One of the most common – and most infuriating – mistakes made by PRs is the overuse of the dreaded term ‘feel free’, especially when pitching to bloggers.

Feel free to add this to your blog! Feel free to post this video! Feel free to promote our viral!

Oh yeah? How about ‘feel free to take a running jump’? Or ‘feel free to pay us a ton of money and then we’ll talk’.

Just to be clear, this doesn’t happen so much here at E-consultancy, since B2B-focused PRs tend to be a little savvier and more considered with their messaging, but in the world of consumer blogging the use of ‘feel free’ is widespread.

A company I run owns a large consumer-focused blog that attracts many dozens of press releases every day. So it’s a battle for attention, yet how does the average PR choose to stand out from the crowd? By inviting us to ‘feel free’!

A swift search through our email for press releases that feature this horrendous phrase has turned up no less than 50 releases in the past month. It’s rampant, and I cannot understand it.

Did I miss something? Are bloggers supposed to be philanthropic? And if so, then what about these PR ‘specialists’? Do they feel free when signing up to coordinate low-grade PR campaigns for their clients? Or do they charge hearty day rates?

Are viral marketing campaigns really ‘free’, or are thousands spent on creative and execution, and thousands more on pushing these out to bloggers? Bloggers, it seems, are supposed to be unaware of the sorts of sums being spent by clients on these campaigns. They are not expected to claim any slice of the action.

Meanwhile, clients are paying to be advised by PRs and viral marketing consultants to spend the big money on creating and seeding campaigns, rather than placing them or buying exposure as they would on a mainstream media website. It was good while it lasted, right?

The trouble is that many blogs are now more popular than mainstream media sites, and are aware of the value of their audience. The PRs need to realise this. Clients should wake up and stop allowing their PR reps to communicate to bloggers in such a cheap way. And stop expecting everything to be ‘free’.

So for those PRs who don’t know any better, here are my seven tips for reaching out to bloggers

  1. Keep it personal – avoid ‘Dear Fellow Style Watcher’ / ‘Dear Blogger’ / ‘Howdy Fine Blogger’, etc. It isn’t rocket science to personalise emails.
  2. Keep it short – I actually think that it’s ok to send a press release to a blogger, but please prefix it with one paragraph of compelling copy that makes me think you understand what we’re about, and why your release is relevant to our audience.
  3. Avoid CAPS LOCK at all costs – I could name and shame so many agencies that charge £1k+ in day rates, including B2B ones. Can you give me one good reason to WRITE SUBJECT LINES IN CAPITALS? No, thought not. I can give you five reasons why this approach sucks.
  4. Avoid bullshit, especially ‘exclusive’ bullshit. About one in ten emails from PRs and viral agencies promise ‘exclusivity’, yet this is abject nonsense. Bloggers normally know what ‘exclusive’ means. Stop telling us about this exclusive game, or video, or interview. Try managing expectations, rather than pulling wool.
  5. Stop being lazy! Personalisation aside, here’s my one key tip: stop asking bloggers to do your reputation monitoring for you (“Please ‘feel free’ to tell me if you post this clip!!!”). I reckon half of all PR-orientated emails include this sort of lame demand. It suggests a) you’re not watching and b) you wouldn’t notice if the blogger posted something. It is so easy to monitor your reputation online that this isn’t necessary.
  6. Avoid exclamation marks! Especially multiple exclamation marks, or exclamation marks used instead of full stops! See!! It’s really annoying!!!
  7. Say thank you. It’s just good manners, isn’t it? If a blogger has felt free enough to post your story, video clip, game or link, then how about a tiny bit of recognition? Just so they know you’re watching, and are appreciative?

Just to be clear, this isn’t about being paid to promote things. Context and relevancy are way more important, and editorial can’t be bought. Also, it’s good to be on radars. It’s just that the usage of the term ‘feel free’ sends out negative signals, and there are better ways of encouraging bloggers to cover your stories…