What Bloggers Should Know About PR And Advertising

by Jason Falls |

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

About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).