Working With Brands: Reputuation, Requests, & Saying NO



Don't be the unsuspecting child, here!



Recently I was approached by a clothing company about becoming a Brand Ambassador for their company.  They seemed like everything I'd want to work with: small, made in the USA, and catering to a wide range of women, coupled with a desire to make all women feel beautiful.  How couldn't I get behind this?  I had already seen the brand on a couple of sites that I admired greatly, so I felt confident trying to build a relationship with this brand.


Their PR person and I chatted on the phone and via email for a few weeks– at this point, there were a few things that were making me uncomfortable, but so much is behind a smoke screen on the internet!  I was seeing more and more “brand ambassadors” popping up– enough so that I was worried about the market (and my readers) becoming saturated and overloaded.  I was concerned about their demands for inclusion of specific information in my review (despite my review policy saying I maintain 100% editorial control) and desire to see my post prior to publication. (See Vahni's great post, The Perks and Pitfalls of Product Placement for more on this.)


For all of this, I wasn't making a dime.


After receiving the item for review, I mentioned that the item of clothing was snug and felt it was my obligation to share that it was a less than ideal fit for those my size/shape.  They began pushing, “If you can make it positive and truthful” and “If you can share the story and message we are trying to share”– which was made all the worse when they suggested I could buy the dress if I didn't want to review it.


To solidify my own feelings, I was hearing rumblings from other bloggers about the same company– they they were pissing off fashion bloggers, were asking for too much, and that they were pushy and demanding.  And our relationship? It was politely ended.


Social media, working with brands–it's still the Wild West.  It doesn't take much to become an “expert” on the internet, unfortunately, and many people feel qualified to work with bloggers, make requests, and build relationships, without knowing much about bloggers.  A great PR person is like gold– and you'll recognize them the instant you work with them.


If you think an offer seems too good to be true, your tummy is giving you “Danger!” rumblings, or you just aren't sure, keep these tips in mind.


Tips & Tricks For Brand Requests:

  • Where does their request fall within your editorial guidelines? Is the brand making requests outside of them? If so, you can tell them.  Just politely refer them to your policy page, and let them know that unfortunately what they are asking is outside your blog's guidelines.
  • Are they asking for coverage, a review– or are they really asking for sponsored content…without actually paying you? In her book, Fashion 2.0, Yuli breaks down definition in the following ways:
    • Sponsored posts: posting information the brand wants to communicate to the audience.  This information sometimes requires more text than you can fit into a banner ad, therefore, a blog post is a better format.
    • Advertorial posts: written in a blogger's own voice, these include the blogger's opinions or recommendations, and sometimes even include custom content the blogger has created for the brand.
    • Paid Reviews: payment in exchange for a review of a product. Often the expectation is that the review will be positive, and could potentially put the blogger in an awkward situation.
  • Don't be afraid to ask a blogger who has worked with them for feedback! And bloggers… don't be afraid to (politely) tell the truth! The blogging community is only as strong as we are willing to make it.  If we withhold information from our peers, we're doing a disservice to ourselves and to our community.  You don't need to shit talk, but you can definitely express pleasure or dissatisfaction openly and politely.
  • Does the brand and product fit in with your site, your readers interest, and your OWN interests? If not, it's okay to say you don't feel that the relationship will work.  I love to work with brands that want to make women feel good, that cater to women of all sizes, and who fit my own personal sense of style.  And be honest with yourself– it may sound awesome to receive a free dress, but if the brand isn't REALLY a right fit with you… is it really worth it?
  • How many bloggers are they working with? And what KIND of bloggers are they working with? Content is king– so you don't want to share the same content, reviews, giveaways, or information as 40 other bloggers.  When you notice the same company, keywords and phrases showing up on many blogs, you may want to consider if they have anything of value to offer you and your readers.  Do you feel that the other bloggers they are working with are on par with your site– in terms of quality, reader engagement, and community role?

If all of these are pointing in towards a bad business relationship, or even if your instincts are saying something feels off… it's OKAY to say NO to a partnership.  It's okay to ask for more time to consider their offer, and it's okay to negotiate.  Just remember to interact with them like a professional!


For those who may have “lesson learned” experiences with brands, who have turned down offers, do you have any other tips to offer & share?


Image by Kio.


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About The Author

Ana is a Travel Blogger and Blogging Coach at The City Sidewalks. With her expertise in online marketing, she's able to help other bloggers, creatives, and entrepreneurs grow their businesses so that they can achieve financial freedom to travel the world on their own terms.

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27 Responses

  1. MJ

    Great tips as always! I’ve learned in my two years of blogging that companies that are worth working with will not push you into doing something you aren’t comfortable with, nor force a good reveiw out of you. I’m a firm believer about being honest in my review and thankfully have gotten feedback on a not so positive review that thanked me for being honest.

    It is the Wild West out here and the only way that companies will learn how to work with us if we teach them how to do so!

    Thanks so much for this post!

  2. Treacle

    I was recently approached by a brand to act as a brand ambassador. They wanted to use my name, logo, and voice on their site to recommend products.

    When I asked what their budget was for this project, they told me that there was no budget and that they were doing me a *favor* by letting me talk about them in this way.

    I politely explained the problem with that particular point of view, but when they continued to insist that they were doing me a favor by helping them sell their products, I politely ended the conversation. After all, it was obvious that we just weren’t a good fit.

    The moral of the story is don’t work with brands that don’t value your brand. Not all value is monetary, but it does need to be equitable.

  3. Laura Hueto Puig

    Hi! 🙂 Wow, the timing of this post is actually kind of perfect, as if you could spare half a minute, I need some advice…
    I was just approached by a brand this week for my first time, which excited me a great deal, as I only started blogging last December and I don’t have that much of a readership yet. So anyway, they very kindly told me that they liked my blog, and that along with other bloggers, they were looking to make us part of their campaign, which they explained, and which I very much liked, feeling that it was very interesting and fun. So I replied to the PR who had written the email telling her that I’d be very happy to know the details. She answered back, and sent me an attached file with more exhaustive info and photos about the brand, and telling me that once the post was published I could send her the link and that she’d be happy to publish it on their FB page’s wall, which, she pointedly added, had more than 20.000 followers. From that I deduce that ‘Exposure’ is what they offer as compensation.
    What do you guys think? Should I do it? Because I must confess I sort of feel like I’m being sold, but at the same time there’s this little voice in my head that says that I’m too unimportant to deserve a better deal, and that I must start with small things.
    I checked their FB page, and it’s true that they have over 20.000 followers, and I guess that at this point of my blogging ‘career’, exposure is about the best thing I can possibly get or need. Plus agreeing to this deal might build a relationship with this brand that might give me other opportunities later on.
    I don’t know… These are sort of my thoughts on the subject. What do you think?
    Thanks so much for your help! 🙂

    • Ashe

      Laura, you may want to refer back to our recent posts on utilizing Facebook– because even though they have 20,000 fans, a single post update with a link to your blog is going to reach between 20-40% of their readers.

      Granted, that is still a lot of people to reach, but that’s only who SEE the message–not who necessarily click the link, read the post, STAY on your site, explore. In the end, you may end up with 1-2 people who STAY.

      I’d ask myself these things: are they asking you to put in particular information? If so, then they’re asking for sponsored content. Are they asking for particular links to pages in the post? If so, that’s a text link ad and should be compensated for in some way.

      Frankly, I’d say listen to the voice that says you’re being sold. Even if you’re small, now is the time to set your standards and set the bar high for yourself.

    • Laura Hueto Puig

      Wow, thanks so much for replying so quickly! 🙂 I hadn’t thought about it that way… I guess I’d been blinded by the fabulous 20.000.
      Okay, the thing is they really don’t ask me to write specific information or to put links on my post, they merely want me to talk about their campaign. And it is, actually, a pretty cool campaign that I’d maybe even talk about without their asking me if I’d known of it. That’s what’s making me doubt.
      Otherwise, if I’d felt they’d wanted to have control over my content, and force it upon me, then I wouldn’t be asking myself the question. But I also say to myself: should I let them get away with it, just because they’re being very nice and polite about it? 😀 lol
      Well, I think I’m gonna think it over for a couple of days before I give them a definite answer. I only received their e-mail yesterday, and I guess I’ll see more clearly after I’ve slept on it. Thank you so much, Ashe! 🙂

      • Allie

        I think I may know of what company you are speaking of (do they also have a contest where you can win in Austrailian dollars?). That I find to not be bad, you’re not putting in specific links for them, you can write what you want, they just want to get the word out and you can do on your terms. I don’t think it’s bad if you like and believe in the company or campaign. I saw it as one I may write about anyway even if they did not approach me. 🙂

      • Laura Hueto Puig

        That’s what I thought as well. As I said to Joey, I think that’s what I’m gonna do for this specific case. Thank you so much for your help! 🙂

    • Treacle

      You are NOT too unimportant to deserve better.

      I know the feeling…I struggled with it myself for my first two years of blogging, and I want you know that no matter how small your blog is RIGHT NOW, your audience, your time, and your expertise is valuable.

      Don’t work with people who don’t value your brand. It always turns out to be more headache and frustration than it’s worth. And it takes time away from partnering with brands who do value you.

    • Joey

      Sorry for wading in, but I, too, think I know which company you are talking about. I rejected them politely not only because I wasn’t getting any compensation, but also because I wasn’t interested in their campaign.
      The thing is, you quite like the idea of their campaign and find it interesting. So I would say, why not? You could view it as a fun project and just as if you were blogging about something interesting you came across.
      Do note however, I’ve started noticing a lot of bloggers blogging about that campaign, too, so that might saturate things a bit. Just my 2 cents 🙂

      • Laura Hueto Puig

        Thanks for your 2 cents! 🙂 I think that’s what I’ll do. As you said, I AM interested in their campaign and I’d probably write about it anyway if I’d known about it without their approaching me. But thank you so much for offering your opinion, it’s helped me see more clearly! 🙂

  4. Courtney

    The best advice I have with working with brands is this: If they seem flaky, they probably are so don’t waste your time. To be vague and polite, I partnered with a company that took a long time to set up a coupon code, which didn’t work and then failed to respond to my emails. It was not worth the hassle and made me look bad to readers. It’s a shame because I quite like their company, but I’m not going to work with them again.

  5. Fajr | Stylish Thought

    Great posts. Just finished Yuli’s book and I must say is not only a game changer but a life changer. She points out so many easy wins (and common sense ideas) and a lot of things that I had never thought of and need to do differently.

    When it comes to brands, I’ve never experienced a pushy PR or agency. When I am approached, if it’s something I’m interested in working on I respond on what their ideas are. I think the biggest thing to learn is that what bloggers do is not trivial and we shouldn’t give it away. Something I have been guilty of doing but will do better now that I know better.


    Superb post, Ashe! I’m so glad you wrote this, because it is a wonderful complement to my post (and thanks for the mention)! More bloggers need to realize THEY hold the power, not the company. If someone is coming to YOU, then YOU CALL THE SHOTS!

  7. Simply Luxurious

    Great post and I couldn’t agree more with your advice. As Grit and Glamour again reminds us in her comments, they are coming to us, so therefore we must not just blindly toss aside that power.

  8. Lee Oliveira

    Thanks for sharing these great tips. Im getting contacted more and more by brands these days. One thing that really annoys me is when they don’t do any research into my blog. I feel sometimes that we are the ones educating these brands about how to work with social media. Do PR agents really think that all bloggers say yes to everything for free. I might start contacting PR agents more often asking for their services for free. haha

  9. Daniel Dunt

    This is a great post; the only problem I have ever encountered is when a brand, designer or company feels like they are doing you a favor, rather than you helping them out; this is when they try to take control, which of-course tends to put me off a little. – Daniel Dunt


    Great tips, thanks so much for sharing!

    It seems there are a lot of brands who recognise the wide audiences that bloggers can help them to reach but don’t want to offer us anything in return…not all are like this of course!

  11. My Style Canvas

    This is something I frequently deal with–not on my blog but at my day job as a newspaper editor/reporter. Probably the question I’m asked the most by people whose businesses I’m writing a story about is if they can see the story before it’s published. I just tell them, politely, no because that wouldn’t be ethical. There’s no reason to give some longwinded or apologetic speech for a standard journalism policy.

    If that person has given me a product for review, great, but I’m aware it’s not a present (or a bribe) and there’s no good reason for a business owner or PR flack to act like it is.

  12. Emily

    This is such great advice! I’ve been stalking the blogosphere (will I ever get tired of that “word”?) for a long time, but have just recently put up my own blog. Obviously, I’m in no current stance to even be considered and approached by a designer/brand/etc. but that’s why I really like this write-up. Your tips are so helpful and when the time comes (IF the time comes), I’ll be happy to have read this.

    Thank you!

  13. Nakia Durant

    Great Tip! I just encountered a brand reaching out to me and from my 3 years of blogging and industry experience i was getting bad vibes. I am glad to see that this happens to others and not only me. It’s funny they reach out to you but when you start speaking $ the lower your value and worth. You have to stand your ground and be true your voice. 🙂

  14. Amanda

    Can someone explain to me the difference between a paid review and a sponsorship.

    I’m a bit confused.

    Thank you! 🙂

    • Ashe

      A paid review is the company paying you to review the product, quite simply. (It sounds just like it is.)

      A sponsored post is when the company wants to share particular information and pays you to do so– they may pay you to write about an upcoming sale, share specific details about a new type of bra, etc. (For example: I did a sponsored post for Playtex recently where I shared information about the technology of one of their new bras–what features it offers, what it’s designed to do, etc.)

      It’s different because in a sponsored post you’re not reviewing the product– you’re sharing information.

  15. tahlia - the parenting files

    this is really great advice. thankyou. I am new to the bloggin world and only now getting into the reviews and giveaways side. So I am excited, but also daunting. sometimes we just want to take what we have been offered, but need to think first

  16. Maid In Australia

    It’s a tricky path isn’t it? I think there are companies out there who will exploit bloggers if they get the chance. It’s up to us to reject those, and work with the ones who want to work with and respect us, and our readers. I’m happy to write/review for free if it’s something I would write about anyway. But even to be paid for something or given freebies – it would have to be something that my readers would be interested in, and there would have to be something in it for them – like a giveaway – before I would say yes.