This is Part Two of the TGATP series on PR and Blogger relations.
There has been a lot of talk about Bloggers on the online PR forum that I am a very active member of. Unfortunately, most of it has been negative. While I have been avidly defending the members of my profession, there have been some valid complaints and there is loads of room for improvement. Since I also rep a couple brands now and often get asked by newbie Bloggers how to run their blogs, I look at Life from both sides now. So here are some tips:
1. If you can’t write, either take classes and learn or stop claiming to be a Blogger.
One of the reasons that Bloggers are so disdained by PR is that there are so many, who can’t write, yet expect to be treated like top journalists. I am sick to death of every Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice claiming to be a review Blogger! The point of blogging is to provide information through reviews, stories, interviews and/or opinions to readers. The mode of communicating said information is, at least here in the States, standard English. It is a complete disgrace that many Bloggers, who expect to be VIPs at media events, write like English is their fifth language. It’s the equivalent of an orderly thinking he can perform open heart surgery!
If you are going to take the products and attend the events, at least take the time to educate yourself on the subject. And please, at the very least, know the difference between “it’s” and “its”! Again, this is a BUSINESS and PR people have to provide links to their clients. If you write an illegible unintelligent post, it is unusable.
2. Know your actual category and level of expertise.
Another common complaint from PR people is Bloggers, who claim to cover categories they know nothing about. Once I decided to switch from a society page to an online magazine, I always covered lifestyle. But in recent years, every NY Blogger has decided to call herself a “lifestyle” editor just to get the products. People with Beauty blogs are demanding to be invited to tech events and Fashion Bloggers are showing up at movie screenings! For example, there is one Fashion “Blogger” (and I use that term very lightly as she falls into “the can’t string a sentence together” category), who has now started showing up at tech events and movie screenings. Her recent coverage of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was completely illegible and made no sense. In addition, I doubt she can knowledgeably discuss film theory. If you cannot speak authoritatively on a category, you need to stop claiming to cover that topic.
Or, if you really want to cover something new, educate yourself on the topic. Read other writers in that space. While PR people may be daft enough to keep inviting this sort to their events, it is a discredit to the clients, the readers, and real Bloggers in the category.
3. Establish yourself as a business from the start.
When I started That Girl At The Party five years ago, it was simply the chronicle of my social Life. But a year in, I quit drinking. Thus, it became verrrrryyyy boring to photograph drunk people at four or five events a night. Then, I was given an HTC phone at an event and I decided to do a product review. After that, the floodgates opened and I was being asked to review all manner of products. I realized that this was what I had always wanted – my own lifestyle magazine – and it had happened organically!
But four years later, there are hundreds of sites in NY alone, who are trying to do the same thing as That Girl At The Party did back then. While imitation is the highest form of flattery, it also means it’s time to pivot. And fortunately, I have always had a plan to do so.
Thus, I advise that you have something that sets you apart. Rather than just walk around gift bag foraging, use your blog, as a springboard, to your actual expertise. I have four businesses that have come from owning the site, which I am starting to roll out this winter. And while I am on the topic of gift bags foraging, I am led to tip number 4.
4. Stop making the acquisition of free product your primary reason for having a blog.
When I started That Girl At The Party, it was because I had been writing all my Life and there was an exciting new platform for me to tell and share my own stories. I had zero idea that I would be given things. While it is still a welcome perk, it is not the reason that I blog.
That said, I totally understand how, as a successful Blogger, it is easy to have your head turned by all the swag that gets thrown at you. But this actually becomes a Faustian deal between you and fickle PR people. Your Egoic mind will make you equate your self-worth with whether or not the PR people – who often engage in all sorts of “isms,” – treat you properly. You’ll start to allow other people, in this case PR people and blogging colleagues, to define who you are. (I know this first hand as I recently allowed a particularly horrid PR person to have me sprung over the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which after I reviewed it, turned out to be a hunk of junk anyway!).
Remember there are millions of products in the world. If a PR person or brand doesn’t respect your blog- which is YOUR brand-then simply cover their competitors’ products.
5. Tell the unvarnished truth.
There is an implied expectation of a great review when you are gifted with a pricey item. Constant puff reviews can become boring for your readers and will make them question the authenticity of your voice. And again, with every Blogger covering the same products, how is your blog different? I know what you are thinking – PR people get pissy if you pan their product and will not invite you to their next soiree. But YOUR business needs to be first. Sure, I will probably never be invited to another event by one PR company, because I just gave an accurate thumbs-down to their client’s latest product. But it was one of my most read reviews. Always think of your brand first.
6. Be on your Ps and Qs.
Greed and other crazy behavior is giving Bloggers a bad name. At a recent small store opening, the owner offered free product from her sponsor to the media. I was horrified to watch as people started to clean out her shelves. One woman took up to five bags of the sponsor’s product and then moved on to the other products too! I spied this awful behavior and stated to her that she probably couldn’t take all that product. So she asked the owner and was told to put it back.
In another instance, an exhibitor at a preview gave me a little something extra because we had a previous working relationship. Out of nowhere, a Blogger came running up demanding to know what he had given me. She then demanded she be given one too. When I told her to please just stop, she started hurling abuse at me and the exhibitor!
And a couple weeks ago, one very well-known partycrasher, who finally found someone to allow her to blog for his site, was accosted by security at the Samsung Galaxy Tab S event for stealing multiple gift bags that contained very pricey headphones. She can often be spied showing up at the end of events squirreling around for swag. Honestly, having finally been allowed to call herself a “Blogger,” one would think she would have given up her thieving ways. But no dice.
These are just a few of the headshaking examples of crazy, ill-mannered behavior I have seen from Bloggers over the years. It is embarrassing to witness and it needs to stop. At all times, we should be conducting ourselves with the utmost of dignity and professionalism. And as with any profession in America, this is doubly true for people of color. When we complain that Bloggers are not treated with respect, we have this sort of moronic behavior to thank.
7. Do not tolerate particularly bad behavior from PR people.
It is shocking the sort of discrimination that people will institute in unregulated work environments. The PR business is chockful of the aforementioned “isms”. Overt racism, nepotism, elitism and other discriminatory behavior are rampant. The appalling things I have witnessed and heard about would constitute an easily winnable civil rights lawsuit in other workplaces. But because, we as Bloggers, run our own businesses, we are not protected by anti-discrimination laws. So we have to be vigilant and not allow ourselves to be abused.
Remember the PR person is the BRIDGE to the brand, not the brand itself. While you should not be overly sensitive, you SHOULD report particularly egregious behavior by PR people to the brands they rep or their employer, if they are in-house.
On a number of occasions, I have had to go to a brand’s Heads of PR/Marketing to report a PR company, whose employees racist or snobby behavior was so over-the-top that it could not be tolerated. In a few cases, the PR company actually lost the client, which I will admit to being very happy about. However, this should truly be your last resort. Because often the PR company will forever have a their knickers in a twist about you. And sometimes, the brand folks are just as bad as their PR. So you won’t always win these battles. But you’ll feel a damn sight better for standing up for yourself.
8. Stop waiting for PR and brands to contact you. If you really want to do a story, do your homework and reach out to relevant sources yourself.
I have had numerous bloggers inquire how I covered various things. The answer is one word: outreach. Stop waiting for topics to find you. Go after information just like your print colleagues do. Because we are all going to the same places and being given the same things (especially here in NY) everyone is covering the same products, topics and events. Again, how dull is this for readers? Start thinking about what your own personal tastes and interests are and pursue those areas. Develop your blog like you live your Life – as a unique experience.
9. Can the arrogant sense of entitlement, especially if you just started your blog a minute ago!
The sense of entitlement that I see almost daily from low-level and newbie bloggers astounds me. I have had That Girl At The Party for five years now. From writing over 1000 posts to editing all the photos to networking with brands and PR companies to reviewing products to conducting interviews, I have logged in thousands of hours of work. So yes, I can now demand some respect. But when I first started, I was gracious and thankful to even be invited to events and sent product to cover.
Honestly, I have seen the worst behavior from people, who have the LEAST blogging background. One Blogger, who only started her blog a few months ago, showed up at an event that she was not invited to. She then flipped and claimed she deserved a gift card because she had been tweeting. The same woman had a hissy fit after I told her she had to wait to revisit my plastic surgeon client even though she had just had $1200 worth of free work! And even worse is the whole subspecies of partycrashers turned “Bloggers,” who tend to expect the most. At my recent Fashion Week lounge, a small group of them showed up and went through a case of our champagne!
This is just not acceptable and is an embarrassment to the Blogging profession. Think about how you are representing your profession, as this is giving all Bloggers a bad name.
10. Dress properly.
Again, you are running a business. Cut-off shorts are for the beach or the BBQ not for a product preview, which is basically a business meeting. I have seen all manner of sloppy dressing from Bloggers, who then wonder why they are not taken seriously.
11. Do demand payment for sponsored posts.
One way you can monetize your site are sponsored posts. Not to be confused with pitches, these fully written post need to be paid for. Many PR people in the forum were complaining about about Bloggers getting paid-to-play. But if they are sending you the equivalent of a advertorial from their clients they need to pay you. Make sure to comply with FTC guidelines and signify these posts as sponsored.
12. Keep hip to the latest Blog practices and standards.
This is vital to your business. For example, it is against FTC rules to accept a gift, write about it and not mention you were gifted with the product. These rules were recently made even more stringent to include social media. When discussing gifted products, you now need to use the hashtag “#sponsored” on all tweets and posts to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. In addition, there are always new and exciting developments in our world. Stay abreast of them to stay relevant.
13. Have Fun
When I started That Girl At The Party, I loved blogging and could be in front of my computer working for hours and hours. But over the years, I had let my Joy be usurped by other people. I recently realized this and have now regained the initial excitement I had about blogging. Make sure you do not let haters, mean PR people, or anyone else make you lose sight of why you have a blog. Write for you and your audience. Write to express yourself. Write because you have a vital voice. Write because you can.