Hey PR person – don’t you know who I am?

The recent blog by @GeorgeGSmithJr about blag-grabbing mommy bloggers is an interesting counter to the self-important Momdot PR boycott challenge.  It seems the PR world has created another monster by elevating the importance of “mothers who blog”. 

As Bad Mommy Blogger implies this online network is rapidly becoming a laughing stock.  Remember the Motrin “crisis” – where a total sense of humour failure saw a call for the end of Johnson & Johnson just because the company made a pretty dumb online advert?

Very quickly, the ability to share your thoughts with other mothers (and whoever else reads “mommy blogs”) attracted the attention of PR folk who saw an opportunity for promoting product via this network. 

Hundreds of Mommy bloggers (or Mummy Bloggers, this side of the pond) have expressed their shock and horror that Mr Smith was “threatened” over a pair of free Crocs.  But many seem to have happily accepted freebies – so I can’t help but feel that George is partly responsible for the slated Mommy blogger’s sense of entitlement.

The comment from Scott Monty hints that Ford likewise experiences bloggers expecting to be loaned free cars – and that doesn’t surprise me one bit.

As everyone knows, the motor industry has been having a tough 2009 and this has led to reduced PR budgets.  But correspondence in the current edition of the Guild of Motoring Writers newsletter reveals that some motoring journalists do not realise this means an end to many of the old ways of doing things and a greater need to justify every press fleet car loan.

Over the past 40 or so years, the motoring PR world has generously supported a wide range of journalists.  Like the mommy bloggers, it could be argued a monster was created – one that lapped up the hospitality, weekly car loans, partners weekends and kudos associated with attending international motorshows and exotic car launches.

Many of these “journalists” (who often wrote for a town newspaper) are now freelance writers, even when well past the age of retirement.  But they still expect all the perks that they’ve become used to over time.

The reality is that in supply and demand terms, there are too many motoring writers and too few outlets for their words.  Some are even supplying copy to publications for free, just to continue with the luxury lifestyle. 

At the same time, the motor industry is under huge financial pressure, local traditional media are arguably less influential at least in selling new cars and there are new opportunities to communicate direct with consumers using social media.  Online is now the first port of call for anyone checking out a new car.

Criticisms that PR practitioners are being “shortsighted” in not accommodating the traditional journalists’ needs, are backed by unsubstantiated claims that the “free publicity” that can be generated “as opposed to costly advertising – must be of paramount concern.”

In fact, the cost of organising a car loan today probably exceeds the cost of buying advertising in many local or other types of publications.  The idea that a press fleet administrator can simply redirect an unsold car to a regional hack is laughable.  

But that’s the impression that has been given over the years.  Sucking up and accommodating the media’s every whim has led to complaints about “some 21-year old newcomer to the press team” directing a “professional journalist” to a website for information, when he wants a glossy press pack sent by post instead.

Petulant performances are not the exclusive preserve of Mommy Bloggers stamping their feet for a free pair of Crocs.  But any PR person who has used freebies as a strategy for generating copy must recognise the risk this creates in creating a prima donna culture.

I spoke at a CIPR Wessex online event last week and cautioned against sending freebies to bloggers in exchange for reviews.  This was questioned by one of the attendees, who worked for an agency where this was a “successful” strategy – notably in targeting “beauty bloggers” for the BodyShop.

I remain to be convinced that many of the bloggers praising the products (often with no disclosure that they’ve had a freebie) are delivering much of great value to their readers or the brand.  But then, we’re all used to women’s magazines which trade largely on this approach of shameless product promotion.

And if you’ve ever seen an episode of Absolutely Fabulous or Ugly Betty or the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, you’ll know that motoring media and mommy bloggers have nothing on the elite of the blagger profession.

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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.

8 thoughts on “Hey PR person – don’t you know who I am?”

  1. HO! Ho! I read my Guild Update too and wondered about someone taking them up on it.My thoughts must have travelled through space.
    Will anyone tackle them in the next issue or do they read your blog?
    G

  2. I think there should be a standard adopted – block all motoring writers who also do the travel sections and food and wine. That should solve the problem😉

  3. Hi Heather,

    By evoking supply and demand, you raise a key issue that I don’t think anyone has discussed yet. Will the much heralded rise of the citizen journalist be undermined by the commoditization of the citizen journalist? If so, it seems to me that for a PR strategy to use bloggers intelligently, it will need to determine which blogger “brands” stand out from the pack and are compatible with the organization’s brand. Making good use of bloggers would then be a matter of cross-branding. Hmm, I think I’ll raise this point over at http://www.prconversations.com...

  4. I reckon the increased scrutiny that is circulating now at the BBC and in the public sector (hurried new rules about who can claim what…) will have a fall out for the reportint side of the media too.
    I know people who have nothing to do with the media who question, for instance, travel programmes that celebrities do – they are cynical about how much to believe a review of a blatant ‘free’ holiday from someone with no particular expertise.
    Do you think think standards of declaration about freebies will have to be tighter for everyone – on-liners and press journos? Citizens and paid fors?

  5. ‘But any PR person who has used freebies as a strategy for generating copy must recognise the risk this creates in creating a prima donna culture.’

    Absolutely. But it’s rife. And the line is wide and the line is the notorious ‘grey’.

    The freebie can be justified in some cases. How is a food writer meant to write about food unless they, um, eat it? Presumably at meal time.

    But I was a little shocked recently to learn about beauty writers who happily put themselves forward to have a free dose of cosmetic surgery. All based on the same premise. Now I would argue this case (seems extreme to me – next thing you know health journos will be saying can I try that experimental cure for dementia), saying why not interview one or two people who paid to have their tummy tucked?

    But maybe you could say the same about the food writer. Sounds insane, I know, but we go back to that grey line.

  6. I suppose the food writer is like the motoring industry journalists in that food and access to a new model before launch are tools of the job. It is all the “extras” that go around that which undoubtedly affect the nature of their experience that edge towards greyer shades of the moral/ethical conundrum.

    I’ve not heard about free cosmetic surgery for beauty writers – which is a real worry in terms of their engagement. I suppose it is in the interest of the surgeons to ensure the results are amazing – but won’t the journos play down any little issues as they’ve made such a personal commitment in having such procedures?

  7. There’s another aspect of the cosmetic surgery thing that is a bit disturbing. If someone gives me a free car, it won’t keep me from ever having another car or stopping driving altogether. There are some aspects of permanence in “trying” surgery that I find very alarming.

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