Great Communications: What PR People Should Be Telling Influencers
They say communication is the key to a great relationship.
They say relationships are at the heart of Public Relations.
They say PR practitioners are communications professionals.
Knowing all that, we should be the world’s greatest communicators. So why did I find myself recently sitting in front of a room full of 50+ bloggers—media-savvy bloggers who work with PR folks every day—who were desperate for some sort of clue about what exactly it is that PR people do and expect of them?
Clearly, we may be communications professionals, but our communication game could use an upgrade.
The panel was at this year’s Dad 2.0 Summit, the nation’s largest gathering for the burgeoning Dad Blogger scene and my favorite place to go to cry while I’m at work. (I’m a dad myself, so emotional stories about how life-changing fatherhood is are my Kryptonite.) I had the honor of being part of the panel “Secrets of Public Relations…Revealed!” with Jim Lin of Ketchum and Busy Dad Blog, Barbara Jones of One2One Network and moderator Beau Coffron of Lunchbox Dad.
And reveal secrets we did! But the real secret that was revealed is that PR people and blogger/influencers really don’t know what to expect of each other.
This revelation actually hit me at last year’s Dad 2.0 when I listened to a panel of bloggers talk about working with brands. “Oh hey,” I realized, “I’m pitching these bloggers like they’re media, but they don’t understand what that means or what I’m expecting them to do.”
You see, bloggers receive a lot of messages from other bloggers about working with brands. And most of those messages are that they should protect their own brand, and the sanctity of influencer marketing in general, by not doing brand work for free. Which means that when we as PR people send a perfectly innocuous pitch, we sometimes come off like the big company asking the artist to work “for exposure.” And nobody likes that guy.
Last year that inspired me to send an email to all of the bloggers I work with saying, “Oh by the way, if I send you products you didn’t ask for, that means I’m pitching you. That means you can write about it (which is appreciated) or not, it means you can use my suggested hashtags and messaging (which is appreciated) or not. I’m treating you like I treat any other media outlet.”
It’s so self-apparent to PR people, but it isn’t always to bloggers. Most bloggers never attended J-school. They never have to take a pitch to their editor to see if it’s a fit, and they never get to steer brands to their ad-sales people to maintain an editorial firewall. They’re doing it all. They’re getting offers for paid integrations and pitches for “unpaid” coverage—sometimes on the same brand, sometimes from entirely different people. You can see why it’s confusing.
So what can we as communications professionals do to keep our relationships with bloggers strong? The same thing you do to keep any relationship strong: communicate.
- Be clear: If you’re sending a pitch or products for coverage, consider explaining what your expectations are.
- Be specific: When you’re putting together the brief for a paid integration, be as specific as possible on deliverables, as well as on why and how often you can ask for revisions. (On the panel, we told the bloggers that this is PR’s responsibility, and if they don’t see it in the brief they should ask about it up front.)
- Be flexible: As Jim Lin said on the panel, if you’re going to go through the trouble of putting together a paid influencer program…don’t tell them exactly what to say. That’s just paying someone to put up your press release. If you’re tapping bloggers it’s for their content creation abilities and for their readership, and no one knows what their readers want to read like they do. It’s your responsibility to give them parameters to operate within and messaging to hit and then turn them loose.
On the flip side, you’ll be happy to know we also told the bloggers, among many other things, to put more info on their About page so that they’re more discoverable, and why it’s better to pitch themselves than to pitch a specific blog post that might not fit in with the current campaign.
But that’s the thing with communication: it’s a two-way street. All it takes to keep the relationship strong is three little words:
Followed by, like, a lot of other words. Hey, no one ever said relationships are easy.