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Any editor would agree that one of the best parts of our jobs is receiving the fun, creative PR mailer boxes at our door (or in pre-COVID times, at our office’s mailroom). I’ve received some incredibly thoughtful mailers while working in this industry. But I’ve also opened some boxes that I almost wish hadn’t been sent. From excessive, wasteful packaging, to brands sending PR mailer boxes without consent, there are some issues when it comes to the ever-evolving PR mailer.
Below, you’ll find some super insightful (and sometimes funny) anonymous answers to questions I asked editors and writers about PR mailer boxes. From things they love and hate to see in mailers, to which box has been their favorite. And ways in which brands can really stand out from our mountains of mailers, I hope publicists find this Q&A helpful as we all continue to navigate our two-years-old-but-still-feels-incredibly-new normal.
“I really love originality and clever packaging. I know we’re living in a world of eco-friendly. But it’s interesting to me to see how packaging evokes a certain perception about a product or a brand. Also love to see variety. It’s great if you want me to experience a product or food. But are there any complementary products that should go along with it? Please note that I’m referring to actual PR mailers. If someone is pitching me something and offers a sample, I don’t expect that package to be anything other than a regular box.”
“I love seeing the new launch and pertinent information, or products selected specifically for my skin type. I feel guilty when I receive products that don’t work for my skin. They end up building up in my office until I look like a hoarder and have to give them away. I’m definitely a quality over quantity type of girl. I also love receiving functional things like beauty blenders and brushes. Hair masques, or cult-favorite products that I will definitely use or try. I get more excited over toothpaste (always use that) or socks (always lose those) than receiving an entire shade range of eyeshadow or foundation.”
“Small packages containing simply the products that are easy to recycle/break down.”
“This is not about mailers but I recently got a ‘newsletter’ from a PR agency outlining their monthly launches which I thought was efficient and convenient for everyone.”
“Excessive packaging and any kind of electronic-type screen or monitor that plays a video—biggest waste of money. Also, branded basic things like water bottles, notebooks, hats—again, a total waste of money.”
“I hate, hate, hate super wasteful mailers. When a mascara comes in a box that can fit an Olsen twin, it infuriates me. It’s so unnecessary. Have you heard of global warming? I also appreciate when brands are cognizant of the fact that most of us live in small NYC apartments, where space is tight.”
“If there’s glass in the mailer, make sure it’s packaged very well. I’ve had an instance where glass broke and I had to throw everything away. I felt so terrible since I know all the hard work and money that goes into creating those.”
“Well, I think just that: making it personal. I love when I get something that’s specifically for me with my name on it, or for my child.”
“Shade-matching for me or letting me pre-select the shades/products included has been a game-changer. I’ve definitely received some really thoughtful mailers before. As well as some containing high-quality and/or on-trend goodies that were really exciting to receive. I am gluten-free/dairy-free and don’t eat meat. So when I received a year’s subscription to Thrive marketplace, I was so excited. Stuff like this makes my life so much easier.
“Anything truly utilitarian that would get used around the house, like kitchen or cooking things. Jewelry is usually a nice gift because it’s small/easy to gift for friends’ birthdays and holidays.”
“A haircare brand sent a ‘custom’ one that included a gift for me and a dog toy for my dog because they know I’m obsessed—it was so unique and special! Also one from years ago that was a carry-on suitcase—so practical and I still use it to this day.”
“I did an event that was a cooking class and the mailer included a cookbook and an extremely fancy knife I never would have bought myself. The epitome of useful! Also, I once got a retinol serum that came with Eberjey pajamas, a weighted eye mask, a mug, and some other thoughtful, nighttime, sleep-related things that was just lovely.”
“I once received a mailer containing personalized drawings of my two dogs and I literally cherish them! They’re on display in my foyer. I saved a Venus et Fleur mailer, and received a pair of Levi’s that I wear all the time. My favorite mailers are the ones that contain things I will really, genuinely use, even if they aren’t ‘novelties,’ per se. For instance, my antibacterial towels and washcloths by Resoré? LOVE! But that being said, receiving a Michele watch feels pretty badass. I’m not complaining.”
“I see a lot more sustainable packaging efforts, the puffs (packing peanuts?) that dissolve in water. That’s great. Still a bit unwieldy in terms of getting them out of my house. I’m not sure how that can be improved.”
“Many brands are getting better about sending launches in plain cardboard/recyclable packaging and minimal packaging, but many brands are also still sending way too much packaging for small items. That being said, it seems like more and more mailers do not have sufficient packing protection. We all know that FedEx treats our boxes like they are training for the World Cup (I once saw a FedEx guy kick a box marked ‘fragile’ down the stairs leading to my apartment). So if you’re sending something fragile, please pack it accordingly.
I’ve now had multiple mailers containing glass arrive in shards and have cut myself several times opening boxes. I recently had to pick a splinter of glass out of my bleeding hand with tweezers and was not in the mood to cover the product after that. Please don’t think one piece of straw is going to cut it.”
“I hate those freaking tiny shredded packing paper—there’s no way to not get it all over the place. And anything with a screen. What am I supposed to do with essentially an iPad that only replays a promo video? All paper recyclable packaging is ideal. It’s the easiest to break down and recycle. Except, I’d rather recycle my bubble wrap than get those shredded packing paper.”
“I test more than I think would be expected actually, at least sort of, in passing, but no one can test everything. I would guess for everyone, the percentage that gets written about is quite small — there is just so much.”
“I truly try to test as much as I can and include as much as I can, but it really is impossible. The percentage really varies depending on the time of year/how many mailers I get that week.”
“It’s hard to know how to answer this—I don’t believe in complaining on social media about this kind of thing. This is a double-edged sword of our jobs. Frankly, I am not brutal enough with giving enough away and donating it and my apartment pays the price. I would love to talk to more fellow editors about this because it really is hard. I have extensive beauty storage systems and it feels like nothing is enough.”
“Ugh, this is practically a full-time job. Some publicists are great about asking permission first, but there are times I politely decline, but then I get them anyway. If we pass on a mailer, please respect that and don’t send it anyway or essentially bully us after declining. One publicist asked two more times after I declined a mailer and I finally relented and said yes because it was so awkward. Please don’t do that!”
“I mean I think the industry in general, unfortunately, just revs up year after year. More launches > more mailers > more events that maybe aren’t necessary. This isn’t something any single entity can fix, but certainly ties back to questions around sustainability, etc.”
“In my opinion, the PR/editor relationship has really evolved, at least over the course of my career, from ‘here’s this mailer, hope you enjoy and consider it for something upcoming’ to ‘that mailer you got — when’s the placement coming?’ Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone. But it is kind of disheartening and does affect relationships. I do much more marketing copy than editorial these days. So I prefer not to accept mailers unless I (a) have a good potential fit (b) it’s something I’d really like to try and potentially pitch out (c) the publicist is a friend and insists I accept regardless of placement opportunities.”
“There’s a lot less invasive ones, as in oversized, since we started working from home primarily, which I appreciate. Lugging giant boxes up my four flights is my least favorite. There was also a phase where we got a ton with screens in the boxes, which I’m happy to say is little to none now.”