I was dumbfounded when I read a recent New York Times article about mommy bloggers that indicated a conference session topic at an event called Bloggy Bootcamp was how to let public relations firms know you don’t work for free. A few months ago, I reached out to a prominent mommy blogger on Twitter to let her know that I had a client whose products she might be interested in – not a pitch, just a light toss that indicated I may pitch her down the road. She responded by saying, “I’ll be happy to work with your client. My fee is $125 per hour.” I was stunned.

It seems that some bloggers (not just the mommy kind) have a vast misunderstanding of what public relations professionals are supposed to do or be used for. It also seems that some think receiving a pitch for a product somehow entitles them to call themselves consultants and charge hourly rates to someone else for writing content for their own website. Far be it from me to criticize a blogger’s ability to make money, but these attitudes deeply concern me. While the media landscape is evolving to account for new media roles, blogger ignorance to how traditional communications and marketing works may forever ruin the notion of an unbiased media.

Here are some thoughts that all bloggers and public relations professionals should consider to help us all get along and prosper:

Soliciting Money For Your Blog Is Advertising Sales

Cash register by Lisa F. Young on Shutterstock.comWhether you are selling banner advertising, known in the advertising world as “online media,” or advertorial content (yes, blog posts) for a product or service in exchange for a fee or sponsorship, you are selling an advertisement. When you publish that advertisement, the Federal Trade Commission requires you to disclose what you received in exchange for that post or content element. The advertisement, whether it’s a banner ad or advertorial content, is referred to as paid media. You, the blogger/media outlet are being paid to display or post the advertising message.

Should you want to ask someone at a brand or company to consider paying you money for advertorial coverage, banner advertisements and similar online media, you typically would call upon that company’s media buyer or media planner, the marketing director or other individual who handles buying online media, not a public relations representative.

Public Relations Is Not Paid Media

The term “paid media” refers to any element of a brand’s communications that is purchased from a publishing company (i.e. advertising). Editorial coverage (not advertorial, which is paid media) is earned media that a brand receives from publishing companies because the information was compelling enough for its audience to cover the information. While some earned media occurs naturally in the course of a journalist or bogger talking about the industry, public relations professionals are agents of a brand who attempt to proactively inspire or entice earned media coverage by pitching story ideas and funneling brand information to media outlets.

PR Should Not Pay For Coverage

While there are always exceptions, public relations professionals do not have an ad budget. They do not purchase advertising for companies, and shouldn’t. PR pros either successfully pitch relevant stories to writers who are covering the topic, or they don’t. Bloggers should know enough about public relations to know they either have relevant information to help you write better, more well-rounded stories or they don’t.

Bloggers Have No Obligation To PR

Like their traditional media brethren, bloggers are not obligated to respond to public relations professionals. Bloggers do not have to cover a brand, respond to the pitch, read the press release or consider covering the item the PR professional is offering. If a blogger chooses to respond to a pitch, there are really only two appropriate responses:

  • Yes, I’m interested.
  • No, I’m not.

A Bloggers’ Obligation Is To His Or Her Audience

While a blogger doesn’t have to communicate with public relations professionals at all, there’s a pretty good chance they write about the industry or even the company that the PR pro represents from time to time. At some point, the blogger may need information about the company or a product they can’t find online, a logo or company image to use with a piece they’ve written, a quote or reaction from the company to some piece of news or a clarification or explanation of something the company does. Public relations professionals are the appropriate contacts for inquiries. Not communicating with the PR folks at all could limit your ability to serve your audience with accurate information. Furthermore, sometimes the pitch or the press release is about some news or a new product that the blogger’s audience should know about. By ignoring pitches, or demanding paid media treatment of said information, a blogger is doing a disservice to his or her audience as that limits or adulterates the information the audience is given.

The Traditional Method Has Merit

The media and public relations landscape is changing. Bloggers are essentially the first publishing channel and media outlet which play both paid and earned media roles. Newspapers, magazines, television and radio outlets have journalists to produce the content and sales teams to solicit or handle advertising. The division of these roles is an important protection for the audience to help them trust a media outlet’s content is not unduly biased. It’s kind of like the separation of church and state. Bloggers dissolve that separation which public relations has yet to figure out appropriate reaction to. I worry that if bloggers continue to fail to see the importance of that separation and PR’s evolution is to being regularly paying for coverage, then the notion of an unbiased, fair and accurate media could be lost forever.

Bloggers Are Bloggers, Not Marketing Consultants

I researched the aforementioned mommy blogger who wanted to charge my client $125 per hour to pitch her and discovered some interesting facts. She had no work experience or formal training in marketing, public relations or advertising. She had a blog with a nice sized audience, but had worked in a non-marketing service industry field until she had children and opted to stay at home. While plenty smart, she was unqualified to consult with a company on how to market or promote their products. Sadly, there are thousands of bloggers (and social news site vote-getters) out there just like her who think (or are being taught by conferences like Bloggy Bootcamp) that being a successful blogger makes them qualified to consult with companies on marketing. When she told me she would “work with” my client for $125 an hour, I replied, “Ummm. I’m the consultant. You are either interested in telling your audience about the products or you’re not. We won’t be paying you to pitch you.”

Sadly, some companies apparently do. It’s not a slight against the blogger, but against the companies. Brands should not pay for media coverage. You either make a compelling pitch that wins the interest of the blogger or you don’t get covered. If that blog’s audience means that much to you, add them to your media buying plan and see if you can purchase advertising there, or come up with a better pitch.

Why The Current Environment Is Fuzzy

Bloggers don’t have an obligation to be fair and balanced. They don’t need public relations contacts the way traditional media outlets do. While bloggers are often not trained journalists, they also aren’t normally skilled at positioning their work for advertising sales and monetization. Bloggers want to make money doing what they do, and deserve to do so. Brands want their products and services represented well in traditional and new media content, and they deserve that, too. What a blogger has that brands want is editorial content which is not something you can buy in traditional media channels. Bloggers want to sell it. Companies are being asked to play by new rules that cross established ethical boundaries. The environment is evolving, but there are no hard, fast rules for what’s right and wrong here.

Yes, consumers are smart enough to find content they trust on their own. No, there isn’t just one way, or even a right way, to monetize a blog or even prescribe content for an audience. But bloggers should understand the issues at hand, the environment in which they’ve thrust themselves by becoming a publishing agent and how the world of advertising and public relations work to be most successful at what they do. It’s not that PR doesn’t have to change, too, but that bloggers should understand the context of the marketplace.

Romero was quoted in the New York Times article as telling the crowd they were there to be seen, “as a professional.” If you want them to be seen as professionals, then you should teach them about the profession (communications) they are now a part of, not how to show their ignorance of it.

As in need of evolution as that profession may be.

For more great thoughts on how bloggers should handle, PR, see my pal Tamar Weinberg’s Blogger Etiquette post.

Image: Cash register by Lisa F. Young on Shutterstock.com

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://anynaseo.com/ bianca

    Many posts since I have posted and I can't say all I want to say, because it would take to much time and space. But I must say something. Sasha said “Public Relations = relationships with the public”. Well….NO! Public Relations includes relationships with the public, they are not the same and they don't have the same meaning. I am saying it because this idea followed me by the ears. Everybody who hears about pr, they have the same idea, that the pr means relationships with the public..

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Love to know what you think it means. While there has traditionally been
      media as a go-between, public relations certainly is focused on building
      relationships with the public. Sure, some people don't do a good job of it,
      but the term is descriptive of its purpose in my mind.

      • http://chrisdigital.chriscarvey.com/ ChrisDigital

        Thanks Jason for being open to my comment.

        FYI- great blog.

  • http://www.rockandrollmama.com rockandrollmama

    Jason- I figured Tiffany could explain her views better than I could.

    I hear you on the mom blogger name point: For example, my site name would imply I write about my kids. But I really don't. Punditmom's name would imply she writes about her kids- but it's more about politics. So I see the semantic disconnect- oddly, when I chose my URL I didn't know there WERE mom bloggers.:)Let alone that I was becoming one. But hey, not a bad club.

    As for pissed at you for being a man: really no. Ask my husband, I love men, y'all are great, but I wouldn't want to be one. I've just had a frustrating week with seeing smart, entrepreneurial women painted as clueless unethical dodo-heads, and I came out swingin kind of hard. Mostly because I DON'T expect that generalization from you- I consider you a quality source of information, and pushed back harder than I would have on a site run by someone who would never get it anyway.

    So thank you very much for your openness to discussion and discourse, I really appreciate it. Have a great night-Lindsay

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  • http://chrisdigital.chriscarvey.com/ ChrisDigital

    I find this post interesting. I think you could have responded to the blogger another way.

    “I'm open to discussing a sweepstakes or some other promotion that would benefit traffic to your site with my client but as for cash, no.”

    You should have just used a little tai chi and misdirection :-)

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Fair point. Thanks for that.

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  • http://www.sheilasguide.com/ Sheila Scarborough

    I've chewed on this for a couple of days before responding. Here's what I'm thinking:

    *** PR and marketing want what bloggers already have: authenticity and community (and many want it very badly.) To be very blunt, bloggers do not necessarily need PR and marketing. An independent travel guy like Gary Arndt does not tend to seek out travel/tourism PR folks like many writers do. He goes, he experiences a destination, he writes/photoblogs/videoblogs about it. That's it. He does not need any PR help to be wildly successful at doing that.

    Sure, in terms of basic human relationships, he'd like to get along with folks and not unnecessarily burn bridges, but he does not NEED PR services, Jason. Y'all have no carrot for him. Pitches are an annoyance, not helpful. For bloggers that do tech product reviews or many other situations, then yeah, maybe they'd like the connections they can get through PR. But a lot of perfectly successful bloggers do not give a rat's patootie, and that probably includes a lot of parenting bloggers who could give a fig about PR access. They can raise their kid and blog about it without needing a single insight from Huggies or Gerber PR.

    PR folks must accept that in many cases, y'all need us more than we need y'all, and bloggers are figuring that out. Your extortionist was simply a lot more crude than was required to get her point across. It's not the way I'd operate by any means, but each individual blogger supports his/her own individual power structure. That's why we're such a PITA. :)

    ** Let's talk about pitches. If this is “how PR and marketing are done,” then I'm glad I'm late in life to the game as a participant. What a raging pain in the butt and horrendous waste of effort; I achieve email IN box zero this weekend, then open that IN box Monday morning to find 38 messages (slow morning. Yay.) The vast majority are travel-related pitches that I don't care about, from distro lists that I never signed up/double-opted-in for, and that have NO way to easily unsubscribe in accordance with CAN-SPAM (and these are from “professional” PR orgs. I can tell from the email addys.)

    This way of operating is total bullshit, and we are calling the industry on it, and we're right, Jason.

    Sure, I can “just delete,” but the point is, I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO. I'm being spammed. I shouldn't have to take the time to shovel manure out of my own IN box every damned day. Does that make people like Gary and I a little pissy? You're darned right it does. We don't care if that's “the way of the world in PR,” it ain't our way.

    You do not operate that way, Jason, and like some of the other sharp PR folk we both know, you got to know me as a person before every pitching me about anything. In fact, I don't think you've ever pitched me because we don't tend to move in the same industries, but remember that time you asked to give me a ring and talk some tourism stuff? I was MORE than happy to chat, because you're a sharp guy and can teach me things. I'm smart enough to know when I can be taught. :)

    ** This dialog is painful but important. You are in the vanguard of your industry simply by being a blogger and having a clue. Thanks for grabbing the topic and engaging in the comments, two things that most of your peers wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. That's why you're going to succeed, and they're going down in the online Thunderdome. Congrats, Mad Max.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      You so rock. And you're right. Can't argue with any of that.

      My only response is that PR folks need to be better at knowing which
      bloggers could use the occasional story idea and which ones don't want it.
      Not all don't. The ones that don't have no obligation to tell anyone they
      don't, so PR folks try. While I'd love for the bloggers to be nicer about
      the no thanks, they aren't obligated to be, I guess. Maybe the discussion
      will spark some solutions out there. PR isn't going away, not even bad PR.
      We can try to educate and eradicate, but as long as one blogger or media
      outlet out there will pick up on a pitch, there will be PR folks throwing
      them around.

      I just wish we could figure out a happy medium where bloggers understand why
      and don't hate us all because of it.

  • http://www.tommartin.typepad.com Tom Martin

    Jason

    Well, well — you've hit a hot topic here haven't you. I'll keep my 2 cents short. I think the real challenge here is the revenue model for blogging. Currently there are two avenues — take ads or “pay to post” and neither is especially appealing. So serious bloggers like the one you note in your post are looking to create revenue from their efforts by using established and accepted forms of payment — in her case an hourly “consulting” rate. Fair enough.

    However, instead of hashing about the rightness or wrongness of the existing models, wouldn't we do better to discuss/invent new models? As you well know, creating great content is time consuming and those that create it have historically been rewarded with money. So how can we reward great bloggers without muddying the waters? That's the convo I'd love to see.

    LMK your thoughts man.
    @TomMartin

  • GerardB

    Long overdue post on this topic. Thanks for tackling it.

    If bloggers want to be taken as seriously as traditional journalists and print media, then they need to adhere to the same traditional journalistic ethics of not taking money for coverage. It's really that simple.

    No matter how much you love a particular brand, serving as a “consultant” for a brand that or having your tab picked up for a trip to cover an event or product compromises your integrity. Period. It's the same reason many non-media companies forbid gifting of people in purchasing. No matter how ethical you are, it's about appearances and the possibility that one day, just once, you will slip and put aside your integrity for the largess.

  • http://www.mybottlesup.com/ nic @mybottlesup

    jason- this was a really good read, especially for me, someone who is fairly new to social media and blogging. in terms of pitches that i receive, i hate them for the most part. they're not even remotely creative or interesting. however, i do feel obliged to at least respect them enough to write back and say “thanks but no thanks.” as a blogger, i'm not looking to be seen as a journalist. i cuss too much and say “vag” way too often, according to some critics. thanks for giving us bloggers some good info to marinate on.

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  • http://mom-101.com/ Mom101

    This is a great article Jason. No idea why I didn't find it sooner, except I guess I've been too busy hitting PR folks up for money.

    (No! Kidding!)

    I agree with you pretty much 98%. A lot of what you say is gold and I'd love more bloggers to read your advice. The line about putting your audience first is my mantra and I think people are sick of hearing me say it at conferences. Eh, what can you do.

    That said, I think one of the challenges is that bloggers aren't quite citizen journalists as a commenter above suggested. Some are, some aren't. PR is reaching out to bloggers as publishers, authors, editors, reviewers, individual consumers, “brand ambassadors,” and more. It's confusing! On both sides. In fact, the Blog With Integrity campaign which I helped to found is hosting a webinar for pr and marketing in a few weeks, sponsored by Council of PR Firms, on this very thing. http://www.blogwithintegrity.com/?page_id=111 As far as we've come, it's clear we still have a long way to go. We're all figuring this out together, as we go along.

    I might put the onus back on you though in this particular case; I think that with a little research, it's not too hard to figure out which bloggers (moms in particular) are creating websites exclusively around paid content or free products.

    I hear a lot of complaints from PR friends about the bloggers demanding money for posts. A thought: If PR stops engaging the paid advertorial bloggers that they perceive to have no ethics, the advertorial bloggers cease to exist.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good points, Liz. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing the link to the BWI
      webinar. Hope lots attend. I'll try!

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  • http://twitter.com/TAGtribe TAGtribe

    It's important to acknowledge the distinction between PR/bloggers and advertising – blogging is an amazing newly popular field that is one person's opinions or ideas, not a paid campaign to gain publicity. Great post.

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  • http://startups.com/ M_Dilli

    Amazing article. Basically, the reason why I believe this article to be a proper reflection of the real situation towards PR and advertising when it comes to blogging is because can be summed up to “have a vast misunderstanding of what public relations professionals are supposed to do or be used for”. Some entrepreneurs I have interacted with came to me thinking that PR and advertising were something completely different and separated than the social media activity. It's like they don't see that social media is supposed to be used to improve the already exisiting areas of business online.
    Fantastic post.

  • http://startups.com/ M_Dilli

    Amazing article. Basically, the reason why I believe this article to be a proper reflection of the real situation towards PR and advertising when it comes to blogging is because can be summed up to “have a vast misunderstanding of what public relations professionals are supposed to do or be used for”. Some entrepreneurs I have interacted with came to me thinking that PR and advertising were something completely different and separated than the social media activity. It's like they don't see that social media is supposed to be used to improve the already exisiting areas of business online.
    Fantastic post.

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  • http://www.rantsnrascals.com JP Shaw

    Wow I read this article and it was very informative, and I read everyone's comments as well. It's difficult new to blogging for some because there are “blogging conferences” and boot camps that tell bloggers “get paid what you are worth” don't work for free, but I can understand the point of view in this article and I've never told anyone I get a fee for blogging for them.

    My guideline is simple. If I like the product pitched to me, it's a good fit for my readers, it's something that excites me or I wish to share it. I take the offer to blog about. A product review means a product must be sent to me or I somehow must engage with the product because well… anyone can't write what they want but I don't believe in sharing information with my audience unless it's honest and something I've done before.

    I've had PR reps pitch me a product for someone else they think might be suitable and my answer is always great, send me some info and we'll see what happens. Like you said, you can yes or no. You shouldn't charge for that service. If someone is offering information because as you said you thought the product would be great for her blog, I don't care if her audience is over 100,000 reach I think it's wrong to charge for that information.

    Maybe that's why I sometimes get companies that go… “really you don't mind writing a post for us on our new product and you don't want money???”

    I don't blog to make money. I blog because I love being a in independent journalist “mommy blogger” stay at home who writes, freelance writer, online tale teller, whatever you wanna call me. I love writing and sharing neat things with my audience on life, where I live, news I think is interesting and yes product reviews and offering giveaways is also fun.

    I think bloggers need to flip it around and wear the shoe. If you were pitching an idea to someone that might be of interest to their blog and the person said okay but pay me first then we'll chat… you darn well know you would not like it.

    Can't everyone just get along? lol Sometimes being online is like babysitting without getting paid, draining, frustrating and just not worth it, but I love kids so…

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  • Miss B

    Wow! Really? Okay, so I get the whole PR/blogger/advertising agent roles and I agree with you on that, but what “mom blogs” any different than any other site on the Internet that displays advertising, works with “partners” and “sponsors”? What makes paying for a review any different than paying for an ad spot on a television station? The local religious channel might not have the most viewers of all channels in the lineup, but that doesn’t mean advertisers won’t pay for a spot on there…as a matter of fact, they do.

    So, put yourself in the blogger’s shoes..maybe the blogger gets pitched 200 times per day…someone in there is going to say, “Okay, I will pay your fee” and that blogger then gets paid for sharing their readers, just like television stations get paid for sharing their viewers with companies. How many PR reps run around asking television stations for “free air space”? So, why would they approach bloggers and assume that bloggers have the time to talk about all 200 of the products that they are approached with daily and why should the assumption be that bloggers haven’t worked their behinds off to gain the following that they have?

    There’s no high horse here for PR reps, advertising agents, or bloggers. Yes, everyone should work together. Since when did celebs and quasi-celebs NOT get paid for promoting products? And, those bloggers with the social media prowess of celebrity status should also get paid.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the response, Miss B. I think you’re failing to see a couple of finer points here. First, if a blogger offers editorial content in exchange for money, that is not an advertisement. That is a paid editorial placement. It’s not a banner ad, but an organic endorsement of the company. Without disclosure, the audience is being misled into thinking the editorial endorsement is natural and without bias. This is why the FCC requires disclosure of these types of endorsements and bloggers not providing such can be fined up to $17,000 per incident. (Brands paying for the coverage can be fined, too, so it’s guilt on both sides.)

      And PR professionals do, in fact, pitch television stations in the same fashion. And magazines, and newspapers and radio stations, etc. Public Relations pros try to get the news or editorial arms of those organizations to cover their product or service in an UNPAID and natural, organic fashion. If the editorial team decides, “Yes, this story is worth covering,” they use the PR professional as a resource to get information. The challenge then falls on the news/editorial representative to produce a fair and balanced story that doesn’t taint their unbiased editorial position.

      Sure, there are news and editorial organizations that don’t care if their content is biased. They can write favorable reviews without balance if they like. But blogs are the first such publications where paid editorial placement is rampant. Most traditional outlets separate editorial from
      advertising to maintain a air of editorial balance, ethics and integrity.
      Accepting paid editorial placements dilutes those qualities in the eyes of
      the audience.

      Appreciate your passion here, for sure. And I’m not saying bloggers who
      take money for editorial coverage are bad or wrong. I just think that many
      need to understand the nuances of marketing and public relations, plus
      advertising, in the traditional marketplace so they can be more effective
      and wise in how they approach monetization of their blogs.

      Fair?

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