After reading some hilarious stories about PR outreach to bloggers gone wrong (this one and this one come to mind), I decided to survey the blogging community, just to ask them: are we still friends? I’ll start with the good news: the blogger-PR love is still strong. Bloggers (like most journalists) realise that PR pro's can be useful for them. An overwhelming majority of bloggers is open to pitches by PR professionals.
When asked if they're okay with PR pro's sending them pitches for stories, a whopping 88% says they have no problem with that. Only 6% is categorically against PR outreach. 6% is "not sure".
Almost half of them regard bloggers as journalists, and allow PR agencies to contact them without prior permission. A smaller percentage are okay with e-mails, but only after prior consent. Only a very small minority refuse to be pitched at all, or expect to be contacted through a commercial entity that represents them.
What I was very curious about was the number of times bloggers get contacted by PR agencies or marketing departments. The results are quite surprising: it seems there are two kinds of bloggers - those who are on the radar and those who are not.
It's very rare that bloggers get only one or a few pitches from PR professionals. While 27% never heard of a PR professional in their entire blogging life, more than half of them received more than 10 pitches already. A solid 27 percent have even been pitched more than 25 times (this really surprised me). Blogger outreach is hot in PR. This has some important consequences, I think.
Given the number of pitches bloggers receive, it would be wise not to underestimate bloggers. Indeed, if they have any complaints, it's about the attitude of PR pro's towards them. Look at the top complaints: they all have to do with the fact that bloggers get the feeling that PR pro’s view them as second rate journalists.
The top mistake is probably the same one that journalists complain of: "no personal pitch" (51%). The indiscriminate e-mail blast is obviously still popular, because let’s face it: it works sometimes. But some other mistakes PR pro's make in their contacts with bloggers are gaffes they wouldn't dream of committing when contacting journalists or media gatekeepers.
"Had never read my blog" (31%) and "didn't know my subject or specialty" (28%), are great ways to start a relationship on the wrong foot. How hard is it to actually look at the blog and to add someone on Twitter if they are obviously influential in an area where you are active? Not to mention the fact that it is n times harder to make a convincing pitch or think of a good angle when you have no idea what a writer's style or expertise is.
While these mistakes are bad enough, a decent number of bloggers complain about feeling like second tier influencers, a notch or two below the 'real' journalists. "Gave me the feeling I should be honoured to be pitched" (23%). "Made a mistake when addressing me" (23%), as in: got my name wrong, or called me Mrs. when I'm actually a guy, as you would easily guess if you had ever visited my blog. This is reminiscent of the heated e-mail exchange between mommy blogger The Blogess and an impolite and unfortunate PR pro (who forgot that when calling someone a bitch, it’s wise not to include the “bitch” in the reply all).
It's good to remind yourself here how often bloggers get pitched these days. While for some old school PR pro's the idea of reaching out to bloggers is apparently still a novelty, for bloggers it's become a routine. It must be especially galling to be treated like a curiosity - "oooh, cute mommy blogger will certainly love us". No she won't, necessarily. She’s not new to this game, and she might not think highly of your professionalism if you wing it. She might love you, if you treat her like the pro that she obviously is.
Then there's the matter of payment. Almost 40 % of the bloggers complain that the PR agency did not offer any payment, or only symbolic payment. I guess this symbolic payment would include the "here's some free hi res photographs" offer that some bloggers poke fun at (because yes *gasp*, they realise that's not actually payment for them, but a win for your marketing department).
I'm not quite sure how I feel about paying bloggers, personally. As a PR pro and former journalist, I dislike blurry lines between paid media and earned media. Note that I’m not talking about seeding a product into the blogging community. Research shows that when seeding is done right, bloggers will actually go through the trouble of translating your marketing pitch into a story that fits in with the values of their blogging community. What more can you ask for? And if journalists get offered a phone, tablet or whatever to play around with, it’s clear that you should offer the same to bloggers.
But paying for content is a different matter. I guess I'd like to think that our exclusives, angles and access to insiders add value to publications - traditional media or blogs alike. One blogger seemed to agree with this in the comment section, when he remarked that not all pitches are created equal. "If I like the subject and we can use it, I will accept. If I don't like the pitch but the agency insists I write about it, I expect compensation". This is not so different from how traditional media operate: if they like the story as a story, they’ll write about it. If not, you’ll be asked to buy some ad space over at the commercial department. The only difference is that bloggers don’t have a commercial department. Maybe they should consider adding “advertorial” to paid content, though, just like traditional media do. It would be transparent.
In the comment section, someone mentioned the lack of "unsubscribe" option in e-mails as a serious mistake that's often made by PR agencies. It's a problem that a lot of journalists complain about too, incidentally, and I can relate perfectly. It's not because someone writes about a subject that's related (or vaguely related) to your business, that he or she is under any obligation to keep receiving your e-mails. One blogger wrote in the comment section: "As long as it's about my subject, I don't mind receiving e-mails." But, as another blogger wrote: don't waste my time pitching stuff I don't write about: "PR agencies should learn to target their pitches better. We have a car blog - strictly about cars - but we constantly receive pitches about liquor, watches and other "men" stuff. We don't write about that, and yet the same agencies keep sending those pitches to us."
Someone also wrote: "Don't treat me like a PR tool. I'm human." Good point. He added: "Even though we do this blogging stuff in our own time, we often know stuff before you do." Excellent point. Bloggers are passionate and knowledgeable about their subject: they deserve your respect. Other complaints included: "too aggressive when pitching", ie the agency pushed too much to have something published (a common complaint from journalists as well).
What is very interesting, is the number of stories that resulted from the pitches. While a 60 percent success might be high compared to pitches to traditional media, I think it's actually a pretty low success rate when it comes to bloggers - all the more because blogging is hard work, after all, mostly done after hours. So when someone comes along with a good idea, it should be a no brainer to run with it.
The comments for this question revealed that most bloggers don't feel like they're super critical of pitches. Almost 20% did complain that the pitch was written too commercially. This is not limited to bloggers: in research by professor Jordi Xifra, about 25% of surveyed journalists complained that PR copy was frequently “too commercial” to be of use to them Better tone down the sales volume in your press releases.
Bloggers also provided some insight in what might entice them to receive your pitch favorably. Overwhelmingly, bloggers want to get hands on with the product you pitch them about. As one blogger puts it: "Letting me test the product you want me to write about is the least you can do, I think." Another remarked: "I couldn't resist the offer to go on a roadtrip with a new car for four days. Seemed like fun." Also, bloggers want to be able to write what they think about your product or service. Said one blogger: "I will write about the product you give me. But if I don't like it, I will write just that". And another: "I don't mind writing about stuff I get. But it's always my opinion and no one else's."
Are you a blogger or a PR pro? Discuss with us in the comment section, or via Twitter: @kris10vermoesen