The question of properly engaging Bloggers to maximize client exposure seems to still be a puzzle for many PR people, who have demonstrated some glaring misconceptions about Bloggers and how to work with them. As a six-year veteran online magazine publisher, who also reps a handful of brands, I have seen the good, the bad, and the downright fugly from both sides of the coin. So I have decided to do a two-part series on this subject as the next posts for the new TGATP Business School category. First up, how publicists can properly engage the blogging community.
There are three major things that publicists are doing wrong in properly engaging bloggers. Here are both the issues and the solutions.
ISSUE #1: You are not clear on who is and who isn’t legit.
SOLUTION: I get it. There are tons of illegitimate supposed Bloggers, especially here in New York. But they are easily weeded out, if you just do a teensy bit of homework. Check the blog not only for whether it exists or not, but for other key things. Has it been up for awhile? Or does it seem like it was just thrown up to get product, which is a popular current phenomenon? Can the person actually write or does it read like English is their fifth language?
I started my site 5 years ago, without knowing people would give me stuff. I started because I loved to write and was thrilled I could have my own magazine. But now tons of folks have, what I call “gimme blogs“. These people were never writers or interested in blogging, they just know you will give them stuff. And sure, I like stuff too. Who, other than the Dalai Lama, doesn’t? But it was never been the primary goal of That Girl At The Party to spend the day gift bag foraging. And it is very annoying when PR people are too lazy or too wrapped in “isms” – more on that later – to make the distinction between professionals and the gimme ilk then lump all Bloggers into the later category. Or worse still, as occured at the recent Nina Shoe event, are the PR people, who get it totally wrong and treat individuals that can actually help their brands like second-class citizens.
Gimme blogs are easy to spot since they are usually less than three years old, the people can’t write (one woman regularly mixes up “it’s” and “its”) and/or they will just throw up some pictures. In addition, gimme bloggers will text throughout your presentation and get in and out quickly, as they are not really interested in reporting on the product. Sure it is hard to report on every product and pitch. But real Bloggers will at least intelligently engage you about your client!
Also, since anyone can post to the Examiner and the Huffington Post, you need to contact those outlets to see whether the supposed blogger is, actually a paid staff member, or John/Joan Q Public. Hell, next you’ll have people claiming they write for Yelp!
You also need to check each blog on your purchased distribution list. I learned this the hard way when a supposed Blogger from Good Housekeeping interviewed and got work from my plastic surgeon client. Problem is, she doesn’t actually blog or make any editorial decisions for Good Housekeeping, she works in the lab! So you even need to re-check those Cision lists! It’s a drag, but I have my interns do it.
Since the purpose of product giveaways is to obtain coverages that will promote the brand to the consumer, check the writing. One mad popular Blogger has a site that on the surface looks decent. But there has always been one glaringly obvious problem – she can’t write. So yes, you can tell your client that they got coverage on her site. But when you need to present it a tear or link it to your client’s site, the writing will be illegible. Her recent coverage of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was so bad, it was nonsensical. Yet, she was gifted with the computer/laptop/ over tons of more qualified writers and influential Bloggers. I don’t hate on her because, hey, she has her hustle. However, for the sake of the clients, it is well past time that publicists stop just filling rooms with a lot of non-writing “Bloggers”. This is useless to the client and to the consumers, who your client is trying to reach, through the blogging community. It is not hard to read a couple of the posts on each blog to see if the blogger is valid and useful. Again, you can hire a smart intern to do this.
In addition, stop overstressing Twitter and Facebook followers. On the forum, one PR woman stated that she “balked at a blog with just 2000 Twitter followers”. However, this was a major mistake on her part and a loss for her clients! 2000 REAL Twitter followers can actually translate to over 100,000 impressions! I recently had a gimme Blogger try to throw in my face that she has more Twitter followers than me. But an examination of her followers revealed that most of them are fake! Anyone can buy a ton of followers. Thus, again, you are missing opportunities for your clients, if you try to discount smaller but real numbers.
ISSUE #2: You are not ultiizing the reach of the blogging community to your brand’s best advantage.
SOLUTION: Once you have established your Blogger list, get to know the Bloggers that are serious business people and work with them to promote your brands. Much of the talk during the back and forth on the forums, was on the issue of whether Bloggers should get paid or not for reviews. But I felt this missed the point. No, publicists should not be paying any old Blogger to review their product or promote their brands. But there are those of us, that are business people, who you should be listening to and collaborating with on promotional ideas to really boost your client’s products. And on those projects, yes, you should be paying us!
Since I have always considered TGATP a business, I am always thinking of ways to do more than a mere blog post for the brands I like. But I have seen multiple opportunities wasted and even seen PR companies lose their clients for not doing the very things I proposed to them…for free!
It is time to stop simply throwing previews and maybe asking for a few tweets. Get creative! In this digital age of instant communication, there is so much more that can be done. Because we are generally rabid consumers with knowledge of all the brands, business minded Bloggers can add fresh ideas to your PR and Marketing strategy. There is a PR woman at my favorite major department store, that I truly admire, because she gets it. She openly courts ideas from me and the online community because she knows that, as Bloggers, we are on the frontlines of web marketing.
Blogs, large and small, offer the most affordable instant PR and advertising you can get for your brands. Start asking more of the business minded Bloggers that take your products to review and gift bags at your events. Most of them would willingly do more for you. For example, I once proposed an ambassador program for my favorite shoe company to their then PR firm. Six months later, they launched it. However, the strategy I offered was not used. I proposed that the Blogger participants could have been utilized in advertising and events to actually boost and promote the brand. Instead, we were simply given a shoe every month and nothing was asked of us. This was a missed opportunity, with no real ROI, for either the brand or the Blogger Ambassadors.
In the past, I have even given people multi-million dollar ideas. While I am not THAT naive now, I WILL still give you some valuable insight and am always open to collaborate with you to promote my favorite brands in innovative ways. Be smart – cultivate ideas from your Blogger contacts.
ISSUE #3: You think Bloggers care about covering your brand.
SOLUTION: Recognize that you are representing a brand, not building your own social network. For some reason, many PR people – especially novices – think that Bloggers care when they try to snub us. But, I can assure you, legitimate online editors do not care whether you allow us to attend your events or cover your brands. We’re very busy! There is simply not enough time in the day to cover all the events and products that the average blogger is pitched. And if I really want to cover something and you are too silly to court that coverage, I will bypass you and either contact the client directly or buy the product. So time to dispel the notion that you are somehow exerting power over media. On the contrary, you are doing a disservice to your client and making yourself look idiotic. While you do not have to be besties with every blogger or editor, you do need to respect our profession and recognize what we can do for your clients.
ISSUE #4: You are trapped by your “isms”.
SOLUTION: And finally, I know everyone hates to talk about the next issue I am about to bring up. Hell, I hate that, in 2014, I still have to. However, it is the big elephant in the room, that is affecting your client’s bottom line, so it needs to be addressed. To properly act in your client’s best interest, you have to throw out all your personal feelings and isms – nepotism, racism, ageism and the like. If I put a dollar in the bank for every blatantly racist or nasty PR experience I have had over the five years of running my site, I would be about $10,000 richer!
This needs to stop. We are both working to promote your client’s brand. PERIOD. We don’t have to love each other, we merely need to co-exist. I have seen it, time and time again, where Bloggers are excluded from events and covering products based on some arbitrary snobbery that has no place in your job as a Publicist. For example, I have one colleague, who is a major writer, who I never see at events that gimme Bloggers of lesser hue are regularly invited to. Her issue – she’s Hispanic!
One very well-known agency is so blatantly racist that at their holiday preview two years ago, journalists of color were left on the sidelines while their White counterparts were greeted, given a pink bag to fill with goodies and then escorted through the room. I watched in horror, as every single woman of color, was left to fend for herself! I ended up having to demand the bag and the product just on principle. Weeks later, I met a high-level young African-American editor, who had attended the same event, and was relaying how badly she had been treated. When I asked her did she receive a bag, she stated that she didn’t know there was one!
From being lied to and told you are “at capacity” for an event that our White, often less qualified, counterparts are granted access to, to being denied product at an event, to being otherwise racistly abused, every writer of color, both Blogger and print, has tons of these stories. The victims of your isms know all the exclusionary buzzwords “at capacity”, “long lead only”, “closed event”, etc. that are equivalent to the “Whites Only” signs that hung over Southern establishments in our not so distant history!
In our rapidly changing global economy, making decisions based on your “isms” is a disservice to both yourself and your client or employer. Stop doing it! The Blogger you diss today, especially if she is business-minded and a decent writer, may end up being the very journalist that you will be courting for your brands in the near future. Constantly just gifting and inviting your friends cuts off a whole swath of consumers. Again, stop this now. This is business, people, not high school! And making up stories doesn’t work either. Bloggers and Editors talk, so we know when you are lying to us about events, products, gift cards, review units, messengered bags, and the like. So stop, just stop!
When you feel your “isms” getting ready to take over your better Self, remember these words from PR maven Viv Segal “PR fails where there is no integrity.” You owe it to your clients to, at all times with every thing you think, say and do, make integrity the foundation of your PR dealings. Anything less is an epic failure.