Lisa Sugar, founder and editor of Sugar Publishing, continues to expand her celebrity and style-focused blog network. She spoke to PRWeek about her background in media and advertising, love of celebrity gossip, and the growth of the site from the PopSugar to TeamSugar.
PRWeek: What makes Sugar successful in the crowded blogosphere?
Lisa Sugar: I think Sugar, from the start, has had a unique voice that people felt was different and safe and nice and fun, and at the same time we created a community that felt very safe amongst all the goodness that was being written as opposed to all the negative.
PRWeek: Can you give an example of “the negative?”
Sugar: There's definitely a lot of stuff out there where people will just tear apart the way something looks on someone and just emphasize the negative, whereas we just want to report the news as is, and I started writing because of it. I thought celebrities are such an easy target, I was actually writing it as a stand.
PRWeek: Why did you start Pop Sugar, and how did you build the brand?
Sugar: I had a background in media and advertising and just really liked the entertainment part of it. I wanted to get more into writing, and there was no content company that had that type of topic. Because I did have a different voice, it took off and through word-of-mouth an audience built, and that's when I realized there was still so much other stuff we wanted to write about and our audience wanted to read about, so we expanded it to all the different genres.
PRWeek: Has the negative perception of celebrities today changed the voice of your network at all?
Sugar: I think what's hard, Britney as a particular example, obviously she's been torn down constantly in the press to a point where it's almost sad. I think even myself, from reading what I wrote about her two years ago to now, it's hard for me to hold on to wish her well. But there's still that hope that she is a mom and she is a performer and she can get it together, so I think that while we're watching her, unfortunately in this world, we can publicly watch people have breakdowns, which didn't exist five, ten years ago. It is really important that the press not go too far on their own and create lies or make it even worse, but I think she's somebody who thrives off the attention of it to a certain extent, and at the same time knows she can't take everything that's being written about her too personally because it's not going to stop.
PRWeek: As a fashion/style network that branches out into various categories, how do you keep up with the trends in each category?
Sugar: We found these amazing writers for each site, conveniently all located in San Francisco, that specialized in their genre. So whether it's food, fashion or technology, we cover it all just like anything. Going back to my background in advertising, it was understanding that there were all these categories that exist, and we're just recreating that world online, so we still have a ways to go. We still have pet and parenting and a bunch of categories we don't have up yet that we're going to do before the end of the year.
PRWeek: There are a lot of pop and gossip sites. Who's your greatest competition?
Sugar: For us, competition is a word we don't really use because the Web world is very different from the print world, and we like to all work together. Everybody who's considered a competitor, if you actually work with them it works to everyone's advantage and you end up just sharing traffic. We've been very fortunate to create relationships with other bloggers in each category and come up with a marketing campaign with each other, to link to each other. And we've also had the great opportunity to work with Elle.com, People.com, and other publication houses' online properties, which we plan to do a lot more of in the future.
PRWeek: How have you been reacting to new pop culture blog sites starting up?
Sugar: I think there are always new sites popping up. What we do is stay on top of the great ones that exist and the new ones that are coming. The new ones coming, right off the bat if we [can] tell it's a brand that will be great, we actually try to work with them from the beginning. It's an unusual world where one can actually understand having a partnership versus being competitors.
PRWeek: How are you forming these relationships or working with these other blogs?
Sugar: Just editor to editor. It started out first on Pop. There were so many celebrity blogs out there. There were a handful of us who talked all the time over instant messenger or e-mail, sort of forming relationships with each other, talking about technology or images or whatever it was, and we actually started doing roundups everyday where we link to each other. If you read PopSugar, we do a link time during lunch every day to a handful of sites. It's basically passing traffic back and forth that we think our readers would be interested in. We're trying to get other people on board. People.com, their Off the Rack blog, it's now happening with other categories beyond celebrity. We have a relationship with that outlet and we're ecstatic.
PRWeek: What has been your experience working with PR professionals?
Sugar: Good and bad. We definitely do get pitched a lot of stuff and it's great. We want people to look at us as if they're pitching to another magazine, because we're writing a lot of the things, but I do think people think that because of the informality of our voice or because it's a blog they can ask us to get away with more than they can sometimes. But there's a lot that has been absolutely wonderful with interviews and exclusive stuff.
PRWeek: What advice can you offer PR pros who pitch to you?
Sugar: I think they need to learn what site to pitch for their product because we do have all the different categories covered, that when they come they don't try to send the press release to six other sites when obviously it's just a home product. If it's a home product, don't pitch it to Pop, which is celebrity.
PRWeek: What are your thoughts on expanding blogs and celebrity gossip to TV, like TMZ?
Sugar: I think TMZ is a unique case. Being a Time Warner company they have the infrastructure and they're doing a great job with it. I think that video is sort of also a buzz word right now. While a lot of people want to put video online, I think that a lot of people really like to read our site during the day because it's a young woman at work taking a break and video is kind of hard when you're at work. So we do have it, but it's not a focus yet. But it's always a possibility.
PRWeek: What are your biggest challenges in this interactive media space?
Sugar: For us, it's staying on top of all the news and trends and growing our audience across the categories while keeping our community happy, because we have a huge community that is very active on TeamSugar, our social networking site, and they all comment across all the sites. We're very adamant about having it be a safe place, not nasty, no attacking each other, only intelligent debates. We're female friendly, [and we] make people feel safe in our community. We have 130,000 registered users, and launched the company in the summer of 2006.
PRWeek: What's your favorite Sugar blog?
Sugar: I think Geek is one of the most unique sites out there because it's women's technology, or tech products geared toward women. Pop is great for what it is, but people who are into celebrity are just going to consume so much of it, whereas, like Rebecca said, we do have these places that don't seem to exist other places yet. This is like the female spin on it, and we make it fun. The day after The Hills, we have technology quizzes on how well you watched the show and all the gadgets that they're using, as well as how-to information, so it's informational and campy at the same time. People feel intimidated by [technology issues], so we get people who fall upon the site and want to know how to use a product and don't feel intimidated to ask, like how do I upload pictures from my digital camera--something that simple they don't feel intimidated by it, whereas if they went to other technology sites they would feel that's something they couldn't even ask.