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Summary:

In early 2007, the Council of Public Relations Firms (CPRF) and APCO Worldwide partnered to learn more about interactions and relationships between public relations (PR) professionals and bloggers. Findings showed that PR professionals who understood blogger “culture” were having more success in communicating in this online […]

In early 2007, the Council of Public Relations Firms (CPRF) and APCO Worldwide partnered to learn more about interactions and relationships between public relations (PR) professionals and bloggers. Findings showed that PR professionals who understood blogger “culture” were having more success in communicating in this online channel than those who do not.

In the study, bloggers cautioned PR professionals that traditional outreach methods would not be effective with them; they were adamant that a smart, well-researched approach would work best. The study goes on to say that “most bloggers tend to write about subjects they are passionate about. And most of the time, the product (blog) is wholly owned by them. Therefore, their blog and the subject matter are extremely personal endeavors.”

I haven’t seen a more recent study of a similar type to show what has changed, but as someone who engages both in blogger outreach with my company and blogging, I feel that the landscape has fundamentally shifted.

I’ve noticed a significant decrease, year over year, in how responsive bloggers are — or more accurately, are not — even to individualized, customized and thoughtful outreach. In 2007, response rates were between 20-25 percent positive (the percentage of bloggers who published information provided to them or responding to our outreach). Toward the end of 2009, I began to see a marked drop-off of in acknowledgments from bloggers, much less actual published responses to email outreach. In my company’s experience, we’ve found the response rate to decrease to less than 10 percent, even less than five percent in some cases. This poor response rate is even despite the fact that our relationships with individual bloggers have strengthened over the years.

The decrease in blogger outreach effectiveness can be attributed to a myriad of factors including

  1. The recent FTC rulings on marketing firms and blogs
  2. A glut of PR requests to bloggers, so most no longer get opened
  3. The realization by many bloggers that they now hold an increasing degree of power and influence in terms of information distribution, so they are becoming more selective
  4. The fact that many bloggers are still not businesspeople, and don’t even look to PR as a source of fodder for their blogs
  5. A continued misunderstanding about blogging culture and what bloggers need or want by marketers
  6. There’s a misconception that all bloggers want to be approached by PR reps or to receive press releases, so firms keep throwing stuff out there to see what sticks
  7. The fact that not everyone who blogs is open to blogging about things other than their own lives or work, especially products they don’t actually use.

Putting On My Blogger Hat

As a professional blogger as well as a personal blogger, I find myself drowning in pitches from PR firms. On the personal side, I find that unless they use the correct email to pitch me and keep the pitches very short, to the point, and on target with my blog topics, I pretty much ignore the emails. I simply don’t have the bandwidth. Plus, my personal blogs aren’t really commercial endeavors.

On the professional side, I look for a prominent mention of the blog they’re pitching me for (such as WebWorkerDaily); exactly what they are pitching (a new application to help web workers do something better, for example); and how familiar they are with what I write. There is nothing more effective in pitches to me than one with a highly targeted phrase like “I noticed your blog post about RSS feeds last week and wanted to let you know about my client’s new app that would really benefit web workers by helping manage their feeds.” Bingo!

I can’t say that I read every email pitched to me — it is just not humanly possible. I can say that the PR people who politely but regularly nudge me several times to gauge my interest in their pitch have gotten a lot farther with me than the ones who threw a pitch at me like spaghetti to a wall. Kindness and consideration along with persistence wins the ink. Getting annoyed that I haven’t responded, or that I’ve had to switch a demo call at the last minute isn’t going to win any brownie points. We’re all just people trying to make a living, and we all have a life.

The other thing I find incredibly effective in terms of pitching me on behalf of a client is not only the thoughtfully targeted pitch but regular pitches that can provide me with ideas for new blog posts. I look forward to those emails and count the PR people who help to make my professional blogging life just a little bit easier as important contacts. That’s the power of relationships. You care, I care, we work together, everyone wins.

Alternative Ways of Engaging Bloggers

Because of the decrease in effectiveness of blogger outreach carried out in the manner of traditional media outreach, there needs to be alternative ways to engage bloggers to help produce valuable and educational content for our clients; build greater awareness of client brands; and have a measurable impact in the blogosphere. Some of these tactics include:

  1. Blog panels. Select bloggers who are knowledgeable in a given area to provide guidance on a company or organization’s blog editorial calendar that can be syndicated on their own blogs in a coordinated fashion. This is a more credible and effective tactic when the participation is a voluntary and non-compensated position; however, there must be a mutual exchange of value and all value exchange must be disclosed.
  2. Blogger pools. Select bloggers who can be guest authors of a company or organization’s blog by identifying a pool of qualified, expert and diverse bloggers who can contribute content – with or without compensation – for the exposure. Again, if compensation is involved, it must be disclosed.
  3. Blog sponsorship. Identify key blogs and bloggers reaching the “right” audience and offering to pay them to sponsor content that meets particular guidelines. For the bloggers who are in the business of blogging, this can be a more attractive relationship, and both parties must make sure a paid sponsorship is properly and prominently labeled as such.

As the blogging landscape continues to change, it is important for us to engage bloggers in the conversations about best practices in blogger outreach and continue to build more meaningful relationships with bloggers similar to the way we’ve cultivated relationships with the media but realizing the differences. If I feel we have a strong base of blogger relationships in a given industry or area, I may recommend blogger outreach to a client in the future. However, building a targeted blogger list from scratch without relationships solidly in place is proving to be a less effective and more expensive endeavor than it was three years ago.

Do you engage in blogger outreach? Or are you a blogger being approached by marketing types? What are your thoughts on the topic of blogger outreach as an online marketing tactic?

  1. Aliza,

    This is a great perspective to have. As a PR person, the model of “blogger relations” is one that is constantly evolving. I think that both sides are learning what works best for them.

    Ideally, the relationship is symbiotic. We pitch, you write. Our clients are happy, your audience is happy.

    I think that by bringing up alternative ways to engage bloggers shows a couple of issues at work. First is the blogger vs. journalist arguement. Sponsored posts and such don’t work for the bloggers that are considered journalists. Being mindful of that, there are still creative ways to engage.

    Take the “media tour” of old. Instead of setting up in a metro daily’s conference room, we are bringing clients to coffee shops, neighborhood haunts and home offices to chat with this new era of influencer.

    Thanks for the brain food Aliza!

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  2. We’ve hit on a great way to do this with Tech Field Day. We’re bringing in relevant bloggers and taking them to sponsoring company sites for in-person roundtable discussions. Everyone is happy!

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  3. a few thoughts…
    …read the blogger’s work. that theme’s pretty rampant throughout this post, but so many pr types simply don’t read. the usual reason: not enough time. well, that can’t really be an excuse anymore. no one has enough time, but if you want to connect, know what the blogger digs.

    …be a helper. as you mention, aliza, little ideas here and there – client related or not (bonus if they’re not) are appreciated. if the blogger asks who else is doing what your client does, tell him/her! don’t take it as “crap, they want to cover someone bigger and better.” take it as, “sweet, they might be interested in what’s going on in the space.” (side note: if you start a dialogue, don’t push that “i’d be happy to get you on the phone with our ceo” junk. you better be schooled and comfortable enough to discuss the “additional detail” you ended your initial email with. and let’s stop it with phones this early in the game. phones are for going steady (when you become a trusted source). they’re not for first dates (virgin emails). but i digress…).

    …don’t be a jerk. simply being human can go a long way – and every word you type/say can communicate that (or not). i eventually got out of the agency life because of scenarios like this:

    boss: did so and so respond to that pitch?
    me: yep. no dice, they’re not interested at the moment.
    boss: call him to find out why.
    me: uhhh… ok (to myself: this will definitely not go over well and essentially end in a blacklisting).

    i didn’t call – that would’ve been a jerk move. there’s a reason pr types have “that” rep. i’d say 7 out of 10 are slimey and toss around words like “integrated solution” and “synergy.” but there are good one’s out there, right aliza?!? (disclosure: i don’t think i’ve ever pitched anything to aliza =] ).

    …soft sell. before you even get to pitching a blogger, do some sleuthing. follow ‘em on twitter. wait a few days. @ message them. retweet something interesting. you wouldn’t ask a girl you meet at the bar to get married that night, would you? (sans vegas) just be easy… friendly… friggin’ normal. bloggers might be more inclined when you act like a “normal human being” (anyone know the movie reference? clifford! starring martin short and charles grodin. CLASSIC weirdo humor).

    …make fun of yourself. pr is often a thankless job. you know it. reporters know it. bloggers know it. damn if you’re clients don’t know it. point is, when attempting to engage bloggers, make fun of what you’re doing. humor relieves awkwardness. i once had a client whose business had an goofy name – so i made fun of it in my emails to reporters. it set this tone: “look, pitching this is no fun. writing about it might be less fun, but it’s helping people solve problems. if you want to take a look, cool. if not, that’s cool too, but don’t not look because of the silly name.”

    ok, enough rambling. the olympics are on. eff shaun white for being a mere 23 years old, right? color me jealous.

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    1. Agreed, Dave, the real problem is the volume of irrelevant pitches from PR firms using a scattergun approach, rather than knowing the outlets they’re pitching to. As editor of WWD, I get a mountain of them. If I actually get a pitch that is well targeted at our audience, I am happy, because it might give the team something useful to work with. But that’s quite a rare occurrence.

      As the number of outlets has risen, it’s harder for PR firms to keep track of them all (it’s no longer a case of a few newspapers, TV and radio — there are a huge number of blogs), so I can understand that it’s tricky to make sure that pitches are relevant. However, surely the PR firms that are good at making relevant pitches are more successful than those that don’t, so there must be some incentive to do it well?

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  4. eww. i wrote way too much.

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  5. Interesting article. I think the key is to find those who might have an interest in writing about a brand. I work in marketing and I see how easy it to just pitch because it is what we said we’d do. On the other hand, as a blogger, I get bombarded with junk, often times WAAAY off the mark. In fact, I am pretty sure I could’ve published a few “social media bitch slaps” to prove a point how not to pitch me, but chose to take the high road.

    Here is something else to think about: Should companies make it easy for bloggers to contact them? Some of the better relationships I have with the music are those I sought versus the other way around. However, contacting some music labels/companies hasn’t been easy.

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  6. [...] My good friend Aliza Sherman has a great post over on Web Worker Daily about the evolution of the blogger relations model. [...]

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  7. [...] across this blog post yesterday from Aliza Sherman on Web Worker Daily.  The post titled, “Does Blogger [...]

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  8. [...] Does Blogger Outreach Still Work? – WebWorkerDailyIn my opinion, the problem is that so many approach bloggers as if the were journalist. They are not – even when they actually are both. Bloggers responds to another type of media logic, so let’s start there instead. [...]

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  9. I’m certainly not a professional blogger, but I do receive offers like this pretty frequently. What really catches my eye is when the person pitching the whatever doesn’t just target me, but knows my audience and appeals to them. That, in addition to altruism, goes far in my book (even if it’s not pure altruism, but a symbiosis of sorts).

    An example: Nathan Burke, from Aprigo, won high praise from me by the examples he has set for helping the sysadmin community. He gives away a free version of the NINJA software for small organizations when he doesn’t have to, he has spent resources promoting sysadmin awareness and doing things for sysadmin appreciation day, and he has highlighted at least one out-of-work sysadmin who came to his attention through a comment on his blog.

    So when Nathan Burke asks me to mention something that he’s doing, I’m much more likely to help, both because he has a history of helping the types of people who read my blog, and because he has a history of being involved with efforts that sysadmins find interesting and relevant.

    That kind of history and reputation goes far in the online world.

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  10. My blog is obviously personal, has no ads whatsoever, I’m a terrible poster and yet I still get email asking for me to blog about something in exchange for something (not usually money) or they want to place an ad. I don’t do reviews and I don’t want ads, yet, so I just ignore.

    Only one company has even come close to possibly being appropriate (I LOVE shoes! But, still no.), so most of the companies are not looking at my blog even remotely closely which bugs me. Delete, delete, delete.

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  11. As a journalist who edits a news website that unfortunately still has “blog” in its name, we get some pitches addressing us as “bloggers.” Since we are NOT “bloggers” and don’t believe anyone should be called a “blogger” – if you are a writer, you are a writer, for heaven’s sake, or a photographer, or an advocate, or a humorist, or whatever – we have a unique take on your topic. What I have tended to notice is that the “blogger” pitches tend to be more casual, with a fake tone, an intimation that it’s less serious, just funsies, hey, whaddaya think? wanna help us out? etc. Unless you ARE extremely casual about your writing, this seems to be something of a talk-down, even an insult. My usual response is “excuse me, we are journalists, please take us off your ‘blogger’ list and put us on your ‘news media’ list.” Funny thing, those pitches are full of respect, seriousness, and helpful information. If you are pitching “bloggers,” consider whether you are unintentionally insulting the writers by trying to be chummy instead of professional. My .01999999. Oh, and PS – If you are pitching a geographic-area-focused site (like mine), do some research about the area they cover. We’ve received an increasing amount of pitches, event calendar items, etc., for other parts of the city or region. If you’re pitching a neighborhood-focused site, please stick to the neighborhood. /soapbox

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  12. Insightful post and a good read for marketers. As someone on the marketing side, I’m finding that more bloggers are actually coming to me to request brand partnerships. However, I feel that a deeper connection with bloggers is essential to truly engaging our target audience – agree with the tips you give here.

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  13. As someone on the receiving end of those pitches, I find that most are off topic, mass distributed and completely impersonal. Those pitches go straight to my “no contact” folder before even being read completely.

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  14. Blogging is the cornerstone of SOCIAL media. As such, it should be no surprise that the best way to approach a blogger is to make sure that you’ve got your facts right. The whole point of a blog is to SHARE things you like, your opinions, etc. Why would you share something with somebody if they’re not interested in it?

    The fact of the matter is that when social media fell on old media’s radar, they saw it as something that they could take over and mold to their standards. They were wrong. They didn’t realise that they would have to answer to the people. That’s why so many huge brands can be found on Twitter, Facebook, et al but only a handful of them are doing it right.

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  15. Interesting post! I’m surprised at the low response rate actually. As a blogger whose sites are entirely commercial businesses, I am always working to improve my relationships with PR professionals, so it is a shame to hear that the majority of bloggers fail to see the usefulness of this type of relationship.

    Though to echo Cat’s sentiments, if you send me emails that are addressed to the wrong person, or worse, to a website other than ours, or a clear complete lack of understanding what our USP is, then yes, you won’t be getting a response. :)

    Andy

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  16. What if the PR people don’t pitch? What if there’s a place that the bloggers can just go at their own free will to search for post ideas?

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