Fiction: Bloggers are different from other journalists

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By Francis Moran

When I started this little tech PR agency, the world of online media outlets was still very much in its infancy. And an early fiction we had to deal with was a widely held belief that online media were some kind of a different beast from their print or broadcast brethren, and that only a PR agency that specialised in online media could reach these brave new e-journalists.

Our conviction was that these outlets might well be new but that there was nothing at all novel about a time-tested best-practices approach to pitching them, one based on pegging the natural news value of a client’s story and then pitching it only to those who would see that value. And we were right; from Day 1, our clients enjoyed the same widespread coverage online as they did in other media formats.

Our conviction that online journalists responded to same imperatives as their offline brethren actually cost us a client or two early on because our proposals didn’t specifically stipulate we were addressing them. We’d write that we’d target “all appropriate media outlets,” and assumed our clients were as canny as we were. We quickly learned to expand it to read, “all appropriate media outlets, including online outlets,” and to include key online titles in our list of examples.

Time passed and the requirement to single out these new media types passed with it as everyone learned that the same fundamental principles applied to pitching online media outlets and journalists, and that our phrase, “all appropriate media outlets” included online titles as a matter of course.

Then came blogs.

And the latest entry in a growing collection of what I call, “Francis’s favourite fictions.” Or, “Everything I know that’s wrong about public relations I learned from technology company executives.”

Here’s the latest one, tossed at me a few months back by a seasoned technology marketer who really should have known better. “Bloggers are different,” she insisted. “And only a PR agency that specialises in Web 2.0 social media can pitch them properly.”

Well, that was red-meat bait, and I rose to it. “Give me an example,” I challenged her. And she gave me two names, both of them critically influential bloggers in her company’s WiFi space with whom we couldn’t possibly develop a relationship, she said, because we weren’t a Web 2.0 agency.

I recognised one of the names immediately, and a check of our media contact database confirmed that we knew this guy very well. In fact, we first started successfully pitching to him when he was a columnist at a print trade magazine, then as a columnist for the online version of the same magazine, then as publisher of his own online newsletter, and now as a blogger. And guess what? He is just as pitchable, and he responds to the same things, now that he’s breathing the rarified air of the blogosphere as he had as an ink-stained wretch.

The second name was also in our database, and also had been for years, but we generally didn’t pitch him any more because his blog was the equivalent of what we used to call a rip-and-read outfit. That is, like small radio stations that just read wire copy for their newscasts, he didn’t do any original reporting; he just wrote about things he had read about elsewhere. A useful conduit, perhaps, but not one we’d bother pitching directly; better we get a hit in one of the media he watches and let him write about that. Which he does regularly.

Point is, in my world, the bloggers who count are either bona fide, and often dyed-in-the-wool, journalists making use of this latest communications channel, or they’re newcomers to the game who think, act, and respond to newsworthy pitches, in exactly the same way as journalists.

Problem is, too many people think like my favourite-fiction spinner. So we’re careful to once again add a phrase to our proposals, which these days read, “all appropriate media outlets, including bloggers.” This, too, shall pass.

/// COMMENTS

No Comments »
  • Melanie Seasons

    February 15, 2008 2:38 pm

    Hi Francis,

    Thanks for sharing this with me! I think that your team is in a unique position because you know and understand the medium with which you are working. Traditional outlets, not so much. Even if it’s not pitching, the questions that I am sometimes asked show a complete lack of knowledge on how to work PR online, let alone pitch bloggers.

    There are certainly bloggers who are more similar to journalists and can be treated as such, but the smaller-scale, new-to-the-game bloggers are more-than-likely not used to working with PR people. You can’t cold pitch a blogger like you would a journalist and that’s something people not used to working in the medium don’t understand.

    I agree with you in disputing the seasoned marketers claim that someone not in digital couldn’t possibly develop a relationship because you aren’t a Web 2.0 agency, but there is a disconnect between that and saying that all bloggers can be treated like journalists.

    My problem with your argument (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that you don’t seem to think that the smaller-scale bloggers count enough to be pitched to at all. Online outreach specialists understand that all bloggers count if they are “appropriate targets” regardless of how many people read they have.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  • Francis

    March 31, 2008 9:37 am

    Melanie: It’s taken me forever to respond to your comment. Very poor blogger etiquette on my part. :(

    One of my key points here is that many people feel bloggers need a care and nurturing that they believe journalists don’t require. Our disagreement with that sentiment is not that bloggers don’t deserve it, it’s that journalists do. And so it’s not so much that we treat bloggers in the same shabby way most PR people treat journalists, it’s that we treat them in the same respectful and considered manner with which we approach journalists.

    And on your last point, you’re not wrong; smaller-scale bloggers do deserve to be pitched. Especially in the era of long-tail economics, there is no voice too small. Unfortunately, as an agency, we don’t always get to do the best job possible; we get to do the best job our clients can afford. And that often means we have to cut off our lists, of both bloggers and journalists, at some point.

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