The fraught relationship between bloggers and public relations

Go to any meeting of bloggers and mention “public relations” and you will be able to sit back for an hour and listen to a stream of unending complaints about badly targeted emails, persistent harassment to attend product launches and visit places.

You might think that being offered all these offers of free food, drink, trips to places would be fun, and indeed some can be – but the floodgates never close, and worse – so many of them are totally irrelevant to the target audience.

Now, before this turns into a rant – many people within the PR industry are perfectly fine, and some are actually very good. But like the proverbial bad apple, there are too many bottom feeders in that barrel and they are ruining it for everyone.

Why am I writing about this – have I received another badly written press release? Nope, but I got this message on Twitter.

“@ianvisits @diamondgeezer been reading your post/tweets. the way you respond to PR damages the image other bloggers are trying to improve”

Now, I wasn’t aware that the Great Blogger Collective was organising a project to improve how blog writers appear to PR people, and judging by the flood of PR fluff that many of us receive, I doubt there is actually a problem in persuading some PR agencies that bloggers are an audience that is ripe for plucking.

Now think about it – is a Blog that doesn’t really have a core theme, but seems to be mainly about what’s happening in London from a slightly offbeat focus, likely to be interested in an overnight stay in a Brighton hotel? Nope. Reviewing hair products? Nope. Apple’s iPad? Nope.

The “design guru Linda Barker”? OMG – what have I done to make anyone think I would be interested in Linda (bloody) Barker?

(these are all emails I have received and filed under the “facepalm” folder in my email programme)

Would I be interested in a visit to the Crossrail station at Canary Wharf? OH YES! A visit to a science lab? OH YES! A chance to watch an ancient ceremony? OH YES!

More accurately, would you the readers be interested in reading about such places?

All of these have been arranged by press people who know not only that I am likely to be interested as a person, but that people reading this blog will also be interested in the topic.

If I am interested in the topic then I am likely to write a better blog post, and after all, the PR person wants publicity – preferably good publicity – and will want to target publications likely to deliver an audience interested in their product/event.

That is the best relationship – a blog that wants to write interesting things, an audience that will read the blog post, and a Press Officer who can deliver such opportunities.

Yes, I will attend PR events that are likely to lead to blog posts that will interest my readers.

No, I wont write about hair care products – because YOU are unlikely to be interested in them, and wouldn’t be coming here to read about them anyway.

As it happens, I am right now talking to a couple of agencies about things which I think will lead to interesting blog posts. They will be slotted into the usual stream of random history, offbeat events I attended on my own volition and whatever else peeks my interest.

I don’t think that we should forget that rather a lot of these PR events are “work”, not just a chance to get pished on free booze (although that happens sometimes). Oh, OK then, I will occasionally indulge myself.

And onto the final issue – time.

Most bloggers have full time day jobs. Many of us will adjust our work schedule for something that will lead to a really good blog post.

I was offered a visit to an Elizabethan House that is hosting an art event and wanted to point out how convenient it was for Londoners to visit. An old house that is close to London – sounded interesting.

Expecting maybe a quick early morning trip or a mid-afternoon jaunt, I was presented with what was effectively an entire day out of the flat – and we would get about an hour with the art, and no tour of the house.

A whole day out for a single blog post about modern art?

Tl:Dr

In summary, no I don’t owe any “duty of care” to other bloggers who seem to be upset that they are not on the receiving end of the irreverent junk put out by the bottom feeders of the PR industry.

Yes, I will respond positively to well targeted enquiries from PR agencies, but will unleash fiery fury at the sort of crap I get far too much of.

Please remember that most bloggers have day jobs and have to fit writing into their spare time, or use up work holiday allocation if something simply had to be done during the daytime.

« « Previous Blog Post Next Blog Post » »

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter

Sample Issue

21 Comments

  1. Author of that tweet, so I’m going to respond here rather than twitter.

    I agree with you regarding the PR spam, and receiving completely irrelevant event invitations is frustrating. However, unleashing “fiery fury” publicly (either on twitter or your blog), doesn’t do anything for building relationships with PR agencies that you actually want to work with.

    • IanVisits

      I don’t want to build relationships with PR agencies that send me irrelevant junk though, and the people I do work with generally agree with my rants about poor PR.

      My main gripe with your message though was that I was somehow making it difficult for other bloggers, and that I should censor myself for your benefit.

      Rather than blaming me for being annoyed at yet another bit of spam in the email box, you should have directed your ire at the people in the industry who seem to think bulk-spam is a good business model.

    • Kit Green

      Having been a comments only blogger for a year or so I am now thinking about embracing things seriously and doing something on my own site that will hopefully be useful to a couple of target audiences. As part of my preparations I have been looking at aspects of “independent” choice of subject and the dangers of only responding to PR created issues.

      I agree entirely with Ian that there can be a tendency for PR people (I know a few good and a few bad ones) to send out blanket coverage so that they can show the stats to their own clients. It may be unfair of Ian to tar you with that brush but the industry as a whole must find ways to distance themselves as far as possible from practices that are more appropriate to spammers.

      As for using your tweet as an example of lack of target, this is understandable. Blogging is like that. Quite correctly you have used that same blog power to publicly defend yourself and that is far better than any background battles (even though they may be occurring anyway!)

    • I don’t want to build relationships with PR agencies. Full stop.

      But that still doesn’t seem to stop them contacting me with more and more irrelevant suggestions for things they think I ought to publicise.

      Some of us prefer to be credible and independent, which means not simply following a marketing team’s agenda.

      Sorry, Justin, but I can’t imagine that my stance is somehow damaging the number of press releases or freebies offered to other bloggers.

  2. It’s this kind of experience that we’re working towards improving on Blogging Standards. It’s not one way either. We’ve often here PR expressing their opinions about the ways bloggers don’t entirely understand how PR works. So we started http://www.bloggingstandards.com to help improve relationships. We welcome guest posters from both the blogging and the PR industries to have their say and suggestion best practices.

    Let me know if you’d like to get involved.

    • Kit Green

      You are describing tail wagging the dog syndrome.

      Bloggers are here to help PR people if we think they deserve it.

      PR must understand bloggers!

      The best blogs deal in truth and openness. This appears alien to PR and marketing at times but the blogger must retain credibility.

    • Eric

      Your standards obviously don’t extend to proof-reading what you have written.

  3. jonquil

    well said, ian! bulk spamming is pure laziness on the part of a pr agency & certainly doesn’t speak well of the firm or their product.

  4. Interesting & well said post from Ian. Actually IMO the way Ian and diamondgeezer respond to bad PR should make PR’s think twice about their targeting. I’m a blogger but in my paid employment I also target bloggers and as a blogger, I know there is nothing worse than getting some blanket email with no relevance to your area or as Ian rightly says, what your readers want to hear. No matter how many times you say “I blog about XYZ” “I’ll look at XYZ” there’s always going to be PR’s that don’t read that or read posts where bloggers (not just DG & Ian – I hasten to add) mock PRs.

    How many of bloggers have had an approach referring to a blog post or tweet about a subject we’ve written about once & may have mentioned a PR’s client in passing? Too many approaches are on the basis of one off posts rather than appreciation of what a blogger has built up over time.

    As Ian says – as an unpaid blogger there’s no “duty of care” to the wider blogging world. As a paid PR you have (or at least should have) a duty of care to your client to get better at targeting and not waste your client’s money sending out blanket mails to bloggers who will bin them.

    Any PR worth their salt would respect the fact that some bloggers want to be left alone and those that are happy to be approached want interesting, relevant and different information to share with their readers.

  5. Great response Annie, appreciate your comments and I see where you’re coming from here.

    What I’m trying to get across is that bloggers that realise the value of working with PR agencies and their clients to deliver on-message content to their audiences are at risk of being tarred with the same brush.
    If a PR agency sees a blogger (or bloggers) constantly slagging off PRs publicly and not wanting a bar of them, they could draw the conclusion that ALL bloggers harbour the same sentiment towards PRs. Which leads to credibility loss and situations where the PRs may elect not to engage a blogger when a good opportunity comes up.

    I realise this is you voicing and expressing yourself, but I’d hate to see the actions of a few tarnish what others wish to embrace.

    • IanVisits

      With respect – if you want to “embrace” a culture of people being flooded with irrelevant junk emails, then I suspect you will be in a minority.

      I have said that I will work with good PR agencies, and complain about bad PR agencies. I would do the same with bad shops, bad train companies, bad anything I deal with in my life.

      Would you say don’t slag off Acme Trains because they might not like us, or would you agree that it is right to slag them off because they are incompetent shysters who deserve to be slagged off?

      Quality PR firms will read the rants, and will nod in agreement with the blogger about the appallingly badly targeted message. If they read a complaint, and concluded that bloggers in general are too much hard work, then they are probably the sort of agency that would have been the topic of a rant.

      They are hardly the sort of agencies we should be encouraging and the sooner they go away, the fewer rants complaining about them there will be.

      Don’t forget, it’s not just bloggers they target – try following some journalists on Twitter and listen to how they respond to badly targeted press releases. I don’t hear any fears that the PR industry will turn its back on the full-time journalists.

    • My deepest apologies, Justin, in case you’ve been ever been denied an bloggable freebie because of something I wrote.

      But I doubt that PR agencies will start holding back any time soon, especially when so many bloggers and journalists are more than willing to rebroadcast a cut-and-pasted press release.

    • Thanks – although – with respect I disagree simply because there are now a gazillion bloggers around – many of whom will happily blindly publish anything that is sent to them – admittedly they may (or probably do) have low readerships. Moving onto Ian’s journalism analogy – there are a gazillion local rags around or newswire services that will publish anything too.

      There’s obviously many lists around or bloggers top 10/50/100 whatever and people on these lists get “targeted” a lot and always will do regardless of what a few bloggers might publish about bad PR. I spose lazy PR’s stick to that list and don’t look much further than that.

      The number of blogs is quite simply too high and varied and motivated by too many different thngs for ALL bloggers to be “tarred with the same brush”.

  6. Annie Mole makes a vital point about the PRs’ duty of care to their clients. I sometimes wonder how the businesses concerned would feel if I actually turned up to their events, accepting their hospitality despite the lack of any connection between their business and the content of my blog.

  7. Eric

    piques

  8. I wish I actually got requests from PR agencies so I could refuse them…

    I side with IanVisits and Diamond Geezer on this; I am also independent and I wish that some of these PR people would actually read the blogs they’re trying to advertise on.

  9. Peter Cameron

    Thankfully the PR agencies have mostly left me alone – there is enough mathematics in my blog (shock!! horror!!) that they feel their target audience won’t be reading it. Plenty of spam selling stuff, but the spam filter does a good job on that.

  10. Elizabeth Pfeuti

    I’m a journalist and am plagued with irrelevant press releases from PRs. I write about finance and have recently begun to receive epistles from aviation ‘experts’ and wedding dress designers.

    As I get paid for the the copy I churn out, my ire is limited to a hasty delete button stab, but woe-betide the PR who rings on my deadline to see if I have received the thing.

    (Full disclosure – My best friend works for a PR agency and scolds her team for sending out releases to people who will not be interested. It is a waste of everyone’s time and ultimately the client is paying for a service that they are not getting.)

    In my experience, journalists’ biggest annoyance is the dreaded quote check – Don’t get me started on that…

  11. rjp

    I wish I got requests from PR agencies because then I would whore myself out to the highest bidder and retire on a gold yacht in the Adriatic.

  12. I’m almost jealous of you lot in London getting ‘free’ offers.

    Here in Jakarta, all I seem to get is loads of irrelevant spam, but what I do have in common with you is that very few have actually made the effort to read and hopefully understand what my blog is about.

Trackbacks / Pings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

web