For the past few months, I’ve been head down working on Professional Blogging For Dummies, and there just hasn’t been a lot of time to write blog posts. A few things were just too important to let slide, like the FTC/Ann Taylor Loft story, but for the most part I’ve had to let many juicy stories go.
Like the pitch for an FDA approved douche sent to bloggers of both genders. Or the one for a snake repellent sent to mom bloggers in Manhattan. Seriously, outside of the zoo, how often do you see a snake of the reptilian variety in New York City?
Then there are the brand ambassador programs that seem to be multiplying like rabbits. For example, the Sears Outlet brand ambassador program with the laundry list of requirements for the bloggers but zero compensation.
Somehow, we’ve lost the distinction between public relations, which relies on a compelling story to “earn” the placement in the media outlet (hence the term “earned media,” more about that below), and promotion, which is a sales-related activity closely related to advertising. Many blogger programs are really about promotion, but they offer little or no compensation to the bloggers for what is essentially advertising space. Read Liz Gumbinner’s posts for more on this: Nothing is free, except it seems, a mommyblogger and In defense of PR.
And then there was last week’s dust-up between a blogger who took umbrage at, and posted about, a specific pitch, and a pretty strong response from the mentioned agency. I haven’t looked at the specifics of the post or program in question, but my immediate reaction reading the agency’s post was a certain amount of amazement that the author didn’t seem realize that the very questions she was raising in her post have been circling around the blogosphere for years. Read Julie Pippert’s The elephant in the room? Not so much for more about this specific post and its aftermath.
Earned media is a dinosaur
I participated in my first conference panel on blogger relations at BlogHer Business in 2007. More than 3 years later, I often feel like we haven’t moved forward at all. We’re still arguing about the same things — Are the pitches good, targeted and relevant? Are bloggers journalists? And so on. Blah Blah Blah.
This discussion is old and tired, and it’s not going anywhere except down a rathole. We need to move on. As Julie (@jpippert) and I discussed on Twitter after I read her post, earned media is a dinosaur. We need a new model.
One that understands that the blogger is also a customer, not just a reporter. That the old forms of engagement don’t work anymore. And that both sides — PR and bloggers — need to look at the relationship through a new lens. Companies and their PR agents aren’t doing bloggers “a favor” by including them in their programs. There’s an expected business benefit. And bloggers aren’t entitled to anything. If you want to participate in blogger relations or advertising programs, you’ve got to build a compelling blog that attracts an audience that the companies and advertisers want to reach.
The successful approach for reaching out to bloggers integrates public relations and advertising to achieve marketing objectives. If the story is compelling, PR outreach. If the company wants to control a message, advertising.
This flies in the face of the typical corporate organization and certainly agency alignments, and absolutely requires a change in the way we look at our marketing task. I’ve been writing about this changing model for some time now, and will continue to write about it here and at Shamable.com.
True expertise is less about knowing how to do something than understanding why you’re doing it. Always start by asking Why? Then worry about How? Check out Toby Bloomberg’s e-book Social Media Marketing GPS for advice from 40 social media experts that truly understand the why and the how. I was doubly privileged with regard to this book — I was one of the people Toby interviewed on Twitter for the book and I was in Atlanta the day she launched, so I got to celebrate with her in person.
Also on my radar screen (and bound to be the topics of upcoming posts): more on measurement, including some thoughts on the importance of sentiment, and another look at Facebook after the privacy dilemmas of the past month. What are the implication for marketers and consumers?
Finally, thank you to the folks at Ignite Social Media for including Marketing Roadmaps (and me) on their list of 50 Women Bloggers You Should Be Reading. I’m not a terrific fan of lists, but feel privileged to be included in this company.