You keep using that word. I do not think that means what you think that means.

inigo montoyaOver the last several months I’ve noticed the same phrase appearing over and over again in the pitches that pile up in my inbox. Even more than “Dear Mommyblogger.” Even more than Kardashian, and and that’s saying something.

The phrase is “partnership opportunity.”

It seems that there are many, many brands out there looking for blogs to “partner” with. Which is very exciting! After all, I think bloggers make outstanding brand partners when the fit is right.

I am so happy to learn that Pantene has just enlisted Whoorl in their new TV spot. I loved that Nicole Feliciano and The Honest Company got together to help launch their line of eco-products. If you know Tannis Miller, you know how beautiful her Special Olympics sponsorship is.

I’m cheering wildly for Rebecca Woolf’s new show on HGTV.com, and if you don’t know the story about how Kristen Chase helped Norelco shavers connect with Movember, it’s worth reading. And hey, all these years later, I still think of Intel when I think of Maggie Mason’s Life List.

So of course I get all happy when a brand writes to me about a potential partnership. Because if you look up the word “partner” on the free dictionary app on your Mac, this is the first definition:

A person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, esp. in a business or company with shared risks and profits.

Shared risk and profits. That seems sensible. One might hope for more profits than risks, but still. It’s a good definition.

Thanks, free dictionary app!

So I respond to some of these emails (all excited-like, as you would be too) and I ask, what kind of partnership opportunity are you thinking about exactly, so that we can brainstorm some ideas?

“We would like to partner with you by sending you info about our products and then you can write about them.”

“We would like to partner with you by letting you tell our readers about our big Facebook contest!”

“We would like to partner with you by allowing you to write articles on our corporate website in exchange for a link to your blog.”

“We would like to partner with you by allowing you to beta test our new app.”

“We would like to partner with you by you giving us the name of 20 other really great mom bloggers who can do any of these things for us.”

Then I sigh, stuck with this image of Inigo Montoya in my head.

Okay, truth be told, I also have the image of a gentleman in a late model car with tinted windows, pulling up along the West Side Highway at night and asking the young lady in the pretty garters whether they might partner together–by her doing some complimentary work for him while he leans back and enjoys it.

(Too far?)

I’m not angry about it; I just think it’s a marvelous waste of all of our time. And you know how much free time working moms tend to have. I also think that PR people who offer nothing for a blogger’s work (not a product review–their work), generally get what they pay for.

If you are reading this and you think it might be you I’m talking about, you are likely wrong. That’s just how many of these emails I’m seeing. And since a lot of them are addressed to “dear Ms.   ,” or just “hi!” I know they’re going to lots of other bloggers too. I am not all that special.

Now some partnership offers are legitimate, and some are really really great, even if they’re not right for me–or you. Some demonstrate a genuine interest in finding a mutually beneficial arrangement, offering something in return for work besides links or exposure or traffic that will never come. That’s the exciting thing for bloggers, even those just starting out–there are a lot of super good PR people out there being smart and creative and trying to break new ground when it comes to blog-brand relationships. The opportunities are growing, not shrinking, and hopefully one day you’ll have the pleasure of working with them.

Because these are the people who know what “partnership” actually means. And it’s not here’s what you can do for me.

So, good folks in PR and marketing: if you are looking for a blogger to review your app, I implore you–just put APP REVIEW in your subject line and you’ll get the right people. If you want to find someone willing to write free content for you, spell it out. If you can’t afford a consulting fee but you’re a small business hoping a kind blogger will do a favor for you, by all means, ask.  You might get it. And if you want a widget in our sidebar, six keywords linked in a post, and a participation in your Twitter party in exchange for a $10 gift card–well, don’t do that. But you get my drift.

Just please, please don’t call those things partnerships.

{76 Comments}

76 thoughts on “You keep using that word. I do not think that means what you think that means.”

    1. That’s my favorite ever response to PR people who send mass press releases about a celebrity photographed with a product, hoping that you’ll find that newsworthy. Again, not a partnership!

  1. Your last point is the most important. Just be honest. I think PR people are so trained to spin everything that they can’t even be honest with their potential colleagues. Because that’s what bloggers in a partnership are — colleagues. Not the audience. The blogger’s readers are the audience. PR people don’t always get this.
    Amy B. recently posted..What It TakesMy Profile

      1. I get that some advertisers think that the people they are advertising to are unsavvy, media illiterate, rubes. Or maybe boobs. But I think that if a blog has caught someone’s eye enough that they are going to approach that blogger, then the blogger has some level of know-how and smartitude. Generally. But particularly about the Internets, i.e. this probably isn’t the first contact they’ve received. So yeah…just cut to the chase already. Time is money, on both ends.

        1. Time is money. Perfect.

          But I think you give a lot of credit to some of the lesser PR folks who buy lists and just spray and pray pitches all willy-nilly. They don’t know who they’re approaching; they have a list with 500 email addresses on it. Sigh.

  2. Amen, Liz!

    I truly think many of them believe it is a partnership opportunity, and that “mommy bloggers” are just happy to have their names tied with a big name brand (or even a small one).

    Why?

    Because there are plenty of mommy bloggers out there who “partner” with them. In other words, they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. Case in point: the BlogHer conference swagfest.

    It’s the PR people who see the true partnership opportunities of their brands plus ours that I respect. All others get deleted from my in box.

  3. Oy. How many of these do I get a day? Like you, I get all excited and then cynicism hits and I think, “Wait. It’s going to be nothing.” I’ve been right so far. It’s not all bad but it just shows that like Amy said they need to see our blog’s audience. The blogger is not the audience.

    Also, screw the chore chart I just made for the kids! I’m forming a “partnership”. A partnership to feed the dog, set the table and pick up toys!
    Vicky recently posted..Links for 2007-06-18 [del.icio.us]My Profile

  4. You’re always spot-on with your posts — I agree with you here 100%.
    Thank you for putting into words what most of us feel.
    Sometimes, when I get:
    “Dear Mommy” – I just hit trash button.
    “HI.” – trash.
    “Dear mom blogger” – trash.
    posters/announcements, no salutations – TRASH!
    Mom-Friday recently posted..Techni-Ice Reusable Hot and Cold/Ice PackMy Profile

  5. I would love to reply with the definition of partnership to those emails & I just might. It’s bothersome to the point that they almost feel like bullies- this is what I want you to do. It’s all one-sided. I didn’t believe this was still so common- I thought it as just my little blog’s issue. Great post!
    Naomi Jesson recently posted..The P’s of Pick-upMy Profile

  6. You hit the nail on the head. If it’s a review you’re looking for, please PR person, say that. If you want me to cover some silly FB contest your client is running, tell me (I won’t write about it, but don’t disguise your request as a “potential partnership”).

    In the travel world, I’ve gotten “exclusive invites” to destinations, when, really, they aren’t “exclusive” and they aren’t really “invites” — they are “calls for interest” — that is, I am to tell the PR person where I might be able to cover their client, and I send them my blog stats, and if I’m “good enough” I earn a spot on the press trip. PR has every right to have bloggers/writers “apply” for a trip – that’s their prerogative (I rarely respond to these; if you want me, invite me) – but don’t call it a dang “exclusive invitation” when you’re sending the “call to interest” out to dozens of people.
    Kara @ The Vacation Gals recently posted..24 Hours in Vail – without the Kids!My Profile

    1. That’s a great point about invitations Kara. I’ve increasingly noticed that there are invitations with strings attached…that aren’t mentioned until you RSVP. Ditto goes for traffic requests. Is it so hard to just put that in the original letter? Otherwise you’re starting off the relationship with a blogger associating your brand with disappointment. That doesn’t seem smart.

  7. I am a PR person and the next time my out-of-touch 70-year-old boss asks me to pitch bloggers and gives me 15 minutes to get it done, and I have to tell him again that I will not be the douche who wastes everyone’s time, I will point him to your post. :)
    Lindsay Schultz recently posted..There’s nothing else I can doMy Profile

  8. While I get very (very) few PR requests, all but one of the pitches I’ve ever gotten were pretty spot on to my interests and my blog. Still, I can always smell the spin from the first sentence and I think just about every one made me feel like they were doing me the favor by singling me out (right). I always respond by politely asking the million dollar question, “so what do you want from me?”. After more than one back and forth with the last pitch I got, I couldn’t get the PR person to come out and say exactly what they wanted from me. I was told, “say yes and then we will tell you what you need to do.” Uh, no, you tell me what you want and then I’ll tell you yes or no. I ended up just walking away from the offer.
    Alyssa S. recently posted..Why she doesn’t want to be PresidentMy Profile

  9. I just got a “partntership opportunity” yesterday and it was addressed to “To whom it may concern.” Are you effing kidding me? I am by no means a brand or even that popular and that isn’t important to me. But you can’t take the time to find out my name? Or even pretend like you have read my blog? Bite me is all I have to say to that.

    I’ll do a product review or very rare occasions, if it something that I would normally consider buying or using. I drink a lot of coffee–want me to use your coffee maker and maybe give one away? Okay–I love coffee. Want me to read info about your coffee maker and write about it? NO. But my blog is not a review site. My blog isn’t for sale. I don’t work for free. And I don’t need a partner, unless we are really partners.
    Dawn @ thedalaimama recently posted..The CircusMy Profile

  10. Amy’s comment above is such a good one. Just be honest about what you want. I’ll be honest about what I’m willing to do. Maybe it’ll be a good fit; maybe it won’t.

    (As for what bloggers are willing to do, we ought to start by rereading your May 2010 post that you linked, Liz.)

  11. I am currently seeking an intern to partner with. Responsibilities will include cleaning the toilet, pulling clumps of hair out of the bathroom drain, cutting and stacking fire wood and folding my socks. I tried to fill this partnership with my husband and my children, however they rejected this opportunity due to negligible benefits. I’m currently reassessing my strategy and opening up the offer to outside sources in hopes that I can convince some schmuck that this is a valuable working opportunity. I’d appreciate it if you would consider telling all your friends and readers about this on my behalf. Thank you so much.
    Redneck Mommy recently posted..RepentanceMy Profile

  12. I ended up doing a two-post series for a nonprofit whose high school intern wrote me and was all hey! I’m a high school intern! And I’ve never read your blog! But this is a great cause and I wish you’d take a look!

    You nailed it: Just be honest. I might bite, I might not, but I won’t get pissed.
    Rita Arens recently posted..A Scary Look at Young Adult ParentingMy Profile

  13. Sigh…

    I am a mommyblogger-type, but the PR world is what pays my daily bills. After I finished banging my head against the table regarding “partnership opportunity,” it occurred to me that all of the “partnerships” I’ve worked on in a PR capacity have involved the Legal Department.

    Why? It’s SIGNIFICANTLY more than just a pitch. Big words don’t impress me.
    Tricia recently posted..Sick Muppets are SadMy Profile

  14. Liz, I think you hit the nail on the head with your request for good ol’ fashioned honesty. Just like any solid friendship, no TRUE partnership can be fostered through a sugar-coated, beat-around-the-bush introduction. As a PR professional, I appreciate your honesty, and can definitely understand the frustrations. I love the Kristen Chase/Norelco story – a brilliant example of the power of real-life partnerships. So many times, the PR industry is labeled as a big, bad spin-machine with a one-track mind, and while that certainly may be true in some cases, it’s refreshing to see your examples of my PR colleagues getting it right. This was a great piece – and a fantastic reminder to all (PR, or not) that honesty truly is the best policy.

    1. Thanks Aubrey. I understand. I also work in an industry that’s painted negatively with one broad brush; those stupid Go Daddy ads are not created by “the sexist ad industry” – they were created by the people who created them. That’s how I feel about these pitches. I don’t hold an entire industry responsible…but it is odd that there is such an uptick in this particular use of language across the board.

      Why do you think that is? Do PR folks read about how bloggers want partnerships…and so they try to spin every pitch as a partnership?

      I’d love an insider’s perspective.

      1. That’s a great question, and one that I’m not sure I can even answer. But my initial response to your question is that I think some PR professionals may not fully grasp the difference between communicating with traditional media, and communicating with new media. The world of traditional media includes sending press releases and pitches to journalists whose private lives we don’t really have insight into – we’re just familiar with the publications in which they write and the beats that they’re assigned. On the other hand, with new media, everything is so much more personal – and it needs to be treated as such. With bloggers spending so much time welcoming readers into their lives, we as PR professionals should respond accordingly, by recognizing and acknowledging the information that we’ve been made privy to.

        As for the recent uptick, it may have something to do with the fact that more and more companies are now catching on to the power of bloggers. They know that they *should* be reaching out, but don’t yet understand how to correctly do that. It’s frustrating, I know, but hopefully your honesty request will catch on – because I think a lot of the frustration can be solved by simply having an open dialogue. And I think that at the end of the day, regardless of your profession, honesty is what we all deserve.

        1. Thanks for the insight Aubrey. That’s wonderful. But sheesh…you’d think honesty isn’t something that has to be taught.

  15. Can you possibly (pretty please) give me some tips on how to advertise my blog so businesses know I am interested in this sort of thing? Or how to get contacted by businesses like you do?? Ta xx

    1. Since you’re in Australia, I’d say network with other Australian bloggers. Keep writing well, leaving comments (with your name linked back to your blog) and maintain a social media presence elsewhere. It will not be long before you end up on lists and in searches. Also, be clear what your blog is about–maybe even create a category specifically for PR. Some call it it “PR friendly” or write “pitch me” – with details about what you’d like to work on and what you have to offer a brand in terms of reach and influence.

      Build it and they will come! Good luck Catrina.

  16. thank you for this!

    perfect timing as I’m feeling stressed out by all of the “partnerships” that are filling up my inbox. Hindsight is 20/20 isn’t it? I’m glad to have been more cautious of where I put my time & energy these days. If only I had that wisdom a year ago!

  17. Like Aubrey, I really appreciate the opportunity to learn more about what PRs could be doing better, and appreciate you pointing out the distinction between “some PR professionals” and others, not so professional.

    I have to say that the “spin” image of PRs and publicists is a sad legacy of the unprofessional few and at no time in my career have I ever lied or ‘spun’, or skewed a message or my intentions. And I feel it works out better for me, and my clients – the more candid I am with media, and clients, the better the working relationship and hopefully the outcome.

    That’s not to say that a journalist has never misrepresented THEIR intentions to me and my clients (hello evening “news” and “current affairs” programs) but that’s a whole other story…

    Back on topic, I think the brave new world of PR and media relationships will see some magnificent, cross-platform marketing initiatives that provide tangible results for both parties. That’s certainly what I’m working towards.

    Adriana @SteeledrumPR

    1. Thanks Adriana. And good point that it works both ways. I’ve always been pretty outspoken about a blogger’s obligation to PR, and the need to be honest about your numbers, influence, conversions and so on.

      I think though that spin is not always bad and not the same as dishonestly. Heck, it’s part of parenting–for those of us who’ve ever called broccoli “magic trees” or whatever to get our kids to eat them. Actually, we called Sunny Side Up Eggs (eek, not scrambled?) “Max and Ruby eggs” when that’s all they served in Spain, and now my 4 year old will eat one. Go figure.

      Like you, I agree about those magnificent cross-platform initiatives. It’s already happening. There’s going to be more of it and it’s pretty exciting.

  18. I hope I wasn’t one of them. I am a volunteer, work from home when I have time mother of 2. I think your blog is great. I think your readers are awesome. I think the website I volunteer for could help your busy mom readers and I would love to learn more about how to advertise on your site. We only have 1 advertisement on-line and I am trying to scout out a few others that I think would be great. I would love to connect- no partner(ha ha) !
    Kati

  19. We say that line to the kids ALL the time – ha ha! Love me some Inigo Montoya! ;)

    And yep, you are right (as usual) they definitely are not using that word correctly. I just adore you for always bringing these things up and out into the light.

  20. Thank you for saying this because I know PR people pay attention to you. So sick of getting these invitations and wasting my time reading them, I finally tried something that might help in the long run. I drafted a boilerplate response to these pitches which invites them to make a deal with me. AND I make sure to address it to their actual real name, not just “Dear PR Assistant…” I send it only in response to pitches for services, products, etc. that are in line with my topics of coverage, so that factors out many of them. Still, in the last week I have sent 16!
    Kim Tracy Prince recently posted..Adventures in Estate Planning: How To StartMy Profile

  21. If it’s okay with you I think I might just go ahead and paste a link to this post in reply to every ridiculous “give-me-stuff-for-free” pitch I get. Cheers!

  22. You had me at the title.
    You know I adore you… I kinda girl crushed on ya when you quoted The Princess Bride here. jeez.

    I had to stop myself from applauding because it would have angered both me and the sick sleeping 5 yo next to me.

    Yes. Just yes.
    Related: Hey kids, I want to partner with you on the great backyard, clean up the giant dog mess, kid mess, toys clean up. Let’s GO! We’ll both benefit greatly from it!

    Sigh
    Rachel – A Southern Fairytale recently posted..Blissfully WordlessMy Profile

  23. I have been getting more and more of these “partnership” opportunities lately and they confuse me because when I used to get those kind of “offers”, they were called “press releases.” I guess now that I’m writing a blog instead of writing for magazines, I’m more gullible or something?

    I do think it’s a case of “fluff and spin” gone overboard. But you’re right, a “partnership” offers something to BOTH parties.

  24. In creating a product, I learned early on that you must pay to get what you really want. Pay someone b/c if you partner – it assumes some type of ownership of risk/profit on both ends.
    I only learned this b/c I was urged to treat inventing as a business and not a hobby.
    The same can be said about blogging – we must continue to hold ourselves bloggers – although I don’t lump myself in the same category as you :) – as business people and continue not to respond to ridiculous requests. Eventually – the tone will be set (fingers crossed).
    Rachel recently posted..Lessons from the RoadMy Profile

    1. Thanks Shannon, and good luck! I would say however (I feel like I always have to say this), since you’re just starting out, that you shouldn’t confuse “working” with “product reviews.” I see the two phrases used interchangably.

      I really do not believe that bloggers should get paid for reviews by the products they’re reviewing. This post explains the difference. And also basically says, NO FREE WORK too.

  25. Well, I won’t bother to say what everyone else has said, which is that once again you’re hitting proverbial nails on their proverbial heads. So I’m not saying that. I will say, though, that while we’re at it, perhaps we could ask Hollywood make more movies like “The Princess Bride,” a movie that is almost as good as the book it comes from? At the risk of sounding desperately cynical, this one-sided view of “partnership” (you do something for me, I get a lot of credit, you get…er…um….a box of stale cereal bars?) seems to be spreading: where is the partnership among branches of congress? between unions and city administration? hell, between governments? It’s as if most people have decided to operate with the Kardashian definition of partnership: you benefit me and when you don’t, buhbye. Insert deep sigh here.
    deborah l quinn recently posted..Fifty Shades…My Profile

  26. This is spot-on. The problem is a glut of people, who are not actually bloggers, who just want stuff so they start blogs. This is especially true here in NYC, where product events are overrun with folks, like the thousands of “Examiners”. So the brands think that they can “partner” by just giving products repeatedly. I have been at these previews attempting to do business and suggesting all kinds of ways we can ACTUALLY partner. I’ve even come up with whole online campaigns, only to have the PR person offer me another product or a giveaway. So now I will only propose a promotional idea if the company seems hip enough to get it.
    Courtney recently posted..The Week The Music DiedMy Profile

  27. You don’t always pay for what you get, but you always get what you pay for! I do agree with your post here. But the problem is that there are so many wanna-be writers who will take advertorial and gush about it, for no compensation, or perhaps, a free product here and there. So the response I get when I inquire about actual monetary compensation is confusion from the PR firms, or worse: “Oh, we don’t have a budget for online.” I wonder if these companies and pr firms would ask a print magazine to post a contest or coupon, or list sales for free? Why should it be any different for online writers. But as long as there are people without any time or talent to actually write something original, the practice of expecting online writers to “partner” where it is one-sided, will continue, I’m afraid.
    Alison recently posted..Go Crazy for Curls with Affordable Products from FructisMy Profile

    1. Hi Alison. I’m not sure if we totally agree here. This is my take on why it’s different, as you ask:

      If PR is offering you content for your blog, then no, I don’t believe you don’t get paid for it. Just as with offline publishers. You’re not just a writer–you’re a publisher if you have a blog, and hopefully you are covering content that provides value to your audience in some way, which keeps your audience interested and coming back. That’s the value for you. If you write about coupons, and your readers come to hear about coupons, then hooray for PR people who help supply that kind of information for you. They should be your best friends.

      If you don’t cover coupons; if you write a personal blog, like say…Mom101? Then this is not good for your readers at all, and you probably should turn it down whether or not they’re paying you. (Just my opinion; others may disagree.)

      However if PR is asking you to do what amounts to advertising, consultation, beta testing, linking keywords, or in any way controlling your content, then yes. You should be paid. If they don’t have a budget for that, then they should reconsider the request and stick with seeking placements on blogs, magazines, websites that cover what they’re pitching.

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