Yesterday I was part of a panel debate at the latest Cardiff Bloggers meet-up. The discussion being bloggers vs PRs. For anybody reading this that may not know, a few weeks ago I got into a bit of bother with PRs over claims that were published on my Cardiff Arcades Project blog. Happily it’s all resolved now, but it threw up some interesting debate points. During the discussion some other worthy points came up that I thought it prudent to compile a blogpost about it for future reference.
It’s worth noting at this point, I was on the only one on the panel who wasn’t a PR person or had ever been a PR person. I am however a full-time journalist and not ‘just’ a blogger, so I do probably have some slightly different perspectives than someone who has never been involved in the industry before.
Some advice, from my experience:
Consider your tone in e-mail communication
This goes for both the blogger and the PR. It’s all too easy to hide behind the shield of the internet in you communications. Sadly, this can often lead to miscommunication, the feeling that you are being bullied or patronised (by the PR) or that you are an arrogant know-it-all (the blogger).
Of course it’s virtually impossible to eliminate this entirely, but just think twice when you’re writing an email about what it is you want to say and what message about yourself you want to convey.
Always check it over to make sure it reads OK before you hit the send button, and, don’t reply ‘in the heat of the moment’ with the first response that pops into your head. Similarly, don’t get annoyed if someone doesn’t reply straightaway. Most bloggers don’t work to the same hours as PRs because it’s not their day job. They might be at work, away from the computer, doing something else.
Don’t rely on press releases for content
While it’s true of professional journalism too, I believe it’s even more important for bloggers to write stories that aren’t churned from press releases. If people want to read that, they can read a (probably better if we’re being honest) version of it in the mainstream media, there’s no point in adding to that noise by duplicating content, which leads to the next point. PRs, obviously it’s fine to include bloggers on your mailing lists, but if you’re going to approach a blogger seperately, have a think about how likely it is that they will want to feature your product – and please don’t be offended if they don’t because you’ve assumed they’ll love the opportunity to get a freebie.
Enjoy your freedom
One of the best things about being a blogger is the freedom to write what you want to write about, how you want to write it. You don’t have an editor breathing down your neck. You don’t have PRs to please (most of the time) and you (probably) don’t have advertisers worried about your content. Enjoy the ability to do that, and write about what you want to write about. And do it with passion – that’ll be what makes someone want to read what you have to say.
Be niche – don’t get too cosy with PRs
A very good point was made last night that if PRs and Bloggers get too cosy then the relationship is almost indistinguishable between PRs and established journalists working for the mainstream media. The worry there is that the content of blogs will become pretty much the same as the mainstream which already have huge audiences. The point of a blog is not to be a poor man’s version of The Times, but to offer something a little bit different.
One of the biggest mistakes I believe bloggers make is writing a general blog or a blog in an area that is very overpopulated and then wondering why they’re not getting a massive following. Or worse, saying “hey I like music I’m going to start a very generalised music blog” and trying to cover everything that the NME is able to cover in much more depth with their budget, entire team and y’know, the fact that they’re the NME.
Obviously it’s fine to have a little corner of the internet that’s just for random musings that doesn’t have a big following, but if you do decide to launch a blog in an already very populated area and you’re hoping for a big audience have a think first. Try your best to make something about yours a bit different – whether that be a quirky name, fantastic photography, an intimate knowledge of a subject or best yet a blog which isn’t being written by anybody else but is still appealing to a number of people (yes, it’s hard to find that topic but they do exist).
To my knowledge, there is nobody currently writing a Cardiff arcades photography blog. So I’m the authority on it, and people come to me to find out about it. If I was writing a blog on ‘photography’ or even ‘Cardiff’ I’m just one of a sea of thousands and I’d probably get lost because I am very much not an authority on either subject.
Where does PR come into this? In my experience as journalist (not a blogger) you do rely to a certain extent on PR to tell you what to write about it. Whether that’s when a new product is launched, something new is happening, someone is doing something etc. As a blogger you don’t have that problem. If you think something is interesting then you write about it. It won’t always be interesting to a lot of other people of course, but at least you’ll be writing about something different.
But do use PRs when you need them
Even as a blogger there will occasions when you will probably need the assistance of a PR professional. Whether it be something as simple as a picture request or asking if you can interview a celeb (if they’re relevant). Don’t be afraid to contact a PR and ask for help – after all if you don’t ask you don’t get and most PRs are pretty friendly. A lot of bloggers probably feel intimidated because they don’t belong to a “big” organisation. That doesn’t matter. You might not get the same access as a professional journalist (and by the way, don’t be annoyed by that), but if your blog has a reasonable following they’ll probably be willing to help you out as best they can.
Remember: you can still be sued
Many bloggers assume that the same journalistic standards don’t apply to them as applies to the mainstream media. While no one is expecting a blogger to be an expert in media law, you can apply a bit of common sense. If you’re going to say something about someone, something or a company that is going to paint them in a bad light make sure you get your facts right. You’re entitled to your opinion but if something is just plain untrue, you can, and people have been, sued.
On the other hand, if what you have said IS true (and preferably you have a source of proof) then stick to your guns if an irate PR emails or phones you up demanding that you take whatever you’ve said down.
PRs should think about tone again here. Don’t assume that a blogger has deliberately gone out of their way to spread defamatory content about your client just for the fun of it (though obviously you’ll always get trolls that are pretty difficult to shut up). They probably haven’t, they’ve probably just made a simple mistake. In your email don’t “demand” anything, try to have a chat about what they’ve said, establish where the information is coming from and if there’s anything you can set them right about. You’re more likely to get what you want (i.e. the post changed, removed or added to) if you keep things friendly than if you go in all guns blazing.
Obviously, I don’t know it all. Nobody does. But hopefully that has given you some useful ideas and something to think about – this is a debate that can, and probably will, run and run, so please feel free to add your comments below.
Thanks to Hannah Waldram and Ed Walker for inviting me to speak on the panel last night, and also to my fellow panel members, it was a great evening. You can read more on the evening, and a few more tips on this post for the Guardian Cardiff. See you at the next event!