PSA to bloggers wanting samples for review

An ongoing topic of controversy in our forum is expressed by designers who’ve been requested to provide samples for review to bloggers. This topic has been discussed ad nauseum on the tubes but there’s something critical missing in the debate peculiar to the medium (immediacy) of blogging and professionalism. If you’re a mommy or fashion blogger, use of the term “professional” is not a cue to poise yourself ready for battle. From an analysis, I find bloggers do not understand the definition of “sample” from the perspective of the industry, a source of much complaint. That of course, in addition to many designer manufacturers who are displeased with the approach of many in the blogosphere.

Professionalism and trade experience
I’d imagine that 99% of bloggers have not worked in traditional fashion media nor in the garment industry. That is not a crime. However, you must understand that your definition of a sample and our definition of a sample, are two entirely different things. If you are the one making the request and trying to establish a peer relationship, on equal footing of that with print pubs, you must know the difference. For us, a sample is a prototypical garment of very limited quantity and great expense. It represents a style that has not yet been released for sale to the public. We produce samples in order to sell a style at market and for traditional print media who need advance notice to make space for it in their publication. It is only after buyers place orders for it that it is produced in quantity and shipped to stores. You know how expensive clothing is; what you don’t know is the average sample costs three times that for us to produce one. Therefore, a $150 bag to you at retail, would cost us nearly $500 to produce on demand. This is one reason manufacturers resent requests for samples, ensuring you’re already off to a bad start. Another taboo is to request or demand specific sizes (intending to fit your own children) in certain colorways. Our samples come in one size, a stock size, and often, just one colorway. The style is not produced in various sizes and colors until sales demand justifies producing it. In other words, you’ve added insult to injury by asking for a custom order that likely does not exist beyond a line sheet with fabrication and colors photoshopped into it.

The second issue of resentment and the need for increased professionalism is a facet peculiar to blogging itself, that of immediacy. A print publication will need to review samples well in advance of their print date and the product’s subsequent release into the marketplace. These two are timed to match. Vogue doesn’t print photographs of samples until months later when they can tell you which stores carry the item in stock. The trade press is a bit different, releasing images in advance of store delivery. However, these publications are trade only, intended for buyers who preview styles they may wish to purchase. Very few consumers have access to these publications as these are not intended to be released to the public.

The problem with bloggers is immediacy. They will release images of samples that are not intended to be shown to the public -yet. In other words, they are releasing what is considered to be privileged information. Now, while you might be jolly to get the scoop on what is coming down the pipeline to get the lead on your competitors and demonstrate the cachet of your influence, your benefactor will be livid. The reason is, due to your advance warning, their competitor will have time to knock off the designer and still do it in time to hit the stores. That’s insult to injury. Any of us working in the trade can be sued for doing this.

Most established designers are aware of this so they will limit their exposure to known sources, presuming shared values. Unfortunately, they’ve been wrong to presume that even valid bloggers understand. Consider this situation described in The Relationship Between Fashion PR and Fashion Blogs, the latter cited WWD by way of explanation:

…last week, Gawker founding editor Elizabeth Spiers’ new blog site, Fashionista, published photographs from a password-protected area of a preliminary Bitten Web site intended only for long-lead-time monthly magazines. When attorneys from Steve & Barry’s requested Fashionista remove the photos, it did, but by then dozens of other blogs had already posted images…

Still worse, many bloggers weighed in, loudly, and felt that being forced to remove images was akin to censorship but for goodness sakes, the founding editor of Gawker -no small potatoes- lifted and published photos from a password protected site. Just how many cues did she need to know these were not intended for public viewing? In summary, confidentiality, cost of goods and immediacy are all reasons for which requests from bloggers are considered with suspicion. You might get the scoop once but is it worth it to have burned your bridges? Good luck getting the inside track in the future if you have a reputation for being untrustworthy. Now onto other matters of professionalism.

Professionalism and blogging
Fashion bloggers all want to be taken seriously, no doubt of it but as long as your ranks are infested with pariah, the likes of this one, you have a long row to hoe. Do not miss the comments left at the close of the pariah article by said pariah. The comments are definitely NSFW and prove the blogger in question is anything but professional. Short of spates of cat fights the fashion blogosphere is known for, said one designer who speaks for many:

I have never been asked by a physical magazine, with the exception of xxxx [a new very amateur low quality publication with poor copy and grammar], to submit a sample of my diaper bag without the stated fact they would be pleased to return it once used for their purpose. I have, however, been asked by upwards of 30 “mom-blogs” for my $149 (retail) bag that they would LOVE TO REVIEW and tell all their friends about. I have offered product to People Mag, Pregnancy & Newborn, Fit Pregnancy, and more and they all said, “not necessary, I’m going to write about your product. Thanks for the press kit.” The remaining requests are still sitting in my inbox saying “gimme, gimme, gimme” It’s getting ridiculous.

My issue is this…a beauty editor at Vogue may never have worked the Clinique counter at Saks, but he or she surely is an accomplished writer that has worked very hard to be able to tell the good, bad or ugly. A Mom-blogger does not typically have commensurate experience. Is she a retired editor that wanted to start an online mag? What experience does she have? With respect to give aways, how do I know that Marcy in Cincinnati got my bag for signing up for the blogger’s newsletter? I have relied on only one blog that I would ever give to and the rest have met me at an event and loved my stuff and written about it.

If you are going to have the nerve to ask a designer for free product for your “review”, you better have actually spent the money to buy a web site and used some sort of professional manner of constructing a page. It is absurd and I have just had enough.

Summarizing others, magazines are not greedy. Contrary to what you think, established print publications return samples. Yes, they do. If you want to be treated with the same respect they are, you must behave as they do. You cannot expect to receive the respect given to popular magazines while simultaneously demanding better treatment.

Guidelines for bloggers (summarized):

  • Make it clear you are not asking for samples as we define them but products currently in the marketplace.
  • The perception is that bloggers are demanding free loaders; work to avoid that.
  • Be prepared to show your stats or any other requested information.
  • Disclose any relationships that may pose a conflict of interest.
  • Also see my blog policies on freebies.

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