PR Roundtable Discussion: Engaging Public Relations for Bloggers 101

We continue the PR/Blogger Roundtable discussion with Doug Haslam, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Brian Solis, Cathryn Hrudicka and Marc Orchant.

Brand is a matter of some discussion – and we did that yesterday.

How can bloggers engage public relations better?

Cathryn HrudikaCathryn Hrudicka: The lines between public relations professionals and media content providers are blurrier than ever, as many PR pros also blog, and produce podcasts and video content. So we’re playing one role in one context, and the other role at other times. That should give us better insights as PR professionals into how to converse with bloggers on behalf of our clients (or ourselves), because we know what it’s like to be a blogger and have other people pitch us. It’s also vital to realize that bloggers are very individualistic in their preferences, content and styles, and approach each one accordingly.

Bloggers could engage PR people more effectively by learning who the key PR representatives are for the people or topics they’re most interested in covering. The bloggers could be more proactive in approaching PR people to request background information or access to an interesting subject to interview. Actually, the top bloggers who also have more traditional journalism backgrounds are already doing that. There are so many bloggers, though, some who are lesser known, and it becomes difficult for PR pros to keep track of them all, what each of their individual preferences are, and what they prefer to cover. Bloggers could work at cultivating relationships too, instead of thinking of all PR people as “flacks” to be avoided.

Several prominent bloggers have made it a point to tweet on Twitter, announce on Facebook or on their blogs how they wish to be approached by PR pros, what topics interest them and don’t, and the best ways to contact them. For instance, B.L. Ochman has provided samples on her popular “What’s Next?” blog, of good and bad press releases and examples of how she wants to be approached by PR people. She has stated a preference for short, concise pitches with bullet points. In contrast, Robert Scoble (Scobleizer blog, PodTech) has mentioned that bullet points put him to sleep, and he prefers imagery and description in PR pitches. At various times, he has also requested that PR pros contact him via Twitter or Facebook messages, rather than by email. It is very helpful for bloggers to provide specific information like this so that PR professionals know immediately how to most effectively and efficiently participate in an ongoing conversation with these bloggers. Being aware of what events specific bloggers attend, and making a personal connection with them at these events, is also a key to forming an ongoing relationship.

Marshall KirkpatrickMarshall Kirkpatrick: We can tell PR people exactly how we want to be communicated with, we can be flexible when they need something else and we can expand our horizons regarding our area of coverage. For example, I would like PR people to send me their clients’ OPML files, to send me bullet points about any release ahead of any launch, to provide access to the product or service being pitched and to be available to answer questions instead of asking me for an hour long CEO phone call.

Further, I’ve been considering a revision of my standard policy against covering mobile technology. I get so many pitches for it, it’s clearly a direction things are going in.

I also think that bloggers can be friendly with PR people and show them how to use tools like RSS readers and Twitter, when appropriate.

Brian SolisBrian Solis: I think it all starts with couples therapy.

Blogger, “All they do is spam with me this and that! They don’t care about me and my needs!”
PR, “They never listen to me”¦It’s like whatever I say is ignored no matter how important it is to me. They just don’t care!”

Seriously though, bloggers can benefit from maintaining a strategic and advantageous relationship with the right PR professionals. Love them or hate them, good PR people can still be a helpful part of the news and information process. They can and will work for you.

I think we all learned that running the names of lazy PR flacks in a public forum is definitely one way to send a clear message. Social Media is fueled by people and their peers, so running things in the blogosphere definitely makes things very personal. But there are also other ways to ensure that PR people “think” before approaching bloggers.

One way is to send positive feedback to those that do it right. Send notes to management in regards to those who do it wrong and remind them how to do things correctly. Or, simply block the individual from contacting you again ““ but in the process let them know why.

We recently had a lazy PR associate who ignored repeated points of advice on how best to reach out to bloggers. Aside from the lip service we got, he continued to do things the spammy way”¦blasting lists of targets with impersonalized messages with inappropriate news releases. Within one week, this person was called out by two bloggers, one of whom decided to cc: everyone at my agency lambasting his approach and well, basically, calling him stupid. Names are one thing, and probably inappropriate, but the message was loud and clear and this person was now directly humbled among his peers. And, most importantly, it spotlighted a problem that required correction, while also reinforcing the need for other people on our team to remember that this entire process is about people. One news release doesn’t matter to everyone! Subsequently this person is no longer with us.

Yes it takes time for you to respond rather than ignore things, it also takes an unusual level of patience and understanding, but it helps PR adapt and learn. Using the example above, one email affected 15 people.

Another way bloggers can work better with PR is to clearly say somewhere how they wish to be contacted, what they are looking for, and advice for cutting through the clutter. Submission forms are not helpful.

We should all be in this to learn together. And, for those that don’t want to learn or embrace evolution, then they’ve sealed their own fate.

Evolve or die!

Doug HaslamDoug Haslam: Use them to help you. Tell PR people what you want, and let them in on the conversations, so long as they participate as, well, a participant, and not just a bald shill. The best way to increase the percentage of quality communications from PR is to post a policy somewhere on your blog or site that sets down your rules of engagement– do you want press releases? Would you prefer to hear from PR in comments? What topics do you want to hear about? There is nothing PR people like more than being told how to communicate with you.

Marc OrchantMarc Orchant: I have a great relationship with many PR folks and I think the secret is to take the time to get to know them well enough to be able to speak frankly with them. I try to always make a point of educating a PR firm representative what my areas on interest and focus are. If they pitch me on something completely unaligned in their enthusiasm to get some coverage, I can then reference back to that conversation and remind them of where my interests (and those of my readers) are.

Just recently, I sent a quick “no thanks, not interested” response to a PR person (internal to the company in this instance). She replied asking if I would prefer not to hear about the company any more. I told her to please keep me on her distribution list but to understand that I would only follow up or write about their news if it was relevant. I’m interested in the company, think what they’re doing has value, and occasionally find something they’re doing appropriate for my readers. By clearly laying out the ground rules for engagement, she doesn’t have to waste cycles following up with me and I don’t have to expend energy saying “no thanks”.

There will always be unsolicited and completely inappropriate pitches landing in my inbox. I’m resigned to that. Too many PR “hacks” simply shotgun a press release to a big list hoping something will stick. And I’ve found a simple solution. It’s called the Delete key. If I don’t know who the sender is and find the pitch completely off topic to my blogs, it’s gone. If that rep really want me to cover a story, they’ll follow up (the good ones do) and we’ll begin establishing better communication and understanding.

That’s it for this segment of the Roundtable. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the panelists views on “outing” wayward PR folks. This should be interesting.

Published by

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

2 thoughts on “PR Roundtable Discussion: Engaging Public Relations for Bloggers 101”

  1. Cathryn, funny you should bring up B.L. Ochman– I recently teed up an example of how to answer the “PR Pitch from Hell;” with a “good pitch.”

    I have no problem with bloggers outing bad pitches– and it is inevitable that some bloggers will name names. These examples– and the good examples, when people are kind enough to point them out– make us all better

Comments are closed.