As a blogger, I’m sure you see your favorite bloggers reviewing some really cool stuff on their sites. The disclosure on the post tells you they were sent the item for free. You would love to receive some cool stuff as well, but how?
Why Do Companies Offer Products for Review?
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty let’s discussion why companies send bloggers free product.
Bloggers are influencers. Our readers make buying decisions based on our opinions and the things we share. Brands are taking notice of this and review opportunities are great advertising.
Option #1: Review What You Have
Before most companies will honor a review request or reach out to you first, they want to see that you know what you are doing and what they can expect from a review (honesty, disclosure, images, etc). That means some of your initial reviews will be out of pocket.
Don’t sweat it! You don’t need to shell out a bunch of money. You probably have drawers and cabinets and shelves full of products you already use and love. Pull out your favorites and start writing a product review.
You should also consider signing up for Ebates and your favorite merchants’ loyalty programs. There are so many reasons to do so.
- You will earn cash back on your purchases and possibly earn free birthday rewards.
- You will receive notice of the big sales which you can then pass along to your readers (and earn a commission if you are an affiliate or using VigLink).
- As you rack up loyalty points you can redeem them for more products to review or giveaway. (sample kits are an extremely affordable way to pick up items to review)
ULTA, Sephora, CVS and others offer loyalty programs. Check your frequent online stops for opportunities (often located in the links at the bottom of the website).
Option #2: Blogger Networks
Most bloggers are familiar with review networks. Companies often run campaigns through these networks when launching a new product. That typically means that your product selection is limited, the review specs are well-defined and a large number of bloggers will be running a review at the same time.
If you are looking for review opportunities, below are some great networks to join (last updated May 2019). Please note this is not a personal endorsement for these sites, nor have I worked with all of them myself. As always, please perform your due diligence prior to accepting any offers or providing personal information.
- IZEA (I have done several good-paying review campaigns here over the years)
- Ami Club Wear
- Bethany House
- Collective Edge (UK)
- Bloggers Required
- Blog Dash
- Blog Paws
- Blog Meets Brand
- Blog Release
- Book Look Bloggers
- Brands Meets Blog
- Color Society
- Everywhere Media
- Feed My Blog
- Find Your Influence
- Fly By Promotions
- Global Influence
- Latina Bloggers Connect
- Mom Fuse
- Mom Blogger
- Mom Blog Society
- Influencer Central
- Mom Select
- Moms Trend
- Pinch Me (Not paid reviews, but a good way to get free samples you can talk about on your blog. As there is no brand connection, use your affiliate link!)
- Reward Style
- She Speaks
- Smiley 360
- The Sway
- Social Fabrics
- Style Coalition
- Tap Influence
- The Brand Connection
- The Blogger Programme
- The Motherhood
- The Network Niche
- The Review Wire
- US Family
- Weave Made
- Best Buy Blogger Network
- CJ Content Certified – This is a vertical available through CJ. I have received review opportunities through here and you can use your CJ affiliate link in the review. Win-win! You need a minimum 10,000 pageviews to qualify. Use referral code 2891324.
- You should also watch the newsletters arriving from your affiliate managers. I often receive review offers from Stella & Dot, Erin Condren and others.
There are also some companies that LOVE bloggers. These companies have dedicated brand ambassador programs. These are often long-term relationships in which you will receive regular swag to review. You’ll probably have a special hashtag to use designating yourself as an ambassador. You may even have the opportunity to attend company-sponsored events.
These opportunities typically do not come with monetary compensation while it may be available with the network opportunities mentioned above. This is where it gets really important that you are only dedicating your time to things you absolutely love or need.
Option #3 Companies with Brand Ambassador Programs
There are many companies out there that have brand ambassador programs in place. There are some big brands listed below, but don't limit your search to those. If there is a brand you love, check out their website for a “brand ambassador” link. Do a Google search for brand + ambassador or brand + bloggers. Or, simply send them an email through their contact page inquiring about opportunities.
Big Name Brands
- Amazon Student
- Discovery Channel Program (for educators)
- Drive Shop
- Hamilton Beach
- New Balance Shoe Tester
- Nintendo Ambassador Program
- Serta Comfort
- Snuggle Community
- Toms Maine
- Uncommon Goods
- Wet n Wild
- Winky Lux
Option #4: PR Agencies
Most larger brands have a Public Relations (PR) firm that handles their blogger outreach and press releases. It can be scary contacting these people directly, but it’s good for your blog. If they like you, they may keep you informed of company’s happenings that you can share with your readers before anyone else (positioning yourself as an industry leader) or provide the occasional product for review.
That being said, for the love of all that is Holy, do not contact these people begging for free stuff. Email them letting them know who you are, why their product is a good fit for your site and ask to be added to their media list. Open the line of communication for future use. You may find the acting agency on the brand’s website under “Press” or do a Google search for “____ PR firm.”
Option #5: Ask for What You Want
Joining a review network or brand ambassador program is definitely an easier route than I’m going to give you below, but there often isn’t the opportunity to form a long-term one-on-one relationship or receive reciprocal promotion of your review from the company. (Smaller companies are often excited to share blogger reviews on their social media channels or their press pages if they aren’t receiving a lot of publicity.)
You can reach out to any company of interest regardless of whether they are publicly soliciting bloggers or not. You just need to ask for what you want!
This avenue is going to involve a little legwork. You will need to research who to contact. You will need to compile your stats and craft a catchy pitch (we’ll talk pitches below).
You will have to do some research to reach the right person. You may not receive a response if sending a message through the company’s contact form. I follow the below steps to locate my best option.
- Is there a Press or Media page on the site? These usually have an email to contact specifically for press opportunities. You’re press.
- Is there a Brand Ambassador or Affiliates link at the bottom of the website? They are likely accustomed to working with bloggers and will at least be able to direct you to the right people.
- Does the company work with a PR firm? These people are in charge of media outreach. Do a Google search for company name press release and see who’s name is at the bottom. If you’re lucky there will be an email address included. Make sure you take a look at the date. Companies change PR firms frequently and the employee outturn rate at PR firms seems to be really high. Try to find something recent if you can.
- When all else fails, hit up That Pitch Life on Facebook.
How to Write a Pitch
You can’t just email people saying, “Hey! Can you send me some free stuff?” You probably won’t get a response. These companies want a return on their investment. They want to know what you have to offer.
You should start by introducing yourself and your blog. Share your audience demographics (age, location, gender, household income, etc). You can find this information in your Google Analytics. Let the person know the topics you usually cover and why you are interested in working with them.
You should also let them know what you can provide and what you want in return. Are you planning on writing a review? Will you be providing a social media campaign? Do you have a specific situation or storyline you will be addressing with their product? How do you plan to accomplish this? What do you need from them to make this happen – product samples, product images? Don’t send a shopping list.
I don’t include a media kit at this point. Emails with attachments are more likely to hit the spam box unless you have had previous contact with the person. I will close the email with an invite to discuss further and offer to send over a media kit upon request. It’s a little teaser that often starts a conversation. Keep it short and sweet. You can go into further detail in your next email. But, don’t forget to send a link to your website and social media channels so they can take a glance!
I’m not going to provide you with a big tutorial on how to create an amazing media kit. Fact of the matter is I don’t create my media kits from scratch. I can purchase a professional-looking template from Etsy for $15 and just fill in the blanks. That’s a way better use of my time.
I use a general 2-page media kit for most requests. If I am offering something special, like a holiday gift guide, I will create a streamlined version specific to that opportunity. These are usually only one page and go into detail about the one opportunity I’m offering to that person.
What If They Say No?
It happens. Maybe they don’t have the budget to work with bloggers right now. Maybe they are still defining their outreach approach. Maybe you just aren’t big enough yet and that’s okay, too. Be appreciative of their time and ask that they keep you in mind should future opportunities arise.
This is a good reason for keeping a spreadsheet of who you contacted and when. If you are declined today, maybe they will be open to working with you in six months. If they didn’t think they were a good fit for your Mother’s Day gift guide, maybe they would want in on your Christmas shopping list.
Pro Tip: Have a “PR-Friendly” Page
Always have a dedicated page on your blog that speaks directly to interested brands. Tell them what types of relationships you are interested in (reviews, giveaways, advertising, ambassadorships, etc), your social media and traffic stats (updated every three months) and your contact information. Even if you use a contact form, include your email address. Technology sometimes fails us. Don’t let it be the reason you miss out on a great opportunity.
If you aren't comfortable posting your stats publicly, you can also create a media kit that includes all of the relevant information an advertiser would need. These are easy to do in Canva, or you can purchase a beautiful template on Etsy.
Pro Tip: How to Write a Review That Sells
There are many so-call reviews out there that look much more like advertisements. They don’t provide much value to the shopper. A great review should answer several questions.
- What problem does the product solve or result does it promise? – Consider opening your review with a question. Have you been looking for a 5-free, cruelty-free nail color that provides even coverage and long wear? Uh. Yeah!
- What makes it better than the rest?
- Where does it fall short? – Take a look at other online reviews. What concerns are people voicing? Address those. No product is perfect and if you try to claim that it is you may lose credibility with your readers. The good news is we as consumers know nothing is perfect. We will overlook the little stuff if the product is something we truly want or need.
- Who is this product for?
- Where can I buy it? – Always include a clear call to action (CTA) at the end of your post with a link to the product. I often put my CTAs on a separate line so they aren’t overlooked.
You have got to provide your own images in reviews these days, and there are several reasons behind it. For starters, we are an image-driven society. It drives our social media activity. Seeing a product in action influences our buying decisions. It also proves that you actually reviewed the product. Your visitor already knows what the product looks like on the retailer's website, show them what it will look like in person.
You may get a few impulse buys from our own community when you post a review not solicited by them, but the big money comes from search engines. A person performing a Google search for Liberty Republic SPELLBOUND review has their wallet out. They are ready to buy. I want them clicking through my affiliate link to make that sale. I’ve got to get my post in front of them. That comes through Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Your best bet is to use the name of product and the word review as your post title. That is what people will be searching for.
Nothing will ruin your credibility quicker – or possibly get you a lawsuit at some point – than not disclosing material connections. That means any time you use an affiliate link or receive a product for review purposes, you have to let your readers know. In the post. It’s the law.
Don’t forget to promote!
- Instagram – Remember those photos you took? Choose the best one and post it to Instagram. Remember to @mention the company and use popular hashtags. You should also tell your followers to visit your blog for a full review. This is a great way to not only get traffic but also start making brand connections.
- Twitter – The same hashtag and @mention advice goes for Twitter. Brands may even share your review with their audience!
- Facebook Page – Post your review to your Facebook Page, but don't forget to use the new branded content tool.
Pro Tip: Follow Through
If you don’t follow through on your commitment, you won’t need to worry about future projects. You won’t have any. Do what you say you are going to do and do it in a timely manner. (Months later isn’t timely.) Send the rep a link to the published piece and tag the company in social media mentions. And make sure you disclose your relationship in the post.
I may not get every pitch I submit, but I’m truly excited about every one I do get. It’s stuff I’m probably going to be buying anyway. I’m already in the mindset and ready to put the product to use. You couldn’t ask for a better setup.
If you find the product you requested wasn’t up to your expectations, get in touch with your rep before publishing. Discuss the situation and come to terms with how you would like to proceed. Posting negative (unexpected) publicity about a product you requested is bad business and could give you a bad reputation going forward. While it’s always best to be honest with your audience, you also need to be respectful of the company you asked to work with. That may mean not publishing a review at all.
Further Words of Wisdom
You will not receive every review opportunity you apply to or request. Brands want to be sure their products are being featured in front of those most willing to make a purchase. Many will ask for your blog’s traffic stats and social media following. They will also take a look at your content for uniqueness, professionalism and engagement.
Always disclose and always nofollow links when you have received a product for review. This can get you and your blog in big trouble down the road if you don’t. It’s the law.