My recent list of tips on pitching bloggers garnered a fair amount of attention and comments. One reaction that caught my attention was from Allison Blass, a public relations pro (her title is New Media Coordinator) at MWW Group. She disagreed that pitching as if you’ve read the blog is the right way to go, saying, “The one problem I had was with your suggestion that PR people should act like they read the blog on a regular basis. While this might work for some people, some bloggers can see right through this.”
I responded in the comments that ideally (our hypothetical was a time-sensitive scenario) I wouldn’t “act like” I read the blog. I would read the blog. This opened up an interesting discussion via email where I learned that Allison is a bit of a contradiction in terms. A PR pitch person by day, she is a blogger by night. Lemonade Life is a personal blog about living life with Type 1 Diabetes. And she gets pitched. And has some strong opinions about being pitched.
Never one to resist the temptation, I asked Allison to do a little Q-N-A with us. What follows is an interesting take on pitching and being pitched from a blogger who is also a pitch artist.
Give us an idea of a day in the life at MWW — how many media outlets, traditional and new, do you normally approach with a story angle?
I work in MWW’s digital media practice, DialogueMedia, which means I only deal with blogs. We have online campaigns for our clients that go beyond just blogs, of course, but as far as pitching, I only work with bloggers. I try to find as many appropriate bloggers for the story as I can. Depending on the story or client, it can be thirty blogs or it can be thirteen blogs. It takes anywhere from three to six hours to build my media lists, over multiple days, because it takes a long time to weed through all the blogs Technorati and Google Blog Search throws at you. I try to make sure I’m not wasting my time or the blogger’s time. Oftentimes I start my searches by looking for blogs that have already written about the client, to get a sense of who is favorable and who isn’t. I read at least one or two pages of blogs posts because you never know if a blog has switched focuses or has stopped writing altogether. I search for the client’s name to make sure there’s no negative press. Then I craft an email showing I understand what they write about.
Do you separate new media from old? Where do you get your contact information? (Do you use a service, if so, which one if you can share?).
Honestly, I’ve never even used a PR service. But I suppose that’s a good thing, right? I remember doing some extra research for a client using a PR service. I looked up other bloggers in my community. Most of us weren’t listed, which I think shows just how limited those services are for bloggers. I don’t plan on using it again. I get all my contact information from the blog. If there’s no email address then I just move on, which can be very, very frustrating! I swear the bane of my existence is great bloggers who don’t post their email address!
What’s your normal M.O.? (Email, call, Twitter? Do you ever BCC to knock out more than one at a time?)
I’m old-fashioned. I only use email. Once I used Twitter to see if someone would be interested in my email, but we already knew each other. I’ve never called a blogger. I think email is the most convenient method of communication. You don’t have to worry about interrupting anyone. I have never BCC’d anyone. I always use a first name because I like when PR professionals use my first name. If I can’t find a first name, I just say “hello” and introduce myself. People who start letters to me with “Dear Blogger” or “Dear Editor” just seem lazy. If you can find an email address, you can find a name. If it takes a half an hour extra to make sure you don’t get blasted on the Internet, I think it’s worth it!
My advice is to ideally read and participate in every blog you pitch. You shared with me that you don’t, yet have pretty fair success getting through to bloggers. How do you go about the approach?
I think the fact that I don’t pretend to be anything other than what I am is what has helped me. I was at BlogHer last summer, about a month after I started at MWW Group, which is my first job post-college. I was in the session about mommybloggers. A couple other PR professionals were in the session as well, and one of the mothers stood up and she said that she hated when PR professionals started their emails with, “Hey, how was Hawaii?” right before pitching them some product they didn’t even want. I think that being so new to the industry it really made an impact and molded how I view emailing bloggers. I didn’t want them to read my email and think, “Oh, she’s just doing this to get a hit.” I think I would always secretly worry that they would think I didn’t really care and was just doing this for a client.
Flipping the coin a bit, you also blog and do so about an important, yet niche topic — living with Type 1 Diabetes. How long have you been blogging at Lemonade-Life?
I started my blog in July 2005. My first blog was hosted on Blogger, but I moved over to WordPress last summer so the current archive only has the last year of posts.
Have you been approached by PR folks yet? What’s your reaction to the ones who have reached out? Has anyone pitched you well?
I have been pitched a handful of time about diabetes related news. One woman has done a great job. In this day and age I think it’s important to highlight good work so I want to say she works for MS & L Digital. She emailed me with a simple introduction and explanation of her client and their website. She related it directly to something I was working on. She consistently has brief emails with an explanation about what’s new and offers me to check it out, and her tone is very cheerful. She always says thank you and she signs her emails with a “Cheers!” She seems like a nice person who appreciates and respects me, not just someone who is trying to get through a list. She definitely influenced how I do my pitches.
I only remember two bad pitches. I won’t name names â€“ I’m not a fan of retaliation. One person pitched me on a new drug about type 2 diabetes, while I write about life with type 1 diabetes. I don’t expect most PR pros to know the differences, so I didn’t get that upset. Another person asked me to essentially imagine what it’s like to have diabetes! Cue eye roll. Instead of just complaining about stupid people, I wrote him back and explain my reactions to it. I included a couple of links to bloggers who have done those “top ways to pitch” lists. He thanked me! One blogger down, twelve thousand to goâ€¦
What if PR folks representing pharmaceutical companies, non-profits and so-on, or the end client staff members themselves, that might have information valuable to your audience — relevant information about treatments, fund-raisers, new research, etc. — wanted to comment and participate on your blog, how would you react?
Our community was built by people who are living with diabetes â€“ either directly or have a family member with it â€“ and they share deep, personal thoughts and fears about this disease. If someone without diabetes came to my blog and wanted to comment, I would question their motives. If someone commented on my blog under the pretense that they were legitimately a part of the community and then I found out they were paid by a pharmaceutical company and were doing this to gain my “trust,” I would be offended. It’s very fake. Diabetes is a deeply personal disease and it’s not a community you can belong to simply because you read and comment. It confuses me that a PR professional would want to participate in a community that they don’t belong to.
But even if these folks ultimately have an agenda, do not have Type 1 diabetes, but are genuinely interested in the topic because it’s what they work on or with everyday, and you’re a top diabetes blogger, don’t you think it feasible their interest is at least partially genuine?
I know PR agencies and pharmaceutical companies read my blog to learn about their customers and create better campaigns. I understand reading about things on behalf of a client that you don’t necessarily have a personal interest in. I am sure that for every rule there are a hundred exceptions. Honestly, my main concern is that despite a “genuine” interest in a community, it could still be perceived as very contrived and unwelcomed. This goes beyond intention. Asking employees to comment on blogs simply because they are associated with the industry might set them up for a huge backfire, with bloggers saying, “You don’t belong here.” Perception has everything to do with it. My hope is that people will be careful about which blogs they comment on. Maybe parenting or technology blogs are more open, but communities involving an illness or a controversial issue have a lot of trust issues to begin with. The phrase “ultimately has an agenda” raises a huge red flag for me, personally. I often hear other social media experts encouraging people to be “transparent” and “authentic.” There have been so many cases where social media strategies turn out to be less than authentic and unethical, so as a blogger, it concerns me. Participating in an online community shouldn’t be work. You should want to be here. Maybe someone will surprise me.
If you represented a pharmaceutical or even a non-profit launching a new fund-raising initiative related to diabetes research, would you pitch your blog? How would you pitch you?
Of course I would pitch me! I’m awesome! I think the best way to pitch any blogger is to show how the initiative is designed to help me and my audience. Why should I care? Also, be up front about who you are. My opening line is typically introducing my name, where I work and who I represent. Then I talk about the campaign or product and why I think it fits their blog. It’s very similar to most of the PR guidelines that are on the Internet. The only difference is that I wouldn’t say something like, “Congratulations on going to London” or “How’s life in New Jersey?” It doesn’t impress me. What impresses me is relating what you’re talking about to what I talk about.
The PR blacklist movement is in full swing. What are the most important actions PR folks like yourself can do to prevent pissing off a blogger?
Trapanigate just shows how much people need to pay attention. Blacklisting only helps the blacklister, but what you can do to help is listen. You are asking this blogger or reporter to help you, so give them the courtesy and respect to help them. Listen to them. If they tell you something, don’t ignore them or make excuses. Give them a story that matters to them, explain your thinking so even if it doesn’t fit, they know you made an effort, give them resources and last but not least, get their name right.
Allison is obviously a rising star, if not superhero, and happens to work for Tom Biro, who might be a superhero. MWW’s blog is at http://www.openthedialogue.com.
IMAGE: “Me and my boyfriend” by Allison Blass on Flickr. Used with permission.