September 28, 2011

How to pitch bloggers so they’ll post about you

http://mlblogsphilliesphollowers.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/lee.jpgChris AbrahamLast week I told you how not to pitch a blogger in your PR outreach, so it raises the pregnant question of what exactly should you do?

For about five years now we’ve seen an extraordinary number of clients and potential clients who have frankly been afraid of blogger outreach because of the poor practices of companies and brands that have stumbled in their attempts to engage the blogosphere. So today I wanted to walk through our process to show you how it’s done. Just how do you pitch a blogger?

First off, we see if we already know anyone. We know folks at the top tech blogs, so we give them first bite. By the time that shakes out, we’ll have a couple-few-thousand blogs to QA and sort out. While we’re seeing how the A-listers pan out, we develop a message model that is inclusive enough to not alienate any single blogger but specific enough that each blogger is completely clear as to who our client is and what we want from them (a post, a tweet, an embedded video, a review, etc).

Then, we send out the first outreach and send four or five online analysts to man the inbox so that potentially a thousand replies can be triaged and responded to, like in a hospital emergency room. Who is spitting mad? Who needs more information? Who needs a little prodding or convincing?

Time should be a primary consideration

More conversions have been made with charming, patient, quick emails than have ever been made through just the pitch

Time is of the essence. More conversions have been made with charming, patient, friendly and quick emails than have ever been made through just the pitch. Why is time ticking? If someone is a little pissed when they get the email and hit reply, they’ll be a lot more pissed and maybe drop an unhappy tweet if they’re ignored for a few hours.  If they’re ignored for a day, they will amplify their displeasure by posting it onto their blog, effectively making it very sure they’re heard.

It has less to do with bloggers being vindictive or making their fame on your client’s good name but has way more to do with stepping up displeasure. “I want to be heard, I need to be heard, I have a grievance, and I will be heard no matter what.” To be honest with you, that never happens to us any more because we’re endlessly kind, patient, giving, indulgent, compliant, respectful and super-quick.

Super-quick is the biggest, most important thing. Latency is always punished.  And have a system, because it is inexcusable to allow any of these thousands of “nobody” bloggers to ever get less than exquisite service. Don’t play favorites. Triaging the responses has nothing to do with the bank balance or Rolodex or fame or celebrity or reach of the blogger. It has to do with whether a blogger is

  1. willing to post gladly
  2. willing to post but needs more information
  3. willing to post but leery of legitimacy
  4. maybe willing to post but generally conflicted or confused
  5. how did you find my blog and get my email?
  6. unwilling to post but maybe willing to tweet
  7. unwilling to post
  8. unwilling to post and please remove my name
  9. who the hell are you and how did you get my email address or find my blog
  10. wrong topic, I don’t care about this
  11. you’ve insulted me and I will seek vengeance

Honestly, even #11 is fine as long as you don’t meet that blogger with the same anger and menace as is being shared. Remember our mantra: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Walking into a drama that’s in progress

I always like to say, when I am speaking at conferences and on panels, that my online team never knows what they’re walking into but that responses like rage and frustration are almost never the direct result of our simple, minimal, friendly email pitch. In a majority of the cases, we’re walking into a drama that is already in progress. Sort of like when a beat cop responds to a domestic 911 call.

Cops hate responding to a domestic disturbance because nobody’s more likely to shoot someone than when they feel like their life is imploding and the only thing that can make someone that crazy is love. Too many cops have been shot as the direct result of unknowingly stepping into someone else’s personal or collective hell.  So my team is trained to at least emulate endless patience, love, acceptance and generosity, though my colleague Leslie Quiros tells me that she really sometimes needs to stop, think and breathe, before responding online sometimes. God bless her.

Even more, after we collect and log all of these positive, negative and neutral responses, we wait a week and do it all again, but  reaching out only to the bloggers who have not responded at all. While a few of these folks might be ignoring us by not responding, we have concluded that the vast majority of folks who don’t reply during the first outreach just don’t see it or missed it or, more likely, either intend to later but forget or simply don’t know who we are at first and just assume the pitch isn’t for real.

When we reach out one week later and then again a week after that, they’ve seen the email a couple of times and give it a try and are pleased to see that it’s authentic and that there are friendly online analysts more than happy to be friendly and kind at the other end.

It’s not about fooling the bloggers, it’s about authenticity

People are funny and I quite love my species — and I think that attitude is our secret AH sauce: We don’t consider the people we pitch to be the enemy that must be fooled into helping our clients. Quite the opposite. I started my company because I believe that there are lots and lots of vocal proponents on any topic under the sun who just have not been activated yet.  Who don’t realize that their voice is important and that agencies like mine and clients like mine find that their choice to create their publishing empire, no matter how modest though it may be, is very exciting, very useful, and very cool to us and to our clients, to be sure!

And, unlike the simulated world of the elaborately constructed inbound link sellosphere, shilloshere, linkosphere, or whatever it is, blogger outreach is authentic.  When we send out two-thousand emails pitched to two-thousand bloggers, the 400 bloggers who post over the course of a month don’t have to. We don’t pay them, we don’t trade horses, and we don’t make empty promises.

Not all 2,000 post, only the 400 for whom the message resonates. It is earned media. It is real, even if the blogger simply embeds a video or quotes the pitch email verbatim or copy-and-pastes the social media news release full-text, it’s up to each blogger. No matter what they say, no matter how editorialized, or matter how off message their interpretation may well be (and when it is, it is generally our fault for not being clear enough). It is a thing of beauty and it is ceaselessly amazing that folks online are so endlessly generous and active.

But it all starts with the right attitude–putting the blogger first is the secret of how to pitch a blogger. (Via Biznology)Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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  • Craig Kessler

    I commented on your previous post and am glad to see a follow up. It almost sounds like this post contradicts what you said last time, and that you mass pitch a list of bloggers and have a team of analysts begin to weed the responses after and communicate accordingly.

    Reaching out to 100 bloggers takes a lot of time (especially when you have loads of other initiatives to work on) much less 2000. Maybe I misread the post but this strategy seems a bit difference. Although I don't think there is anything wrong with sometimes playing the numbers game, because in PR it really comes down to it sometimes.

    • cabraham

      I thought I had already posted this, but this is what I wrote before… I hate it when comments disappear… It is not a contradiction if you hold both things in your mind at the same time. We so collect thousands of targeted blogs without care for clout or caste but the we sic 5+ operatives on the responses so that each of the hundreds and hundreds of bloggers who do reply ALL get a bespoke response. We also prohibit any copy-and-paste responses at all. We have 12 researchers to discover the relevant bloggers and then we have 5 responders per-campaign. We win by throwing people at the task instead of tech. And while we do “cheat” by blasting the email and using a single message model, we choose to do that for the impact. You cannot build steam doing each one by hand. You need to really push to better 100/day. However, once the hounds are released, we take all the time in the world to convert in the inbox. Does that make sense?

      • Craig Kessler

        It does and as someone in Digital PR myself I always question the morality of blasting a large group of targeted bloggers and personalizing responses. Who sends out the initial blast? As time is much needed, I have found myself needing more time when going one hand by hand with mixed results. I do think it has helped me in many cases and I have developed personal relationships with some people because of it. Typically I try a more personalized approach on the pitch, and send more generic information in the response. Of course this approach can maybe meet the needs of reaching out to hundreds, not thousands.

        To be honest, this is why I agree with the mass pitch for a lot of reasons, because the truth is, if a promotion or information sticks, the blogger/journalist, etc doesn't care that it is generic. A lot to think about and to discuss with others.

  • I had to smile about “walking into a drama that's already in progress.” I can't tell you how many angry rants I have read from bloggers keying off some poor sod who had the audacity to contact them without the requisite bowing and scraping first. It's as if their honor was impugned or at the very least, someone insulted their hair color.

    Great article, much to ponder here.

    • cabraham

      Charleen, even just saying “bowing and scraping” is dangerous. It is that sort of “who the heck do they think they are expecting me to bow and scrape” sort of innuendo useful? If both members in the conversation assume that the other person's being a total dick, then there's a standoff of severe disrespect and that is never productive. Yes, you actually NEED to buy someone dinner and drinks and get to know them before you can get in their pants. This is dating, this is courting, this isn't prostitution! IZEA is prostitution and so are most mainstream media magazines and even quite a few “in the pocket” a-list bloggers who have long-term relationships with PR shops, but this isn't true amongst the true bloggers, not the “using a blog as a shilling platform” bloggers and you need to come to them as generous, as loving, as if you have all the time in the world (unlike the experience most people have with their doctor who pops in for 5), and you have to stop looking over their shoulders when you're in conversation as though you're just spending time with them until you catch the eye of someone “more important.”

      See what I mean? Both sides are thinking to themselves, “who is this bozo” and “does this bozo know who the heck I am.” Until both sides actually spend the time to rebuild bridges, it will always be a hostile territory.

  • Great, informative post chris.

    • cabraham

      Thanks you so much, Jade, and I am sorry about the delay!

  • Just came across this post and believe you hit the nail on the head when explaining the value of mass mailing when it's targeted and is followed up with a personalized response. I've worked campaigns in multiple sectors and across all of them I've found that even if I “blast” a large group of bloggers – as long as I've properly researched my list and contact them with a short email that clearly states my client's message, then I have great success and surprisingly little complaint from the bloggers contacted. As Craig mentioned in his last reply, if the message fits the needs of that blogger then it works for everyone. Also if I've conducted my research well, even if the blogger doesn't feel the need to post my information at the time at least they don't feel as though I've insulted them with irrelevant, spam worthy content and this means my client is on their radar and there's a possibility of reaching out at another time.

  • Speak English Today

    Mine is #12 = nobody is out there :) I’ve just read your past two articles after searching for the exact title Re: afraid of…. This has helped me think of being more organized and doing a bunch at once and being ready. Quick response is so important for me because if I have to wait for an answer, I will try and find help elsewhere.

    Outsourcing Outreach on the Cheap has failed miserably for me in the past. My newest idea is to find a partner who loves this while I create content and am the expert. Do you think there are people out there like that? Thanks for good advice in this area I am struggling with!