31 July 2007

An open letter to mommy-bloggers everywhere

Dear moms,

I'm the guy that Jory Des Jardins referred to as "the suit" at the State of the Mom-o-Sphere breakout panel at BlogHer07. I'm also the guy who stood up in front of you and said, "on behalf of everyone in corporate America, I humbly apologize." (thanks for laughing at that.)

I apologized because the anger in that room toward the PR industry was palpable. You can't stand the fact that we bombard you with emails asking you to write about products, and we often don't take the time to even read your blogs to see if you might be interested. In our emails we try to make you think we read your stuff, but we get enough of the details wrong to let you know we're basically trying to do as little as possible for you to get you to do as much as possible for us.

What's funny is I don't really even pitch products to bloggers. I pitch issues. I typically pitch discussions with opinion and business leaders about issues that I hope are important to you. But PR is PR, and nobody else was standing up, so someone had to apologize.

I said I try to be relevant and respectful when reaching out to bloggers - I act as though I'm a guest in your home, and I read your blog to see if you'd even be interested in what I'm pitching. Some of you applauded, which was really nice and polite. But it was clear that more than a few of you were still unimpressed, even skeptical of what I was saying to your faces. Citymama took the industry to the woodshed. Yes, I do note the irony of an industry whose purpose is to strengthen clients' reputations has such a terrible reputation of its own.

We're accustomed to pitching mainstream media - it's their job to consider what PR flacks have to say, and it's not personal. We apparently haven't figured out yet that you're not mainstream media - you're a mom with a million things to do, and your blog is your outlet, your means of self-expression, and your connection to a larger community. To you we're essentially a cross between telemarketers and spammers. To us we're just fishing for a placement, and your blog is more relevant to us than we are to you.

What's truly sad is we know we stink at this. Entire blogs have been published dedicated to how bad some of our pitches are. We're not really doing much about it, though. I really hate to add one more thing to your never-ending to-do list, but a number of you have asked me how you make it stop, and sadly that will fall on you. So I'll risk the wrath of some of my colleagues and share some ideas for whacking the flacks.

First, you have to decide if you want us to contact you at all. If you don't, the first thing to do is put a note in your "about this blog" section of your sidebar that says something like, "sorry, I don't accept solicitations from PR professionals asking me to write about their products on my blog." If you do want to hear from us, demand respect and relevance. State your terms, like "send pitches to a separate email and I'll consider them for my product review site" or "I only want to hear from you if you're talking about products that I use" or "I only accept offers to place an ad on my site." If you don't want a bunch of text clogging your sidebar, write a post about it and then offer a link to that post in your sidebar. Make sure the flacks understand the rules of your blog. If you get a pitch from someone who hasn't read the terms of your blog, then you can do with them what you will.

Of course, this isn't going to keep many solicitors from sending you bad pitches. You can take progressive disciplinary action against flacks - and this is where you get to release your inner snark.

One way to do this is to simply put the flack in timeout. Reply to the email you get saying something like, "sorry, you were rude and disrespectful to me. I'm not your tool. For the next 30 days any email I receive from your firm or your client goes to a spam filter." Of course, while this may give you some satisfaction, this may not be a big deal to a PR flack since there's so many great mommy-bloggers out there the flack can just skip to the next one.

If you really want behavior to change, you have to make sure the flack realizes there's a meaningful downside to being sloppy. In politics, there's an old saying - "sunshine is the best disinfectant." That's what I think you should do here.

Some of the best PR pros in our business are talking about how discussions are moving away from blogs a bit and into social network utilities like Facebook, and how we'll have to send pitches to facebook pages if people stop reading emails. This means that the pitches we write will be public. But here's the thing: EVERY PITCH WE WRITE IS ALREADY PUBLIC.

That's right - the standards of the PR profession essentially tell us that anything we send to you can be printed verbatim on the front page of any newspaper in the country. So why not your blog? If you get a bad pitch and it really makes you angry, say so on your blog. Call the person out. Seriously - use their name, firm, and contact information. Don't tolerate this disrespectful behavior. Exert your power as a consumer, as a parent, and as a blogger.

Many of you might feel hesitant about this. Some of you might think slapping people back is inconsistent with the civility of the mom-o-sphere. Some of you might feel this is too rude, maybe beneath you. Maybe you just want to treat people they way you'd like to be treated. However, we're not talking about 5-year-old kids. We are talking about professionals who are engaging in unprofessional conduct. There should be consequences to this.

Don't want to clutter your blog with bad pitch complaints? Perfectly understandable. Then work with your friends in the mom-o-spere to create a new "bad pitch blog" - except this one is written by parents, for parents. Bad Pitch Blog meets Consumerist meets Mom101. You'll be able to track who the worst offenders are and call them out. I'd read that blog every day. (I hope I never see my name there, but I'd still read it.)

Finally, if none of this is working, there's always the "nuclear option." PR firms pitch you on behalf of their clients. If you get something that really crosses a line, contact the director of communications of the COMPANY and tell them that their PR firm is spamming you on their behalf, and you're planning to write about it. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, will stop this faster than a call from the client saying, "What the heck are you doing? We pay you to improve our image with parents, not piss them off."

I'll close by saying thank you - I really appreciated meeting so many of you and I learned a great deal. I'll have more to say about this topic. I'll also talk about how or why PR firms don't show enough respect to communities of color in the near future, which was also discussed at the panel. Please always remember that you're the person with the power. It's your blog, it should be your rules.


David Wescott (a.k.a. "the suit")


Mom101 said...

[Standing Ovation]

Liz said...

Um, so, as a PR person, could you offer some TIPS on how to pitch mom-bloggers? What is often left out of this discussion is that PR people don't know what the heck they're doing because for some of them, up until they were "assigned" to pitch blogs, they didn't even know what a blog was! PR people have a job to do. And in this untamed medium, it's extremely difficult to do their job without pissing people off, because the pitch that works for one person won't work for another. Any suggestions?

David said...

Hi Marriage101 - thanks for the question. It starts with being relevant and respectful, and the true currency is relationships. If you know you're going to pitch blogs, start reading them first. Comment on their blogs. Be part of the discussion. Get to know the folks you're pitching.

If you want to pitch a healthcare story to the national media, you read a bunch of stuff from Robert Pear at the NY Times and you establish a dialogue. Same principle.

When a client tells me we need to just blanket the blogosphere with a release, I push back. It's a recipie for disaster.

You seem to already know what works. "the pitch that works for one person won't work for another." So don't send the same pitch to two people. Explain in each email why the pitch is relevant to the individual blog. That's what I do. It takes considerably more time, but it's much more successful.

Lawyer Mama said...

Thank you for this, David. I think many of us are wary simply because we've gotten so many of those PR pitches that devalue us and the work on our blogs. But it's nice to know that some "suits" out there get it!

Christina said...

Thanks, David. It was a pleasure to meet you at BlogHer. I think after your talk in the momosphere session, no one thought you were one of the bad apples. You had some great ideas about how to smooth the relationship between bloggers and PR folks, and it really does all boil down to relationships.

I personally enjoy working with PR reps, as long as they give me the same respect that they'd like from me. Read my blog, know who I am, and then if you're not sure about something, just ask if I'd like to try it.

Thankfully, most of the PR pitches I receive are from people who know how to work with bloggers. Right now I ignore the rest, although maybe it's time to respond to them and let them know they need to change their ways.

Julie Marsh said...

David, this is why I consider you a confidant and a friend. Thank you.

Marriage-101, I run a site called The Parent Bloggers Network (www.parentbloggers.com), along with my business partner and fellow blogger, Kristen (motherhooduncensored.typepad.com). We offer blogger outreach consulting (from the perspective of bloggers), and would be pleased to speak with you.

Anonymous said...

David, I thought you were a thoughtful bridge in that session. One thing I wanted to establish was that PR professionals are not careless people; they actually want to do right by the bloggers (at least, most do). I think that came across. Just don't offer anyone a lifetime supply of (insert product here) if they write a positive product review ;)

Anonymous said...

PR Tools: 0
The Suit: 1

You are welcome to pitch me any time.

Anonymous said...

The topic of blogger relations is a major one in the marketing and PR industry, and on our blogs.

It's not just mommy bloggers who get spammed incessantly by people shilling products and press releases. Even marketing bloggers like me get them, although no one has ever offered me a lifetime supply of pudding packs or laundry soap. And my son likes pudding.

As I mentioned in my comment on Mom-101, we did a session on blogger relations at BlogHer Business, and published a set of guidelines that companies could follow to not piss everyone off. And it's pretty much the main topic of my marketing blog these days because lame ass stupid crap gives us all a bad name.

The root cause of the problem: to do blogger relations right is a lot of work. And it takes time. You've got to develop stories that are relevant to the blogger's interests. You've got to read the blogs so you know who will be interested. And not for a day or a week. Six months at the very least. You've got to give first, and respect the blogger as you would a journalist.

But people want shortcuts. They don't want to hear how damn hard they have to work to do this right.

Which is why we all get lame ass pitches that go something like:
Dear "insert name here" I love your blog and how you "something you wrote this week" blah blah blah.

Barf barf barf.

becky s said...


i was the live-blogger sitting to your right at the session. i'll be looking forward to some more of your posts about the issues that were brought up. thank you for taking the time to write about this.


Liz said...

Thanks David - I get what you're saying and I completely agree with it. But Susan is right - we are looking for shortcuts and when we have a new product launching, we can't wait six months to develop a relationship and THEN pitch the blogger. Again, I haven't pitched any bloggers, but I'm just trying to see the side of the under-informed PR person.

Another problem: I don't get paid to read blogs. In fact, I could get fired for it for doing it on company time when I should be working and billing my clients. Blogging, as it is for me right now, is a hobby. How can I convince my clients or my company to "invest" in me and pay me to read blogs for six months? That's more of a rhetorical question I guess. I mean, it's fine for me to read the NYT or the WSJ, but a little harder to convince them that I should be paid for reading blogs. I should probably just write my own post on this instead of leaving excrutiatingly long comments on yours ;)

PunditMom said...

At least you weren't weating a suit! (Sorry). I love that you pitch issues, and so many in the industry could learn volumes from you. The fact that you came to BlogHer to get to know us and hear what we think -- priceless.

Anonymous said...

When blogs first came about (pre 2000), livejournal, diaryland and even blogspot, it was a place for people, not just Moms or Dads to write about their daily lives, when did it turn into every person thinking they were "writers" and they deserved to be valued? And when did it turn into a feminist thing?

Anonymous said...

I attended that particular session - I was the person who stuttered into the microphone, a lot - being a blogger, a mom to four school-aged children and happily married for 17 years to "a suit," I have great respect for you and thank you for this post.

Good luck, David and I hope that PR people also understand that a person doesn't stop being a parent (or, not worth a pitch) just because our kids aren't small and there aren't anymore diapers to throw away...I mean, wash!

Good luck.

Stefania/CityMama said...

*thank you, thank you, thank you!*

I have a pitch for you:

Bottle this post and sell it! To PR companies! For day rate! :-)

Karianna said...

Excellent points, all.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

As a blogger who doesn't get the PR pitches (pout), I still greatly appreciate your advice and think it's great that you're actually speaking up! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I was speaking in a different session which caused me to miss this session - which quite frankly was the one I most wanted to attend.

I heard the conversation was great in there - thanks for continuing it in such a noble fashion so that the rest of us can be a part of it!

Well Done!! :D

Anonymous said...

@Marriage 101:

I don't need people who contact me to be readers of my blog, but what irritates me is when they pretend to be.

So try a different way in. "You seem like an influential blogger", "You live in the city our new product is being launched in", "We're looking for single mothers like yourself"

And so on.

Mocha said...

Can you stop being so awesome because I'm in education and have this already-formed view of suits (read: jealousy concerning salary - HA) and you're breaking all the rules.

Kind of like what we are asking PR people to do, right?

You are a keeper. Where shall I keep you, hmm? Thank you so much.

leahpeah said...

david - this is really fantastic. and thanks for the part about putting it up verbatim if it's sleazy. i didn't think about that before but, why not? i really don't mind being approached even when they are a little bit klutzy. i do very MUCH mind being asked to do it for free as if i should thank them for thinking of me and i need a year supply of [x].

Cynthia Samuels said...

David this was just lovely. As a blogger who also sometimes works to deliver messages, I hope with at least some of the sensitivity that you demonstrate here, it's clear that you are right on the money. The odd thing is that much of what you describe emerges from a simple, basic respect for others – and perhaps particularly for women.

In all my years in journalism, I saw two kinds of pr people: those who called or wrote to me when they knew I would be likely to be interested in their story and those who called and called and called. When I heard from people about stories I might want to cover OR unknown stories were described in relationship to my other work, I gave it serious attention. Wallpaper outreach, I just ignored. So I KNOW you’re right on the money. In other words, I’m with the rest of these lovely folks.

The great thing about your post, and the reason, I'm sure, that it has received such a wonderful response (aside from the general magnificence of those who responded to you) is that you demonstrate here what I've seen (or heard since it's been more on the phone) you demonstrate in every other encounter: a deep respect for bloggers -- and other people on the planet. The trouble is that you can't bottle that genuine goodness. That's why it was so generous of you to share it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! As a mom blogger that gets TONS of these pitches every day I often feel frustrate with the lack of understanding about products I can endorse. I realy get fristrated when they look up my contact info and just send me the products and then "demand" their favorbale review. LOL.

My integrity is a valuable thing and it won't be compromised for free products or a little extra cash. This is GOOD news for ethical companies.

Jennifer Laycock said...

Excellent post!

I run three blogs and get regular pitches for all of them. My largest blog sees me receiving multiple pitches a day from PR companies that often can't even take the time to get my name right.

One firm apologized profusely when I pointed out they were confusing me with a blogger using a similar domain name and then proceeded to continue sending me the wrong-name pitches for the next three years.

It's nice to know that some within the industry are finally starting to get it.

Lisa said...

I think I love you. :-)

I worked in PR years ago too. And I was so scared of rejection that I'd do extra homework when pitching an idea to any publication or anyone -- either inside my company or outside.

I thought that was normal. And I've been so surprised to see that in the e-mails I get? So not the case.

Great post.

Candace April said...

Thank you for this excellent post.

The best pitches I receive are about issues that are relevant and clearly outline what's in it for me and my readers (which can be, but does not have to be purely financial) and also what the PR guy's client wants. This way I can see if I want to work with you and we can find a way to meet the requirements of all parties. This way no one feels cheated or undervalued.

Anonymous said...

You are one of the good guys.

There's good and bad ways to pitch to a blogger, but, as bloggers, we need to stop taking them as insults.

If you get a pitch, it (not always, I guess) means that they think you are influential in some manner.

Take it, don't take it, whatever. Just give them an answer, and, move on.

I appreciate your efforts to do it right.

Girl con Queso said...

I love it.

PetiteMommy said...

I wasn't at blogher but get pitched too quite often these days. I don't feel it's an insult to be asked to review a product for free and I will review those products for free as long as they are relevant to the site and something I think I will like. Why not? I get something for free and I create content at the same time.

I think a line is crossed when someone gets paid for a product review. Like someone mentioned, it's no longer a review.

Thanks for this discussion. It's really made me rethink my strategy these past few days. This discussion throughout the blogosphere is hopefully just the beginning of something better.

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

Finally! A suit that gets it.

You're welcome to pitch me anytime you want.

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