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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. 26

    Great post! A couple of days ago I received 2 emails from the same brand mentioning meeting me at Blogher. One did have my name correctly but the other said “Dear Vonnie”. Seriously? My email address has my name right in it and clearly, it’s not Vonnie. Anytime I make a call or send an email, I double-check my contact info. I would never want to appear so disrespectful.
    Elle recently posted..When Wishes Go Bad

  2. 29

    So much awesome I can hardly breathe! Great Post Amy, as usual. If there’s a bright side, I feel like more and more brands are catching on and starting to see where the mistakes are being made. I hope the trend continues and we can all work happily together! Cheers!
    Chris @ Canadian Dad recently posted..The Dads Are Invading Pleasantville!

    • 30

      I tend to think that it’s cyclical. Right now I’m getting an inordinate amount of requests to promote giveaways on other sites, giveaways that are the result of a large marketing budget, but that ran out of money just before contacting me. This bad season of emails came on the heels of a really great run of interactions with inquisitive and creative PR professionals. Unfortunately, the five things listed here are occurring fairly regularly across the blogosphere, so I’m hoping there is some take-away for brands who maybe haven’t yet found the agency that works for them. I know there are amazing agencies out there because I have the pleasure and honor of working with them every day.

  3. 31

    great post, amy!! you hit the nail on the head. . .I plan to juat link to this post as my response to all of the frustrating pitches I receive from here on out!
    amy @teachmama recently posted..mad monday: discounts on educational products for parents and teachers

  4. 33

    I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read this. In the past few weeks I’ve gotten some disappointing emails from firms, that tried to initiate a bait and switch situation with me. Thanks to posts like these, I’ve come to know when I’m about to be hoodwinked. It’s upsetting that we can blatantly see the value of a blogger to these firms. No, we’re not stupid, lazy moms; we are women of substance, and intelligence, who can spot a sketchy situation when it’s presented to us.

    Also, I’ve been able to recently experience the return on relationship situation. And guess what? It hasn’t come from the companies who have been promising to send me product for review, it’s been from cold emails and being upfront during those emails. The idea of honesty seems to be taboo nowadays in the terms of online business, but it still creates the best results. Hopefully your post will cause at least a few of these companies and firms to get with the program.
    Amiyrah recently posted..Dear Fairies: Please send me to Non Conference!

    • 34

      I absolutely agree. Sometimes it’s the emails that begin with, “We haven’t met, but…” that turn out to be the most fruitful for all parties. It’s all about honesty.

  5. 35

    What makes me sad is that brands want to connect with bloggers – and bloggers want to connect with brand. But there is a disconnect…Amy – your points were great – bloggers should respect the “pitch” as a way to share new press releases etc – but brand need to respect coverage will be “earned” depending on what that blogger covers and if it is relevant to their readership. The big takeaway I wish brands would understand (and you also included great tips on this in your post) is if Brands ask for a “service” then they need to pay for that service. If a brand or PR firm asks to do you to do something that is part of your business offerings(and how you make your living) – they can’t ask you to do it for free. In one situation, I asked someone pitching me them if they are getting paid to talk to me – then if so – why are they asking me to work for free!!

    On the other hand – I also wish that bloggers would organize the services they charge for versus the content they cover for their readership. If someone sends me an email about a press release – in a pitch that is truly press related – I would never ask for payment for that. Thanks again Amy for sharing this – Kelby Carr also has some great posts on this issue..
    BethB. recently posted..Slow Cooker (Crock Pot) – Easy Cooking Gadget for The Kitchen

    • 36

      Beth, thank you for those great points. This is precisely how I feel about outreach from charitable organizations and non-profits who I support because it is my heart, not because it is my business. I will offer coverage and more to the issues that speak to me on that basis alone and would never expect to be paid for that. On the other hand, when a brand reaches out and asks me to participate in a twitter party due to my large following on that platform – knowing full well that that is how I pay the bills – then I find that outreach to be insulting. Surely the person who emailed me is getting paid for her profession just as I expect to be paid for mine. There is so much learning to be done on both sides, and I hope that brands become a bit more proactive in joining that discussion and carefully crafting and selecting their outreach.

  6. 37

    Awesome post! Frankly it’s getting old, sending emails after emails asking us to post for free when they know the drill. I wish just once I’d get a letter starting with “We read your blog post (actual post) and loved (something in the post) anything that shows maybe they read it, what are your advertorial fees as we’d love to work together on this campaign. Just be honest, and don’t act all upset when I turn you down or tell you my fees. It’s really insulting as you say these form letters as they’ve obviously been paid to do this and expect us to just follow suit and post information they’ve been paid to push out for free. Great article thanks for writing it!

    • 38

      First of all, you are very welcome. Thank you for reading! I, too, get frustrated when I respond with my rates for the services they’ve asked me to provide and the response is impolite. It’s not as though I’m responding to press releases with a fee structure. I’m responding to emails that have asked me in a very forward way to perform a service for which I get paid. Clearly there is a disconnect.

  7. 39

    Wow! You really got a fire lit up under you!
    Kim Tracy Prince recently posted..Sometimes Epic Is Tiny

  8. 41

    Another thought, could they have gotten these emails from a blogger that attended the event? I would really hope the answer to that is no, but you never know.
    Jennifer recently posted..Frayed

  9. 43

    Great post. So, so true. But I am also curious about where brands got my email, ESPECIALLY since I was getting emails inviting me to stop by the brands booths, suites and events before the conference event happened and got very many other emails afterwards. So that question remains: where and how are they getting our emails?

    • 44

      I honestly think that the brands just email who they believe will be going. I often get emails before events asking if I will be there. I wonder if some just assume.

    • 45

      If you tweet or blog about going to the conference, anyone can search that information. We do build Twitter lists of attendees IF you provided your Twitter handle at registration, but that information is never simply handed to the sponsors, paid or otherwise. We do not provide your personal information to them. Ever.

  10. 46

    I truly feel like it has gotten worse in the past year. It’s like brands are finally starting to realize the importance of bloggers in their marketing & advertising initiatives, so they jump on the bandwagon, hiring a agency/firm. More firms and agencies are created to meet the demand but not all are created equal. And then we get these emails. My other issue is when a firm does do their work & really puts together a well thought out campaign but everyone uses the same bloggers over and over. While some may call it ‘spreading the wealth’ it really is about having integrity. If I see a well-respected blogger gushing about X sneakers today, and two days later gushing about another, it loses credibility. Lastly, you are so right about us knowing what is going on. I worked on a campaign recently for X brand where I didn’t get paid but got product, and I know the same brand was working with another agency and provided those bloggers with similar product and they got paid. So is it the agencies ‘fault’, did they know, and why did the brand do that? Definitely is one of those things that makes you go Hmmmm.
    Charlene (Charlene Chronicles) recently posted..LeapFrog Touch Magic Rockin’ Guitar and Learning Bus

  11. 47

    Great post. I seem to remember getting a lot of “we met at BlogHer” e-mails after going to BlogHer back in 2010. Many from companies that I didn’t actually meet with. If BlogHer isn’t officially giving out e-mail address lists, I wonder if someone isn’t “unofficially” doing it without BlogHer knowing.
    TechyDad recently posted..As Many People As Stars In The Sky

  12. 48

    How refreshing to read this! A member of our team attended BlogHer, but I’ve been getting “nice to meet you” and “thanks for stopping by to enjoy our coffee” emails too.

    As Holiday nears, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in hype-y and duplicate pitches. I think we’ll just start sending them to this post :)

  13. 49

    This has happened to me consistently after every conference I have attended over the last year. Whether it be that I am attended to someone’s newsletter list without opting in and/or receiving these types of mass emails from brands – my inbox is flooded and I spend a lot of time unsubscribing and deleting.
    I am thinking that there is someone out there who has enough time on their hands to go through lists of who attended and do this ?!?!?
    R
    Rachel, BacknGrooveMom recently posted..What’s For Dinner? Slow Cooker Meatballs thanks to GMA

  14. 50

    Wil Wheaton collating? http://thebloggess.com/heres-a-picture-of-wil-wheaton-collating-papers/

    Love the Bloggess! I truly love getting ones that have someone else’s name… got one just this week! Ugh.
    PinchingAbe recently posted..{Book Review} Almost Amish by Kathryn Cushman

  15. 51

    Well said Amy. I couldn’t agree with you more and loved how you handled this topic. It can be a tough topic to write about without offending anyone and still getting your point across, but you perfected it! It’s a discussion that needs to be out there for both brands, PR and bloggers. Kudos for starting another great topic of conversation!
    Brandy recently posted..The Importance of Bedtime Stories for a Childs Education

  16. 52

    I couldn’t agree more. The emails have gotten horrific. Right up there with the 3 or 4 follow ups saying, “are you going to post about our press release that we’re not providing any compensation to you to write about,” is the “will you write about our giveaway that we’re hosting on another site,” email.

    I’ve even had to stop taking “guest posts,” because I got two in a row that were so horrifically written and it was like the person didn’t even check out my site at all that it was going to cost more in a rewrite than what I had charged for the post, so I just told them not to worry about payment and to please find another site to post their content.

    If brands aren’t going to have someone in house handling their social media, they at least need a person or two overseeing the PR firm they hire to make sure their money isn’t being wasted.
    Amanda recently posted..PA Brewery Tour

  17. 53

    Isn’t it sad that it has to be written at all? It just seems that brands, PR firms, and agencies are spending big money to waste a bunch of their (and my) time.

    I can easily say I’ve seen all 5 of these points in my inbox in the last few days (maybe even today!). As a blogger it’s enough to make my eyes roll and mark your brand off my list, but I generally try to followup with a polite and short email saying that it’s not a good fit. Sometimes those emails turn into GREAT relationships anyway. I try not to get bent of shape about it though it does make me question working with that particular firm or brand in the future.

    And as someone who has worked on the other side of the fence, I know all too well how long and thorough you have to be to create meaningful pitches for bloggers who are a good fit. Even then sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes I think the people who aren’t really trying at all are making hard for those of us who work really hard to create relationships and build brands.

    Thanks for writing this. I am sure you’ll be getting lots of emails about brands who want to do better-at least I hope that folks are listening. They’d be wise to hire you instead.
    Kelly recently posted..September – Best Time to Buy

  18. 54

    I enjoyed your post, Amy. It’s a real shame that some companies just don’t get “it.” *insert sad smilie face here*

Trackbacks

  1. […] and good and bad ways to approach a blogger. My friend, Amy, hits the nail on the head in her Open Letter to Brands, and Kelby’s post, Marketers Who Understand Blogger Outreach is a community sourced […]

  2. […] Read the rest at Resourceful Mommy […]

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