As you’ve no doubt figured out, the GardenRant World Headquarters is starting to be inundated with swag. This keeps us happily occupied flirting with UPS guys (why am I always just getting out of the shower when they knock on the door?), trialing plants, and road-testing gear. Sometimes we even remember to report on the results.

Why is all this happening?  Because marketing companies have a vague, uneasy feeling that they should be doing Something Than Involves Blogs.  Often these marketing companies are not staffed by people who are actually bloggers themselves, but they’ve schooled up and in the process they found us. And you.

The last little flurry of swag  brought in some very good and some very bad examples of how to get your products noticed by a blogger.  We offer up this post as a public service to all those peddlers of plants, those makers of gear and potions, who are trying to get noticed in the blogosphere.  You can thank us later.

Rule #1:  Don’t Do This. To our left is a press kit we received from Stepables, a perfectly nice company that makes perfectly nice groundcover plants. We’ve blogged about them before and even tried out their plants. So why, oh why, were we sent a dead tree press kit that contains no less than 40 sheets of paper, a CD, two of those rubberSuckers wristband things that everybody was wearing two years ago, and a bunch of high fructose corn syrup units in the shape of the company logo?  Seriously, you expect me to put that in my mouth?

I don’t know how much it cost to develop, manufacture, and mail this press kit, but ask yourself: how many plants could you have sent out for the same money?

Because see, all this creates for me is a recycling problem.  I now have to sort through all this paper, pull out the staples, and figure out what can go in the shredder to be eventually fed to the worms, and what has to be thrown away because it’s too glossy for worm consumption or recycling.

HydrangeaRule #2:  Do This Instead. And then there’s the nice people at Endless Summer, who sent us each a mercifully short e-mail (get it?  emailing a blogger?) asking if we would like a plant. A plant?  Of course we would like a plant!  If you send a gardener a plant, even if it’s a plant she doesn’t like or doesn’t want, she will open the box immediately, water it, and set about finding a good home for it.  In the case of the Twist and Shout hydrangea, I’m not even sure if I have a place for this plant, but if I don’t put it in my own garden, I am going to take it to the very interesting and artistic garden of my painting teacher, ask her to plant it, and photograph the results for this blog.

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.