We’ve talked recently about how companies can use blogs to circumvent the press and speak directly to their customers. But even so, the press and blogs are important information gateways that everyone has to deal with (otherwise, we’d be out of work!). Bloggers especially have become trusted sources of information, opinion, and analysis for many consumers, so knowing how to pitch them properly to get your news out and get it heard the way you want is imperative for companies and PR people.
In May of 2007, a rumor published on the gadget blog Engadget about the then unreleased iPhone caused Apple’s market cap to plummet $4 billion in a matter of minutes. Blogs having this much power is something new, though, so pitching bloggers is a relatively unfamiliar and ill-defined practice.
A recent survey conducted by a PR firm of Asia-Pacific bloggers (PDF) found that 84% of bloggers welcome contact from PR firms or companies. But it is important to know how best to approach a blogger to have the best chance of being heard. A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a public relations professional just getting her feet wet dealing with bloggers about how best to pitch this new media breed. I thought I’d share some tips about how I prefer to be contacted.
Don’t Cold Call — Email First
Bloggers are a busy bunch and we generally like to put as much of our time and effort as possible into actual research or writing. If the phone is ringing non-stop all day, it cuts into our writing time. In April I attended the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, and in the month or so running up to the conference I was apparently put on a press list that was distributed to PR reps whose companies were attending. After about a week of non-stop, unsolicited phone calls, I quickly learned to ignore my ringer. Had I actually taken every call I received, I wouldn’t have been able to get any writing done. In other words — calls became such a distraction that they interfered with my job and as a result they became the worst way to pitch me.
Further, some of the people pitching clearly hadn’t read the blog I was writing for. Every once in awhile, I may not mind a phone pitch if it is coming from someone whom I’ve worked with before or if the news is really interesting, but I fielded a ton of voice mail messages from people pitching products that my blog would never in a million years cover. If you’re going to bother a blogger with a cold call, at least be 100% certain it is something he or she will want to cover.
At SitePoint, the best way to pitch us news or information about a new web application is to email it to firstname.lastname@example.org — your message will get to both myself and Managing Editor Matt Magain.
Engage Us In Our Natural Habitat
The same survey I mentioned earlier also found that email was by far the most preferred method of contact for bloggers. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to engage us where we hang out. Bloggers are usually social media junkies — so we’re probably avid users of services like Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, Flickr, Twitter, del.icio.us, and Digg.
We don’t usually want to be pitched via these sites, unless we have a previous relationship with you, but joining our conversation where we roam can help to get you on our radar. Do your due diligence and find out where the blogger you’re pitching hangs around, then comment on his or her photos or links, answer questions, and send a friend request.
Personalize Your Communications
This can’t be said enough: make sure you’re pitching the right place. One more time: make sure you’re pitching the right place. If you’re representing a company that just launched a social network for iguana enthusiasts, there’s a 99% chance that pitching me at SitePoint won’t get you very far. Know who you’re pitching to and make sure you’re sending them something they might be interested in.
Beyond that, take some time and read the blog or blogger you’re pitching. 9 times out of 10, the email pitches that stick out in my mind are the ones that reference my previous blog posts and relate them to what’s being pitched. If I feel that you actually know who I am and read what I write, I’m more likely to pay attention to what you’re trying to tell me.
Offer An Exclusive
Blogging is a ceaseless trade, and with an extremely shortened news cycle, being first can be a huge advantage in our quest for page views. So, offering an exclusive on your news greatly ups the chances that we’ll cover it.
Just be sure not to pitch news to one blogger while promising an exclusive to someone else. (Note: If your story is a dud, an exclusive won’t save it.)
Pitch An Angle
Another way we know you’re really a reader: give us an exclusive angle that matches our MO (i.e., if the blog you’re pitching does more analysis than breaking news, tell them why this news matters and how it will impact the industry). You may also want to consider connecting bloggers with customers and analysts ready to talk more about your news or product.
Pitching a unique angle accomplishes two things. 1. It raises your chances of getting coverage even if you gave an exclusive to someone else (or if your news has already saturated the tech blogosphere echo chamber). 2. It’s also a sneaky way to control the story and nudge us toward coverage on your terms (good bloggers will see through this, but we’ll still appreciate a unique take on your story).
If we want to talk on IM, be prepared to talk on IM. Skype? Phone? Email? Carrier pigeon? Let us talk to you in the method we’re most comfortable with and you’ll get a better story as a result.
Give Adequate Lead Time
Give us enough time to prepare. If a story is under embargo, don’t tell us about it 12 hours before the lift date. Ideally, 4-5 days lead time is appreciated. And if we agree to be briefed about a story under embargo, give us a hint at what it is about before we get on the phone with you. We’ll be able to ask better questions and the result will be a more complete post and less of a chance that we miss something major or screw up a detail.