going to change.
TL;DR? Develop an audience, please, before asking for gear. And if you work in a journalistic way, we’ll treat you like the journalist you are.
Feel free, as they say, to leave a comment.
*Jim Detomasi, weirdly, is still a big part of my life. I wound up playing high school rugby and club rugby with him, and college rugby against him. We even served as a pair of wings together on a Divison One club in San Francisco. Today, Jim is my insurance agent, though I am, finally, faster than he is.
I totally respect this policy, and expect it has become a necessity with the growth of the blogosphere, especially in your clients’ industry.
As a new blogger I didn’t start out intending to focus on gear reviews, but was fortunate to have a few people take a chance on me (including you) and I have tried to parlay that into a growing readership base, social media following and suite of reviews for google searchers.
I’m sure you have a great radar for people that really have an interest in doing good reviews and those that just don’t want to buy their shoes.
I try to give as much value as I can in exchange for clients providing product for review which definitely takes some effort.
I do it because I have a real interest in the stuff i use and I like writing about it. If I become as web popular as Steve in a Speedo that’s a bonus ( especially if I do it without a speedo!). If people are serious about doing this stuff, it takes some work up front but stick with it and things will start to roll. Build a network and your blog content and show your knowledge and dedication.
Spoken like a rookie expert 🙂
Kent, spoken like a pro. But yeah, please: no Speedos