30 April 2008

I don't want to pitch bloggers anymore

Thumbing through the RSS feeds I find the latest post on "blogger relations" and pitching, this time from Jason Falls:
The real answer to the question, “How do I get placement on blogs?” is simple: You don’t.
Read the whole thing - it's pretty good.

Jason, like Susan Getgood and Todd Defren and Kami Huyse (and if I may be so bold, me) is essentially saying that you have to tap into the passions of an individual blogger to engage them, and you can't expect results like you would a traditional media pitch. It's a solid summary of best practices.

But the more I think about it, the more I think we have to scrap the whole model - PR pro's have to stop thinking about blogger outreach as media relations, and start thinking about it as coalition-building or ally development.

The easiest way to get a "placement" on a blog has always been buying an ad. If blogs are such important online properties with growing readerships, then buy the ad and use the metrics commonly associated with advertising. The better your ad, the better your response.

Of course, Some clients will still demand "earned placements," and a lot of them. And they don't particularly care if a blogger isn't passionate about the pitch topic. So we're faced with a few choices:
  1. Become a glorified direct-mail service and just blast-email every blogger you can find;
  2. Sell your soul and set up a bunch of fake spam blogs or hire pay per post;
  3. Push back on the client because you can't possibly do the job given the restrictions; or
  4. Anticipate the needs of your clients and build relationships in advance.
If you're making choice 1 or 2, quit the PR/social business and follow your true calling - producing those ridiculous commercials for personal injury lawyers. If you're opting for #3, you're probably the typical social media pro- you know the right thing and you're trying to keep your clients happy and you're doing the dance, dreaming of the client who "gets it," but stuck on the defensive, hoping bloggers just won't hate you.

If you're actively pursuing option 4, you either work with me or you should. I ask my team to explore online communities, learn more about the subject matter, join the discussions and build relationships there before they ever have to worry about "pitching" anyone. I also think it helps if the people on my team have some input on which communities they explore - so they have a natural passion for the subject matter and they're able to be themselves.

Typically, when a client calls, they can't give us the time it takes to build relationships and alliances in online communities transparently and credibly. So to the degree possible, we're taking care of that step right now, doing the things we enjoy most. Today, I try to "pitch" as little as possible - I'd much rather reach out to people who already know me.

Of course, I realize some people are saying reaching out to bloggers isn't important at all, given some research that suggests bloggers aren't trusted, while "peers" or "friends" are. I think that actually flies in the face of reality. While I don't think "technorati rank" is an accurate assessment of influence, within communities, bloggers are often peers or even friends. And since we know that journalists are relying on blogs more for story ideas and sources, and more leading bloggers are prominent beyond their own blogs, I think building relationships organically makes a lot of sense - "placements" may follow.


Alison said...

I've had requests to mention this or that charity cause on my blog. I don't think the pitcher checked out the first thing about my little site.

My stats and Technorati ranking would just depress me (because they're way below what they were three years ago), so I am not going to go look, but surely these people checked, and they realize that I don't have the potential audience they're looking for?

I'm all for promoting a cause I believe in, but if you want to ask me to help you, you have to at least know a little bit about what I'm about, and that my audience may not be as big as you think it is.

/rant over

Alison said...

Oh, by the way: I'm not bitter. :)

David said...

Hi Alison - it's sad, most of the time we do only the most cursory of checks. Some clients just want to see their product placement on your blog. In your case it was a charity - I'm actually a bit surprised someone chose blogger outreach as a tactic, but I guess it depends on the charity - but it's all about the "placement" right now.

Christopher Scott Rice said...

The difficulty, especially among progressive nonprofits, is that they often want all of the benefits of placing an ad on a blog and gaining social media penetration without having to actually pay for placement of said ads. I think this may actually be more of a problem among progressive organizations, where the expectation is that, out of (assumed) solidarity, the blogger will be happy to just put up whatever the organization sends. this betrays, I think, a fundamental misunderstanding of what motivates bloggers and how social media works (best).

The real difficulty lies in helping our network/friends understand that social media is NOT the same as traditional media. There is an inherently personal/social element to it that resists the transactional ethics of traditional media (at least when done correctly - we have our share of spammers, too).

David, I think you're right with your prescriptions, but I would suggest it's a little bit of #3 AND #4. Certainly, social media professionals should dig their well before they're thirsty, but there also has to be a process of educating clients and other PR professionals (and nonprofit staff) as to the fundamental differences between social media and traditional media. This is, for now, a crucial element of what it means to be a professional in the field of social media.

But hasn't educating clients and collaborators about the nature of one's profession always been a crucial element of professionalism? :)

David said...

Indeed Christopher - I think you constantly have to educate clients on the true nature of the medium and your work. We'll never be perfect at this. I'm not convinced the problem weighs disproportionately toward non-profits or progressives - I've seen plenty of this from well-moneyed and traditionally conservative private companies - but I do know it's harder to do this on a grand scale without a budget. I think it's the financial and time pressures that force PR and social media pro's to cut corners...

KFFBOS said...

As a blogger that gets pitched, a 10 year PR agency veteran and now working on the corporate side building up our community I'm totally with you 100%. You don't 'pitch' bloggers, you talk with them and the best way to engage a blogger is to talk about their blog on your blog...in fact it is probably how we first 'met' online (although it may be the Red Sox as well!).

But there is one caveat, specific to PR folks, and it is an important distinction. Most journalists are now or will be 'bloggers'...perhaps not in the true sense of the word, but certainly in some form.

Therefore the question I now have is whether we scrap indirect media relations in general (pitching stories) for a more direct approach of engaging PEOPLE in conversations using blogs, Twitter, social networks and more? These "people" are customers, prospects, media, analysts, competitors, partners and more. The best PR agencies and PR folks have figured out how to do this, the rest need to figure it out.

--Kyle Flaherty

Kami Huyse said...

It's pretty easy to talk with people once you know them, but I agree this isn't media relations. I have taken to calling it community relations, or outreach to dignitaries (VIPs). I like how you have broken this down into four possible approaches. Interesting, I think I feel a post bubbling up.

sgetgood@getgood.com said...

It is all about relationships. We read email from people we know.

That said, it is possible to reach out to people you haven't met yet, but then you really have to put their needs before yours, and that is hard for most companies. They have a hard time with the concept that the world doesn't revolve around their features. :-)