I interact with a lot of different bloggers, ranging from the “A-listers” (yes, you exist, and it’s okay, just stop denying it) to others barely out of the gates with their own blogs. While it seems quite common to hear complaints about how PR firms should treat bloggers, I think bloggers could use a little advice as well on how to work within the marketing and communications industry.
This list is a second part to another one I wrote, aimed at PR People: 10 Thoughts on Improving Blogger Relations.
Incidentally, while some seem to loathe the term blogosphere, I like it. Maybe it’s something that’ll fade away down the road, but for now, it’s here, and I use it pretty liberally. Sorry ’bout that.
- Respect the efforts. This is probably the most important point I’d like to make: like it or not, we are right now in the midst of a huge amount of flux in the marketing and journalism worlds. The rules are changing, and changing fast. Sure we can all want every PR firm on the planet to instantly adapt to the blogosphere and they should all “just get it” but that’s simply unrealistic, and more to the point, it’s unfair. If someone from a PR firm approaches you and is clearly making an effort to reach out to you as an individual blogger, give them a little respect for that. Want to make a change or improve their relations, well, give them feedback. You’d be surprised how far it might go.
- Keep your ego in check. I read a lot of bloggers who want to be treated “extra special” all the time because of who they are or how big their readership is. As much as I urge my clients to learn about and reach out to the blogosphere, I also give caution on understanding exactly how big the readership is. Only the top-tier bloggers have audiences that truly warrant extra-special treatment. Don’t act like some bigshot just because you have a few thousand readers a day, it just makes you look like you’ll take extra work to manage. And from the other side of the business, when a PR firm has to pick and choose who they want to spend their time and resources managing, it’s going to be the “best bang for the buck” people, not the “pains in the rears” who can’t justify the efforts.
- PR people are human too. PR teams typically work long hours. When big planned news hits, they may have worked around the clock to get it out on message and on time. When big unplanned news hits, their lives are in chaos. Trade shows? Fuhgedaboutit. It’s not an excuse for rude or bad behavior on their part (which is unexcusable in my book), but remember that the person you are dealing with might be juggling literally dozens of conversations on an issue and might just mix up a detail here or there, or might forget to return your email within an hour. Save the ‘tude for when you are on a real deadline – it’ll get you a lot further. The more mindful you are of what’s going on in their world, the better a job you’ll do at becoming a trusted resource in their eyes.
- Learn the rules, and play by them. If a firm’s policy is to give review units for only 30 days, then expect the products back, it is up to you to mark your calendar. They aren’t babysitters. Ask for permission before posting emails, don’t assume you can just do whatever you want. Blogging is not a license to do whatever you want in life – you can certainly request special/different treatment, but you must accept that you aren’t going to get absolutely everything you ask for! While on the subject, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for you to start reading the occasional press release – it’s not the perfect form of communications, but you’ll sound a lot smarter if you avoid asking questions answered clearly within the release!
- Respect embargos. I can’t stress this one well enough, so I’ll keep it short and simple: you can either become known as a trustable outlet, or not. Whichever one makes more sense to you, go for it, and don’t be surprised at the ramifications (either way).
- Be mindful of long-term relationships. PR people are used to building relationships with journalists they work with. They understand who covers which kinds of stories. They know who is more likely to be accomodating of quirky products. They also tend to have long memories and share with each other. Obviously you can treat these relationships however you want, but the more you invest into it, the better you’ll get treated in the long term.
- Position your blog well. Are you trying to be a “first scoop” site? You want to have in-depth reviews? Cover all the news of a particular niche? Whatever you like to do with your blog is your prerogative, now make sure you position those goals clearly to the PR firms that approach you. If you rarely/never write reviews, don’t be afraid to tell a firm you’d rather get the scoop than the product. Easy hint here: make sure your about page talks through this!
- Create stories and pitch them. Once you’ve created some relationships with PR teams, it’s okay to reach out to them. For example, maybe you want to compare two MP3 players – tell your PR contacts what you are planning to write about, when it’s going live, and what aspects of the products you want to compare. This is actually a great method of furthering your relationships with PR firms, as it makes you a lot more interesting in their eyes (being “another gadget site that shows the latest in gadget news” is a lot less interesting these days).
- Be mindful of being negative. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you are new or an “up-and-coming” blogger, be very thoughtful before you go on some rampage. If you tear apart some product or service, don’t expect them to reach out to you in the future. It’s not to say you can’t be honest or critical, but be aware of what you are writing, and make sure it’s something you can stand behind in the long term. Nobody wants you to say you loved a product you really didn’t like, but you can most certainly use your discretion before writing a post on “it’s the single worst gadget ever made, they should order a recall, dismantly every one by hand, then throw them into an acid pit to ensure nobody ever rebuilds the device the same way ever again”. You may want to consider notifying your PR contact that you had a bad experience or generally didn’t like a product before you go live, and constructive feedback is typically welcomed.
- Set expectations. If you’ve begged and pleaded with a company to get a review unit, then take 180 days to write a review, you probably aren’t going to reap those rewards. When a company offers to send me something to test out, I try (yes, try, because I’m not perfect either!) to let them know when I think a review will go live. The better a job you do at managing expectations, the better they’ll think of you for future news items.
As a comment here, don’t forget that many of us (not all, I know) may have full-time jobs, and blogging is just something we “felt like doing” one day. Maybe it’ll become a career for you, maybe you’ll give it up next week. Expecting the entire PR/marketing industry to make a complete overhaul to their world in the span of a year or two to accomodate us isn’t exactly fair. Change is afoot, and happening all around us right now, but don’t forget that it takes time. My personal belief is I’d rather try to change the system from within than sit on the side and yell and scream about how stupid everyone else is…
To me, part of what’s so exciting about blogging is the reflection of the individual. While I’ve clearly outlined some recommendations above on how to better interact with PR staff, I hope you understand this is about maximizing your potential as a blogger. I’ve worked in marketing departments before and have personally engaged in blogger outreach and I can say this: it ain’t easy stuff.