What happens when you put a load of bloggers and PRs in the same room and get them to discuss their industry? Fight? Or consensus? Or both? The most recent London Bloggers Meetup didn't quite reach either of those stages but the panel / open floor debate was interesting, partly because it showed how little the debate, and indeed industry, has moved on.
The panel lined up with Cate Sevilla from Bitch Buzz, Chris Osburn aka Tiki Chris, and Pete Stean from The Londoneer, with Stephen Waddington (Wadds) from Speed Communications, Matt Churchill from Edelman and Laurence Borel (Lolly) from Mindshare on the PR side.
Two things were very evident in the debate. There were some interesting points but listening felt very much like déjà vu. I'd sat in similar panels, debates and training sessions two years ago. But then, as Wadds said, the issue of poor PR pitching has gone on from the year dot.
Secondly, there was a lot of consensus between the two sides that things could and should be done better. Although it's also worth saying that Matt, Lolly and Wadds are three PRs who know what they're talking about when it comes to social media. They're the shining examples from their profession.
Sadly not all PRs are like these three. Lolly also pointed out that often clients will give PRs very little leeway when it comes to blogger outreach campaigns and can make near impossible demands.
Broadly, though, there was a lot of agreement both from the panel and the floor on PR and blogger relations, bar the person who asked - and hopefully this was just playing devil's advocate - whether bloggers would be more likely to write about something if they were paid for it.
There are several issues with this, which I'd briefly like to touch on.
1. It probably borders on the illegal, due to EU regulations. Darika can tell you more about this, as she knows the topic better than me.
2. If the PR is offering cash then chances are the subject of the pitch isn't very good. An exciting, well-done pitch will snare the recipient's interest regardless. Cash offers look desperate.
3. The sums on offer are often insultingly low. On the rare occasions I've been offered cash to post on this blog, which I've turned down, it's generally been between £10 and £40 and often come with a lot of strings attached. My view is that if you're offering cash in return for me writing then you're commissioning a piece from me and I'll charge according to the relevant NUJ rate.
Another point that could easily be coupled to this is advertising. Lolly, emphatically and correctly, said that PR is not advertising. However, offering payment for blogging on a topic definitely blurs a line between the two and it's hard to view it as anything other than advertorial. But it's worth emphasising again: PR is not advertising.
But although the general discussions weren't new, the idea of the blogger-as-professional, as mentioned by both sides, has changed over the past few years.
It's easy to lump all blogs into the same grouping, but that would be like lumping all TV programmes into the same category. Yes, the broadcasted medium is the same for all, but there are differences, both obvious and nuanced.
Broadly speaking, you can probably divide blogs today into four categories:
a) The professional blogger. This person blogs for a living and depends on the blog to some extent to support them financially, or has aspirations that the blog will earn them money one day.
b) The professional amateur. This person spends a lot of time blogging but will run their blog alongside their day job. However, they also take great pride in their blog and look for it to be as professional as a mainstream media organisation. Money is probably secondary to content.
c) The amateur professional. This is somebody who works in the media, possibly involving blogging, but runs a blog in their spare time (usually on a free template rather than paid hosting), which will be well-written and probably known within the industry. I'd probably say this blog comes under this category. They're probably indifferent about money, unless needed, due to their job elsewhere.
d) The amateur amateur. They blog for themselves and / or friends. They are unlikely to realise or care if people other than friends or a few randoms read their blog. Would be surprised at any offers to making money. Will always be hosted on a free template.
Of these, the top two categories start blurring the line with journalist, although would as likely resolutely call themselves bloggers. These are the two types of blogs PR would be most interested in, while, unless the amateur amateur had an influential niche following, it's unlikely PR would ever pitch to them.
Put simply, many blogs have got more sophisticated, and will either be collective efforts with an editor or writers, or sit as part of an over-arching (usually niche interest) banner, albeit with a free reign on topics (and it's why I don't think blogging is dead or dying, it's just consolidating, just as the radical press did in the early days of print journalism).
But then, not all professional bloggers and professional amateurs will be open to pitches of all kinds. It's always a case of ensuring they're correctly targeted.
Does this make them journalists? Yes and no, depending on the blog and the individual. Should the PR be treating them as journalists? Yes and also no again. It's just a question of adjusting your strategy to take in the medium. Just as you wouldn't pitch a story with poor or non-existent filming opportunities to a TV journalist, so you wouldn't pitch like a print journalist to a blogger.
The desired outcome and the pitch may not be wildly different, but it has to take into account the medium it's being pitched to, regardless of the professional status or otherwise of the recipient.
So where does this bring us to? Well, not much different than the start of the debate. Everybody thinks PR could do better, while those journalists who open themselves up to PR pitches could be a little more understanding. The debate, arguments and conclusions aren't exactly new, although there are detectable groundshifts.
But for all my scepticism on whether the blogging and PR debate has moved on at all in the past two or three years, it's worth putting that to one side to say the debate was fun and interesting, and to congratulate all involved in putting their heads above the parapet. And also to say thanks to Andy Bargery, who continues to organise the London Bloggers' Meetups and ensures everybody has a fantastic night (I know I did).
And of the debate itself. Well, as Cate Sevilla, probably the most impressive of the six, said as she rounded up, "It's not frickin' difficult."
It's slogan that should be printed out and posted on the monitor of every aspiring PR, social media or otherwise.