As a food blogger, I get a lot of PR emails: requests to check out new books, invitations to try certain foods, offers to take trips to other parts of the country or world.
At first, I was flattered—you like me! You care what I think! You'll send me a whole case of gelato!)—now I'm more skeptical. I'm finding that the topics I'd organically write about are seldom the things someone wants to send my way.
Reading this, you may think my beef's with the off-topic product offers, that I'm going to tell you I'm annoyed with those publicists who don't notice our dietary restrictions and offer us pork, or who don't read our “About” page and address me as Shannon. On the other hand, you may think I dislike the bloggers who accept these offers and how their posts feel disingenuous and inauthentic and bought. I'm not.
The truth is, I have no problem with product offers, nor with bloggers who take them (we do). I note, but don't really care that much, when you, as a PR person, don't call me by name. It's OK with me if you don't read my blog. It's fine if you're emailing me in a list of hundreds. I respect you for seeing the value in my platform, and I like that you're trying to get the word out about your product. I especially like it when I tell you, like I always will, that I can't guarantee to write about your company, but you're welcome to send the products my way, and you do.
But here is what bugs me: There are still so many brands that aren’t like the ones I just described—that don't see the value in blog press.
And I don't understand why.
Sure, a big-box retailer will send my husband and me across the country to be wined and dined while we tour their salad fields; but when we get back and I reach out to a local farmer (whose practices I already support) about giving them some free coverage, they don't respond. And yes, we may regularly receive cookbooks from major publishing houses soliciting our reviews; but then, when I find a food memoir I'm interested in and email the publicist, she asks for blog stats and then stops responding—because I'm too small a fish, I take it.
What's going on?
I mean, if you were a Nashville bakery and The Tennessean emailed, asking to interview you for a feature piece, would you hit delete? What if it was a smaller weekly—would you blow them off for being too small? If you launched as a graphic designer and a community business said they'd keep your cards by their checkout counter, why would you decline?
Why you’re saying no
I'm not a PR professional or a publicist, so I can only conjecture, but the way I see it, there must be reasons for companies to turn down free publicity. So let’s look at some of the reasons that could be at work, along with problems with those views:
1. You look down on blogs
I recently had coffee with a friend, an aspiring journalist, who looks at blogs the way you and I might look at high school research papers: to her, they’re small, amateur, the work of people who lack experience and skill. She points out that anybody can blog, and the field is oversaturated.
Maybe she’s right. If a brand wants to be taken seriously, will blog reviews strengthen their messaging, or could the blogging format undermine it? If blogs are a lower level, it makes sense to pass on working with them.
The problem with this view:
Ignoring blogs might have seemed normal in 2005, but today that attitude won’t cut it. Not only are blogs an increasingly popular and powerful media outlet, but also bloggers draw loyal audiences of readers who trust what they have to say. Look at the big brands like Hallmark and Martha Stewart and Dole. If it’s influence you’re after, blogs are a good place to look.
2. You only deal with big blogs
Maybe it’s not blogs you have a problem with, per se. It’s the little blogs. You want your product or services to come across as elite, specialized, something only certain voices would be talking about or advertising. This is why brands choose Better Homes & Gardens instead of a local weekly, right? When you’re going after influence, you want it to be big.
The problem with this view:
In today’s rapidly changing Internet world, small blogs can become big blogs fast. It’s fine to decline a product request, but it’s not fine to burn a bridge—it could come back to bite you later. So when a small blogger contacts you about covering your brand and you want to decline, go ahead. But if you want to be smart, do it with grace, kindness, and generosity. They’ll remember.
3. You are busy/blogs are last priority
I know, you’re busy and overworked and get hundreds of emails every day, so you can’t be bothered to respond to every email. Maybe you build your days around prioritizing client needs and deadlines and the idea of working with bloggers slips to last place. That’s a fair excuse.
The problem with this view:
Are you sure you know what you’re overlooking when you ignore those blogger emails or requests? Authentic publicity from loyal customers with platforms is the best kind of publicity—the kind to which potential new customers are drawn. So if you’re going to turn it down, and especially if you’re not going to respond, be sure you know what you’re doing.
So now you tell me: Am I right? Why would you, as a PR professional, resist blogger press? What other reasons could be at work?
Also, what do you wish food bloggers like me understood? I’d love to hear from you—because unlike a lot of brands I love, I’m listening.
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer and food blogger. She's been talking about food to talk about everything else at her site, Food Loves Writing, since 2008.