Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

How to keep bloggers from hating you

How to keep bloggers from hating you
Email to a friend Comments (39)

Every week I receive a handful of emails from PR firms, wanting me to write about something they’re helping promote. I rarely do so for them, but it’s not that I wouldn’t. It’s just that their tactics suck. They sell their clients on the notion of “blogger relations” but in fact, they’re treating email like a fax machine. They send the same generic message out to a ton of bloggers, piss everyone off in the process, and then bill their client for doing so. (Nice.)

I’ve connected with a lot of bloggers over the past few years and as such, I’m continually baffled by how tough a time PR firms have doing the same. As you know, I’ve called a few of them out for their bad practices in the past, but today, I thought I’d share some tips on how you can build links with people who blog.

Remember that bloggers are people

In the “olden days” (by which I mean the nineties) press releases were de rigueur. A PR firm would craft a one pager, insert a few workable quotes, and try to get it out to as many media outlets as possible, hoping that someone would see it as newsworthy. Now, I’ve never worked as an editor, but I guess it must have worked in the newsroom, given how long this approach remained standard practice.

Most bloggers aren’t working in the newsroom though. They’re just folks like me, who write a little and are lucky enough to have a few readers pop in from time-to-time. Unlike your average daily, I don’t have an 80 page paper to fill. As such, I try to write only about things that interest me and the people who might take a moment to read these long posts. Always remember this: I’m not a media machine; when you send out mechanical correspondence I’m instantly turned off.

Ask for permission

PR firms seem to be in a rush when contacting bloggers. They’re like those people at networking functions who smile too much, hand out hundreds of business cards and sprint away if they think you might not buy their stuff.

So, how do you avoid being one of those people? Simple; take the time to get to know those you contact. Yes, this takes more effort than hitting the auto-send button and doing a “mass dump” on several thousand unlucky bloggers. On the flip-side, the value is also disproportionate. You might actually build a real connection with someone. This immediately gets your message past all of the other noise that people like me have to filter through.

The first step though is to introduce yourself, and see if it’s okay to get in touch. Try something like, “Hi Bob–I really like your blog. I have a story about [insert topic here] that might interest you. Would it be alright if I sent you some more information?”

Respect people’s choices

If you don’t hear back, accept that this might not “be the time” for this person. Don’t bombard them with more messages. Accept that some people won’t be interested in what you’re pitching. Perhaps in six months the time will be right to get in touch again. Cite the earlier note, and let them know that you don’t mean to bug them, but that you have something that might interest them. (Assuming that you actually have something appropriate to share.)

If they say “no”, there’s no dancing around it. Just thank them for taking the time to respond, make a note in your contact software to not send any further correspondence to them, and move on. We’re all drowning with email and some of us can’t take-on any more, no matter how great of a thing you have to tell us about. Just move on; it’s okay.

Apologize

Since writing the “idiots” post, I’ve been flooded by PR agencies–seriously. It seems that many of them took my “don’t send me generic crap” message entirely the wrong way, and decided to flood my inbox with generic crap. (D-oh!) Many of these emails start with “please don’t write a post about me being an idiot”, and then have a press release attached beneath. Ugh.

When I ask to be removed from these lists, few PR firms acquiesce, and those who do tend to send a glib and insincere reply. (The worst ones apologize and leave me on their list anyways.) If a blogger asks to be removed from your list, do so immediately. And if, by some mistake they get another message (this can happen) take out five minutes to explain why it happened and how you’ll avoid doing so again in the future.

People are generally understanding of other’s mistakes. A sincere and thoughtful message can put out a fire very quickly.

Double, triple, quadruple check

I send out emails to fellow bloggers to let them know about articles that I think might be of interest to them. I’m very careful when I do so, to avoid sending irrelevant messages, or too many of them. I do this as manually as possible, and I regularly ask recipients to let me know if I’m bothering them. Surprisingly, when I do, I generally receive a handful of messages thanking me for checking. Most also ask me to keep the emails coming.

I’ve also had people explain that they already subscribe to my RSS feed, and that added notifications are unnecessary. On three or four occasions I’ve removed their email address from my contact info, only to find that another email somehow slipped out anyway. In these instances I’ve felt like a complete and utter ass. I’ve consequently gone into my contacts and taken additional steps to ensure that such a mistake will never happen again.

I’ve also picked up the phone and called them up, apologizing in person. Saying sorry — really saying sorry — only takes a few moments.

Thank people

A lot of PR groups talk about “blogger relations” but are actually about “blogger one-night-stands”. They contact me, get some kind of response or mention, and then disappear until they need something again. I think of it as a “publicity booty-call”. Needless to say, I’m disinclined to “hop in the sack” again, particularly when they’re not taking me out for a nice dinner first.  ;-)

If a blogger goes to the trouble to write about something on your behalf, take the time to follow-up and thank them for doing so. This only takes a moment but can be a nice step towards building an actual relationship. In the future, you’ll stand out from all of those people who couldn’t simply be courteous. This will immediately change how your emails will be viewed. Instead of being “anonymous PR spam”, yours will be an email from a colleague. Most PR firms don’t understand the difference, but believe me, it’s a huge one.

Send good stuff

I’ve saved the most important point for last. It really should have been inserted earlier, but I want to leave you with this thought. (My hope is that it will ring in your head every time you start to draft a message in hopes of building awareness.)

Divorce yourself from your professional role and think for a moment about how you feel about unsolicited email. Do you like it? Do you want it? How quickly do you delete it?

Well… that’s likely how I see your email as well. It’s a nuisance and I don’t want it. I hit “delete” in under five seconds. Part of this is because it’s information that there’s little likelihood of me caring about.

However, if you send me something that I care about, the game is altogether different. I’m curious and like to find out about new things. If you really took the time to get to know me, and sent something that actually was of interest to readers of this blog (instead of b.s. about another SEO scheme) there might be value in your message.

With every email you send, ask if there’s any real value in it for the recipient. If there isn’t, just don’t send it.

(And one more for the road)

My mom is a really good person. She’s helpful, thoughtful, and warm-hearted. Most of the smart things I’ve learned about being a human-being relate back to things she’s taught me. Of all the lessons I’ve learned from her, the one that she taught not by saying, but by doing, was to be honest. My mom will stop a clerk and note that they’ve given her back five cents too much. She always takes the high-road.

So, I’ll leave you with what I’d expect my mom would say if she were advising you: Be honest and nice to people. It works way better than any expensive “blogger relations” program ever will.

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to remind you about our new site: www.undrln.com — it’s a handy way to get the industry scoop!

Follow @karj to hear about these posts first.

Comments & Trackbacks

  1. David Airey says:

    I'm sure that many of your readers can empathise, Eric.

    A few days ago, first thing in the morning, I was checking my inbox. It was only 12 hours since I'd last checked the night before, and there were two emails in particular that arrived from the same PR company — the first with a press release bearing no similarities to my blog topic, and the second asking if I'd received it okay, and to contact them for more information.

    I did reply, asking to be removed from the mailing list I never subscribed to, and, unsurprisingly, haven't received any confirmation.

    Sadly an all too regular occurence. Great post.

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  3. Angi Semler says:

    Eric,

    I just wanted to compliment you on a thorough, genuine, candid and entertaining piece. I don't even work in a PR-to-blogger capacity, and I found it very entertaining and informative.

    I was an editor for years and understanding how annoying and time-wasting it can be when PR people don't take the time to do their homework.

    I truly hope the PR pros who follow your blog read that and take it to heart.

  4. Toby says:

    I especially liked your title and reminding that not only will that "thank you" be appreciated but as you point out because so few take the time you'll cut through the clutter and be thought of kindly with your next request.

  5. Thanks for pointing this out. I'm Nikki, nice to meet you :) I do work for a company, however, blogging is a great way for me to learn more about art and design and I really enjoy reading about updates and what others in the field have to say. I do find your posts interesting, so please keep it up. I too am a normal person, just like most bloggers so I agree that personal connection is quite important. By the way your mom sounds like a great lady and I think the world would be a much better place if more people were as honest as her.

  6. Sad, really, that you have to point out such obvious good manners. Most kids know this stuff before they're 10. Guess we just forget it along the way.

    I'd like to add that PR people (and their clients) shouldn't expect to make "old friends" overnight. To get to know people and what interests them takes time — it's just that simple. (And social media is not "free" when you factor in the time required to determine the right bloggers and get to know their interests). Doing an effective job for clients means doing your homework and making sure you share relevant, timely information. (To be fair, generic doesn't work well with the media either, but bad practice gets called out much more quickly when ad dollars aren't in the equation.)

    The shift from internally spun broadcast monologues to interactive multi-threaded conversations will take some getting used to...hence the ham-handed PR booty calls you're getting. On behalf of other PR folks in the industry, thanks for the suggestions on how to be more effective. So much more helpful than rants about why bloggers hate PR people on principle. Been there, read that.

    The only thing about follow-up where I'll disagree is that sometimes things a blogger actually MIGHT be interested in can get lost in the shuffle (eg over the holidays). I'd say — assuming it's relevant stuff — that one follow-up contact is OK. If there's no interest then, by all means back off.

  7. Darren says:

    It's really not rocket science, is it? It's funny that you used that whole 'get in the sack' metaphor, as we used a 'getting to first base' (as opposed to a home run) metaphor in our ebook. That's really what it feels like--as if you're asking somebody for a date (or, you know, to come upstairs at the end of the date).

  8. Thanks, Eric. This a great article.

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  10. Rebecca Reeve says:

    Like the article - one comment about thanking bloggers though... I typically send through a quick 'thanks' when an article is published, but it doesn't impress everyone (especially those who receive 100s of emails/day).

    Was once sent this post by Rafe Needleman of Webware after sending a thank you note to a contact: http://proprtips.com/2008/10/03/tip-40-dont-thank-me/

    Thank you's arouse suspicion?

  11. CP says:

    Great post Eric. So many times I look for the right message when attempting to reply to the PR firms you mentioned, that I end up trashing the response all together and leaving them in the dark.

    To me, the most important item you mentioned was building relationships. I hate the word "networking". What happened to actually taking the time to find out who someone really is?

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  13. AC says:

    This is a great post. I think, also, that it could be generalized more, taken out of the blogosphere/PR relationship, and changed to "How to keep PEOPLE from hating you."
    Thanks for sharing these tips!

  14. Paulette says:

    As a PR person, I want to thank you for this post. I'm trying to convince the PTB at my org that mass emailing releases is, in effect, spamming, and just doesn't work. We've got to get back to actually getting to know our contacts and what they care about. I realize it's a daunting task with the number of distinct audiences we serve, but you eloquently make the case for why it's a necessary one. Thx.

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  16. Gabe L. says:

    good post...started reading your blog a few days ago and am enjoying it. Looking forward to new posts popping up in my feed reader.

  17. Thanks--always nice to hear that! :-)

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  19. Yasser says:

    Another great post, a question though..

    Would bloggers prefer personal notes from the owners themselves or PR people?

    I have a campaign for my site JobsTAXI comin up and i'm still scratching my head to see whether it's necessary to hire a PR firm...

  20. I'm always happy to get personal messages. The nice part when they come from the founders/owners, is that they actually know about the product. Something about that seems to draw me in more.

    (That being said, that means a lot of extra work for the owner, which is tough.)

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  22. Wallen's says:

    Nice post, Eric. Just discovered your blog last week with on startup failure post. Looking forward to continue reading it.

  23. Glad to hear--I really appreciate all of these notes. Nice to know that there's some usefulness to these posts. :-)

  24. Ed says:

    I own a marketing/PR firm and completely agree with your comments. Although basic common sense in working with others, it is both amazing and disappointing that one needs to point it out. (Like someone said, didn't we learn these rules by the age of 10?)

    I'll be the first one to criticize my industry--filled with people (at all levels) who really don't understand how to effectively use media relations across all outlet types. As you stated, the days of blasting generic releases to marginally relevant outlets are long over. Crafting outlet-specific story angles to ensure relevance and improve chances of coverage is the name of the game. And ironically, technology makes it easier to contact, yet more time-intensive to prepare and execute.

    But for those of us who sincerely approach media relations from a "human relations" perspective, some of your advice is a two-way street. Because editors are inundated from publicists, most want absolutely nothing to do with ANY of us. No return phone call. Emails go unanswered. And the interest in establishing a relationship is virtually non-existent. As a result, we continue to pitch and inquire and sometimes, annoy.

    It is a vicious circle, generally perpetuated my publicists. No doubt. No argument. But there are others like myself out there. All we ask is for a little consideration and to not be automatically lumped-in with the others.

  25. Jason Graham says:

    Another great post Eric. I really enjoyed reading this post. i also enjoy your readers comments as well. I always find that there is something I can take from your post and/or post comments. thanks.

  26. cybele says:

    I've become more and more crabby about PR folks lately.

    First, I don't mind press releases. I don't need to be addressed by name. However, they should be relevant. I am not interested in the latest video series on weight loss or hotel recommendations in San Francisco. It's not hard to figure out what I am interested in. These are not hard things to find out and tag in a contact database.

    I resent, really, really resent, being put on "lists" like newsletters. I've never been subscribed to one that was remotely relevant.

    As for your suggestion for PR folks to thank bloggers for writing ... I don't like to be "thanked" because it sounds like I'm doing them a favor. If they sent me something I chose to write about, you know what? I owe them the thanks. If it goes the other way around, then I'm just a tool.

    I can't stand PR folks who "check back" and want to know my response to something that was irrelevant.

    I can't stand PR folks who ignore my follow up emails and then email me asking if I have everything I needed to write that post about them!

    I'm not keen on educating others on how to do their jobs, but I have been telling off some PR folks. The results are interesting. I've learned a lot about their relations with the public and have a lot better sense of who I might hire ... or at least a list of who I'd never hire.

  27. PR is all about relationships, so none of this should be foreign. There are plenty of PR people who continue to embrace unfortunate and outdated practices as you've described. At the same time, there is relatively little understanding of the role PR plays in seeding and cultivating ideas that ultimately end up in blogs and mainstream media. I suspect you don't think you've been influenced by PR, but there are PR forces that are working to advance virtually every issue and idea. Just pulling three relatively random posts, you wrote about Detroit, Twitter and the real estate market. The PR community is/was heavily involved in shaping the dialogue about each of those issues and may have helped to shape your understanding or perceptions of the issues in ways you may not fully be aware of. So I agree with you completely that blindly extending to bloggers the failed tactics used to reach mainstream media in past decades is doomed to failure. But I also suggest that PR plays a greater role in shaping attitudes and opinions -- and encouraging blogger content -- than is generally understood or acknowledged by the bloggers themselves.

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  29. yani says:

    Great article, I think alot of the principles you mentioned can be applied to life in general.

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  31. hardest thing I find about building these relations is that there isn't any thought put into the products/services/stories that are being sold. My previosu job had me working on 3 different products completely unrelated to each other and just expected coverage in the same outlets.

    I agree with what cybele said 5 posts up too.

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  37. Bob says:

    What if PR firms contacted you and offered to pay for a blog review, would you be willing to oblige or will it still be annoying? I'm trying to learn the at of blogging and how I can use it to improve business. Thanks for the tips, I'm sure these would come in handy when I find myself needing to send press releases in the future.

  38. Some have. The problem is that this blog isn't about shilling.

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