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Understanding PR People for Fun and Profit

If you’re just getting your first message from a public relations (PR) professional, and you are wondering why you’re being graced with our august presence, this article is for you. And, if you’re among those who receive dozens of seemingly pointless emails from PR people, and you’re wondering what in the blue blazes is going through our minds, this article is definitely for you.

I’m Erik Sebellin-Ross, one of the very PR people writing to you every day. I’ve been in PR for four years now, and I work for a firm named Peppercom Strategic Communications (shameless plug: We have a blog, too). My goal is to shed some light on what we do, how we work, and, more importantly, what we can do for you, hopefully turning an interruption into an opportunity. You really need to know all this because, as blogs become increasingly influential from a marketing perspective, more and more of us are going to contact you.

Why are PR people writing to me?

We want you to write something that would benefit the companies we represent. We feel your readers are a part of an audience that buys our client’s products, or invests in their stocks, and we want your readers to act — to start buying or, at least, start liking. And we’re talking to you, specifically, because we’ve checked you out and think you have a sufficient number of readers or influence to make our time investment worthwhile.

Less common, but still a possibility, is the networking angle. We want to be in with all of the right people, we want to be able to direct or friends and co-workers in the field towards the right people, and we want a big rolodex. This helps us in our careers, but it can also help you as your PR contacts change jobs to different companies or industries.

How do PR people find me?

As you know, there are a lot of blogs out there. Finding the right ones – the ones with the biggest or most appropriate audience – is difficult. We use a range of search engines (such as Technorati, Google Blog Search, etc.) and services (www.MediaMapOnline.com, a database of journalists and bloggers, for example), and we also look at blogrolls. Unfortunately, the process runs into snags, and you can sometimes find yourself receiving information that has little or no connection to you.

All right, so let’s talk about the irritating emails

So you’ve been discovered, and now the torrent of emails begins. If we’ve done our homework, you’ll instantly see the value of the information and will create a post based on the information we sent you or ask us for more information.

But sometimes PR professionals (fresh-faced interns and grizzled veterans alike) make honest mistakes. Or, worse, don’t do their homework. They build lists of targets without ensuring that every single target is perfect, and they blast out an email using the blind carbon copy feature…and suffer the consequences. Of which there are rarely any – unless we’ve pitched ValleyWag. In the process, of course, we basically spam you and ensure you hate seeing our names appear in your inbox. If it is the former, we truly are sorry. If it is the latter, I’m even more sorry.

What can PR people do for me?

A big part of our job is to provide information, so, if you have questions about a company, product, or service, PR people can help you get the answers. If you want to speak with an executive, engineer, designer, or other employee, we can help you there, too – we even book meetings. If you want to review a product, or try out a service, you guessed it: we can help with this, too.

The best and fastest way to find a PR contact is to go to the website of a company you’re interested in and find their press or media page. This is regularly found under the “About Us” or “Contact Us” pages. Another alternative is to look for a press release – we almost always list our contact information on these.

A snag you might hit

PR people need to be “strategic.” This means that, because we work under tight budgets and have limited resources, we have to pick and choose our battles. So, as much as we’d like to work with every single publication and blog, regardless of size, we realistically cannot. When you contact us, we’ll sometimes ask you to tell us about who reads your blog, what kind of traffic you get, and what you want to write about so we can decide if we can devote time to you. If you’re turned down because you’re too small, consider banding together with a group of similar bloggers and approach the PR person as a unified group to increase your value.

So bottom line this for me

When we write to you, take a moment to look beyond our email. Think about what are you writing about, or planning to write about, and ask yourself if a PR person can help you get more information. Another thing to consider is whether a fellow blogger could benefit from some information you just received. Forwarding it to them could earn you brownie points that would translate into traffic. Every message from us is an opportunity!

Erik Sebellin-Ross is a senior account executive in Peppercom Strategic Communication’s San Francisco office. He can be reached directly at [email protected]

Podcast Winners [COMPETITION RESULTS]

Last week we ran a competition here on ProBlogger where our kind sponsors First Blog Media offered to give three lucky ProBlogger readers a year’s worth of free podcasting recorded professionally. To win readers needed to answer why they would like to have a podcast on their blog.

Brian from First Blog Media has selected the three following winners based upon their answers (he tells me that it was a very difficult task):

I’ll email winners shortly to give you details of how to get your prize.

Didn’t Win?

If you didn’t win – you can still get $100 the service that First Blog Media is offering by signing up via this link (not an affiliate link, just a way for FBM to make sure only Problogger readers get the discount).

The Power of Getting Personal on Your Niche Blog

This time last weekend I was sitting in a delivery suite in a Melbourne hospital waiting for the arrival of my second son Henri. It would be another 12 hours til he was actually born but after he’d come along and we’d had a little recovery time I managed to get online and post that I’d become a father again.

Getting-Personal-Blog

This morning I had a couple of spare hours to get online again and check my blogs (I’m taking next week off too by the way) and also sent out a quick newsletter to my DPS subscribers. Again – in that newsletter I mentioned that we’d had another baby.

I tend not to get too personal on my blogs – I like to keep to the topic at hand for the vast majority of posts – however both on the ProBlogger post and today with my newsletter I was amazed by the response from readers. The ProBlogger post has over 300 comments (and I’ve had 100 or so emails) and just a couple of hours after sending out my newsletter I’ve had over 100 emails from DPS readers. The same thing happened last time when we had a baby and I posted about it.

What I’ve noticed about the comments and emails is that many are from people I’ve never heard of before but who say that they have been regular readers for years.

Also in many cases the emails go beyond just saying ‘congratulations’ and tell me something about themselves, their families and their interaction with the blog.

It struck me as I waded through these emails this morning just how powerful ‘getting personal’ can be on a blog. I’m not advocating doing it every day and revealing everything about your personal live – but there’s something quite special that happens when you do. I guess it humanizes you as a blogger a little, shows a different side of you, makes you more relatable to your readers and gives them another potential connecting point with you.

Read more about Adding a Personal Touch To Your Blog (series).

b5media Blogathon – Now On!

I’m a little behind in this one – I’ve had one other little thing on my mind distracting me – but wanted to give a shout out to a group of b5media bloggers who are currently doing a 24 hour blogathon – the Great Blog Off. Bloggers in our Entertainment, Business and Lifestyles Channels are blogging every hour for 24 hours to support charitable causes.

Having done a couple of blog-a-thons myself I know how much work is involved – so do drop by some of the blogs in those channels and give their bloggers some support and donations.

Are You Putting Cash in the Trash?

Today Fred Black tells a story of approaching bloggers to review a product and suggests how they could make more money with a little effort.

Hi, my name is Fred and I’m a ….I’m a… Blo… ahem… I’m a blogger.

At times, I interact with other bloggers and, for whatever reason, don’t reveal my “blogger” side. Occasionally this interaction brings to light something they do that they shouldn’t, or something they don’t do that they should, or something that they could do better. Often times, fixing this oversight could help them maximize potential profits. What follows is such an observation.

I recently helped my wife create and produce a children’s creative movement DVD called “Pretend with Miss Kim” that we released in October 2007. One of the methods we’ve used to promote this DVD is to spend time emailing “mommy” blogs about it. We’ve gotten a few bloggers to mention the DVD and review it. I thought it was time to do another round of emailing bloggers to try and get a few more reviews; this is when I noticed a peculiar behavior.

Most of these “mommy” and “parent” type blogs sell ads to generate revenue. Most seem to use 3rd party services to manage and sell the ads. No, that’s not unusual part, I’ll bet a good portion of the bloggers reading this post sell ads on their blogs, and use 3rd party services to mange the ads. The strange part is that almost all the blogs with advertising on their site missed a great chance to convert me to a paying advertiser.

I spent a couple of hours finding and emailing a nice introductory email to around 20 or so blogs. This took a few hours because I took the time to read a few posts on each blog to ensure sure it was a good fit. Needless to say, I’ve not had any response from the majority of the blogs. A few bloggers wrote me back and said that they would be interested in reviewing the product. Great! I’ll get them a copy in the mail! One wrote me back and said that she didn’t do product reviews any longer, but that she’d trade me a few copies in exchange for running an ad on her blog for a week or so… great idea – I’ll talk her up on that! But, only one blogger, just one, took the opportunity to respond and say that they were buried in this type of request and were not taking anymore reviews at this time, however, he felt that I would get good results placing an ad on their site. He was also smart enough to include his current daily visitor numbers, and to point out that his readers are the exact people I’m looking for! I’ll probably place an ad on his blog! Had he not responded I probably would have never even considered placing an ad on his blog!

I guess all the other bloggers, who didn’t respond, just don’t need anymore money! Maybe they think that just because I saw that they have advertising on their site I’ll click their link to place an ad. No probably not, I was asking for a free mention, a review. However, I want results; I want exposure for my product. It’s good news to me that a blog is so busy and popular they don’t have time to review all the products that they get requests to review. So write back and tell me so. Invite me to advertise on your blog. This little prompt, or push if you will, may well convert my request for a free review into a paying advertiser.

I assume from the few responses I received back, that most of the blogs I emailed get a lot of requests for product reviews, site reviews, links to other sites, etc. How long does it take to create a standard response, like the lone response I received, simply thanking a person for their interest, giving a few stats, and giving directions for placing an ad on the site? It’s certainly worth the few minutes of time it takes to copy and paste because it will most likely result in more advertising revenue. Is that not what most of use want from our blogs? And that is the peculiar part: as a person with a product needing exposure, I took the time to seek out and find blogs that matched my product perfectly, and contact them… yet the majority failed to respond. Plain and simple: missed opportunities for advertising revenue.

If you have a blog that features advertising, don’t pass up these missed opportunities. If you do, you’re just throwing money away that could have been in your pocket! As in the photo of the birds, only one blogger was facing a different direction, the right direction!

About the Author

Fred Black is an experienced programmer, web site developer, online business operator, father, husband, musician, and songwriter. Visit his Blog at: www.pqInternet.com , Visit his wife’s children’s DVD site at: www.MissKimDance.com.

Letting Comment Spam Take Over Your Blog – How to Let Your Blog Go #5

Let-Your-Blog-GoOne of the saddest things that I see on blogs is where a blogger completely gives up on staying on top of comment spam.

You dig into their archives searching for information and expertise on their topic only to find their comments section completely riddled with comments that range from annoying self promotion, to links to prescription drug sites, home loan offers, affiliate products, porn, dead links and any other manner of gutter/trash sites.

I can totally understand why a blogger might feel tempted to give up on moderating comment spam on one level – however would strongly advise against taking this course of action for two main reasons:

1. Blog Objectives and Brand - everything that appears on your website either adds to or takes away from the objectives you’re attempting to achieve on your blog. It also impacts your blog’s brand and reputation.

As bloggers, you and I know what comment spam is and how hard it is to keep it off our blogs – but the average person using the web only sees the comments and links in your comments as part of your site and many of them will associate it with you.

At the very least it shows you to be someone who doesn’t care enough to keep your site in good shape – at worst (to the uneducated) it could create a perception that you’re promoting the links others leave on your blog.

2. SEO – Point #1 is my main concern but I suspect there is also another impact of comment spam on your blog. I recently arrived on another blog’s post that had 101 comments on it – 95 of which were comment spam. I did a word count of the page and found that the whole page had 1552 words on it. The post itself have 210 words, the rest (1342) were the comments.

What had been a page with a tightly defined focus in the eyes of search engines had become a site that had more words associated with porn, gambling and drugs than the topic at hand. Not only this the comments didn’t have no follow tags on their links and pointed to all manner of dodgy sites and dead links.

Google doesn’t like links that don’t lead anywhere and frown even more on links pointing to ‘bad neighborhoods’ – I can only imagine the impact that comment spam had upon this posts search engine ranking.

Solution: Today’s ‘solution’ comes in two parts.

1. Clean up your comment spam – two years ago it was brought to my attention that one of my old blogs had become infested with comment spam. I’d not noticed it because the email address that I’d used to notify me of new comments on that blog had stopped working for a few months. I was confronted with thousands of spam comments throughout hundreds of posts. The only solution for me was to clean it up. It took me most of a day to do it but I went through every post on that blog and deleted comments manually. it was a job that sucked – but I got them all!

2. Determine a Comment Spam Strategy - the second half of the comment spam solution is to work out what you’re going to do about future comment spam. There are a variety of options open to you including:

  • Moderate All Comments Manually – switch comments to manual moderation and manually approve all comments
  • Use Comment Spam Moderation Tools – there are a variety of tools out there that can help you moderate comments. The most common of these is Akismet (although even this won’t stop them all). Most blog platforms also have different levels of moderation built in. For example here at ProBlogger I queue all first time commenters for moderation.
  • Outsource Comment Moderation - not an ideal solution if you want to be aware of everything happening on your blog but this is becoming a more common solution for bigger blogs who assign someone the task of moderating all comments.
  • Turn Off Comments - a fairly extreme step but it’s something that numerous bloggers have resorted to. This isn’t my preferred solution however I’d do this before letting spammers take over my blog completely.
  • Turn off Comments to Old Posts – a less extreme solution is to not allow comments on posts older than XXX weeks/months. The theory is that older posts attract less organic conversation so once you’ve given everyone a chance to comment on posts you switch them off.

What NOT to do about Comment Spam

Please don’t take an ‘ignore it and it will go away’ approach with comment spam. From what I’ve seen ignoring comment spam can actually make the problem worse as I’ve heard from some that there are lists that circulate among spammers that contain blogs that don’t moderate comments and even posts with certain keywords that they should target. Allowing one comment spam to slip through can actually lead to a deluge of them in future.

Don’t Let Emotion Be MIA In Your Content

Too many times, bloggers focus on their content without stopping to think about how they’re presenting it. Today Dave Hughes takes a look at creating memorable content by injecting Emotion into it.

The trick is to know how to construct an effective bloggerie (or blog post). Luckily, this doesn’t involve deals with the devil, mystic VooDoo rituals or ancient Chinese secrets. (Unless you want to base your chances of business success on Satan, a dead chicken and a fortune cookie, in which case have at it.) There’s one simple method that is present in all effective marketing that you should use in creating your content: an emotional connection.

Game-Time!

Let’s play a game. Look at the following group of letters and tell me what they mean:

Emotion-Content-1

Now, let’s look at those same letters, in the same order, but presented in a different way:

Emotion-Content-2>

I’m going to bet the second group is easier to comprehend, easier to remember, and has more of an impression than the first group. Why? The same “message” is contained in both, but in the second case the message was constructed to play upon your preconceived mental images and emotional connections.

I don’t mean that proper blogging uses acronyms (although they don’t hurt at all)…in the second case, you don’t have to explain what “FBI” stands for, or “CIA”, “NASA”, etc. Your readers will automatically have a mental image pop into mind when they see them.

No one has to be told what the IRS is, but AIRS could be anything.

No Business Like Show Business

Let’s look at this from a completely different angle; Hollywood movie pitches. Pretend for a moment that you’re a movie studio executive accepting one-sentence pitches for new movies. You’ve got $50 million dollars to invest in a movie…all you’re looking for is a sure-fire idea. (After all, you had to mow a lot of lawns to build that $50 million up!) Here’s the first pitch:

“A balding guy runs around in American cellars and caves, finding treasure and solving mysteries.”

Okay…not too bad. It might even have potential. Now, let’s hear the next one:

“It’s ‘The DaVinci Code’ meets ‘Indiana Jones’!”

Which movie do you have a clearer picture of in your mind? They both describe the “National Treasure” movie franchise, but which one makes it easier to envision how great it could be?

Now, are you trying to sell balding guys running around cellars and caves when you write, or two blockbusters combined into one package?

Don’t Forget To Be Memorable

Don’t focus on standing out…focus on being memorable. The best way to do that is to form an emotional connection with your readers, and one of the most effective ways to do that is to help your customers make an association between your writing and something they already have an emotional connection with.

Great Content… Bad Titles – How to Let Your Blog Go #4

Let-Your-Blog-GoOne problem that I regularly saw in the days that I took on blog consulting work was bloggers who spent hours and hours slaving over the writing of quality posts only to take 5 seconds to slap a very ordinary title on them.

While poor titles won’t have as much of an immediate detrimental impact as some of the other ways of letting a blog go that we’re exploring this week – over the long haul it can really hold a blog back from reaching it’s full potential.

Why Blog Post Titles Are Crucial

I can not emphasize enough the importance of the titles of posts. They matter for numerous reasons:

1. Your Title Acts as an Advertisement for your Post – the handful of words that you choose for the title of your post determine whether it will be read by the vast majority of people who see it. In a time where people scan hundreds of posts quickly in RSS feeds, are presented with thousands of alternatives when they search in Google and run their eye over many new posts on social sites like Digg or Delicious people are increasingly making decisions on the worth of posts and whether they’ll engage with them based upon titles. In effect your title acts as a mini advertisement for the rest of your post.

2. Titles Are Important in SEO – the words in title of your post have more power than any other words in your post when it comes to how that post is indexed by Google and other search engines. If you’re looking to get ranked for a certain keyword you had better find a way to get it included in your title. The reason for this is that SE’s look at titles as indicators of topic of posts. They also look at ‘title tags’ and the permalink structure of pages (the URL) – both of these things are usually connected with your title.

3. Titles are a key for Viral Content - I’ve already mentioned Social sites like Digg and Delicious in my first point above. Titles are KEY for these types of sites not only because they draw people from them to read your content – but because the title itself can be the sole reason that some users of these sites vote for your posts. It’s a sad thing really, but some social bookmarking site users don’t actually visit sites before they vote for them but instead vote up (or down) posts based upon their titles. While this seems a little pointless it can actually be important as their vote might tip your post into a ‘viral’ surge of actual traffic.

Solution: The solution to the problem of good content but bad titles is fairly obvious – take more time with your titles. If people make a decision whether to read your post based upon your post titles if you are not giving them considerable thought you are almost wasting your time slaving over your actual posts.

5 Tips For Developing Great Post Titles for Your Blog

I’ve written a lot of advice previously here at ProBlogger on writing titles including:

1. Keep it Simple – Most research I’ve seen into titles seems to argue that the most effective titles are short, simple and easy to understand. While breaking these rules can help grab attention (see below) they can also confuse, frustrate and put a glazed look in the eyes of potential readers. Shorter titles are also good for Search Engines – keep it under 40 or so characters and you’ll ensure the whole title appears in search results.



2. Grab Attention
– Good titles set your posts apart from the clutter around them and then draw readers into your post. Grabbing attention might happen using tactics of ’shock’, ‘big claims’, ‘controversy’ or even ‘confusion’. While these tactics do work at getting people in – it should also be said that they can do more damage than good if the rest of your post doesn’t live up to the promises your title makes. By all means try to grab attention – just just ‘trick’ your readers into thinking you’ll provide them with something you can’t give them.



3. Meet a Need
– An effective title draws people into reading more because they feel you’ve got something to say that they NEED to hear. Indexes like del.icio.us illustrate just how effective this is. Quite often the articles that get to the top of the list are ‘how to…’ or ‘tutorial’ type articles that show readers that they will learn how to solve a problem or need that they might have.



4. Describe Your Post
– Some readers will be drawn into a post by a cryptic title that doesn’t tell them much about what they’ll be reading – but the majority of readers need to know something about what they’ll find if they read further. Titles should describe (in a word or few) what readers will get in the main post.



5. Use Key Words
- As I mentioned above – titles are a powerful part of SEO. If you want to maximize their power you need to consider using the keywords that you want your post to be found with in your title in some way. This of course is challenging when you are attempting to ‘keep it simple’ and to also ‘grab attention and intrigue’ – but it can be done. Words at the start of titles are thought to be more powerful than words at the end when it comes to SEO.

‘Bonus’ idea – Hit the News Stand:

Head to your local News Stand and spend some time looking at the titles and headlines that are used in newspapers and magazines there. You can learn a lot from this type of analysis about what types of words and what patterns work in headlines. See this technique explored further both here at ProBlogger and at CopyBlogger (the master of great titles).

Share Your Best Post Titles

Got some good blog post titles to share with us? Leave them in comments below and tell us the story behind them, the strategy that you’re using and what impact they had.

How Blogging made me a Better Writer

Karen Andrews is an award winning short story writer coming up to the second year anniversary of her blog www.miscmum.com. Her first book, a children’s picture book called Surprise!, will be released in Australia in October. Further details can be found at www.miscpress.com.au

I recently spoke at a writers’ festival about the potential confluence of my blogging ‘world’ with my writing ‘world’ as the release of my book looms. There I posited the benefits this might entail; how one might help the other in terms of marketing and exposure.

As I thought about what I wanted to say that day, it occurred to me just what a difference blogging has made to my life. I don’t think I’m alone, either. Wherever I turn these days it seems like every blogger I read or admire is coming out with a book. I wondered, surely this is no coincidence? What is it that bloggers are doing to be so proactive and productive? What can we learn from their achievements?

For me, it boils down to one thing:

It’s about finding your voice…

I am what is often described as a ‘personal blogger’ (some might say ‘mommy blogger’). I suppose if I was to label myself, either term would be acceptable, but my point is no matter what field you specialise in, blogging is a fantastic medium for experimentation. Through words, video, and photographs one can truly find a means of expression that they’re comfortable with and communicate vividly through. I get so pleased for people who discover their voices; say what they’ve always wanted to say and mine their life’s experiences to tell wonderful, funny, poignant stories. For some, their voice becomes immediately recognisable. And famous. Perhaps profitable, if that’s important to you.

The truth is, once you’ve found your voice, a whole lot of the blogging questions which you inevitably face are easily answered. Clarity lets you say ‘no’ as much as ‘yes’, depending on the circumstances. It lets you focus on what’s most important and for me that’s the writing process itself.

…but finding your voice isn’t always easy

It is, however, a process.

You might write a blog which only grabs a handful of comments per post – if that. You might feel you’re languishing in undeserved anonymity. You might wonder why aren’t your words more powerful? More popular? Why don’t you have as many subscribers as this or that person?

I can’t solve any jealousy issues you might have (and I think we’ve all had them from time to time, if we’re honest) because that kind of external validation has nothing to do with the place where your passions and motivations are rooted inside. And if your validations and motivations are connected, then perhaps you’re a different kind of writer than I am. For example, I often write about my children. As I see writing about my children as a celebratory act of their lives, any response I get back from readers – good or bad – doesn’t shake the integrity I have each time I sit down and think of what I want to say.

Your voice doesn’t have to be likeable to everyone. It only matters that you’re happy with it.

It also doesn’t mean that everything automatically falls into place every time you sit down at your keyboard; that words will spill out effortlessly. Writing, as many people quickly discover, can be a hard slog. But it helps if the basics are there.

Cultivating your unique voice may take years, but eventually you will come to a point when you stand back from what you’ve achieved, from modest beginnings, be proud, and turn towards the future.

The rewards are worth it.