Bloggers – Are You Members of the Media?

More and more I hear of bloggers requesting press passes and media credentials.  I read Facebook and Twitter updates like this one: “I’m being taken backstage with member of the press!” and know of many bloggers who regularly attend media events.  Bloggers often consider themselves to be members of the online media, the “new” media, and believe they should be treated the same as traditional journalists. Yet their behavior often contradicts this classification leaving public relations professionals confused about how to reach out to bloggers.

If you are considering yourself to be a member of the online media, some things to consider…

1. Do Not Complain About Press Releases/Earned Media Outreach: Awhile back some bloggers decided to create “PR Friendly” badges for their sites, perhaps with the hopes of receiving useful content ideas, product review opportunities, or even paid content offers.  However, just as quickly a movement grew with bloggers complaining about receiving impersonal press releases or earned media outreach emails.  Many of the bloggers complaining have “PR Friendly” multiple places on their sites. While some members of the public relations field are authorized to hire bloggers to create sponsored posts or receive products for review, many more use traditional PR tactics on their campaigns hoping that as members of the online media, we will be interested in writing about their client’s product, event, cause, etc.  I often find great content ideas in these pitches, and while I scan and delete more than I keep, I’m never offended that they’ve been sent to me. If you are receiving press releases, then congratulations!  Someone is considering you to be a member of the new media.  If you do not wish to receive these types of outreach from publicists and public relations houses, than I’d advise changing the information on your site to reflect this.

2. Write About the Events You Attend: If you are invited to a media event, the goal of that invitation was coverage of the event.  I have to write this again: If you are invited to a media event, the goal of that invitation was coverage of that event. Yes, I understand that there are blogger events that are meant to work as focus groups, product launches, or even just to create new connections to bloggers, and yes, I also understand that the media event attendees who are writing for a parent organization (newspaper, magazine, etc.) are indirectly paid to attend the event as employees of a larger organization, but please, if you are requesting media access or a press pass to event, cover that event on your blog.

3. Do Not Complain About the Events You Do Not Attend: I cannot imagine The Washington Post placing a story on the front page titled, “Everything Wrong with the Event that the Wall Street Journal  Writers Attended.” There is no integrity or value in link bait or negative bandwagons.  Instead you are showing yourself as a loose cannon to be avoided.  Just walk away…

4. Behave Professionally at Events: Recently Kim from Hormone Colored Days posted an incredibly useful article about bloggers who attend media events such as the New York Toy Fair.  While I am the first person to get giddy goosebumps when allowed to enter the swag suite at an event, I try not to gather so many goodies that my shoulders will dislocate.  Yes, again, I get that perhaps this swag is the only material payout from attending the event.  But if that is an issue, perhaps this is not the best way to spend your time? Instead, look for the story at the event that would most interest and provide value to your readers, get to know the representatives at the event by chatting with them about what they would like to promote and then briefly talking about yourself (with a swag-free hand extending a business card!), and then cover the event in such a well-written post that you’ll feel proud sending the link to the person who graciously invited you to attend.

5. Aim for Objectivity: I just returned from a weekend social media celebration at Walt Disney World, one that I had some small input in planning, and yet despite the fact that I am a long time Disney enthusiast, I plan on writing a series of posts that cover specifics of the event from an objective point of view.  Objectivity is incredibly difficult when we’re often treated to goodies and opportunities for pampering at blog events, but if we’re hoping to be taken seriously as online media, we need to move beyond the fluff and look at our experiences with a critical eye. There are tactful ways to share both excitement and disappointment, and dealing with both carefully shows professionalism.

6. Go Easy on the Sponsored Content: Regardless of if you are following FTC standards, many members of the traditional media will tell you that sponsored posts make their skin crawl.  I refused to participate in sponsored content for the first year and a half that I blogged, and I only changed my stance when I found the right opportunities that were a fit to my blog and audience.  Remember that more than just the FTC is watching over what you do – WOMMA is not as tolerant as the dreaded FTC – and keep in mind that even magazines and newspapers that participate in advertorials do so judiciously and with clear disclaimers.

Want to discuss this further?  If you’re headed to the BlogHer Conference this year, I hope you’ll consider voting for my Room of Your Own Panel topic on this subject.

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  • I don’t mind the press release and pitches. What I do mind are the phony attempts at relating with me and the content of the blog.
    “Just found your blog and love all the great posts! Want to review our new pet bed?” If PR is trying to connect then they need to be real with it, I can sniff fake though the wireless internet connection.
    great post….as usual

    • Amy

      Agreed. In fact, I recently received an email that said they wanted to send me a VERY special gift including product samples. I just found out that it ALSO included an iPad. Oops. But in my defense, I assumed they really meant just the product samples. So many of the pitches create a false sense of excitement that comes across as fake and really is not productive for anyone.

  • Bay

    I don’t understand all the complaints about receiving press releases, especially when those complaining are the ones who do use terms like “pr friendly”.
    Good reminders for everyone (& I can’t believe anyone would write about something wrong with an event she didn’t even attend…really?)

  • Great article and I do follow most of the points – but one I rarely write about events I attend mainly because some of the press events make other people feel so alienated as to why I should be there and they should not… I do use the knowledge of the press event to later work with the product or the brand and usually I use the event as an introduction to working with the brand in the long term.

    • Amy

      Adam, while it’s kind that you think about not wanting to alienate with your coverage of events, what is in it for the agency inviting you if they do not want to work with you, but instead invited you as a member of the media, fully expecting coverage?

      • I believe in covering the products being highlighted at the media event, not the event in and of itself unless that was particularly newsworthy. Extensive coverage of blogger events is probably responsible for breeding a great deal of the envy and animosity in the blogging community a la “why was she invited and not me?” And for those who aren’t in the blogging community, I worry that this kind of coverage is leading to the general public getting burnt out on bloggers getting so much attention and swag, perhaps even leading to more people throwing their hat into the game!

    • Good piece Amy, and lots of smart advice. I’m glad you suggest objectivity; I”m always amazed at events in which people complain about aspects of it, only to gush about it on their blogs. Hm.

      I would say, however, like Adam, that I don’t always cover the press events I attend. I’m generally there to gain information about new products or the brand for future coverage–much like a traditional journalist. To harken back to your headline, the event itself is not necessarily the news my readers are interested in. And a whole blog filled with “look what I was invited to!” after a while, kinda grates. I think that’s what Adam is saying?

      • Amy

        I apologize if I implied that the actual event – not the content learned at the event – is what PR expects to be covered. Of course that is not true. What I did mean to make clear is that when a blogger requests a press pass to attend a media event aimed primarily at traditional media and then says, “I had no intention of covering it” for whatever reason – not of interest to their readers, not their purpose in attending, etc., there is a disconnect. Why even act as a member of the media if covering the information through content – either immediate or future (as you pointed out) – is not the intent? As for a blog filled with “look what I was invited to,” that would show lack of creativity and tact on the blogger’s part. Certainly a blogger can cover the appropriate information from the event without appearing to brag. After all, if the subject matter of the event was not of interest to their readers, why were they there in the first place?

        As for what Adam said, I believe he also noted that he uses attending the event as a way to work with that brand in the future. Again, I think there needs to be some clarification for bloggers and some differentiation between accepting a press pass to attend a media event and attending, say, a blogger brunch or something similar. I would not anticipate that while attending the Disney Dream Christening for example that I might book a client, but I would anticipate and hope for a future working relationship with a brand hosting an event at BlogHer. Would you agree?

        • Good points Amy. I agree that relationship development is important, but part of the challenge, as you suggest above, is that there are so many kinds of relationships! Does a relationship mean you want ad dollars? Does it mean you want a first look at new products for your readers?

          Mainly, media events are not so you can pitch your services, but the host can pitch theirs, right? If there’s respect for that, then everybody is hunky dory.

          As for your question: “If the subject matter of the event was not of interest to their readers, why were they there in the first place?” Well isn’t that the great problem with the majority of so-called “review blogs?” It’s a whole bunch of mish-mosh that’s more about the writer than the readers. The blog is just a tool to get stuff. So I wouldn’t be surprised if invitations are counted among the stuff.

          This is a great discussion Amy. Thanks for kicking it off.

          • I just wanted to highlight what Liz says here:

            As for your question: “If the subject matter of the event was not of interest to their readers, why were they there in the first place?” Well isn’t that the great problem with the majority of so-called “review blogs?” It’s a whole bunch of mish-mosh that’s more about the writer than the readers. The blog is just a tool to get stuff. So I wouldn’t be surprised if invitations are counted among the stuff.

            and also what Amy said in the original post:

            Yes, again, I get that perhaps this swag is the only material payout from attending the event. But if that is an issue, perhaps this is not the best way to spend your time?

            I have been blogging for a while…since before I was a mom. And I am so disappointed to see that a lot of the attention and money and time is directed towards what I (and others–I think I saw Kristen mention this on MU) have been calling the latest “MLM”, “get rich quick” scheme.

            The attention will follow the money and the money will continue to follow the buzz. At some point the bottom will drop out of all of it and people who aren’t passionate about what they are doing (whether that is building a business, establishing a community, being “new” journalists, being consumer advocates, sharing personal stories, sharing their expertise, etc.) will move on to the next big thing.

  • Brilliantly written and as simple as this. Just because we blog doesn’t mean we are journalists. If you want to be considered of equal value to a brand or media outlet as a seasoned media professional who earns a salary for their work and has a resume to prove it, then treat your blog, your work, and your reputation with great concern, Compete to be the best in your category, making the excellence in your work speak for you and praise from your colleagues an honor to earn. I firmly believe the single biggest challenge in social media is those blurred lines where freedom of speech trumps making wise professional choices that mirror those you are challenged to make in a corporate setting. Business 101 is knowing how to navigate politics with ethics, choosing carefully what to say and when to chime in, and above all else, handling others with the same respect and decency you’d hope to have extended to you. Its business. If you want to succeed, put on your boxers and get in the game knowing you better be ready to compete on your own two feet with your skills in one hand and your character in the other. Clearly, only you can be held responsible for how successful, or not, you will ultimately be.

  • Great post!

    A few additional thoughts:

    Not all bloggers are interested in being journalists–so they may view invitations to media events differently.

    I imagine traditional editors are annoyed when the press releases they receive are outrageously off-topic. Personally, I just delete most of them, like you…but if someone consistently sends me off-topic releases, I will eventually filter them directly to trash.

    On-topic press releases are always welcome, although, again, most will not find their way onto my site, I am still fine with receiving them.

    What I think bothers many bloggers–and what I think is not something that happens with traditional media–is the “offers” that include things like, “write about our product for a chance to win a $20 gift card”.

    Also, the pitches offering “content”, which are really just attempts to get SEO-friendly links for free are not something I would publish. I don’t have column space to fill and I have plenty of ideas–if a company could offer me more hours in day, then we’d have a lot to chat about!

    In terms of writing about the event–I don’t think traditional media is under an obligation to write about the event, nor should bloggers be. Generally, I do write about the event in some way…because if I took time to attend it, I probably think it is a fit and important and would want to cover the topic.

    In this case, too, though–I have done some PR in the past and we are just hoping that our message gets through and gets the column space / air time, etc. Yet, bloggers will often get requests that certain links/language/angles are included–I don’t think the traditional media would like that sort of e-mail.

    In general, though, I don’t consider most bloggers journalists. Some of them are. Others are experts, grass-roots activists, humorists, niche-celebrities, etc.

    Overall, though, I really agree with and appreciate your message that bloggers who want to be treated as professionals should act like it!

    • Amy

      Candace, I absolutely agree that not all bloggers wish to be viewed as journalists and for them, I’d imagine the emails are annoying. My concern is the bloggers who love to jump in there with press pass requests and then say that it was just an opportunity for the brand to get to know them. That’s not a very symbiotic relationship, nor is it very professional.

      As for off-topic, for the longest time I received daily pitches for out of the area events, and I finally started replying with just a VERY brief, “I actually live in the Washington, DC area and am happy to hear about events more geographically appropriate.” That has helped! A little… 😉

      And yes, as the lines between sort of legitimate, paid work and earned media have blurred, this seedy gray area has emerged, which makes it hard for all of us to know what is appropriate and what is not.

      Finally, as for traditional media attending events and not writing about them, while their coverage may never go to press based on bigger news, available space, etc., I would guess that everyone sent out by their editor to cover an event then is required to submit something back to their editor, wouldn’t you think? I guess we could blame it on ourselves as our own editors if we don’t cover them…

      Thanks for weighing in!

      • As to off-topic, I don’t mind so much the out of area posts–I always know wonderful bloggers in those regions and maybe they’d even like to cross post.

        I have seen so many press releases–and I kid you not–for things that are, for example, “adult” products for men. Make an attempt to at least be on the general topic and I may delete but I won’t send to spam, know what I mean?

        Another thing about press releases is that they so very often aren’t “news” by any stretch of the imagination.

        In terms of event coverage, Liz @Mom101 phrased it better than I did… It largely depends on the event and the outlet but bringing press in is done in the *hope* that coverage will turn up in some form at some point. That may mean that one of the brand’s product shows up in a gift guide two months down the line…it may mean that I talk about their cause on my philanthropy blog…but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I write about the event the next day, complete with every link, text, video, photograph, and talking point they send me.

        As to traditional media, my husband has worked for the AP and edited several local papers.

        Just like there are lots of types of blogs, there are so many media outlets. Whether or not a reporter is expected by the editor to turn in a piece probably depends on the outlet, the story / event, etc.

        The point to me, though, is the brand’s expectations.

        If a reporter is paid to go to an event and write an article, they should do so and turn it into their boss. But their boss is making the call. Since you are the editor, in this scenario, yes, you should be able to say that you are choosing not to cover the event at this time.

        I keep coming back to the idea that editorial is free but not guaranteed–anything guaranteed is not editorial should be compensated.

        If a brand wants the chance to talk to a blogger, a reporter, an influencer, a celebrity, or an expert, then they are free to issue the invite.

        But that doesn’t guarantee coverage–certainly not by a specific date, with specific angles, specific links, etc.

        Of course, if you continually accept samples and trips and never write about any of it, people will stop pitching you. I don’t accept anything without at least a strong interest and intention to cover because my time is valuable…but unless you’ve hired me, I’m not working *for* you, delivering guaranteed work on deadline.

        I think some reps are bold about trying to dictate coverage. I also think sometimes bloggers are too sensitive. PR people are used to having to be sweetly aggressive to place their clients. Bloggers need to learn to politely and professionally decline rather than feel “put upon”. On the other hand, I have received some pitches that would *never* be sent to traditional media–and then when I say no thank you, have received rather nasty replies.

        Now, you won’t see me naming names…but I get the frustration when the inbox is ridiculously clogged.

        I also think new bloggers need a little time to figure their way around this new frontier–which is where invaluable advice from bloggers like you comes in!

  • Went to the LA Times Travel & Adventure Show as Media. It was interesting the different reactions people had when I explained that I was a new media person.

    I dunno why a blogger *wouldn’t* want to be writing about their experiences at an event, unless it was just miserable. Not sure what one does in that case if they’ve been invited. Luckily, I was really happy with how everything went, so objectivity worked in my favor this time.

    • Amy

      I have also attended some traditional media heavy events recently and had one San Francisco based journalist outright tell me that she does not like bloggers and then listed the reasons. It was shocking and I hope that my behavior at the event and my following coverage helped to change her mind.

  • Love, love, LOOOOOOVE this, Amy!!!

    • Amy

      Love, love, LOOOOOOOVE you, Lisa!!! 🙂

  • Great post. Thanks for sharing this tips, I agree with all of them. We are not typical media and I can adapt to this need. I don’t mind it at all. 🙂

  • I couldn’t have said it better, Amy… when the pitch is for traditional PR work. Sometimes these days, things that should be paid media (widgets, banners, dictated content produced video content, and keyword links) are asked from Bloggers when they would never be requested from traditional media publications without an ad contract.

    But even still, I don’t get bent out of shape. If it’s not for me, I move on, but I do appreciate being in the loop, and included on content that would help my readers.

    I think the answer for bloggers is to be clear about what is advertising, and what is content for them. Maybe on their PR page, they could say. “Please reach out to me about events in my area, product samples, new information from your brand…. ” “For banner insertions, widget placement, video content, or site sponsorship, please see our advertising page.”

    Something like that?

    • Amy

      Sarah, fabulous points. I believe it was Amy from who gave me the best advice – appropriately so – to create separate email addresses in order to quickly filter the messages coming in. I can’t say that I always practice what I preach on this, but it’s a wonderful way to ask the person contacting you to decide up front what it is they want from you. Also, if you receive something that really sounds like paid work in a content pitch, you can direct them to your other filtered emails. 😉

  • This post is GREAT! You’ve made some valid points on etiquette. I work for a newspaper professionally and I am a blogger. One has nothing to do with the other. However, if there is an event that I’d like to cover and the theme fits within my blog content I have no problem asking for a press/ media pass to cover an event.

    If we receive press releases at the paper and I want to put the content on my blog, I just contact the person who sent it and get an okay from my editor. I don’t get press releases often in my personal email and I don’t really have PR friendly anywhere on my blog. My niche is social media marketing so if it fits, I’ll post the content.

    I don’t do many sponsored posts either, it just doesn’t seem real (authentic) to me if I’m being paid to post my opinions on a product or service.

    Thank you for this information!

    • Amy

      Jen, I would love to know this from a newspaper journalist: If you are sent to cover a press event, is it assumed that you will at the very least submit a piece on the event to your editor for publishing consideration?

  • Correction: I do have a drop down on my navigation menu that says “Advertising, PR Friendly and Sponsorship Info.” That’s the only place I have PR Friendly!

  • Fabulous and concise post Amy! I completely agree and trying to soak up all of this wisdom from those who have gone before me ;-). I think it is crucial to learn to say no! It’s a temptation to agree to more than you can handle for fear of losing that contact. Being choosy is a must and a simple “not now” can keep those doors of communication wide open for a better fit down the road. I SO wish I could attend your ROYO at BlogHer, but I plan to be nursing a newborn that day 😉

    • Amy

      Yes, and it is also critical that companies sending pitches give “no” as an option. I just returned from the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration to find a box on my doorstep with products that I don’t remembering agreeing to review. Now I’m left with a very awkward situation that could have been prevented with some common courtesy.

  • I just wrote my first post on the conference and it was so hard to push publish but still thought my thoughts and perpectives needed to be said. I know more objective posts are to come that will be as hard as heck to write because I will be trying to write good content that will be useful (and obtainable to those that visit Disney) posts. I was traditional in my past background ethics still are a problem there… is just hidden.

  • Like Adam and Liz, I also don’t feel obligated to write about events I attend. And I don’t feel obligated to post about products I receive within a short time frame. I go into these things with eyes open looking for information or experiences that will serve my readers.

    It’s quite possible that something I’m exposed to will resurface again in the future. (Example: while I don’t care to post about a single new brand of baby lotion, when I notice that there are now five choices of paraben-free bubble bath, suddenly there is a post of value).

    So I see it more as these things are being put in front of me for editorial consideration. The operative word being “consideration”. I am not a journalist, and don’t have the proper training to act as one, but like a journalist, I am hunting for the right angle. Like a blogger, my priority is that my storytelling is authentic and makes sense for my first person blog.

  • Thank you for this post. The one thing that has kept me from attending blogging conferences these past 3 years is the behaviors I’ve read about on the aftermath and the “fluff” posts. Swag is great but I want to be able to tell the truth without being blinded by gifts.

    Now I would love to see how many bloggers will commit to these “rules” and make BlogHer different than what others have witnessed and experienced over the years.

    • Amy

      You know, when I went to my first conference (BlogHerDC – fall of 2009), I remember being shocked that companies wanted to give me stuff. With that said, it reminded me of a trade show floor, and rather than receiving a swag bag, I walked around talking to the appropriate vendors and taking what was fitting: a couple Hooked on Phonics workbooks for my kid, a Leapfrog stuffed animal, etc. I left with a few items in a reusable bag and TONS of knowledge from the sessions as well as a refreshed and excited feeling about blogging. Fast forward to BlogHer last year and I hardly attended sessions (although many of them were intriguing!) because I felt the need to connect with clients. That was certainly MY choice. However, I liked the pace and feel of that first BlogHer experience more. I am once again looking forward to BlogHer this summer and hoping to find more time to enjoy the content as I did in 2008, but already I’m hearing that there was some great party that is out of tickets. I hate the pressure of it all! “You missed the best swag of all of the parties!” “You didn’t stop by THAT booth? OMG, they were giving out iTouches!” Somewhere along the way the balance has been lost. I’m not sure what the answer is to that…

  • Great post!!!! I’m often confused by bloggers who don’t cover the events they are invited too! I get invited to some great events now because PR people LOVE my event/attraction posts!You’re only media if you’re relating what you learn

  • Great article, Amy! Your first point is something I have been arguing over for the past year. I left a longstanding blogger forum over just that. If you don’t want the item being pitched suggest someone else or just a polite No Thank you. But you can’t expect professionals to take you as a professional if you start bashing them. I have gotten the press releases that have absolutely nothing to do with my site and some of them I’ve posted because my readers may get something out of it. I have a special section for those posts and I get hits on them when people Google the company. The other press releases I’ve sent a polite note back saying I’m sorry but at this time the content does not fit my blog, but please keep me in mind in the future.

  • Great article and Great reminders…..