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business 2.0

Do We Need PR?

by anna on June 1, 2010

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When I first started blogging, I read a bunch of posts about people being invited to PR events and felt envious, which is no doubt what the posts were about, because otherwise I cannot imagine what else they would be about. The wonders of air freshener? Parties that you have to spend three hours driving across town to get to? Two years later, I still don’t get invited to many PR events, though I do know the reason now has less to do with PR companies not being aware of my existence anymore and more to do with not being certain of the results they will get if they invite me to their events. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure I’m known in the PR World as a mommyblogger world as much as I might be as a personal finance blogger, since I don’t have mom, mommy or mother in my URL, and I’m on more PF blogrolls than I am on mommy blog lists, and I’ve never appeared on any kind of Top mommyblog anything list anywhere, and — let’s face it — it’s unlikely that I ever will.

At any rate, two years later, I still don’t get invited to many PR-related events. But every once in a while, I do, and I was recently invited to a series of events put on by a prestigious and well-known PR firm that is running an extremely well-executed campaign for a highly recognizable brand. And all of that stuff is the kind of thing that when you are starting out you really are envious about because you think that when that happens it means that you are somehow important as a mommyblogger, right? So I went to the event View definition in a new window — telling Mr. Right-Click that it made sense to drag Mini across town in the middle of late afternoon LA traffic because this was the kind of thing that was supposed to be important to do, even though while I was doing it I could not really articulate why I thought it would be important, given the fact that I knew it would be unpaid and I was skeptical that this was a brand partnership that would pan out for me, my blog, or my kid for a variety of reasons.

The event was really well-executed and I cannot fault anything about the brand or the PR firm that put it on. They gave me a nice flip video thingy for going. But the thing is, I was right — the product isn’t a fit for me, and my son is too young to use it. I wrote to the PR firm to politely decline further invitations to the upcoming events for the campaign because I cannot see how I can justify spending more time on the project given this mismatch, and told them as much, because it seemed like the right thing to do. No harm, no foul.

But the whole thing got me thinking — even if I loved this product, why exactly do I need to do this kind of thing?

There was recently a big hullabaloo about PR in the mommyblogosphere, and I’m not going to link it because it was mostly boring and these kinds of things happen every other week so it doesn’t really matter, but the takeaway for me was this: why do we go to these PR events, exactly? Because it was nice of them to give me a flip video camera and everything but I already have one of those — it’s an older model, yes, but it still works and I don’t really use that one all that often. I definitely did not need to spend the time in traffic that day — not the fault of the product, but still a big pain in the ass for me. And I knew the event was unpaid, so I suppose I went with the theory that I might make some contacts at the PR firm that might be of worth with other projects in the future (more on that later), and that this would make the time investment worthwhile. But when I got there, everything is about the product at hand, and everything is so localized, I think you would really have to invest way too much time in going to these kinds of events to make that a realistic proposition. Or, perhaps in a city where traffic is less of a time-suck, this might be possible, but in LA it’s just not going to work.

I know there are people who do these kinds of things all the time, and I wonder what they get from them. Have they figured out a way to make them pay that I haven’t? Are they selling the flip cameras on eBay? Or do they just like talking to 22-year-old recent college graduates about technology over boxed wine in rented gallery space in Venice while balloon artists make things for toddlers more than I do? Am I being overly materialistic? I need to see a bottom line or else I need to get out. I want to see what I can get from the PR interaction that I cannot get anywhere else — it doesn’t need to be money, but it has to have value of some kind — information, interaction, connection, something. For me, that is not a flip video and the cultural capital to say that I went. I’m hoping that I’m not alone in this. I’m hoping that somebody can tell me what I’m missing.

Maybe PR Can Help Us Put Together Projects?

Here’s what I’d like to see PR companies do, if they would be willing. The Celtics and the Lakers are going to be in the NBA Finals, and maybe you guys have heard about it. Well, for those of you who don’t know already, my buddy arch enemy Jonna is a die hard Celtics fan, and I’m (naturally) a Lakers fan. So we’ve been trash talking each other in the weeks leading up to the finals on Twitter, and have kind of developed a following in the process, and now that the Finals are upon us, we’ve got a bunch of people who are literally tuned in to watch us “fight” on Twitter during the Finals series. It’s like our own little Twitter party — except, you know, witty and entertaining and worthwhile for our followers to watch.

So we thought (well, I thought, and Jonna pretty much just went along with, because I’m the capitalist shill pig, and she’s the artiste) — I thought that we should get sponsors involved in this somehow. Now, this is where I thought PR would be useful. If we could just call up some company and be like, we need Glad or Hefty or somebody to sponsor a trash-talking twitter party or Gilette to sponsor this because we’ll cut a bitch, and then they make rain fall, now THAT would be awesome. That would be an awesome way for PR to work for us. I would hire a PR firm for that. I would pay a PR firm a commission for that. Or an ad network. Whomever. Whatever. I’m saying “PR Firm” because I’m guessing they are one of the two entities at present who know who exactly to call at Gillette to make something like that happen. I mean, if I had the time, I’d rather cut out the middleman and call them myself, since it’s my idea. Or, if Federated Media would quit dicking around already and just accept my application (because we all know that is what is going to happen eventually, even if it kills me and them in the process), I could get them to work on some of these side sponsorship projects for me, taking a hefty cut for themselves in the process. But you know — while those two proverbial irons are still resting in the fire, maybe we could talk to PR firms? Because the only other people are advertising firms and my experience with those people is that they are a little bit behind the times on social media and I DON’T HAVE TIME TO TEACH THEM BECAUSE THE FINALS BEGIN ON THURSDAY.

And Finally, Maybe We Do Need PR, But We Need To Hire Them, Not Work For Them

So then I was reading my regular blogs, and came across this tweet, which had then been blogged and reblogged and gleefully reblogged. And who can blame them? Because: 1) pretty much true; and 2) everybody knows that corporate America pays all the attention to the mommies and no attention to anybody else, for inexplicable reasons based on statistics that don’t really and shouldn’t really mean anything. But still, makes me wonder if maybe we should be hiring the PR firms instead of working for them.

Hey everybody, I’ve come up with a draft for the email solicitation for advertising I plan to send out to a list of various small business owners that I’ve been keeping over the past few months. I’m hoping you all will look it over and offer your critique and comments as needed: the input on the media kit was awesome, and I think that, perhaps, working together, we can come up with a template for these kinds of things so that any time somebody wants to do it, there’s some kind of guide. Here’s what I’ve got, and please bear in mind I made a lot of this crap up (the stuff about what you guys like to buy) because I don’t have access to that kind of information. Which brings me to the poll at the end, which I hope you will fill out so that I can start quoting things in these emails to make it sound more official. I’ve included some hypothetical brands to pitch in the poll (based on my own “take” of the readership and, mostly, the brands that I have in my house that I would consider buying again — I know, I know, LAME). If you have suggestions of brands that you think would be a match, please, please! add them to the comments.

ABDPBT View definition in a new window is a lifestyle blog dedicated to a life well-lived, with kids optional. Known as “The New Yorker of Mommyblogs,” ABDPBT has grown into four separate sections (personal, financial, shopping, and tech) to reflect the parent as a whole person. Content covered on ABDPBT includes: parenting, personal finance, design, shopping, fashion, gadgets, party planning, home organization, entrepreneurial endeavors, and productivity. ABDPBT.com is updated daily, and the syndicated New York Times Crossword Puzzle has been a free feature of the site since its inception in 2008.

According to Google Analytics (April 2010), ABDPBT receives over 100,000 monthly pageviews. In addition to direct traffic, ABDPBT has over 600 RSS subscribers. The ABDPBT audience is highly-educated, affluent, and geographically concentrated around large metropolitan areas. They are interested in new products that make their lives easier, innovative designs, and products that incorporate a pleasing design aesthetic into everyday life. ABDPBT’s readership consists of a consumer base that does not mind paying more for a product, provided they are convinced it will deliver superior quality.

We are contacting you today because you have been identified as a brand that especially appeals to the ABDPBT reader. As such, we are excited to extend you the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of ABDPBT’s new private advertising sales venture. ABDPBT is now offering various sizes of display banner advertising directly to vendors, as well as innovative branding and partnership opportunities such as sponsorship of RSS subscriptions, display banners within RSS subscription feeds, product placement, sponsorship of social media tools, and text advertising to fit any budget. For more information on specifications of advertising and prices, please see the ABDPBT Media Kit. Discounts are offered for multi-month purchases.

ABDPBT abides by the FCC 2009 regulations for blogs. Any sponsor or advertiser is directly marked as such, and any time a product is received for free, the relationship is disclosed.

Interested? Great! Please notify me by email at advertising@abdpbt.com so that I can hold your spot. I will need to approve all of your artwork and receive full payment before your ad appears. Thank you for your interest in ABDPBT.com.

THE HIGHLY SCIENTIFIC POLL

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today show mommyblogs
There have been a ton of mommybloggers in the mainstream media lately, and after wading through post after post discussing these appearances, it occurred to me that not enough people were giving these kinds of appearances enough thought before agreeing to participate them. We don’t really have a manual on how to sort through the email solicitations you start receiving as a blogger once you’ve been doing it long enough to get on the PR firms’ radar, either, and I think some of these people have been capitalizing on the excitement that inevitably results when a media outlet calls, or the first time you receive an offer from a PR firm. Rather than set out a set of prescriptive rules about how to handle these kinds of things — a move that has always struck me as kind of patronizing — I thought I’d share my thinking on different scenarios, and what I think has worked well and what hasn’t worked so well, and then perhaps some of the people who read here who know more about PR than I do can share their expertise in the comments. By the way, while I do get PR solicitations, I do not tend to get media requests, so I am speaking totally hypothetically here: if Anderson Cooper called me up I’d probably be on a plane before he finished saying “mommyblog,” so take my lack of experience with a grain of salt.

  1. Say Yes To: Appear In An Expert Capacity, When You Have A Product To Sell.

    Ree Drummond recently appeared on The View as a source of cooking ideas, and was able to promote her cookbook. This kind of appearance is a no-brainer: she stands to gain because she has a product readily available to sell, that will appeal to the market she’s addressing, and since she was there in an expert capacity, she was not likely to find herself being prodded with uncomfortable questions or in the middle of any kind of controversy that might be tough to manage. The only reason to say no to this kind of an appearance would be if you don’t have a product to sell, and want to avoid saturating yourself in the media. I think with these kinds of things, you have a certain number of appearances that people will give you, and after that point they start wondering why you’re there, and wishing you would go away — I’m calling it the Gloria Allred factor. Unlike Gloria Alred, who shows up in any possible capacity when a legal “expert” is called for, Ree Drummond has always appeared on mainstream outlets in conjunction with her product, and as a result the audience always is left with wanting more of her, and she always gets a clear advantage by being able to promote her product to more people.
  2. Say No To: Settling Fights In The Media. Last week, an uneasy peace was somehow brokered between two warring parties in the comment section of a post here at ABDPBT Personal Finance. Part of what allowed that to happen, I think, was that the two parties had been all ready to film a segment with MSNBC about their feud, and when the segment was canceled, they needed somewhere to go to air their grievances. As it turns out, the cancellation of the segment with MSNBC was a really lucky thing for everybody involved, because if they had been put on TV to do this, it’s almost certain they wouldn’t have been able to reach any kind of agreement, neither party would have looked good or received much of a traffic boost from their appearance, and the feud would have escalated instead of resolved. Both parties, upon reflection, realized this, once they were given a chance to cool off, but the excitement of being chosen for a media story in the mainstream can cloud people’s judgment a lot of times. Even if you think you are the righteous one in a feud, reflect on the fact that it’s in the media’s interest to escalate the fight, rather than to resolve it, and that they are going to give you only a few minutes to state your case anyway. You are going to come out of a media appearance like this looking worse, not better, so it’s better to just say no.
  3. Say No To: Pitches That Give You Nothing And Reveal The PR Rep And/Or The Company To Have Bad Character. Last week, I received a PR pitch from somebody who tried to win favor with me by bad mouthing another blogger. Not only was the email formulaic — begin with a general sentence, fill in a space that might as well say [INSERT NAME OF BLOG HERE], and then follow up with a sentence that starts out with the name of one of your posts, the PR person tried to demonstrate familiarity with my blog by saying something about a blogger that he/she thought I didn’t like, I suppose as a means of . . . what? winning my respect? earning my favor? I don’t know. Now, the reason they sent this pitch to me was to get me to promote some kind of event View definition in a new window on another website, so I would never have done anything about it anyway, because there’s nothing in it for me. There’s nothing about the product that would appeal to my audience, there’s no money or favor being offered to me, and it’s just a pretty transparent attempt at getting free publicity. But let’s say it was something that I thought ABDPBT View definition in a new window readers would care about — do I want to participate with a company that employs a “professional” who makes a habit of bad-mouthing bloggers in PR pitches? Why am I not going to be one of those people at some point? This is just not the kind of person you want in your life, much less your business.
  4. Say No To: Generalized Appearances On Mommyblogging, Absent A Product To Sell. Another big media event in the past week was the Today Show segment, “The Dark Side of Mommyblogs,” which featured a taped portion with one blogger and then had two live guests in studio for an interview about the supposed dark side of mommyblogging. The story that the Today Show wanted to tell was clearly about the criticism or negative aspect of mommyblogging, but because the two guests were well-prepped with talking points beforehand, and because they both were absolutely determined not to talk about or even acknowledge any possibly negative aspect to mommyblogging, Ann Curry was not able to get them to say anything negative at all about the community, except for a last-second mention of “trolls,” which Curry jumped all over like a vulture on a dying coyote at the very end of the segment.

    today show mommyblogs

    Now, even if some community members inexplicably hailed this appearance as an example of “balanced journalism,” what I think is that these bloggers were exceptionally well prepared to tell the story that they wanted to tell, and that the only reason that they were successful was that, it appears, they were smarter than Ann Curry. Kudos to them for getting the story out that they wanted, but I’m still going to venture that the decision to show up on this panel might not have been a good idea — for one thing, it could have gone very differently, if Ann Curry had been better prepared, or if there was somebody on the panel with a different take. Secondly, there was no immediately discernible reason for them to be there: they might have gotten a few more hits on their websites, but neither has a product to sell, and therefore they’ve kind of wasted that appearance in the media, in my opinion. And lastly — this is where I express the unpopular position — though they were successful in telling the story that they wanted to tell, and keeping Ann Curry from telling the story that she wanted to tell, I’m not sure that the segment was a success by anybody’s estimation. It was . . . boring, and vanilla, and probably made people not connected to mommyblogs think about turning off the TV. My thought would be: why be a part of that nonsense? Why do I want to be one of the two boring people on TV? What’s in it for me?

    Dooce turns down today show

    And if you’re thinking that I’m alone in that thinking, reflect that Heather Armstrong was also asked to be a part of that panel, but declined because the Today Show would not give her information about what the panel would concern ahead of time. That’s smart. She is in a position to decide which media appearances she makes and which ones she doesn’t, and I think perhaps we should all just start out from that perspective, rather than go to these things thinking that one day they will lead us there.

  5. Say Yes To: Well-Planned Events For Products You Think Your Audience Might Like. I recently agreed to attend an event thrown by a well-respected PR event for a product that I’m not certain is a total match for ABDPBT, but that seems interesting enough that I might find out something to pass on to my audience. I will not be receiving anything in exchange for attending the event itself, but because the product they are pitching is new and might be of interest to a portion of my readership, I decided it’s worth the trek to the West Side to check it out. The value for me is in gathering new material for my readership, and being able to tell them about something I think they would enjoy.

Agree? Disagree? What am I forgetting?

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