Comms pros adjust to new realities of blogger relations

Depending on whom you ask, PR's blogger relations might be either failing or acclimating to the evolving blogosphere landscape.

Depending on whom you ask, PR's blogger relations might be either failing or acclimating to the evolving blogosphere landscape.

A September study on messaging unveiled by Burson-Marsteller showed a 76% gap in the messages PR puts out to bloggers and what ultimately gets written in the US. In Latin America, it's an 82% gap.

"We used to sell our clients on including the blogosphere, now they are expecting it," says Danielle Wiley, SVP at Edelman Digital in Chicago, who oversees blogger relations for the agency's consumer clients. She also runs her own food blog, foodmomiac.com.

Figuring out blogs

Clients may be expecting a blogger component to PR strategy, but the working relationship between PR and bloggers isn't always harmonious. Once a fringe form of editorial content with an unclear place in journalism, blogs have grown up and proliferated. Meanwhile, the PR industry is still trying to figure it all out.

"The basic tenets of media relations are often ignored," says Wiley. "A lot of bloggers put out guidelines and much of the time they're ignored. No wonder bloggers don't like PR."

Just a few years ago, the newness of blogs meant the rules of engagement weren't yet written, but Wiley says times have changed. "It's become harder," she admits. PR, Wiley adds, isn't doing enough up-front research on the blogs they reach out to for coverage.

"The percentage of blogs that provide quality has gone down," she explains. "There are a lot of bloggers that will give a quality review to anything. We don't see that as a quality hit."

As a blogger, Wiley gets up to 20 pitches a day, most of which are junk and don't pertain to the topic of her blog.

Establishing relationships is the main blogger-relations objective for Patrick Seybold, Sony's computer and network entertainment senior director of corporate communications and social media.

"The pitfall is treating all reporters the same," he says. "We treat every one as a unique individual. They are going to have a different set of criteria."

For product launches, Seybold and his social media team of three work with up to 120 different bloggers.

"Four years ago, blogs were so nascent, no one knew how to approach them," he says.

It may not get any easier, either, considering the lightning speed at which the blogosphere and Web-based journalism are evolving, with reporters changing positions or publications or blogs going under altogether.

"The biggest challenge will be keeping up with the shifting changes in the blogosphere," adds Seybold. "Hopefully the relationships will follow. We are working at a solid B right now. I don't know if it's ever going to be an A."

Achieving viability

An example of this evolution is AOL's purchase in September of the popular technology blog TechCrunch. Once a scrappy blog founded in 2005 by Michael Arrington, TechCrunch quickly evolved into a full-blown Web publication with a team of reporters covering all things tech.

With this, the very notion of blogger relations may be outdated, as blogs become accepted as legitimate news operations.

"The blogger craze as a means of expression has really fallen away," says Owen Thomas, executive editor of San Francisco-based VentureBeat, which covers startup and innovative companies.

Thomas now calls VentureBeat, long viewed as a blog, a viable Web news publication with trained and paid reporters. He doesn't want his site to be perceived as a blog and acknowledges VentureBeat should have a better "about" page to reflect this to the PR community.

"The stakes are entirely different if the blogs are entirely for pleasure," he says. "Blogger relations made sense at the time." However, relevant blogs have become professionalized, demanding greater respect from PR, Thomas adds.

PR's failures with blogs show a misunderstanding of the medium, he explains. And for the thousands of blogs and so-called influencers out there? "How do these matter?" he asks.

Keys to effective blogger outreach

Research

You need to do your homework. There are thousands of blogs on many topics. Some of them are good, but many are not as strong. Certain blogs attract few readers, others draw thousands. Make sure you are pitching the right blog by reading its "about" section and preferred way of receiving story ideas

Relationships

Develop them with bloggers just as you would with a reporter

Flexibility

Be nimble with your strategy. By the time you hone an approach, the blogosphere may very well be different on other social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook

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