There are numerous ways that brands, including our own clients, like to work with bloggers. Some like to treat bloggers like traditional journalists, some treat them as brand ambassadors and others like to utilize blogs as a platform for paid advertising. In my opinion, the brands that are “doing it right” do a combination of all three, but that’s a song for a different day.
Though there is no “one size” fits all approach for the brand and blogger relationship, there is one thing that remains a constant across the board: work with bloggers is part of a company’s marketing strategy along with numerous other tactics. Event marketing, traditional public relations, digital advertising, print advertising, social media, in-store promotions, sales and more are all activities that brands employ to get their product or service in front of consumers. Blogger engagement is one way to reach the “end user” but it’s certainly not the only way to market a product or service. Yes, all of these items are usually a part of a greater marketing budget set by company executives.
I have been thinking a lot about what a company’s marketing strategy represents to the public about who and what they are. Because there are numerous brands paying bloggers for their valuable internet real estate, many bloggers have become accustomed to that treatment. They expect to be paid anytime they mention a brand on their site. Blogging can definitely be a lucrative hobby or profession, but it’s also a very new industry and the media landscape changes at such a rapid speed that I would be uncomfortable growing comfortable with any trends in online marketing. Early in my career, one of my bosses gave me some constructive feedback about my work. She told me “slow down, you’re always looking over the fence to the next big thing.” That might have been a flaw early in my career, and it might still be in some ways, but it also helps me look for the big picture and anticipate what is coming next. It helps me determine how my clients can stay on the forefront of industry trends.
Ten years ago, a public relation firm or a brand would never dream of paying any media professional for a placement — unless they were a media buyer and they worked directly with advertising sales representatives to purchase space in a newspaper, magazine or on a television network. Now, brands look to bloggers — members of the media, whether a journalist or not — to create website content, blog posts, recipes, photography, testimonials, endorsement, basically any work that pushes the boundaries of editorial. Promoting someone’s Facebook contest is not editorial, so yes, I tell the brands that I work with that they should pay to advertise these types of promotions. But payment for writing a one-time product review? That does not necessarily benefit anyone, brand or blogger, in the long run. I advise against it.
I read a blog post recently that was titled “if a brand has a budget to hire a PR agency, then they have the budget to pay you fairly for your services.” Paying bloggers is not an imperative, it’s one potential piece of a strategy. If a brand has a budget to hire a PR firm, even a big fancy one with a $50,000 per month retainer, does that also mean they have the budget to give a free Mercedes to everyone at the company? Does it mean they have budget to install champagne taps in every cubicle? A brand choosing to spend their dollars on a PR agency is a calculated decision. Sometimes PR agencies are the people who make the decisions regarding how a specific brand should interact with online influencers, including bloggers, because it isn’t the business owner or CEO’s area of expertise.
Brands set their marketing budgets based on their overall marketing goals and a public relations agency offers a lot of capabilities that working with one blogger (or even a few bloggers) does not. Sometimes, the scenario is flipped: companies will actually dismiss their PR firm to make room for other marketing activities because they have that choice. The fact that a brand made a choice to hire an agency (either instead of hiring bloggers or as a precursor to it) certainly doesn’t mean a brand isn’t interested in reaching consumers or even in working with bloggers. It should not reflect poorly on the brand.
There are always bad apples that spoil the bunch, but as a generalization brands aren’t out to take advantage of bloggers or get “free work” but they’re people using the resources at their disposal to do best by their clients or companies. It’s not a perfect system, but neither are a lot of the systems in place in our economy.
Thoughts on new and traditional media, current events, life in Chicago and the occasional small Chihuahua photo.