Sunday, September 5, 2010

PR and blogs - a mutualistic relationship

Good morning class. My name is Mr. Hawkins and I will be your "Public Relations As It Pertains to Blogging" professor. I am married to the marvelously talented and beautiful woman who manages this blog and was asked to share my knowledge of public relations to the readers of this blog.

But, wait, you're thinking, I thought this guy was a science teacher, what does he know about public relations? Good question. My professional background is actually in journalism, communications and public relations. I graduated with a degree in public relations and worked for a time at a public relations/marketing/advertising firm in Salt Lake City. I have had work published in multiple publications and the work I participated in as a PR specialist brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars of free advertising to clients.

What is PR?
For starters, let's go over the basics: What is PR? PR, or public relations, is an industry that is concerned with connecting with various groups of people called publics, or audiences. PR specialists want to build and maintain positive relationships with publics that are connected with the company or client they are working for. Take Gerber for example. Their publics are, first and foremost, mothers, fathers, children and grocery stores. Each of those publics is somehow involved with the company and Gerber's PR professionals work hard to build and maintain positive relationships with those various publics.
PR is often confused with marketing and advertising. This is because they are often merged into the same department within companies, but they are NOT the same thing. Marketing and advertising professionals are concerned with selling a specific product. It's all about dollars and cents. PR professionals would love to make some money off products, but first they want to build a relationship. They care about people and want to have a positive connection between their company or product and the public they are working with. After they have built a relationship, then they want something published about their product or company that can be read, viewed or experienced my many other people.

That being said, PR professionals are your friend, or at least, they can be. They are not in it for a quick sale. They want to be your friend for a long time. They believe in the principle of, "I'll scratch your back and you scratch mine and we'll both be happy."
Bloggers and PR: A Misunderstood Relationship
To be honest, when I was working in the PR field, a big push was to get into social networking and social media, like blogs. Part of this comes from the fact that traditional media sources like newspapers and TV aren't as widely viewed anymore, therefore PR professionals can't connect with the publics they want. Places like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and blogs are where people are getting their information and sharing ideas with one another. It's the perfect place for PR professionals to build relationships. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked well so far for most PR professionals.

Part of the problem stems from a distrust of bloggers toward PR professionals. PR specialists are often thought of as spin doctors or greedy marketers who only want to exploit a blog for its audience. While this may be true of some PR specialists, a good PR professional genuinely cares about the blogger, the blog itself and the audience. They will regularly read and follow the blog, and get to understand the writer and the readers. By understanding the audience, they can then see if their products or company are a good fit for this audience.

Being one of the younger, more tech savvy people at the PR firm I worked for, much of my work was directed toward figuring out how to connect with bloggers in an effective way where both the firm and blogger benefited. What I found to be the biggest obstacle was for both bloggers and PR professionals to understand what the other is looking for in the relationship.

Bloggers tend to welcome public relations, IF the PR professional...
1. Has actually spent the time to really read the blog. Not just one or two posts, but thoroughly read the blog, learned about the blogger and read the readers' comments.
2. Provides products or information about companies that are relevant to the blogger's audience. Mommy bloggers are often considered the holy grail for PR companies because they have such a large and powerful network, but they also put up their shields easily because so many of the wrong types of companies seek after them. What does the average mommy blogger have to do with a home theater company or golf club manufacturer? The blogger feels this company is barking up the wrong tree.
3. Will allow them to write a review of the company or product in any way they see fit. Bloggers like their independence and don't want to be told how to write their posts. If they didn't like the product, they want to be able to say as much.
4. Will provide something to review. This may seem a bit self serving, but really, how can a blogger fairly review a product if they've never seen it or used it?
5. Will continue a positive friendship long after the review is posted.

On the other side of the coin, the PR professional wants bloggers who...
1. Have a good-sized, relevant audience. It's important that PR professionals find bloggers who reach out to the exact type of people with whom the PR people wants to connect. The more focused a blog is (a recipe blog, a review blog, a craft blog, etc.), the more likely a PR professional will want to work with that blogger. The We're a Bit of Everything blogger often has a more difficult time securing a partnership with a PR firm.
2. Write honest, fair and thorough reviews. PR professionals take a huge risk putting their products out for review by bloggers. It can either work really well or completely backfire. They are willing to take that risk if they know the blogger has a history of doing fair reviews, examining all aspects of a product.
3. Will review the product and post the review in a timely manner. Don't wait months on it.
4. Link to relevant websites within the post. The PR professional Check Spellingshould provide these links.
5. Are willing to maintain a positive relationship long after the post is written.
image source
So, what can you do to make your blog more PR friendly?
1. Keep doing what you're doing. Write content that is interesting and entertaining.
2. Provide an easy way for PR professionals to contact you if you're open to PR. An e-mail address or a devoted page about PR is always helpful.
3. Make it clear what your blog is about. If it's not easy to identify what your blog is about, you will likely have fewer readers and a PR professional will be hesitant to work with you.
4. Make sure your posts are relatively free of grammatical and spelling errors. No PR professional wants their product associated with someone who writes so poorly that it's almost incomprehensible.
5. Every now and then write a review of a product that was not solicited or reimbursed in any way. Just do a review of something you like. This is often seen by PR professionals and they will see that you like that product or something similar to it and the PR professional will be more likely to reach out to you with a similar product.
6. Be positive. Yes, it is your blog and you can post about whatever you want, but no PR person is going to submit their product to a person that is regularly negative.
7. Make sure your blog is searchable. Fill out those "About Me" type fields in the settings section of Blogger or whatever hosting service you use.

These are just a few ideas that will get you started. Remember, PR professionals care about relationships, so reach out a hand of friendship yourself and you can create a relationship that can be fun, rewarding and even profitable. Come on, who doesn't want free stuff?
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