Nicole commented about unsolicited comments from tea companies, which she describes as companies "...practically demanding that I write about their product and promote it to my readers without so much as a proper introduction..." This post sparked a lot of discussion.
Cinnabar of Gongfu Girl also offered a particularly relevant comment here: "It's always the same formulaic communication that starts with them saying how much they like my blog, followed by statements that prove they haven't actually read anything I've written."
The rude approaches described by Nicole, Cinnabar, and others in the discussion, can offend tea bloggers. They can make a negative impression, and they can make it unlikely that a blogger will ever accept or review samples from your company, or promote or write favorably about your company. In this post I want to explain how I think it is best to approach tea bloggers. This all seems like common sense to me, but the fact that so many companies don't follow it makes me think it is worth writing about.
Offering samples is a good thing:
First, I want to say that I love samples, and I think that sending free samples to bloggers can be a great way to gain visibility for your tea company. I'm certainly not trying to discourage tea companies from offering samples with this post. Rather, I would like to encourage tea companies to think about how they approach bloggers when offering samples.
Pictured here are some samples from Life in Teacup that I recently received. This company is one of my favorite tea companies, offering unusual Chinese teas that can be hard to find elsewhere:
Another very different shipment, also of high-quality Chinese teas, was from TeaVivre, a new tea company that ships directly from China, that has quickly gotten my attention as offering high-quality Chinese teas at reasonable prices:
If you want to read some reviews, I recently posted reviews of TeaVivre's Xin Yang Mao Jian and their Chun Mei (Zhen Mei), and of Life in Teacup's Zhang Ping Shui Xian, Charcoal Roasted, Zhang Ping Shux Xian, Traditional Greener Style, and Keemun Mao Feng. Stay tuned for more reviews.
So, how to offer samples?
If I were to give some advice to tea companies offering samples, I'd make the following points about how to approach tea bloggers:
- Be honest, and avoid flattery. Don't say that you like a person's blog, or read a person's blog if you are just finding it for the first time. If you actually read the blog regularly and enjoy it, then it's okay to say this, but it is better to show this by commenting regularly or referencing the posts in your own writing. But if you just found the person's blog in a list of tea blogs, and are emailing them primarily to offer samples for reviews, then say that. There's no reason to be ashamed of making honest attempts to promote your business, but flattery and dishonesty can make a very negative impression. These sorts of actions come across to me as unnecessary, unprofessional, and desperate, three qualities you absolutely do not want associated with you or your business.
- Understand that an offer of samples is an offer, and be fully content with bloggers refusing your offer. - It is reasonable to offer samples to a blogger with the understanding that they will review them if they accept the offer. But a blogger is always free to reject any offer of samples. Accepting samples, and reviewing them, even though it involves receiving a free product, is a lot of work. By offering someone samples, you are asking someone to do free work promoting your company. Getting upset at someone for refusing to do you a favor is never a healthy thing to do. And if you're upset, recognize that this is your own private issue and not the blogger's, and keep your thoughts to yourself--sending a nasty note to someone in a case like this is tremendously unprofessional and disrespectful.
- Read the blogger's blog and site, and make sure they are a good match for your offer, before offering samples. - If you offer samples of flavored green teas to a blog that exclusively reviews Pu-erh, you're making clear that you did not take the time to even glance over what the blog is about. In some cases, bloggers post policies about samples and reviews; make sure to read these notices if one is posted. Always read the "about" page if a blog has one, and always read a number of posts before contacting the blogger. By contacting a blogger without checking to see that their blog is a good match, you are wasting your time as well as the blogger's time.
Watch who you hire to do your PR:
Nicole also remarked in her comment that in some cases, it seems that companies are paying PR firms to do this. I want to chime in, publicly, that I've also experienced this. In one exceedingly silly case, I was having trouble with a certain company posting ratings and reviews on RateTea which I suspected to be fraudulent. The pattern I saw was a series of new sign-ups, all with hotmail addresses, who would write a few reviews (with 100/100 or near-100 ratings) of this company's teas, and never review any other company's teas or log in to the site again. Needless to say, I deleted the accounts, but in order to cut down on spam, I did some detective work and tracked them down to a PR consulting firm that the company had presumably hired. I emailed the firm, and although I did not receive a response or apology, the fake reviews stopped.
The moral of the story here is to be very careful when hiring PR firms. Because a PR firm who engages in disrespectful behavior like this can damage your company's reputation, I would advise people to really drill PR firms on the topics of respect, ethics, and interpersonal communications, before hiring them. If a company cannot demonstrate to you that they consistently communicate respectfully, honestly, and ethically, then find another company.
A sample solicitation:
If you want to offer samples to a blogger, it's really easy. First, make sure the blog is appropriate for your offer, and if not, find another blog that is more appropriate. Then write something simple, like:
"Dear X: I represent Y tea company; I'd like to offer you samples of teas for you to review on your blog, please let me know if you're interested."
If the person responds that they're not interested, thank them for their time and leave them alone. It's one thing if you have something specific more to say--that's fine, but including flattery, or adding a rude response if they decline your offer, will just dig you a deep hole that you may never get out of in that person's eyes.