ONLINE: Targeting Blogs - Are bloggers fair game for PROs?

Last year, blogger Tom Coates wrote his 'This is not a brothel ...' post, imploring PROs to 'stop treating blogs like publications'. Was it a fair request? PRWeek asked two experts for their views ...

YES

Robin Wilson is director of digital at Bite PR. He brings a digital focus to the agency's consumer and tech clients. He joined in 2006 from Firefly.

As communications professionals, we are trained to find out what people are interested in and the best way to get the relevant information to them. We work out how people receive information - TV, newspapers, friends and so on. Then we determine the best way to work with these channels to provide information that is useful to all of the parties involved.

Robin WilsonThe same principle applies to people who write blogs, be they journalists, academics, full-time mums - anyone who is an expert in their field. We work out what they care about, how they like to receive information and then start a dialogue.

We must remember that the brands and companies we represent do things that are of interest to people. Bloggers provide information and share their opinions on these 'interesting things' with people who want to know about them.

It is our job to find out what information they are interested in and then get that information to the bloggers in the way they want. But this doesn't mean flogging them the latest product or whacking over a press release (which does not work in traditional media either).

I may be stating the obvious, but when it comes to interacting with bloggers, the basic common sense principle of communications applies - don't send people stuff they are not interested in. No matter how good the story is, or how creative the idea, they will just see it as crap if it is not something they care about.

Although we shouldn't treat bloggers like journalists (unless it is their job), some of the same principles do apply. Pay them due diligence. Find out what interests them and then approach them in an open and honest way.

In Silicon Valley, many of the tech bloggers are becoming more like online journalists. Robert Scoble and Pete Cashmore regularly break news stories. So Valley PROs are more likely to use traditional media relations skills when working with these guys.

In the UK, many of the digital and new media bloggers are industry figures, such as Will McInnes, co-founder of digital agency Nixon McInnes. Such industry experts are extremely unlikely to want to receive a press release or similar corporate materials. Our role is more about finding out what information about a brand, if any, would be of interest to them.

Then we work with our client to get this information and start two-way conversations. This means our role can focus on monitoring, researching and advising on the conversation, rather than taking part ourselves. We shouldn't let this lead us to view blogger relations as a separate discipline to PR.

There is a temptation to hand all blogger relations to the person in the PR agency who has a blog. Naturally, the PR blogger will know what it means to set up a blog and the ins and outs of posting different types of content.

But they blog about their own interests and passions and they won't always share the interests and passions of bloggers who write about client-related subjects. It is the shared passion, knowledge and expertise in the subject matter that is most important when speaking with bloggers.

Someone who blogs about PR, politics and brands is probably not the best person to start conversations with someone who blogs about single-speed mountain biking.

Starting conversations with bloggers should be part of PROs' day jobs. We need to use our expertise in communications to talk to bloggers in the right way. Our clients do interesting things, and it is our job to tell those who are also interested, using the right channels.

NO

Stephen Pritchard is a freelance business journalist covering the technology and financial services industries

The idea that bloggers might crave privacy - and complain of PR intrusion - is hard to credit. Blogs are written to be read, and unless a blog is clearly written for friends and family, its writer will be looking to build an audience. By doing so, the blogger puts him or herself in the public domain.

Bloggers are increasingly being given facilities at exhibitions and trade shows, offered products for review and invited on press trips on terms equal to, and often better than, those provided to the 'conventional' media.

Stephen PritchardFor their part, many of the best-known and best-read bloggers, especially in the field of technology, would argue that they research their stories as thoroughly as mainstream journalists. Within their own areas of specialism, they might have a greater level of expertise and greater audience reach.

But whether PROs should target bloggers is a different question. The world of blogs is incredibly diverse: there are full-time bloggers who have built substantial readerships, and some who are starting to attract significant advertising and sponsorship revenues too.

Then there are the websites and online media that PROs often describe as blogs, but which really are significant publishing operations that happen to use blogging technology as a way of putting out their words, pictures and multimedia content. Examples include popular sites such as Techdigest, Pocket Lint and Trusted Reviews in the UK, as well as Engadget and Gizmodo in the US.

Using blogging engines such as Moveable Type or Wordpress does not make your offering a blog instead of a commercial web site.

Bloggers in these two categories are frequently targeted by companies with PR material, and for the most part this contact is welcome. But there is a much larger group of bloggers who have not yet reached a critical mass of readers, are not earning full-time from their writing and have little prospect or interest in commercialising their sites. Should PR target these bloggers too?

They should not, but not for reasons of respecting the bloggers' privacy. The truth is that few PR companies have the resources to target all but a very few, highly influential blogs in their sector. And in too many cases, PR agencies and in-house PR teams do a pretty poor job of targeting established journalists with genuinely interesting story ideas or relevant releases.

Targeting bloggers risks stretching such limited resources even further. Bloggers and journalists alike will only be irritated by an irrelevant release or a poorly thought-through pitch. I've been a journalist for 17 years and have never written about vacuum cleaners, yet one manufacturer faithfully sends me details every time it launches a product.

On one level, it is a waste of time, paper and postage. On another, it risks antagonising the audience. And if some bloggers react badly to a poor PR pitch, it may be because they do not have the background to know it is just part of the job.

An important difference between bloggers and journalists lies in the way the two embark on their writing careers. Journalists usually take a qualification in the trade, do work experience on a paper, magazine or broadcast outlet, and join a newsroom or publication. This includes liaising with PR professionals, and assessing press releases for newsworthiness.

The blogger is more likely to be a subject specialist by training. They might have come to prominence in the blogging world by luck, accident or the strength of their insight into their subject. Unless they are or have been journalists, they are not likely to have had much in the way of formal journalistic training, and even less of a chance to learn on the job about the best ways to handle PROs.

A key part of my early jobs in journalism was to sort through the piles of press releases that arrived every day, and to run the best ones past the senior writers and editors.

I am still grateful for those who took the time to show me what made a viable news story or feature. But bloggers now are likely to agree with journalists when they plead for PR professionals to think more about the relevance of what they send, before they send it. And, ideally, send a lot less.

PRWeek also put this question to US technology blogger Chris Pirillo. His posting on the subject can be found on his personal blog .

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