I had a fabulous meeting with the lovely Suzanne from A Modern Mother yesterday. We spent a good amount of time discussing how businesses and their PR people should be interacting with mummy bloggers. Now I don't normally talk shop on this blog. This blog is about me being a mum. But when I'm not being a mum, I run a PR business from home. So I wear both the PR and mummy blogger hats. And it's not always a comfortable fit (try wearing two hats at once and you'll see what I mean).
Anyway, Suzanne has written a great post inspired by a similar post from GeekMommy over in the US about how companies shouldn't expect mummy bloggers to run their competitions for them for free. And I fully agree. Any PR or company that thinks they can get a blogger to not only host but also run the mechanics of a give-away on their blog for nothing other than a free sachet of soap powder is 'aving a larf. But apparently this is happening a lot in the US. Give it a few more months and I'm sure it will be happening here in the UK too.
The comments section of GeekMommy's post made for fascinating reading with many bloggers jumping in saying that they're fed up with being expected to do the PR's job for free. There were lots of the usual comments too about how PR people don't even bother to read their blog and send them info about baby products when they actually have teenagers or ask them to write about a cleaning product when their blog focuses on fashion. Or whatever. I'm making some of these examples up but that was the gist of it.
This same accusation is levelled at PR people by journalists who say that PR people have never read their publication and send them completely irrelevant info and just expect a free plug for their client instead of giving them a decent story.
PR people are I believe, hated the world over. I often think you'd be better off saying that you're a prostitute, a banker or a politician than admitting to being a PR luvvie dahling.
But wearing my PR hat, squashed quite firmly over my ears, for a minute, here's the challenge we have:
Challenge 1: The scope of the media and blogosphere
Think about how many magazines, newspapers and websites there are out there. Think about how many writers - i.e. individuals with their own specific likes and dislikes - there are that PR people are expected to know inside out. Now add to that the huge number of bloggers, all with their own lives you as a PR person are expected to know even more personally - from what age their children are to whether they're an eco warrior or a fashionista. It is a nigh on impossible task.
A good PR person will have a database of contacts who they come to know over time and will give them the things they need in the way they need them. But it is still a task that takes a gargantuan amount of time, time not usually paid for by the client. Which is why things aren't always as personalised as they should be. I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying that with pressure from clients to reach as many people as you can, it's pretty hard to keep things personal.
And if you're still thinking: Tough, that's your job, well yes. But imagine for a minute that you as a blogger or journalist have landed the golden egg and some publisher wants to turn your musings into a book. You want your book to be bought in the thousands, if not millions, so that you can buy an island and drink daiquiris for the rest of your life. You're not allowed to employ a PR person. You need to get the book out to as many influential people as possible. Start writing a list of every newspaper, magazine, TV show and blog you'd like your book to appear on. Now find out who covers book reviews at those titles. Now find out what type of books they like to read, how far in advance they review books, whether they like exclusives, whether they always require free books to give away in order to publish a review, where to send a book to, how they like to be contacted etc etc etc. And that's for one book. One product. One customer. Multiply that out for several customers with several products and you'll start to feel the enormity of the task facing PR people.
So to sum up, while I'm in now way excusing shoddy PR practices of spray and pray, if you receive a pitch from a PR person that isn't 100% personalised to you, try not to hate them too much for it. If it really annoys you, delete it or let them know what you do like so that they can get it right next time.
Challenge 2: How big is a blogger's scope of influence?
We know that bloggers are influential. The reason they're influential is because what they write is perceived as honest, not PR puff. The minute it smacks of PR puff, people will be turned off. But not all blogs are created equal. How many of your client's target audience is each individual blogger reaching? Probably not that many. Add up multiple bloggers and you start to get a cumulative effect. But your client wants to reach as many people as possible - whether that's through one uber-influential blogger or multiple less influential bloggers.
The challenge for PR people is knowing who the influential bloggers are. How do you work out which bloggers are the influential ones? By number of comments? Number of followers? Asking for their visitor stats? Do all bloggers even track their visitor stats? At the moment, a lot of it is guesswork. Trial and error on the part of PR companies. And measuring the results can be difficult too. Sure you can track links and click throughs but it's not all scientific. So you're spending a lot of time getting to know people and personalising info for them without really knowing whether it's going to have an impact on the client's bottomline. Tricky.
Challenge 3: Not all bloggers know who they are
Many mummy bloggers are new to the game in the UK. It's growing fast. But how many of the bloggers even know themselves what they want their blog to be? Most start out as a journal - a place for personal musings (like this one). But many quickly realise that blogging takes up a good amount of their time, time they could be spending earning a living. So they start to think about how they can get their blog to earn them a few pennies. It changes identity from a journal to a revenue generating venture. For some this is very low level, pocket money really. While others try to turn their blogs into information portals or ezines (or they might have set them up with this in mind in the first place) to actively generate revenue and make a living from it. Then there are the blogs that are set up purely as an extension of their business to help them boost their SEO and business credibility. They're often desperate for content but are they willing to promote another company's product? And if so, will they only do it if there's a quid pro quo?
So you see, the PR community is trying to understand and interact with a community that doesn't fully know yet what it's trying to be. The PR community need the blogging community to help provide some of this clarity. And I know from some of the work underway at British Mummy Blogger Network, this is starting to happen.
Challenge 4: PR is not paid for publicity
PR people are tasked with getting their client's 'free' publicity, not paid for advertising. The minute they have to pay for anything other than product, it starts to drift into the sphere of advertising. So if bloggers ask to be paid to write about something it's a) not normally something the PR people have the budget for and b) it brings into play the whole question of ethics and would seriously impact bloggers' credibility. You don't pay a journalist to write about your company in a newspaper. They're paid by their publication. This gives the journalist freedom to write whatever they like. Bloggers want the freedom to write whatever they like, yet expect to get paid for doing it. Why would a PR person do that? They might as well then pay for an ad and then at least they can be sure that they're going to get the message they want out there. It's a difficult area. I don't think bloggers should work for free, but equally, an outright payment model just isn't right either.
Taking my PR hat off for a minute (it's getting scratchy) and donning my lovely mummy blogger hat (sensible with a wide brim), let me say this to PR people:
How do you get a blogger to write about your clients/company? Sending them a press release will never cut it. You do need to know your blogger, what they like, dislike, how old their children are, what they write about, whether they're single, going through a divorce or about to set sail across the Atlantic ocean. (Gosh, who could that be?)
That requires a LOT of time. It means actively reading and commenting on bloggers blogs. It means engaging with them about things that actually mean something to them. It means being a blogger yourself. And if you're not a blogger and you're not a mum and you're trying to reach mummy bloggers, might I suggest that you employ a mummy blogger to help you out on your campaigns? There are plenty of mums out there who would love to be able to work around their children, doing something part time. Why not recruit one of them to work on your campaign to help you understand who the other mummy bloggers are? It's a win win.
Don't post spam in the comments box. Do it and you deserve a slap. With a dead fish. And yes, it is obvious that it's spam even if you say 'I love your blog, look at my great new site for kids toys.' Flattery works, but we're not that gullible.
Product reviews. Right now, UK mummy bloggers are probably still open to receiving products to review if there's something in it for them. For example, if I was asked to review a new washing powder, I just wouldn't. Because quite frankly I could give a rat's bum about soap for clothes. Sparkling whites just aren't on my list of priorities. However, if Musto or a similar sailing company sent me a pitch and asked me to review their new ocean going boots/gloves/quick-drying shirts I'd say yes please and would be more than willing to give a fair appraisal of them on my sailing blog. Because I need that stuff and getting it free in exchange for a review seems fair to me. From their point of view, they'd have to ask: how many other sailors are reading this blog? What if she slates our stuff? Are we trying to attract more women into sailing? If the answers make sense, then it's worth them doing it. If not, it's not. Simple
And if the people at Musto weren't sure about the answers to the questions above, they should take my next bit of advice and ask bloggers what they want and who they reach. I know this takes work, but once you've identified which bloggers you think are most influential for your company/client, email the blogger and ask them for more info about their audience, visitors stats and what they want from you in exchange for writing about your company. Is it free products, the chance to try something out, publicity - what? These are people, not businesses you're dealing with. Often they won't even know what the answer is, but by starting a conversation with them you're on the right track.
Product reviews are just one tool. A key thing for most bloggers is audience. They want people to visit their blogs. - whether it's to drive revenue, catch the eye of a publisher, meet more people or simply have the notoriety. They want people to comment on their blogs. Any publicity you can give them will help them boost their numbers, so think of ways you can help promote them in exchange for them promoting you.
Think creatively. Run competitions to write about a subject (not a product) where everyone who gets involved gets something and the winning entry gets a bigger prize, heaps of publicity and a ticker tape parade (just kidding on the last bit). In exchange, they agree to include a link to your site or mention your site in some way.
Remember most of all that mummy bloggers are a community. We're a virtual network of friends who rarely if ever meet but with whom we share hugely personal information with. Try to understand this dynamic. Know that the mummy blogger doesn't live to write about your stuff. They're looking after children, running businesses, going to work, doing laundry, cooking, shopping, having sex (probably not much), doing hobbies, running PTA meetings, staying in touch with family members, remembering birthdays, walking the dog and generally living. They also happen to blog about it.
I don't think anyone has the perfect answer as to how to work within this dynamic - I'm both a PR and mummy blogger and I don't have a de facto answer - but thinking like a mum is probably a good start.