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Do We Need PR?

Do We Need PR?

When I first started blogging, I read a bunch of posts about people being invited to PR events and felt envious, which is no doubt what the posts were about, because otherwise I cannot imagine what else they would be about. The wonders of air freshener? Parties that you have to spend three hours driving across town to get to? Two years later, I still don’t get invited to many PR events, though I do know the reason now has less to do with PR companies not being aware of my existence anymore and more to do with not being certain of the results they will get if they invite me to their events. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure I’m known in the PR World as a mommyblogger world as much as I might be as a personal finance blogger, since I don’t have mom, mommy or mother in my URL, and I’m on more PF blogrolls than I am on mommy blog lists, and I’ve never appeared on any kind of Top mommyblog anything list anywhere, and — let’s face it — it’s unlikely that I ever will.

At any rate, two years later, I still don’t get invited to many PR-related events. But every once in a while, I do, and I was recently invited to a series of events put on by a prestigious and well-known PR firm that is running an extremely well-executed campaign for a highly recognizable brand. And all of that stuff is the kind of thing that when you are starting out you really are envious about because you think that when that happens it means that you are somehow important as a mommyblogger, right? So I went to the event — telling Mr. Right-Click that it made sense to drag Mini across town in the middle of late afternoon LA traffic because this was the kind of thing that was supposed to be important to do, even though while I was doing it I could not really articulate why I thought it would be important, given the fact that I knew it would be unpaid and I was skeptical that this was a brand partnership that would pan out for me, my blog, or my kid for a variety of reasons.

The event was really well-executed and I cannot fault anything about the brand or the PR firm that put it on. They gave me a nice flip video thingy for going. But the thing is, I was right — the product isn’t a fit for me, and my son is too young to use it. I wrote to the PR firm to politely decline further invitations to the upcoming events for the campaign because I cannot see how I can justify spending more time on the project given this mismatch, and told them as much, because it seemed like the right thing to do. No harm, no foul.

But the whole thing got me thinking — even if I loved this product, why exactly do I need to do this kind of thing?

There was recently a big hullabaloo about PR in the mommyblogosphere, and I’m not going to link it because it was mostly boring and these kinds of things happen every other week so it doesn’t really matter, but the takeaway for me was this: why do we go to these PR events, exactly? Because it was nice of them to give me a flip video camera and everything but I already have one of those — it’s an older model, yes, but it still works and I don’t really use that one all that often. I definitely did not need to spend the time in traffic that day — not the fault of the product, but still a big pain in the ass for me. And I knew the event was unpaid, so I suppose I went with the theory that I might make some contacts at the PR firm that might be of worth with other projects in the future (more on that later), and that this would make the time investment worthwhile. But when I got there, everything is about the product at hand, and everything is so localized, I think you would really have to invest way too much time in going to these kinds of events to make that a realistic proposition. Or, perhaps in a city where traffic is less of a time-suck, this might be possible, but in LA it’s just not going to work.

I know there are people who do these kinds of things all the time, and I wonder what they get from them. Have they figured out a way to make them pay that I haven’t? Are they selling the flip cameras on eBay? Or do they just like talking to 22-year-old recent college graduates about technology over boxed wine in rented gallery space in Venice while balloon artists make things for toddlers more than I do? Am I being overly materialistic? I need to see a bottom line or else I need to get out. I want to see what I can get from the PR interaction that I cannot get anywhere else — it doesn’t need to be money, but it has to have value of some kind — information, interaction, connection, something. For me, that is not a flip video and the cultural capital to say that I went. I’m hoping that I’m not alone in this. I’m hoping that somebody can tell me what I’m missing.

Maybe PR Can Help Us Put Together Projects?

Here’s what I’d like to see PR companies do, if they would be willing. The Celtics and the Lakers are going to be in the NBA Finals, and maybe you guys have heard about it. Well, for those of you who don’t know already, my buddy arch enemy Jonna is a die hard Celtics fan, and I’m (naturally) a Lakers fan. So we’ve been trash talking each other in the weeks leading up to the finals on Twitter, and have kind of developed a following in the process, and now that the Finals are upon us, we’ve got a bunch of people who are literally tuned in to watch us “fight” on Twitter during the Finals series. It’s like our own little Twitter party — except, you know, witty and entertaining and worthwhile for our followers to watch.

So we thought (well, I thought, and Jonna pretty much just went along with, because I’m the capitalist shill pig, and she’s the artiste) — I thought that we should get sponsors involved in this somehow. Now, this is where I thought PR would be useful. If we could just call up some company and be like, we need Glad or Hefty or somebody to sponsor a trash-talking twitter party or Gilette to sponsor this because we’ll cut a bitch, and then they make rain fall, now THAT would be awesome. That would be an awesome way for PR to work for us. I would hire a PR firm for that. I would pay a PR firm a commission for that. Or an ad network. Whomever. Whatever. I’m saying “PR Firm” because I’m guessing they are one of the two entities at present who know who exactly to call at Gillette to make something like that happen. I mean, if I had the time, I’d rather cut out the middleman and call them myself, since it’s my idea. Or, if Federated Media would quit dicking around already and just accept my application (because we all know that is what is going to happen eventually, even if it kills me and them in the process), I could get them to work on some of these side sponsorship projects for me, taking a hefty cut for themselves in the process. But you know — while those two proverbial irons are still resting in the fire, maybe we could talk to PR firms? Because the only other people are advertising firms and my experience with those people is that they are a little bit behind the times on social media and I DON’T HAVE TIME TO TEACH THEM BECAUSE THE FINALS BEGIN ON THURSDAY.

And Finally, Maybe We Do Need PR, But We Need To Hire Them, Not Work For Them

So then I was reading my regular blogs, and came across this tweet, which had then been blogged and reblogged and gleefully reblogged. And who can blame them? Because: 1) pretty much true; and 2) everybody knows that corporate America pays all the attention to the mommies and no attention to anybody else, for inexplicable reasons based on statistics that don’t really and shouldn’t really mean anything. But still, makes me wonder if maybe we should be hiring the PR firms instead of working for them.

Comments (31)

  1. Jun 2, 2010

    HA. I’m going to go with you are the smart one, and I am the totally clueless newb who’s all, wait, people make money on this? This HAPPENS?

    I think this goes back to the whole idea of who PR firms are serving and why. And think there IS an entire market being missed in terms of helping to match up bloggers with the right companies. Brands are missing out, and bloggers are missing out.

  2. Jun 2, 2010

    Right, which makes sense (re: the PR firms are employed by brands to get the brands’ message out, rather than to be of service to bloggers). So I guess what bothers me is: why do bloggers, particularly in this community, act like PR contacts are so freaking important and special, invites like these so coveted? Take this post, for example. Many, many people have read it, according to my stats. But you’re the only one who has commented. Is it because it isn’t interesting? Is it because it is too stupid to warrant further commentary? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

    My perception before going to the event was that it was probably going to be in the service of the brand and not likely going to meet any needs for me, and it turned out to be correct. Which is not the fault of the PR firm, of course, because that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. But what I want to know is, why is everybody getting their panties in a bunch about going to these things? Why are they taking pictures of cupcakes and sharing them on twitter? Why are they going to presentations on vacuum cleaners? Are they getting free vacuum cleaners also? Because if not, then I don’t get it?

    I recently found out that people weren’t even given those free washer and dryers — they were just LOANERS. Can you imagine?! Loaners! They move them into your house for a few weeks and then move them out! Why on earth would anyone agree to this?

  3. Jun 2, 2010

    Okay, I am so laughing at that tweet. ‘Cause I’m so easily amused. And can I have your old flip now? ‘Cause I’m never invited anywhere.

    And I don’t want your old flip as a loaner. I gots me some smarts. I wants to keep it.

  4. Jun 2, 2010

    This whole phenomenon is just so weird to me, but that’s probably because I work with PR people/am a marketing person, and really, we’re nothing special. So I don’t get the whole crazy enthusiasm that goes on, other than people like to feel like they’re one of the special/cool kids/chosen ones. Yes, free stuff can be cool. Yes, feeling like one of the chosen ones can be cool. Yes, being looked at as “important enough” can be cool. But really, those PR flacks don’t think you’re cool. You’re an instrument to get their client something. You’re part of their job.
    I just don’t get it.

  5. Jun 2, 2010

    Actually, I will let you have the new one, because it has BRAND XYZ emblazoned on it, and I’d rather use the old one.

  6. Jun 2, 2010

    Loaner washer/dryer sets, Ginger. LOANERS. Can you imagine the logistics of this, please? They have to come to your house, take out your old set, and what? Move it to your backyard or something? Put in the new set, then you write a post about it. Then a few weeks go by, and they come back for it, and maybe put your old set back, or you have the option of buying the new set?

    Is this PR, or a new version of try to buy, with free advertising built in?

  7. Jun 2, 2010

    Two blog friends of mine were recently invited to do a PR thing for a company they’d worked with in the past, and it was interesting to hear their different takes on the exact same event. One said, “I can’t believe they used up four hours of my time and only gave me a $50 gift card! I’m worth more than that!” and the other said, “It was a fun experience…” (the details aren’t mine to share, but it was more than just a meeting or a conference; it was definitely an “experience”) “…and it was fun to get a $50 gift card at the end for something I would have gladly done for free.”

    When it comes to blogging, I fall into the same camp as the latter woman (the fact that I’d blog for free means I try to look at anything extra as just that (generally)), but what that means is that I get to be choosy about reviews/ads/conferences/whatever because to me they’re not part of an overall PR strategy, they’re fun perks, and so I partner with companies I like and make compensation my secondary concern.

    So yes, for some people, a Flip or a box of snack crackers or a trip to a movie premier is plenty; for people who are trying to blog as a business, though, you’re right, the time and effort spent partnering with most PR firms isn’t worth it. It really depends, I think, on if you look at a $50 gift card as a gift or as income.

  8. Jun 2, 2010

    I am using so many all caps today. It’s frightening.

  9. Jun 2, 2010

    This explanation works for me if the event is something that is really an experience worth going to, taking time out of your day to go to, like something you would choose to do in your life. That’s also how I try to evaluate it as well, even though I consider this my career. Like an upcoming event involves a cirque du soleil thing and I was like, “OK, but I am not interested in cirque du soleil,” so I’m not going. So I get that part. If you like the idea of what they are doing, then go. Go see a free movie, whatever.

    But go see a presentation on vacuum cleaners? Have them put washers and dryers in your house for a few weeks? That’s where you start losing me.

  10. Jenna
    Jun 2, 2010

    I think there is a huge difference between getting PR Firm X to reach out to you because you blog, versus company in industry X reaching out to you because you blog about said industry. I’ve gotten a couple of freebies based on what I blog about and how it relates to what the industry is doing. Seems more personal that way.

    And GO CELTICS! (Sorry I had too!)

  11. Jun 2, 2010

    Hanging out with Jonna will do that to you. Half our DMs and chats consist of lots of ‘WHAT THE FUCK’-ing because, really, a person gets tired of stuff like *goggle* and *mind! is! blown*.

    Asterisks are too hard, man.

  12. Jun 2, 2010

    Agreed. And the slope gets slippery (slipperier?) when you start talking about a product/company a blogger KINDA likes, or maybe just likes enough to make it worth whatever compensation is offered. I might not like a restaurant enough to review it in exchange for a 20% coupon, but would I for a $50 gift card? What about a $100 gift card? What about an all-expenses weekend trip to the headquarters in a fun city? To some extent, everyone has her price, and where the blogging-for-stuff issue gets tricky is when we start expecting everyone to adhere to a single standard of what’s “appropriate compensation.”

    Likewise, what constitutes hardship varies widely. For some people, taking time out of their day to see a presentation on vacuums is no big deal or inconvenience if they think they’re going to get recognition/traffic/street cred out of it. (Whether they actually will is another topic; does anyone really care if Blogger X was “chosen” as “special” by Major Brand Y? Usually no.) And for some people, simply writing about a product in exchange for a freebie is a no-brainer, especially if they’re not worried about their credibility or online reputation. So…it’s tricky. Everyone has her price, and for an awful lot of bloggers, that price is very, very low. PR companies know this, which is why they say things like, “Oh, we don’t have to pay you to advertise for us because we can find desperate mommybloggers who will do it for free.” (Not a direct quote, but close.)

  13. Jun 2, 2010

    Well, if people would stop doing stupid shit, then we wouldn’t have to always be EMPHASIZING THE STUPID SHIT, am I right?

  14. Jun 2, 2010

    I think you are right. I’m worried that people do it for street cred though. I’m also concerned that some of the very same people you see running off at the mouth about PR is unimportant this and we don’t need PR that are the ones doing these crazy things! I mean, pick a stance and go with it, is all I’m saying. Because if you’ve been around for a while, then you’ve had a chance to go to these things and figure out where you stand for yourselves. But the newer people, they haven’t gone yet and they might be operating under the assumption that there’s some kind of wonderful thing that you get for going when NEWSFLASH NO, there isn’t, and that they don’t need to bother unless they really think it sounds like something they want to do. That it’s not going to get them anywhere.

  15. Jun 2, 2010

    Wow, I missed the loaner thing because, um, WHAT THE HELL? That’s just mind boggling. I don’t understand what anyone would think they’re getting out of that, except maybe the “I am a chosen one” piece. Because the logistics, my god, they hurt my head.
    Why anyone would agree to that one is beyond me.

  16. Jun 2, 2010

    I never, EVER, EVER get invited to shit because I am scary, VERY scary and you never know what I’m going to spew. Also I am not PR-friendly, much, so there’s that. But I’ve always wondered about the Secret Society of PR Bloggers. Because, obviously. AM CURIOUS.

    Then again, I work with Ford. Which is probably the weirdest thing EVER. (Also: I make 0 dollars off of it)(I am not smart, Anna, you know that).

  17. Jun 2, 2010

    I don’t have anything to add here because I have no personal experience, but I had to comment. I appreciate every post I read in regards to PR and blogs. Because of posts like these I know not to sell myself out, or worse, sell my blog out. I just wanted you to know I read your posts and find them very informative so thank you.

  18. Jun 2, 2010

    See, when I first saw the washer/dryer one, I thought they were getting it for free. And I was thinking, OK, now THAT is not a bad barter. Because that is like what, $2,500 retail in exchange for one post? NOT BAD.

    But then, come to find out that the person who wrote that post went out and bought the same washer/dryer set a few months later because said person liked it so much during the “free taste.” So then I start thinking . . . wait. Just how would a free taste of a washer/dryer set work, exactly? Because that is WHACK.

  19. Jun 2, 2010

    Well, I think it’s safe to say I won’t be invited to anything again anytime soon. Though I did write a really rather nice email (I thought) to the person who invited me to all this stuff, to which I have yet to receive a response.

    I don’t think it matters if you make money as long as you feel like you are getting something out of the partnership, my point is — what is it that these women are getting out of vacuum cleaner demonstrations? Because if it is just the right to say, “I was invited to go to a vacuum cleaner demonstration,” well — umm, that’s a problem. If they get a $700 vacuum, then . . . depending on how much time they have to spend, that might be a different story.

    It doesn’t have to be money. It might be that it’s a cause you believe in or that you get to do something you’ve always wanted to do. But bragging rights, that’s questionable to me.

  20. Jun 2, 2010

    Hi Steph:
    I think that the lack of information on PR and lack of actual money information is dangerous for exactly the reasons you mention. People who are new do not know exactly what is going on and who knows what it looks like from the outside — maybe it looks like we are all making millions of dollars without working, I don’t know. Maybe it looks like these PR relationships will lead to deals that facilitate that? And hell, maybe they do, but as far as I can tell they DO NOT. So I think it’s really dishonest to suggest that fame and fortune is behind these kinds of things when really it’s just cheap advertising for corporate America.

  21. Jun 2, 2010

    Actually because of the blogs I read I know full well how hard those who monetize work for what they have accomplished. I have so much respect for that. I am so thankful I found the blogs I did and that I read them (including yours) and take everything they say to heart both good and bad. I have very little interest in monetizing my blog. I have been blogging for fun since 2006 and I added a PR link THIS WEEKEND. For years I have read the ups and downs of everyone I could find. If more people did that there wouldn’t be all of this back and forth about social media and PR and who’s a sell out and who’s not and yada, yada, yada. As of this weekend I have AdWords on my blog. That’s as far as I am willing to take it at this point. My blog is simply my outlet and I like to write. At this point I don’t much care who reads it or likes it or doesn’t. Maybe someday I will take the plunge but for now I am soaking in all of the information so many of you so graciously share. So truly, thank you from the bottom of my heart for offering another view point for me to experience.

  22. Jun 3, 2010

    I read this yesterday but didn’t comment, because I have zero experience in this stuff. When I was an HR blogger, all of the pitches I got were for people who had written a book they wanted me to write about, or for consultants/speakers who wanted me to talk about their fabulosity.

    Now, as a genealogy blogger, the world is much smaller. I know that there are big genealogy sites that work with some of the more established genealogy bloggers, but it makes way more sense than the stuff you’re talking about. If Ancestry.com calls me and wants me to come see a demo of their new search tool, I’m going to go, because their product is an integral part of my research and I use it daily. There isn’t another one like it out there; it’s the only one of it’s kind (there are niche sites, but no other mega-site like Ancestry). It’s not like a vacuum cleaner or a washer or another consumer product where I have a zillion choices. I can’t imagine this sort of thing making sense unless there’s a very natural fit between the product and the blogger. For mass consumer products…it seems a little shot-in-the-dark to me.

    Also, I live in Milwaukee. I only know of one other blogger in Milwaukee. So nobody is coming out here to hold a vacuum cleaner demo. They’d have to hold it in a bar, because that’s how things are done here…and all the smoke in the bar would mess up the fancy vacuum cleaner machinery or something.

  23. Jun 3, 2010

    I’m sorry, I just kept re-reading the part about voluntarily driving down to Venice and getting side-tracked. I always got the impression we lived on the same side of L.A. and…I don’t know, there would have to be berkin bags covered in gold for me to voluntarily drive across L.A. As it is, I managed to whine my way out of flying out of LAX on business trips for all 5 years I was working there (Burbank for the win! I even spent 2 hours chatting with Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter there once).

  24. Jun 3, 2010

    Yeah, your niche is different because there’s a purpose to going to some of those things. The thing is, with the vacuum stuff, sometimes they will fly you in for these things. Like they will fly you to Boston to go to a TJ Maxx thing. But I’m thinking, let’s see there’s Boston, but then there’s TJ Maxx . . . that’s a tough one. How much time am I going to have to dick around in Boston and how much crap about TJ Maxx am I going to have to listen to? Because this is starting to sound like one of those timeshare presentation schemes.

  25. Jun 3, 2010

    I know! I know! This post is partially me beating myself with a stick for doing the damn thing in the first place. Because, yes, I do live close to where you used to live and Venice is like, THE WORST POSSIBLE place for me to go at 4pm on a weekday with a toddler in the car. And I felt like such a fool, and then I was like, wait, I got myself to do this, why did I do this? The next event is much more conveniently located, but after that first one I thought, “Let’s look at this more reasonably this time, ‘WHY am I going to this?'” Because there’s just no damn reason!

    So, I’m thinking if I can fall for this when I think that I look at things objectively, and obviously I DON’T, then surely other people are falling for them too.

  26. Jun 3, 2010

    Okay, you did not mention that you did this at 4 PM. ANNA. For, the love…oh…I have no idea what to even say to that. I can’t believe any PR firm actually held an event at that time in that location, frankly.

    I’m cringing. I can’t even imagine the drive back. Poor Mini.

  27. Jun 3, 2010

    I know! I know! This is why I had to write the post. It’s awful. Though, at least I can say that Mini liked it. He saw a bunch of older kids there and thought it was kind of an adventure. He wanted to go back, and I told him we had to leave. He was a trooper. But my god, never again.

  28. Jun 3, 2010

    They FLY you in for these things? That’s crazy. What if they fly me to LA and I end up hating the vacuum cleaner?

    I know nothing about PR or marketing, but that just seems crazy-dumb to me. Don Draper would never do anything that dumb.

  29. Jun 3, 2010

    Go so you can figure it all out, like some kind of experiment to look behind the veil and figure out what it’s really all about.

    You think it’s crazy to drive across LA? I’m from Philly and we get invites all the time to go to NYC for a TWO hour event. (and I’m supposed to pay for my travel)

  30. Jun 3, 2010

    In L.A. there’s a strong possibility that it would take the same amount of time to cross some of the highways Anna crossed to travel 20 or 30 miles that it takes to successfully complete a Boston-NY or NY-PA drive. I once sat in traffic from my house to LAX for 4 hours and that was at 2 in the afternoon-I’m not a native and never got to know the surface street secrets so I always get stuck in this crazy part of L.A. where they merge 3 or 4 heavily travelled highways into one another around downtown L.A.. I’ve been in traffic jams here at 2 in the morning before!

    At least on the East Coast we have the option of the train. The closest I’ve seen to L.A. levels of traffic is attempting to go over the George Washington bridge at the end of a holiday weekend.

    By the way, I recently met someone who told me that she lived in Philly and commuted to NYC everyday for work! Goddamn.

  31. Jun 7, 2010

    I can’t see why I’d ever want to go to see a demonstration on much of anything. I’m the slacker who sat in the back of class playing on her phone instead of taking notes pissing people off because I always did better than they did without paying attention. I’m not changing at 29 who I was at 21 for vacuums, rice, laundry detergent, or anything, really.

    And who wants to read that crap on blogs anyway? I don’t. You don’t. My readers would quickly vanish if I started it and I’d probably shut down my own blog to save myself from dying a miserable, boring death.

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