About a week or two after you start a blawg, you start receiving emails from public relations people. They announce important things, like the law firm of Smith & Smith has finally gotten a retained case, or just purchased a new scanner, and ask you to write about it because they are sure that your readers will be fascinated. You delete the emails, but the PR people just keep sending them, often the same ones with a note attached that they didn’t see your post on this critical news to the legal community and you’re not doing your job.
There are plenty of permutations on this theme, from announcing the new movie on William Kunstler (but no offer to provide a copy for review) to a symposium on the fertile octogenarian rule (but no offer to attend). What they want is simple: Promote their stuff. They get paid by somebody to try to interest you in whatever they’re selling. There’s nothing in it for you, but that’s what they do for a living.
It’s been interesting to follow the efforts of the PR gang in attempting to coax me into becoming a cog in their marketing wheel. I marvel at the chutzpah, that my purpose (as far as they’re concerned) is to be their free advertiser. What I neglected to give sufficient consideration to is how they feel about the subject. Two posts from publicists have changed all that, and I now correct my misguided understanding.
At Social Media Explorer, Jason Falls posts about What Bloggers Should Know About PR and Advertising.
I was dumbfounded when I read a recent New York Times article about mommy bloggers that indicated a conference session topic at an event called Bloggy Bootcamp was how to let public relations firms know you don’t work for free. A few months ago, I reached out to a prominent mommy blogger on Twitter to let her know that I had a client whose products she might be interested in – not a pitch, just a light toss that indicated I may pitch her down the road. She responded by saying, “I’ll be happy to work with your client. My fee is $125 per hour.” I was stunned.
It seems that some bloggers (not just the mommy kind) have a vast misunderstanding of what public relations professionals are supposed to do or be used for. It also seems that some think receiving a pitch for a product somehow entitles them to call themselves consultants and charge hourly rates to someone else for writing content for their own website. Far be it from me to criticize a blogger’s ability to make money, but these attitudes deeply concern me. While the media landscape is evolving to account for new media roles, blogger ignorance to how traditional communications and marketing works may forever ruin the notion of an unbiased media.
He goes on to acknowledge that bloggers are under “no obligation” to go along with their pitches (very kind of him to say so), but they are obliged to treat public relations people like the “professionals” they are. After all, what possible reason would a blogger, receiving an unsolicited pitch from an unknown flak seeking to get some free publicity for their paying client on some nonsense issue have in not owing the flak a duty of being nice to them? Bloggers. What a bunch of dolts.
And then we have Tamar Weinberg at Techipedia who has graciously provided a Miss Manners-type resource for blogger etiquette. No, Tamar is not a blogger, but a public relations person who, no doubt as a public service, created rules for bloggers to be nicer to public relations people. She explains the purpose of her rules, oh the pain of being a professional PR person forced to deal with those evil, nasty bloggers.
What if you were involved in the task of blogger outreach? Let’s say you worked with a client to give away a freebie to readers of specific blogs. The client approves the pitch, which you targeted to the blogger, and you send it off to the chosen bloggers.Tamar is so right. I never thought about it that way. They’re just trying to make a living, pitching their client’s promotional stories just in case we’ve got nothing else to write about. Is that so bad? Why do we take offense at their efforts to turn our blog into their promotion machine?
Now let’s assume one of the bloggers responds with, “I have read your email carefully and it would appear that you have omitted the part where you request my advertising rate card.”
(Yes, forget about organic promotion. The money is where it’s at for some bloggers, and story tips or ideas are unwanted. I bet you’d wonder what the FTC would say, especially given that this particular blogger has a disclaimer stating that they will never post sponsored or content where money exchanges hands.)
Instead, you decide to clarify your specific role in this initiative. You say, “this is merely a story idea as there’s no advertising budget. Would you like to run with the story?”
The blogger responds with something that goes along the lines of, “they could pay you to email me, maybe they should pay me to blog about it.”
They then write two nasty tweets about a poor approach that they likely thought you never saw.
Seriously, they are right to some extent. Blog and you’re going to get pitched, for stories, products, whatever. To the extent you have readers, other people want to get their message before them, and that’s how they roll. If you’re not interested, there’s always the delete button. The PR people know that it’s a shot in the dark that you’re going to take them up on their offer, and that’s the nature of their job.
But this, like most things, is a two-way street. When some PR firm decides to target you, it may well result in a dozen emails a day for things that hold no interest whatsoever. And the emails inform you that you are receiving them because you requested them, shifting the burden to you to “unsubscribe”. A wee bit disingenuous? Then there are the ones that want you to promote a product or the movie, but don’t want to let you use the product or see the movie. A wee bit disingenuous?
Then there are the overly aggressive flaks, who email over and over because “you didn’t respond to my last email,” until you get the email telling you what a jerk you are for not showing them the respect of responding.
The problem with PR people demanding respect in return is that nobody asked for them in the first place. They assume, as one would expect from a job (no, it’s not a profession) demanding thick skin and facile rationales, that they are doing the blogger a favor. As both Tamar and Jason argue, bloggers are going to need them one day. Don’t be too sure of that. You may be giving yourselves way too much credit. Somehow, I suspect I’ll manage just fine without you. When you show up unwanted and unneeded, you really don’t get to demand much of anything.
Bloggers don’t really expect you to pay them to promote your wares. Jason said he was “stunned” by the mommy blogger. He apparently stuns easily. Rather, bloggers are trying to make it clear that they are not your freebie promoters, and they are not interested in being your freebie promoters. It’s not that they might be against the idea of making a little pocket change on their blogs, and yes, we are all aware of the FTC rules and are happy to comply (do you really think nobody knows anything about anything except you?), but we similarly know that you’re trolling for free publicity. For somebody who thinks they are a “professional” in sending messages, you’re not very good at receiving them.
I’m just trying to be friendly and helpful, in a Miss Manners type of way.