I first met Maris Callahan through a food blogging group on Facebook and I’ve appreciated her candor and insight into the world of PR. Maris is the founder of In Good Taste, so she has the unique perspective of being a PR professional and being a food blogger. I asked Maris if she’d answer some questions about how food bloggers and PR work together and she kindly agreed. If you’re new to working with PR, or even if you’re a seasoned pro, you’ll want to read what she has to say. Thank you, Maris!
How did you get into blogging? Do you think it’s benefited you in your career to be on both sides of the fence, so to speak?
I worked in PR first, then started blogging in 2008 because I have always loved to write and blogging seemed like an obvious platform to utilize. I vividly remember chatting with my friend Joey over a drink and telling him that I’d always loved to write. He said: “why don’t you have a blog?” I started one the next week! While it can be difficult to balance the two, in the long run, I know that I am a better publicist because I understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of pitches. I’ve seen what works and what does not.
I have been writing online for a long time and also believe that my education and experience in marketing and PR is a strong asset as a writer and a publisher. I love to find unique ways to help brands tell their stories via all different mediums. One example of how blogging and PR complement one another is that I’ve received pitches from companies that I wouldn’t necessarily write about, but that fit a national TV segment that I had booked for my client. At the end of the day, working in the media lends itself to a lot of opportunities. Being transparent with my clients and colleagues is my number one priority and with that, it all falls into place.
For bloggers who are just starting out, what’s the best way for them to get their foot in the door with PR reps and brands?
This business is about building relationships. A blogger should get to know a brand before initiating a business deal. Assuming your end goal is to have a brand hire you for paid work, you should introduce yourself with a simple email explaining who you are and what you do and why you’re different than the thousands and thousands of other blogs out there. Just as it’s rare to be hired at your dream salary right out of college, it’s rare to be new in an industry and start making the big bucks right away. I would rather receive an email from a blogger who introduces herself, explains why her blog is a fit for the brand I am representing and what types of collaborations she is interested in working on in the future. If I get an email that mentions compensation immediately, I find it off-putting. I’d rather see that you’re truly interested in building a relationship with the brand than looking for fast cash.
Food bloggers get emails all day long from brands wanting to send them samples or collaborate on projects. When is it appropriate to ask for compensation and how should bloggers bring it up?
If you’re going to treat your blog like a business, you need to be just as professional as you would if you were going into an office every day. I can’t tell you how many emails I receive from bloggers that say “I would love to develop a recipe!” or “I would love to do a sponsored post!” for a brand that I represent. I would never pitch a prospective client by saying “I would love to do your PR!” and sign it “xoxo, Maris.” I send them a professionally worded email that introduces myself and my business and explains why working with me could be valuable for to that company. I treat my outreach for my own blog the same way. If you’re asking for paid work, you need to also be prepared to “sell” the recipient on the value proposition. Tell them why working with you will benefit the company’s bottom line and for lack of a better term “what’s in it for them.”
I would also highly recommend learning about the industry and understanding the difference between public relations and advertising, which I will talk more about in a bit. When I send a PR pitch for a client, and I immediately receive an email back saying “here is my media kit and this is my rate for a sponsored post,” it’s an immediate decline. I want to introduce my clients to bloggers who we can build relationships with, not bloggers who want to make a quick buck and call it a day. Blogs are a really unique media channel, unlike print media, traditional online media (like a news website) or even broadcast media. It’s not to say that I don’t think that bloggers should be monetizing their sites, because I do, but I think there is a way to do it that is tactful and professional.
How would you define earned PR vs. a paid advertorial?
It’s really so much simpler than a lot of people make it out to be. Public relations is not guaranteed, while advertising is. Public relations is the process of securing earned media while advertising is paying for exactly what you want to run. Digital publishing is blurring the lines between the two, but it really should not be.
At end of the day media is paid for or it isn’t and the most important thing is that paid media is disclosed properly as such or it risks being seen as deceitful to readers.
Where do you see sponsored posts and brand collaborations heading in the next few years? My opinion is that just like with banner ads, we’re going to reach a saturation point with sponsored posts and people will begin to tune them out. Do you think blogs that do almost exclusively sponsored content will be sustainable in the long-term?
My advice to any publisher would be to diversify your revenue stream. Would you watch a television network that only ran commercials? I would not, nor do I read blogs that only run sponsored posts. People who consume online media are getting smarter about what they are reading and why.
Personally, I do not read blogs made up entirely of product reviews, giveaways or sponsored posts. I do not recommend them to my clients because my clients pay me for my opinion and I want to recommend high-quality sites that offer a variety of content, not solely advertisements. Consumers get frustrated when their magazines are thick with ads or if their favorite TV program cuts to commercial every five minutes and blogs are no different.
I think another thing to consider also, is that as more bloggers charge four figure fees for sponsored posts, fewer brands are going to purchase them. Eventually, there will be a tipping point where brands start to allocate their advertising dollars elsewhere. Digital marketing is tricky, even huge and widely read sites like Daily Candy couldn’t remain profitable, so as more and more people jump on the blogging bandwagon to make money, it’s going to be harder and harder to stay profitable.
Is there anything else you’d like bloggers to know about PR? Any misconceptions you’d like to lay to rest?
One major misconception that I constantly hear bloggers say is that “PR people expect us to work for free. Do they work for free?” No one expects anyone to do anything they don’t feel comfortable doing. In every industry, there are good and bad apples and that can’t be helped, but beyond that, everyone is trying to earn a living and many of us are trying to follow our passions. If everyone were even a little more understanding of that and a little kinder to the person on the opposite end of the email, we could all be that much stronger together.