An Open Letter to PR Professionals

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).

flower-market-open-letter-to-prs

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.

To Conclude

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.

Yours Sincerely,

Jess Gibson,
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

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38 Comments

  1. 3rd May 2017 / 7:01 am

    Jess, this was such an insightful post and I do hope that the word reaches PR professionals. As a blogger who has been around less than two years, I’m still learning the ins and outs of the blogging world, especially the art of turning this into a business. One thing is clear though, brands pay immense attention to the numbers only, even though a blogger might have less yet much more engaged readership and be creating equally impressive (if not better) content. I think this is still a new industry, rapidly developing and evolving. Letters like this are important to get the message out. Hopefully, soon the industry will take a proper shape, where bloggers will understand that they cannot get the job with false “resume” (follower count), while PR professionals will be comfortable to provide adequate reimbursement.

  2. 23rd April 2017 / 1:04 pm

    Spot on Jessica. Great article, couldn’t agree more. xx

  3. 22nd April 2017 / 2:45 pm

    This is a very well written post, and something that was definitely needed to be said. Although I have been in digital communications for a while, I am just now starting a travel blog, so I am hardly an expert. I think the only thing I would disagree with would be the idea that no comments on blog posts mean no readers.

    Consuming travel blogs I think can be a very passive form of blog reading. There are some very popular travel blogs out there, with very few comments on their posts. Also if you dive into their comments, a lot of them are travel bloggers themselves.

  4. 22nd April 2017 / 2:40 pm

    Hi Jess, You’ve said it all so well! I’ve worked on the brand side for 12+ years and also a blogger for the past 10 years and I feel your frustrations. Ive also been building my social media since Facebook and Instagram opened (yes I’m a lot older) and know I’ve authentically build a trusted niche following. I’m so glad you’ve raised these points as it was about time PR’s looked further than just numbers.

    I’ve also suffered on press trips with journalists but I just try to do my best and make the most out of the experience. It can be difficult I do agree.

    At the end of the day, I started story telling because I love sharing and helping people with my experiences. I think as long people are creating these channels with good intentions rather than attempting for insta-famous status, the true bloggers will stand the test of time.

    Keep up the great work! I love reading your posts 🙂

    X Phoebe

  5. 21st April 2017 / 7:36 am

    I’ve been a publicist for 6 years and a fashion blogger for 3 and I must say this is spot on.

  6. karen278
    20th April 2017 / 6:49 pm

    Well written and very topical, I built my blog organically and I take the utmost care with every post I craft and publish – I agree with your letter almost 100% but would say that comments are not always an indication whether a blog is read and not read; my comments have gone down recently, but I can see by my traffic and bounce rate that I’ve still got the same engagement and some readers prefer to email me……but other then that, I agree and bravo for writing this open letter! Karen

  7. 20th April 2017 / 4:12 pm

    That’s a beautifully comprehensive write-up of the frustration I’ve been feeling. London-Unattached is a reasonably well established blog. We try to deliver quality content, we try to grow our following and we try to preserve our own brand integrity. But, it’s not about having the most followers – that’s a bit like comparing Vogue with Hello. Of course Hello has more readers, but are they the right audience for your client or product. Nor is usually about social media – for all but the most ephemeral of products and services, social media should be a support mechanism NOT the main deal.

    I haven’t had a problem being on press trips with journalists. But, I do some freelance writing too, so perhaps that is why? And, I have some misgivings about bloggers expecting to be paid for trips – partly because there seems to be little recognition that when you first start a blog your value to a PR or Brand may be limited by your reach and partly because we DO compete against journalists for slots on press trips etc.

    But, broadly, I agree with what you say and applaud you for saying it so loud and clear!

  8. 20th April 2017 / 2:21 pm

    Really enjoyed this read! Since starting my blog, I’ve had so many brands expecting so much work to such tight deadlines and specifications for free- its unfair. I’ve started to say no to a lot of unpaid work unless i’m really passionate about it and I feel much better for it! Its hard being a small blogger- everyone wants something for free! But slow and steady right! 🙂

    Great post 🙂 xx

    http://sophiekirby.com/

  9. 20th April 2017 / 11:54 am

    Wow what a great and insightful read Jess! I totally missed the events that unfolded on Twitter over the weekend and only heard about it at an event in Manchester last night. I find Instagram so incredibly frustrating because I genuinely love my feed and the content I produce but my organic growth is slow which is annoying when you watch accounts grow at 20x your speed for reasons which you have already mentioned. But however long and however slow the process takes, I will keep persevering because I love my little piece of the internet and it gives me such joy knowing that everything I do and produce is organic 🙂 Maggie xx

  10. 20th April 2017 / 8:10 am

    I absolutely love this post! And couldn’t agree more there are so many bloggers putting amazing content out that just aren’t being recognised as much because of their following count we need look beyond that!
    http://www.katiemariephillips.com

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:11 am

      Hi Katie! Thanks so much for your positive comment. I hope this post makes people realise there is so much more to it than follower count! Everyone deserves to be recognised for hard work and good content. xx

  11. 20th April 2017 / 2:47 am

    Such a great post Jess! As someone who has also been on all sides, from a blogger perspective, a large agency perspective, and a freelance perspective too, all of these things are so important! Especially differentiating bloggers from journalists. I went on a press trip with journalists last year and I found it super difficult to get good quality content because I was constantly worrying that I was pissing off the journos. It was also really hard to get photos of me on the trip (I think I have 3 or 4 from a week long trip?), because they were so bad at taking photos :/ It makes such a big difference when other bloggers are on the trip because everyone actually understands what style of photos we need and helps each other out with creating content!

    The only thing I slightly disagree with is the comments on blog posts – I’ve been blogging for nearly six years now, and even though all of my blog posts get 1000s of pageviews and my blog gets good traffic, I’ve just never really had LOADS of comments on my posts. It makes me feel really rubbish, but then I look at my affiliate account and the conversions in that and it reminds me that my blog IS useful and hundreds of people a month do convert through my blog posts (one lovely lady even sent me a message saying she’d booked an entire 10k honeymoon based off my recommendation)! The thing with commenting on blogs is a lot of it is reciprocal, or people in commenting groups. As someone who has a full time job as well as my blog, I barely have time to write my own blog posts let alone comment on lots of other people’s posts…so for me I just don’t think I’ll ever be one of those with loads of comments on my posts, but I don’t think it means my blog gets any less traffic than other blogs with more comments.

    C x

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:15 am

      Hi Catherine! Thanks so much for your comment, it’s great to hear your thoughts. Glad you can relate re the press trips, people who have worked on both sides seem to totally get it. That’s really interesting what you say about the comments too. Maybe my statement was too extreme as I know your blog is totally legit! I don’t really comment on any other blogs but I know this is something I should spend more time on x

      • 21st April 2017 / 1:54 am

        Definitely! I always love working with PR’s who are also bloggers as they really understand what we need.

        I’m the same, I know I don’t comment enough and I do think it hurts my blog and what other bloggers think of me, but it’s so hard when you’re working a full time job with your blog just as your hobby (as you well know!). There just isn’t enough time for it all 🙁

        C x

  12. 19th April 2017 / 10:30 pm

    Really well written and I agre with everything you said. Hope this goes viral in the PR realms. Well done xx

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:17 am

      Thanks so much Emily! I have sent it to Gorkana and Vuelio to be shared so hopefully it goes in front of all the right PRs xx

  13. 19th April 2017 / 8:50 pm

    Great letter! It’s pretty much sums everything up, and I couldn’t agree with you more about the content over metrics argument. Lets hope that the message gets spread 🙂

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:25 am

      Ahh I am so pleased to hear this Mehreen! Thank you for your support! Hope the message spreads xx

  14. twobluepassports
    19th April 2017 / 7:35 pm

    Hi Jess! Thanks so much for this letter. I started my blog in July of last year and an Instagram account in tandem. I’ve witnessed other Instagram accounts grow 10x the rate and at times have felt discouraged. It wasn’t until I became aware of these “bots” or follow/unfollow methods where I was able to let go. And you’re right, Instagram for sure isn’t everything. It’s one great way to promote your content, but if you’re a blogger, Instagram is not your main game. You want to use it to drive traffic to the blog. Thanks so much for sharing and I completely agree that PRs need to look beyond the social numbers; audience size and page views as well as the growth rate of those metrics say a lot more. xx Morgan

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:28 am

      Hi Morgan! Please don’t be disheartened by seeing other people surpass you in terms of metrics! Growing an organic following takes time and there is no shortcut. You can be confident in the knowledge that your smaller, real audience is far more valuable than their fake bought following. Focus on things like good SEO too to boost your blog traffic. Xx

  15. 19th April 2017 / 5:43 pm

    Such a brilliantly written letter. Especially the point about the long term value of blogs – it’s something I harp on about all the time and often get ignored. But the value of traffic and blog hits goes well beyond likes on an instagram. So many great points – really fairly and honestly outlined.

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:29 am

      Hi Jen, thank you so much for your supportive comment! Glad you still consider traffic to be as important as me. I hope other PRs to do xx

  16. LuxeStyle
    19th April 2017 / 5:39 pm

    I loved this post Jess – totally agree with all the points that you’ve made. I really hope PRs will start to ensure that the bloggers they work with are genuine. The amount of fakery that has been going on recently has been so sad and so unfair on those who work so hard to be genuine x

    LuxeStyle

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:31 am

      Hi LuxeStyle! So pleased you agree with my points. The fakery isn’t fair, and we genuine ones have to stick up for ourselves and support one another! Thought it was time to take a stand xx

  17. 19th April 2017 / 5:39 pm

    Such a good post! I’ve been blogging for 2 years now but also work agency side doing content and PR. I completely agree that bloggers absolutely need to be paid but I also think we get caught up in thinking lack of payment is down to brands or agencies being cheap. What the influencer side sometimes fails to understand is the issues brands/agencies face around white hat SEO and it’s not always easy to pay without facing penalties from Google. The problem with paid links vs paying to work with great quality influencers is still very muddied and I’m sure this is a huge part of the issue. I know I face this fight with brands and influencers everyday.

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:35 am

      Hi Lucy! Thanks so much for your positive comment. I am sure you can totally see both sides because of your job. Great point about the links. I agree there are still lots of blurred lines as if brands are paying for links they need to be nofollow. Google also is now saying any links connected to freebies or gifts should also be nofollow. It’s hard to keep up for both brands and bloggers! Hopefully as things evolve things will become more cut and dry. x

  18. 19th April 2017 / 5:07 pm

    Jess, you couldn’t have said this better! If there was an applause emoji on my keyboard I would press it 100 times!Well said sister!

    I was peacefully having a nice weekend on Easter and then when I logged in on social media on Monday I found messages on twitter accusing me that I have bought my Instagram followers which left me gutted as I have never done something as such and I am the one who always suggest to PRs to use Social Blade when they ask me about the ‘authenticity’ of a blogger’s account.

    To make a long story short, I checked my Instagram account on Social Blade and I had a tiny peak just before Xmas, which was the day Joules Clothing and The White Company BOTH re-posted one of my images featuring a scarf from Joules Clothing, a mug from The White Company and mince pie (from Tesco in case anyone asks) on their accounts! It makes absolute sense that out of their combined 350k followership some would follow me back! I was so furstrated that people accused me I had to post about it on Instagram yesterday, the result? Bloggers unfollowed me because they thought I am not genuine!!!

    I am so furious since Monday but decided not to let it get into me because at the end of the day I know how much I am working on Natbee’s or not and how genuine my content and followers are. The lesson is that people very easily would jump on the judging train!

    Thanks for writing this excellent piece! Also totally agree about the part of having journalists and bloggers on the same press trip 😉 No chance to cover everything in the same time that a journalist would do!

    xo
    Anastasia
    http://www.natbees.com

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:44 am

      Hi Anastasia! Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing this. I can imagine its horrible to be falsely accused especially when you’ve worked so hard on everything. The odd spike is totally explainable due to re grams from brands as you said. You know the truth and that’s what matters. Although others were accused and the patterns made it very obvious there was foul play. Let’s focus on producing quality and honest content 🙂 xx

      • 20th April 2017 / 1:16 pm

        Thanks Jess. I am giving a talk at the Scottish CIPR conference today, so I will make sure to mention a few of your points, trying to get the message across all the PRs attending the event-obviously I am going to mention your article in case people want to come back and read in depth. Once again thanks for sharing!
        xx

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:48 am

      Thank you Reena! I really appreciate your comment and your support! xx

  19. 19th April 2017 / 4:36 pm

    The bit I loved was putting bloggers and journalists apart. I’m lucky enough to be a blogger, working in PR as well as having worked as a journalist. They are completely different jobs and both can offer something different.
    Whilst it’s sad that brands maybe don’t understand to pay yet (thinking of it as a photographer and model in one can help), blogging is still a very new industry compared to journalism so it will catch up eventually. It just takes time! But fab post from someone who very clearly understands both sides (and isn’t ‘just’ a PR or ‘just’ a blogger slagging each other off!)

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:51 am

      Hey Kara! It’s really interesting to see comments from bloggers who also work in PR. This seems to be quite a frequent thing. I think it’s a really fair point that blogging is still so new and brands need time to acclimatize to this new industry. I think as long as we continue to stand our ground brands will begin to adjust. Really pleased the post came across in the way I hoped it would x

  20. Tami
    19th April 2017 / 4:32 pm

    Ultimately, I think because bloggers and journalists are separate entities, like you’ve said, in which case PR companies or companies with PR teams need to realise that there needs to be a specific blogger/influencer team branched off of PR within the business to focus on everything blogger related.

    I’m a blogger (have been for 6 or 7 years now) and a PR, and I’ve done this where I work, purely because I know how the blogging industry works, and I’m able to communicate with them on a level that’s a little more personal. I wouldn’t say I disagree with your article, but I’d definitely say that PRs were initially there for journalists and the PR industry is only just catching up with the massive impact that blogging has on the world, so there is still a lot of change to be made. There is still a lot of education to be done when it comes to the blogging industry, and vice versa.

    Regardless, I think it’s a great article, and something for businesses to consider, moving forward. 🙂

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 10:58 am

      Hi Tami, thanks for your comment! Totally agree teams could branch into blogger PR and classic media PR. I think having a blog yourself and understanding the industry from both sides would make an excellent PR as you are sensitive to the struggles on both sides. I think that’s what I took away from my time at the agency. Blogging is still such a new industry in the grand scheme of things so in a way we need to be patient and give the brands time to catch up. Thank you for your support!

  21. 19th April 2017 / 3:14 pm

    Great article! I am a PR and I also write my own blog and think this is spot on. Where I work, we work so hard to contact bloggers that are the right fit for our brands and vice versa. We look at more than just total number of followers -we look at their engagement, content they’re posting and how often they post on their blog as well as the quality of all their posts.

    A lot of times we’ll also tailor our events – we’ll have one for influencers and another for journalists because we know that the bloggers/influencers will be taking photos, tweeting, etc and it’s important to accommodate this. Not that journalists won’t be doing this, but bloggers and influencers take all their own images and it’s important to let them take their time to get the best results. It’s worked out really well having separate events for both that are run a little bit different.

    Bloggers work so hard to create a lot of different types of content, which is really respectable and it’s unfair when someone who buys their following and cuts corners. Thanks for writing this! From a PR and blogger perspective I really couldn’t agree with you more.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Jessica
      20th April 2017 / 11:00 am

      Hi Colleen! Thanks so much for your comment, it’s great to hear thoughts from people that work in PR. There have been lots of people commenting from that perspective which is great. It sounds like you’re doing all of the right things and obviously you have a great understanding of the blogger side seeing as you also have your own blog! Thank you for your support – please feel free to share this with your PR colleagues! x