To Pitch Or Not To Pitch? Classic Blogger Outreach Difficulties
An interesting blog discussion have arised back home in Sweden. A rising young blog star within the food blogging community posed a couple of very interesting questions and the reactions clearly showed a disparity between two different opinions.
Here’s some of the postings (in Swedish):
- Att ta godis från främlingar (Same Same But Different)
- Vad tycker ni om annonser? (Söta saker)
- Intressant diskussion om PR och bloggar (MW Communication)
- Att betala eller icke betala (Graylingbloggen)
- Det är i bloggosfären den nya annonsmodellen blir tydlig (Tabloism 2.0)
- Om tävlingar i bloggar (Not Your Average PR-Guy)
Today, most bloggers with some sort of an audience gets approached by companies to some extent. The blogger in this case, who gets suggestions on corporate messaging all the time, published a mail conversation between herself and a PR person. For most PR practitioners, this is the ultimate nightmare. The web is so searchable and it never forgets, and having your name out there in such a negative context might ruin a young person’s career. And we have seen this happen ever so often.
What most bloggers don’t know, is that also journalists gets approached with bad pitches all the time. And by that I mean really, really bad and irrelevant pitches. Most of my friends who are journalists can testify to that. Therefore, most journalists quickly learn who to listen to, and who they quickly should ask to sod off. Sometimes they get so tired of lousy pitches, that they might complain about it in some opinion piece in the editorial press, but it often stops there. The problem with bad pitches stays hidden.
Why does some PR practitioners pitch bad stuff? In my experience, this has a lot to do with the fact that publicity driven agencies sometimes recruit young people and then put them in touch with journalists too soon. They are eager to do a good job, they are pressured by the enormous demands on profitability that is part of the everyday life of being a PR consultant. And they are eager to please the client.
Two key success factors often gets forgotten in this setting:
1. Proper training (is often neglected)
2. The audience perspective (is often bypassed)
Instead of creating fewer really strong pitches and devoting time to educate the pitchers – as well as researching thoroughly who might be interested in a specific news item – some agencies rely too heavily on the “spray and pray” tactic;
This is of course a bad tactic, going for quantity instead of quality whilst taking shortcuts when it comes to proper training and research. But in the mass media centric paradigm, the problem has stayed somewhat hidden for the general public, leaving it to be a constant headache for both journalists and untrained young professionals.
How does this translates into the the “new” media landscape? let’s get back to the recent discussion started by the talented food blogger here in Sweden:
Her argument was that being pitched by companies is all well and fine, but as she has become an influential with a readership comparable to a small local newspaper, why isn’t she compensated in a proper manner?
A lot of readers and bloggers who felt the exact same way reacted and praised her raising her voice in this issue. A lot of the more media savvy professionals however, and among them several PR consultants, argued that there’s a difference between bought and earned media and that the specific blogger always is free to say no.
But in this particular case, I’m prepared to argue that the blogger is right.
This has to do with the specific pitch that sparked the discussion. In order to provide a prize for a suggested competition hosted by the blogger, in this case an ice-cream machine, the pitcher ask of the blogger to make sure the competition be visible for two weeks. That’s not PR, that’s advertising. And with such claims, the blogger should be asking for ad revenue.
No PR professionals in their right minds would ask this of a journalist. There are corporate sponsored campaigns in the news media all the time, but not disguised as editorial content. For this, ad space would be used. Maybe an ice-cream machine in itself is a reasonable payment for the ad exposure, but that is always the privilege of the publisher to decide.
In this case, where the blogger has a vast and highly targeted audience, she is in her full right to reply to the “pitch” with her ad specs for the blog.
The key rule here is, that if you’re going for the editorial content, then by no means can you place any demands whatsoever on whether or not the blog should publish something or not. And if they publish, then it’s entirely up to them whether they write positively or negatively about it. If they like the content idea and publish, then you write back to them saying thank you. If they write something negative, then you write back to them saying thank you for the feedback and learn something from that experience. So if your looking for PR publicity in the blogosphere:
- Never tell a blogger how long a story “must” be visible
- Never tell them they “must” publish your logo
- Never impose NDA and embargoes on non-professional bloggers
I’m sure the ice-cream machine will be sent to journalists as well. Either the journalists write about it—or they don’t. That’s the beauty of PR; that’s what makes it so powerful when it works. But all that power comes with a prize, i.e. doing your homework and acquiring the proper training. As far as blog advertising goes, my advice is to leave that sort of stuff up to the media agencies who actually specializes in buying ad space in relevant channels. Or leaving it to excellent specialists on social media advertising such as Tailsweep, who has a very clever model.
If you are in PR and one of your clients produce ice-cream machines, by all means let bloggers arrange competitions amongst their readers. But don’t think for a second that you are in any position to set up any sorts of demands. Instead do your homework and target those bloggers who actually think that giving away an ice-cream machine on their blog actually would be a sweet deal.
Because let me tell you, a top fashion blogger in the world could today get flown and accommodated first class just to attend a specific event. At the event they get front-row seats as well as royal treatment—without any demands on publishing anything from the event whatsoever. The more influential the blogger, the stronger your pitch has to be.
Sure, there are special cases. Say you are working for Apple and you get hold of a couple of Ipad 2 before they hit the market. A lot of journalists and bloggers would be interested in reviewing and trying them out. In theory, you could try to leverage this advantage to make sure those who gets it actually writes something. But on the other hand, then you don’t really have to, right? It’s such a given.
I’m quite sure that the food blogger in this case wouldn’t have turned this into a discussion if specific demands about logo visibility weren’t posed. She would simply have said no – or maybe not? – and that would have been the end to it. She also deserves credit for not disclosing the identity of the pitcher; she could easily have done that, but instead she shifts focus to the more important and bigger picture—how can bloggers and companies find common ground?
Here is a few pointers for PR practioners to take into account moving forward:
1. Learn your craft
Since blogging is maturing rapidly, there aren’t that many senior PR professionals to learn from. But this is no excuse; you have to learn the basics of blogger outreach; in this case that you should never pose any demands whatsoever. You ask the blogger if it’s interesting, and if it is, you simply leave it up to them to move forward—or not.
2. Make up your mind
No-one wants to see the rise of “advertorials” in the blogosphere! Either you go for ad space, or you go for editorial content. Shooting for that dubious in-between space only puts the bloggers and their readers in an awkward position. If you’re in PR, focus on mastering your own craft instead.
3. Respect the process
Educate your clients about blogger outreach. Pitching one blogger is just as time consuming as pitching one journalist. Many companies seem to think that you can get twenty bloggers to publish for the prize of pitching one journalist.
4. Be right, not cheap
Should you pitch journalists or bloggers? This shouldn’t be decided by budget discussions. It should be determined by a) what you have to say, b) who might be interested and c) what your business objectives are. You often hear about small marketing budgets being the reason to shoot for social media publicity, which then in turn results in poor quality and stupid shortcuts when it comes to training and research.
5. Respect bloggers, embrace transparency
Everyone should have a great deal of respect for bloggers—they deserve it. If your pitch is bad, they can easily publish it on their blogs, simply because their readers in general are very interested in how companies approach their favourite bloggers. Be thankful for this, because it brings the hidden problem with bad pitching to the surface. In the long run, it will make our industry better at what we do.
Also read Anatomy of a Good Blogger Pitch E-mail by Public Relations Princess.