This is an offtopic public service announcement.
David's article on non-traditional PR prompted me write this post I've been contemplating for a while. There is no lack of tips on how to pitch your press release into the blogosphere; here's a nice compilation of some twenty links to similar articles elsewhere, for example. I'll try to add value by pointing out things that I think are helpful but missing. My opinion is based on almost two years of keeping this blog alive and four years of doing PR before that. Both sides of the trenches, you see. I also get a few press releases a week, which gives me an idea about what can be improved. To be fair, I am somehow blessed with blog-literate PR people; most of the stuff pitched for Adlab is so good that it ends up posted nearly verbatim. Here are the tips for those whose press releases end up in the trash (or, worse, spam) folder.
1. A common-sense thing mentioned by everyone on this side but often overlooked by PR folks: read before you write. If this blog is on advertising technology, why would I write about your price promotions on some gizmo or your new high-level but totally obscure to everyone else hire?
2. That said, given the right angle, almost everything is pitchable. Fine-tuning a press release for every blogger on your list is hard work, but that's what needs to be done if you want the ink.
3. Figure out why your bloggers blog and in what format. Pew Internet has just released a thorough survey of bloggers. Seven percent blog for money, for example (see Pew's table below, click it to zoom in).
So, everyone blogs for different reasons and because of that -- in different formats. Some blogs are designed as a semi-public bookmarking mechanism of sorts to help their authors come back to relevant stuff in the future. These bloggers are filterers or compilers, and they view themselves as editors instead of writers. Their value to the blogosphere is in organizing disparate information bits into coherent topic-oriented streams. Their posts are often a copy/paste with a picture and a link, and maybe a sentence or two worth of comments. Other people write long and elaborate analytical masterpieces. They probably don't cover daily events at all and focus on the trends instead. They also post less often.
Here are some other motivations to blog:
-- to have a notebook to jot down thoughts that occur in the shower;
-- to have someone to bounce ideas off;
-- to be seen as expert in some area;
-- simply to be seen;
-- to keep friends up to date;
-- to share cool things found on the Internet;
-- to serve the society by investigating and pointing out its wrongs.
Blogs and their authors' motivations evolve. I started Adverlab to organize my collection of thesis notes, and for about six months it remained an absolutely private affair. Then somehow people started discovering it, and apparently there was a need for this particular collection of information, because they kept coming back. The growing audience puts certain pressures on your choice of subjects as you start feeling an obligation to keep giving your readers a reason to return. When the Adsense money kicks in, you also begin to think about what posts produce the best-paying keywords, the most traffic and the most lucrative ads. Navigating through these constraints isn't always easy.
All this was to say that you need to know what makes your blogger blog and to tailor your pitch appropriately if you want it to end up online.
4. Make your pitch easy to copy and paste. This means killing the CMO fluff about your product being revolutionary, bleeding-edge, Earth-shattering, exciting, best in class, next-generation, leading, cool, hip and viral (it can't be viral before it is wide-spread unless you are talking about a vial of anthrax). If you have a stubborn micromanaging boss and can't edit the fluff out then include a concise lead-like summary at the very top.
Many bloggers have complained about how much they hate PR PDFs. The main reason is that it's terribly hard to copy/paste content from PDF and it requires a few extra clicks to open. Attach a PDF if you must, but duplicate PDF's content in the body of the email as well.
5. Almost nobody will copy/paste or quote your entire press release, but many will link to it in the attribution section. Make your press-release linkable. You won't believe how many interesting press releases I find behind non-linkable walls of Flash. And whatever else you do with your site, don't change the URLs of your press releases or the blog links will rot.
Here's why you should care. A huge chunk of a blog's traffic comes from Google. In general, it takes a while for Google to update its main index with a blog's most recent posts (the time varies depending on the blog's popularity). It takes even longer for these posts to climb up to top pages in search results. This means that people who are not regular readers of that particular blog will start finding the post about company some time after it has been published. If you change the URL of your press release, then people who find the referring post and click on the link will end up nowhere. What a waste of clicks.
6. Provide pictures. Bloggers love pictures. Posts with pictures have higher click-through rates. Pictures for web are cheaper to produce than for print. There is no reason at all why you shouldn't provide pictures with your press release. If you don't have anywhere to post them, attach them to the email message. Post them on flickr. Provide the "img src" code to go along with your pictures to make them even easier to embed. If you have video content, provide embeddable players, YouTube style. Pictures don't have to be pretty as long as they are informative. Take a snapshot with a disposable digital camera of whatever it is you are writing about. Provide good screenshots that describe the product.
7. Court the small blogs. The most popular blogs are already inundated with hundreds of press releases and yours will have to compete for attention. But bloggers are treasure hunters, and a large portion of the big guys' content comes from what they find on obscure small sites. If you make a small blog a star (how about an exlusive?) and then BoingBoing or Engadget pick it up from there, it will be absorbed up by a gazillion of other blogs that feed off the few big ones. The small blog gets the traffic, you get the attention, and everyone in the blogging foodchain is happy. Besides, small blogs are like undervalued stock. When they make it big, you will already have an established relationship with the new A-lister, and your way to its pages will be a carpool lane. Remember, every blog was small before it made the Technorati 100.
8. You can't build relationships by auto-customizing your email with the blogger's name; everyone knows how to use mail-merge these days and the only person you are fooling is your boss. Me -- I don't care if a PR pitcher knows my name when cold-writing. The only way to build a relatioship is by feeding the bloggers information (with pictures!) that will drive their traffic and by responding to their requests in a timely manner. If you feel that customizing your email gives you an edge, refer to a post that relates somehow to your press release: "I've read your post about advertising on cockroaches and I think our product has a more dramatic effect."
9. I am sure this will sound morally wretched or something, and the comments section is open for your wrath, but see, many blogs are selling ad space these days either piece-meal, or through AdSense, or AdBrite or BlogAds. Most of the ad space outside the Technorati 100 is dirt-cheap, and you can buy a month of exposure for something like $50. True, it won't give you many eyeballs, but it can make a difference in your relationship with the blogger. It's not about the money, either -- most of the bloggers are gainfully employed at their day jobs and many are very well paid. By advertising on a smaller blog, you acknowledge its importance, and there's nothing more a blogger craves than recognition. Think of it as an investment, not an expense.
10. Finally, the good news is that bloggers need you as much as you need them, although they will be the last to admit it. Give them good stories (and pictures!), and your clipping book will gain blog fat in no time. After all, the new media are not that different from the old when it comes to the writer's pride.