Dear PR Professional,
This is an open letter to you, and everyone else who works in the PR industry. I’d like to think that I am writing this on behalf of all honest and authentic bloggers out there, who have grown a genuine audience and want to protect the industry that they’ve worked so hard to create. PRs need bloggers and bloggers need PRs, so I hope this letter brings us closer to being on the same page so we can continue to work together. Even if you give this letter 2 minutes of your time, I genuinely think you’ll be able to take something away that will make you a tiny bit better at your job (not that you aren’t already fabulous at it I’m sure).
The idea to write this open letter to PR professionals has been sparked by the Instagram ‘Bot epidemic that took place over the Easter weekend. Bloggers began outing other bloggers who they suspected had been using Instagram ‘bots to falsely build their following and engagement. Some bloggers were falsely accused, but for others it was glaringly obvious and all they could do was hold their hands up. I’m not pointing the finger at anyone, but ‘BotGate perfectly demonstrated just how easy it is for bloggers to cheat the system and rapidly grow thousands of fake followers. This in turn demonstrates to PRs that they need to be more selective than ever about the bloggers that they choose to work with. I’m going to explain the main things to look for later in the post.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I also want to say I feel slightly qualified to write this letter. Although I am a blogger, I have also worked in one of the top travel PR agencies in London. I worked there for a year and a half and during this time I got to see what happened on the other side. It was fascinating. Although I worked in the social media team, I was surrounded by PR professionals on a daily basis and I got to see on what basis they decided to work with bloggers. I saw how they analysed the bloggers, and it was sometimes shocking to see that some of them still didn’t bother to look beyond the follower count (I’ll get into this later).
I was recently interviewed by Vuelio after being listed as one of their Top 10 Luxury Travel Blogs of 2017 (Read the full interview here). One of the interview questions was ‘How do you like to work with PRs and how can they improve their blogger outreach?’ This question made me realise that this is something that PRs are eager to know, so this letter is an extended answer of that question. Without further ado, let me get started…
Bloggers Work Very Differently to Journalists
You will automatically become 10x better at your job the moment you stop putting bloggers and journalists in the same bag. We couldn’t be more different. We are two separate entities. Bloggers have become multi-media content creators. Sure, we write articles just like journalists do. But we are also photographers, videographers, presenters and social media community managers. These are all self-taught skills that we are proud of. Reputable bloggers put pressure on themselves to deliver unique content on all of these levels, where as journalists can scribble down a few notes and download the shiny stock images from a USB. I’m not slamming journalists here, I actually have the upmost respect for them. But we have different requirements and it really is a different kettle of fish.
Blogger and Journalist Press Trips Don’t Work
Because of the reasons I have listed in the paragraph above, I have come to the conclusion that press trips that mix bloggers and journalists do not work as well. Due to the intense focus on content creation, activities and journeys take a lot longer with bloggers. We stop, we take photos, we film some video, we need to use the Wi-Fi to post a tweet we promised to deliver. This all takes time and I’ve felt journalists sometimes get frustrated at this. Bloggers like to go on trips with other bloggers as they can help each other with content. Plus there’s also a mutual understanding that ‘phone time’ is admin time. It’s totally acceptable, even over dinner.
Don’t Be Shocked If Bloggers Ask for Payment
There is also the small issue of money and income. Journalists are paid by a publication to write articles about your client’s press trip or your client’s new product. Therefore, they will never ask for remuneration from you. That is how classic PR works and that is fine. But who is paying the bloggers? I’m not saying all bloggers should be paid for absolutely everything they do. But professional blogging is now an industry in itself, which no longer fits into the confines of classic PR. Things have evolved, and PRs need to keep up.
In which other industries are people expected to work for free? Would you expect a make up artist to attend your fashion shoot for free? Or would you try and find a graphic designer to design you a logo for nothing? Just like other creative industries, what we create is our commodity, so please please don’t be shocked if we ask for payment for what you’re asking us to create. Taking photos, writing blog posts and editing videos takes a lot of time. Especially when it’s to a high standard. I am now a full time blogger and I make my income from my blog. If I gave in and did everything for free, how would I afford to live? There are many top bloggers who still have full time jobs and separate careers. Just because they have a salaried income, the content they’d be creating for you would be in their own time too, therefore they also deserve to be paid for their work.
I understand that PRs are often limited by payment and clients don’t allow budget. So surely now is the time to educate your clients about the evolution of bloggers and why it’s a different ball game to journalists? The sooner you do that the easier your job will become.
Bloggers Create Content of Immense Value
So established bloggers are speaking up and asking to be paid for their content. This may make your job harder in the short term, but think of it this way; how much would you need to pay a professional photographer for a day’s shoot? How much would you need to pay a videographer to spend time shooting, editing and producing a video for your client? If you pick the right bloggers, you can get beautiful content at half price the price that you’d pay photographers and videographers. I don’t want to do these people out of a job as they are artists in their own right, but bloggers can also expose that content to an engaged and trusting audience. In the long run, you could save your clients money by working with bloggers, not make them pay out more.
It’s Not All About Followers
This is the most important thing that a PR can realise about working with bloggers and influencers. The recent outcry about Instagram bots proves this through and through. Choosing to work with a blogger based on followers alone is the laziest and most short-sighted thing a PR can do. There are so many other things to consider and ways to tell if a blogger is legit. I want to share these with you so that you no longer give the shady, fake bloggers the time of day.
Firstly, look at engagement. By this I mostly mean the amount of followers versus their amount of likes and comments. If a blogger has 50k followers and low likes and comments, the chances are the followers have been bought. But even engagement can be bought now, so don’t let that fool you either. There is a great app called Social Blade which all PRs should download and use as a professional tool. It highlights any suspicious behaviour on Instagram such as how many followers people gain and loose in a day. It also shows how many accounts people follow and unfollow in a day. If these numbers are extreme, there is a chance there is some foul play going on. However, not all spikes mean something shady. Spikes in followers may be due to that blogger being featured by a big Instagram account. But there’s something fishy about unfollowing 200 people in a day. Be an analyst and work it out for yourself. This insightful tool is what sparked the big Instagram ‘bot debate last weekend.
Secondly, do they produce high quality content? It may be better to work with a niche ‘micro blogger’ who fits the ethos of your client perfectly, as opposed to a mainstream blogger with a large audience. The style of content they create should be a good match and desirable to your client.
Also, please please look beyond social media. Blogs were around long before Instagram. There is the small matter of the blog itself that you’re trying to get your client featured on. How much traffic does it get? What is its domain authority? How much engagement do the posts get? Even if the blogger has 100k followers on Instagram, there may still be nobody reading their blog. So how much value would you be getting from them?
Looking at how many comments the blog posts receive is a good indicator of how genuine their following and readership is. If their posts get no comments, chances are there is nobody reading them. My point is, just delve a little deeper into the blogs before deciding who you want to work with. These are the things I used to say to the PR professionals I worked with at the London PR agency and they seemed to take it on board which was great.
Everything in this letter is my personal and honest opinion, which people are welcome to disagree with. I’ve had my blog for over four years and although I don’t have the biggest social media followings, I am proud of my organic and home-grown audience. The brands I work with are smart as they look beyond top line social stats and into web rankings and reputation. The moral of the story is that there is NO shortcut to growing a quality blog or Instagram feed.
There may be things in this letter that you’re already doing. If so, you are awesome! There may be things in this letter that have shocked you or simply made you think about things differently. If so, it has made writing this totally worthwhile. I love working with PRs so please do get in touch if we haven’t already connected.
I hope that fellow bloggers have taken the time to read this too, as these are the messages that we should be spreading in order to protect the reputation of legitimate bloggers and to strengthen our industry.
Editor of The Travelista
What did you think of my Open Letter to PR Professionals ? Are you a PR or a blogger? Is there anything you agree with or disagree with in my letter? This is quite a different post for me so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Want to read more of my thoughts on blogging as an industry? Check out my post How to Make Money as a Travel Blogger