PR Friendly Blogs Are The New Infomercial


[twitter]Stay up late on a Friday night and you’ll be inundated with the ads to sell your gold, clean out your stains and cook meals with ease. We get drawn in by the storytelling in the pitch despite the entire time knowing we are being pitched. We know it’s a commercial. We know there’s a phone number to come and yet we watch. The same thing is happening with blogs.

PR Friendly

What started as an online storytelling medium, a place for people to diarize their lives, tell their stories, share information and offer up opinion is being turned into an infomercial. We are constantly being pitched and you just have to look at the way Mommy Bloggers are attacking the world of marketing to understand that what you see isn’t always an authentic message.

If you see the “PR Friendly” tag on a blog or Twitter handle, chances are everything you’re about to read is bought and paid for. That handle is the blogger reaching out to marketers to say “Hey, I’ll take your stuff and write about it on my site.” That PR Friendly tag is an active outreach by the blogger or twitter user to sell their site for stuff.

One of the best examples of how deep the marketing message has infiltrated blogs is SelfishMom. Her disclosure is more than 1500 words long. There are 16, SIX.TEEN different ways she gets paid to post content on her site. What started out as just a way for people to share their experiences and stories is now way for people to do so on behalf of an advertiser.

What do you expect?

When I write for the Future Shop Tech Blog, I am paid a fee for my content. Future Shop owns the blog and pays writers to supply it with content. On occasion I’m given products to review. But it’s a genuine review I’m asked to give. I don’t keep the product, it’s a loaner that must be returned. So when I say that I really like the Dyson Ball, the Panasonic Headphones or the AppleTV – I really do. And if I don’t like something, Tassimo, I’m free to post that too. Future Shop is hiring me to produce the reviews, not a manufacturer or PR company.

But when a blogger has “her own little blog dot com” they end up being paid to post directly by the client. The PR company does the pitch to the writer who ends up being easily convinced to write favorable content in return for products or consideration. It’s either that or trying to make their small business survive off the pennies a click from the ads surrounding the content.

Marketers are looking for different ways to influence the market and advertorial (editorial that is really bought and paid for advertising) ends up being an effective means to that end. And since it’s a little cloak and dagger, the money to be made – or more likely the freebies to be scored – are much better than what you’ll make off your humble AdSense ads.

Why are we so cynical?

Next time you read a blog recommending diapers or shoes or a vacation spot, look for the little disclosure tag. Chances are it’s not a random review, it was a product that was given in exchange for editorial.

It’s a slippery slope and it easily let’s cynicism sneak into the equation. I stumbled into a fabulous discovery a few months back. TwitCleaner is a tool that lets you analyze who you follow and helps you remove bots and accounts that don’t add value. I must have tweeted about it for 2 straight days, I was so excited to share my new find.

I over did it a bit, people were asking me if I was being paid to tweet it. I wasn’t, I was just sharing, but the cynicism was there.

Last week, Erin Bury was sharing her enthusiasm over Tim Hortons.

erinbury

At the end of her blog post she had to put “**No, I wasn’t paid to write this post. I just really, REALLY love Tim Hortons.

Back in the day we wouldn’t have questioned Erin’s enthusiasm for Timmy’s. However, because of disclosures like SelfishMom feels the need to post, we question.

I get we’ve got to make money and catering to advertisers sometimes is part of that. I have had, in my job as a radio announcer, times where my boss has suggested I not speak negatively about a client that was in the news. When I wanted to make a joke about Bonnie Brooks, President of The Bay, I made sure to clear it with the company first so they had a head’s up in case it was misinterpreted.

So I get the relationship between client and content is a tenuous one. Still, wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the days where we could believe everything we read?

Is PR Friendly the new payola?

Back in the 60s, the radio industry got in a lot of trouble for accepting cash to play records.

Payola, in the American music industry, is the illegal practice of payment or other inducement by record companies for the broadcast of recordings on music radio, in which the song is presented as being part of the normal day’s broadcast. Under U.S. law, 47 U.S.C. § 317, a radio station can play a specific song in exchange for money, but this must be disclosed on the air as being sponsored airtime, and that play of the song should not be counted as a “regular airplay”.

The term has come to refer to any secret payment made to cast a product in a favorable light (such as obtaining positive reviews). [wiki]

How long until blogs suffer the same scrutiny?

If you want a great take on pay for play, check out @smonkyou‘s PR Unfriendly rant.

What’s your take on blog disclosures? Do you accept free products in exchange for content on your blog?

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15 Comments

  1. November 22, 2011

    I agree with you that it can be a slippery slope. However, I do reviews on my blog and I do get paid for posts occasionally by PR firms, etc. The way I keep things sane is that I only accept products to review that I would have actually bought for my family and I never, ever write something I don’t believe. If I hate a product (and it has happened), I write the PR firm back and say “I can either write a review that says “this negative thing” or I can not review. Your choice.” They usually pick no review.

    I have a full time job so I know that I will probably never make “real” money from my blog. I am totally okay with that. I do love to get to try new things and tell people about them. It’s my personality and I do it all the time in real life too. These days, I just get to share samples with my friends occasionally instead of just my opinion.

  2. November 22, 2011

    I’ve been following your tweets and posts and I have to say that it really does feel like you have a strong dislike of “Mommy Blogges” in general. It’s so strong in all of your posts that it ruins the message, as quite frankly – it comes across as pure hate, and, quite sad. These bloggers have clout with the PR/Companies because they have READERS. So obviously, there are people who want to read what they have to say/review. Just because you don’t like review sites (neither do I for that matter) the fact remains – these people wouldn’t get stuff/paid unless they had an audience.

  3. November 22, 2011

    @Merry, Maybe it’s just that my blogs haven’t become ‘that’ noticed yet and I haven’t had to deal with the PR emails the way others do.

    I love that I can go for a hike with my sons and write about it to give other people tips and places to try. To go to a restaurant I loved and write about it is fun. It’s authentic… and it’s easy.

    I’ve done endorsements on the radio for products that, while I enjoyed them, I’ve had to go overboard in my enthusiasm for the client. It didn’t feel natural. I felt dirty.

    It’s so easy to sing the praise of something when it comes from the heart. I guess I’m hoping that’s the test all bloggers use before they write.

    Dirty is bad.

  4. November 22, 2011

    Thanks for the comment, Jennifer. I am a ‘mommy blogger’. I contribute to the sites, and I have my own parenting blog.

    I’m commenting more on the trend of amateurs trying to play a professional game and falling very quickly down a slippery slope.

    I would prefer to see the sites survive on ads surrounding their great (and authentic) reviews, rather than strategically placed reviews in exchange for payment (or product).

    Oh, and I’m not so naive to not think that this doesn’t happen in the likes of mainstream media, there’s just an innocence that is being lost in the blogosphere that I find disappointing.

  5. November 22, 2011

    I got paid to do a “shoppertunity” the other day which is basically I was paid to go buy food to make a meal at WalMart and blog about it. I put negative info in that post. I don’t wax poetic about things I don’t like or “put it on for the camera”. I would hope most people don’t. I also don’t think that doing that post somehow precludes me from writing about taking my son hiking (wrote about that too) or about a restaurant I love (ditto).

  6. November 23, 2011

    The cynicism can now spread to Facebook with the introduction of sponsored stories to the news ticker: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/11/facebook-introduces-sponsored-stories-to-ticker/

    “This new sort-of subversive advertising is becoming more and more pervasive in social media.”

    Yes. Yes, it is.

  7. November 23, 2011

    I have to agree with your perspective Buzz. It’s easy pickings for a lot of PR and Brands these days with “PR Friendly” tags. It’s not just mommy bloggers, although that vertical is pretty out of control, it’s tech and others that are basically up for sale.

    The thing that they don’t understand is how badly most are being played. Free stuff costs PR and brands nothing compared to traditional advertising and yet it means everything to bloggers that may throw praise in return for the swag. I think it has really tarnished the whole blog industry to be honest and will only get worse as the recession goes for a double dip.

    Marketers are looking for ways to save money and bloggers are looking for ways to make more, seems like a match made in heaven to me. Not only that but with the lack of disclosure, journalistic, and advertising standards, just who do you trust?

    Have you ever been to the annual Blogher event? It’s insane the way brands pour on the free stuff to the mommy bloggers.

  8. November 25, 2011

    I do agree with most of your commentary here Buzz. I too have reviewed a few products for companies, but only those I truly believe in or feel would provide an interesting experience for my kidlets. As an example, I really enjoyed my time as a #KinderMom ambassador but if you read my posts I really do write about our life experience with them, not waxing poetic about how great they are! I am not here to monetize my blog as my blog is for me – it’s my journey and cathartic, not an advertiser’s forum. I especially loathe the “PR Friendly” tag, to me, this is a passive-aggressive way to say “I’m for sale, send me anything”.

    However I do take offense to your comment, “I’m commenting more on the trend of amateurs trying to play a professional game and falling very quickly down a slippery slope.” Who do you consider amateurs trying to play a professional game? Those of us who didn’t start blogging back in 2003? Some of us “mommy bloggers” do have the professional skills and education of writing, marketing, business, etc while those you may consider “professional bloggers” have only the benefit of having jumped on the blogging train earlier. I would argue this does not a professional make. Just my two cents.

  9. November 25, 2011

    Thanks for the comments, Felicia. I would call the single run blogs part of the amateur ranks. When you look at Babble, YMC, Mashable, TechCrunch, HuffPo – those are pro journalism organizations where there are departments for sales, editing and writing. If advertorial makes its way into those pages it’s because there are deeper ad relationships being created.

    I can’t blame mom and pop blogs for taking the freebies when they come their way, it’s flattering to get noticed.

    I guess I’d rather see the PR companies treat bloggers with influence with more respect. Buy a proper ad surrounding the content. Toss some banners, promotions and giveaways that you pay CPM for instead of getting a load of links and chatter for the cost of mailing out a box of diaper wipes.

    When editorial and sales are separated, things run a little smoother.

  10. November 26, 2011

    This I totally agree with! 🙂

  11. December 7, 2011

    Buzz, you’re absolutely right, and this isn’t limited to mombloggers – we’re already seeing dadblogs that are little more than infomercials for whatever brand is throwing swag or free trips at the author.

    It’s ultimately going to be up to the blogger to decide if he/she wants his site to be little more than the hood of a NASCAR racing car. I’m very clear with brands who contact me with review requests – I will give them my honest opinion, and if their product sucks, I’m more than happy to let my readers know, even if that product is given to me. On those rare occasions when I have done a sponsored post (I think I’ve done 4 in DadCentric’s six year history, and one of those was for a brand – Philips Norelco – who didn’t pay me, but instead donated a large sum of money towards the Movember prostate cancer research campaign), I fully disclose that it’s a paid endorsement, and I never work with a brand that I wouldn’t personally recommend. The sad fact is that some bloggers can be bought for the price of a DVD; luckily, smart readers can see through that. And brands are starting to move away from the shills, as they see the benefit of working with a writer/blog that the readers can actually trust – which is supposed to be the value of working with blogs in the first place.

  12. December 7, 2011

    Thanks Jason.

    Bloggers need to raise the bar and take themselves more seriously. Instead of being PR Friendly, they need to be advertiser friendly.

    Follow up post coming.

  13. […] Related posts:PR Friendly Blogs Are The New Infomercial […]

  14. […] have been wondering a lot about the relationship between bloggers and PR firms lately. I think bloggers are being taken for a ride by doling out mentions to brands in exchange […]

  15. […] The PR Friendly tag is becoming ubiquitous. It’s a way for the blogs to reach out to brands with a wink and a nudge. What started as an online storytelling medium, a place for people to diarize their lives, tell their stories, share information and offer up opinion is being turned into an infomercial. We are constantly being pitched and you just have to look at the way Mommy Bloggers are attacking the world of marketing to understand that what you see isn’t always an authentic message. [PR Friendly Blogs Are The New Infomercial] […]

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