Dec 3, 2009

Troy-Bilt® And Garden Bloggers

Did you notice garden bloggers doing reviews of Troy-Bilt® products this spring and summer? I met Michelle Venorsky on Twitter this spring and she offered me the chance to review the Troy-Bilt® TB57 Lithium Ion string trimmer. After I posted the review of it on my garden blog I was asked by a couple of people how I was chosen. The following is a Q&A that hopefully answers the questions I fielded and others you may have about getting the attention of companies who collaborate with garden bloggers.

How long has Troy-Bilt® been forming relationships with garden bloggers and how many do you work with you?

About three years ago we saw that a big portion of our target audience, the gardening enthusiast, was engaging with one another online – sharing tips, projects and their genuine passion for gardening. It was inspiring and something we wanted to be a part of and learn from. So we started to listen to the conversation and began to identify bloggers who seemed to be a good fit for us, and who in turn inspired us. It’s not a numbers thing for us – it’s not about how big a blog is, how many readers it has, links, etc. Rather, the quality of content, love for the outdoors, and who we felt would generally embrace our products and what we’re all about as a company. That’s how we identified our bloggers and to date, keep in touch with anywhere from 15-20, but still actively listen to the whole gardening conversation online.

What benefit do you receive from working with gardeners who maintain garden blogs? Is it different than sending products to review just to professional writers or gardening personalities?

We do actively share products with traditional media, they are still important and a well-respected group. We enjoy working with them, too. We treat our bloggers in the same regard that we do journalists – they are our citizen journalists. But there is no mistaking the feedback we get from our bloggers and their readers. They are customers directly sharing with us what they like and don’t like, how they use the products, what the finished project looked like, and what improvements they’d like to see, etc. It’s real and a way for us to connect with gardeners like never before and truly build relationships with them – even if they don’t like something we sent, we still learn. The feedback that we get (good and bad), the projects we learn about, and insight into their passion is just great – it makes us a better company and helps us build a better product.

How do you find a garden blog to offer products to review? (BlogRolls? Internet searches? Referrals from other bloggers?)

See above. Listening was really key for us. We didn’t want to just jump in, but got to know the bloggers first, saw what they were all about, and made sure they just weren’t blogging in hopes of getting free stuff from companies. There are some bloggers, like yourself, whom we got to know after engaging for awhile, just by actively participating and listening. And a few referrals, too.

A gardener who recently started a blog asked me how to get in touch with companies that offer products for review. My advice was to just do what she was doing and if she did a good job that companies would find her. Should a garden blogger take the wait and see approach or should they contact a company, like yours, they know forms relationships with garden bloggers?

It can really go either way. Unfortunately, for as many wonderful bloggers – in all categories – that are out there that genuinely post because they have a true passion for something, there are those who are just in it for the goods. And companies know this and tend to shy away from those who reach out to them – generally speaking. But it depends. My advice would be to start with an introduction and offer to do a Q&A with someone, give readers a chance to get a ‘peak behind the curtain’ so to speak and try to build a relationship from there.

Does the design of a garden blog influence you in any way? (customized templates versus templates hundreds of others use).

Not really – it’s all about the content. Not everyone is blessed with design skills. But content, engagement with their readers, transparency, and a desire to genuinely share a point of view and contribute to the broader conversation is what is most important.

What about blogging at a free service like Blogger/Wordpress/TypePad versus a blog with a custom domain? Do you think a blogger is considered to be serious about writing if they have a .com

That’s something we have never even given a second thought to. Makes zero difference to us if someone owns their site or uses one of the many free platforms out there. A blogger, in general, should find something they like and is easy to manage for them – that makes all the difference in the world!

A garden blog, like a garden, often exhibits personal details about the gardener. On a garden blog you can sometimes find personal or political topics. If a garden blogger wants to pursue writing and forming relationships with companies should they avoid those personal touches and just keep the blog about gardening?

The best part of social media is all the different viewpoints and ideas shared, and how you can get to know and connect with a variety of people from all over that you normally never would. For us, we know gardening is the main topic for most of the bloggers we engage with, but of course, their personality and viewpoints on many different things comes out and is shared – that’s what makes them so great. We generally don’t let that affect who we engage with. The only time I could ever see not engaging with a blogger is if someone posted something very offensive, blatantly rude or completely inappropriate and mean about something or someone.

Finally, do you have any special plans to expand or promote the work you do with garden bloggers in the future? Anything garden bloggers should keep an eye out for?

We are so happy with our social outreach efforts and do plan to continue it next year. Between reviews, articles many bloggers have written for The Dirt, our e-newsletter, and general feedback, it’s been a lot of fun, informative and given us incredibly valuable feedback. There are a few other ideas we’re working on beyond this, nothing’s final yet, so you’ll just have to stay tuned to see!

Michelle Venorsky has worked at Marcus Thomas LLC for eight years and has worked on the Troy-Bilt® account for the past three. A blogger herself, she's the author of Cleveland Foodie and is @MichelleV on Twitter.

If your company works with garden bloggers to promote your product or service and wouldn't mind answering a few questions for a future post leave me in the contact form linked above.


  1. Good post! It's nice to hear of a company that does embrace non-traditional media. I think bloggers have the potential to reach many more people than a newspaper.

  2. Dave,

    Glad you found the post useful.I agree that the potential of garden blogs is very high and the right one could probably do a better job of reaching the right target than a newspaper ad.

  3. Very nice, and insightful interview MBT! Troy Bilt's been a familiar brand since I was a kid, when every spring my dad would fire up our rototiller to get the vegetable garden ready for planting. I had a little Mantis tiller for years - that baby had spunk, and was very reliable. I use no-till methods now and left the tiller for the new owner of a home I sold a few years back, who was also a gardener.

    The Lawn Man has been into battery-powered blowers and other yard equipment lately. After seeing reviews of their string trimmer, I'm tempted to get one for him soon (if he doesn't beat me to it.)

    Troy-Bilt's efforts to build relationships with garden bloggers are noticed and appreciated, not to mention good business on their part.

    For me, the Troy-Bilt name will always have a nostalgic ring. Their efforts reaching out to us bloggers, including their support of Chicago Spring Fling, have reinforced that loyalty. Smart company, great products. Thanks for the interview!

  4. This is a really great interview and kudos to Troy-Bilt for taking the time and effort to reach out to their customers.

    I've been approached by various companies (including Troy-Bilt) to do reviews. I've only accepted two offers and my reasons are very close to Michelle's/Troy-Bilts. I can tell when a company doesn't know anything about me or about my audience--that they've just jumped on the social media bandwagon because someone suggested it was a good way to make easy money.

    Troy-Bilt and Cobrahead and Botanical Interests Seeds all seem to read our blogs and tweets and know us as fellow gardeners. They have taken the time to build a real business relationship and that gets them huge loyalty points from me.

  5. @Garden Girl, @mss @Zanthan Garden

    Appreciate the thoughtful comments, I couldn't agree more with you two about the points you made.

  6. An excellent and insightful post and kudos to Troy-Bilt for getting to know their garden bloggers before offering reviews etc.

    I don't have advertising on my blog and I ignore e-mails from companies asking to do so. You can usually tell that it's an automated marketing e-mail, or they're trying to get a link out of you to up their Google Ranking.

    However, there's a company on this side of the pond who are in the same mould as Troy-Bilt. They've got to know the blogs they like and have a meaningful dialogue with the bloggers writing them. For example they've altered their policy on plastic pots (they now recycle them) as a result of talking to us and taking both good and bad criticism.

    I've just reviewed a product for them and it turned out badly because the product didn't work when switched on. However, it meant I could also test out the returns policy satisfactorily and report on how hard they worked to make things right :)

  7. I now try to review the product, anyhow the product seems durable

  8. I've been a blogger for about 4 years now. Just this year I have started gardening and including it on my blog .I can tell you that the "wait for them to come find you" approach is a bit silly if you want to work with companies.

    My blog is a business and I work for each and every HANDPICKED product. I don't consider them reviews but more of an endorsement.The companies are counting on my knowledge of social media to help get their name out and build quality SEO links for them. So I find it rather offensive that they would consider bloggers out for a "free item" when we bust our rear ends for it AND have to claim it on our income taxes (and you do). We aren't traditional media...we are local celebrities with voice and accreditation in our niche communities that the companies lack. That's why we are valuable. I find it very disheartening that this sort of image on bloggers is even tolerated by my fellow bloggers.

    As a person who has been not only a "reviewer" of products and contacted by household brands I can tell you it is about content. In that she was right. It's called SEO and google PR building. When I talk to PR & CEO's we speak the same language. It isn't a privilege to work with them its a business relationship. Oh and I don't just get paid in product either and it isn't because I waited for someone to deem me worthy. KNOW AND UNDERSTAND YOUR WORTH as a blogger. They will pay for your knowledge but will take advantage of your ignorance. BTW a good knowledge of FTC regulations is required before you agree to review. The Troy-Bilt review is in violation. You have to disclose in clear concise language that you received something for free. A good PR company would have told you that to make sure you aren't fined by the FTC..cuz guess what..the FTC doesn't go after Troy-Bilt the go after you. The one that can't afford it.

    The truth is go out and ask. There are a ton of companies seeking brand ambassadors in social media but don't know where to turn. Another thing don't be taken in by big companies automatically. There are plenty of younger companies who need help making their name for themselves and that my friends is relationship building that doesn't sacrifice your value.


    Christine Mack


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