Bloggers: A steep learning curve for publicists and old media

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The relationships between journalists and their organs of publication, on the one hand, and the various arms of the broader entertainment industries – including the arts, travel, food and drink, movies, sport and more – on the other seem, in hindsight, to have been so much simpler before the advent of the internet.

Not just the advent of the internet, but also the subsequent wild, crazy diversification of the media and, in particular, the arrival of bloggers.

Having a foot planted firmly in both camps – being both blogger and journo, one with much experience working with publicists in a previous life – I am finding it fascinating to observe how new dynamics and ways of relating are gradually being created and learned by all concerned.

Let me recount, without going in to too much detail, three encounters in the recent life of Consider The Sauce.

And let me add at the outset, that at no point in any of the following did I detect any outright dishonesty or aim to offend. The mis-steps that have left me bemused are solely the result of people working under pressure in a rapidly changing and often confusing environment.

First up …

A couple of months ago I was contacted by a publicist working on behalf of a franchise food company of which Bennie and are declared fans.

After informing me about the opening of another of the company’s restaurants, I reckon there were only two viable paths to follow – either express the hope that we’d visit, eat at and review the eatery concerned and keep fingers crossed; or offer to provide a complementary meal to Bennie and I at no cost to us at all.

Instead, I was offered a $20 voucher that would not cover the cost of meals for the pair of us.

This, it seems to me, is the worst possible approach.

Several emails between she and I ensued, but I remain unclear whether the $20 voucher plan was the idea of the food chain or the publicist and/or the company for which she works.

Along the way, some comments were thrown in about mummy bloggers and their insistence on being paid for posts. Just quite what that has to do with me, I also remain unclear about.

Next …

A few weeks ago I received another approach from a publicist, this time working on behalf of  a major international food industry company.

After politely telling the publicist that Bennie and I preferred, where possible, to buy and use the Australian-made versions of the product in question, I nevertheless expressed some interest.

But that would depend, I told the publicist, on just what she meant by “we would love to get you involved and give you the opportunity to establish a long-term partnership” and “I believe your blog would be a great fit for this campaign”.

I have yet to receive a reply regarding this matter.

And that’s a shame, it seems to me.

I am used to working in an environment where even if deals are not done, there is scope for making contacts and having a bit of fun, a bit of back and forth, a sense of playfulness.

As already noted, these are people working under pressure with very specific aims in mind. But I find it disheartening that I am learning to get used to the idea that once it’s obvious I am not going to play ball, contact – and goodwill? – abruptly ceases.

Is the only good (i.e. useful) blogger a compliant blogger?

It could be argued that taking the time to win the support and participation of a more skeptical, question-asking and non-compliant blogger and/or journalist would pay greater dividends in the long run.

And whatever the usual courtesies that are observed, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that many publicists see bloggers as members of some sort of lower species who can be expected to jump at any opportunity to “participate” and who should be grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Finally, and more recently, I fired off an application to an Australian food media company/website seeking “Travel and Foodie BLOGGERS” for its new blog set-up.

This seemed, at the time, like a real-deal potential prospect.

But the longish, polite response I received left me a little deflated.

Reading between the lines, I just intuitively knew what the story was … but it wasn’t until I bluntly asked that I was told: “Am I correct in assuming that you will not be offering any payment for writing done or stories used?”

The answer: “No this is not a paid assignment.”

That’s fine and now I know, even if I reckon such could have been stated a little more up front!

More interestingly, the lovely person with whom I corresponded about this matter wrote: “We wanted bloggers, as professional journalists have the credentials to definitely expect to be paid.”

When I pointed out the difficulties I have with this statement – that some bloggers ARE professional journalists, and that there are many bloggers more worthy of being paid than untold numbers of hack “real” journalists – my contact agreed with me wholeheartedly.

But still, it seems indicative of a mindset that reflects what used to be rather than a whole new world.

I’m happy to say that in this case the door has been left open for further engagement.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually enjoy this sort of banter with these sorts of people.

And I wouldn’t like to be doing what they are – dealing with a world in which every blogger seems to insist on being treated as an individual. That takes time and patience.

Post-script: Thanks to Dianne Jacobs of Will Write For Food for alerting me to this story at Forbes – “How To Approach Bloggers Without Offending Them”.

All I can say … yep!

2 thoughts on “Bloggers: A steep learning curve for publicists and old media

  1. Unfortunately the problem that most companies offering freebies have is they think giving out free stuff entitles them to engagement in their product – or that it will somehow bring interest. All that it does is bring entitled bloggers.. of which there are many.

    Rather than actually engaging for opinion they expect bloggers to come falling at their feet because they stooped to our level.

    I made a post about this a while ago which probably details my thoughts better: http://aleofatime.com/2012/10/21/freebies-engagement-and-the-alehouse-project/

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  2. Thanks for posting! I’m happy to work with these people where appropriate and where it serves also my purposes and those of my blog. Too often it seems they are only interested in what I can do for them. Fair enough, but I miss the opportunity to get to know people beyond the demands of the immediate “campaign”. And I don’t think such brutal pragmatism is, in the long run, good or effective pubic relations.

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