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Pitching bloggers and ethics July 28, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Ethics, Pitching Bloggers.

Pitching has been a staple of public relations as long as the industry has existed. The dance between the journalist and the publicist is truly analogous to baseball — the professional communicator working to place a story in the right location, with the desired spin at the appropriate time.

With the rise of citizen journalism, however, pitching is not something that is just restricted to journalists anymore. With a slew of blogs and other consumer generated media outlets carrying on conversations about products and ideas, public relations professionals have a whole new set of outlets they can pitch.

Consequently, people are also discussing the best way to reach out to these online influencers.

The Emergence Media Wiki has a breakdown of basic principles of pitching bloggers tips include:

  • Build relationships now, not just when you need them
  • Look beyond A-listers
  • Be personal and casual, but professional
  • Keep the pitch soft
  • Avoid attachments and use links

These recommendations parallel Rohit Bhargava’s seven key tips on pitching bloggers. Perhaps the most interesting — and most controversial — is his statement that giving bloggers free stuff is ok. He notes that “while many journalists are honor and ethics bound to turn down any free offers from PR professionals and companies, bloggers are not.”

While some bloggers have embraced the idea of giving products with citizen journalists so they can write about them (such as Jospeh Jaffee, a PR blogger who received a free Nikon D80 camera from Nikon and their agency, MWW), others have been critical of bloggers accepting gifts and then writing about them (such as Robert Scoble, author of Naked Conversations).

From an ethical standpoint, I think Scoble has the right idea — if you are going to accept a gift from a company, a blogger should disclose. Period. By being open, honest, and transparent, the blogger gives all the information to his or her readers, and allows the informed reader to take their endorsement of a product with a grain of salt.

As a PR professional pitching bloggers, I recommend doing the following three things if offering a free product sample to a blogger:

  1. Consider how it will be perceived before you send it. Some free product trials are are more innocuous than others. Sending samples of a new compact fluorescent light bulbs to environmental bloggers is relatively modest because the value of the bulb isn’t that great. Sending a free iPhone carries a bigger perception problem because the phone has more inherent value as well as perceived social value. That’s not to say that providing a blogger with an expensive item is always a no-no; just consider the perception
  2. Ask before you send. Not all bloggers will accept gifts. Make sure that the blogger is interested up front.
  3. Require that the blogger disclose. When pitching a blogger by sending him or her a product, you can make no demands; coverage cannot be a condition of receipt. However, if the blogger does accept the gift and does choose to write about it, it is the role of the person sending the item to guarantee that the blogger disclose the relationship.