In defense of PR

I joke that I am the Rorshack blogger. I write opinion posts that are sometimes so balanced, that readers see what they want in it. Sometimes I’m nuanced. Sometimes I’m not as blatantly, obviously, clearly clear as I should be and then I end up with both sides end up in my comments giving me thumbs up and happy face emoticons.

And then I have to go uh, wait… you’re agreeing with me disagreeing with you. I think. Maybe.

And sometimes people disagree with me agreeing with them.

(They’re the difficult ones. I stay away from them.)

Recently I wrote a post about being paid for marketing programs that you do as a blogger that struck a chord. The comments, as always, are better than the post so read them for little happy nuggets of golden deliciousness.

But my post was about compensation for ads. Banners. Sidebar widgets. Social media promotions. Giveaways with contractually bound requirements like keyword placement and run dates and follow-up posts and follow-up follow-up posts, that all start to look a whole lot more like work for a marketer, and less like good content for your readers.

I’m not sure that it was totally clear, so let me be clear now:

I did not write a post about being paid to review products.

I did not write a post telling bloggers to demand free products to write about.

I did not write a post telling bloggers to be assholes to PR people in the name of “standing up for myself.”

I want say this in defense of PR folks: They are professionals. They put on nice shoes (man, those NYC PR chicks always have the nicest shoes), put on nice clothes, and head to an office every day where they get paid to do what they do. Now of course some are better than others. Some flat out suck. But many, many do not. Many are still learning how to navigate the waters of social media and blogs as media platforms to pitch, and they are eager to learn and to do better. But they are pros. They are used to working with other pros, like the ones who write articles on tween accessory trends for magazines, or the ones who decide which products will end up with Kathie-Lee Gifford giggling over them in a 10:14AM Today Show segment.

We as bloggers, for the most part, are not pros. We’re not even journalists. We’re…different. We’re the publishers and editors and writers and social media promoters and ad sales team all wrapped up in one.

That’s crazy when you think about it.

Think of how hard it must be for them: They are used to pitching publications that are actually in search of relevant content for their audiences. And now suddenly, *bam* there are all these blogs out there and some are in search of relevant content, some are in search of free products, some are picky picky picky, some will write up anything that comes with a $10 Visa gift card attached, and some…well, some are just there (hello!) to write about their kids and reality TV and their drunken karaoke parties and don’t want pitches at all.

But we aaaaaall end up on the same pitch lists.


Look, I have had bad days and been snarkier in response to a pitch than I should have. Frankly, I have been snarkier in response to my children asking me for a second cup of milk than I should have. I’m human.

But if you get a pitch you don’t like, allow me offer up a few ways to respond to it:

1) Delete it
2) Politely decline.
3) Politely decline and suggest how you’d rather work. Or better, point the PR person to a page on your blog that describes the kinds of pitches you’re open to, and how you work
4) Ask to be removed from the list.

If this is helpful, here is a standard email we often send from Cool Mom Picks. In fact, I sent it twice just yesterday (sigh).

Thanks so much for thinking of us. This book isn’t a good fit for our site right now–we tend to cover books that are of specific interest to new parents, generally non-fiction. Feel free to check out our archives to see the kinds of books we’ve reviewed in the past so you can keep us in mind when something relevant for us comes up.

Of course I get annoyed when we get 150 or more irrelevant pitches a day. Because good lord, can we be more clear on what we cover? Sustainable nursery furniture? Yes. McNachos with new jalapeno-ranch dip? No.

Be strong mamas. Be discerning. Make sure that whatever you agree to write about is a good fit for your blog, and gives you butterflies in your tummy to write about because you just love it so darn much. And if those giveaways are more trouble than they’re worth, stop doing them–hopefully your readers are coming to your blog because they love what you have to say, and not what you can possibly give them for free.

So yeah, stand up for yourselves. But remember, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. And that PR person offering you the “crappy box of cereal” for review today, might be the person offering you the yoga retreat next week.

You can say no to pitches and still build relationships.

Or you can say no to pitches and go back to writing about your kids. Which is what I’m going to do right now.


38 thoughts on “In defense of PR”

  1. I think an important thing to learn is that you do not need to feel pressured to say yes to the “PR person offering you the “crappy box of cereal” for review today” because “they might be the person offering you the yoga retreat next week” – know your worth and ACT your worth. Stay classy.

    Agree with you, Liz. Also, even though I don't usually work with many PR professionals anymore for my blog, I still call several of them friends. They are real people. And yes- they DO have nice shoes!



  2. Yes to what Steph said — I actually commented to that effect on another post yesterday. I think there's a fear of getting “blacklisted” (for something better in the future) if you say no to something. For what it's worth, no matter how many pitches I delete or decline on, they keep streaming in (from the same sources).

    Anyhow, yes, I've made my rounds of frustrated tweets or posts on bad outreach, but I also have stood up to defend the fact that there are some really great agencies out there who get it, or, as you point out Liz, are eager to learn. Just the other day I received yet another “want to be a (free) brand ambassador?” pitch from a huge corporation. I responded that I do a limited number of these and for for-profit companies only consider them if appropriate compensation is involved for my consultation. And you know what? She wrote back saying how helpful that feedback was to her team and that they are pressing back on the client re: compensation and what would be an appropriate amount.

    Like anything, it's a two way conversation. Yes, some pitches are completely ill directed (I wouldn't go for the mcnachos either) and ought to just be ignored, but if there's something else that resonates but is pitched in a way that doesn't suit you, feel free to pitch back with an alternative.


  3. Agree Steph! Saying no to the cereal pitch doesn't blacklist you; on the contrary. You can use even an irrelevant pitch to build a relationship just by saying “thanks but no thanks…”

  4. I'm breaking my 'no blogs before the kids go to school' rule to comment on this. Because I love it.

    You make SUCH a good point here, Liz. They are really just people, right? Hell, when I started dabbling in blogs, my own blog sucked so hard, it pains me. Learning curves are slippery slopes.

    I also have a clearly defined “what I'll review and how” area. clearly marked, and if I get the slightest hint that a PR person has taken the time to READ it? I'll talk to them at the very least.

    If not, I just hit delete and move on. It actually says I'll do that in my review rules section. So I feel no guilt. 🙂

    But basically, I think it's very important for us as bloggers to remember that we have to teach these guys how to pitch us, individually. That means talking to these PR people, like they're people.

    I'm going to turn this comment into a chapter, so I'll stop before I get going too far. I've been meaning to post on this for a while now, and yours is, as always, more eloquent than I could have come up with on my own. The end of my point is that this community is about engagement…and that means with the PR people, too. Like Boston Mama pointed out, they DO want our feedback. They WANT to do their jobs well. They really can't if the only thing we do is trash them until they offer us island getaway.

  5. Really, Liz. You need to stop sounding so balanced and rational. You're making the crazy people look bad. 🙂

  6. This is an awesome post, Liz. There's so much badmouthing of PR people that goes on in the blogosphere, and this is a great reminder that they are professions who, for the most part, just want to work with you — help them help you with polite feedback.

  7. I am clearly one of those people who misunderstood your post about not working for free, so, um, WHOOPS. But I know I'm not the only one, since a read a few follow up posts where bloggers said “But I LIKE working for free toasters! I love toast!”
    I also just write about my kid so I don't really have a pony in this race but I like to think most PR people are just doing their best. But like you said, they're professionals to us novice non-journalist writers of poop stories. So I think a PR person who writes an incredibly mean spirited post about a specific blogger should be held to a higher standard than a blogger who is a little snarky in response to a pitch. If you must say something – and in the age of the Internet it always seems we must – why not stick to generalizations without naming names, just like your post above. Fair and balanced win.

  8. Thanks Suzanne.

    I guess I differentiate between “working” and “blogging.”

    Blogging is what we do because we love it, right?

  9. I am glad you wrote this post. PR people are learnign the social media and there is a huge curve.

    When I decline I offer the the “thank you for the opportunity, but…” Then I ask them to keep me in mind for the next one. Opportunity will keep knocking if you don't slam the door in their face.

  10. Excellent point. Which is why I don't really do reviews or giveaways because the chances of a company I REALLY love pitching me is REALLY small. An writing reviews of “crappy boxes of cereal” does feel like work. I think of all mommy bloggers kept the difference between “working” and “blogging” in mind they'd be a lot happier.

    From now on I think I'll just agree with everything you say. The end.

  11. I might print this and hang this in my PR-agency cubicle.

    Awesome post, Liz. So many lines in there are words I feel like I've said myself and it's so refreshing to read them on another blogger's website.

  12. This post is just awesome. The end.

    No, wait. I also want to say how glad I am that other people get impatient when badgered by kids for sippie cup refills.

  13. Right on. I'd just add that bloggers who've learned to navigate these waters need to continue to help up-and-coming bloggers learn the ropes.

    For instance, it's helpful to explain the difference between what an advertising agency can provide and what a PR agency can provide. The work that pays my mortgage each month comes through direct relationships with companies or through ad agencies. Events, products and story ideas come through PR folks or blogger outreach agencies.

    I'm thankful for both but I think of them as separate entities and try to explain to newer bloggers that the person offering the yogurt may never be able to offer more than a trip – not because she doesn't want to, but because she may not be the person with a budget to do so.

    Cultivating relationships by being nice and responsive is important in any aspect of life, including business.

  14. I just want to reiterate the part about that it's important to be nice. To PR folks. To each other. Especially when we only have 140 characters or less to get our points across. Let's use our critical mass to build a positive reputation, shall we?

    (I like their nice shoes too, Liz.)

  15. You are wise and funny, per usual. My experience with PR people has been that many of them are nice, friendly, and have lots of cute outfits.

    I've also been in situations where I've been pitched to and said yes and yet it hasn't worked out (I of course get travel pitches and sometimes the trips fall through for various reasons). I've found that PR people are not only reasonable and understanding but are often willing to renegotiate.

    And I applaud your advice about politely declining and offering more information where appropriate. Sometimes I wonder if it has to do with the fact that so many of us are female that we equate “being nice” with saying yes to something we don't really want to do.

  16. I just want to thank you. I am not a blogger who gets pitches. I'm not a good writer and I'm opinionated and my blog is my therapy when I want to strangle someone! 🙂 But, if I ever did get a pitch I'd know so much more about how to handle it just from reading your blog! So thank you so much!!!

  17. Liz, thank you so much for writing this post.

    We are all human.

    And when it comes to feeling pressured into saying yes to the cereal so one doesn't feel like they'll be blacklisted for the yoga retreat? I can't speak for all PR pros (I actually counsel clients on both PR & marketing), but I personally will not blacklist, in fact, if you tell me more about what you would like to be pitched when you respond with a no, not only will I keep you mind for clients I'm working with, but I'll share that with my colleagues too. (I actually do this quite often with positive outcomes).

    Also, I still get pitched, not as much as I used to since I clearly say on my blog who I work for, but when I did…if I said no, I'd try to recommend another blogger, especially those who I know WANT to be pitched and who might be up and coming.

    Saying no nicely can actually be more valuable to the blogger (and their blogger friends) than saying yes to everything, in my opinion.

  18. Great post. And for what it's worth, journalists also get grouchy and have bad days. It is nice to try to stay professional though — the PR person pitching the totally wrong thing today may have an excellent connection tomorrow.

    I do resent getting blasted by the same PR person, despite politely correcting them about my topics, then unsubscribing from their lists (which I didn't ask to be added to) and THEN e-mailing them directly to request removal. And still receiving off-topic pitches. I can only think of two PRs who've done this, but they've taken up too much of my time. I feel bad for their clients.

  19. I actually got an(un)pitch the other day that I have not responded to. I'm not going to do it because it would amount to a “sponsored post” that is semi relevant to my readership with no compensation whatsoever, not even a box of cereal. No thanks. But I have debated on delete or polite response.

    Thanks for a nudge in the polite response direction. Now I do need to get back to writing about my kid – he's having an exciting week.

  20. Liz, you have this “annoying” (in quotes because I actually don't find it annoying, but endearing in a great-minds-think-alike way) habit of posting about a topic just as I'm getting ready to, and your post is always better than what I would have done, so I'll just tweet yours and save myself the time. 🙂

    Just today I was going through pitches and answering most of them with some variation of “Thanks for thinking of me, but I'm not interested in writing about your product at this time. Please keep me in mind for the future.” These are the ones that are completely totally not right for my blog.

    One of those wrote back saying “Thank you, can I ask why not?” So I told him. Nicely, but bluntly and firmly. Curious what he'll say back, and wondering if I should be giving reasons to each pitch. The problem is, I get so many a day and rarely have time to look at them all, let alone draft individual responses.

  21. I wrote sort of a tongue-in-cheek, semi serious post about how to make money blogging that was semi-inspired by you and another blogger. If you want to read it you can find it here.

    Anyhow, in my real life I have worked with PR and ad agency professionals. Some of them were great and some were horrible.

    When people are professional and courteous it is much easier for everyone.

    One of the challenges now is that we have a lot of inexperienced lay people involved with a lot of inexperienced agency people.

    It is not a good recipe and it leads to communication issues. Sometimes it is really useful to admit that you don't know everything and you need help.

    Ask questions.

  22. As a food blogger-cum-mom blogger, I have had offers that really run the gamut. Getting free food in the mail is nice, but I never really review the products, I just use them and give them a mention (and link) if I like them. I also brand name-drop products that didn't send me free stuff if I like them.

    More often than not, I just don't reply to offers because I don't want to feel like a shill. It's not what the blog is for. I think I can say unequivocally that the good blogs are written by people who do it for the writing practice and/or are trying to build an audience for the eventual book they'll write (or at least fantasize about writing).

    …not that I don't like getting free stuff. And not that I don't have a banner on my blog that earns me $3CPM.

    When I got really sick of tacky offers coming in, I'd just accept the free products and then not write about them. Got a few months' worth of free cheese before took me off their list. Not super honorable, but it is one way to deal with it.

  23. I agree. Or disagree.


    I always try to consider where the PR people are coming from, maybe because I used to have a similar job. They have clients to make happy and they have numbers to meet. Who knows? They may have a boss that is a real jerk and they just have to show that they threw a bunch of spaghetti against a wall and this is what stuck.

    At the end of the day, they are humans, just like us.

  24. I once attended a lovely event (nothing as extravagant as a spa trip though) and I assumed they'd want me to write about it on my blog—but nothing was ever spelled out or requested.

    Well, time slipped away and. . .I didn't write anything. I felt badly about this and haven't been invited to follow-up events from this company (though the PR agency contacts me all the time). I wonder if there is an unspoken “rule” that you are supposed to give coverage for a movie premiere or a dinner/luncheon or other media event, or do PR people respect that we won't get to write about everything?

  25. I think you hit the nail on the head when you point out that bloggers aren't professionals. Or, at least, not necessarily experienced media professionals. I am an engineer. Nobody offers engineers free cereal for review, crappy or otherwise. Software packages, maybe, but not cereal.

    The fact that I have no background in this area means that it's harder for me to navigate. Yes, I try to be polite. But I have received what I consider rudeness in return, sometimes. And I have also felt some obligation that maybe I shouldn't have when it was, frankly, flattering to be pitched the first few times.

    This is why I'm grateful for your voice. You've let me know that I don't have to feel obligated. You've let me know that my platform is worth something. And you've also let me know that I can set my own boundaries and still be polite. I think that message is so valuable.

  26. I completely agree.

    I have had great relationships with PR people and their friendships are another part of the blessings of blogging.

    And when I get some less than perfect pitches, I don't mind. I realize that there is a person behind the email and they are as busy as I am — and all of a sudden they have a new breed they have to pitch to. And this new breed isn't a breed at all! Everyone is so vastly different with different prefences and defenses. I honestly just feel for them. They do not have an easy job!

    On the whole, the PR people I have worked with are so fabulous and I appreciate their hard work.

    I wish I could say I answered every pitch that came in to my inbox. But most of the time, I am just too overwhelmed by the massive amount flooding in every day. Many pitches that would be relevant and about which I would be happy to write simply go unanswered because I don't have enough time to write every story and answer every email.

  27. I'm on the other side. I own a company that creates baby shower gifts and we do pitch to bloggers.

    From a company, or a PR person point of view, we try to only approach blogs that state they are “PR Friendly.” We send personal emails and use the blogger's name. We never ever send mass emails. We try to be as respectful as possible.

    But we do make the occasional mistake and approach a blogger who prefers not to do reviews. When we do, it's extremely helpful when the blogger is very direct and simply asks us to remove her from our PR list. We always do so right away, and apologize. I know sending those “not interested” emails takes time too, so it's not a magic solution.

    It's a new media and rules are not clear yet. I'm sure things will be easier for all of us in a few years. I'm looking forward to that. 🙂

  28. Great follow up post. I agree with you about providing professional responses. I get pitched on products I would never ever buy let alone attempt to review. I always politely decline because the pr firm represents other companies so why be mean.

    businesss is business, you never know when you might need these pr folks

  29. We are a small biz that gets PR through reviews and giveaways because that's really the only real advertising we can do. We took a look this week at an ad network to see if we could afford them.

    Imagine our surprise at least two advertisers listed there were sponsoring a free ad from a competitor. They get free stuff (maybe, its not guaranteed)if they talk about them which what is maybe $50 at most a year.

    We were willing to give an ad a shot at $100 -$150 a week to try it but not there. Don't think they realize how much that free ad for the company is costing them when this company could afford to pay for it but why would they when people are giving them free ads. Other companies included us won't be willing spend advertising $ to a site that gives it away free to another especially month after month after month. Can you imagine how much that is worth?

    Hope you really like their product. It's costing you more money than you think. And making them so much more.

  30. Liz,
    Thanks for writing this; it is refreshing to hear! To echo what my fellow PR practitioners have said, where I work we carefully research what bloggers we're going to contact for a promotion. We never send mass emails, always customize them and try to read up on past posts if it's not a blog we're familiar with. Of course, we're human, and may have missed the post in which a blogger mentions she only eats organic yogurt or has a strong stance on breastfeeding, thus making my pitch irrelevant.

    A response about how to improve in the future is always welcome and helps us tailor future pitches, not create a black list. You wouldn't believe the number of times a co-worker ask: “Do you know any bloggers that…” and someone can say: “Yes! We didn't work with her but she'd be open to that.” If a black list even exists, it's not bloggers who said no to “a box of cereal” but rather people who were extremely rude, crude or otherwise very difficult to work with. Much like that one house-guest you swear to never host again because of what they did to your fill-in-the-blank.

    Now where can I go work where they give away yoga trips?!

  31. Thanks for the input Anon. I think what you're referring to is editorial – an advertiser is running on a site where there might be advertorial copy for a competitor? As a small business, I don't blame you for putting your money into PR instead of banner ads.

    But know that GM advertises on TV shows with VW product placement, and there might be an Hermes ad in Vogue across from an article about the new Louis Vuitton bags. That's just how media works.

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