Blogger outreach done badly. Again

Luxury watch In some ways it feels like 2008. The last week has seen discussions, articles and guidance on blogger outreach from PR agencies. And while the really good parts of the industry have moved on, there’s still a significant number of conversations that appear to be repeated ad infinitum and are almost exactly the same as five years ago.

Three pieces are particularly caught the eye. The first is a new guidance note from the Advertising Standards Authority on payment of bloggers. I’ve covered the main points on Ruder Finn’s blog, but it’s still somewhat surprising (or perhaps it shouldn’t be) that some in the industry don’t view payment as stepping over the line into advertising.

That isn’t to say that advertising and advertorial doesn’t have a place, when done well, and sometimes it’s appropriate to raise it with bloggers you’ve developed a good relationship with. But it’s still advertising, and the RF piece deals with why that might not be the best strategy in the long-term.

Equally of interest is Chris Lee’s post on The Guest Ale blog, whose vodcasts I occasionally appear on. Frustrated with the high volume of irrelevant “spray and pray” email pitches, Chris’s post highlights some of the oddest ones he’s received, as well as a few best practice notes.

These aren’t just the words of a frustrated blogger though. Chris has worked in this space for longer than I have. He holds a senior social position at a major agency. He knows what makes a good approach to bloggers.

And I share his frustration. In the last six months, the volume of irrelevant pitches landing in my inbox has soared, even as my output on this blog and elsewhere has declined somewhat. Particular highlights have included:

• Luxury watches • Financial industry reports • Pantomime promotion • Cycling accessories. I don’t own a bike. • An oddly specific pitch that targeted me because “your sister is getting married.” I’m an only child.

Some are funny and get shared with friends (so probably not the outreach they were hoping for). Most get deleted. The rare ones I’ve replied to, with details on what I write about, either elicit no response or a “thanks” followed by a continual stream of irrelevant press releases.

On a similar vein was the discussion at the UK Sports Network’s Digital Sport evening. I was sharing the panel with Lynsey Hooper from The Offside Rule podcast and Karis Buckingham-Jones from Girls Sport Talk. All of us had stories of wildly irrelevant pitches.

Yet we were all in agreement when it comes to those who get their approach right. A good PR can be worth their weight in gold and open up opportunities not always available to bloggers.

After the event, I saw quite a few Tweets indicating that PR got a good bashing. That certainly wasn’t the intention (and neither is this post), especially considering I work for a PR agency.

In truth, the bad and bizarre tend to stand out and stick in the mind, and much of this is born of frustration, especially given the frequency of bad pitches.

And ultimately, bad, misguided pitches and a spray and pray approach benefits nobody. It gives the agencies that use this approach a bad name within the blogging community (and make no mistake, they do talk to each other).

But it also hurts the profession in general. If the time-poor blogger has to wade through plenty of irrelevant emails, there’s a far higher probability those who’ve spent time getting it right will also get tossed into the trash folder.

Any complaint here is born of frustration. Frustration for those who get it right, frustration that bad practices seem to be on the rise and, most of all, frustration that my inbox is piling up yet again with pitches that have no relevance whatsoever to anything I do. Perhaps that’s a sign that bloggers are viewed exactly the same as journalists now. I’m not sure that’s a necessarily good thing.

Update: Short postscript that I forgot to add in last night. There are of course caveats. Sometimes, things need to be done at short notice. Sometimes the client brief is more than a little vague. Sometimes the budget simply isn't there to spend hours researching targets in painstaking detail. I get and understand that. But again, if you're doing it well - and giving the client value - you'll be able to find a way to make it work. And, guess what, this is where the long-term relationships you've built over months and years come in very handy indeed.