Working With Brands - A Guide For Smaller Bloggers - How To Deal With Brand/PR Emails: Part 1 - Unpaid Collaborations

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Working With Brands - A Guide For Smaller Bloggers - How To Deal With Brand/PR Emails: Part 1 - Unpaid Collaborations

Blogging is a pretty solitary occupation. If you're just starting out, or even if you've been doing it for a while, it can be hard to know how best to handle certain situations if you're a smaller blogger without a management team or network of experienced peers around you. Personally, I love it when my fellow bloggers write posts offering their two cents on some of the common issues we all deal with, so it's only fair that I do it too! A while back, I wrote a couple of more general posts setting out the 5 best decisions I've made as a blogger and the 5 ways I want to improve, but now I want to go a little bit more in depth, turning my attention to a subject I think is important to anyone who sees blogging as more than just a casual hobby - working with brands.

Just as a little disclaimer, I don't have a huge audience and I don't earn a full time income from this blog, so I wouldn't want anyone to think that I have all the answers when it comes to running a successful side hustle. That said, I have been blogging for well over four years now and have racked up a fair bit of experience in working with PRs and brands on different types of collaborations, both paid and unpaid. I've had some amazing experiences with this and some lousy ones too, so I hope that sharing them will be useful for some of you at least. I'm planning on making a little series out of this, and will go into more detail in later posts on how to handle a paid collaboration and the whole "should bloggers work for free" debate. However, if there is something else you would like to know about working with brands, please let me know in the comments, and if it is something I have the necessary experience in, I will try to cover that too.

Working With Brands - A Guide For Smaller Bloggers - How To Deal With Brand/PR Emails: Part 1 - Unpaid Collaborations Blogging Advice

For the first couple of posts, I'll be looking at some of the emails you can expect to receive from brands and PRs when they want to work with you, and how I've learned to deal with them over the years. (This is, of course, just a guide, based on what I've found to work well for me - others may disagree.)

PR/brand collaboration emails can take many forms, but they all fall into one of two categories - those who are prepared to pay you, and those who aren't. I was going to cover all of them in one post, but that turned out to be way too long, so for today I'm going to focus on emails relating to unpaid collaborations, with Part 2 on paid collaborations to follow soon.

Beauty Blogging Flatlay

How To Deal With Emails Offering Unpaid Collaborations


Brands or PRs who are offering unpaid collaborations are essentially asking you to promote their product or brand for free. Sounds pretty cheeky when you lay it bare like that, doesn't it?! For this reason, the emails they send out can often be a bit confusing, as they are trying to find a way to make this prospect attractive to you, offering products, exposure, affiliate programmes etc.

With that being said, unpaid collaborations between brands and bloggers are very common and can be mutually beneficial. The key is learning to decipher the emails, because while some of what they offer in return for your hard work can be worth your while, some really isn't, in my opinion at least.

In my experience, most PR/brand emails of this type come under one of the following five sub-groups:

Blogging Advice Flatlay

1. We think you'd love our product. We'd like to send it to you. If you choose to share it with your followers, please tag us and/or use this hashtag.

I love this type of email! Receiving free products from brands is a wonderful perk of the job as a blogger and one for which I will always be grateful. While there is no obligation to write about these gifts or share them on social media, I will always, as a courtesy to the brand and/or PR company in question, post about them on Instagram or Instagram Stories when I receive them, tagging the relevant parties so they are aware. (Bigger bloggers who receive a lot more gifts than I do perhaps wouldn't be able to feature every last item, but in my case it's manageable). 

If I like the products, chances are they will wind up on my blog or YouTube channel as well, but because there is no obligation, it will be as and when I choose. If this happens, I will send a quick line to the person who sent me the products in the first place, telling them that they have been mentioned in a post or video. This keeps the relationship with the brand going and can lead to more gifts or even paid collaborations in the future. 

It's rare for me to dislike things I've been sent, but it has happened. In this case I simply don't mention the products again.

Inspiration For Bloggers

2. We think you'd love our product. We'd like to send it to you in exchange for a review.

There is a subtle but very significant difference between this type of email and the last one. Yes, they want to send you "free" products, but only if you guarantee you will write about them on your blog.

The rights and wrongs of this is something I have struggled with over the years. On the one hand, we are always looking for content as bloggers, and I write about most of the products I am sent anyway, so you could argue, what's the difference? On the other hand, no matter how much I may have loved the product in question, sitting down to write a review I have committed to but am not getting paid for is something that has always been accompanied by a feeling of resentment for me. (A free pair of shoes/bottle of perfume does not constitute payment - just try offering it to British Gas in lieu of money when the bill is due and see how far you get!)

How To Work With PRs And Brands As A Blogger

I have accepted some of these requests, turned down others, and even on occasion succeeded in negotiating a payment. I think the key is to weigh up what you are getting. If you really love the sound of the product and/or it's a brand you would like to build a relationship with in the future, then it's worth considering. If not, write back to them politely explaining that although you're interested in the product, you're not in a position to offer guaranteed blog posts for free, and state your rate. Most of the time that will be the end of it, as chances are they have no budget available to pay you. Occasionally, though, I have ended up getting paid work this way, so it's definitely worth a try!

There is a lot more to say on the subject of bloggers working for free, so I'm going to put that in a separate post.

Marble Backdrop Flatlay

3. We think you'd love our product. We'd like to send it to you.

A lot of the time you will get this type of ambiguous email, where you are not quite sure what the brand or PR are expecting in return for the free product. Generally, in my experience, if they want a guaranteed review they will make sure they ask for it, but it doesn't hurt to clarify in order to avoid misunderstandings later on. I usually write back thanking them, saying I look forward to receiving the product and that if I like it, I will be sure to share it with my Instagram followers. That way, if they were expecting anything more, they can let me know and we can have a discussion from there.

4. We love your blog! We're running a campaign about favourite holiday destinations/memory foam mattresses/gluten-free deodorant and would love to see your take on it! All you have to do is write a blog post linking to our website. We'll be picking our favourites to share on our social media channels and/or you could win a holiday.

It is possible, I suppose, that companies who make this type of request really do share their favourite posts, and that you could gain some exposure this way, if they deemed your offering worthy. It is also possible that there actually could be a holiday, and that someone might win it.

Lipstick and Camera Flatlay

However, my gut feeling about this type of request is that it is a (very) thinly veiled attempt to get some free advertising in return for a Big Fat Nothing for the blogger. You want me to put my precious time and effort into writing a blog post for you, for the possibility of a retweet? Erm, no thanks! And even if I did have a burning desire to write about gluten-free deodorant, why should I mention your website when I'm getting nothing in return?

As far as I'm concerned, there is absolutely no benefit to be had from this kind of "collaboration". If they've addressed me by name, I'll write back with a quick line to say thanks but no thanks. If they've opened with "Hey Lovely", I'll just delete.

Blogging Tips

5. We think you would make an amazing ambassador for our brand. We love your style and would like to offer you a discount to buy our products in exchange for a feature on your blog/social media.

Possibly the worst type of collaboration request to receive, and also one that tends to slide into my DMs every so often on Instagram too. Not only do they want you to promote their brand for free, they essentially want you to pay them for the privilege. 

Now perhaps, if your blog is just a hobby, you might be pretty chuffed with a discount, depending on the brand, of course. But if you're looking to make any sort of income from it, this is definitely not the way. They might talk about wanting to develop a long term relationship with you and the possibility of paid collaborations in the future, but I am quite sceptical about this. There are no guarantees that you will get to that point, once they have had what they want out of you. Personally, I would rather work on growing my blog on my own terms, with a view to attracting better collaborations that offer me something from the start. For this reason, I politely decline all requests like this without a second thought.

Unpaid Collaborations Between Bloggers And Brands

I hope you found this useful! Can you relate to these types of unpaid collaboration request, and are there any that you think I've missed?

Kate x
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36 comments

  1. I can relate to all these offers as I receive all of them occasionally, and agree on your point of view. I do review almost every product I am send, but I don't like committing to doing a review before I even laid eyes on the product and only do that for products I have been meaning to try anyway.

    Anne - Linda, Libra, Loca

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    1. Exactly - it's that idea of obligation entering into it that makes all the difference in my opinion. x

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  2. What a great post! I find it funny how non-bloggers will think products are for free - when you think of the time it takes to write a post, take and edit photos, promote the post etc - there's no way the product is 'free' - I don't do paid collaborations but I'm looking forward to reading your post on them. Also, the mails offering a discount to buy their products make me laugh! I decline more products/mails than I accept xx

    Beautylymin| AnastasiaBeverlyHillsNorvinaPaletteGiveaway

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    1. So do I these days - in so many cases it just isn't worth my while. Glad you enjoyed the post Siobhan! x

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  3. I hate getting most of those emails! If I genuinely love a product, I will add it to my favourites post!

    Jennifer
    Effortlessly Sophisticated

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  4. Great post! I love reading about tips from other bloggers. I have a lot to learn about blogging and I'm very eager to learn more about the industry.

    Jennifer | Mrs Q Beauty
    Instagram | Follow Me

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    1. So glad this was useful! I love this type of post as well, sharing experiences is invaluable. x

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  5. I think this is such a helpful post for everyone who is starting blogging! ♥

    www.heresometimes.com

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  6. this is such a helpful post!! im so glad you said about the brand discount thing!! i get these messgaes all the time on instagram and am really excited to work with them, but when they say about a discount i feel as though it can be a little cheeky maybe!! i thought that was just me but im so glad you thing the same xx

    cristynottingham.blogspot.com

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    1. In my opinion it is definitely cheeky! It can be so tricky when it's just us on our own sat behind our computers, and I too have had many occasions when I'm wondering if something is normal, does this happen to all bloggers, etc. That's precisely why I wanted to share my experiences! x

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  7. This is such a helpful post and I can't wait for more of your posts like this!

    Grace Louise || www.gracelouiseofficial.blogspot.co.uk/

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. Yep, I get these emails all the time and many of them I just ignore. I hate it when they are not clear about what they want so in many cases I don't even reply as I don't have time to play a detective..

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    1. I often find that the vaguer they are, the more likely it is that they want something for nothing! x

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  10. This is such a useful post i wish there was more good information like this around that actually helps people

    www.beautyandtheboy.com

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    1. So glad you found it useful! I'm going to be writing a few more posts along these lines. x

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  11. This is such a brilliant topic that I've never really seen covered before and you've done it so fabulously too Kate! I think one of the biggest downsides as a blogger can be trying to decipher emails from brands. It always feels like a complete minefield, sort of like you're negotiating something that no one else can really advise you on, so I just know this post will help so many other bloggers out there :)

    All of these emails ring true, some are downright cheeky for sure! You made such a good point when you noted that it can be hard to tell what brands are asking, some of them make it impossible to understand what they're getting at. I feel blessed to have worked with some great brands who have been lovely but also have had some real lousy ones too. It can be off-putting and disheartening, even more so why your lovely post is so important for so many bloggers starting up and unsure of what to expect. I'm so excited to read more in this series, the paid collaborations post will be just as helpful and enjoyable, I know it! <3

    Sophie | soinspo xo

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    1. Thank you so much Sophie! I'm so glad you found this useful, and I know only too well that feeling of wondering what you're really being asked, whether you're being taken advantage of or not. It really is a guessing game at times! x

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  12. This is such a helpful post! I haven't been blogging for very long so haven't really encountered any emails like these yet but I'm getting there :)) I look forward to more posts like this xo

    Thea x
    www.theascott.blogpost.com

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  13. I have been turning down 90% of PRs because I am slowing down on blogging. To those emails that tell me 'they love to see my take on something', I always reply....so what's your budget for this? 99% I get the reply, there is not budget but we will promote you! Like no thanks, bugger off now...

    Shireen⎜Reflection of Sanity

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  14. These are great tips. Someone once said about collaborations, product exchanges for posts were becoming insulting. Tax write offs for free promotion and advertisement. She wasn't wrong but at the same time I think for beginners this is still an ideal situation to help them build up a voice etc. Once your more established I don't think these kind of collobs are beneficial without some sort of payment for your time and creative effort.

    Sxx
    daringcoco.com

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  15. This was such an amazing post and I can definitely relate to all of those sub-categories. I'm always receiving dodgy emails from brands who are just SO unclear, it drives me insane. I also think that along with brands pitching deals to you that really aren't worth your time, so many brands just don't do their research and will pitch anything to you in hope that you'll be interested. Seriously, someone offered to send me their re-make of aqua beads the other day....

    https://www.flolavita.co.uk/2018/08/what-toxic-friendship-taught-me-about.html

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  16. Kate this was such an amazing post <3 I love how you broke down the different kind of pr emails <3!!!

    Serene XO

    http://www.surrealserene.com

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  17. Such a helpful post for all bloggers! Thanks for sharing

    Lesley Kim

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  18. Thank you so much for this post! It is so useful and full of information now when brand start to send me a offers for collaboration! I'm so happy because you write this post! Thank you thousand time. I wish you beautiful weekend!

    http://www.exclusivebeautydiary.com

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  19. Thank you for this post. I have actually brought this topic up with a number of fellow bloggers on how to handle PR e-mails. I look forward to more posts in this series.
    x Rivania | The Glam Unicorn

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  20. This is such a great and informative post. It clearly explains the different types of collaborations and
    is so useful for distinguishing them. Thank you for this super helpful post.

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  21. Thank you for this lovely post,
    the tipps are so amazing. Simply good and helpfuil.
    I love, that you explained the different types of collabborations. Niceones.


    take a look at my BLOG and my INSTAGRAM

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  22. I found this sooo useful!! I'm fairly new with my blog (just over a year old) so I've worked with a few different brands that offered free product, discount codes for readers, etc. as well as a few paid posts. I really don't mind not being paid and instead receiving a free product if it is a product I genuinely like and think my audience will as well.
    xo, allie
    www.champagne-tuesdays.com

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  23. This was such a useful post! I feel like there's not much advice out there for small bloggers on how to deal with brand collaborations. Some brands can be proper cheeky! xxx

    http://izzyk1998.blogspot.com/
    http://izzykreviews.blogspot.com/

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  24. Great post I also do not like those offers get a discount to buy our products and promote them for us. I simply do not reply to those offers anymore. We need to change the way we blog or we as bloggers are not going to be able to get paid for our amazing work, We are photographers, writers and pretty good at marketing and campaigns We should start valuing what we do more and in that way make sure we get paid for all the hours we put in and all the amazing work we do. Love this post babe thanks for sharing it. xoxo Cris
    https://photosbycris.blogspot.com/2018/08/hipsiti-your-one-stop-travel-guide.html

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  25. Oh my godness! What a wonderful article! I can relate sooo much! ଘ(੭ˊᵕˋ)੭*

    Blog de la Licorne

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