In Defense of PR: View from A Blogger / PR Practitioner

When I was 24 I got my first real PR agency job. The agency was one of the hottest and fastest growing in the San Diego tech sector. We had red walls, a fully stocked refrigerator and "team-building outings." The CEO had her slew of 20-something girls in little business suits, lined up in their cubes pitching, writing and trying to figure out what the hell a 802.11 repeater was. 

Let me tell you a little about Public Relations... see, there has always been a misunderstanding of what it really means. 

Public Relations is the forward facing communicator for a company, brand or product. This department writes the news of the company and spins it to make it a good story for public consumption. PR professionals are paid to get news to journalists in such a way that a journalist wants to write about it.

But the reality is that for every piece of news, you are lucky if you get one - five publications to cover it. So you constantly build your list of contacts through journalists who write similar stories, cover your client's competitors or look to understand the space you are in. And part of an overall plan is keeping journalists informed on news information and story ideas by "blasting" pitches to lists. Are the lists perfect? Never. Does a PR person try their hardest to keep the lists as clean and relevant as possible? They should.

A common complaint I hear is that the pitch isn't personalized enough. PR people use massive data bases - Cision and Vocus to name a few - to form their lists. These databases have very, very basic information listed about journalists and, more recently, bloggers. Mainly keywords and a snippet from your bio. When a PR person searches through the system to build lists, they will search for general phrases. A shampoo company may search for things like "beauty products" and "reviews" - so if your niche is organic-only products, your name may slip through the cracks and your name added to the list. Why? Because the bio on the database may make you look like the IDEAL CUSTOMER for this shampoo and there is a chance - maybe only a slight one - that you will want to write about their story/brand/product. 

And journalists write these articles at no cost to the company/brand/product. 

Yes. Journalists write for FREE

Well, kinda. See, it's the job of the journalist to fill the publication they write for with valuable news and information to get people to buy and subscribe to their publication. In the PR world if you want to pay for content, that's an advertorial, or a straight up ad. Technically, it's considered unethical for traditional journalists to even get gifted with products and services.

Here is where PR people and bloggers don't see eye-to-eye.

Bloggers see it as "I have this amazing platform that I've worked my ass off to get to the point it's at, why would I talk about your product, post pictures of your brand and include links to your sites for free?" To a blogger, it's like Revlon asking Vogue to run it's ads for free.

But honestly, in traditional PR, the company would never think of paying for journalistic coverage at publications like Wall St. Journal or Allure. And there is the tipping point. 

So what is a blogger and a PR person to do?

First, we need to keep in mind that both of us are humans, prone to mistakes. How would a blogger feel if a PR person blasted them across social media, or sent an email to 300 PR reps about the professionalism of the blogger? Another thing bloggers need to keep in mind is that today's PR associate is tomorrow's Marketing Manager with a $500,000 blogger relations budget. 

Additionally, as the blogosphere is growing and as we bloggers are trying hard to make a dime, many of us will become the brand/product/company. And we all know who the bloggers are we would want to work with... if you are negative and bitching, would you want to work with you based on what you've said on various platforms?

The thing we all need to keep in mind is that daily, our scope is is changing and morphing into something it wasn't yesterday. We all need to figure it out together, to get us all to the point where we think we should be. 

But this change isn't going to happen overnight. So we all, Bloggers and PR reps, need to work together until that day comes. And I have a few suggestions for bloggers to ease the frustration.

1) Check and see if you are listed in PR databases. If so, contact them with the information you want noted. If you don't like getting press releases - you can put that in your bio. Make sure the databases have the information YOU want noted.

2) Have a full disclosure sheet and few sentence information about how you work with brands easily found on your website. Figure out for yourself what you will do on a straight publicity front, and what you charge for. 

3) NEVER ask for money to review products. Both the integrity of the brand and the blogger are hurt by paid reviews. Obviously you need product to even write a review, but  be up-front with the PR person that just because product is sent, they are not guaranteed a review or mention. 

4) Be professional. Don't take on everything. It's OK to just delete emails that are not right for you. It's ok to email back and asked to be taken off a list for a brand you don't gel with and most of all - it's ok to just say "No Thanks!" 

While I don't want the comments to turn into a bitch session on either side - I would love thoughts from bloggers and PR peeps on this! Did I miss anything? Have you had a great experience you want to share? 


Teh Lame: Why do your crap posts get the most attention?

A change is in the air in the blogosphere. I don't think anyone really knows what it is, but something is brewing. The status quo for the life of a blogger isn't cutting it anymore. The pennies being paid to the blogging masses for content and sidebar ads are just not equaling the amount of time and vested interest one has in their posts anymore. Becoming brand ambassadors, working with agents and {GASP} actually being paid for our thoughts is the talk of the town. Dare I say a blogosphere revolution is at hand?

Like most, what I started in 2006 as a creative outlet is now a business and a personal brand. While I once hid my blog from prospective employers, my various blogs are now proudly displayed on the top of my resume. It's no longer about free drinks. Its now about how I can successfully support my family using my talents. I'm not kidding myself into thinking I'm the only one out there with that goal. Hundreds of other bloggers out there share my mindset, and hundreds are actually doing it. In this business I talk a lot with people all over the nation about what we are doing, where we hope to go - goals, aspirations, etc. I always come back to content. I've always thought that good content was the key to success, but honestly, that's not the case. 

As we grow and begin to analyze our traffic we are all noticing the same thing - the crap posts are the ones that get read

Half asleep, we throw up a rant about Starbucks, desperate for content we write about fall nail trends - and these are the posts that catch fire. Whether they were Stumbled, Pinned or Shared on Facebook, we watch these posts rake in hundreds and thousands of hits. Meanwhile, the beautiful ode to your life-changing decision sits stale, dust gathering on the hit counter. The poignant post you threw your day into about the state of the Mommy Wars goes unnoticed while people are STILL reading about fall nail trends well into the winter months. 

So I ask. Why are the lame posts getting read and the good posts not? 

Is it that the Internet, like the general population, just seems to be getting dumber? Is it that more and more people read blogs from work or from mobile devices - where they only have a moment to decompress, thus leading to the mindless fodder? Honestly, I don't know the answer. But as a blogger and a writer and a professional, it's a little sad to see. Since our pay is based on traffic, as bloggers are we dumbing ourselves down to a traffic generating level? And if we haven't yet - is it only a matter of time until we do? And then what? Then what does the blogosphere become? 

On the flip side, when it comes to actually making decent money from our blogs, we are only as good as our traffic. Retail stores don't carry items that don't sell, so why shouldn't you offer the public what they want? 

So I'm throwing it out there to fellow bloggers - do you notice this same trend on your blog? Are you mindful of this when you write posts?