Not too long ago, I got an invite to an event being held in New York City from the public relation agency for a brand that a blogger friend of mine was working with. They were promoting a product where her creative content was front and center.
I hated the email. Not because I wasn’t happy for my friend and her success. Not because I wouldn’t have loved to have seen her and support her (though I was out of the country at the time of her event), but because what I received wasn’t an email from my friend letting me know that she would be in town and asking me to come support her event. No. It was an email, from a PR rep, telling me about this new celebrity blogger who was doing this amazing thing in partnership with their brand client. It was impersonal, cold, and arrogant (whether my friend intended to be presented in this way or not). I know several bloggers who also considered themselves this person’s friend and who were her mentors when she was a newbie blogger who did felt hurt and insulted.
I received another email recently from a brand asking me if I wanted to interview another blogger, whom they labeled an “expert travel blogger” and asked if I would feature his travel tips on my site. That one just got a laugh and though I replied nicely that I already knew the person (though not as a travel blogger) and had no questions for him, I immediately deleted while shaking my head in what a bad approach this was.
What is going on?
More and more bloggers are doing great things and establishing partnerships with brands who want to maximize their investment. They hope to do this by pushing for coverage and reaching out to media, (bloggers included because it requires more time and effort to separate lists and contacts), just as they would for any other campaign or product to amplify the message.
The problem is that when a PR rep pitches bloggers to the bloggers’ own communities, they do the very thing that we bloggers hate the most about pitches: they are impersonal and nonrelatable. Painting one of us as not one of us doesn’t sit well with us, because these are our peers, and in many cases, our friends. Chances are we had something to do with their success – whether through mentoring, through contributions to their sites, through sharing of our contacts, through attendance of their conference sessions and amplification of their messages and posts, through invitations into our circles, through friendships, support, guidance, and so much more. To send us a pitch as if suddenly we don’t know them, or worse yet, they don’t know us, sucks and does that complete opposite of what PR aims to do.
What to do?
Any blogger who has been in the game for a while and knows how we think because they too have sat with us through a bitching session on bad pitches, knows exactly what I am talking about and would make every effort to make sure their representation isn’t pitching their community.
Bloggers working with representation should keep control of their brand and communications to the extend that they are the ones communicating with their peers and fellow bloggers directly and making sure that their message is targeted appropriately, as opposed to being massed emailed to every blogger out there. Ask the agency or rep if they’ve worked with bloggers and how they work with bloggers. It helps to determine their level of respect for you as a blogger, which is important because you want someone who respects your input and ideas. This is, after all, your brand. Then ask them to show you the placements in the traditional space (which is what you want) for other clients (their portfolio) so that you can assess whether they have what it takes and the connections needed to get you where you want to be. Ask lots of questions, do your research, be curious about how they work, don’t view your opportunity of representation as a way to completely let go, because you should never completely let go.
Public relation reps need to respect the blogger’s request to not contact fellow bloggers with pitches. The truth is, we don’t need PR to pitch to our community, we need PR to pitch to those outside of it, whom are out of our reach. If you hire a representative then hire them to get you on TV, in magazines, and newspapers…not on your friend’s blog.
Now, granted, there are PR reps that will ignore these requests because maybe they work for a major brand and have a corporate mindset, and really what do you know about pitching anyway, you blogger, you?
So, to those professionals I say, listen. Listen to your blogger-client just as you would any other, because unlike your other clients, we know how this community works and we know that if you pitch us to our community as if we aren’t members of that community they will turn their backs on us, not support us. And maybe turning their backs on us is harsh, but they sure as hell won’t blog about any of it.
The blogger community is amazing at supporting fellow bloggers. We show up for events. We tweet and Facebook and blog and share to congratulate one of our own doing amazing things. Because these are our friends, our family, and their success is our success and further validates what we do.
But, build a wall between us with cold, impersonal, celebrity-like pitches, and the result will be radio silence. No one wins. Not your client, not your product, not your message, no one.
Bloggers need to sit at the table with the PR reps they are looking to hire and make these points very clear. They need to make sure their points are being listened to and respected. And public relation representatives need to understand how this community works and how receptive (or not) we are to these types of pitches, and understand what their role is.
I know that PR reps don’t often share their pitch lists with clients, so it makes it harder for bloggers to point out who to exclude from it. Bloggers can negotiate control over the media list before signing the contract (you have to do this, bloggers. Negotiate, fight for your brand!).
Lastly, bloggers, there is such a thing as bad representation. A good clue is when you start getting those chilly emails from your friends telling you they just got that pitch from some agency about you. This may be a clue that the help you have hired or the brand you have partnered with is not listening and it might be time to sit back at the table or find other representation.
A good example
I was approached by a PR agency for a hotel here in NYC to host an event where they hoped over 150 bloggers from all over would attend. It was an event to follow the conclusion of a huge blogger conference, so the audience was already here. They were paying me for this role, but although they didn’t ask, what I also negotiated into my fee was my ability to be involved in the list creation, logistics for event planning, and responsibility to send the invites to the blogging community myself.
It was more work for everyone involved. I mean, I essentially gave myself more work. They simply wanted me to show up.
But I let PR do their job. They designed and developed the message as approved by them and their client, and asked for my input. They controlled the release of the invite, who would be invited (from a combination of my list and theirs), and managed RSVPs as well as contacted traditional media themselves.
I provided them with the contact of awesome influencers, not just my friends, that I respected in the community and that I knew would be of value to their client, as well as brought in a car brand that agreed to split event costs with them as well as provide transportation from the conference hotel to the event hotel and back for the bloggers.
This event was well attended, well received, and its Twitter reach (using the hashtag the PR agency had chosen) was to an audience of over 250,000 people. For a two hour breakfast.
In this situation, I retained control of my brand by negotiating it into my contract with them (yes, giving myself more work, but my brand is worth it). I also respected my community and friends by communicating with them directly, though again, the agency had control of the message, had approved the list to their liking, and managed the RSVPs.
I provided value by bringing in another client which made the event more attractive to the bloggers, but also more affordable to the brand who initially recruited me. And their message was amplified beyond their expectations. Why? Because bloggers support bloggers. Especially when those bloggers ask them nicely and personally. We don’t need to do PR’s work, we just need to be involved. Sounds different? Welcome to new media.
Go out there and prosper!
I am happy for those bloggers who achieve success and reach such fabulous goals in their career. How far we have all come!
Blogging has always been beautiful in that it is about those things that are personal to us, that touch our hearts, and move us towards inspiring stories and shares. Make sure that as you grow, you don’t lose sight of this, nor of the community that helped you along the way. Never allow yourself to be so big and so busy that suddenly that one thing that makes a blogger so awesome is no longer a part of who you are. There are risks involved with representation, the biggest being a loss of connection with your biggest supporters: your blogging community.
In the meantime, I will kindly reply “No, thank you” to those pitches and delete…all the while wishing you continued success and better representation.