Posts Tagged ‘blogger relations’

Blogger relations – you’re doing it wrong

I don’t usually write posts outing other PR folks, but a pitch I received this morning from another PR agency roused my blogging tendencies from their slumber.

Here’s how it read:

From: […]
Sent: Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 3:02 AM

PR Firm […] Sends Small Businesses to the Top of Social Media for $790 Per Month

On Monday, August 13, [PR agency] announced three new SEO / Social Media / Press Release Packages starting at $790 per month, bringing an affordable solution to businesses needing a strong online presence via Facebook, Twitter, WordPress blog and press releases. The smallest package which includes a number of posts, tweets, articles and press releases each month, costs little more than sending one press release through a service.

To view this release on PRWeb, click the link below:[…]

If you would rather not receive future communications from […], please go to […].

Let’s see…

  1. Pick your audience: If this person had done any research they’ve have known from posts like this or this that I’m not a fan of spray and pray tactics or services. If I’m going to write about something like this, it’s not going to be in a positive way, and I’ll firmly argue that $790 per month will not get you to the “top of social media”. It’s not going to get you to the top of anything, in fact.
  2. Don’t spray and pray: They sprayed and prayed. At least I was in the “to” line, but there was no effort whatsoever to address me personally – even a “Dear Blogger”, which still triggers the “delete” button for me, would be a step up from this. There’s  absolutely no customization, either, or even an effort to do anything beyond copy/paste the first paragraph (I assume – I didn’t click through) of the release.
  3. Offer a call to action: I have no idea what this company wants from me. Do they want me to write about their announcement? Do an interview with a spokesperson? Try it out? Offer a trial? It’s not clear, which means most people will do nothing.
  4. Avoid free email services: The email came from a Gmail account; one with the word “guru” in the account name, no less. You’re a PR agency and your pitches are coming from a Gmail account? And one with the word “guru” in the account name, no less?
  5. Don’t make me opt-out when I didn’t opt-in: How did I make it onto this list of yours? Why do I need to say “no, I don’t want to automatically receive your pitches”? If you were researching and tailoring the emails to me I’d be much more open to it, but signing me up for your automatic spam? No thanks.

This really is the worst kind of PR – the kind that actually makes me angry about people who claim to work in the same space as me. It’s lazy, it’s unprofessional and, if it’s anything like the way this company goes about conducting PR activities for its clients, it’s not a great testimonial for the firm.

Why Paying Bloggers For Posts Changes The Game

There’s been a lot of debate back and forth around bloggers (generally mommy bloggers, although they’re certainly not the only ones) receiving direct payment for posts over the last little while. The latest post to catch my eye was a controversial piece over at Mom Blog Magazine entitled Why PR People Get Paid And You Don’t.

I’ve shied away from this topic in the past, but after some interesting conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks I’m ready to weigh in.

A quick note up-front: I’ve been writing here for six years now. Over that time I’ve built this site up from a static site, that I coded by hand in Notepad, to a blog with 40,000 views each month.

While I’ve never accepted monetary payment for posting, I generally get several requests to incorporate ads each week. I get the attraction – it’s a lot of work to maintain a blog – and I don’t begrudge anyone from monetizing their site.

With that out of the way, on to the crux of the matter…

To put it simply, bloggers accepting (or demanding) payment for posts changes the game for them in several ways:

  • You shift from earned to paid media
  • You shift from content creator to service provider
  • You need to compete for budget

Let me explain further…

You shift from earned to paid media

If we break online communications into different spheres – owned, paid, earned and social media – PR has traditionally played in the “earned media” space. When PR people pitch a journalist on a story, we’re trying to “earn” that coverage.

Earned media brings with it lots of advantages. It’s highly credible, it’s long-term (it lives on) and it increasingly plays a role in product sales. On the flip side, though, earned media is near-impossible to control – in terms of quantity of coverage, of tone of the journalist/blogger’s coverage or of the content of the coverage. However, the benefits have traditionally outweighed the risks (hence PR people have jobs).

To journalists/bloggers, that means that when a PR person approaches them, they have control of how they react to the ask. They can turn it down entirely and write nothing, or they can write a positive, neutral or even negative piece if they so choose. That’s fine, because they’re producing editorial content. PR people accept that risk when they pitch.

When money exchanges hands, the situation changes. Suddenly you’re no longer playing in the “earned media” space. Now you’re in the “paid media” space. That changes the expectations. If brands pay for placement, they have different expectations to when they just pitch for coverage. Not only do they expect the post to appear, but they also have different expectations around control of content.

Update: Paid media also suffers from a draw-back of being less trusted than earned coverage. (thanks to Jen Zingsheim for noting this in the comments)

It’s not a black-and-white situation in reality – mainstream media is now adopting more of a pay-for-play model – however, brands do get control over key messages within those stories.

Simply put: you earn coverage; you pay for ads. You can’t have things both ways. If you accept payment, expect different conditions.

Your role in the situation changes

The earned/paid distinction also plays into the second of the key factors in this debate.

On the earned media side, the PR person is looking for a win-win situation – they’re looking to win through favourable coverage; meanwhile they’re looking to provide value to the blogger through content opportunities that fit their needs (so they’ll publish not just this time but also down the road).

Once we’re dealing in the paid media space, the situation changes. Suddenly, you’re not just the recipient of a pitch, who gets to decide what to do. You’re a person who wants payment to provide a service. That means you need to demonstrate value to the party that’s looking to purchase that service.

This means a shift in roles. The PR person becomes a client, just as someone buying ad space is a client of the publication selling the ads. Meanwhile, you (now as a service provider) have more of an obligation around quality.

This leads into the last key factor here…

You need to compete for budget

When companies allocate marketing budgets to PR, advertising, interactive and social programs, they make a decision on how to allocate those resources to get the best results.

When PR agencies come up with their plans, they consider how to get the best results for the budget they have. Sometimes that will incorporate a blogger outreach program. They make the decision that this is the best use of their budget.

When bloggers require payment in order to write a post, they add another decision point in the budgeting process. That isn’t, by itself, an issue. However, the result is that the blogger then finds themselves competing against other options for budget.

That’s right – you’re competing for budget. That competition means:

  • You need to demonstrate your value, and “well you want my coverage so I’m valuable” isn’t an appropriate response.
  • Your asking price needs to be based in reality – on the value you can provide. How can you demonstrate your influence? Again, on the earned side the PR pro needs to do that research to satisfy the client; once you become paid media the onus is also on you.
  • You’re up against paid media with established CPM and/or CPC figures, with stated audiences and at least a ball-park number of impressions an advertiser can expect.

Again, is this bad? No. The reality, though, is that when you ask for money for your service, that needs to come at the expense of something else. Your value is therefore going to get compared to other investments. This can be a tough dose of reality for some bloggers, especially those with small audiences, who are used to getting the VIP treatment from brands.

Payment changes the situation

The bottom line here is that, when you ask for payment in order to write a post, the situation changes. You’re no longer just a blogger/journalist from whom a company is seeking earned coverage. You’re  a media property from whom they’re buying coverage.

Bloggers who decide to go this route need to understand that this is the situation. There’s nothing wrong with seeking to monetize your site, but if you’re not ready to deal with this reality then you could be in for a cold, harsh wake-up call.

There are plenty of different sides to this, of course. What do you think?

Public Relations People And Bloggers Can Work Together

Blogger relations is not a win/lose tacticMarketing Vox featured a thought-provoking post yesterday entitled “PR Blackout Challenges Mom Bloggers to Return to Basics.” To boil the post down, it summarizes a call by mommy blogger community MomDot for a PR blackout this August. As they put it:

“…our site, and many others, are inundated with hundreds, if not thousands, of product requests each year resulting in massive obligations and deadline stress equivalent to what the General Motors CEO must feel every time he drives into work.”

I reacted fairly strongly to the post. Not because I disagree with the idea of a week without PR-pitched products, but because it appears the situation for some people has deteriorated to the point where this kind of statement is necessary. Blogger relations shouldn’t be a win/lose game.

While the post does make a point of highlighting the work done by those at the other end of the public relations scale – those who do their jobs properly – the impact of the others is worrying, and once again casts a shadow over all of us.

Two aspects to this make me uncomfortable:

Public relations people shouldn’t pressure bloggers

I’ve written plenty of times about my thoughts on how to – and how not to – go about approaching bloggers. While my thoughts have evolved over time, one thing remains consistent: public relations people need to look beyond their own objectives and consider the other side. As I wrote to Stefania Butler in a Twitter conversation about the post (which you can check out here), good PR people should marry both sides of the equation by matching the vested interest of the client with the needs and wants of the recipients of pitches.

How do you do that? You build relationships. You don’t do it by spamming people. You certainly don’t do it by creating obligations and pressure for people who may be doing this for a hobby.

A few pointers for PR people:

  • Build relationships with the key bloggers you’re looking to reach (I agree with Beth Blecherman on this one)
  • Don’t spam people. With the first point in mind, find a balance between volume and customization.
  • Aim to help bloggers, rather than use them. This doesn’t mean fogetting your client’s objectives; it means finding a balance between the two.

Bloggers have a choice

Unless you make an income from your blog’s traffic (which I have nothing against) or post on a group blog on a schedule with others, there’s little to force you to adhere to others’ timelines (there are likely other cases too). These are valid pressures, but I highly doubt they cover the majority of mom bloggers. In most cases, bloggers can choose whether to write about public relations pitches or not. What’s more, they have control of the deadlines they write under.

With the exception of the cases above, you should feel free to publish under your own deadlines. If something comes up, or you don’t have time, or you just feel like taking a day off writing, then don’t post that day. The idea that bloggers are under “massive obligations” indicates a situation that requires fixing, and while we can (and I will) advocate against bad PR practices, bloggers have to take some of the initiative themselves to avoid putting themselves under this kind of pressure.

So, to mommy bloggers, I offer the following advice (and pleas):

  • If a PR person who pitches you pressures you, or does anything other than work with you, let them know you’re not comfortable with it. If they don’t, hit “delete.” If they continue, hit “spam.”
  • If you are putting yourself under pressure, ask yourself if it is necessary. What can you do to reduce it?
  • Remember: We’re not all like the bad apples.
  • Without doing anything onerous (because the onus should be on communicators to do their research), consider creating pitching tips or, as Butler has done via her blog categories, collect posts you’ve written relating to outreach together.

I’m not just a PR guy – I’m also a blogger. I receive plenty of bad pitches too. The fault usually falls on the side of the person pitching, and they need to get their act together. Still, if you feel pressured by PR people, there are things you can do too, if you choose to. The alternative is resorting to negative pressure – the same approach that upset you in the first place.

What do you think? I’ve had some fascinating conversations on Twitter about this, but I’d love to hear from people on both sides of the fence on this one.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Update: CNET has a slightly different take on this issue here.

The Volume/Personalization Trade-Off

The trade-off between volume and personalization is an ever-present dilemma in public relations. If, as I do, you subscribe to the notion that one of the best ways to build loyalty is to develop a relationship with people, then you’ve likely hit the point where you have to make a trade-off between the number of people you can engage with and the quality of those interactions.

A couple of weeks ago I received a pitch about the upcoming launch of Gary Vaynerchuk‘s first book. The pitch wasn’t fantastic, but as I’ve followed Gary’s activities for a while and it was well enough targeted, I replied and moved on. Fast forward to this weekend, when I read an interesting post by John Cass about a similar (not identical) pitch that he received. Reading the comments (those on the original post and the re-post on Social Media Today are all worth reading), I started to really think about the optimum point along the scale/personalization continuum when it comes to pitching.

Volume/personalization extremes

Purists will tell you that you need to read 10-20 posts or stories from each person you pitch, and that you should completely tailor every pitch you issue. Meanwhile, some other people will argue that by reaching a large volume of people with your pitch, the law of averages says you will connect with enough people who do care that you will come out ahead.

I’d argue that there are downsides to both extreme, although I still favour one side over the other.

I’ve written before about some of the issues involved with personalized blogger relations. The primary one, of course, is time. Even if you take just a minute or two per post you read, that time adds up quickly. To then tailor personalized emails takes more time. When you work for an agency, the process can quickly chew through your client’s budget.

Once you get to the kind of numbers that Gary mentions in his comments on John’s post, you’re talking astronomical amounts of time. That limits this approach to a very small number of recipients.

This brings us to the other extreme – mass communications. This is the approach that relies on building a large list, emailing out a standard (or mail-merged) email to that list and letting the law of averages do its work. Sure, you may annoy some people but you’ll also hit other people who will take the action you’re after. This is the “email marketing” form of pitching – the collision of the two tactics.

Is the sweet spot in the middle ground?

In an ideal world, every company would take the former approach. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that wonderful place – time is tight, budgets are tighter and we need to deliver results for our clients and bosses with less resources than we would like to have.

I wonder if the ideal solution, as with so many dilemmas, is somewhere in the middle.

The chart above shows roughly how I view the dilemma. At the top-left of the curve, you have the idealists who say you should completely tailor every word of every pitch you send out. Small, highly-targeted outreach also fits into this part of the curve. At the opposite end of the chart, you have the spammers who pitch massive numbers of people with the same message. They’re easy to spot – they’re the ones where you’re bcc’d, with no salutation or a “Dear Blogger.” They often lead with the words “For Immediate Release.”

I’ve worked for clients where their only targets are one or two highly influential blogs, and in that case you can function over  at the top-left of the curve. However, unless your target audience is an extremely small number of sites (or their readers), you may need to make some compromises.

Still, I am strongly (and often vocally) against untargeted spam pitches that hit everyone with the same email. Note that the potential “sweet spot” I suggest sits closer to the tailored, low-volume end of the scale than the other. Critically, it sits above the tipping point where the volume reaches the point where significantly less personalization is possible.

The reality of the “sweet spot”

In this sweet spot, for a new client:

  • You research the targets of your pitches – you read their stories or their websites;
  • You create a pitch template covering the key points you wish to communicate;
  • You tailor that template for every person you pitch;
    • That personalization includes, but isn’t limited to:
      • The medium you use to pitch them (if that information is available)
      • Your greeting
      • Your opening paragraph
      • The points on which you choose to focus
      • The supporting collateral you offer – do they lean towards video? Images? Interviews?
  • You keep some less-critical parts of the email the same, to save time and budget.

Time changes things

I say “for a new client” above because, as time goes on, I believe the line in the chart moves up – as you get to know the market and the media in that market better, you can reach more of them more effectively in less time, meaning more personalization, less time required and better use of resources.

Having worked on some accounts for a while now, I can reel-off the names of key journalists, how they like to be contacted, when the best times are to reach them and the types of information they like, without even needing notes. That makes the pitching process more cost-effective as time goes on – meaning the line in the chart has moved way up the Y axis.

Your thoughts?

I’m curious as to your thoughts. Does this click with the challenges you face?

Let me know what you think – I’d love to hear your feedback.

Rethinking “Influencers”

RipplesWho are the influencers in your market? Are they the top-of-mind attention grabbers, are they the lower-profile up-and-comers, or are they the long tail, the people with relatively few readers but who make up a good chunk of pages 2+ in Google’s search results and who, in time, could develop a sizeable following?

I ask because I’ve had a couple of conversations recently that have made me reconsider who I look at as “influencers” in client markets recently.

What’s an “influencer?”

I’ve always defined “influencers” quite narrowly. I’ve thought of them as the people who, when they speak on their key topic, make others sit up and take notice. I tend to define that group narrowly based on criteria like engagement, traffic, on-topic posts and so on.

I’ve started to wonder if I’m defining that group too narrowly. What about the people who have built up communities around their brand – people who are engaged in whatever that person writes about (for example Brogan who, despite his modesty, gets a lot of outreach because his voice online is LOUD)? What about the people who don’t have a large readership or engaged community yet, but who are starting out and may develop that in future? Do you consider them influencers in your market or not?

Finite resources

One concern with defining a list of influencers too widely is that your resources are finite. You can define a core group of 20 or 200 influencers, but as the group grows, so the attention you can devote to each one diminishes.

If you define your group too narrowly you risk getting lost in the ever increasing noise out there. If, however, you define it too broadly then you become incapable of building the relationships you need with those people. Where’s the line?

If you think strategically, the answer to those questions depends on your objectives. Your goals for your communications, and the measurements you use to define success, will affect how you define your audiences and, through that, your “influencers.” If your objectives change, so may your approach to defining that group.

Despite those in social media who may say otherwise, when you get back to basics it’s a numbers game – your client needs to generate a profit. You need to meet your targets, whatever they are. How you reach those numbers can differ – though relationships with a few key influencers or a network of quieter voices. Still, the numbers never go away.

What do you think? Have you tended to lean one way or the other on this spectrum? How have you approached this in the past?

Image credit: Oranje

My Top Twelve Posts Of 2008

My life, and my career in particular, is drastically different now compared to this time last year. If numerous comments from other people are anything to go by, this site and the posts I write are very different now too.

Looking back over all 220+ posts I’ve written this year, you really can see my life reflected my posts.

So, here’s a quick look back at my 2008 via my favourite posts from each month in the year. These aren’t necessarily the most commented-on posts (I’ve listed those too); these are the ones that I like and which reflect what was going-on at each time.

January – How to use Twitter Packs – and Twitter – Successfully

Twitter played a huge role in my social media activity in 2008. In January, Chris Brogan created a new site to help new users find their feet on the service.

“The idea behind Twitter Packs is simple – create lists of people with shared interests, geography, etc, so that new users can find a few good people to follow and help them get up to speed on Twitter. Chris decided to use a wiki to let the community contribute to the lists.

Great idea in my book.”

Most commented post this month: 42 Top Social Media Tips and Tools

February – Using Social Media To Support Cancer Research 

On February 21, the day before PodCamp Toronto 2008, I announced an effort to use social media tools to raise money for cancer research as I ran the 2008 Boston Marathon. In two months, we raised $2,400. This was one of my proudest – and most satisfying – achievements for 2008.

Most commented post this month: I’m Done with Social Media

March – Enough with Blogger Strategies!

“Social media is about more than blogging or blogger relations. These are two great tactics, but just as with any other communications project you should take a look at the situation and pick the appropriate tools.”

My frustration with social media buzz-words led me to flesh-out and articulate my ideas around a sound ‘baby steps’ approach to the area.

Most commented post this month: Scoble’s Dead Wrong about Twitter

April – Five Tools To Base Your Online Life Around

Throughout 2008 I struggled with finding a social media/life balance. Later in the year I started to find a comfortable middle ground; these five tools largely continue to form the foundation of my online presence:

Most commented post this month: 6 Ways to Make Your Life Easier With Delicious

May – How To Write A Good Communications Plan – Part 1 – An Overview

My first post in May 2008 kicked-off a series of posts on how to write a good communications plan. Later in the summer, I edited and compiled these into a free ebook on strategic communications planning.

This post is still consistently among the most-viewed pages on this site.

Most commented post this month: Same as above. Next-most commented: Why Apple Doesn’t Need Social Media

June – It’s Time to Grow

June marked a turning point in my year, as I made the decision to accept a position at Thornley Fallis and end my time working for the Ontario government. In hindsight, I still have no regrets – I greatly enjoyed my time in the public service but the last few months have been among the most satisfying, rewarding and fun of my career so far.

Most commented post this month: Same as above. Next-most commented: How To Set Up A Simple Online Monitoring System

July – Molson Gives A Crash Course In Relationship-Building

In the summer of 2008 I attended a (award-winning) blogger relations event held by Molson, which started a chain of events leading to a bit of an online storm around blogger relations. I was always amused that no-one who was actually involved in the event (as an attendee or an organizer) had anything bad to say about it; all of the criticism was based on second or third-hand accounts of events. The controversy continues to this day.

This continues to be a useful reminder that it’s all to easy to jump to conclusions when you don’t have the full picture.

Most commented post this month: Same as above. Next-most commented: 13 Tips From My First Year of Blogging

August – PR Does Not Equal Publicity

PR-bashing was a popular theme throughout 2008. All too often, the bashing revealed a complete lack of understanding of what public relations entails. Many people seem to view public relations professionals as little more than publicists. As I wrote in this response to yet another anti-PR rant:

“What about issues management and crisis communications? What about event planning? What about internal communications? What about building relationships between an organization and its publics?

Perhaps part of this common misperception is due to the fact that a lot of public relations happens behind the scenes. You never (or rarely) see the planning behind the issues management process. You don’t see the detailed logistical work needed to pull off a good conference or media event. You rarely see internal communications materials.”

Most commented post this month: Strategic Communications Planning – A Free eBook

September – Anatomy of a Bad Pitch

Towards the end of the year, I found myself thinking more and more about blogger relations. As my blog became more popular, I found myself on the receiving end of increasing numbers of pitches. Meanwhile, I found myself being asked to give input on a number of blogger relations efforts as part of my day job.

In September I received a particularly bad pitch. Rather than just deleting it, I decided to dissect it and offer my feedback on a better approach in the above post.

Most commented post this month: Are Twitter Conversations Dying?

October – Social Media Outreach Won’t Work for Everyone

As my thinking around social media applications for businesses continued to evolve throughout the year, I began to realize more and more that these tools really don’t apply to everyone in the same way.

Some businesses just aren’t yet ready to reach out to their customers online. Some need to take it slower, and begin by listening rather than talking.

Most commented post this month: Twitter As A Hyper-Local Emergency Information Tool?

November – What If People Say Bad Things About You?

Short and simple, this post captures something that can be difficult to communicate to organizations that are wary of involvement in social media, and which I had to explain several times towards the end of 2008.

“”What’s your response to the people who say, “you’re telling us we should get involved in social media, but what if people start to say bad things about us?”

My response to this (any real-time screw-ups aside):

“They already are; you just can’t hear them.””

Most commented post this month: Top 10 Most Irritating Phrases in PR

December – Social Media Isn’t Anti-Social

The more I become embedded in the social media community around Toronto (and wider), the more I find that social media is adding to my social like, not detracting from it. This post was my response to someone who suggested to me that social media is anti-social. Let’s just say I didn’t agree.

Most commented post this month: 5 Lessons About Self-Promotion In Social Media