As a growing and increasingly popular parenting blog, each week we receive more and more offers of sample merchandise and requests for promotional help from charities, authors, good causes and some just plain weird ideas. (Someone once asked us to help promote electronic cigarettes.) It is a lovely perk of this very strictly volunteer job that we get offered freebies. It is our policy only to accept offers of products that we have a reasonable hope of loving, and we tell you about only a very small fraction of the products we’ve been offered. Quite simply, we have to love it or we won’t help sell it.
Recently, we’ve also been invited to product launches in Toronto. This is a tale of two of them, one that worked fabulously well to entice me to write about and endorse the store, the other that had quite the opposite effect.
The wonderful people at Lush invited 4mothers to a launch of new products at their Queen Street store. The time window was from 4-7. I was the only one of the 4mothers who could make it on that day, and I very nearly didn’t. I could have gone right after school but before dinner (a good option, but I missed it because of delays at school), or I could have gone after an early dinner. Either of these options would have worked with or without kids. I ended up going after dinner, sans kids, thinking this the sanest approach. This was a decision I regretted because when I got there, I saw that they had a little wee table set up for kids with delicious smelling Lush products for them to squoosh and smoosh and make all bubbly. And there was a very friendly staff person dedicated to keeping the kids entertained while the invited adult guests browsed the store. Brilliant. As it happens, I know a fair bit about the products at Lush because I love a good story, and part of their marketing strategy is to tell the story of where their ideas and products come from. The sales assistants were immediately able to match my level of interest and knowledge, and I got in-depth descriptions of the products, the history of the development of some of the lines, and the charities that the store helps to fund. And, of course, I got my own chance to squoosh and smooth and luxuriate in the fragrance of their products myself. Finally, I went home with a press kit and a goodie bag that had in it samples of the products in which I had expressed an interest. I will not lie; the free Lush goodies were a lovely perk, and they softened me up both literally and figuratively. I was already well disposed to sing the praises of a company I love (see above about only accepting offers we think we’ll love), but being pampered and treated as a valuable visitor made me want to reciprocate their kindness. It was their first launch to include invitations to bloggers, and I hope they think it was worth it. I know I’m glad that I made the effort to attend.
You can read my rave review of their FUN line here. I know of several people who have bought it based on my post. Million-dollar sales it ain’t, but I’m glad to know I helped sell something I love.
I had quite the opposite experience at another launch I went to. It was scheduled from 7-9. Kids were not invited. I arrived to a store packed with Beautiful People drinking wine. They all looked like they were having fun, but I had arrived alone and only by the skin of my teeth. (I had decided not to pay a babysitter to cover my absence at home, but when my husband came home unexpectedly early from a conference dinner, I decided to go ahead and meet my commitment to attend and dashed out at the last minute.) As soon as I got there, I regretted that decision. There were no sales people to inform me about or promote their products. I was told I’d missed the fashion show. When I asked for information from the publicity person who was manning the door, she admitted a bit sheepishly that she had no press kit, nor did she know about the lines. She worked for a publicity company, not for the store. She went to find the store owner, who, as soon as she heard I was a blogger, asked for my blog’s stats and then dropped me like a hot potato and stopped me literally in mid-sentence to hand me over to her junior. It was very clear that she had more important people to talk to. Some folks left with big goodie bags, some left with elegantly tiny goodie bags. I was told that I could enjoy a 25% discount on anything in the store for this one night only. Thanks, but no thanks.
I made a lot of my own mistakes. I should have gone with a friend. I should have asked if there were any other bloggers in the crowd and asked for an introduction. But mostly, I left there thinking I should not have wasted my time. I could have been at home, having a glass of wine with my husband, my favourite Beautiful Person.
By the time I did get home I had decided that they should not have wasted my time. If you are going to ask people to an event designed to get them to help you sell your product, at a bare minimum be nice to them. Treat them equally. Tell them a bit about what you want them to sell, and, sure, give them a sample to take home or a coupon for a discount that won’t expire in five minutes. If you invite bloggers, introduce them to each other. The internet is a big place. We don’t actually all know each other. Some of us are shy.
And I know that it will not make me very popular to say this, but I appreciate that from a publicist’s point of view, bloggers are an unknown and unpredictable quantity. I very nearly did not attend either of these events. Mommy bloggers have kids. We sometimes bail. We sometimes take your free stuff and then don’t write about it. I get that it can be frustrating to work with us. But if you decide you want us at your launch, please make us feel welcome. Please do not waste our time.
I hope this does not sound too much like sour grapes at going home empty-handed from a launch. I don’t want to name the store or to do any harm. There was enough bad karma that night. I know that we are lucky to have the perk of being invited to this kind of thing, and I am grateful to be doing what I do. I just wanted to make the point that bloggers’ time is valuable, too, and we’d like to know that our efforts are recognized.