a peek inside the fishbowl

16 Sep, 2010

Blogger outreach done right – part II

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

I really should be saving this post for when I’m more coherent. This is all just spilling out of my brain and I haven’t even had a proper breakfast yet. :) 

Yesterday’s post was about a great pitch I received from High Road Communications on behalf of their client, Mark’s, formerly known as Mark’s Work Wearhouse.

Mark’s is in the midst of a giant rebranding. What used to be a work-clothes for men (think jeans, coats, boots for men in the trades) has been moving towards something more fashion-friendly for women.

There was a comment in that post that made me recall something I feared when I was tapping it out, as well as the pitch policy: I don’t want to appear ungrateful. I am VERY grateful to be here, to have the luxury of spilling my thoughts and ideas to you every day, sharing my photos, my projects, as well as my successes and failures. I’m grateful for the friends and connections I’ve made. I’m also grateful that after the years I’ve put into this website it’s turned into something that makes some money. As I said in the comments of yesterday’s post: the revenue I earn gives me the freedom to write about all kinds of great stuff that readers benefit from. If my patrons weren’t here, I’m not sure I could be.

And of course I’m grateful that PR firms have deemed me “influential” enough to give me cool freebies from time to time.   

Question: do you or do you not believe that bloggers should be compensated in some way for their time … whether it’s by way of merchandise in kind or some other arrangement?

 A blogger’s time is valuable, is it not? Our connections, our readers, our reach … they all have value. They are more valuable than most people realize. I don’t want to undervalue my worth. Women tend to do that a lot, don’t you think? The buck stops here.

If you are a blogger, you MUST recognize that if a public relations firm sends you a can of soup or a bottle of fabric softener, they’re not doing it because they’re trying help you, they are cogs in a great big business. They want to fulfill contracts to their clients. They want to make money.

There is nothing wrong with refusing to blog about that $1.49 can of soup. Bloggers, you don’t owe anyone anything, but you DO have to remain true to yourself. If you’re okay about giving Big Soup Company free advertising – that’s ok. I do it too sometimes. I’ve bought and blogged about things as mundane as cereals I’ve bought and loved and wanted to share my findings with you.

It’s a strange world we’re navigating here, isn’t it? But while we are all feeling our way around this new way of communicating, many bloggers are beginning to feel that marketing folks are taking advantage of our desire to (a) be helpful (b) share information with our readers.

Companies seem to have no problem spending thousands of dollars advertising in the major media but many expect  bloggers to promote their products for free. Advertisers are interested in bloggers not just because they consider them cheap marketing, but because bloggers are influential and can often reach a tightly defined niche market that companies could otherwise not reach. 

Bloggers – through the relationships we have cultivated over time – have more authenticity and have cultivated more trust – than an expensive television commercial or print ad.

More and more marketing folks are embracing social media, and it’s taking awhile to learn how to do it well, but yesterday’s event was a great example of great social media outreach.

I already described the lead up. The actual event was a hoot.

I arrived at the brand new Mark’s store at South Keys, was pleasantly greeted, and given a wee tour of the store. They’ve done their research and it shows in their products. For example, they carry footwear (including boots) which is resistant to salt stains. Coats are warm but not bulky. (I got to test one out in a GIANT in-store freezer. HILARIOUS. It honestly felt like winter. But will the freezer get much use during the cold half of the year? Won’t it be just as effective to step outside?)

The “innovations” as they call them go on and on: wedgie/panty-line-free underwear, shirts that don’t need ironing (!), non-pilling soft sweaters … etc. But it isn’t just practical, it’s stylish too. The boots and shoes really surprised me with their cuteness, and they have a lot of clothing that would transition well from the casual office to evening too i.e. washable silk tops.

ANYWAY, the entire afternoon was really lovely. It was star treatment, not just for me but for a whole gaggle of local bloggers. We all had our hair and makeup done, got some one-on-one guidance from a stylist who helped us pick out something to wear (I felt very dorky having conversations with strangers about my “trouble zones” – ack), and then we had our photos taken by a professional photographer.

Here’s one of mine:

MarksAfternoonFinal031_JPG

We got to keep the clothing, so everything in the photo now has a special place in my closet. :)

I felt great when I walked out of the store – shiny and new again.

From a business perspective – wow – did this event ever work for them.

1) They were easily able to educate a whole bunch of women about their new products AND make them feel great about themselves and their look.

2) These women – who love to share online with their respective networks – shared their excitement with untold hundreds of likeminded people. We were all twittering madly before, during and after the event. We’re all blogging about it now too. Mark’s has arranged some VERY good PR here. (I also wonder, what if it had backfired? What if we had all hated it? It would be a PR nightmare. Mark’s took a calculated risk and won.)

3) Result: we’ve collectively endorsed Mark’s – made them cool again to a valuable demographic of post-secondary educated working moms who hold the pursestrings – and piqued the curiosity of a legion of similar people who, no doubt, are going to head over to Mark’s at the next available opportunity.

All this was probably for the price of a full-page magazine or newspaper ad … which wouldn’t have been nearly so effective. You see, it’s about marketing to a niche (narrowcasting), instead of marketing to a larger audience (broadcasting).

What about you? Whether you were there or not – bloggers and small bloggers and non-bloggers – do you see what I’m saying here? :)


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21 Responses to "Blogger outreach done right – part II"

1 | Tanya

September 16th, 2010 at 8:38 am

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I totally get what you’re saying. But what I really want to know is, can you post a better picture of those boots and tell me if they are from Marks? LOL Sorry – I love boots!

2 | Kaitlin

September 16th, 2010 at 8:40 am

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In some ways, it’s still about broadcasting. It’s just that part of the calculated risk on Mark’s part is that you would do the broadcasting for them. Maybe it’s a more narrow audience than it would have been from a full-page ad, but the retention is likely higher.

Good on High Road for a job well done!

3 | andrea

September 16th, 2010 at 8:56 am

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Tanya – Here’s another shot that shows more boot. :) And yes, they are from Mark’s …

Kaitlin: for sure, retention is higher and results are better from word-of-mouth style adverting (which this is)!

4 | Stefania (Ingredients for Life)

September 16th, 2010 at 9:41 am

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Yes, I see what you’re saying. Those are some kick-ass boots.

5 | Vicky

September 16th, 2010 at 9:49 am

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I was trying to calculate just how much running an event like yesterday’s might cost. A few hundred dollars per guest, same for the stylists, maybe more for the photographer, maybe a couple of thousand to fly in all the big wigs. Really it’s pennies isn’t it. I completely agree, money well spent with far greater impact than a magazine ad.

The other thing, having worked in PR before, using social media in marketing campaigns is measurable! You have concrete evidence (the blog posts, the tweets, the articles!) of just how your efforts are having an effect.

It will be interesting to see what happens when more and more companies get on board with social media marketing. Will it lose it’s appeal once everyone is doing it?

6 | Carla

September 16th, 2010 at 9:50 am

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I have been a huge fans of Mark’s when it was still a work wearhouse. They started selling bamboo undies before many others did (and uhm, yes now you know what kind I wear), have a great selection of winter boots (bought them there too), good work pants (gray for me) and well fitting clothes. I recently saw their name change but hadn’t figured it out what it was about until I read your post.

7 | andrea

September 16th, 2010 at 10:03 am

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Stefania: the boots are awesome, but I was most surprised by the jeggings (jeans that are super stretchy like leggings). They were out of my comfort zone for many reasons (hey, I don’t even wear capris anymore… I think only certain types can wear them well). I tried the jeggings anyway and realized they are super comfy and cute with boots. I am a total convert.

Vicky: Yes, social media is measurable, more than people think. I think if it’s a truly original idea (think Old Spice campaign!) it will always work.

8 | Stefania (Ingredients for Life)

September 16th, 2010 at 10:06 am

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I must get a pair of jeggings. They sound wonderul. I hope I’m a “certain” person that can wear capris well. :-) Next time I’m in the big city I’ll check out Mark’s.

By the way, I think your pitch policy is great and as for accepting companies to advertise on your site I think that’s great too. I know they were accepted with deliberation.

9 | Christine LaRocque

September 16th, 2010 at 10:40 am

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I really had a lovely time yesterday. Typically I don’t review/endorse products, haven’t even given it much thought in relation to my blog. But I agree with what you say here. What we do has value and that value should be recognized – in the same way that a celebrity endorser would be recognized. This is simply no different. I should also that it was easy and exciting for me to take advantage of this opportunity because I’m already a fan of the product and an avid Mark’s shopper. Thanks for being honest here and for rounding out this impotrtant discussion.

And woman, you look hawt!!

10 | coffee with julie

September 16th, 2010 at 11:15 am

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You have great style. ;)

And you look hot.

(And no – you don’t come off as ungrateful. Ever.)

11 | vicky weiss

September 16th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

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Me again..with yet another comment.

Bloggers are indeed valuable. More and more companies are seeing the value and I applaud those companies. Social Marketing is not something that can be ignored anymore.

The time I spend watching TV these days is minimal. Infact we PVR most of our fav. shows so we can bybass the commercials and save a ton of time!!

I have also participated in two word of mouth marketing campaigns on and I saw/heard the results quickly.

Keep up the good work Andrea!!

12 | Anu

September 16th, 2010 at 9:26 pm

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I applaud you for talking about this and encouraging others to do so as well! This is part of the reason why I like your blog – it discusses meaningful things like this intelligently, openly and sincerely.

I don’t write a blog, but I am acutely aware of “product placement” in blogs/films/tv/games etc. and the fact that you are open about it, and thoughtful about it, makes it easier for me to deal with it “here” at fishbowl. I really appreciate it.

I wonder if you feel like you have more of a responsibility to follow up on stuff though when you mention an obvious sale pitch (no iron, no pilling, no salt stain etc.) in your write up? I think it would have value to us readers if you would check back on the products after numerous times of use/wash/wear – how do they hold up against the claims? That would be something that a magazine ad or a tv ad could never provide, but a blogger with no written contract not to report on negative experience could.
Do you feel you should? Might you if they really turned out NOT to perform as promised?

13 | Cora Brady

September 16th, 2010 at 9:29 pm

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Hi Andrea,
Great posts. I’m curious what emphasis you put on campaigns offering some sort of added value for your readers in addition to your personal experience/compensation – be it product or other. For example: in this instance, could the campaign have been more effective if Mark’s had offered an exclusive opportunity (perhaps discount shopping day or other) that you could share with your readers?
We’re always looking for new ways to get it right and appreciate your insights.
Thanks!
C

14 | Jennifer

September 17th, 2010 at 7:27 am

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You look fabulous in the picture, Andrea. I also checked out some of your bloggy friends pics and everything looks great.

I had a really bad Mark’s experience last spring and vowed NEVER to go there again. I went because my wardrobe needed an overhaul. Marks always sent flyers that had fabulous claims, that all sounded great and made sense. So off I went, dropped a large chunk of changed and after a day or two was thoroughly disappointing. Every cute little tshirt I bought had ripped after one or two wears. (you know that annoying little whole that appears near the belt line). The jeans made for a curvy figure went all baggy real quick and the gap at the back of the waist appeared and the iron free shirt bunched up alot. So I guess why I am posting this is that my experience with Marks although initially was great, most of the cloths did not have any staying power. So like ANu suggested, a follow-up would be sooooo beneficial. Maybe they’ve changed alot since I last shopped there. I’d be interested in knowing if you still think the clothing is great in a month or two.

PS I am certainly tempted by the boots!

15 | Jennifer

September 17th, 2010 at 7:33 am

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Forgot to answer your question. Yes, I think bloggers should be compensated if that is what they choose. It’s your time, your space, why not. You are always upfront and open about it and I trust you give unbiased feedback. Your type of blog will influence me more then a newspaper ad or article and most other media.

16 | andrea

September 17th, 2010 at 8:28 am

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Anu: if one of the products I review here turns out to be utter crap, yes, I would probably follow up.

When I review items I try to be as genuine as I can. What’s to be gained by not being honest?

Not everything I receive gets a good review. For example, Canadian Tire sent me some solar-powered Christmas lights and they didn’t get a glowing review. And when we found them chewed up by the squirrels later I am sure I mentioned that too. :)

I don’t review everything that is thrown my way
and I am more likely to accept an item for review if I think I’m going to like it.

Cora: I do like campaigns that have a value-add for my readers. I am really happy to be able to share with others. I’m not sure how well it would have worked here. The Mark’s campaign was contingent on positive conversations in social media (as well as traditional journalism). They wanted to maximize their dollars and engage people with wide audiences. Would they want a non-blogger/unconnected person coming along as my guest? It would have been nice, but it would have been a more expensive venture for them. It might have been more fun for me too, but not necessarily more effective for their goal.

Jennifer: You’ve been reading here for a long time and I know you trust what I have to say! People like you are why I tread so carefully with the things I choose to review and the ads I choose to accept here. I’m sorry to hear about your poor experience with Mark’s. Hindsight being 20/20 and all… you should have brought your t-shirts back if they ripped after two wears. That’s crazy!

I can’t speak for the quality of the new clothes I have from there, they SEEM good, but I haven’t washed anything yet. That’ll be the true test! :)

17 | Anu

September 17th, 2010 at 8:40 pm

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Funny that you bring it up, I meant to mention your post about the solar powered Christmas lights! I almost felt bad for the poor lights – maybe they were designed and tested in Florida? (But yes, then they should not be sold here.) I guess technology still has a ways to go dealing with solar power/winter/snow in Canada!
BTW. I am all for bloggers getting a decent compensation in any way that fits them personally for whatever value they choose to and can provide to businesses/organizations. The trick is in the knowing of the value and striving for what is fair. And in being open about what is a sponsored message – like you are.

18 | Nat

September 19th, 2010 at 11:23 am

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I skipped all the Mark’s posts because (1) they are ads and (2) this stuff is usually boring as all hell. It’s getting to the point where I’m considering culling my reading list because all people are doing is corporate shilling.

(Caveat, my background is in journalism. I’m really skeptical when it comes to anything I read on a blog now.)

Here’s my thing, if I’m expected to use a product then write a review, then I should be provided both with a product and with compensation for my time. In my mind, it’s not different than writing ad copy. If I were to do that professionally, I’d get paid. Why would my blog or anyone else’s be any different. (Yes, even if it’s a trip.)

19 | Sarah Brown

September 20th, 2010 at 1:49 pm

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Wow! Interesting discussion, for sure. I could debate this one all day.

Like Nat (#18) my background is journalism so I tend to be a bit skeptical about a lot of the blogs out there. I think many bloggers – including you! – are awesome and I believe they should be compensated for their work if advertisers feel it benefits them to advertise on their blog sites. (Same deal as with Ottawa Magazine – I want advertisers to advertise because they like the “product” and feel it will benefit them to be in the magazine.)

The problem I have is that many readers regard bloggers as journalists and assume that their blog posts are impartial when, in fact, they are paid for. You are upfront, but there are a lot of bloggers taking freebies to restaurants, shows, museums, and stores without owning up to it. That guarantees a good “review.”

Note: this is not a beef I have only with bloggers! A lot of magazine and newspaper journalism now crosses the line on a regular basis, offering/guaranteeing good editorial in exchange for the purchase of an ad.

It’s all a fine line – one that I think bloggers and readers have to be aware of so that no one feels used.

20 | andrea

September 21st, 2010 at 7:51 am

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Nat – I agree that review posts can be totally boring. For me, they are are less boring if the review is a topic in which I’m interested. Like, for example, travelling with kids.

If you got a freebie trip from NYC tourism and wrote about it I would read it closely. I’d love to hear about your honest experiences, where to go, what to avoid etc. I think there’s value in that, especially for someone who wants to do NYC as a family.

Bloggers build trust over time. That’s how they can get away with this stuff.

Sarah: I’m skeptical of a lot of blogs too, but not bloggers within my tribe. And marketers know this.

For me, total transparency is critical. If I’ve received something for free I say so. It’s then up to the reader to decide how they want to read that post, if they want to read it at all.

I take my credibility very seriously, and would never intentionally do something to harm the trust I’ve built up with my readers here. To do so would be crazy. :)

I am willing to bet more and more will be jumping on the bandwagon and doing more blogger outreach and hosting events like this one.

Marketers have a choice about where to spend their ad dollars. 99% of bloggers will accept a product they like if it is offered to them. And the resulting content (or placement, to use the lingo) is different than anywhere else. Bloggers tend to use more colloquial language. The OMG factor, which plays in the marketers favour if the language is positive i.e.

“OMG – I tied on jeggings and I couldn’t believe how comfortable they were! I may never take them off again. *squeeeee* ”

This copy, although it lacks finer literary qualities (and I write like this all the time) resonates with people and makes a deeper connection between friends… whether it’s IRL friends or online friends/blog readers. It’s authentic. A reader is probably more likely to act on the recommendation of of blogger than a static ad in the newspaper.

21 | Gifts for the cold >> a peek inside the fishbowl

December 14th, 2010 at 11:25 am

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[...] underwear, sports socks and hard core gloves. The kind folks at Mark’s (remember them from here?) sent me a package of warm things awhile back which contained a sample of each of the [...]

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