Every PR person hopes for the day when they get the glorious email saying "yes, I'm going to write about your client." But as any blogger can tell you, most pitches aren't even opened, let alone read.
In an effort to get a bigger picture around my personal outreach, I spoke with some well-known bloggers on how to establish quality and lasting relationships, and believe even the most experienced outreach/PR folks could use their valuable advice.
The general consensus, as you will read below, is that those of us in the marketing/PR world need to make a better effort at treating online relationships more like real human interaction, not just anonymous emails being spammed out at a rate of several hundred a day. Bloggers are people too, and despite our environment and communication being mostly digital, there is always a person on the other side of the internet connection.
So You Got Your Link:
You schmoozed that blogger for weeks, sent them products for review and produced the most ridiculously awesome infographic since the dawn of infographics. A few days pass; you nervously check your inbox every few minutes, waiting for that glorious moment that might never come.
Just as you were about to give up, something magical happens. That glorious email stating that all this hard work has paid off shows up; the blogger is going to go through with a post as well as offer a big, juicy, optimized, dofollow, link. That once blank excel spreadsheet you were going to send to the client at the end of the month just got a little bit more complete. You crack open a beer, throw on some YouTube videos, toss your heels up and let out a victorious “ahhhhhh!” Everyone else in the office looks at you, jealous; if only they had emailed that blogger first, it would be their celebration, their link, and their happy client. Your work here is done.
But why stop there? To believe the relationship is a success after only a few short emails and a published link is awfully short sighted. This should only be the beginning of what could easily evolve naturally into a high quality relationship.
- Keeping in touch, even with just friendly conversation
- Offering to help out with anything they might need
- Sharing other articles they have written with your social network
- Pick up the phone for a quick conversation
- Take local bloggers out for coffee
- Focus on the personal details; things like birthday notes can go a long way
Every PR person has thought this before, but this thinking needs to change, no matter how subconscious it might be. It’s the reason that in this day and age so many pitches go unread. It’s the reason, despite my best efforts to remove the stereotype in my own outreach, I still get occasional responses saying “I don’t work with SEOs/web marketers/you people.” Sometimes, no matter how personalized your outreach is, no matter how friendly you come across, no matter how great the content is you’re offering, there are those who just simply want nothing to do with our industry. And honestly, sometimes I don’t blame them.
This Needs To Change:
According to a number of bloggers I spoke with, the majority of outreach shows a fundamental lack of caring and effort. It’s a numbers game to these marketers, spamming countless lists all day. Shoot out hundreds of non-personalized emails and you are bound to get enough bites to keep your clients or boss happy for another month. This is what I call the “squeaking by” strategy.
With no regard for all the non-responses and countless rejections they might get, the more emails they send the more responses they’ll inevitably receive, ruining the personal aspect of this business for all of us and turning it into simple math. If they could buy a list of 100,000 random active email addresses, they’d do it, and send the same message to every single person on the list with an identical pitch. This is simply not sustainable in fostering a healthy PR/Blogger environment as each email a blogger has to filter as spam is only tarnishing their view of the marketing industry.
How Top Bloggers View PR Pitches:
I sent out a few emails to some of my contacts who actively run successful blogs, and because of their success, they consequently receive countless pitches every week. I asked them for some input on the topic and their responses to my questions were a great mix of humor, thoughtfulness and advice definitely worth keeping in mind before hitting send on your next outreach email.
First, B.L. Ochman, the female owner of http://www.whatsnextblog.com offers some great examples of those who just don’t get it:
“The ones that start out "Dear Mr. Ochman” or "because you cover the Internet, I know you'll be interested in…" The bad ones are all people who don't even bother to look at my blog - which has my photo on it”Yes, you’re reading that correctly – With her photo prominently displayed on her blog, there are people who are still referring to her as “Mr.” Not a good first step in making friends. B.L. also talked about how telling her what her readers will enjoy is an easy way to end up on her PR From Hell list, a place you definitely don’t want to be.
But how about those who do get it:
“The good ones reference a post, talk like they're speaking to a human and not to a generic "blogger", and the best ones know my dog's name.”B.L. hosts perhaps one of the best lists of absolutely terrible outreach on the Press Releases from Hell section of her blog. I highly suggest reading through it if you want to get a great idea what people in her business have to deal with on a daily basis. The more of these I read, the more I understand why bloggers are jaded about working with web marketers.
Next, I asked Kimberly Gauthier some similar questions – She runs several blogs, Keep the Tail Wagging, Adventures in Blogging and Kimberly Gauthier. Kimberly says she gets a pitch about every other day. She also says that 90% of them are absolutely terrible. One of her biggest pet peeves is people who pretend to be bloggers, trying to conceal that they are contacting her on behalf of a client or business in an attempt to seem more legitimate, which ultimately backfires when she sees their post with obvious promotional links.
She offered this with regard to quality outreach:
“The PR people who I work with regularly have taken the time to get to know me, know my blog, and they understand that they are part of a long to-do list. I can't always drop my life to respond to an email, to write up a blog post, or promote a product. They don't waste my time with products or posts that won't appeal to my readers. The people who follow my photography blog aren't interested in discount cell phone service.”With regard to long term relationships, Kimberly also mentioned the importance of the simple gestures going a long way:
“A good relationship is about give and take. It's important for people to be willing to give something. Send a thank you card. Keep in touch. Build a relationship with your favorite bloggers and they'll do right by you. I also think PR people should focus time on local bloggers so that they can get to know them face to face.”Kimberly makes a great point here. These relationships are a two way street. Why on earth would any blogger do you a favor if you show no signs of putting any effort into the relationship as well? If you expect the blogger to go through all the trouble of reviewing, formatting and posting your content, we should make it as easy as possible for them by first providing high quality content and second, showing understanding that they are setting their time aside doing this as a favor for you.
Before Pitching, Do Your Research:
How embarrassed would you feel if you emailed B.L. and called her a “Mr.” How much more impressed would she be if you emailed her and talked about a post you really enjoyed or about how you both shared a love for dogs. And I can pretty much guarantee you will win her completely over if you find out the name of her pup and throw that somewhere into your outreach.
The point is we live in a very social environment. You are emailing a person who, by nature of being a blogger, is connected on the web. You should have no trouble spending a few extra minutes getting to know them, figuring out what they’re looking for, and tailoring your pitch to make it appealing. Not to mention, what a great demonstration to the blog author that you will be putting a complete effort into your content by showing them you’re taking these first steps of extra effort.
Talk About The Content Beforehand:
Have a quick chat on the phone, hold a G+ hangout or Skype call, perhaps even if they’re a local blogger, meet up with them in person. Go back and forth on your ideas. Think about the big picture. If you work directly with a reputable blogger to create a really solid piece that includes references to your client, and that post gets coverage in and of itself, the benefit quickly grows for everyone.
Provide Great Content:
And when I say great, I also mean relevant. I know it is easy to try and justify spinning an article idea to match a blogger's site, but for the benefit of the relationship, it is far better to make sure any idea pitched is relevant to their readers without forcing in awkward links. Just like Kimberly said, her dog blog is no place to spin articles about cell phones (unless of course the product you’re pitching is a phone for your dog…)
Keep The Relationship Strong:
Congratulations on your link, it feels great to chalk up another success. But now, what a fantastic opportunity to build upon that foundation. If you provided great content to a blog author, odds are extremely high that there should be little problem getting another opportunity to post if you keep the relationship strong.
Something like sending the occasional email to see what’s new and how things are going is great, but this can be expanded on so much. Take a few minutes a week to promote their other work. There is no reason you can’t occasionally share their articles on Twitter or Facebook. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, there are almost certainly local bloggers in your area, find them and treat them to coffee. Meeting in person will undoubtedly be a great way to guarantee a quality long term relationship.
Casually offer up your services as well. Most bloggers have full time jobs, kids, pets, active lifestyles, the list really goes on and it never hurts to have another set of eyes looking at the more technical aspects of a website. Don’t be pushy about change though, even if it is low hanging fruit. At the end of the day, this is their blog, and theirs to do with as they please.
Consider connecting relevant bloggers with each other. If you have found a few blogs in a niche that both accept guest posts, why not (with their permission) introduce them to each other. It’s a great way for them each to gain new exposure as well as strengthen their ties in their respective blogging community.
The main thing that I believe everyone in the web marketing community needs to be encouraging is building stronger human relationships, and focusing less on the sheer numbers. The value of one high quality and long term relationship is worth considerably more than dozens of one-and-done conversations, especially considered over an extended timeline.