Taking Your Gardening Dollar

How To Talk To a Blogger

Naturesavenger
Rule #3:  Offer Something To The Blog’s Readers
.  We loooove to give stuff away to our readers. Review copies of books, Sloggers, and so on.  How does this work?  We write a post, ask our commenters to post something clever about why they are the ones who truly deserve the free stuff, and then we pass on their address to the company so that said free stuff can be sent to them.  Even a coupon is helpful:  the very clever people at Nature’s Avenger offered to send me a bottle of their organic weed killer and a discount code that we could give to our readers.  (Full report on Nature’s Avenger coming soon.)

Rule #4:  Don’t Let Your Marketing Company Talk You Into a Fake Blog.  You don’t have to have a blog yourself to get noticed by bloggers.  Really, you don’t.  There is nothing worse than a fake blog that your marketing company set up for you. If you truly want to write honest, insightful,personal, and revealing posts about your perspective on the business, your life as a gardener, or the challenges and triumphs of manufacturing and selling whatever it is you manufacture and sell, go for it. But it takes time and a genuine desire to be part of the blogging community. Check out our favorite Blogging Nurseryman for an example of a truly great business blog.   But if you’re just going to have an intern put up chipper little posts about how great your products are?  Skip it. (Oh,and by the way:  a blog is the website where all your posts live.  A post is the individual piece of text you put up on any given day.  Saying "yesterday I wrote a blog about this new plant in our greenhouse…" is another way of saying, "I still don’t get this whole blogging thing, but my PR guy thinks it’s a good idea.")

Rule #5:  You Probably Don’t Need a Marketing Company To Get You Blog Exposure, Period. You know that 20-year-old in your office who’s always updating his MySpace page when he’s supposed to be working?  Guess what–he is working! Tell him to go find the cool bloggers, send them e-mails, get some products in the mail, and follow up to see what they might want (more freebies for their readers, discount codes, high-res photos, etc.) for the post they’re going to do about your product. While you’re at it, have him set up Google news and blog alerts for mentions of your company’s name or product, and have him set up a Google Reader or iGoogle account (or some such thing) to keep on top of the blogs you ought to be following.  Make him responsible for compiling links to all the posts he generates.

Rule #6:  Be Thick-Skinned.  If we don’t like your product, we’re going to say so. Most bloggers are not making actual money.  We’re not beholden to advertisers–even if a blog has ads, they are probably randomly fed by an ad service like AdSense.  I know it’s weird that the Internet has given your customers a megaphone, but there’s no turning back now. If you want your products reviewed online, be prepared for an honest and possibly weird report, not a bland, polite, don’t-upset-the-advertisers print review.

And speaking of product reviews, I’ve got one coming up later today.

Posted by on May 22, 2008 at 5:28 am, in the category Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
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42 Responses to “How To Talk To a Blogger”

  1. Stacy says:

    Nice. They all need this tattooed on their foreheads.

  2. gina says:

    foot suckers in the mail? good grief that’s nasty! my blog is no where the magnitude of yours but i was so thrilled when those brita people sent me the filter systems to give away on my blog. other than that, I mostly get random people emailing me like “hey will you tell your readers to buy this stuff?” For some reason that always pisses me off. low budget marketers!

  3. This is a most excellent post that should be required reading for all companies wishing to do communicate with bloggers. I would also add–don’t email a huge file with photos before asking if I’m interested.

    If the PR people won’t read it and heed this advice–fire them!

    Robin at Bumblebee

  4. susan harris says:

    Ooh, I have more rules!

    Rule 7. Never call bloggers at home to promote your product.

    Rule 8. When bloggers DO write about your product and you want to include this good press on your website, use the permalink to the post, not a PDF. PDF’s are just a slap in the face.

    Rule 9. If you have a blog, great, but you have to reach out to the blogosphere yourself, not have your PR agency do it. New media are all about having _direct_ contact with your customers.

  5. Michele Owens says:

    We need to send this post to the people on Madison Avenue, who are of course terrified, horrified, mystified about what is happening to their traditional business model. I mean, has any form of advertising ever been more effective than Google search results–or a product review by a pleasantly skeptical blogger?

  6. susan harris says:

    And here’s what I suggest you do if you DO need help creating a marketing program aimed at bloggers and/or creating your own. Consult someone IN gardenblogging, like Kathy Purdy at yourbloghelper.com. Or just start a blog and ask your readers to give you feedback, which they’ll gladly do. DO spend a little money for someone to design and set up the blog for you, though. Then have as many staffers as possible posting. It’ll change your company! Certainly the public perception of it.
    Of course our rules assume you’re NOT Scotts , TruGreen or Monsanto. No strategy in the world would convince us to promote those guys.

  7. Don Eberly says:

    After reading your blog about what and what not to do pertaining to plant company / brand information-sharing with bloggers, I felt compelled to offer an alternative view. Since my company was the one that sent you the STEPABLES media kit and trial plants, I would be glad for the opportunity to share our perspective. Of course, I expect you will not post my blog entry given it shares another side of the story you may not care for your blog readers to know. In short, when asked by Garden Rant blog founders to provide trial plants and information about STEPABLES, we were happy to do so. We said we’d be happy to have you blog about your experiences with the plants – whatever they might be. Truthful blog entries were expected, just not ones that are based upon the fact we did not send a check with the plants and information. When one of the founding Garden Rant blog owners contacted me two weeks ago to ask if we would “sponsor” Garden Rant and / or one or two other individual blogs that at least one Garden Rant founder had started, I was surprised. When I asked what type of “sponsorship” was available, I was told in no uncertain terms that companies like mine and STEPABLES could pay a Garden Rant founder a fee to have positive blog entries about them and their plants be placed on various blogs. I didn’t imagine this; I have emails to this effect still in my inbox. I cannot think of a more blatant and literal way to diminish the whole and true purpose of unpaid information-sharing on blogs than this. When we declined to pay a fee to have the Garden Rant blog co-founder post “nice comments” about the plant brand, apparently, we struck a cord. As a result, Garden Rant felt the need to post derogatory comments about the brand. Since some blog owners have evidently decided to post “positive” comments about those who pay them to do so (and call it “sponsorship”) and post “negative” comments about those who do not pay, I guess the lesson here is to be cognizant of the integrity of the individual blog and blog founder / owner. So, perhaps, let’s tell the whole story here.

  8. trey says:

    We we’re sent the “Stepables” package also. A few days later I received a call from the marketing company asking if we we’re going to get involved in the program. I told them we had never been approached by Stepables before, and didn’t carry their ground covers. They seemed surprised and said someone would contact me. I can’t remember if anyone ever did.

    The story of Stepables is interesting in itself. Young woman takes groundcovers we are all familiar with and markets them brilliantly as Stepables, her own brand. That story is more interesting than a bunch off suckers and wrist bands.

  9. tai haku says:

    SO my blog is all about underwater photography: when can I expect someone to notice it and send me a lovely new u/w camera system?!

    Seriously though I sometimes wonder how marketting firms survive – some of the ideas are so lazy tis untrue.

  10. susan harris says:

    Well, as the “gardenrant founder” that Don Eberly’s referring to, I’ll clarify. I asked for his advice about getting sponsors for my website, not for GardenRant, though he did try to convince me that GardenRant should hire him to get us some publicity. What blog would want a PR firm speaking for them, and pay them a minimum of $36,000 a year to do a bad job of it?

  11. Don Eberly says:

    I think my point was missed. To help clarify, I’ll state it more concisely. We are happy for anyone to post frank and honest opinions about companies we represent. We just didn’t expect the first derogatory post on Garden Rant to follow our decline to “sponsor” (or, in literal terms, pay) a Garden Rant blog founder to post “positive” comments about us on this or any blog. When I was told, “Well, they’ll be no more blog entries about the brand without a sponsorship,” I realized the need to avoid blogs that seem to be turning commercial. Maybe others can now be aware of this as well.

  12. Michele Owens says:

    Sorry, Don, but there is no connection between your contact with one founder and this post written by another. In fact, the other three founders have no idea what you are talking about. Amy’s criticism of your approach was an entirely independent judgment. And as far as blogs turning commercial, make me laugh! After two years of work, we have posted our first profit–$697.70. We intend to use the sum not to retire to Belize, but instead to subscribe to a photo stock house and improve the beauty of the blog.

  13. Anthony Levine says:

    It’s interesting to me that you would ask for his professional counsel and trust that aspect but in the same sentence refute his objectives.
    It seems as if your blogging ethics have been muddled with what truthful journalism was founded on.

  14. Michele Owens says:

    Anthony Levine, Garden Rant never asked for this guy’s counsel! Give me a break! I worked for a marketing genius for a dozen years. If I were looking for advice, it would not be from the Steppables PR rep.

  15. Michele Owens says:

    If blogging becomes as corrupt as much of what passes for mainstream journalism, there is simply no point to it, and I’d just want to fold up shop and write a novel.

  16. Michele Owens says:

    I guess I’m not done yet. I wrote a book with the marketing genius I mentioned, David D’Alessandro, called Brand Warfare, that has a pretty funny story about an elaborate press kit like the one Steppables sent out–and what the real point of all that junk is. Let’s assume that there’s a markup somewhere on the lollipops.

  17. Anthony Levine says:

    “Well, as the “gardenrant founder” that Don Eberly’s referring to, I’ll clarify. I asked for his advice about getting sponsors for my website, not for Gardenrant”

    Above quoted form Susan Harris, she most certainly did ask for his advice / counsel. Those two words are interchangeable.

  18. eliz says:

    What Michele said. This accusation is total nonsense. Mr. Eberly is angry because we didn’t like the package they sent out. We have never asked for his firm’s advice or sponsorship.

    I’ve got nothing against Stepables as a company, though.

    Yeah and the big money we’re making. Ha.

  19. Amy Stewart says:

    Wow. As the person who started this little dust-up, I gotta say: GardenRant is a group blog, and this was my post, not Susan’s. Susan doesn’t even know what I’m going to post about until she sees it online, and vice versa. We live in separate cities and have separate lives and careers.

    So me posting about the press kits I get in the mail has nothing to do with anything Susan may be doing with her own website. We each have our own websites, blogs, jobs, lives, etc.

  20. Don Eberly says:

    I am glad to read the other Garden Rant blog founders were unaware that one of their co-founders is seeking sponsorships (or fees) for blogging positively about those who cut a check. At least it is only the one co-founder doing this and not all four.

  21. susan harris says:

    So Don, do you want to respond to the _content_ of Amy’s criticisms? Plus the criticisms of mine in Rules 8 and 9, both of which refer to your firm without naming it.
    How about telling us your blogging strategy and getting feedback, not just here but from across the blogosphere?

  22. I received the same ridiculous package from Steppables.
    A few days later I received two emails from one of their representatives asking if I received the package and if I had any questions or comments.
    I said yes, and that I was not their ‘target audience’ and they need not waste their resources on me.
    If you read all the crap that is in that huge waste of paper it seems that they are looking for retail nurseries to set up advertising displays in their nurseries for their products, then offer a contest for the best display.
    All that wasted money on poor presentation and not even knowing who their target market is.

    Talk about putting a foot in your mouth, ( they send out foot shape lollipops ) … well at least that got that one right.

  23. Bonnie Story says:

    Wow! What a bloodbath! I haven’t seen anything like this in a while. Thanks for posting all the good stuff. I’m watching and learning. Breathe, everyone.

  24. I have a tiny little blog, nowhere the scope or talent of the ones involved in these issues. However, as a reader and consumer, I’d like to weigh in.

    If I think a blog is a front for a sales pitch, I will not only stop reading it, I will refuse to purchase even a good product in response. (Really, I’m a person who refuses to purchase Exxon petrol on a drive across the desert when it might be the last station for 100 miles just because of a little ol’ oil spill a long time ago). You may think I’m the odd cynic, but everyone I know who spends much time on the internet has a finely tuned BS detector and reacts in much the same way.

    By contrast, honest appraisals of products by bloggers who have earned my respect and alliance through demonstrations of their knowledge or clever use of language will make me rush right out and buy that widget or plant or product. At the very least, their opinion gets passed on by me as trusted advice from a friend. Hear that? It has the weight of trust and that currency means something.

    The one blatant bid for my business that I DO appreciate (and use) are discount codes. Even if I don’t need anything, you’ll get me to go to the website and look around, and I’ll remember you for the times I do want to purchase something. And since this is starting to feel like a marketing focus group, my average online gardening related purchase is $75 to $100.

    So, when the dust clears and pulses slow, I’m hoping the sellers and marketers listen to the points made in this post. Stop being defensive and learn from this.

  25. D. King says:

    As someone who has contributed to the whopping $697.70 profit that GardenRant raked in last month I’d figure I’d throw my two cents into the fracas,

    In mid April we put an ad on GardenRant for a new unique product. We picked GardenRant because after finding it last year and following it thru the year we came to the conclusion that people who frequent it must be intelligent and opinionate, like us, (well at least the opinionate part).

    When we put the ad on, we sent one (long winded…sorry) email to each of the four Ranters simply explaining the product, what it did, the story behind its development and if they had any questions contact us.

    We receive a email back from Amy saying that she’d be on the road for a while, but it sounded interesting and she tried to look at it when she could. We received another email from Susan asking if we would like her to review it, which we emailed back and said sure, knowing full well based on reading Susan for a year that if she did review it she would tell the truth good, bad or indifferent.

    Since the product involves using it over time, and since we realized that all of us have a real life we didn’t expect a quick review if any. The ad is not running this week because we had a revised edition of the product and wanted to make sure that that was available before continuing the ad.

    The fact is (or truthiness) is we were never shakened down for sponsorship or any other form of monetary bribery in exchange for a positive review by any of the four Ranters.

    A few other quick thoughts. First asking for advice is something we all do, Second, how does anyone concern about the environmental crisis that we are in send out 40 pieces of paper to market a product, and still have the ability to look at them self in the mirror in the morning and third God, I’d wish I’d taking that job years ago as a UPS delivery man.

  26. susan harris says:

    D. King, I DO hope to review the product sometime this year but it’s on my list of new things to figure out and I get frustrated all too easily.

    And a small correction – that 700 bucks was our “profit” for TWO YEARS, not one month. Gardenbloggging does NOT pay.

  27. Nancy says:

    humm lollipops in the shape of a foot?

    Interesting twist on “putting your foot in your mouth”…

    hey! I’d love to try out the Steppables plants. I’ve got clay soil in an area of mostly to deep shade. Wanna take the challenge of providing a ground cover to enhance and delight me for that area?

  28. Well, where to start. Amy, I’m amazed you had the energy to post again today.

    Second, to Don Eberly: I think you owe Amy and Garden Rant an apology (or two, or three): first for holding them responsible for what was apparently an independent conversation you had with Susan Harris, secondly for assuming they wouldn’t print your comment, and finally for your tone, which I suspect has lost you more customers than you know.

    Third: I’d like to hear Susan’s version of the exchange Don describes, because it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, this accusation. If facts got twisted or key context around certain quotes got eliminated in his version, it would be nice to know.

  29. Jen Fu says:

    Hey Don Eberly, you didn’t read the end of Point #4 where it mentions that an individual blog post is not a “blog.” Additionally, a comment on someone’s post is a “comment” not a “blog entry.”

  30. gina says:

    JERRY! JERRY! JERRY!

  31. susan harris says:

    The point of Don’s attack seems to be that Amy’s criticism of his press kit has no credibility because GardenRant is totally corrupt; we’re all about praising companies that pay us and punishing those who don’t.

  32. Wow, this is my first chance to read this. I think the Ranters make some really good points, and I would add to Robin’s rules.

    9 or 10. Remember that blogging involves a community. It’s not just one website promoting a product. We’re real flesh and blood gardeners, landscape designers, journalists, etc. We have opinions, and we try to present them fairly.

    I know Elizabeth and Susan, and I know they would never ask for sponsorship. On the alternative, all of us would like to make a dime or two. We’re working hard out here to present our expertise and information to our readers.

    I thought the original post was excellent, and timely. The world is changing, folks, and companies need to adjust.

    Also, as an aside, I’m turned off by the lollipops.~~Dee

  33. Thanks for the clarifications,
    Susan–all this sounds weirder and weirder, I must say, and Don Eberly’s irate response makes less and less sense.

    Re Jen Fu’s point about DE’s language (how he referred to his comment as a “blog entry”)–I was so tempted to point out the same thing! It’s relevant in terms of one of the overarching points Amy was making: companies pitching to bloggers through blogs need to know the turf they’re walking on–its language, customs, and etiquette.

    So, to borrow a phrase from The Music Man, DE’s slip made clear that his product could be brilliant, “But he doesn’t know the territory!”

  34. Reading Dirt says:

    Wow — see, now if I were the Steppables people, I’d be saying, “Hey, thanks for the honest appraisal of the press kit. We’d like to hear more about what your readers think, so we’ll be paying close attention to the comments.”

    ‘Cause now every time I see those Steppables labels in the garden center, I’ll be reminded of the comments they left here. Personally, if it were my business, I’d rather have people smile and think “Oh, yeah, those really nice people,” when they see the Steppables label.

  35. Wow! Not sure what the hec happened with my press kit, but I am very sorry to have caused so much strife amongst bloggers. Holy cow! This was not our intention at all. Actually, the kit was to inform you about my company, the STEPABLES® plant line and the cool things we are doing to help local community charities nationwide—plus give you fun little goodies as a thank you for taking the time to read the info we sent you.

    I do appreciate the candid discussion set forth by everyone. All good to know for future reference!

    Look, I love what I do and I want to share horticulture with as many people as possible. My goal is to grab the gardeners of America and give them the biggest, dirtiest hug I can and say, “Hey, come get dirty with me!” Gardening is fun! STEPABLES® just wants to remind people of that. Fun is what we do. We want to get any person, in any age group involved in digging in the dirt…and if that means getting their attention with lollipops and wristbands…then that’s what I’ll do.

    Just like all of you, I have a microphone to the public. I have often joked with people that we intend to use our powers for good, not evil. It is my goal to have the best company in horticulture. To create a company that gives back at every turn. I will always have a company that leads by example and break barriers from the norm. We could have waited until we were a huge company to do such things, but it has been my aspiration to grow and give at the same time.

    This message was what was in that kit (and on our website) and it was supposed to inspire you to tell your readers about entering our contest. Why, because if they create a great STEPscape, they not only win actual prizes, but the prize money awarded will then be donated to the local charity of their choice. You were also given the retail part of the kit which inspires the garden centers to put up the best STEPABLES/STEPscapes Display for prize money. There are three awards for those displays with all of the prize money going to their local charities of their choice as well.

    It’s a shame that this all got twisted about. Eberly PR does one hec of a good job for me. I have nothing but great things to say about them. Having a national product line puts me smack dab into people’s homes. Eberly does it’s very best to make that happen and I do my very best to make sure you all have something good to write about STEPABLES. However, criticism comes daily to me in the form of emails, letters, phone calls and forums. It’s all good! No one can get better without finding out what people “really” want. The best thing any company can do is to “listen”. I am putting those is quotes because no company came become great without criticism. If you want to make a product people will buy, you need to listen to their wants, concerns and problems and make adjustments. No one is perfect though. There’s no way out of 18 holes I can get a hole in one every time. Even Tiger chunks on occasion! I have already taken what was said here and put positive changes in motion. Thanks for the input.

    Now…just for the record, I have a few rules myself that guide me in my day to day existence. Why am I telling you this…because if you are going to write criticism about me or my company, you and your readers should have a baseline to consider from which to draw your conclusions.
    Fran’s rules:
    Rule #1. Be sincere. Be honest. Be humble. God’s watching all of the time.
    Rule # 2. Keep to the golden rule…always! When you know you’re line, it’s easy to know the difference between right and wrong.
    Rule #3 Don’t be scared about making mistakes. Mistakes happen. Just make sure you don’t make them twice.
    Rule # 4 Stay the course. God gave me an amazing gift. He gave me STEPABLES. What I do with it is up to me. I can take the money and run…or I could do something great with it. I can excite people about gardening again. I can bring young people back to what I think is the best profession anyone could ever ask to be a part of. And most of all, I can help others. STEPABLES can make a difference. I truly believe this–even if it is only one neighborhood at a time.
    Rule #5 Never pass up an opportunity to pee. Okay that’s not mine-it’s George Carlin-but it’s a good life rule just the same.

    BTW…If you’re saying to yourself that this is all sentimental hogwash…then you don’t know me.

    My goal is to have more good things said about my company and my product, and myself than bad. I will not make a product that is inferior. I will not stand for shady practices with shady people. I want a company people can believe in. I want people to be proud of being part of the STEPABLES family-and that includes consumers, vendors, garden centers, growers, the media AND bloggers.

    We’re a good company trying like heck to do good things. People will criticize, that’s a given. But if I stay true to myself, more good things will happen than bad. If I lead by example, hopefully my customers will lead by example and then my product will not only inspire young to old to garden more, but to reach out and make a personal difference in their community.

    Please write about that. A negative message about foot suckers and too much paper seem to be such a waste of space to talk about when such a good message could have been the topic of the day.

  36. All that ‘splaining and yet read the last sentence.
    Fran, you’re just not getting it.

    reminds me of the comment; ” Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job “.

  37. Kim says:

    I never brought in stepables to our nursery even though they were a short distance away. They wanted us to use a lot of wasteful cardboard sign junk. There plants are not new. Just another advertising ploy. Ever heard of Etera? They went bankrupt giving away stuff to advertise their business?
    Please anybody out there, don’t waste money sending me anything I didn’t ask for. It usually goes in the trash.

  38. newbie says:

    “When I asked what type of “sponsorship” was available, I was told in no uncertain terms that companies like mine and STEPABLES could pay a Garden Rant founder a fee to have positive blog entries about them and their plants be placed on various blogs…I have emails to this effect still in my inbox… When we declined to pay a fee to have the Garden Rant blog co-founder post “nice comments” about the plant brand.. Since some blog owners have evidently decided to post “positive” comments about those who pay them to do so (and call it “sponsorship”)…

    I’m a new gardner in the DC area who greatly appreciates all the free info on this sight and others. The part of DE’s post I don’t think Susan has yet defended is the above. I’m sure the above isn’t the case, but I think that’s the part that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth – that someone could pay for positive blogs (which I’m sure from everyone’s reputation couldn’t be the case.)

  39. susan harris says:

    Newbie and everyone else, rest assured that GardenRant does not demand money for positive reviews. Or give negative reviews to people who refuse the shakedown. Sorry, but I guess I assumed that our readers knew that just from reading us – or any of the other wonderful writers in the gardenblogging community. That’s just not what gardenbloggers are about – at least any of the ones I know.

    Also, you’ve seen our financial statement – $700 “profit” in two years. But if it were 100 times that amount it still wouldn’t be worth giving up our freedom to tell it like it is.

  40. Garden Guy says:

    Wow, Is this blog still going on!!! I cant believe how everyone here has totally missed the point. This was obviously a thing about charity and getting young people to learn about horticultural. This had nothing to do with “us”. Saving paper!? give me a break! Couldn’t you think of a more intelligent response than that!?! I heard so many of you all say “you missed the point”. Actually, it is the other way around. WAKE UP PEOPLE. this isn’t about “you” this time.

    The market here is obviously for kids. Does anyone here actually think that the suckers, wristbands and tatooes were really for adults?! Really?

    Say what you want about what this marketing company said or did not say – or who wants money for what. The bottom line is this seemed to be something that was supposed to be positive. Everyone here turned it into an opportunity to create dumb rules on the fly and degrade something. Everyone here blasted about how “stupid” the foot was and how ironic it was to put it in ones mouth!? Where is your effort to improve things??? Absouletly ridiculous.

    It’s very tiresome to come to blogs and forums that have the potential to spread so much information and assistance and end up seeing nothing but negativity. I’m all for freedom of speech, but if you are going to rant about something – can’t we stay away from somebody trying to do something decent?? If anybody here thinks they can bring a better charitable event together – let’s hear it. Otherwise, let’s be quiet and leave the people who want to spend their time, energy and money alone. As it’s way too easy to critisize when you did nothing at all to help.

  41. How do I sign up, I have 2 girls who wouldn’t have a problem eating a sucker that looks like a foot :) I rarely hear anything from marketers, but my blog does contain any contact information so that might explain why.

  42. newbie says:

    Thanks for the clarification on DE’s highly derogatory post. I’m just beginning to enter the garden blogging world and I very much enjoy this site and its outspoken ranters.

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