Archive for July 21st, 2008

Pitching to bloggers

Closing your eyes and diving into the unknown is a somewhat frightening prospect. It’s a little like how I feel pitching to bloggers.

The lines of communication between traditional media and PR are well established and any combustion is usually smoothed over. With bloggers it’s a bit different. Often there’s no existing relationship, and you have no idea how the blogger will react. Not everybody who blogs will appreciate PR bods butting in on the conversation and they’re under no obligation to write anything about whatever it is you’re pitching. Frankly, most of the time they don’t actually need whatever it is you’re pushing, and can happily carry on their conversation without you.

Worse still, get it wrong and the blogger’s got an immediate platform to (justifiably) complain about your cackhanded methods, which will do nothing for your Google juice. And, if you’re really bad, you could end up on a blacklist.

(And given that there appear to be some people out there who aren’t able to pitch to journalists properly, that’s not an unrealistic scenario.)

It’s understandable than some people in all areas of the media are somewhat cautious, even reluctant at reaching out to bloggers. But it would be a mistake to avoid attempting to make contact with bloggers for fear of getting it wrong. If your content, and pitch, is good enough then hopefully you can work into the start of a good working relationship that can be beneficial to both sides.

Strangely, as I started doing some ‘cold’ pitching to bloggers last week I also got an excellent and unexpected example of a ‘cold’ pitch in my own inbox. An email that contains the phrase “And unfortunately I come with no offers of pies, nor biscuits,” in the opening paragraph will get my attention as it’s clearly that

1. It’s been written by a human.

2. They’ve actually made an effort to read a bit about me.

The pitch, from Hyperlaunch, was concise, explained why I’d been contacted, and was detailed on the product I was being pitched. If I’d received it as a journalist and not a blogger [1] I’d have mentally been sketching out a story or a feature in my head by the final paragraph. That’s a sign of excellent PR, even more so when you consider the product being pitched – music site Muzu – wasn’t something I’d normally have paid much attention to. It was professional, personal and an textbook example, if such a thing is possible, on how to make cold contact.

I’ll come to Muzu in another blog post, mainly because I don’t want to head off on a tangent (chance would be a fine thing).

Now contrast this with the only other two pitches I’ve had directed to me-as-blogger. One was a generic press release which was half interesting but I didn’t have time to write about it and there was no sign anybody had made any effort to engage with me. Frankly, if you’re emailing a blogger who runs a one-man site and blogs under his own name, I don’t think it’s asking too much to at least add a hello.

But it was the second pitch that was a classic example in how not to pitch to a blogger. Not only was it something I wasn’t overly interested in, the pitch (now-deleted) went something along the lines of (and I’m condensing and paraphrasing here): “Hello. You’re a blogger. Here’s something we want you to write about. Because you should be grateful we’re bothering with you, please blog this before next week and let us know when you’ve done this.”

This was followed up 18 hours later with a second email along the lines of: “Hello. You’ve not responded to our email. Please indicate if you’re going to blog about it and if you’re lucky we may send you other stuff that we want you to blog about.”

Ok, so I’m being a bit facetious here. But you get the idea. Needless to say, they got a curt ‘no thank you’.

Based on my own experiences, both as a pitcher and a pitchee, it doesn’t seem rocket science to find the correct way to engage with bloggers. To be honest, it’s no different from cold pitching a journalist, and if you can do that, you’re probably not going to hack off the person you want to engage with.

So, for what it’s worth – and these aren’t exhaustive or necessarily to be applied in every situation – a few tips:

  1. Do your research. If you know a bit about the person or blog you’re pitching to it helps. No different from any publication, in that regard.
  2. Don’t assume that because they’re bloggers, they’ll gratefully hoover up any old shite. Group blogs especially will probably exercise a fair bit of editorial control. Much like any newsroom.
  3. Don’t assume that because they’re bloggers, they’re amateurs. Many bloggers are also journalists, or have some experience in these field. Others blog because they know the topic inside out. Or at least better than you do.
  4. Make it relevant. Even if it’s perhaps a bit tenuous, you’ve got to give the blogger a reason why they should be interested in what you’re promoting. Like you would to a journalist.
  5. Be prepared for an open and honest response. A lot of blogs will be happy to build links with PRs, but that doesn’t mean to say if they don’t like what you’re offering, they won’t criticise it. Like journalists should do.
  6. Don’t get offended by an open and honest response. Because since when has screaming down the phone (or email) at anybody ever achieved anything than making you feel better?
  7. Don’t abandon the blogger after they’ve blogged about whatever it is you’re publicising. If they’re favourable to your initial approach, it’s a good opportunity for a long relationship that could be mutually beneficial to both sides. Disappearing after getting what you want leaves the blogger feeling like they’ve just had a less-than-fun one-night stand.
  8. Include a note at the end to say that if the pitch isn’t welcome, then you’re sorry and won’t contact the blogger again. It’s just a nice bit of courtesy at the end of an unsolicited pitch.
For what it’s worth, as a blogger I don’t think it’s worth leaping online and letting rip if you don’t like the approach unless the approach happens to be really bad.
I’ve not blogged about the poor pitch highlighted above because, frankly, up until now it wasn’t worth my time. I’m only mentioning it now because it nicely highlights the point and even then I’d rather not give the company any publicity. If the company repeatedly hassled me, I might consider it. But I’m also willing to accept that it may be a one-off and I’m not going to burn bridges before they’ve been built. Although, writing from a public relations perspective, I’m always likely to say that.
There’s always been the temptation to see bloggers – and other social media tools and sites – in the same light a technophobe may have approached programming the video player for the first time. In fact, programming a video player is a hell of a lot more complicated.
Bloggers don’t usually bite unless you give them a good reason to. And if you treat them as you would any other contact, be it journalist or client, then chances are you’ll get the same respect and courtesy back, even if it’s nothing more than a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’. 

[1] And there’s no reason why these can’t be one and the same.


Ways to improve the world, number 32 in an occasional series

Rather than having a loud, piercing, shrill ‘eeee-oowwww’ nose for the firm alarm that everybody just covers their ears and ignores unless somebody rungs through the office on fire, replace it with a piece on Ennio Morricone music. Preferably The Man With The Harmonica – the bit that announces Charles Bronson’s character in Once Upon A Time In The West.

The palpable sense of menace would have everybody sitting up on edge in the knowledge something very nasty was about to happen in about 20 frames time. There’d be no panic either, as people would make their way slowly, quietly and nervously to the emergency exits with the haunting tones of menace in their ears.

If Charles Bronson could be employed to appear for genuine fires, that would ensure everybody knew things were serious.

I may be slightly too in thrall to spaghetti westerns.

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July 2008

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com