Digital Marketing, PR 20

Blogger Outreach Changes the PR Timeline Forever

PR behemoth Ketchum (the PR agency of record for ConAgra) caught it’s foot in a bear trap of its own manufacture recently, when it thunk up and perpetrated a bait and switch blogger outreach program.

Evidently, Ketchum invited a group of bloggers to a restaurant in NYC, where they would enjoy a “delicious four-course meal”, a food trends discussion from an analyst, and an unexpected surprise. Unexpected indeed, as the big reveal turned out to be that the four-course meal had not been prepared by the celeb chef owner of the restaurant, but was rather from ConAgra’s Marie Callendar division.

And it all went horribly wrong from there. Outraged at being duped in some sort of post-modern “I can’t believe that’s Folger’s Coffee” stunt, some bloggers wrote negative posts about the experience, forcing ConAgra and Ketchum to apologize.

Simon Salt has an excellent post about this that rightly points out that the bloggers should have been more cognizant of the overall scenario, and asked who Ketchum was representing. It’s a good point. But, I think there’s another lesson here which is that there is no substitution for relationships.

Bloggers Are Not Reporters

Bloggers are not typically trained journalists that understand the company/PR firm/reporter news continuum. Bloggers are also typically not full-time writers. Nor are they particularly interested in regurgitating your carefully crafted news release. Bloggers want to create a story with you, not for you. The result of all this is that bloggers are time-starved, suspicious, and persnickety.

By any definition, I am only a modestly successful blogger. Yet I still see 10+ pitches from PR firms every single day, most of them untarged, unfocused, irrelevant, and instantly deleted. The ones I read demonstrate some awareness of what I actually write, and treat me as a distinct individual, not Row 13 on the “social media bloggers” Excel spreadsheet.

But the real secret to blogger outreach isn’t relevancy or personalization. It’s recognition. I work with quite a few PR firms all across North America on social media packaging, pricing, staffing, selling, and operations. My team and I help them grow their social media business, without self-immolating the way Ketchum did in this situation. When it comes to blogger outreach, the point we always emphasize is that you have to build relationships with bloggers before you need them, not when you need them.

If you have a blogger event coming up in 90 days, you need to start building relationships with potential invitees TODAY, not 15 days out from the event. Read the blog every day. Comment on blog posts (add value, don’t just say “great post”). Tweet blog posts. Google + blog posts. Linkedin share blog posts. Interact on Twitter with the blogger when he/she poses a humorous, semi-rhetorical question. The objective is to make damn sure that when you need to get on the bloggers’ radar for real, she recognizes your name and your avatar.

The Changing Timeline of PR

This is of course a difficult proposition for PR firms because it requires the one thing they have in very short supply….time. If you have to start sucking up to bloggers 90 days out from your big event, how do you pay for that agency time? How do you bill that back to the client? It’s tricky to be sure, and requires agencies to redefine blogger outreach from a project-based circumstance to an ongoing circumstance. PR firms need to be billing their clients to develop relationships on a retainer basis, so those blogger bridges can be crossed whenever necessary.

That’s also why I see smart PR firms starting to specialize more and more in a particular vertical, whether it’s B2B technology, marketing to women, or food and beverage. It’s much easier and cost effective to develop and maintain many blogger relationships when doing so can benefit multiple clients instead of just the one client with the big launch coming up soon.

We’re entering an era of the Invitation Avalanche where consumers are besieged by offers to click, connect, friend, follow, download, and more. And the same is true of bloggers. Any bloggers with a decent audience are constantly asked to write, review, or participate. So what makes your “special blogger event” so special? It’s not the food, or the celebrity chef, or the restaurant. It’s the fact that the invite comes from YOU, a person they recognize and respect.

And in Ketchum’s case, if they had built real relationships with these bloggers before the event, they could have given them a heads-up in advance about the objectives of the event: “Marie Callendar’s is just as good as restaurant food. Come check it out and see if you agree.” Or, the bloggers would have at least felt less jerked around, mitigating their ire and the subsequent blowback.

Is building relationships in advance more work? Yep. So it’s up to you to convince your client (or boss) that it’s worth it.

Despite all the apps and influence metrics and crazy stunts, social media isn’t a game. It’s about business. Relationships are the foundation of success in business, and Twitter and Facebook and Klout and WordPress don’t change that one iota.

  • ifdyperez

    AMEN! You said it. Bloggers are real people (because there is such a thing as fake people, right? lol!) and should be treated as such. I like how you were specific on how to build a relationship; I haven’t seen anyone offer concrete tips the way you did (i.e. 90-days out, answer their humorous Tweets, etc.). Good stuff… I’ll be posting it to our community this morning. :)

  • kyleplacy

    I love this – “Bloggers want to create a story with you, not for you.” The problem with PR and marketing agencies? They have a hard time figuring out how to tell the overall story. How do you elicit and push for an authentic brand story? You simply cant.

  • markwschaefer

    Superb post, Jay. I have long admired Ketchum and can’t believe this happened. Would be interesting to know the backstory. But it does illustrate the fact that few people really “get” bloggers. Even on my level, I feel pretty weary and abused by hacks groveling for a product placement.

    Here’s the lesson for the PR world — business is conducted through relationships, at least the rest of the business world. Bloggers don’t have any obligation to connect with you because of who you work for. We don’t care about your press release. However, we might just care about you as a person if you make an authentic attempt to connect with us, REALLY understand us and work for mutual benefit.

  • iamreff

    Great quote “bloggers are time-starved, suspicious, and persnickety.” -true.

  • sudhanshu013

    iAMREFF HAS WRITTEN true. blogger is suspicious..

    • iamreff

      I find your use of capitalization curious, but maybe I’m just persnickety.

  • RobinBramman

    Excellent, bloggers want to create a story with you, NOT for you!! Spot on!

  • nepalsites

    true many bloggers are like that. heck even some journalists don’t act trained at times.

  • EricaAllison

    Isn’t building relationships what it’s all about anyway? That shouldn’t be a shift in a paradigm or a change; it’s simply how it should be done anyway. I have had to build relationships with my journo contacts for years. I treat bloggers the same way. Anyone who is going to help me get the story told for my client is someone that I need to get to know…in advance!

  • adamtoporek

    Nice analysis Jay. You broach an interesting tension that I am sure will only get worse over time: With such a fractured and diverse blogosphere, how do agencies determine how much to invest in outreach off the clock?

    I come from the client side (small business) and can certainly say I would expect those relationships to be in place when hiring a firm, and not to show up on my bill. With larger companies, I think you make a great suggestion about possibly using retainers to amortize the cost.

  • 3HatsComm

    The #soloPR chat discussed this fail recently, it’s strategy as much as anything. Even if the PR team HAD built relationships with the invited gormet ‘foodie’ bloggers (instead of those that cover frozen dinners, simple food, etc.) but then turned around and lied to them w/ this bait and switch challenge, many would still feel burned like you said – and that would hurt the relationship even further. 

    I’m the same with all pitching: it’s about relevance and what info or story that I can give them that helps them, that’s important to their audience. They are pros, they all have a job to do, so I won’t waste their time w/ off topic b.s. or deceiving them for a stunt.

    I’m also w/ you on the time it takes to do this right, develop the relationships – and the challenge of convincing the client it’s worth the expense, which typically means showing results. There were publicity results here, but I doubt it’s what the client wanted. FWIW.

  • coolprogeny

    Favorite line from this post: Bloggers want to create a story with you, not for you. Hate getting the crafted post with the pitch that says “Here! Look! I wrote this for you. Please share with your readers.” Those usually get sent directly to the trash folder…

  • Samir Soriano

    Crazy PR stunts.

    Good article though, PR people are generally only as good as their network, and the internet makes networking easy. The tactics you’ve outlined here are generally great ways to network with busy bloggers, and a good PR person would make it part of his or her job to develop long term relationships with these people.

  • danicakombol

    I also blogged about this story at Everywhere and called it, “Don’t try to Force Feed bloggers.” You got this right Jay! “Bloggers want to write a story WITH you not FOR you.”

  • JohnMorgan

    Spot on Jay! In 2008 I made a list of people I wanted to align with in my field. I spent months just having a conversation with them through Twitter, Facebook, and so on. The payoff has been huge and the friendships I’ve made I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Sadly, few people have the patience to do the advanced work as you talk about.

  • Collectual

    Great post! All the analysis, correlating and monitoring of your audience can only take you so far, you then need to actually get involved and get engaged with your audience. And, as you mention, this type of relationship like all relationships, takes time.

    Even thought we can communicate on a variety of different platforms in near real-time doesn’t mean that our online relationships develop at the same pace. Thanks for the post!

  • nsweeney

    Jay, you’ll be happy to know that you’re at least on the twelfth row of my Excel sheet. :) And yes, I did email this article to my boss. Thanks for confirming what I knew in my gut – like the George Harrison song, when it comes to social media and fostering relationships, “it’s gonna take time, it’s gonna take patience and time…to do it right”

    Err, I mean…”great post”. :P

  • MalottPR

    This is good info – I never really thought hard about the fact that bloggers aren’t PR people and aren’t reporters. When I heard this story, my first reaction was, “What a sweet PR stunt!” – it didn’t even cross my mind that the “tricked” wouldn’t appreciate the effort and laugh it off – a surprising response in my mind. Good to know!!!

  • pubfish

    Hi Jay, I just starting reading your new book, “The NOW Revolution”. What is the best way to approach bloggers to begin a relationship? I have an XLS with the names/contacts of bloggers (I think I am building a fine list to start out with) and I don’t want to treat the blogger as blogger on row 13: What’s the best way to avoid this? Thanks! @pubfish

  • LaydenRobinson

    @TimHilcove Cheers Brother!

  • communitygirl

    My favorite line here is: “Bloggers are not reporters.” So many times, this misunderstanding is what’s really at the core. It ties into another misconception of earned media vs. paid. But that’s another topic for another day. The blanket approach doesn’t work. Remember all of the arguments a few years ago and the “us” vs. “them” mentality held by journalists, that they were thrashed for voicing at all? There was some legitimacy to all of that but some bloggers were up in arms. As a journalist who hails from TV news I get this and so should anyone who has ever worked in or WITH the news media. Good points, Jay.

    Angela Connor

    Author, “18 Rules of Community Engagement”

  • nrobins1

    I love this post. I’ve been doing blogger outreach for a couple of years now, and I can say that I still keep in touch with a majority of the blogs that I pitched when I first started. The only difference now is that I genuinely have relationships with them now. This is 2 years in the making. Yep, it certainly fills up my day when I could be doing more short term revenue building activities. Is the time investment worth it? yep.

  • jaybaer

    @communitygirl Thanks for the RT!

  • jaybaer

    @TerriDavies Thanks for that Terri!

  • jaybaer

    @marcusnelson Thanks for the RT Marcus!

  • casiestewart

    this is so great. put my fav points into Storify & blogged it. thank you for posting :)

  • Jaxx09

    Jay I cannot tell you how much this rings true. I found the bit about how bloggers “like to create a story with you, not for you” spot on. This, I think really changes the dynamic and best practices of working with bloggers. They are, as you suggest, often VERY leery of just giving what they perceive as “free publicity” to someone/something. Well done, one of the best posts I have read in awhile.

  • redslice

    You are of course, correct Jay. But it can get really hard to do this when you’re a solopreneur who barely has enough time to balance the books, update the website AND serve clients. Not to say I’ve given up! I’m tackling this by following my own brand advice for clients: Follow the Rule of Three. In this case, instead of trying to focus on 5 million blogs/sites what have you, focus on the three (or five or whatever) key ones that align with you the most. And get really inolved with them (PS, Convince and Convert is a go-to blog for me – mainly because you PROVIDE GOOD CONTENT!) Bloggers that provide good content are easier to follow, interact with, love, retweet and generally build relationships with.

    If you are an actual PR firm providing this service for clients, then heck yeah, you need to make an investment and nurture those relationships, even if you are not getting paid for it that paritcular hour or day. Call it a “business development cost.” As someone else stated below, focusing on particular verticals or segments can make this easier as well.

    And don’t forget about small but loyal blog communities. When I was promoting my book Branding Basics for Small Business heavily, I approached small powerful communities that were a good fit. If you have the time and energy, sometimes the smaller guys will be more receptive and you’ll get more buzz going as well.

  • TargetStars

    You are spot on with the advice that “…you have to build relationships with bloggers before you need them, not when you need them.” PR firms must recognize that bloggers have lives too and provide them with adequate notice if you want them to attend your event. PR firms have a tendency to expect bloggers to drop everything just because they are throwing an event. Like you mentioned in your post, if the PR firm has established a relationship with me I do everything in my power to rearrange my schedule to make their event. Anyone who treats me like an individual will always get my attention. Fantastic post!

  • stylesmith

    @ttrujillo perfection. And for PR companies that are struggling – that’s where I (we – TPOLA) come in ;) LOL

  • theaofa

    @omgbren it does make good points, it’s about relationships with bloggers and a lot of folks don’t see that.

  • llworldtour

    Interesting. I am a Broadcast Journalist turned blogger so it’s hard for me to understand, as either, not asking the PR company who exactly their client was and ‘what it was all about’ before I would agree to attend this event. I would think it is hard for PR agencies to discern ‘good’ bloggers from bad…or at least ones that are some form of new journalist. But I also think bloggers have a responsibility to research what they are getting into.

  • BestofPBConsign

    @MJ_Beauty girl i am trying to take a disco nap and you keep tweeting these good links :)

  • timotis

    Jay, great insight into a bigger problem with how PRs conduct blogger outreach (and lol to the point about being row no. XX on a social media bloggers list!). I in fact had a back-and-forth with an author of a post saying that bloggers need to inform firms, not the other way around (found at this link: At our agency, we have always baked relationship-building into a plan and have informed clients that hours were going to be put toward that, NOT placement. Any firm who is offering results now is BS-ing the client. Sure, there may be an impression here, a like there. BUT A lot more value is found in approaching this as a continuum.

  • raymi

    Eleven years this November is how long I’ve been blogging.

    “Bloggers are not typically trained journalists that understand the company/PR firm/reporter news continuum.” wrong. fully understand, it’s called shutting up in business and not burning a bridge. bloggers sound off for no reason at all times for attention and it’s time to grow up.

    You do not need 90 days to make an incredible event, it takes 30, choose your top 5 influencers who then extend their network force, pay them, mash networks together, treat that project (event/product campaign) like a pyramid scheme until it is completed.

    I am actually speaking on a panel in two hours on what a blogger is worth, this article is timely. thanks!

  • MathewBatarse

    @jaybaer you are spot on! #pr

  • CKlaubert

    @hdbbstephen Interesting perspecitive “Blogger Outreach Changes the PR Timeline Forever [Do Not Mislead A Blog… (cont)

  • CarolSchiller

    As always, a very useful post Jay. To this I would add that Ketchum could probably still have gotten away with the idea behind their ruse, IF they had presented every blogger with a big envelope to open that said “Surprise, this meal was cooked by our client, but to thank you for your time and participation in our experiment, here’s a $250 gift certificate to eat at this restaurant (cooked by the real chef, of course) with a friend of your choice at a later date of your choice.” This would acknowledge what the blogger was at least partially in it for – a chance to eat at and possibly review a restaurant normally beyond their means, as well as go above and beyond by allowing them to do it with a friend, at their leisure.

    Beyond this, it goes without saying that agencies should have people on staff who have blogger relations as part of their everyday job description. The bigger mystery to me is why don’t the brands have anyone talking to bloggers regularly too? Doesn’t a food company have anyone on staff interested in talking about food with other people who like food? Surely this can’t be so hard. It’s up to the brand to empower people within to have those ongoing relationships too. That’s the REAL failure and goes way beyond this particular agency gaffe in my opinion.

  • markwschaefer

    I have a post in the queue on this same topic (no surprise, right?) I’m collecting “Stupid PR tricks.”  Like you, I get a lot of pitches and they are consistently, persistently, AWFUL. What are these people thinking. 

  • awesomethriller

    Thanks for this great post!

  • Newton

    Beating out SEOMoz for the #1 spot on the SERP ‘how to conduct blogger outreach’ is the most impressive piece of this article. Excellent post

    • jaybaer

      Ha! Thanks!

      • Newton

        Sure thing! (now gimme a link) hahha…..

  • Anjana Love Dixon

    Thank you for underscoring that Bloggers have inherent value in the modern marketing paradigm!