Research, people, research

It’s a brave PR who’d pitch to the Devil’s Kitchen blog. It’s a particularly stupid one who, when emailing said blogger, gets basic information in that email concerning one of the most profanity-filled blogs on the internet so badly wrong:

Here’s a tip for you PR people out there (especially given that I am disinclined to punt your clients’ products simply because you ask**): if you want me to plug your product, may I suggest that you actually get the name of my blog correct?

Under the circumstances, the Devil was surprisingly restrained.

Seeing pitches like this posted on blogs like that annoys me. Not because it’s been posted, but because it makes the rest of us working in similar fields look bad, and suggests the majority of PRs don’t know their blogging arse from their internet elbow.

Cold-pitching to bloggers is a tad unnerving, as you never know how they’re going to react. A lot of PRs I know are still a tad reluctant to engage precisely for the reason, and when they get pulled up online about to, use that as an excuse to ignore social media communities altogether.

Their loss.

At the risk of sounding like a long-playing record, pitching to bloggers isn’t hard. It’s the same as pitching to journalists, just in a different medium and with a slightly different technique.

You wouldn’t email, say, Zoo magazine and address it to Loaded. Or to the Sunday Times Travel Section to suggest a piece for the Guardian. And neither would you send the same pitch for the same product to the Sunday Times as you would to Zoo.

The same goes for bloggers. Each blogger is different, has different likes and dislikes and there’s normally enough information on the blog to give you a good idea of what they’re likely to be interested in, and if they’re likely to take a pitch badly.

So in the case of The Devil’s Kitchen, even a cursory glance will tell you of an interest in politics, libertarianism, alcohol, and Apple products. And while he may come across as an angry young blogger, there’s also a lot of humour and incredibly well-argued pieces on his blog.

This could all be worked out in half an hour, although if I’m pitching to bloggers, I like to spend at least a week reading around their writings to get a good feel for the site – it helps if you know who you’re pitching to. And the better you know your blogger, the better – and, more importantly – and more relevant it’ll be.

It’s not rocket science. It’s simply modifying dealings with journalists and bringing them into a more Web 2.0 way of working. And if you’re scared of having your pitch torn to pieces on a blog, I’d suggest you lack confidence in said pitch. If it’s well-written, well-researched and you’ve taken time to read and appreciate the blog, life should be a lot smoother.

Bloggers are usually as good as journalists at spotting bad PR. The difference is bloggers have an instant medium to detail the worst examples of PR. Journalists tend not to (although there are a few instances in my journalism career where the PR was so bad that blogging about it would have been very cathartic).

Some may be scared by this. Personally, I think it’s a great reason for all PR professionals to use the web as an excuse to up their game, assuming they haven’t already.

8 thoughts on “Research, people, research

  1. I’m vaguely encouraged to hear you say that pitching to a blogger is really, at the base of it, the same as pitching to any other publication. From what I’ve read, I’ve gotten the impression that people want to treat blogs as this incredibly fragile, volatile branch of PR that, used incorrectly will blow up in your face and destroy the reputation of your company forever.

    Clearly a bit dramatic, but one could point out that this goes for other pr as well. In any case, I do like seeing the dimwits who guide the rest of us how not to pitch to a blogger, but I agree – it really makes everyone look bad.

  2. “I’ve gotten the impression that people want to treat blogs as this incredibly fragile, volatile branch of PR that, used incorrectly will blow up in your face and destroy the reputation of your company forever.”

    And that’s an entirely untrue statement. A bad PR pitch can certainly hurt your company online in terms of Google juice. But then professional companies shouldn’t be dealing in bad PR pitches full stop.

    Anyway, bad pitches to journalists will also hurt the company, it just probably won’t be as immediate.

    Research and tailoring your pitch to the receptive audience: it’s simple :) If you can pitch to journalists, you can pitch to bloggers. There’s really not a great deal of difference.

  3. Disclosure bit – I work for Porter Novelli, a global PR agency.

    Seeing pitches like that annoys the hell out of me too, though for two reasons. One, I get rather annoyed by bloggers posting about pitches as it doesn’t actually really improve the situation. It certainly wont improve the the technique of the pitcher as if they didn’t read the blog before they certainly wont afterwards. It does help to make other PRs more nervous about approaching bloggers and doesn’t offer any help in how approaches should be handled.

    I also get annoyed at the PR companies. You’re right, pitching bloggers is little different to pitching journalists and we get that wrong a lot of the time too, check out http://gettingink.typepad.com/ for plenty of examples of mail merge and badly targetted PR.

    The crux of the poor pitches to bloggers comes from how we’ve evolved into pitching journalists. We no longer read as much as we should, we rely on databases such as mediadisk to create mass lists of ppl that it says are appropriate and out the pitch blasts.

    Perhaps we form some sort of movement to get PRs reading more and therefore being more informed, accurate and useful, to whoever we pitch.

  4. Yep, I’d definitely agree with a lot of that Kerry, especially the bit about reading more. I guess the only defences you could offer is that:

    a) If it’s a last-minute mailout or you’re in a bit of a rush to get it out, then a mass mailout makes sense.

    b) Journalists expect to receive press releases.

    That said, the mass mailout isn’t always effective. I lost count of the number of poorly-worded badly-targeted pitches I used to receive that usually went straight in the bin. So, yes, it shouldn’t be different for bloggers or for journalists.

    To me, it’s just common sense that good PR should be about knowing your subject, knowing the audience you’re pitching to and then building up a relationship with them, as opposed to just emailing them and leaving it at that.

    It does irk me a bit as well when you see some bloggers post up bad PR pitches and waving them around to show off how great they are over teh useless PR person.

    That said, I don’t see this particular example – Devil’s Kitchen – being at all like that. Ok, I’m a longtime reader of his blog, but even just a cursory bit of research would lead you to conclude that he doesn’t obviously solicit for PR pitches and his main topic is politics. His blog’s also very sweary and makes a habit of neatly skewering whatever takes his ire, which – if I was a PR pitching to him – would suggest there would be a chance that, if the pitch was badly worded or of no obvious interest, it would be likely to be mocked on the blog.

    That said, that shouldn’t mean that all blogs, or even that specific blog should be treated as such. I’d guess (and this is just a guess) that DK would be a lot more receptive to a well-worded tech-pitch that had relevance to his job or to Apple products. And a pitch that got the name of his blog right!

    But yes, I like the idea of your movement to make PRs better read. Where do I sign up? :)

  5. Is it too late to retract the starting a movement idea?

    I guess as is often the way on blogs and online I’m talking rather idealistically and in the ideal world there would be no last minute mail outs. You’d do a rapid sell in to the relevant contacts and let a newswire take care of the mass distibution element.

    And I agree that journalists do expect press releases, the SMPR is yet another thing that fills the swear box coffers, but wouldn’t it be nice if they only got relevant press releases?

    Technology and the lack of obvious consequences have made PRs lazy, what is happening now is that we’re being bit on the bum after years of annoying journalists. Again, ideally PR companies wouldn’t be teaching their staff to pitch anyone without having read their work but as that doesn’t seem to be happening it would be nice if all the lovely huggy feely let’s all share to make the world a better place from some blogers also extended into lending misguided PRs a hand too.

  6. Some points:

    1) Most PR pitches I either ignore, or I reply saying that I am not interested.

    2)Having said that, I am not a newspaper: my views are not for sale.

    3) If something came up that I wanted to test out, then I might well take up an offer. I would also review the product whilst declaring that it was pitched and it was a free sample. (I have reviewed a few books, for instance.)

    Why this particular pitch annoyed me slightly:

    1) Whilst I appreciate the “last-minute mail-out” problem, that makes me no more receptive to your pitch: whilst one doesn’t want to get a big head, if it is important to you that I take up your pitch, then you will take some time to get it right.

    2) You are a PR company. Getting stuff like this correct is your job! Pitching things well is your job. Annoying people means that you have done a bad job (unless you meant to annoy them — a PR route that could be explored more fully, perhaps!).

    3) As it happens, I was more amused than anything by this error. But the juxtaposition of that at the peons of praise in the footer was highly entertaining.

    To be fair to Cow, the product that they were pitching is actually relevant to what I do: I am a web designer in a company whose speciality is Web Accessibility. But now, you see, I am less likely to try your client’s product (and the chance that I would wasn’t high anyway).

    Pitching to bloggers shouldn’t be difficult: target your audience and flatter their egos (most of us have ‘em: that’s why we think that people want to hear our opinions!)…

    DK

  7. I wouldn’t say so, that probably neatly encapsulates my point over pitching to bloggers. As you say, it shouldn’t be difficult. Yet, for some reason I’ve never been able to fathom, many PRs see it as some kind of mystical art they don’t quite understand.

    I may print off your comment and stick it to the office wall :)

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