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The practise of blogger or influencer "engagement" is one of the most widely-used tactics in marketing these days, done by almost everyone, from PR agencies to SEOs, social marketers to spammers.

It's also one of the most commonly derided amongst the recipients and much-debated amongst bloggers and professionals - but rarely addressed by marketers themselves.

If you're doing it well, why share the secrets with your competitors? Sadly, a lot of marketers are doing it very badly indeed, and something needs to be done about it...

As both a blogger and a marketer, I've spent a long time contemplating whether or not to write this post. Many of my fellow bloggers (with whom I regularly discuss this subject) take the view that we should count ourselves lucky that brands want to work with us at all, and should avoid upsetting the proverbial apple cart.

Nobody likes a whistle-blower, and many bloggers believe that if they speak-up or "name and shame" they will be marked out as trouble-makers, blacklisted from all the best blogger lists and identified in "do not work with" posters on PR department desks across the land. 

I'm more than happy to take one for the team though, for several reasons. First up, my position as a marketer gives me a fairly unique perspective - I work with bloggers as part of my job (indeed, it was one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place - to experience it "from the other side") and I blog myself.

Secondly, the chance of me ever carving a living from my blogging is slim-to-none - so if I DO get blacklisted and marked out as a trouble-maker, it won't make much of a dent in my future (I hope!). So I'm making a stand and calling a spade a spade. 

The following list is accompanied by 10 genuine, real emails which I (as a blogger) have received in the past year. I get these emails at a rate of probably one a week - but knowing other FAR more popular bloggers, I can tell you that these things come in thick and fast when you have a popular blog.  

Wherever possible I have anonymised the emails I'm quoting. Whilst crappy pitches really drive me to despair, I also believe in a little bit of karma - so naming and shaming isn't in my plans quite yet. If any of you reading this are the authors behind these approaches, I hope you will forgive me for using your words - trust me, I'm TRYING to do this for everybody's benefit.

I actually LOVE blogger engagement as a marketing discipline, and when it's done right it can be an absolute joy. But the people who do it badly are giving all of us a bad name, and the sooner it stops, the better.

So, here are 10 painful examples of blogger engagement done badly – accompanied by some tips that might help you to do it better.

1. Don't expect something for nothing

[Boring details about a boring piece of research removed] Feel free to share this information with your readers if you think it would be of value to them. Thanks for reading and have a great day.

This is probably the most common cruddy approach bloggers get at the moment – the “something for nothing” message. If we were that desperate for content to put on our blog, we’d do research for ourselves.

I personally use Google Alerts and social bookmarks to help me find relevant content to blog about (if I don’t have ideas of my own to hand). I don’t sit at my desk waiting for an amazing piece of research or a dull article to drop in my inbox.

You might think you’re getting something for nothing (as I’m sure there are some bloggers who DO respond well to this – otherwise why do you bother?) but you’re actually ruining your chances of ever developing a real and useful relationship with bloggers and influencers – and probably ending up on hundreds of email blacklists to boot.

2. Don't pretend it's not about SEO

Hi there! Nice to “meet” you! I am an aspiring writer looking to gain more experience and boost my portfolio by contributing to travel sites such as yours. I loved the articles on your site, and would love to be able to contribute some of my work! I love writing about travel and cultures from around the world.

Bloggers get these on a daily basis – they’re the scourge of our inboxes. Unless you manage to catch a brand-new blogger who is as fresh as the driven snow, NOBODY is falling for this BS.

Trying to trick us into posting your SEO content under the guise of “boosting your portfolio” or practising your writing skills is both patronising and niaive – if you’re stupid enough to mention the client you want to write about in that first email too, I’ll quite happily call out the client in question and explain to them how lazy their SEO people are. 

3. Don't just send us press releases

Dear Henry, We are a small company […] and have a product we genuinely believe could help kids, and so be of interest to parents, hence why we are approaching you. You may have read in the last few days that the UK has one of the worst literacy and numeracy levels in the developed world…

If you feel that you HAVE to send us your press release content to make your approach make sense, don’t stick it all at the front of your message. I haven’t got time to read great reams of content before you decide to get to the point – if you want to offer me an opportunity, tell me upfront and save the waffle for later in the message.

As much as bloggers are news and information sources for many people, we AREN’T the same as journalists. We don’t have pages we’ve got to fill or deadlines to meet, so we don’t want to spend hours wading through press releases – save them for somebody else.

4. Don't be sloppy or lazy

Hi Henry, I hope you are well. I am contacting you regarding my current project which concerns [REDACTED] and I thought it might prove to be an interesting feature for “Blog name”. With the rising costs of…

Look, we all know you don’t always have time to personalise every single approach – and frankly, as some of these other examples show, sometimes it’s best just to be honest anyway.

But if you ARE going to use a mail-merge or some sort of automated mailing program, make sure the bloody thing works before you use it. Getting an email telling me how much you love my blog, “Blog name”, is amusing for me but doesn’t look at all good for you OR the brand you’re working for. Don’t do it. 

5. Don't patronise us  

I noticed your interest with regards to finding out whether books we enjoy here in the UK are also enjoyed elsewhere in the world. I also enjoyed reading your blog about using reading to prepare your children for starting school. I’m also aware you value a creative and fun environment for your children from your multiple posts that centre on toys and lego.

Aside from the slightly sloppy English, this person is attempting to show what an avid reader of my blog they are. In reality, what they’ve done is read the titles of the most recent three blog posts on my blog – they haven’t even read the posts, as is evident in the fact that the second example bears no similarity to what the post was actually about.

As I mentioned in the previous example, personalising your approach CAN be useful – but it can also backfire on you. I find this patronising and lazy, and will probably put me off more than if you just got to the point straight away. Honesty is often the best policy, after all.

6. Do your research first

Dear Henry, I just wanted to get in touch to let you know about a competition that may be of interest to you and your children, in particular Sam.

The painful nature of this approach (an approach which had me crying with laughter) may not be immediately obvious, but if it’s not clear I’ll give you a clue: I have two children, one named Robert and one named Freddie. So who ‘Sam’ is remains a mystery to me!

This may be the result of a bad mail-merge or mass send out, or could be a genuine mistake. Either way, it makes you look rubbish and doesn’t make me want to work with you! 

7. Don’t treat us like a second-class journalists

I hope you’re well today. I was looking at your blog and wanted to get in touch. Sorry it’s bit late in the day but I just wanted to check if you might be free to attend an afternoon tea this Wednesday with [REDACTED] 

If you think I’m good enough to attend your event, invite me in the first place. Don’t wait until all your “real” journalists have declined the invite and send me a desperate plea the day before the event, in a hope that you can make up the numbers.

Or if you ARE going to do that, at least be honest about it.

8. Don't sign us up to other stuff

Thanks for joining our mailing list…

Just because I reply to your email approach – or even if we work together – doesn’t mean I wanted to be signed-up to yours and your client’s mailing lists.

There are rules about that these days and the last time I checked “being nice” wasn’t the same as opting-in to a mailing list. Don’t do it.

9. Don't go back on your word

Hi Henry, Sorry for the slow response. I am on to the client about product reviews. I can't guarantee anything but I need to show some stats for your blog. Can you email me some?? thanks,

There’s very little more annoying to a blogger than a PR who offers them something, then goes back on their word.

Telling me that you love my blog, that your client is DESPERATE to work with me and that everything is ready – THEN telling me you have to review my site (once I’ve expressed an interest) to check I qualify as a good enough blogger? Screw you – you dangled a carrot at me and then snatched it away.

You end up looking like an arse, your client comes out badly and I shall add you to my spam-senders list.

10. Don't ask us to do your work for you 

Sorry about that – my client need bigger reach, and your blog just doesn’t have enough followers yet. If you know any other bloggers who might like it though, I’d love it if you could pass on my details to them…

This one follows-on from the above example – and I’ve experienced this on several occasions. If I don’t meet your criteria as a blogger, fine – I’m grown-up enough to know that my blog isn’t all-powerful yet.

But to then add insult to injury and expect me to pass your details on to my other blogger friends, so you can toy with them as well? Are you having a laugh?

In conclusion...

As you can see, I’ve dealt mainly with the process of communicating with bloggers and influencers. Whilst I was tempted to include my thoughts on incentives, reviews, payments and freebies, the truth is that most bloggers will have different preferences in these areas.

You’re only going to know what a blogger likes or doesn’t like in terms of the above is by talking to them – and hopefully, if you learn from the mistakes listed in this blog, those conversations will be a little more fruitful!

Henry Elliss

Published 7 November, 2013 by Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss is a senior strategist at Good Relations and contributor at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or via his own parenting blog.

18 more posts from this author

Comments (24)

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Matthew Henton

Matthew Henton, Marketing Director at 31DOVER

Great post Henry. And very funny!

almost 3 years ago

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Alex Burmaster

Brilliant insights Henry. About time somebody did this, helps us all!

almost 3 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Thanks guys - if even one PR person reads it and decides not to hit 'send' on one of these approaches, I'll consider that a win!

almost 3 years ago

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Jonathan Henley, Actively seeking a new challenge at potentially your organisation...do get in touch!

Whilst you're at it, I wonder if I could interest you in a new and revolutionary new.....oh, never mind!

Nice stuff, deserves to be shared so off it goes..

almost 3 years ago

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karen

Spot on Henry!

For this reason, I have a canned response ready to go whenever I get any of these emails.

It goes something like this...

**************

(No Hi or Hello or name because they are not addressing you properly either)

Thank you for contacting (insert your website)

Currently, I am not accepting unsolicited guest posts.

However, I do accept unique sponsored posts from reputable companies with one no-follow text link (good for one month period.) for $250 per post.

If you are interested, please let me know and I'll email you the guest post guidelines.

Thank you for your interest in (your site)

****************

Most cases, they stop emailing me after seeing the price or "no-follow" links.

almost 3 years ago

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Natalie @ Pegcitylovely

I love this post! Thanks for your transparency - sharing to all of my networks!

almost 3 years ago

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Roger

Harry (sic), very eye-opening!

We've been wine blogging for under a year, so these insights are helpful, thanks (hope I'm not contravening #5??).

almost 3 years ago

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Kathleen

Thank you for posting this. I have stopped responding to the "guest post" offers. If they follow up, then I tell them my prices. Otherwise I don't waste my time.

Along the same lines as the pitches who don't properly change their cookie cutter emails or don't really read your blogs are the ones that address you by the wrong name or even the wrong gender. I know men bloggers who have received pitches addressing them as the mommy. Or for feminine products.

There are good PR out there though and I make a point of telling them how much I appreciate them.

almost 3 years ago

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Hugh Anderson, Co-Founder & Director at Forth Metrics Limited

Nice one, Henry. I can't fault any of your points and, as someone also desperately trying to educate the masses, I'm very glad you decided to post it. I think the PR industry is facing a bit of a conundrum - they need to get away from the lazy, spammy, automated approach; yet too few actually invest the time to do outreach properly, as, with most things in life, the more effort you put in, the greater the rewards.

almost 3 years ago

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Carolyn

Fantastic post. As both a blogger and a PR consultant, I always find it interesting to see how both sides work.

I don't think I've ever been persuaded to write a 'guest post' as yet and have rarely seen any decent blogger outreach.

From what I'm told, there are many bloggers who are happy to write guest posts and reviews so it's worth the mass mailings, I guess.

Personally, my least favourite approach is getting a mass mailout for reviewing products and then getting a reply saying my blog isn't big enough. Thanks but don't clog up my inbox then.

almost 3 years ago

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Byron Hardie

Thank you for the post Henry,

From a Digital Marketing agency perspective it would do a lot of SEO & Marketing Managers well to read this article as many have no idea how ineffective or even insulting their "outreach" programs are.

I know of several companies that use the tactics listed here and some of the templates are almost verbatim. It is a link building / content marketing process that is paint-by-numbers.

A lot of time there are inexperienced staff in charge of these outreach campaigns because it is treated like a data entry position with repeatable steps. Rarely is there an actual relationship established or genuine interest in the person being contacted. It appears to be more about filling up the outreach funnel and taking inventory of who responds.

Part of this is due to the time it takes to build these relationships, produce great (non-promotional) content and engage with a blogger in a way that establishes mutual respect and mutual benefit.

In an agency environment, most companies that sell these services to their clients have deliverables to meet under strict timelines and pressure for results. They only care about the link or social share.

It is probably the fault of the agency for not educating the client on how the process works (or should work), what the time and quality commitment is, or simply over-promising in order to close a deal.

For those that are genuinely interested in changing their ways the main question asked might be how bloggers would LIKE to be contacted and approached that might at least open the door for a dialogue.

Thanks again for the insight Henry. With the scenarios you describe being rampant in this industry I hope this spawns a much needed discussion that can clean up the process, bridge the relationship gap between marketers and bloggers, and hopefully provide a better connection between clients and their target audience.

almost 3 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Thanks for all your great feedback, guys!

almost 3 years ago

Heledd Jones

Heledd Jones, Head of Search Marketing at Confused.com

Great post Henry - #9 and #10 were the most outrageously shocking for me, sounds like the problem you can encounter as a brand when you're working with an agency...
As a brand, whether you do this in-house or via an agency I always think there should be a sign-off process before emails are sent out :)

almost 3 years ago

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Daniel Hebert

Great post Henry! I agree with everything you said.

The one that really bothers me is when the person doing outreach tries to over-value themselves, and devalue your site in the process. I often get outreach emails along the likes of "I can provide you with much needed high-quality content" or "I will write this content for you, free of charge."

Excuse me? You're trying to put links on my site, advertise your brand on my site, and I'm supposed to pay you? Hahaha.

Daniel Hebert,
Inbound and Community Manager,
InNetwork Inc.

almost 3 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Daniel - Me too! My biggest annoyance is when they offer you something, you say an excited "Yes please!" and then they say "Oh, actually, we've had lots of replies - sorry, we can't offer it to you after all". Makes you feel about this --> . <-- small.

almost 3 years ago

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Morag

This was fantastic, and I agree with all your points.

A point I would like to add however is that a lot of PR's seem to be quite disrespectful that this is not my job, and that I do have to be in an office seven hours a day for five days of the week. I can't find out about an event on Monday that is happening on Thursday and be able to shuffle a few things around in order to make it.

I am willing to take some holidays off if it's an event I'd really like to be at but I need to give my boss two weeks notice.

And tell PR's not to get bitchy if I choose not to take a holiday, or wasn't allowed it. I get the UK's legal minimum and need to choose them wisely. I wasn't able to make a 'press day' of a fair and had to go on a regular day and the PR got bitchy (even more shockingly they got bitchy at a fellow blogger who is still in high school and would have got suspended if you she was caught skipping for this).

almost 3 years ago

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Hayley

This is a really great post. I get a lot of last minute invites to events, it's a bit shoddy and I can never go to them. I also get a lot of invited to events in London when I live in Edinburgh. They're about 400 miles away from each other!

over 2 years ago

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Andre

I was just browsing around trying to understand how the authors community works when I found your post Henry. Although it poses more problems than expected to my own little project, I found it amusing and enjoyable. I would say that once an industry starts to squeeze the profits from any human activity this is what always happens. It doesn't matter how carefully or personal you want to be addressed by the other side, or what you consider correct and respectful, the minions on that industry will always treat you like one more in the crowd unless you are already a big shot. And if that's the case they will even lick your boots on any rainy day.

I'm not a blogger myself although I would like to have the required skills, but on a common sense base I agree with most of the comments (NOT all of them) and I understand the feeling. Maybe the problem comes from those influencers or bloggers who accept and even embrace the spamming approach? I mean, if everyone in the activity did what you said, this world would be a little better.

I have a question though, and I would be grateful if you shed some lights on the path to find the right answer. What happens to small people trying to get their products known? I mean those 2-3 persons working on something they love and trying to get their short-run pocket-financed garage-built products out there. In my case, I'm trying to build awareness about the products I do in my small workshop. Branding I think it's called. I also know that the only valuable way is through blogs since other tools like AdWords or Google Shopping are designed to be unaffordable for this kind of things. Anyway, I was thinking along these lines when I found somebody advising about the advantages of guest blogging. I thought to myself "ok, this may worth a try but... who's going to accept guest bloggers just like that?". On the other hand, if I want my site to even appear on Google Search I need several hundreds of links, preferably editorial, right? So I should be counting on $250 multiplied by several hundreds. If my maths are not too old or out-dated by now, for a small start-up, garage-built-and-pocket-financed product I need hundreds of thousands of US$ just to get the word out.

So, you tell me. I don't know if you share all of the comments written previously but, is this access to bloggers something already out of reach for this kind of small start-ups? Are they reserved nowadays for big companies with a budget big enough to pay for $250 an article with one link (good for one month, as said above)? Most probably those small start-ups are off scope, they may not be fancy or draw a huge attention in the media. What to do in those situations?

over 2 years ago

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Janmary

Brilliant post - I get all of these regularly.

I hate it when they say "I am a huge fan of your blog and long-time avid reader" ..... really? Then why have you never commented?

Maybe we should all start replying to these requests with a link to this post!

over 2 years ago

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Jonathan Henley, Actively seeking a new challenge at potentially your organisation...do get in touch!

I'm feeling really left out. Shall I start a blog so I can also complain about these uninvited requests? What do you think? I am already guest blogging on Rock The Deadline - find me and my words here: http://rockthedeadline.com/author/jhenley/

Unsolicited gifts far preferable to unsolicited requests for me to write for an unknown PR gonk.

over 2 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Andre - Thanks for the feedback. I'm really keen to know which ones you didn't agree with, for discussion's sake.

In regards to the people who can't afford it: I recently reviewed a product (of very low value, and completely free) for a guy who is running a kickstarter to get his invention funded. He approached me in a polite and friendly way, and because I like supporting "the little man" I was more than happy to help him. I'm sure plenty of others would be too.

over 2 years ago

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Jake

Ive been dealing with reach outs like this for your years im glad you stood up and spoke about it.

over 2 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Thanks Jake, much appreciated!

over 2 years ago

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Faiza Ahmed, Project Manager at WebsUnion.com

Informative post!, there are many untrained or rookies out there trying their luck. Anyways keep up the good work!

9 months ago

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