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An Open Letter to Brands

Today I received multiple emails that began with, “It was so great to meet you at BlogHer in New York City…” from public relations professionals representing brands sponsoring or attending the conference.  It has been exactly a month since the event, so apparently Google calendar alerts all over the PR world were pinging this week letting those agents know it was time to send the obligatory follow-up email.  Except there was one problem.  I hadn’t met any of these agents at BlogHer.  I hadn’t stopped by their booth and dropped in a card.  I hadn’t attended the private parties that they sponsored.  Our paths had never crossed until that email in my inbox that said, “It was great to meet you.”  

I assumed that these agencies received my email address on a list of attendees provided by the BlogHer Conference to the sponsoring firms and brands.  I assumed this and I tweeted it, and that is when I received this:

Where are these firms getting my email address?  Who knows.  Perhaps they stalked the BlogHer12 Twitter stream and spent the last month locating the email addresses that corresponded with the tweeting bloggers.  Maybe they bought a list of bloggers somewhere and decided to roll the dice that they had attended BlogHer.  Honestly, that doesn’t matter.

What matters to me is that somewhere a brand brave enough to wade carefully into the social media waters and engage with bloggers is receiving an invoice – and I would venture a guess that it is a rather large invoice – to cover the cost of these emails, these ridiculous, deceitful emails.  And so as someone who would very much like brands to have a positive social media experience, I’ve got some information to share with you, some things to tell you that others may not.  Because those emails?  They’re the tip of the iceberg…

1. Bloggers are being deceived.  Your brand is attached to that deceit.  And we’re talking about it.

This email debacle is the perfect example.  You have asked your agency of record to connect with bloggers, most likely for earned media coverage of your marketing campaign.  Perhaps they bought a blogger  list or farmed work out to a boutique PR firm.  At some point someone with the task of getting bloggers to do something that you want them to do decided that the best way to jump start this relationship was to lie about meeting at a conference you believe the blogger attended.  This is an incredibly risky move, and not only is it deceitful, it is incredibly insulting because now you’ve told me that you believe I am unintelligent enough to fall for this ploy.  And you’re about to ask me to do something for you.  For free.

Most bloggers delete these emails, but I have gotten into the habit of responding that we actually did not meet.  My favorite responses include, “Unfortunately, I was not actually at that event.” Yes, the people you are paying for blogger outreach are emailing bloggers who were not at the events and telling them how delightful it was to spend that time getting to know one another.

What bloggers do next is discuss which firms and brands are employing this pitching technique.  In Skype rooms, Facebook groups, and Google+ hangouts all over the internet, the very bloggers you are hoping to engage are wondering why this was the method of engagement you’ve chosen…

The Tip: Unless you received my business card either from a handshake and exchange or from a bowl drop (by the way, I am not a bowl dropper), don’t tell me it was nice to meet me.  Bloggers receive cold pitches every day that turn into wonderfully fruitful and mutually beneficial relationships.  Just be honest, and ask your agencies to do the same.

2. You’re paying someone to reach bloggers, and they’re reaching the wrong bloggers.

Every blogger has received the “I love your recent post about INSERT MOST RECENT POST TITLE HERE…” email.  Most of us have actually received that email with the post title in a different font because the PR agent did not take the three additional seconds required to change the cut/pasted title to the same font as the pitch they are sending out to hundreds of bloggers.

I have actually received that email with the words INSERT MOST RECENT POST TITLE HERE still in the email along with the URL and name of the last blogger to be pitched.  Yeah.

With that said, those agents have actually clicked through to our sites.  I understand that it can be awkward to start a relationship blindly with a blogger you’ve never met or pretended to meet, and mentioning a recent blog post seems to be a widely accepted way to break the ice.  The bigger issue is when an agency purchases a list of random bloggers and sends them a pitch completely unrelated to the content of their sites.  Now you, the brand, have paid for the purchase of that list, you’ve paid for the billable hours to send those emails, and a bridge has been burned between that agency and those bloggers as well as between your brand and that blogger.  It is incredibly off-putting when an infertility blogger receives a pitch to write about her parenting experiences.  This is really happening.

Being asked for a favor from someone who has not taken a few moments to know something about me is phenomenally insulting and it is wasting both your time and mine.

The Tip: Be specific about the types of blogs you hope to connect with through your outreach. Don’t assume that the agency is going to look for bloggers who write about content easily associated with your brand or for audiences who are in your target demographic. Consider working with agencies and bloggers directly who know the blogosphere well rather than a firm used to reaching out to a large, unfiltered list of media outlets.

3. You have hired multiple agencies and they are not talking to each other.  They are, however, all talking to us.  And they’re charging you to send the same pitch from multiple locations.

About a year ago I received a request from a well-respected (both within the professional and the blogging communities) global public relations firm asking to speak to me about marketing events I was holding regularly for a particular brand.  The email sounded intriguing, and the resulting phone call began mysteriously.  When it was all said and done I had helped the agent on the phone piece together that a digital agency not known to her and her firm was being paid by a brand to host these events.  That brand also worked with her agency, and she was completely unaware of the relationship the brand had with this digital firm.  What she did know, however, was that her agency’s creative assets had been used without their permission, that these events were at times at odds with their initiatives, and that years (her words, not mine) had been spent trying to connect who was doing what and why.

Brands, this is incredibly common and with billable hours at stake, it seems fruitless.  Why did a blogger know more about the big picture of the brand outreach than the agencies?

Another blogger recently echoed my thoughts when she shared this on Facebook,

” I get the same pitches from 5 different people at different agencies who all have never heard of eachother and who can’t remember that I’ve already said “yes” and I have received nothing as a result so I remind them all once again when they email me for the umteenth time.”

You are paying for results. Bloggers are at the ready. And people are chasing their tails trying to figure out which end is up….on your dime.

The Tip: If you are working with multiple agencies on a social media initiative, take the time to coordinate the efforts of the multiple teams. The investment of hours up front will not only save you countless hours down the road, but may actually save the final result from being failure caused by confusion.

4. Agencies are missing opportunities for Return on Relationship™ and it is costing you time and money.

My friend, and dare I be so bold as to say social media marketing peer, Ted Rubin has coined a great term called Return on Relationship.™  The very non-eloquent way I describe this is that the real return on social media investment, investments of both finances and time, is in the relationships that you form.  If I receive an identical pitch from a stranger and from an agent with whom I have interacted often and positively over time, I am far more likely to respond favorably to the agent with whom I have a relationship.  This sounds like common sense, but the people you are hiring to reach me, the blogger, do not seem to be aware of its importance.

More times than I would like to admit I have received pitches from representatives that begin with, “I’d like to introduce myself…” despite the fact that not only have we corresponded, but we have actually worked together.  You are hiring firms because of their relationship with the bloggers you are hoping to reach.  And these firms are making it clear through their outreach methods that that relationship means nothing to them.  I realize that these emails are likely auto-generated, my name and email have been inserted into a form, and everyone is receiving this same introductory email.

But if that agent is reaching out to me with the hopes that I will provide them with some sort of service, doesn’t it behoove them to complete a quick search to see if perhaps a more personal email is in order?  Or at the very least, couldn’t they send an auto-generated email that begins, “I hope you’re doing well since we last spoke…”?

This same result often occurs due to the frequent turn-over within many agencies and from team to team.  I often receive emails introducing me to your brand when in fact I have completed many past initiatives for that very brand and am likely more well-acquainted with the brand than the  new hire who just emailed me the pitch.

The Tip: Ask agencies about the nature of their relationship with bloggers before hiring them for blogger outreach.  If they invest hours corresponding with bloggers, but then employ techniques that squander that investment, your brand will pay the price.  Some reps are not only getting it right, they are knocking it out of the ballpark.  You don’t want to be left footing the bill with an agency that isn’t stepping up to the plate.

5. Bloggers are being approached with paid media language and asked to provide earned media.  The result is devastating for your outreach.

The argument about paid vs. earned media continues to rage in the blogosphere.  It’s my assumption that it will continue until the end of time or until the world grows weary of bloggers and moves on to the next big thing.  Personally, I prefer to pay bloggers a sponsored post fee for their time and talents not only because I believe that bloggers deserve to be paid for their work, but also because I believe it provides better results to my clients.

With that said, I have and will continue to write posts resulting from earned media outreach.  And yes, that includes cookie cutter press releases sent spammily to my inbox.  If the pitch inspires content that is a fit for me and for my audience, I’ll write about it.  Period.

However, when your brand hires a firm to provide earned media coverage yet approaches me with paid media language, I will not only avoid your campaign, I will also be turned off to your brand because of the bait and switch methods used.

I received the perfect example for this type of technique this week when I received the following:

“…I wanted to take a moment to follow up with you on my previous email. I would welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have and discuss how we might work together…”

This email was in follow-up to an original email explaining the campaign and how my Twitter audience was a perfect fit for their client.  I absolutely agreed with them regarding my audience, and I believe that many of my clients feel the same way.  In fact, that is the basis for my twitter party business and how I earn my living.  I emailed back and let her know that I could provide sponsored content options and information about twitter events, and she responded positively with:

“We would be happy to partner together in any way that best suits you.   We would love to work towards sponsored content, a twitter chat or even drafting a guest post…”

Partner. Work together. Sponsored content. It all sounds so…professional. But the bottom line is that the agency hoped I would tweet with their client’s hashtag, write about the campaign, and spread the word to my Facebook audience for free.  The truth?  I would have tweeted about it for free. But not after the bait and switch.

The Tip: Make a decision from the start of your campaign regarding paid content vs. earned media, and be certain that your agency is not only aware of that decision, but approaches bloggers honestly and with clear intent.  After awhile this type of outreach feels a bit like the cute boy talking to the nerdy girl just to get to her cute friend.  Eventually the nerdy girl catches on and tells the cute friend that the boy is a jerk.

There is more.  There is so much more, and bloggers are discussing it on social media platforms and at events every day, wondering how it is that brands are continuing to use misguided methods to reach us.  In the interest of not making an already incredibly lengthy post even longer, I’m going to stop at these five issues, but feel free to add your own in the comments.  Hopefully open discussion of what is already being whispered in closed rooms will benefit both the bloggers and the brands.

Comments

  1. 91

    I can’t help but nod my head in agreement. What’s funny here is I got a dozen or so emails with the “it was great meeting you at Blogher” line but guess what? I DIDN’T EVEN GO TO THE CONFERENCE. Insanity.
    Cat Davis recently posted..Celebrating Matt’s 11th Birthday with a Basketball Themed Party

  2. 92

    Thanks Amy for sharing this all-too-common experience.

    It’s easy for small brands to become discouraged about their ability to reach out to the community when faced with the avalanche of money being thrown around by bigger ones – especially at large conferences like Blogher.

    But as you so correctly point out, money does not automatically translate into credibility in this space, and the bloggers are totally on to the agency’s game.

    This opens up opportunities for small brands; those who take the time to communicate and engage in an honest way can break through the clutter by providing what bloggers most want: Respect for their integrity and time, pay for work done, and authentic information they can actually use.

  3. 93

    This is so good, Amy. I am so incredibly turned off by PR emails I’m tempted to just reply to every email with “please take me off your email list”. Because I know it’s just that–an email list. Not a relationship, not a result of a treasure hunt of bloggers that would actually be a perfect fit.

    These new follow-up emails are even worse than the first emails. I want to respond with, “Well, tell me. What exactly do you want ME to do FOR YOU? Write a full post, twitter updates, facebook updates and instagrams about your product? Then email you all those links? And then what? You’ll send me a thank you email? Wow. That sounds AWESOME.”

    Maybe I’ll just start linking to this post.

    😉

    a

    • 94

      Yes, the follow up emails! This is new, right? I think there must be a class being taught somewhere that is telling people to do this because it absolutely happens suddenly and throughout PR every time there is a change like this. And I’ve found myself responding with, “I’m sorry, it was unclear how you define working together.” It isn’t meant to be snarky. It is coming from actual confusion. What was the purpose of that pitch? Were you requesting earned media coverage? Were you interested in seeing my client kit? So much wasted time…so much wasted money…

  4. 95

    I got the fruit bar pitch too (I actually did meet them), but I’ve been pitched twice by another company that I know I did not meet. I would have been fine with a “Would have liked to meet you at BlogHer” pitch. No need for them to lie.
    Nancy Johnson Horn (@Nancy_Horn) recently posted..Back to School: 5 Ways to Pump up PB & J Sandwiches

  5. 97

    I am definitely in agreement here. Having been a blogger for 3 years (more if you count other platforms), I have run the gamut of pitches to my inbox. The ones I notice are the ones more personal to me. I don’t want to feel like just another name on a list they picked up somewhere.

  6. 98

    Amy,
    You make me glad I never invested in these agencies that hound me. My brand deserves better than canned emails and bad representation. I can’t afford much, but I would rather use the funds directly at the source (via sponsoring or what have you) then take my chances with an angency that will tarnish the brand that I have worked years to build.
    Thank you for the post. Wise words!
    Chelle

  7. 99
    Sara Record says:

    Oh my goodness! This is extremely inspiring to me as a PR professional. Working with bloggers is my absolute favorite thing that I do in my career and it’s something I look forward to every day. Love your honesty and thank you for the reminder not to be that PR person!

  8. 100

    Love that you put this out there. Now if they would only read it and take your FREE advice. This week has been crazy emails that wasted so much of my time.
    Rachel Ferrucci recently posted..Emilie M City Chic Maddox Tote

  9. 101

    That is just weird! One way they may be getting these names is that people write about going to BlogHer and they can harvest that way. OR there is a list of mommy blogs on places like blogcatalog, etc, but I agree that sounds just creepy!
    Mommy Needs Vodka recently posted..Want a Good Laugh? My Shameless Plug to Get Pinterest Followers!

  10. 102

    great tips, i so hope they’re listening!
    anna recently posted..You Can Crochet!

  11. 103

    How funny that you just posted this – today I received an email saying that it was so nice to meet me at BlogHer 11 (yes 11!!). I was thoroughly confused, but after reading this post, it all makes sense now. And it’s a big turn off.
    Jen-Eighty MPH Mom recently posted..SunRidge Farms’s Trail Mixes Review

  12. 105

    It all goes back to the importance of being authentic!

  13. 106

    Thanks Amy! Great article. As a new blogger, I had no knowledge of this. But I’m not surprised, and, I will be on the lookout if this ever happens. Right now, I’m just happy if a couple of folks visit my blog everyday!
    Anna recently posted..JAMBALAYA

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  1. […] to them and this week that outreach felt the sting of many a blogger’s pen. Amy Bair offered sage advice to brands on the lookout for an agency to handle their blogger outreach. My favorite nugget from her post is this: “Be specific about […]

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