Not just coverage. Effective blogger outreach builds relationships.
The Advertising Standards Authority has issued fresh guidance for agencies on blogger outreach. Well, we say fresh guidance, but in reality, this is something that’s been pretty clear for a while now.
In a post on their media centre, the ASA writes:
“We’re reminding bloggers who are paid to write positive reviews or comments about a product or service that they must be up-front with their followers by making clear that it’s advertising. Not only will this help bloggers avoid misleading people and breaking the ad rules, it will also stop them from potentially breaking the law.
“Why are we doing this? We’ve received a steady stream of enquiries from bloggers wanting clarity on this issue and how the rules apply to their blogs. Some have also raised concerns with us, as well as via their own blogs, about social media and PR agencies who’ve apparently offered them money to advertise on their behalf while encouraging them not to declare that they’re doing so.”
First off, let’s be clear. Here at Ruder Finn, we’ve worked with bloggers both for advertising and PR campaigns and always made it quite clear what we’re contacting bloggers about.
If money changes hands, it’s advertising and is flagged as such. If it’s PR outreach, then we view it as very much the blogger’s choice. Some choose to highlight that the post is a result of a PR approach, others prefer not to. In the interest of transparency, we’re always happy for bloggers to highlight the involvement of a client.
Ultimately, we cannot (and should not) tell a blogger what they can and can’t write. What we can do is make sure we do our research, ensure any approach is relevant and build trust. Generally, the more you’re open and honest with your contact, the better the response.
In many respects, this is no different from the advice and guidance I’ve been providing to colleagues and clients for the past five or six years, yet it’s disappointing to see the ASA are “starting to see it creep up the agenda,” mainly because you’d hope it had been knocked off the agenda several years ago and that there was consensus within the industry on this topic.
Sadly, that’s not necessarily the case, as I can attest outside of work. There’s been a steady increase in my blog’s inbox of PR companies offering me payment for articles but adamant that this is in no way advertorial. I beg to differ.
Unlike it some areas of industry regulations, there’s no grey area. But even putting the legal aspect to one side, not disclosing payment does nobody any favours. For the blogger – or any writer for any publication – it does a disservice to the readers who expect an honest opinion.
As for the PR agency who tries to push these payments, is this really helping your clients? Ok, so, there’s coverage on the blog, but this isn’t going to exactly generate those relationships that will deliver far greater value for a strategically devised campaign.
And, ultimately, if you’re resorting to paying bloggers for positive coverage, I’d suggest that your original campaign plan has gone seriously awry somewhere or wasn’t much cop in the first place.