I first met Mary Leigh Howell at the Design Bloggers Conference this past February in LA. She's a PR Professional and although there was a group of us that were about to have dinner together one evening, it suddenly turned into just the two of us.
During dinner, I asked her why she was at the conference. She replied "To network and create relationships with bloggers, I've pitched you three times and you've never responded".
"Oh", I said.
"Well I get probably 30-40 press releases a day, I mostly hit delete. I don't have a staff of salespeople dedicated to selling advertising for my blog so I'm not looking for editorial disguised as free advertising. If a brand wants to promote their products on my blog, they should pay."
"A lot of bloggers feel that way, it's why I get so many advertising rates back from bloggers when I pitch them" Mary Leigh said.
Mary Leigh Howell (right) with one of her clients Regenia Payne (on left) from Taylor King
"Well how should we respond?" was my question.
Before the conference started in LA I went to a cocktail party at HD Buttercup there I met a rep from a very popular flash sale home decor site. I asked her why they had never approached me to do a curated collection for them since bloggers much smaller than me have done them. She said it was because 'They don't ship to Canada'? Since I have 10 times more readers in the US than I do in Canada I was very surprised to hear that answer. It's the world wide web. Just because I'm Canadian doesn't mean only Canadians read my blog.
And the other tip I received from another publicist at the event was that Americans like Americans. If you want to work with American brands the address of your blog should be in the United States. She isn't the first person who said that to me about being Canadian. Someone else said I should try to look as American as possible. And that starts with spelling colour without the u. That habit is hard for me to break.
You can see that I don't have any general advertising on my blog but I'll tell you why in a future post.
Taylor King Upholstery
Back to the point of this post, here is Mary Leigh's advice for bloggers:
The challenge for bloggers, advertisers and public relations professionals, is that we're applying a traditional model to a new profession.
Journalists, PR and advertising professionals are taught that every media outlet has two sides: editorial and publishing, and the two don't mix (in theory). It's PR's job to work with editorial to communicate our client's message through earned (unpaid) stories. And it's the advertising professionals' job to work with publishing side to negotiate space and purchase paid messages.
Then along came blogs. Bloggers have a tough job. They have to handle editorial and publishing — create content (editorial) and make their blog profitable. They are identified as media, so we apply our traditional media model. But that doesn't always work.
We deliver a newsworthy message for our clients and work to develop a relationship with the blogger. This traditional approach works with some bloggers, but for others, our outreach results in a request for money. Most of us don't have budgets for sponsored posts, and some in our profession believe paying for content dilutes our client's brand or product story.
So what's the best way for bloggers to handle this conundrum? A candid conversation with the PR professional is the best place to start. They'll appreciate your honesty. If you never accept anything other than sponsored content, let them know that. If you're open to some sort of traditional editorial content, explore that topic with them. They may not be able (or desire) to exchange cash for content, but they might be able to assist you in other ways – providing product, promoting your blog or featuring you at a special event.
You'll never know until you ask, and there is great potential in working together to find that common ground.
Taylor King Upholstery
Here are Mary Leigh's DO'S and DON'TS FOR WORKING WITH THE MEDIA
Journalists have more respect for editorial resources that know how to work with the media. Become one of their favorite go-to sources by noting these Do's and Don'ts of working with the media.
1. Do respond to journalists in a timely manner.
If a journalist doesn't give you a deadline for response, 24 hours is the maximum time they should have to wait to hear from you. The sooner, the better. If they have to wait, they'll just move on to another source.
2. Don't suggest you receive editorial coverage because you advertised with their publication.
Media outlets are divided into editorial and advertising, just like a separation of church and state. Talk to editors and reporters about story ideas, and talk to ad reps about advertising, but don't mix them. Implying to an editor you should receive coverage because of your role as an advertiser is an excellent way to alienate yourself.
3. Don't thank a journalist for coverage
The problem is not thanking them. You should thank journalists - for being thorough, for painting an accurate portrait, for their time, for working with you, for writing a great story - but not for covering you. They aren't doing you a favor. They are doing their job, making the calls as they see them for what's newsworthy and what isn't.
4. Do prepare for every media interview in advance by making a list of the kinds of questions that you expect to be asked.
Remember to ask the hard ones as well.
5. Don't ask to see/review/edit an article before it is published.
This is editorial, not advertising. The fact that you have no control over the outcome makes it more valuable, and gives you and your company more credibility.
6. Don't have an "off the record" conversation with a journalist.
Nothing is ever 'off the record'.
7. When doing an interview via phone, don't use the speakerphone function.
It gives the reporter the impression that you don't consider the interview a priority.
8. Do consider standing up during a telephone interview
Sometimes this will help you to keep your thoughts organized and will help your voice carry the messages that you want.
9. Don't encourage small talk with journalists.
It's a good source of embarrassing quotes.
10. During in-person television interviews, do maintain eye contact with the interviewer and other guests, not the camera.
If you are on a remote, you will be asked to speak to the camera, and on the screen it will appear that you are talking directly to the audience - don't let your eyes wander.
Taylor King Upholstery
Funny story, at the Withit Conference last month when I was in Raleigh, I started chatting with Regenia Payne (pictured above). For some reason I was telling her the story about having dinner with this PR professional (I couldn't remember Mary Leigh's name right then) at the design bloggers conference. As I was chatting with her, Mary Leigh walked up to us and I said "OMG you're the one". Well as it turns out, Mary Leigh IS Taylor King's Public Relations Professional. Is that a small world or what? Regenia laughed and said "You are worth every penny we pay you".
Well I sure know who she is now! Mary Leigh is a great example of fabulous networking in action. We could all learn from her. Thanks so much Mary Leigh for all your excellent advice!
Does anyone have anything to add about working with brands? I'd love if you commented below.
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