Brands and Blogging: more BlogHer’12 take home value

Now that I’ve had a chance to digest the BlogHer’12 avalanche of information and ideas I thought I would tackle a rehash of one of the most interesting panels I attended. In a way that won’t bore everybody else to tears, including myself.

Brands x Bloggers

The Brand Blogger Connection featured panellists both from successful blogs and PR and Marketing professionals with (obviously) experience dealing with bloggers.

The whole thing got a little tense when the subject of getting paid to work with a brand was brought up and it’s that moment that I wanted to unpack a little.

Disclosure.

As a PR, obviously I am coming from the marketing/PR point of view rather than blogger perspective. I make no claim to be experienced as a blogger on this topic and in the interest of being completely transparent, I also want to say I was a little dismayed at the way some bloggers responded to the panel, almost as if it were a call to arms against brands who don’t offer cash every time they approach bloggers. It made me think – maybe there’s been a bit of miscommunication (excuse. the. pun.).

And this is written in the spirit of wanting to get everyone to hold hands, not start WW3 – though of course, feel free to comment.

Media and PRs – why can’t we all just get along?

Can I just point out – media and PR have (have always had) a symbiotic relationship out of necessity. And in an increasingly specialised communications industry, I venture a pretty good guess that they always will.

Media rely on PRs to help them source information, images, access appropriate people to interview, loan or receive free product. PRs rely on media to help spread the word, as a platform to address criticism or other issues, or rally support for a cause.

There shouldn’t be animosity – unless (as with any relationship) expectations are not communicated, and boundaries defined and maintained on both sides.

Here’s what the PR is thinking…

To give a little background, a PR strategy is usually (but not always) separate from the marketing/advertising strategy. That means there are a certain number of hours allocated (by the brand/client) for PR activities. A strategy is written by the PR, then approved by the client. It may involve tactics to achieve one or several of the following: education, promotion/straight publicity, consumer engagement or dialogue, community and stakeholder relations. Or others. Depending on the product, client expectations, and the ability of the PR. The strategy may also include “budget” for some of the tactics which could be product sampling, sponsored posts, or a launch event.

An example of part of a PR strategy for a consumer brand could be:

Brand X is releasing a new flavour of pasta sauce. Because grocery purchasing decisions are mainly made by mothers, the brand’s PR strategy is focussed on promoting it in media outlets (including blogs) that are read by (and written by) mothers, and liaising with interest groups or opinion leaders that have previously been in dialogue with the brand to find out what they think (this should include dissenters as well as advocates).

The tactics within the PR strategy include promoting the news – that there is a new flavour, as well as educating existing customers/potential new ones about the health/diet credentials of the product range or unique selling points (what makes it different to other products on the market). It may also involve attempting to engage mothers in a dialogue about their grocery shopping and meal planning to create meaningful feedback for the product developers. And starting a dialogue (two-way discussion) with the interest groups or opinion leaders that previously have rated or hated the brand. The last two tactics might take place on the brand’s Facebook page, or in face-to-face meetings with stakeholders or interest groups, or involve a VIP event. But for the first tactic – to promote the new flavour and educate about the brand – the PR will almost certainly attempt to write one or several news releases for the product: and if they’re clever they’ll research the hell out of it until they find a really interesting (TRUE) story idea like “new pasta sauce flavour saves lives” and that’s when, dear reader, it gets sent to your inbox.

Manners are important.

Ignore if – If a PR writes you an email that starts “Dear Blogger” or similar – please, PLEASE, feel free to laugh at them. DELETE the email. And move on with your life. Obviously their campaign is going to bomb – big time. If their client, superiors or even colleagues knew they’d written an email like that, they’d be in a world of pain. Feel free to dob them in. Or just let the universe take care of them.

Get paid if – they are asking you to be an advocate or ambassador for brand, write a whole piece on it, or host a banner/graphic on your site – and you feel it is a good fit for your audience and you want to be involved with the brand – do respond with your media kit that hopefully includes a clear outline of your audience demographics, sponsored post prices, advertising rates etc.

Here’s the grey area.

If the PR is trying to promote a ‘news’ item (ie. they send you a release about a new brand or range or product) and they don’t piss you off with their lack of manners, there are a few ways it can go:

No dice – If you don’t feel it’s a good fit for your audience, trash it. If you’ve got time or want to build a relationship with the PR, flick a quick email back to say thanks but no thanks, here’s why. Or not. Believe me, they won’t take it personally. And they’ll appreciate ANY feedback you give them, especially if it will improve their understanding of you and what’s important to you. And definitely tell them if you object to, or have had a bad experience with the brand or product – this is invaluable feedback.

Get paid – If you think it’s really a good fit for your audience, and you want to take it further, find out if the PR strategy has “budget”, and try to upsell them. For example, you could tell them you’d like to run a 4-week campaign on your site that includes some sponsored posts, or an ongoing series of posts on a relevant topic (product mentions must be exclusive to their brand AND they will expect editorial control/final sign off on the copy), you could add in some ad placement, etc. Be clear with the price breakdown and be prepared to back up your proposal with examples of your work with other brands as the client will most certainly want the PR to prove it is worth the investment – as with any advertising spend.

IMPORTANT – many PRs will not have budget for paid placements, but they WILL be able to direct you to the media buyer/agency that takes care of advertising spend. This is where maintaining a positive, open dialogue with the PR agency can open doors. And like mum said, mind your manners. Politely declining a pitch or ignoring a release is more than ok but a bad attitude could mean the difference between you being remembered when there IS budget or not.. and word spreads FAST among PRs. They’re professional chatterboxes, remember?

It’s news – if a PR has sent you a media or news release (whether it’s promoting a new product/new brand/new angle), and you feel it suits your audience, and you want to write about it, then that’s great! Use it as a jumping off point to do your thing. If you need images or product to review, ask and ye shall receive. Mention other brands if you want to. Create a conversation amongst your readers about their favourite healthy quick dinner – or whatever it is. Basically, do what you like. A news release is designed to do the same thing for bloggers as it does for newspaper journalists or television producers or magazine editors. Educate the writer/content producer about a product or event or brand, start a dialogue with them to gauge their opinion (I always like to tell clients what perception is of their brand so they can improve on it), and potentially (hopefully) generate enough interest in the STORY IDEA to get a piece up about it. Often this involves other products being thrown in for balance. But that’s fine, as long as there is a mention for the client in there somewhere. This mention, however small, is the payback for the PR that says thanks for the idea. Or nice image. Or free product.

Content is key.

My favourite part of PR is connecting great brands with great media to create amazing content. I have a media background (before I worked in PR, I worked in television and online content production) and still love seeing an idea come to life in a beautifully crafted post, or video, or interview. I have no interest in seeing my media releases copied verbatim (this has happened in so called newspapers before, it’s not as fun for me as it is easy for the publication). And I really love getting to know bloggers in particular – some of my favourite media contacts back home are bloggers that I will keep working with because of their professionalism, their integrity (defined as much by them saying ‘no’ as yes), and crazy sense of humour.

Yeah – I saw those BlogHer’12 party pics… 😉

You can read a full transcript of the panel here.


BlogHer, Obama-loving and Health Marketing

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today was my first day at the BlogHer ’12 conference. It’s technically not the first day of the conference, it’s actually a “pre” conference day, but two specialised streams of the conference took place that I did not attend and the most awesome thing I have ever seen – a live video cross with POTUS himself – I did.

The trip in to the Hilton New York on 6th Ave takes around half an hour on the M-train (walk included) and I figured I should get to the conference by 3.30 to give myself time for registration and a bit of the old faffing around. A reasonable combination of nerves, excitement and general nerdiness contributed to my 2pm arrival despite a pit stop at the most awesome bakery I have ever eaten in.

Magnolia Bakery.

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Magnolia cupcakes also offers a monthly CUPCAKE CLUB where you can receive 6 or 12 cupcakes delivered to your door. Is this the best idea ever, or what? For posterity, it should also be timed to your cycle.

For the uninitiated, the Magnolia Bakery is like mecca for cupcake lovers, where you should go if you’d like to know what it would feel like to have an angel shart in your mouth. I won’t explain what sharting is because there are ladies reading this, but just be happy with the angel reference. I had a vanilla cupcake with vanilla bean frosting (blue) and sprinkles (multicolour) and of course, my new favourite beverage, iced coffee.

Nutritious requirements for the day fulfilled, I proceeded to trounce up 6th Ave (or down, I’m not sure which is the correct vernacular) and on the way spotted this awesome place. The design of the signs in this city just blow me away.

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Radio City Hall baby!

I also passed NBC studios (sweet) but I’m saving that pic for the day I catch someone awesome walking out. Or maybe tomorrow. It was too much excitement for one day and I didn’t want to peak too early on Instagram.

The Hilton New York is a grand old dame, a little brassy but not without it’s charm. The actual conference itself is in it’s 8th year and now has around 4000 blogettes attending, plus a handful of male blogettes, which equals a lot of very excited and slightly tipsy women (and some men) snatching up a giant motherload of product samples and wifi usage.

Registration was so fast (bonus points for efficiency!) I barely had time to whip out my NSW driver’s license before I had a lanyard and program. The great part of that was it left me with plenty of time to wander the halls and wonder what on earth I have gotten myself into.

You see, attending the BlogHer conference wasn’t part of my grand plan. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought I really should attend. Yes, there is my recent blogging activity. My long standing obsession with social media. My PR background and interest in all things marketing. My looking for a job. The abundant opportunities to network. My love of hotel buffets. And wanting to make new friends here in NYC. All good reasons to attend.

So you can imagine my delight when I found out that the President of the United States (POTUS!) himself would be addressing the conference LIVE via satellite link.

And you can also imagine my horror and impending sense of doom at being at a conference of thousands of (mostly) women, recreating a scenario not unlike the all-female school-type institutions I attended. I’m one of those people that shudders when people say “school – ah the best years of your life” because if you paid me $10,000,000 to go back to school I would say no thanks and stay happily in my 30s – in fact, I’d possibly even take an additional 10 year penalty and go into my 40s, just to further distance myself from it.

Why the melodrama, Adriana? I think it’s summed up with a few more A-words: awkward, acne, anxiety, adolescence and also just being told what to think and how to be by teachers, parents, and mostly peers frankly sucks. Alright, so I don’t have the acne (just the scars) anymore and I’m not an adolescent, so this should be a cinch? Hmm. If female-dominated workplaces have taught me anything it’s that women, en masse, require Survivor-like skills to be endured. Sadly western culture and the glass ceiling have not done great things to the sisterhood. Corporate life teaches us “eat or be eaten”. Some decide they didn’t get enough of the popularity contest in high-school and keep recreating their sorority in each new environment they encounter. The bitching endemic in mostly female workplaces kills me.

So you can imagine my (pleasant) surprise when nobody I encountered today was even remotely like the people I’m referring to. My first encounter whilst waiting (an hour early) for POTUS-link to commence, was with a lovely lass, a health writer for a medical website from San Francisco. My response to her question “Can I sit here” was “Yes please!” and quickly trickled into a lovely discussion about the state of FDA regulations in the US and the fact that you only have to prove your product DOESN’T kill anyone, not that it does. And the fact that San Fran really does seem lovely and she was staying recently in Nantucket which I thought must have just been a funny hick-town’s name they put in a limerick but it turns out it’s actually an island.

I KNOW!

Crazy. The next women I met were both contemplating a glass of wine after POTUS-link at the bar. We each drank a glass of white wine and discussed the state of our careers and what we wanted out of our blogs, which was all rather different but as it turns out we all had sage advice to share, and really if you think about it, most women do a wonderful job of being nurturing so why the hell don’t we nurture each other more rather than tearing each other down?

DIGRESSION! (I just re-read Catcher in the Rye, so if you don’t understand the reference, you could read it. Or you could guess what that means. You’d be right)

President Obama filled the grand ballroom at the Hilton New York today. Actually his projected image on 3 video screens did. President Obama also won me a $10 Starbucks gift card (THANKS, MR. PRESIDENT!) because I was the first person in that entire ballroom to live-tweet a picture of his head on Twitter.

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My wining twit pic. I LOVE YOU OBAMA!

THE FIRST! In a whole ballroom of bloggers.

I didn’t even know there was a competition on.. But I can guarantee you that seeing as I have finally received the remuneration I deserve for my rapid and unrelenting social media over-sharing, that I will surely continue it, and then some.

Mr. President Obama’s speech mainly addressed the female health aspects of his campaign, pointing out that Romney is planning on closing down Planned Parenthood (BOO). Several grown women hollered out “I love you Obama” like he was a rockstar. He also acknowledged the term “Obamacare” was thrust upon him but that he was glad to accept it as he was proud of the reforms he has been able to bring in. Lots of people stood up after his speech and clapped the video monitors.

And the most beautiful part of it was that the two event organisers that were there – Lisa and Elise – both hugged each other afterwards, because for them it had meant the achievement of something really special – to have established a community of bloggers so highly regarded that the President himself would bother to address them.

Really inspirational stuff.

We then had a couple of hours to explore the exhibitors stands which, let me tell you, are equal parts marketer’s dream and nightmare.

I will regale you with more stories about the loot later but here’s the loot so far:

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Lots of stuff I needed. Clearly.

And just because I cannot understand what they were thinking, booby prize goes to this effort from Poise:

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Targeting menopausal women with a fan I get. But what is the light for? To watch your fertility wither? To check your underpants for leakage? I DON’T UNDERSTAND!

Tomorrow I have to be up early to take full advantage of the buffet breakfast before a full day of workshops/seminars so I’m going to sign off now.

TOODLES! x