Update: Blogging has changed so much since I started and since I wrote this post! Nowadays you still have PR companies that broker relationships between the company and the blogger. Some of these companies are now run by the bloggers themselves. Again, I say that some of these organizations are good and reputable, but others are there just to exploit new bloggers and make as much money off of them as possible, without giving the blogger much of a chance. I hope bloggers are aware that they can dictate what they are worth and that content is still king!
I've been happily doing reviews and giveaways on my blog for a few months now (less than a year still) and have enjoyed most of it. I have had the chance to work directly with a lot of companies and have also worked with PR firms who represent certain companies. Let me tell you, folks, from my experience, I prefer working directly with the companies, hands down. Can I just tell you a few reasons why?
When I work directly with a company, I am not going through a middle man, trying to get me connected to the company through them. I am able to speak directly with a company employee, who can then expedite my requests immediately. I am also able to tailor my blog article more specifically to that company's needs, based on my conversations with the company rep. It's so much more involved to request your review product through a PR Rep. You generally have to visit the review site, use a separate form to go back and tell the PR Rep and then hope that they go back to the company and get your order correct. The order usually comes much later than I had hoped. Mistakes are bound to happen because PR Firms represent multiple companies and it's hard to keep every company's policies and procedures accurate.
PR Reps are getting paid by the companies that are being reviewed. They want to get the job done so they can get their payment. I have found that these companies will promise things to you and not follow through with their verbal/written agreements. If they can get you to produce a great review, all bets can be off once the review is up and running. Sadly, I know this through experience.
A great example of working directly with a company is CSNStores.com. They have PR reps who work directly for CSN and are on their payroll. They are apparently given a lot of freedom to offer great incentives for bloggers, who can choose to either do a review or a giveaway, depending upon what they would like to do. They generally don't pay cash for these services, unless you are an affiliate. I appreciate CSNStores.com because they actually look for blogs who might be interested in doing this. I was approached by a CSN rep early on in my blogging experience. They asked me if I'd like to do a giveaway and they told me that it would help drive traffic to my site. I was SO excited that CSN would have the faith in me and my new blog to let me host a giveaway! It really validated me as a blogger and yes, it drove traffic to my site! So, naturally, I am a HUGE fan of CSNStores.com in general.
Another similar online firm who I won't mention by name, has chosen to hire a PR Company. This PR company who I will not mention either, approached me and asked me to do a review on said anonymous company. I had actually had experience with this particular online company. The PR Rep asked me to put up 5 links, for which they would pay me a certain amount per link. I wrote up the review and submitted it for approval. I heard nothing. I again e-mailed and said that the post would not go up until approval and payment. The PR rep then e-mailed me back telling me the post was perfect and could I add one more link. I did so....and then my mistake. I put up the post. (I was just so happy with the post!) I never heard anything back after that. So basically, this rep got paid and I got nothing. I am obviously ticked. It's not necessarily because I didn't get paid, it's the fact that the PR rep worked me. I will never work with that PR rep again and not sure if I'll work with that company again. I will certainly not post ANYTHING until they come up with their end of the bargain, whatever that may be.
Another example of a PR Firm, although not so dramatic, just annoying--A PR Rep contacts me and we actually put together two reviews and giveaways. Although it is a much more tedious process to go through this PR Firm and not work directly with the company, it worked out alright. But then I am asked to do and am assigned several more reviews and giveaways, which I indicated I would do. I made the appropriate arrangements, etc. I just never heard back. Kind of nonchalant about the whole thing is what my sense is from this guy. So any schedule planning I might have for giveaways and reviews or any sense of timing is out the window. Phoooey on that! I will blow that one off too.
What I have learned through all of this is that I need to come up with a firm set of guidelines myself and stick to them, certainly not give things out before the companies themselves have produced their end. It's a sad fact of life, you will get worked if you don't protect yourself. I am a believer that my little piece of the internet, albeit a very small piece, is valuable! My time is also valuable and I won't be taken advantage of again! If a company comes to me and asks me to put up a coupon code or do a review, I had better know something about it first with at least a product experience and maybe even some cash for my time. After all, companies are saving millions of dollars by using bloggers to reach their extensive sphere of influence for comparative pennies. An ultimate goal for some would be to just find the right blog that will do it for nothing! Some bloggers are willing to prostitute their blogs for nothing--a cyberspace wink and pat on the butt is all they need! It might even get them a couple more followers! Wow! And combine that with the million blog hops that are now going on, they could get to 1000 followers easy. Just cut and paste this - "Hi I'm your newest follower! Please follow back at http://...." But I digress. I have no problem with blog hops when I have the time and interest. I certainly am not a cut and paste commenter and don't welcome those on my own blog. (Although, some of the biggest blogs out there are cut and paste blog hop commenters, sorry to say!)
I hope that you have been or will be wiser than I was when dealing with those who approach you with great "opportunities" to promote them on your blog! I know I have learned---BIG time!
Disclaimer: This is just my own opinion and does not reflect all people's experiences. There are many GREAT PR Firms out there and I've worked with a few of them. I value them even more!