Many bloggers, fashion bloggers included, see freebies as a “perk” of running an even moderately successful site. Whether you describe such free items as “gifts,” “review samples,” “collaborations” or something else entirely, freebies can be either a huge burden or a massive benefit to your blog. Done well, samples give you access to product you may not have been able to try otherwise. In addition, honest reviews are a great way of introducing your readers to the pros and cons of a particular brand. Done poorly, freebies can create “bad blood” with both your readers and with brands. Readers may feel betrayed by a dishonest review (or even the perception of a dishonest review), and brands may feel like you were a poor investment for their product. Those feelings of disappointment or misfire can be magnified if you were the person who approached the brand. IFB has a ton of great articles on product reviews and gifts, but let's focus in on one specific part of that…approaching brands for samples. As a quick aside, my fellow IFB columnist Crosby Noricks wrote another excellent piece on approaching PR companies for samples last year.
A quick note though, before we begin. It's totally okay if you don't want to ask brands for freebies. In fact, on my blog, we have an editorial policy of never approaching brands for samples, free product, gifts or anything else. If a brand offers, then we may accept (provided they agree with our review policies), but we don't ask. You may decide to do the same, officially or unofficially. However, if you do want to pitch a brand for free product, here a few things to keep in mind:
Don't ask for free product as a “favor.”
I've worked with several intimate apparel brands on selecting and screening bloggers for potential product reviews, and it always stands out (and not in a good way) when a blogger treats freebies as just a “nice thing” for a brand to do. No. These brands are businesses, and those products have an actual monetary value. Don't assume a brand is going to give you product out of the goodness of their heart. As a business, they need to be able to justify the expense. As a blogger, you should be able to explain why you're worth it.
Avoid making your first contact with a brand a request for free product.
I saw this a lot when working with lingerie brands. A blogger that had never written, tweeted, or even purchased the product before would send off an email asking for something for free. Brands check to see what you've said about them previously (if anything), and no one, not even companies, appreciates feeling used. If there's a product you're interested in trying, spend a little time cultivating that relationship first. Brands are not your ticket to a wardrobe full of free things.
Be able to explain why a brand should give you product for review.
Yes, this will probably mean giving them some hard data like how many visitors you receive, how many pageviews, your most popular posts, and what kind of search terms people use to find your blog. Avoid making overhyped promises; brand will not only check your claims, they may also ask other brands you've worked with to verify your statements. Always go for the most accurate statement possible. Inflated remarks are easy to suss out.
Don't ask a brand for their entire product lineup as a “sample.”
A brand has decided they want to work with you – great! If they ask which products you're interested in trying, don't give them a list that's 25 items long. Greed (or the perception of it) is a great way to sour a budding business relationship. Keep your request list to 5 items or less, or, even better, just 2 or 3 pieces. For expensive or handmade items, avoid requesting even more than 1. After all, brand can always offer more if they so choose.
If you approach a brand, then they have the right to follow up.
Never approach a brand for a sample, and then refuse to uphold your end of the bargain, whatever that may be. If you are soliciting a brand for free product, they have the right to ask about the investment they've made in you. Follow up early and often: upon receipt of the item, when you've tried it, and when a review is pending. If you're not interested in doing all of that, then you may want to reconsider asking brands for free product.