PRs, bloggers and blaggers – the journalist’s perspective

 

You would have to be either asleep or off on a bloggers’ press trip to miss the debate  that’s been rumbling throughout this weekend.bloggers

It all started on Geek is the New Chic, when Sian told of the increasing number of bloggers using Response Source to blag free stuff. There are well over 100 comments on there now but it’s worth taking the time to read them. The debate continued on Mummy From the Heart and I suspect has quite a while to go before it runs out of steam.

I found it really interesting to get the PR’s perspective on this, since journalists have been complaining about PRs clogging up their inboxes with irrelevant stuff for years. Ask any journo who’s used Response Source and most will have a story along the lines of “I asked for news of new toothbrushes and the PR sent me a dildo” variety. In general the service is regarded by journalists as very useful, as long as you’re prepared to sift out the irrelevant crap. Over the last year several journalists have also noted on Journobiz that they’re getting less of a response to RS requests. Could the PRs be busy elsewhere?

Looks like it. And now the PRs are complaining that they’re getting irrelevant requests from bloggers, with some sending out requests multiple times a day.

How could this have happened? Well, I do recall that over a year ago a blogger was asking on BritMums (or British Mummy Bloggers as it was then called) about how they could contact more PRs, and I sent her in the direction of RS. Another journalist/blogger privately said to me Are you sure you should be letting her loose on the PRs like that?, but I reckoned the PRs could handle it, it’s not like they’re shy of sending emails themselves.

Did I unwittingly start off the blog/blag rush by pointing that blogger in the direction of RS? I don’t know, but it’s possible.

One thing’s for sure – it would never have continued if the PRs didn’t respond. Just as the brazen graspiness you can see under the #prrequest hashtag on Twitter would not have continued if it didn’t work at least some of the time. It’s a two way thing.

Whilst I have occasionally used RS as a journalist, I’ve never used it as a blogger. There’s no need. I get upwards of 50 emailed press releases a day, so if I want to review things they’re not that hard to find. And I don’t want to do a lot of reviews. Out of 380 posts on this blog, only around 25 are product reviews, and I’m happy with that ratio. I like writing about products, but not *that* much.

Many of the press releases I receive are irrelevant to me – for example, I seem to be on a list targeting the grey market, so I get a lot of releases relevant to older people. And bizarrely, lots of press releases about cheese.

I don’t know why this is. I’ve never written about the elderly, or cheese, and don’t plan to. I might be over 40 and enjoy a round of cheddar and pickle for lunch, but that’s about as far as it goes. So I just delete those emails and don’t give them a second thought. Perhaps this is what the PRs should do with the blogger/blagger requests.

I have noticed that a lot of bloggers get very incensed when PRs send them irrelevant information: They sent me an email about baby stuff and my child is 5 – how can they dooooo this? Don’t take it so personally guys. Again, the delete button’s not that hard to find.

Aside from this, the other issue at hand is the rise of review-led parenting blogs, and the increasing appetite of bloggers for freebies, even when their blog is still at embryo stage. I’ve already outlined my attitude to blogging and reviews here. All in all I think this debate is great for anyone involved in blogging. Bloggers – think hard about what you put on your blog – value your space and don’t give it away lightly. PRs – how have you contributed to this and what do you intend to do differently?

And if I did start the influx of bloggers to RS, well, oops, sorry about that. I was only trying to help.

Image credit: Lulu Hoeller

  • @Sian – Sorry about that! It probaby wasn’t me though, just somebody who looked like me (poor devil). Thanks for launching this debate.

    @Midlife Singlemum and @Aly thank you so much for your comments. You both touch on something else I could bore for Ireland on – freebies. See, I don’t see review products as free at all, I see them as a tool to help you write a good review. If I spend time when I could be with my kids liaising with a PR, using the product, writing the review, sourcing images, promoting the review, and I value my time – what’s free about that?

  • Elaine

    I’ve just posted on geek is the new chic but my feelings are that it will all calm down – as soon as enough people realise that it is a problem it will settle down?

  • Thanks everyone for your comments – never had so many so fast, talk about touching a nerve!

    @zooarchaeologist thanks for posting the link, would love to see any more links from anyone who has posted about this.

    @sally good luck with the cheese! Now I know where to send those press releases

    I think what’s different about newer blogs is that it is a relatively new development to start a blog and include reviews straight away, and to expect those reviews to be of stuff PRs have sent you rather than stuff you bought yourself. I don’t think that would have happened even a couple of years ago. Maybe there’s an expectation now that a blog *should* contain reviews? Though really, what I like about blogging is that you make your own rules, and what you *should* do doesn’t really come in to it.

  • @Ellen thanks for your comment and especially the copious mentions of dildos #SEOgold! I think there are lots of ways to quantify the effect of blog reviews. Several people have already told me they’re going to buy the Disney Universe game after reading about it here yesterday, so maybe it does lead to direct sales in some cases.

    @Kizzy phew, thank goodness for that. I shall retract my confession

  • @Mich thank you, I think more people should adopt the “life’s too short” mantra

  • Very well said. No one has to read a review, an email, a request, or anything else that doesn’t interest them. However, if freebies are being doled out, you can’t blame people for asking. And, if someone wants to write a blog entirely of reviews with no other content – they can try their luck if they want, it’s a free blogosphere.

  • Ah – so it’s your fault?!
    Thanks for the mention Joanne.

  • Nice post. You’re so right, it’s a two way thing and I know many PRs are finding working with bloggers an incredibly useful, quick and cheap way of getting their product or message out there. But no-one, PR or blogger, should sell themselves short. If blogging is turned into a game of freebie hunting then no surprise when the blog in question starts to look cheap.

  • Very sensible post. Agree 100%.

    I also posted details of RS on a forum. I agree with Daryl, the media landscape is changing, and I agree that bloggers can and should use RS where appropriate – but we’re in the early days of seeing how to make the very best of that new relationship, I think.

    Also – if any PR people are reading, I LOVE cheese.

  • Great post. Personally, I only do reviews if approached and if I like the sound of the product as mostly they are hard to write. Its not my style and I find it boring to write and even more boring to read! I don’t want to knock those who do ‘blag’ (hate that word) but I do think that there are some bloggers who will review ANYTHING. That said, the PRs are willing to send out the stuff so who will crack first?

  • Interesting post, I’ll blame you then 😉 I’ve been following this whole debate quietly because weirdly last week I had a sudden fit about the number of email press releases I get and wrote this post before it seemed to kick off from the other perspective (more evidence hardly anyone in the community reads me! for clarity include it here, but feel free to delete)http://www.beingamummy.co.uk/2011/11/why-i-wont-write-about-your-press.html

    I am shocked to hear of all these people asking for stuff here there and everywhere especially those who haven’t got an established blog. Do you think maybe its all to do with the recession and people desperately trying to get what they can however then can?

    I enjoy writing reviews, but haven’t asked for anything for ages because as you say there are just far too many press releases. I am swamped as it is. I do find it a dilemma, we cant afford to buy the kids the stuff we get offered and we were exceptionally poor when I was a child so it can be like looking a gift horse in the mouth. That said, my favourite blogs focus on family life and photos rather than reviews.

    I’m waffling now…

  • Completely agree with you on this. As a newer blogger I did go through a stage of hoping to get something to review, especially as times are very tight. I prefer to write posts though and not just do reviews so I’m getting more selective about what I choose and trying to make it fit with my blog. I don’t want to be known as a blagger. I’m just worried that all newer bloggers are seen as grasping when it’s probably also a little bit that there are more opportunities for reviews as well.

  • Excellent post. I’ve used RS as a journo – I’ve also done a stint in PR and had to turn alerts off (though it my have been Gorkana) there.

    I think it’s just how it goes in this field, you need to wade through the guff to find the nuggets of gold. It’s not that big a deal to press delete, is it?

    About the reviews, are they of benefit to the brand in the main because they afford them a web presence? So someone searches for, say, “Acme Dildos” to find out if they’re any good and lands on someone’s blog. After all, in my case, my opinion about whatever isn’t going to push the handful of people who loyally come to my blog to dash out to the dildo shop. Most likely readers are those who care about dildos but not about me, so are going to be hit and run visitors.

    I’m not quite sure the import of this, but that maybe it helps to be aware (assuming I’m right). Bloggers give brands a credible way to increase web presence, brands give bloggers freebies and that’s about the size of it.

  • Great post, I really don’t think you unleshed all of the bloggers on RS! I didn’t find it through you! I used it a few times for press releases on events for children over holidays but that is it really. I don’t agree with the blaggers but as I said on Sian’s blog, the true bloggers will stay and the others will no doubt get bored.

  • Cheers for the link Joanne. I think many journos have pointed bloggers over to RS, so you can rest easy. I have seen it mentioned loads on forums as a way to approach PR’s and brands.

    Yes I agree with you in regarsd to just delete what you do not want, life is to short to get het up as someone called you Mary instead of Michelle.

    Mich x

  • @Catherine To be fair, if you are a stay at home parent then your home is a major part of your life, so household products might be of interest to write about. But I don’t do housework reviews – it’s bad enough having to do it once a year, I don’t want to be writing about it as well.

  • Emma

    Really interesting to read the different perspectives on this debate and I have responded over on my blog http://www.emmaand3.com/?p=2344. I will continue to blog my way and I think moderation is the key!

  • So agree Joanne. I barely read Mummy blogs now but a lot of them seem to be nothing more than a blag-fest. What has a review of the latest household appliance got to do with parenting? Tedious.

  • @Emma – thanks for linking to your great post
    @Angela C – I think probably the debate is needed because there have been lots of backhanded grumbles about this subject and it’s probably better to get it out in the open.
    @gadgetmum – I agree that here has been a lot of two-facedness around this debate. I wish you well, but I do think it’s fairly challenging to launch a blog that’s overly commercial from the get go. If people don’t get a chance to know you, why would they trust your opinions?

  • To be honest, it’s not hard for the bloggers to realise sooner or later how to contact PRs, after all, each company has their own PR department, it only take googling to find their contacts 😉

    I don’t really see the need of the debate, as you said, its a 2 way thing, and PR need journos/ bloggers, vice versa. If you don’t like it, just delete the emails, or if you are free and feel up for it, respond and say no (A PR once on twitter thanked a journo to spend the time to say ‘no thanks’ to her which saved her a lot of hassle, again, it work both ways) I’m happy to do a reply, because I would appreciate it if a PR can come back and tell me ‘no’.

    If you need PR/ bloggers, then don’t start complaining about cheeky requests and being sent irrelevant spam.

  • I get what you’re saying gadget mum. I think the challenge here is that even if you’re clear from the start that your blog is going to be about reviews and product recommendations, many people just don’t want to read a blog like that. That doesn’t mean that you won’t get readers – if you choose the products you review carefully and are good at SEO then you could still do well with search engine traffic. You can still build a readership, then look to make your blog more sticky and engage that readership when they arrive. So like I said, it’s a challenge and not just as straightforward as simply writing a blog.

  • Thanks for this – nice to see some reality set in finally.
    Its been a really odd few days in the blogosphere to the point of thinking whether it was worth having the tag Blogger brandished on me – i’m one of those dreadful new bloggers that actually wants to see the blog get off the ground and if that means making nice with PRs and doing some stuff for them, then so be it. I’m sorry if I also have a bit of a commercial head on me. So shoot me. Some of the holier than thou, sanctimonious and downright smug attitudes have been unpleasant to say the least.

    If you don’t like reading reviews, don’t read them.
    If PRs don’t like the bumph, hit delete.
    In the voice of a mere meerkat, Simples.

  • Joanne – I mean with a view to being commercial – of course, until a blog really settles in, there’s no reason for anyone to trust you, so its about setting the tone as soon as possible about what your blog is going to be about and building a readership that way