Are bloggers vital to the media mix and how do PR pros build good relationships?

How PR practitioners can build solid relationships with bloggers.

Panel
Stacy Becker, VP, Coyne Public Relations
sbecker@coynepr.com

Emily Kilpatrick, Director, US media relations, Qualcomm
corpcomm@qualcomm.com

Jason Mudd, Principal, Axia Public Relations

Scott Sutherland, Founder and principal, Sutherland Gold
scott@sutherlandgold.com

Cristin Zweig, PR manager, Trulia
czweig@trulia.com

Stacy Becker, VP, Coyne Public Relations
Bloggers are extremely important to the overall media mix, and surveys continue to document their influence, particularly on product recommendations. If you build the right relationship, bloggers may become your largest brand advocates.  

The first step to building that relationship is to make sure you offer relevant information. TechnoratiÕs 2011 State of the Blogosphere found that only 14% of bloggers said brand representatives are knowledgeable about their blog, content, and audience, while only 23% provide information that has value for a blogger's readers.

Our agency advocates spending at least 45 minutes reading a blog before any initial communication takes place. This not only provides a base of knowledge about a blog, but also helps start the relationship off on the right foot, and is respectful of a blogger's time. Another guiding principle is to ensure the relationship benefits both the brand and the blogger.

Cross promotion on brand properties, invitations to exclusive events, or opportunities for bloggers to contribute feedback and ideas are all ways to make inclusiveness a cornerstone of the relationship.

It also goes without saying - interesting and engaging content is a prerequisite. The rise of bloggers and their influence has unfortunately also given rise to a flood of poorly designed, uninteresting, and one-sided content.

While traditional media continues to, and always will play an integral role in any media relations strategy, brands and PR pros should not ignore or underestimate the power and sway of blogs and their relevance to a strong media relations strategy, and the importance of building the right relationship.

Emily Kilpatrick, director of US media relations, Qualcomm
Building blogger relationships is a critical element of our strategy, particularly now as the media landscape continues to become increasingly fractured. We keep in mind several aspects when approaching bloggers versus what we call "traditional" reporters:  

  • The blog may change, but the blogger remains the same. Just as in other industries, bloggers change employers. We schedule demos with part-time bloggers, who are still in college, because we never know where they'll land, and it doesn't hurt to have more relationships. For example, Harry McCracken has been writing for various outlets the last two decades, and today he's a Time editor.

    Some bloggers may have started as analysts, consultants, or educators, and as a result, they may have relationships with important decision-makers in the media.

  • Assets sell. Being a good resource goes deeper than meeting for coffee or commenting on reporters' stories. It means constantly having new content accessible online beyond the press kit. For example, we ask outside bloggers and industry experts to contribute their points of view to our digital magazine, Qualcomm Spark. Recently, a key wireless reporter requested a media briefing because she read one of the mobile gaming posts.

  • Exclusive content. All members of the media like exclusive content, however, bloggers are open to creative formats beyond embargoed releases and interviews.

    This enables the opportunity to run contests or giveaways, technical deep dives with lots of demos, behind-the-scenes looks at our labs, gadget teardowns, and so on.

    Their preferences equal our pitch. Bloggers themselves are inspirations for pitch angles. Because they're willing to post, seemingly, random thoughts; what's "off-topic" actually helps amp up brainstorms.

    Notice a blogger tweeting about his coffee addiction? Well, let's pitch him on how a new technology will make getting his favorite brew easier than ever before.

Jason Mudd, principal, Axia Public Relations
With budget cuts in traditional media outlets, the first of those who were cut were often reviewers - movie, restaurant, book, and technology critics.

Some argue that critics were replaced by consumer reviews on sites such as Amazon and Angie's List, but I disagree.

While a preponderance of positive or negative reviews can impact the success of a product or service, most sites contain a mix of positive and negative reviews Ð little help when shopping around. What's missing is old-school critics' credibility and reliability; credibility because the critic had a large audience and was careful to protect from meaningless reviews, and reliability because you could learn a critic's tastes and decide whether you tended to agree.

If John Updike liked a book, I probably did, too. If Gene Siskel hated a movie, I usually loved it. Agree or disagree, these critics influenced millions. Now, traditional media outlets call upon influential bloggers to fill the roles staff critics once did. While traditional media outlets struggle to keep advertisers and consumers, the audiences of popular bloggers continue to grow.

The key element for PR professionals when creating a great relationship with bloggers is respect. Popular bloggers have audiences national networks envy. They interact with their followers and create a sense of community, which makes them more powerful than any critic.

Federal Trade Commission rules requiring disclosure of relationships with the companies bloggers cover have recently enhanced the credibility of bloggers as keepers of the public trust. Be aware of FTC rules and have frank discussions with bloggers when pitching product reviews and giveaways.

Smart PR practitioners know that bloggers are a critical tool for successful public relations campaigns. Blogs should be considered a target media channel just as newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.

Scott Sutherland, founder and principal, Sutherland Gold
Individual bloggers have become intensely tailored, strategic, and effective in terms of having a clear message, branding around a particular subject matter, and building followers within their niches.

Beyond that, top-tier media outlets such as The New York Times now operate a number of blogs of their own, and many more outlets - from Forbes to Fast Company to Inc. - are doubling down on growing their contributors' blog platforms.

As such, we've found that blogger relations are increasingly essential to securing the depth, quality, and breadth of coverage our clients seek, as well as driving their public relations business objectives. A number of our clients have founders or executives who are thought leaders and industry leaders. Blogs have become a great platform for us to make highly targeted audiences aware of our CEO's vision and insights on specific topics in tech, culture, management, and more.

Additionally, blogs that reach specific audiences allow us to tell product stories that explain the value proposition very explicitly to specific groups.

We build and maintain relationships with bloggers pretty much in the same way we do with mainstream media. We deliver good stories about our clients, their products, and their leadership. Bloggers, like any content creators, are looking for stories that will engage their audience. We try to help them by crafting our pitches, releases, and other content into more than just information.

We want to make sure that our content resonates with "story" and we think bloggers appreciate this and look at content coming from our clients as more than just another piece of "news" being pushed at them.

Cristin Zweig, PR manager, Trulia
Bloggers now sit atop the "media food chain" because they're the ones breaking news, feeding the news cycle, and driving conversations online and off. Relationships with the right bloggers are now equally as important for PR pros to have as those with heavy-hitters in mainstream publications, especially for niche businesses.

Bloggers certainly don't want to be treated like an obvious second fiddle to The New York Times or a more prestigious masthead. Bloggers often work harder, faster, and with less of everything than their print counterparts, and they expect the same from PR pros. Timeliness is key.

They work on deadlines and expect the same. To build the relationship into a long-standing and trusted one, responsiveness is paramount, as is anticipation of their needs and bringing all available elements to the forefront right away.

It is also key for brands and the PR pros behind them to understand these "rules of engagement" with bloggers, since so many brands create their own content with the intent of marketing or syndicating it to other publications.

PR pros need to understand exactly how to be a good citizen in the blogger ecosystem, since it's based as much on positive relationships as it is on great content.

At Trulia, we run multiple blogs focused on real estate market data and celebrity real estate and we know that being diligent and generous with links and source attributions not only makes us legit and ethical, but is also key to maintaining and building blogger relationships and furthering the amount of coverage we can secure.

The Takeaway

  • Be sure the content you send to bloggers is interesting, engaging, and matches their interests and coverage areas 
  • Early interactions with bloggers are key to maintaining long-term relationships and also getting the most from communications outreach efforts
  • Be respectful of bloggers' roles, and stay informed of FTC rules when pitching bloggers for subjects such as product reviews and giveaways.

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