Blocking or blogging

If you send me an email with the word Diploma in the subject line, I won’t get it.  Rather frustrating since I teach the CIPR Diploma course, but most of my students are bright enough to remember this golden rule.

notes his spam filter sends press releases straight to the trash folder.  I perversely like the idea that all press releases should go direct to spam, not passing go and definitely not picking up £200.  Why?  Because it might make PR practitioners realise that media relations is not a direct marketing function and there is no room for junk PR. 

 writes “a message for representatives of PR and advertising companies” in press release format highlighting how irritating it is to be viewed as simply a channel for promotional purposes.

Most bloggers aren’t really that different from credible journalists in terms of having a purpose to their writing.  This might be to convey news, or to interest even entertain themselves and others.  Few decided to set up as a billboard offering a free plugging service.

If you want a pure promo – that’s called advertising – then you’d better have something that is genuinely interesting or news, then take the time to understand who you are targeting.  That means being genuine – and recognising whether or not your approach will be welcome.

As Tom Coates notes with his view on press releases: 

Having said that, I’m sure if I was touting round a chance to drive a model, hot from Frankfurt, some bloggers would be less resistant to my approach. 

(who was accused by Tom Coates as causing him to drown in press releases) posts positively about receiving an O2 Cocoon phone to review.  I’m not clear what the deal is here (loan or gift), but an advertising agency, VCCP, is behind the strategy of a blogosphere launch.

finds himself applying different rules on receiving a freebie O2 Cocoon phone compared to his days as a journalist when such goodies were seen as “part and parcel of doing my job”.

Maybe “traditional journalists” have developed a hard shell to what most bloggers view as intrusive contact.  And like in any exchange relationship maybe your reaction depends what’s on offer and what is expected in return. 

The issue may also be that bloggers feel they are developing communal relationships rather than commercial ones.  To take up Coates point – they want to feel admired and be loved for who they are rather than feeling viewed as a cheap squeeze.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

10 thoughts on “Blocking or blogging”

  1. Gift.

    “I’ve been given a new O2 Cocoon, a cool looking mobile phone built by network operator…”

    The current blog post isn’t the review. I’ll hopefully write that up at the weekend. Time permitting.

    I personally certainly don’t feel like a cheap squeeze though. Quite the contrary actually. I’m quite humbled that a huge mobile carrier views me how it does and I praise them for pioneering (in the UK at least) this kind of activity.

    It’s also interesting that ad firms feel capable of working on blogger outreach programmes and, personally, I don’t think it takes someone with a PR background to orchestrate one. Just someone who understands the space. I think VCCP does understand it.

    In fact the ‘blur’ between both disciplines in the online space is becoming increasing apparent and if, say, four years down the line I’m still working in online comms, I’m not sure if I want to say I work strictly in PR because I doubt that I will be.

  2. …and I don’t feel like a cheap squeeze either!

    In my case it is nothing at all to do with losing the ‘hard shell’ I had as a journalist, because as a university lecturer I don’t need one – I don’t get pitched all the time and indeed I am intrigued by the fact that I was pitched on this occasion.

    At first glance, I am not sure there is much point in giving a shiny new phone to someone who isn’t much interested in phones and whose blog is read mostly by PR academics; few of my students are going to buy a phone because a teacher who is probably older than their parents wrote on his blog that he “quite liked it.”

    But what VCCP realised (I hope consciously!) is that a sympathetically targeted approach would excite interest among those who comment on public relations practice. I am aware of blog posts on the Cocoon by Stephen, Neville Hobson and myself, none of which give any details useful for anyone thinking about buying the phone. We have all talked about the campaign, and our discussion is causing others to think about blogger relations.

    We aren’t writing about the Cocoon from an obligation bought by a free gift, but because we thought the approach was well-executed; our commentary is not driven by the product, but by the media strategy employed. I think the story is in the newness of the approach, not the phone; and it won’t work again – I don’t want another phone!

    Or maybe I have sold my soul for a bit of plastic….

  3. Hi Heather

    It’s my first visit to your blog (I got here through Stephen’s post), but I wanted to chime in on the conversation. At my job in the States, we’ve been doing “blogger outreach” for about four years and from speaking with Stephen and a few others around the UK PR blogosphere, I think we can expect more of it to start popping up in the UK. This could either A) Revolutionise digital PR in the UK or B) Backfire tremendously. Time will tell, but I’d be certain that more and more UK bloggers are going to be pitched on products in the future.

  4. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’m arguing that every blogger in the world would hate to receive freebies or press releases. I just wanted to make it clear that the kind of bloggers who are very similar to journalists are in the minority, and approaching the bulk of bloggers as if they were like journalists and engaging in the same pseudo-contract of exchange as journalists and pr people is an error. A good proportion of bloggers will react very badly to this kind of activity, and for good reason. For them it’s a communicative medium that allows them to operate in a social group or professional group, and being asked to talk about someone else’s products is like having someone sidle up to you in a bar and say, “Hey dude, next time you’re visiting your mother, why don’t you mention the new Mulinex? I could give you a freebie…”

  5. Thanks for all the thoughts.

    Stephen – thanks for clarifying. I don’t see “give” as always meaning “to keep forever” and you’ll recall the fuss in blogosphere over Microsoft’s approach in “giving” computers which apparently meant keeping, donating to charity, paying for or returning.

    I don’t quite get why you guys view being given a phone to review as a pioneering approach. It seems to me a pretty standard PR tactic – the only difference being that you are PR bloggers.

    Targeting key influencers is certainly a long-standing strategy in the auto-world where a variety of people from academics to celebrities, journalists to politicians, analysts to chief police constables, will be identified and loaned a new model or invited to a launch event. (Free cars aren’t as easy to sign off as free phones obviously). Bloggers have also been similarly targeted quite a lot this year in the UK and Europe (eg GM taking some auto bloggers out to the Frankfurt motorshow last week, Renault taking on international launches).

    Automotive PR practitioners might not target PR bloggers in this way, but you don’t see them seeking coverage in PRWeek or MediaGuardian either.

    Maybe O2 is different and sees you guys as an important part of the online discussion network. Or you might be more of a target for VCCP in terms of its profile. I’d be interested in how the campaign will evaluate discussion in blogosphere and the value of your posts in particular.

    In terms of this being an advertising firm engaging in blogger outreach, this makes sense to me, since the campaign seems to be about promotion (of the Cocoon and/or VCCP). As Stephen says, the campaign is about the online space.

    I agree with Melanie (thanks for your first comment here), blogger outreach is a growing area and product pitchs will be more common. So we can expect some bloggers to view their online space as of commercial value (and there are debates already about this in respect of podcasting eg at Jaffe Juice) and maybe the equivalent of “advertorial” blogging will emerge.

    Pitching bloggers in this way to get “free” product coverage isn’t very different to a standard offline press agentry approach. What do we have to do to get bloggers talking about our products? Spam a release, send a freebie, invite to an event, produce a viral video, etc etc.

    There may be nothing wrong with this, but it will be vital to understand which bloggers are open up to using their online space in this way and who, like Tom, aren’t.

    Issues of credibility and connectability will need to be considered. Again, like offline, success will need to be considered beyond volume metrics.

    We can already see there are different types of blogger-PR relationships developing (which I will post about separately). The real innovators will be those who understand this and don’t create a crisis by picking the wrong blogger to siddle up to with an offer.

  6. Hi Heather, I was part of the team at VCCP who put this idea together. The objective behind the campaign was to work together with key UK bloggers to help get a better understanding of the functionality of Cocoon, in a way it was almost like a blogger beta test. We genuinely wanted to start a conversation between O2 and bloggers in a way that has not been done before.

    We were really careful to avoid pissing people off (as an active blogger I do share some of Tom’s concerns), but we believed that we had a project and a product that would be of interest to the bloggers identified.

    In addition we also wanted to create a digital space in which anyone could post comments, questions and thoughts so that as we develop Cocoon 2 real user opinion could be built upon.

  7. Amelia, Nice to hear from you. I’m not quite sure I get why bloggers would be selected as part of a beta test of a phone unless they are experts in the area. Wouldn’t standard product research with existing and potential customers have been done by the company at a much earlier stage than the launch?

    As part of a communications strategy, I can understand launching the Cocoon blog for early discussion and giving away phones to non-experts seems to have gained some endorsements that might later be picked up through searches. It shows some confidence in the product and a willingness for the company to engage with those who are having problems.

    Mind you, I am reminded of when I worked at Toyota and for the launch of our small MPV, the Picnic, ran a competition to take two families to Switzerland, all expenses paid as part of the media launch.

    The idea was so that the car mags could include the views of a family not just a couple of kidless road-testers. The strategy worked and gained very good coverage.

    However, it was highly unlikely these families would say anything negative about the vehicle. They had never experienced a 5-star hotel or travelled Club class before. Neither family owned a new vehicle – so the Picnic was always going to be more impressive than their small hatchbacks.

    Now maybe that is good public relations – the mags got a better story and pictures from the launch event. We got great endorsement from people with whom the customer could identify and the families got a special, free holiday.

    But then again, it was all artifice and carefully planned and staged.

  8. “Giving” new products to bloggers for review isn’t very new or innovative. Actually this has been tried for a year (or even more), e.g. in Germany (with cars, laptops, cell phones, digital cameras). None of those attempts seemingly turned out to be thundering successes. I’m not even sure that the companies had proper means and methods of evaluation. We’d have heard about it, meanwhile.

    But let the experiments continue: If anybody wants my opinion on, say, the latest MontBlanc Writers’ Edition fountain pen (which happens NOT to be one of my clients, unfortunately😉, I wouldn’t hesitate.

  9. Markus – maybe that’s an idea for a new widget on blogs, where we highlight, like a Christmas list, the things we’d like to be sent to review.

    Top of my list is a new kitchen – I have spent over a year in the pondering stage of the decision process and still can’t make up my mind. Perhaps if some nice PR person could read this and send around a designer to help me out… I’m not looking for a freebie (though that would be nice), just someone I can trust to know what I want (when I’m not sure) and make it happen without too much hassle.

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