I’ve been ranting for some time about the disconnect between PR and social media, and particularly between PR and blogger outreach. In the evolution of social media, somehow blogger outreach became equated with public relations’ pitching to journalists, and so for years it’s been largely the domain of PR coordinators and account executives.

That’s seems wrong. I feel that PR should not be primarily responsible for blogger outreach. And likely not for other types of social media either.

I know, PR people, you disagree. You know how to do relationships, and you believe that social media is about relationships. You are communicators, and social media is communication. You diligently polish and protect brand reputations, and you can do the same in social media. I get all that and I’m not for a minute discounting all the hard work you do in all of the above.

Bloggers Are Paid Promotional Partners

Here’s the problem: Bloggers are not journalists. Blogger outreach programs are, most often, not earned media. Blogger outreach programs are actually paid media (even when no money exchanges hands). And therein lies the rub.

Where does the “paid” come from? Well, first of all, I am certainly not advocating for a blogger to get paid to write a product review. That seems wholly unethical and, as with any type of product review such as that which might appear in a magazine, is payola at its worst (though it does happen). However, with the exception of product reviews, everything else a blogger does to assist a brand in promoting a product or service is a promotional partnership. That’s right, bloggers are promoting, and therefore should be partners. Paid partners. Or fairly compensated in some other way (barter, donations, travel, whatever makes sense to both parties). And not only in product.

[But wait!, you say. Many bloggers are blogging for entirely personal reasons, and they don't want to nor expect to get paid. You are correct - I know of plenty of bloggers who blog about their kids, their travels, their hobbies or their industry and none of them would ever think to take payment from someone to promote a product.  My question then is why is a PR person pitching them to promote a product (and especially if that product isn't a 110% perfect fit for their audience) in their personal blog? I'd be pissed if I were such a blogger and was inundated by requests from PR people. And it most certainly does happen, all the time. Pitching bloggers appropriately is another topic I rant about a lot.]

So here’s the disconnect: Marketing budgets put the most money into media. Huge percentages of budgets are devoted to paid media. And PR firms rarely get OOPs (out-of-pocket) budgets beyond events, spokespeople or day-to-day operational costs. So when PR people go to the blogger and ask for them to help promote a product, and the savvy and deserving blogger replies with his or her standard charge for that type of promotional partnership, the PR firm has to say no, because they usually don’t have the budget for it.

That’s right: PR firms (most of them, anyway) do not have the budgets to do effective blogger outreach. They don’t typically know how to budget for it, how to ask for the budgets, and they’re not set up to pay bloggers effectively even if they have the budget. That’s why it’s not working, and why it won’t work, unless there’s a huge mind shift on both the client side and the agency side, and soon.

One tragedy of this dynamic, which has been playing out for a few years now, has led to the perception of bloggers (and particularly “mommy bloggers,” who should henceforth be referred to as parenting/lifestyle bloggers) as always having their hands out. And it’s also led to the recent tsunami of new bloggers who have entered the space just hoping to make money, without necessarily having a true passion for the craft. And when you’re a new blogger with a dozen readers, most of which are your book club, you don’t deserve to be a paid promotional partner for a blog.  Grow your readership, and establish your value, before you stick your hand out. So yes, recently it’s become a bit difficult to listen to all those bloggers who are whining about wanting to get paid, because many of them should not be paid.

But when a blogger becomes the media, when they are publishers who create informative, entertaining, touching or important content that reaches thousands or millions, they have power. And that power can and should be harnessed by brands in a professional way. By professional, I mean paid.

So PR firms, if you haven’t figured this out yet, here’s what you must do: you must convince your clients to give some of their media budget to you. To do that, you have to learn to budget differently, and then you must learn to manage it (because those media-like payments will turn your accounting department on its ear). Then, with those budgets, you must create smart and clever (and measurable – but that’s a topic for another post) promotional partnerships with bloggers. Because if you cannot, you will not be able to effectively play in the field of blogger outreach. And the digital agencies are going to eat your lunch.

(Authors note: Apologies to a few very savvy PR people I know who really, really get this. You know who you are. You guys (well, gals, mostly) are on the cutting edge. From where I sit, at the intersection of bloggers and clients, it seems most of the rest of the industry is not.)

img source: flickr (Amagill)

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About Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at CrackerjackMarketing.com, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.

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