It is not uncommon to have played multiple sides of the field in the influencer game. I’ve been a blogger for fun (hi there!) and for profit, a digital marketer and a community manager. While never working specifically in PR, many elements of the last two jobs in particular have seen reasonable overlaps between my role and that of a PR and communications department or agency.
Something I thought we’d all left behind when so many of us started batting for both teams is the ‘us vs them’ mentality; bloggers endlessly berating PRs for bad practice, and PRs claiming unprofessionalism in the other direction. In a world where it’s very possible that half of the equation is doing what they do as a sideline, or even a hobby*, there is still a lot of suspicion about how to deal with each other.
Straight off I’m going to say I simply don’t think there is a one way to do this well. I’m slightly wary of “five steps to outrageously good influencer outreach” type posts because all influencers are people, as are all PRs and comms professionals, and people have to work within the nuanced world of, y’know, other people. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this is all based on relationships. You can think logically about supporting a good relationship – keep in touch between projects, RT that post – but it makes me very uncomfortable to think of gaming it. I don’t believe it can even work in the long term, anyway; your inauthentic approach will eventually give you away. If you project frankness and reliability, you’ll get it in return; you might even end up with some new friends. Honesty is everything to bloggers – it’s pretty much all they have to build a reputation on, and I can’t see why that shouldn’t extend to brand partners, too.
Of course, sometimes things will go wrong. The ask won’t be quite right. The timing will be off. It’ll turn out that for some reason you couldn’t possibly have been aware of this was exactly the wrong person to ask. No-one gets this right all the time or even every time. But I think there are ways to avoid getting it actively wrong.
So having said I don’t think there’s a right way, there are some general common sense tips that I would like to think are a part of every decent strategy already. I repeat them because I find it’s sometimes all too easy to overlook the fundamental steps. Below are my observations, all of which I think could grease the wheels on this creaky cart of a parley.
Please note that all of this assumes you’ll have targetted your audience correctly and done your research.
1. Work out what you want
There is simply no point in doing anything if you don’t know what you want from it. Is it coverage? Is it target market research? Is it a review? Whatever it is, work this bit out first. If you don’t, you won’t know how to measure it and, crucially, what to ask for or how to ask for it.
2. Work out what they want
Bloggers are not a uniform crew. There are some that will only work for cash, and this is quite fair enough. Though, as someone who’s done her fair share of writing for free when it suited me, I don’t actually think it is or should be anathema to work without pay. Still it is unquestionably silly to request it of a blogger who sets out a rate card, unless you have a really, really good reason (even charities can stump up something, particularly the bigger ones). And if you’re working with a brand which looks like it should have budget, tread carefully.
If the particular project is a review and you can reasonably assume your chosen blogger is open to not-cash, then you can sail in with the stuff. The obvious starting point is a review sample, but try to sweeten the deal; if you have budget to add value, then do it, and put some thought into what you send so that it complements both the blogger and the brand. Not every blogger enjoys a giveaway, but giving the option – x amount of y if you think your readers would like it – is a nice added extra. I would always recommend pitching first rather than going for the surprise unsolicited gift, unless you’ve established a solid relationship with the blogger in question. It just avoids any possibility of it not being received in the spirit you’ve intended, but is also your chance to lay out your expectations for the project.
On the whole, I’d say that offering bloggers a chance to take part in a competition through blog posts is a shaky business. I’ve seen it work well, but I’ve also seen furious bloggers loudly slam brands for it. I think it can be done – if there is a gift or remuneration for all or everyone involved gets something unique like exclusive access to a product or event – but it can also be done really badly. Particularly for those bloggers for which this is a primary income source, asking them to compete for a prize is a bit like demanding someone puts hours of work into a pitch presentation for a job they didn’t apply for and might not even want.
3. Remember that less can indeed be more
There’s a temptation to think all blogger outreach has to be grand and dramatic, but thoughtfulness goes a long way. It takes a good deal of time to assemble a really nice pack or plan just the right event. Better to go small scale, use your budget wisely and work with just a few people to make something really effective and positive than to end up seeming indiscriminate. Basically, from an initial pitch email to the final denouement, anything that so much as offers a whiff of “spray and pray” will be treated with suspicion. And rightly so.
Having mentioned events, I do think these a particularly interesting area all on their own. I work largely with bloggers like me, and when approaching parents in particular I would consider the following questions before setting any plans in stone.
- Is it offering something exclusive, unique or especially worthwhile? (Is dropping everything going to be worth it?)
- Can the kids come? (Do I need to arrange childcare?)
- Is there any budget to offer help with travel? (Are you giving me enough time to get cheaper tickets?)
- Could it be held somewhere other than London? (For God’s sake, the world doesn’t end outside the M25…)
I’ve spoken to quite a few bloggers about this and these things come up time and time again. Although I live on the outskirts of London myself, I know many bloggers outside the Home Counties who get fed up with routine requests to drop everything at the last minute and bolt down to London, without any financial assistance. It’s particularly irksome if this also excludes the very people they spend most of their time writing about – unless, of course, the whole point of the event is, for example, pampering time away from the kids.
In a way, I shall feel quite pleased if people get to the end of this post and think “I already knew that”, because it means that the job is getting done properly. I’d like to believe most of the criticism I see is because of the natural inclination to complain more than we praise, and I know there is really thoughtful and excellent outreach going on all the time. So in the spirit of that, I’d love to invite anyone reading, whether blogger or PR, to give some examples of really excellent influencer outreach that they’ve seen. I think spreading the love can only be a good thing in this industry, so let rip – in a good way!
*Contrary to popular belief, this does not preclude professionalism. No, really.