Blogs prompt a re-evaluation of reviews

Online journalism adds a new dimension to companies' efforts to get their products reviewed.

Online journalism adds a new dimension to companies' efforts to get their products reviewed.

By Nabbing a favorable product review for a client is PR gold. But as the media landscape changes, so have product reviews. Bloggers and online journalists are now weighing in on the good, the bad, and the "don't bother." And while clients are eager to see their products on popular sites, they must be prepared for the blogosphere's unpredictable edge.

Unlike print and broadcast media, blogs aren't grappling with shrinking column inches and limited broadcast segments, says Jason Schlossberg, president and partner of New York-based Kwittken & Co. This lets bloggers review products that may be overlooked by the traditional press. Also, blogs often devote themselves to a single product category, thus increasing the chances of getting a niche item noticed.

Schlossberg advises treating bloggers like regular journalists, but to also be ready to engage with them on another level.

"Quite often, bloggers do it for the passion they have for the content," he says. "But because [a blog] can be quite narrow, there is a level of specificity, a level of knowledge and interest, that goes beyond what PR firms are dealing with in the mainstream media."

The best way to handle this is being transparent and authentic with them. "Bloggers can identify spin quite easily," he warns.

Further, bloggers haven't yet established protocol for reviewing products, says Gur Tsabar, VP and new-media strategist at Ketchum. And a product review can go awry if there is no clear policy guiding the interaction between the blogger and the agency.

He advises account teams to establish guide- lines that specify how long a product should be kept and whether it will be returned. But there is also learning on the agency's part. Tsabar says he must prepare clients for the conversational style of blogs and to form a long-term relationship with the blogger.

Paul Vogelzang, SVP and director of persuasive technology for Porter Novelli, says other keys to reaching out to bloggers are subtlety and knowledge. For example, some may cover a subject, but may not do reviews.

"Bloggers represent a certain level of authenticity that traditional media don't have," he notes. "You must read much of their material and understand the niche they serve."

Eric Webber, partner at Austin, TX-based Webber/McJ Communications, says he recently started reaching out to bloggers.

"I think more and more bloggers want to be taken more seriously, so my approach is to treat them professionally," he says.

But PR pros should be vigilant about the blogs they pitch, he advises. Researching blogs can be time consuming, so it's vital to know your investment will pay off, he adds. However, if even a few powerful influencers read a blog, it's usually worth the pitch.
Unlike the traditional press, bloggers don't adhere to the "unwritten rules" of moderation regarding negative reviews, he says. "They can be really harsh - there is an unfiltered nature to it."

Bloggers are also more distrustful of PR pros, so it's critical to engage with them even when you're not pitching, says Christy Wise, director of partnership marketing at LA-based Fanscape. This can also brace a client for bloggers' wit and sarcasm, she adds.

"Bloggers obviously are very real, they're very honest, and they want to appeal to their audience," Wise says. She warns that the worst thing a publicist can do is ask a blogger to remove a post or change it.

Georg Kolb, EVP at Text 100, says agencies should be more resourceful when they look for blogs to pitch. Rather than appealing to the predictable - such as Technorati's top 100 - he advises reaching out to lesser-known blogs and ones that might not be directly related to your client's industry.

For example, pitching to a consumer who uses the product increases the likelihood of a favorable review and adds user credibility that a professional can't provide. Or pitch to blogs that focus on peripheral industries - like an entertainment blog for an MP3 player, rather than another electronics one.

"That's the beauty of the blogosphere," Kolb says. "You can find unexpected and new places."

Technique Tips

Do
Be totally up-front about who you are and who you represent

Engage with the blogger, even when you're not pitching

Expect the blogger's review to be more casual and off-color than traditional media

Don't

Ask a blogger to remove a post or negative review

Treat bloggers less professionally than you do other
journalists

Contact bloggers before thoroughly researching their site

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