Lindsay Robertson is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She currently contribute regularly to Jezebel.com and New York Magazine’s Vulture and Daily Intelligencer blogs. She has been an editor for Videogum.com – a site about TV, movies, and online video that was spun off from Stereogum.com. Lindsay also was the editor and helped to launch Comedy Central’s first blog, the Comedy Central Insider. She has written for multiple print and online publications, including GQ Magazine, Jane Magazine, Gawker.com, The New York Post, The Huffington Post, and The Black Table.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Online Publicity, For Some Reason
[This is long and obvious, but it’s been driving me nuts for years. So here is my Guide to Online Publicity (For Dummies).]
There’s a question that has been bugging me for years: why are 99% of publicists and promotion/marketing people complete useless failures when it comes to blogs and online outlets? I keep waiting for the industry to figure things out and catch up, but it never seems to happen. So I’m taking the time to write this guide. If you work in online PR or know someone who does, this is a must-read — NOT because my observations here are anything other than obvious to the bloggers and editors you’re targeting, but because they’re clearly not obvious, or even known, to seemingly most of your industry. So here are some things that are true, at least right now, and if you incorporate these concepts into your work, I promise, you will have far greater success. And also we will stop laughing at you and forwarding your emails around to each other in awe of your complete ineptitude (yep.) (Note: as someone who blogs mostly about pop culture, this guide is probably very skewed toward that field, but most of this advice is, again, so obvious to bloggers that it will probably ring true for all topics. Also, I use my own experience as examples, but not because I think I’m some sort of expert – this advice is pretty much on behalf of all bloggers.)
First, the Don’ts:
1. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE means FOR IMMEDIATE DELETE to any blogger with any influence. Period.
2. Do Not Publicize the Wrong Content: I get at least 40 emails per day asking me to listen to a band, or announcing an album or tour. These emails are often written in a convincingly personal manner, even though aside from a few personal blog posts about Neutral Milk Hotel and the Mountain Goats and my ex boyfriend’s band, I have never written about music or worked for a music blog. Just because you see me on Stereogum’s blogroll does not mean I write about music, and the most cursory research would make that obvious. Extrapolate from this lesson to all subjects, please, especially if your company also publicizes things the blogger actually IS into. I’ve put a lot of promotional companies in a direct-to-trash Gmail filter for this sin. I’d rather miss out on one item per year than clog my inbox with things I don’t care about.
3. Don’t Lie, Part 1: Similarly, this kind of thing (which I received yesterday from a real PR company) should never, ever be done. It’s all bullshit, of course, but I’ve bolded the outright lies:
How are you doing? I checked out your site and I love everything you have going on there. I also checked out your other sites you posted as well. You have a lot of my favorite bands and even some I didn’t know of, but now discovered thanks to you.
I have an artist that I hope YOU will enjoy…
It’s best when pretending to write a personal email, you don’t reveal yourself to be a total phony. (Also, though I enjoy them in a FAIL way, please don’t send emails that begin “Dear Perez.”)
4. Don’t Lie Part 2: Stop Being Days Behind on Your Own Announcements, And Don’t Try to Cover it Up
Don’t wait on announcing new content – the blogosphere will find it on its own (we have these things called google alerts). Or worse, for the love of god, do not EVER send an email saying that something has just been posted (like a movie trailer, for example – this happens daily), when it’s actually been on the internet for more than, say, an hour. If you’re sending it to anyone with any idea what they’re doing, they saw your trailer (and, often, posted it on the blog you’re trying to court) DAYS AGO. And if for some reason they, I don’t know, took one day off from the internet and actually BELIEVE you that something is new and post it when it’s not, they will hate you and your company forever. Forever.
5. Mass Emails: Bad
Mass emails in general, UNLESS they’re from the artist his or herself or are sent to a carefully tended list of people with both a demonstrated interest in the subject matter and a seeming lack of prior knowledge of the news in question (and yes, you have to check) are generally frowned upon. The fact that this is not obvious is sad.
So now that that takes care of what 99% of online PR people do all day — and now that they have to stop it, what should they be doing? Is anyone out there actually doing online PR right? I can think of several people who are — and they all have the following Dos in common. One publicist in particular has impressed me enough that she basically single-handedly inspired this blog post. I won’t use her name because I suspect that a lot of what she does on behalf of her clients probably breaks the stringent rules-of-assured-suckage that most large companies enforce to their detriment, but over the years I’ve seen this person work nothing less than PR magic, often when she’s given very little to actually work with, and she’s been promoted accordingly. Here’s what I’ve learned from her.
1. Research is worth it: a site’s demonstrated interest in, or similar sensibility with, your topic is far more important than that site’s traffic.
Obviously, this is more of a formula (the site has to have a certain amount of traffic, obviously, to even be worth the time) than a strict rule, but not knowing about the sites you’re targeting isn’t just a momentary waste of your time and theirs: it can have a measurable long-term affect on you and your company’s credibility. If you keep ignoring their needs and shouting false alarms, like the little boy who cried wolf, eventually, your target editors and bloggers will simply tune you out.
2. Pick Eight Blogs
I went to drinks with the Brilliant Online Publicist one night, and asked her how she did such a good job while everyone else was failing. I was also curious about why she chose to invest so much time in the then pretty new (partially) TV-focused site I co-edited – frequently sending me emails about what was going on on one of her client’s shows at that very second, and asking me if I was interested in a clip. In probably the majority of cases, she’d nailed something that I actually was interested in, but hadn’t seen, because I was blogging constantly and couldn’t watch every goddamned TV show. With me, this publicist had a success rate of probably 60%, because she chose her content carefully and made sure it fit my needs. I’m sure she had a similar success rate with her other seven blogs.
Was she clairvoyant? No: she just actually READ MY BLOG and knew the kind of things I liked to write about. How did she have time to give so much attention to the needs of a then relatively small website? She told me her secret: she only publicizes to eight blogs. She picked the eight blogs that covered her client’s subject, TV, that she liked the most on a personal level, read them religiously, and only sent them only the content she thought each blog would be into. While the rest of the publicists in her company were sending out mass emails to everyone, hoping to get bites from Perez Hilton, Gawker, HuffPo, or wherever, this publicist focused on a lower traffic tier with the (correct) understanding that these days, content filters up as much as it filters down, and often the smaller sites, with their ability to dig deeper into the internet and be more nimble, act as farm teams for the larger ones. A site can be enormously influential without having crazy eyeballs, because all eyeballs are not equal. MANY times – I would say almost every time, that I posted one of her client’s items on my site, they were linked back within hours by the big guys, who probably would have tuned her out otherwise. As counter-intuitive as it might seem to publicists, the “pick eight blogs” (or however many, but a manageable number) strategy is much more successful than the throw it against the wall and see what sticks theory. It also has the added benefit of making the publicist feel like his or her hard work is meaningful, and that his or her successes are not flukes.
3. A blogger’s resistance to marketing/publicity is directly proportionate to his or her influence as a blogger.
Bloggers depend on the trust of their readers. Publicists depend on the trust of their bloggers. If someone is putting up everything you send, that blogger probably has zero influence (and might even be a spam bot.)
4. A Monkey Can Send a Mass Email: Build Relationships and Understand What Your Real Job Is
I don’t know why one of the oldest truisms of publicity, marketing, salesmanship, and basically every other field is ignored by online publicists: it’s about relationships! I’m not talking about bloggers having fragile egos, here — it doesn’t bother my ego one bit when a publicist spells my name wrong or writes me an obvious form letter or makes the “Dear Perez” gaff. I can find my own content without the help of any publicist — any blogger worth his or her job can. I just get annoyed that my time has been wasted. If a publicist shows that they know what they’re doing, the resulting surprise on behalf of the blogger/reporter/editor will lead to more attention paid to that publicists offerings. Duh. I can’t believe I even have to point this out, but publicity and blogging are (or can be, ideally) symbiotic relationships that will only be successful if the publicist considers the needs of the other party as much as their own. A publicist should ask him or herself not “How can I get my news/content on a blog?” but “What news/content do I have that this blogger will want, but doesn’t even know it yet? And especially: what do I have that’s better than what this blogger has already found on his or her own?” To paraphrase the famous Dale Carnegie quote: when you go fishing, you don’t put what you want (strawberries) on the line, you dangle what the fish wants (worms). Duh to that. Duh to this whole thing, really, but it needed to be said.