The Sun: how not to win friends or influence bloggers

EDIT: Since posting this last night, The Sun have since dropped the World Cup blogger sweepstake after Who Ate All The Pies and other blogs complained. The Sun's World Cup Sweepstake page

Look at the screenshot of The Sun's World Cup Blogger Sweepstake above. If you were a PR who's been pitching football bloggers recently you might skim the blogs and think "Wow, that is a pretty impressive line up of bloggers. They've even managed to get some notoriously hard-to-reach, popular and high-class well respected blogs on board. I wonder how they managed that?"

Short answer: They didn't.

Sure, they spoke to some bloggers. And some bloggers said no, and left it at that. And then saw their blog in the pages and on the website of The Sun.

Chris Taylor from It'll Be Off was one of those bloggers. He's not best pleased:

"I ignored this email, hoping that if I didn’t respond, I wouldn’t be involved in all this savage wankery. But sadly I am. My blog is now apparently Chile, and The Sun have publicised this site in a YouTube clip and on their website. I received another email from them yesterday asking for a little coverage of all this on my blog. So here you go:

I want to make it abundantly clear to everyone: I have nothing to do with this. I want nothing to do with this. And I am furious that the good(ish) name of my little blog, that ceased to be a concern some six months ago, is being used by the worst of all tabloids as some fucking publicity machine for their horrendous sweepstake generating iPhone app, and their even more horrendous newspaper."

Tom Dunmore at Pitch Invasion picked up on Chris' post and it quickly became apparent in the comments that several other blogs, namely Unprofessional Foul, Run Of Play, Sport Is A TV Show, The Onion Bag, and Two Hundred Per Cent were all included without permission as well. And none of them are particularly happy about it.

The Ball Is Round and twofootedtackle (the latter of whom I write and podcast for) agreed to enter into a prediction league but not the sweepstake and didn't give their permission to be included or to use their logos.

There may well be more.

So what, you may say. Surely the bloggers should be happy that The Sun's giving them free publicity. Surely they'll gain readers and make more money and the like from this?

Possibly in same cases, but that isn't really the point.

I've got no problem with the blogs that were happy to take part and are publicising it on their blogs. It's their choice and they're happy to take part. That's fine.

But for those who declined or didn't respond there's several reasons why they're well within their rights to be unhappy.

First off, The Sun has used their logo and blogs without permission. There's a huge irony here given their owner, Rupert Murdoch's, criticism of Google for stealing content on their news aggregation pages. So it's not ok for Google but it's fine for News International.

[EDIT: Sian asks in the comments what the legality of this is. I'm not entirely sure. It may be that The Sun haven't done anything wrong, legally, in using the names of logos. I'd be fascinated to hear from anybody who is a little more clued in than me on this]

Also, it's then incredibly cheeky to use these logos when permission hasn't been given and then email said blogger and mind if they'll give it a bit of publicity on their blogs.

Secondly, the sweepstake isn't just a bit of fun. It's being used to promote an iPhone app. The implication here is that these bloggers, by taking part in the feature, endorse the application.

This leads to the third point. Several of the blogs The Sun's included have built their reputation on independent, thoughtful analysis and have positioned themselves very much as an alternative viewpoint to the tabloid football frenzy, often criticising these writers. They are a world away from The Sun and often don't take advertising and will very rarely, if ever, accept PR pitches, especially for something like an iPhone application.

In short, it affects their reputation. Especially if, in Chris Taylor's case, they have serious ideological differences with The Sun and are critical of their coverage.

Finally, aside from the above, the whole thing is massively patronising to the blogs involved, especially those whose analysis and writing regularly outdoes the national press.

The "aren't you lucky to be taking part" attitude sticks in the craw, the taking logos without permission then expecting an uncritical link back is sheer chutzpah and the prize for winning this sweepstake - an interview with The Sun's chief sports writer - is a piece of condescending bone-tossing from old media to new media, to remind bloggers of their place in the hierarchy.

It does a disservice: to the bloggers involved who said no to the original request, to the readers who will assume that these blogs endorse The Sun, and to any hardworking PR who has spent ages building relations with these blogs for a very tiny mention, especially PRs from other papers.

(Disclosure: I have, in the past, been one of those PRs. And I worked hard to ensure any pitches were respectful and non-condescending and were more than just "we're a big company, write nice things about us". And I know several PRs from other papers and similar companies and they also adhere to the above.)

The sad thing is, there are so many football blogs that with a bit of time and research they could have probably found 32 bloggers willing to take part AND promote it on their sites. And if their initial blogger outreach was better and there was a better incentive at the end of it, they may have even got more bloggers onside.

Hell, it could have actually been fun, if you were one of those who wanted to get involved. (I wouldn't have been but it's not my place to tell other bloggers who they can and can't endorse).

Instead, we've got some very unhappy bloggers.

Not, you suspect, that The Sun care much. After all, they've got a World Cup Sweepstake app to promote.

UPDATE: Arseblog makes a pretty decent point in the comments of Tom's post:

"I’m no huge fan of The Sun but it’s not like we’re being hugely exploited here. To be honest, I don’t think anyone who reads the paper gives the slightest shit about any of the blogs and they’re hardly using our logos to make money."

Which is a fair point and it's worth putting perspective on this. It isn't the end of the world. But it's also very bad practice, not to mention manners and it's only by pointing this sort of thing out that you might (ha!) get a change of tune. It's the principal of it all, innit.

He's probably right that the majority of Sun readers probably don't really care or read the blogs involved. I'd love to see them tackle one of Brian Phillips' wonderfully cerebral pieces at The Run Of Play though.

UD 2: Brian's pointed out that The Sun don't even do them the courtesy of linking, so none of them have seen ay surge in traffic. It now appears that they do, through clickable images. Although I can't find this, but I'll take Brian's word for it.

And, as Fredorraci points out in the comments below, despite this being billed as the UK's top 32 blogs, several aren't based in the UK. Brian's site, for a start, is an American site.

It also seems that the total amount of traffic blogs have received through this has varied between nothing and not very much at all.