Dear PR people: How to Pitch Bloggers

In the wake of my previous post and Gina’s PR blacklist that sprang from it, it seems like a good chunk of the PR industry is blogging about the things they should and shouldn’t be doing, but I’m not seeing a lot of practical real-world solutions that would work for bloggers getting pitched. All the advice has come from the PR side of things so it’s all about how they train employees, how they do their work, and why their work is vital to bloggers (newsflash: it often isn’t).

So in the spirit of extending an olive branch to the PR industry, here are some very basic tips I haven’t seen anyone mention elsewhere:

1. Don’t ever send a press release to a blogger based on a purchased list
I keep hearing about this thing called the Bacon/Cision list and how all the bloggers complaining about getting spammed are on it (the idea of someone selling a list with my email on it is another matter). As many PR people have stated, connecting PR and bloggers should be a connection made via reading their blog and contacting them with a personal note at the very least. Adding 200 names to a bcc: list on an emailed press release because you got 200 blogger emails from some list is the absolutely wrong way to go about it. Don’t ever do this.

2. Go beyond the press release
The rare, few times I’ve felt like enduring all this PR hassle was worth it was when someone from a company contacted me with an invite to preview a product, try out a site, and/or obtain a review item. A press release is the thing I line the bird cage with, a review unit is something I can actually use for a week or two and get a full review story written ready to publish on the day your client launches the product. I can’t stress it enough that a press release sent to me is just plain noise and totally and completely useless. Or if you must, at least just send me a link to one in case I want to learn more about the news you are sharing instead of pasting 2,000 words in ALL CAPS into an email.

3. Introduce a feedback loop!
I’ve never been contacted by anyone in PR that bothered to follow-up with me at any point in our “relationship”. I just get a bunch of press releases emailed to me again and again, often by the same people. If you’ve hand-picked out some bloggers covering topics you have clients releasing news about, at least check with the bloggers after a month, or your second message, or some other regular interval. Ask them if the PR they’ve been receiving is helpful and if it should be tweaked, or even ended if it’s not useful.

4. Provide an unsubscribe link
This is totally bottom-of-the-barrel, least-you-can-do-to-appease-bloggers stuff here, but at the very least provide an instant, no-humans-required way for a blogger to remove themselves from contact they aren’t getting anything but frustration from. About 1/4 of the PR email I get is managed with some sort of list interface and provides this option, and I use the option when off-topic, all-caps press releases get blasted my way. I prefer a no-humans-required option because I’ve asked people at an agency to remove me and they said they had and sorry for the inconvenience, only to be emailed by the same person two weeks later.

5. Use metrics to help you do your PR job
If personally emailing a bunch of bloggers with personal messages sounds like a lot of work that doesn’t scale, try using metrics to help you figure out what works and doesn’t. Right now we have the annual “did my PR firm show up on a blacklist?” metric, but if you implement the suggestions above, keep tabs on what percentage of receivers clicked on a link to read a press release (are your press releases effectively written?), figure out what % click on an unsubscribe link (how effective are you targeting bloggers), figure out how often the bloggers you contact ever write about your clients (how effective your PR/blogger strategy is) and when they do was it because of a press release or did you give them something more (to figure out if newer non-traditional approaches are working better).

update: Just to be clear here, I’m not asking for bloggers to be treated differently than journalists in other media because we bloggers are a cranky lot that can harm your company with a snide blog post if you do things wrong — my point in treating bloggers differently is that bloggers can often publish perfectly informative, up-to-date blogs without PR, instead relying on RSS, other blogs, Google News, and link aggregators to find news about topics they are interested in.

I published multiple blogs for five years before I got my first unsolicited press release, and if PR people want to stay relevant, they need to acknowledge that bloggers work in an information-rich environment filled with millions of choices and as a PR person you really need to be adding some value to their approach instead of taking time away with off-topic press releases emailed to them.

18 Comments

  • sad thing is, this is just basic PR 101. pathetic to hear there is an entire generation of bad pr people out there. just because you CAN send it to a gizzillion people at once doesn’t mean you should. pr is about relationships. always has been and always will. these are NOT new rules. hitting send does not equal PR. i apologize on behalf of my profession.

  • You’re forgetting Vocus – which proclaims to have the largest database of bloggers available to PR professionals. It’s a horrible system with a built-in mail-merge (aka distribution list).

  • I used press releases when they were targeted to me directly….they knew I ran a drum site, they followed up w/ a personal email or a call. However a majority of my posts, were like Matt’s, based on research of google or reading around news sites on the web.

  • I truly am concerned that people blindly pitch (and aggravate) producers, reporters and bloggers. It’s bad for my trade. It’s like what Yugo was to the automobile industry when those silly hatchbacks were released in the US. It made Detroit look better, though, didn’t it? Well, consider me Detroit, please.
    Anyway, you’ve taught at least this flack what you cover and your interests…so fear not any blind pitches from lunchboy@hotmail.com.

  • I don’t know if it’ll “prove” anything to you but if you read my last entry and a couple other comments I’ve left on PR blogs, you’ll know that I resorted to whole blocking of domains for a reason.
    I used to ask specific PR people to remove me from their lists when several off-topic press releases were sent my way. One firm did comply but hit me with the same off-topic subject matter (same client) from two other employees. At that point I realized the whole company needed to be ignored. In another example, I requested removal, got confirmation from someone that I was removed, then they emailed me another press release on the same client the following week. Looking at my email archives they also have a second employee at the same agency sending me pitches about the same off-topic client.
    And to restate what I’ve said in both posts on my site: PR isn’t that relevant to what I do. I run a very large news community, I run PVRblog.com a niche blog about TV recorders, and I freelance as a tech journalist at the New York Times. I can tell you in 9 years of blogging and writing in these various avenues, I’ve never used a press release that was blindly sent to my inbox. I already have a system in place for figuring out new things to cover in my blog and fielding hundreds of press releases I didn’t ask for doesn’t factor into it at all.
    I follow design and tech blogs, Google News alerts, and link aggregators to find things to cover. I guess I’m further down the food chain where a press release falls to deaf ears. PR people should hit people doing breaking news gadget blogs like Engadget and Gizmodo, but for me it’s never helped me write a story and serves as a daily nuisance. Since I never elected to receive all these press releases, you can see why I might call them spam — I didn’t ask and can’t seem to get rid of them.
    If I get blacklisted from PR agencies or if I get removed from the Cision list, nothing changes in how I find things to cover.
    Also keep in mind the few useful things I’ve gotten from a media or press person are the things I described in this post: a personal email asking me if I’d like some early look at a device or release.
    I have a feeling that most PR people are flipping out on this blacklist because it obviously threatens the way you guys do business and you’re not concerned with the personal stories of how two people got to the point that they had to blacklist entire companies from their inbox, but more concerned that thousands of bloggers might copycat what they see and follow the blacklist themselves.

  • @lunchboy,
    I strongly agree that bloggers will be missing out big time by blocking domains, but even if he can’t prove you wrong, so what? I don’t see it changing his mind.
    @Matt
    “…if PR people want to stay relevant, they need to acknowledge that bloggers work in an information-rich environment filled with millions of choices and as a PR person you really need to be adding some value to their approach instead of taking time away with off-topic press releases emailed to them.”
    Agree with this %100. This should be at the forefront of every practitioners mind when pitching to bloggers.

  • Thanks so much Matt for offering these tips. You are right when you say that most tips and advice out there on pitching bloggers is from public relations practitioners. Your tips are very helpful and I plan to link to your post on my blog so my fellow practitioners and I can all learn a lesson and hopefully avoid having our companies added to the wiki of spammers.

  • Good advice. I work in PR and I’ve just started blogging (the world is still blissfully unaware of my dubious efforts).
    I find it very helpful to read tips like this – I always have this niggling feeling that I’m driving everyone on my lists nuts with irrelevant PR stuff.
    That said, I’m finding it very difficult to target releases – I’ll know that this guy over here is interested in a few things I’ve sent him, but this next release isn’t quite in that area… so do I send it or not?
    To deal with that, I’m trying to build a database which records people’s interests, and when I do send something, I keep it under 300 words. (No caps!) I should spend more time on the phone, but I’ve got so much work besides my PR duties I can’t see how to do it.

  • I think a big part of this is related to not managing client expectations about media placements and the “pitch first – ask questions later” mentality of PR practitioners (as opposed to *professionals*). Lots of companies overpromise to their clients, and many senior execs still think that success can only be judged by the volume of media placements. This leads to too many bad pitches going out to the wrong people.
    Also, there are some basic rules that don’t seem to have spread throughout the whole industry yet. For example, no one shoudl be sending giant PDFs to your inbox and everyone should know to look for a tips@blogdomain.com e-mail. This applies for journalists and online news sites, as well as bloggers.

  • Considering the brouhaha that’s erupted over Trapani’s blacklist, it seems to me some type of summit needs to be convened with representatives from both sides to discuss this issue with a view toward adopting a universally accepted set of standards.
    While I think it somewhat elitist of bloggers to expect extra-special treatment, nevertheless, the stigma is there and won’t soon go away, if ever. Hence, the need for a meeting of the minds.

  • Hi Matt, I interviewed bloggers last week to give the dos and don’ts of pitching them. It was mommy bloggers–however their dos and don’ts could easily be applied across the board: http://www.piercemattiepublicrelations.com/2008/05/pr_tips_how_to_pitch_mommy_blo.html

  • Does anyone know if Bacons/Cision/MediaMap and Vocus allow bloggers to remove their email from their databases? This seems like the nuclear option, but it would definitely be interesting to see how significantly this stems the tide of bad pitches.

  • I agree with Susan and I am very glad to have stumbled upon this today as I am negotiating with a client who is insisting that I become a one-hit-mass-blogger-outreach-wonder. The client does see the value of relationships but rather wants as many links on blogs as possible. Being an old school PR Lady I only “pitch” to people (bloggers, journalists, editors) after I have introduced myself and they have confirmed that they want to hear from me again (and when & how often). Then they are on my personal email list (never shared) and they receive a personal email from me going forward…never group emails. I provide very targeted relationship building for my clients and it has paid off. Several journalists have taken the time to say they appreciate my approach and we have quite a nice relationship. Now…if only I can help my client to see the light. If not, we may have to part ways!

  • This is excellent advice. It is also advice that some of us have been giving to our peers for a long long time. And there are some PR folks who do a decent job.
    The problem is, the agency model as practiced at a very large number of pr agencies, is fundamentally broken.
    Much as I wish it were so, a summit isn’t going to fix that unless we fix what’s broken in the system.
    – Unrealistic client expectations. Having been on that side of the fence as well, I know how hard it is to accept that people aren’t falling over themselves to write about your product.
    – High agency fees and billing rates that contribute to those expectations (sorry my agency friends)
    – Junior staffers without enough experience or training doing outreach. To journalists and bloggers.
    – Poor technology (see my post about a pitch sent to “Name Not Available”)
    Public relations done right is a great tool, and helps people on both sides of the equation. We need to do it right more often.

  • good tips you have here.
    GnomeFan

  • All valid and interesting points – surely another solution would see the PR industry catch up with technology and publish, as standard, RSS feeds for its clients that bloggers have the power to subscribe to if they choose? If a directory of PR RSS feeds was readily available would this be of interest to the wider blogging community? Would love to hear your feedback/thoughts on this.

  • Hi Matt,
    Yes, I guess it’s the personal bit part.
    I should have phrased my sentences better: Yes, I do know that some blogs do real journalism (particularly where media outlets are state-controlled).
    I guess what I meant was that the whole experience of blogging is different from, say, sifting the info in the Inbox, writing up something and then getting it all in for “The Editor”.
    It’s like how Virginia Woolf writes of having “a room of one’s own”. And blogs, methinks, feel like that—or at least, I feel like that when I write mine: Not just a medium, it’s a space; quite a personal one…
    Anyway, have fun with your blogging!

  • Hey Matt,
    I read both of your posts; I ended up writing something along the same lines myself, being that I’m a blogger and a PR person so I get hit from both ends of the PR/Blogger relationship.
    The best thing you can do to connect with a blogger, in my opinion, is to spend a long time reading the blogger’s work and understanding what it is they do. The first thing I do when I find a blogger that I want to connect with is I subscribe to their RSS in Outlook, DELETE all of the past items, and read every new article that comes out over the next 30 days. I’ll also do some searching on the blog to see if they talk about my company or its products specifically and I try to find out from my own company if any of us have contacted a blogger before.
    Usually I also try to engage a blogger in dialog via the blog comments or some social network if he or she writes about something that I find personally or professionally interesting. Even if I can’t find opportunities to have bloggers help me with my marketing efforts I’ll keep engaging with them anyway since I’m usually hooked on the reading by then – plus I like hearing their feedback on my ideas.
    When I get pitched by PR folks on my Marketing Blog more often than not the pitches are terrible. I just got one this morning that did the following:
    1. Introduced himself
    2. Barely related my work to his product
    3. Signed me up for his product in advance
    4. Asked me to review it
    5. Asked me to be an affiliate and help sell his product through my site
    Honestly I’m not sure where to begin with guys like this; while I appreciate the free sign-up, I’d prefer it if the guy didn’t dump it all on me at once. He should have at least tried to figure out what my real name is (it’s all over my ABOUT section) before he wrote the email. Clearly my real name is not “Marketing Ninja,” the title of my personal blog.
    In short, PR people could learn a lot about how to interact with bloggers by becoming one.

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