Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blogging 101 for Publicists

I deal with many publicists. And, I appreciate the vast majority of them. They give me great tips on new products, and when I write about the ones I like, their client gets free publicity. Its a win-win.

This blog post is my PSA for the other remaining few PR professionals who seem to have missed the memo explaining what a blog is and how it works. (Go on, drink up… this one’s on me.)

I recently raved about a new product I received from a publicist. Her client has a wonderful liquor, and I was so inspired by it that I did something I very rarely do… I dropped everything and wrote glowingly about it, immediately.

Lesson #1: Be happy it got written about, especially if it’s a rave review.

As you can see in this photo, I have about a dozen awesome products, right this minute, on my “to-do” shelf. Some have been there for 3 weeks. I will get to them, eventually… (as I will my two monthly columns, follow up on a pitch to a national magazine, edit the manuscript of my book just back from the publisher, and film / edit more content for the new “vlog” element of The Liquid Muse.)

So, imagine my surprise when I got an email from said publicist reprimanding me for glorifying her client’s product. She wrote:

My issue is that you didn't fact check and didn't tell me you were posting until the info was live.”

Ex-squeeze me? You have an “issue?”

Lesson #2: Here’s how blog posting works:

You send me a concise email with the intriguing things you want me to know about a product, along with a photo and product sample. Then, if so moved, I will write about it. As a courtesy, I usually let you know once it has been posted. End of story.

I can only attribute the “fact checking” remark to my proclamation that the wonderful new product was about to be unleashed upon the world. In her complaint, she squaked about it already having its first bottles hit a handful of stores, a couple of months ago, in one U.S. state. Uh, yeah...

Lesson #3: A blog is global.

Considering that Sipsters are as far flung as Singapore, Turkey and South Africa, I am not sure that the rest of the world finds it terribly convenient – or of great interest – to know that something is available in one area of one state on the other side of the world. (Pssst… this is why I use links. Interested parties can look up any details they wish. They even know how to order online. Technology rocks.)

This particular publicist also chastised me for (gasp!) using a photo I took myself. I did not get a photo with the pitch. And, even if I did, I may have chosen not to use it. I usually prefer professional photos over my own, but I also don’t have time to wait for one. I get pitched new products several times per day. I don’t have the manpower, enough memo pads or memory cells to keep an eye out for a photo of a liquor that may come in a couple of weeks. Grab the great review and run. I may not get back around to your clients for a while.

Lession #4: The blogger has the final say.

Think of a blog as a publication. Now, realize that the blogger is the Senior Editor, Publisher and Art Director, rolled into one.

The clincher in the offensive email was this person’s feeling that she was doing me a favor, rather than realizing that it is, in fact, the other way around. This condescending line stuck like a bone in my throat:

I treat you like a journalist, and thus expected a rapport like what I have with serious journalists.”

Umm... considering my bylines appear in national and regional print an
d online publications, most actually consider me a journalist, thank you very much. It would be appropriate to “treat me” as such. I was also a bit insulted – on behalf of myself and other bloggers – at the implication that bloggers are somehow lowlier than journalists, and not to be taken as seriously. Ironically, most bloggers I know are far more informed about a specific topic than the majority “staff writers.” And, believe me when I tell you that many of those “serious journalists” rip-off content from our blogs, on a regular basis, because we have become the experts in our niches.

Lesson #5: Understand the difference between a blog post and a magazine article.

Being a professional writer includes having the skill to change writing style, tone - and even the rules - when writing for any particular outlet. My blog "voice" is completely different from my magazine articles. I use the “first person,” spout my opinions and am influenced by my own biases. Its a free-form arena. I write exactly the way I want to, when I want to, about what I want to. If you like my style, pitch me your clients. If you don’t, there are a whole slew of other cocktail bloggers out there. Have at ‘em. Or, better yet, forget the Internet and stick with print.

Lesson #6: Become acquainted with what I call “the power of the blog.”

You see, back in 2005, when I held my final “salary job,” I was a restaurant publicist. Our PR firm had begun pitching food bloggers. At the time, I didn’t totally get what a blog was – but I knew it tapped into a valuable demographic many print publications didn’t reach. When I finally “hopped the fence” to write full time, in January 2006, the first thing I did was launch The Liquid Muse where I blogged, daily, because I had become so passionate about spirits, wine and cocktails. I took a 100% pay cut. Even today, my blog is a labor of love. The fact that thousands of people, every month, stop by to get their cocktail updates at The Liquid Muse is of huge personal satisfaction to me, and provides a valuable service to both the liquor companies and the readers, if I do say so myself. And, my readers know I’m not stifled by editors, publicists or advertisers. This is the power of the blog.

Lesson #7: Print is dying. Be nice to bloggers.

You see, friends, paper and ink publications will one day be a thing of the past. I’m not saying I like it. I don’t. I love cuddling up with a book, poring over a magazine and flipping through the Sunday paper. But, every single major publication now has a website. And, guess what else they are rapidly incorporating? Yes, BLOGS! And, there is someone writing those blogs. Guess who? Let’s say it all together, now… BLOGGERS! If you are a publicist who has not yet educated yourself with a healthy respect for blogs, it would behoove you to do so. Unless you want to go the way of the dinosaurs, along with print, and take your clients down with you.


Darcy said...

Good post. I'm not a fan of publicists as they tend to only look out for their best interest. I'm sure there are some great ones, but like this post shows, a lot of them believe they are doing us a favor by providing "copy" and a picture. Obviously, real content isn't important to them, just their biased "message".


DC Jeff said...

Great post. Said publicist should appreciate you not naming names. :) But, I will accept a private email so avoid the product she represent. ;) said...

Yes - it is amazing to me when blogs / bloggers aren't recognized as the major players that they've become in viral marketing, branding and trend setting efforts.

Honestly, I think most companies are really coming around to that realization. But, the few individuals straggling behind are not doing their products any favors.

And, no, I won't bad mouth anyone by name. Its not a personal vendetta that I have as much as its a professional woe.

I have great respect for wine makers, liquor companies, and such. I keep the rude publicist and the product separate in my mind because I really like the product she's peddling.

Anita said...


I think you've hit on one of the big reasons -- aside from wanting to maintain editorial innocence -- that many bloggers refuse to accept samples.

I'd add Lesson #8: Understand (at least the basics about) the audience of the blogger you're targeting. We get pitched at least once a week by agencies repping products that are of zero interest to our readers. Recent gems have included artificially flavored vodkas, pre-mixed 'cocktails' in a can, and other [ahem] tempting delights. I know they have to ask *someone*, but even the most cursory read of our blog would inform them that we're not going to bite.

That Guy at the Bar said...

What a great post. I've experienced the same. My opinion is just that, MY opinion. A few people are amused enough to read me and many agree. I don't need the help of a publicist to write my opinions, but I've certainly been encouraged to defer to their editorial preferences. It just doesn't work that way!

Chubbypanda said...

Oh snap! I want to print, frame, and place this post in my study so I can look at it every time one of those snippy publicists sends me an email. I was once invited to the soft opening of a dessert place and arrived on time only to learn that they wouldn't be ready for another two hours. The publicist's tone was that we should be grateful for having been invited in the first place. If we wanted our free desserts, we should just wait meekly in front of the restaurant. Needless to say I left immediately.

A lot of publicists, professional food writers, and celeb chefs seem to have the mistaken impression that food bloggers are wannabe food critic mouth-breathers who don't have lives. Yet the vast majority of the LA and OC food bloggers who I know are highly successful, driven people usually employed in IT or Engineering. We write to relieve stress, and for the sheer pleasure of it. Because we have a genuine passion for the material, we are often niche experts, and we do a better job in our chosen subject than the pro writers out there.

camper said...

You tell 'em. I've never had that sort of experience from a blog post, surprisingly. I did have it from a newspaper story once, where I responded, "My job is not to parrot your brand message."

Damyanti said...

I agree with all the seven lessons...but then, I am a loyal reader, not a publicist:)

I love your blog for the reviews you write, and your vocal, charming personality that filters right through!

Kristyn said...

As a publicist and fellow blogger, I totally agree with your points. The publicist in question is certainly naive to the way blogging works. You take the good with the bad and you're thankful for the coverage you do receive. By the way, I have a great wine for you. JK :)

Kristyn said...

As a publicist and fellow blogger, I totally agree with your points. The publicist in question is certainly naive to the way blogging works. You take the good with the bad and you're thankful for the coverage you do receive. By the way, I have a great wine for you. JK :)