This weekend at the Eat, Write, Retreat food blogging conference there was a panel titled “PR 101.” There were two public relations professionals, a food reporter/editor and a cookbook editor on the panel. The latter two panelists were engaging, articulate speakers with great information to provide the room full of bloggers about the different types of pitches that we can develop to help advance our careers as writers, such as pitching a story to a newspaper editor or a cookbook proposal to a publishing house. I thought that part of the panel was fantastic but I had a little bit of difficulty swallowing the presentation that the public relations professionals that preceded them delivered.
Because I’ve spent the past five years of my career working in public relations and have been blogging for three I have quite a lot to say about the relationship between publicist + blogger. It’s a topic I don’t often delve into here because I have some pretty strong opinions as someone who sends and receives pitches in equal measure. However, since the topic was covered at a food conference and this is a food blog, I think I just found my excuse.
Three years ago when my coworkers discovered that I had a blog – or maybe I sent it to them, begging that they become my first five readers – I became the point person for blogger relations for some of my clients. It made sense, being a blogger, I know how to talk to and work with bloggers in their language. Simply put: I speak Internet.
At Sunday’s Eat, Write, Retreat panel, it was evident that both of the PR pros were highly intelligent and skilled but their presentation left me with a lot of thoughts. It included a synopsis of why PR people choose to leverage the tools that we do, such as press releases, satellite media tours, e-mail blasts, newsletters, mail merges and the other mass communication techniques that publicists have long since used with traditional media and thus, use with bloggers. They explained these tactics well but during the panel it occurred to me: for the most part, bloggers and publicists just don’t get each other.
Many PR pros think bloggers sit around on our couches all day lazily typing on the Internet (as one of the panelists said “Bloggers get to sit at home with coffee while I am in an office, wearing professional attire.” I am pretty sure we all put our pants on one leg at a time no matter what we wear to work, but I won’t get hung up on details). Bloggers, on the other hand, think that PR professionals are mostly inattentive idiots who can’t be bothered to address an email to the person we’re writing. Also untrue.
There are a lot of things that I wish I could tell every single blogger and every single public relations professional from my seat on both sides of the fence. Since I can’t, I’m going to say some of it – I could probably write about this subject for hours without stopping – and whoever chooses, can listen.
To PR Professionals:
- There are thousands of bloggers and each one probably has a very different agenda and goal. Some people blog for fun, some people blog because they have professional ambition, some people blog because they love to write and blogs provide an accessible platform [right here!]. Others blog because they saw it on the Today Show and they want to get free coupons from yogurt companies.
- Yes, you should read the blog. You don’t need to know where the blogger you’re pitching went to elementary school or whether he wears boxers or briefs, but in order to deliver an effective pitch you need to know what interests the recipient. Read the blog and even if you don’t know the person you are pitching, know what they are trying to accomplish with their platform.
- Keep up. Tactics that worked with traditional media might not necessarily work with bloggers. Bloggers are not all trained journalists. Some are, some aren’t. Newspaper reporters and magazine editors expect a certain amount of pitches each day but bloggers are not trained with that expectation. Blogs are, often, a labor of love and their writers are not getting paid to maintain relationships with media. Their job description simply doesn’t include sifting through press releases, e-mail blasts, etc. in order to produce relevant content.
- Educate your client. A lot of public relations professionals employ tactics they don’t necessarily believe in because their client believes in a “traditional” route. Take the opportunity to do your homework and show your client by whatever means necessary that media is changing and evolving. The conservative approach might not be the way to go even if “the client wants it that way.” If they aren’t going to listen to your advice, why do they pay you?
- Know the difference between editorial and advertising. If a publicist emails you and offers you a tip, story idea, press release, etc. it is more likely than not that they are offering this information to you. If they flat-out ask you to write something (which they shouldn’t) and you don’t want to do it, use your delete button.
- Don’t generalize. I’ve heard many bloggers say “PR people are bad at their jobs.” Yes, some are. But so are some doctors. And some lawyers. Publicists just have the benefit of working with people who have a public forum to complain if they aren’t happy and boy is that a treat.
- Public relations is a practice that involves earned media not paid media. It is easy to confuse PR/editorial with advertising work but they are very, very different. Though online media is blurring the lines between the two, most public relations companies are offering you information to inspire a story idea or fit into a story you might already be writing. They are not prepared to pay you to do anything you don’t want to do. In fact, if a reporter for the New York Times asked a PR person for payment to write a cookbook review, she would be fired. She writes those cookbook reviews because they are relevant and informative for her readers. Or maybe her boss made her.
- With that in mind, public relations professionals are also being tasked with figuring out how to navigate the very new waters of online media. Sponsored content might be a great way to pay the bills – and I think that it’s very advantageous to partner with brands, for a number of reasons that I will talk about later – it should be organic. Your credibility will take a nosedive if on the first page of your blog you have six posts, four of them sponsored. Be empowered to create real content and when the brands come knocking on your door prepared to hand you bags of cash for real estate, think of a way to work with them that is clearly separate from your editorial work.
- Stop comparing yourself to bloggers that have already achieved career success. For example, while The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond is one of the kindest, loveliest, most generous bloggers out there, her success is the exception, not the rule. Her cookbooks and her upcoming Food Network Show are not necessarily realistic aspirations for everyone with a dot com. Set realistic goals and try to make yourself and your blog the best you can. You never know what kind of great things will happen to you by being yourself.
If you’re a publicist, what do you wish every blogger knew? And if you’re a blogger, what do you wish every publicist knew?