Every year, powerful and influential PR professionals featured in PRWeek's Power Book name Andrew Marr as one of their most respected journalists.
It will be interesting to see if Marr retains his popularity among top PROs following his widely reported comments about bloggers at the Cheltenham Literary Festival on 8 October.
According to Marr: 'A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mothers' basements and ranting. They are very angry people.' He added: 'So-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night. It is fantastic at times but it is not going to replace journalism.'
This perception seems to sit at odds with the respect the PR industry claims to have for bloggers. Many PROs are noted and respected bloggers themselves. But bloggers do not always share the view that the industry is meeting their needs.
'Generally speaking, I don't feel we are taken seriously,' says Muireann Carey-Campbell, author of popular blog BangsandaBun (see case study overleaf). 'Some agencies get it, others are way off the mark. Often as bloggers, our reach is much greater and we're more connected to our audience. I do not think this has been fully grasped by a lot of agencies.'
PR agencies can get great benefits from targeting bloggers. These include: SEO and links to client content; engaging with influential voices who can help break a story; and using bloggers' analytical voices to extend a story.
Bloggers can have loyal, dedicated audiences, meaning their recommendations are likely to command trust levels similar to 'word of mouth' among these readers.
Ged Carroll, director of digital strategies at Ruder Finn, warns against over- compartmentalising bloggers: 'Labels lead to stereotyping and broad-brush relations campaigns.'
That said, it is possible to identify some broad categories into which most bloggers fall. These are explained on the following pages.
PRWeek and research agency OnePoll also surveyed 3,000 members of the public about bloggers, asking if they read blogs, trusted them, and their views on bloggers and the wider media. Some of the key findings are presented here.
TYPE 0NE EXPERTS
Who blogs? People with a real expertise and passion for their subject, often technology or science related.
Why blog? To educate, highlight their expertise and debate issues with like-minded people.
Why target? For depth of knowledge and understanding that is respected and valued by readers. These bloggers are also likely to devote far more time and attention to the particulars of a subject than journalists covering a similar field.
How to target: 'With a rifle, not a blunderbuss,' advises Paul Maher, director at Positive Marketing. 'Whether you use the latest social media tools or just Google, what you are looking for is a good fit with your story. The new crop of bloggers are a specific media tribe, more likely to ask for an ad hoc video interview than sit through a staged press release.' Interaction is vital, as specialists will want to go way beyond a simple press release.
- Do you read blogs?
- Are blogs a valuable addition to online news?
TYPE TWO HOBBY BLOGGERS
Who blogs? People who have an interest in their chosen subject area, such as beauty and fashion bloggers or food bloggers.
Why blog? To share views and opinions, discuss issues, recommend products and services, and meet like-minded people online.
Why target? Hobby bloggers often have loyal followers who pay close attention to their thoughts and recommendations. They can wield huge influence.
How to target: 'These bloggers are, by and large, doing it for the love of it and therefore need a much stronger impetus to write,' says Patrick Herridge, MD of Parys Communications. 'They also tend to be much more resistant to overt PR approaches and so reaching out requires an approach that integrates your news into their community, rather than emailing them a press release.'
As Rebecca Hall, account executive at Primal PR, points out: 'A good blogger does it for love, a bad one for a free product. A quick read will tell you which category they fall into. Knowing their blog is key.'
Lyanna Tsakiris, account director at McCann Erickson advises: 'Be honest about what you are trying to achieve. Direct them to information that helps them in their own blogging and build a two-way relationship.'
TYPE THREE MUMMY BLOGGERS
Who blogs? Mums with babies and young children. Mummy bloggers have exploded in recent years and are often the Holy Grail for brands and PR professionals thanks to their influence and closeness as a community.
Why blog? For companionship, to share views and concerns, and access support from others in the same position. 'Mummy bloggers write about anything from post-natal depression to sharing their favourite cupcake recipe, and by speaking to others going through similar experiences, they can get reassurance,' says Tsakiris of McCann Eriksson.
Why target? Mummy bloggers are a huge and influential group. Trusted by their readers, they are increasingly playing a big role in product development and launches.
How to target Do your homework and know the blog before you target. Mummy bloggers are incredibly savvy. 'Not every mummy blogger will be interested in what your client is selling so do not think that you can buy them,' warns Tsakiris. Benjamin Fox, content editor at Appliances Online, adds: 'If you take the time to be thoughtful, follow them on Twitter and generally be a nice person it works. Don't be patronising.'
Which of these news sources do you trust the most to give you accurate factual news?
TYPE FOUR PROFESSIONAL BLOGGERS
Who blogs? People who make a full-time living out of their blog.
Why blog? To earn money through writing. May have set up on a profit-making model, or may have started as a hobby blogger and developed revenue streams from it.
Why target? Can command great influence, and have many readers.
How to target Treat professional bloggers as you would treat other media professionals. They have space to fill like any other news outlet so can be a slightly easier target. 'The professional blogger has the same motivations as the journalist to find stories,' says Parys Communications' Herridge. Treat these bloggers as professional writers. And do not expect to view copy before publication.
TYPE FIVE OPINION BLOGGERS
Who blogs? People with strong opinions. Can sometimes break news stories, such as in the case of Guido Fawkes, but often their blogs will be reacting to stories.
Example: David Ottewell at blogs.menmedia.co.uk
Why blog? To offer their perspective, which may be radically different from the official line.
Why target? Trusted among those who share their opinions and look to them for thought-provoking content. They often provoke debate.
How to target: 'Opinion bloggers are a risk-return business. Their readership are so engaged, active and often so large that a good hit is valuable. However, they are intelligent, cynical and mischievous,' says Mark Wallace, senior account manager at Portland. 'They pride themselves on not being Fleet Street journalists and don't react well to being spammed.' Build a genuine relationship, Wallace advises.
- Do you trust bloggers to get their facts right?
- Do you trust the press to get their facts right?
CASE STUDY: THE POWER OF THE BLOGGER
Two weeks ago, the blogger BangsandaBun, aka Muireann Carey-Campbell published in full on her blog a letter of complaint she had sent to PR agency Mission, after she was recruited by the agency to run a half-marathon for one of its clients.
She felt she was not treated well and that promises made to her had not been kept. She had received a call following the letter, but felt this did not go far enough.
'This was about the fact that this happens to bloggers all the time,' she tells PRWeek. 'What we do is not taken seriously by so many companies. By naming Mission, I wanted to draw attention to the issue and start a conversation about how these types of situations can be avoided in the future.'
Her blog attracted widespread attention and support from fellow bloggers and prompted both Mission and the client, Nokia, to respond publicly on the blog and contact Carey-Campbell directly.
'I give them great credit for contacting me personally and apologising,' she says. 'It wasn't about getting any of the material things that had been promised to me. It was about getting them to understand that it simply isn't acceptable to treat people like that.'
Andrew Murray-Watson, head of corporate at Mission, says: 'The breakdown in the relationship with Carey-Campbell was due to a failure of process and was in no way indicative of the way we as an agency regard bloggers.'
Mission took the view that transparency and openness was the best course of action, admitting mistakes and seeking to address them. Murray-Watson says: 'It is vital for any agency that finds itself in a similar position to take immediate responsibility for any failings without making excuses or looking to apportion blame. As an agency, we have tightened internal procedures to make sure this is never repeated.'
Carey-Campbell adds: 'For PROs, it comes down to communication. The way PR professionals view bloggers has to change.'