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.


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.