Takeaways from Collision Course 1

The Piano
Photo owned by Hryckowian (cc)

So last night the first Collision Course was held at Edelman Towers. Following some bumbling introduction pieces * ahem*, a Q&A session fired up.

A few observations:

Billable hours aka how can I justify the investing on engaging with bloggers?

Time and time again, contributions from PR people moved into the realm of billable hours. And that’s perfectly understandable. In a business where the monthly retainer from clients is bread and butter, time is money.

But PR head, how can you not? When you think about it, the world is changing. People are not getting their entertainment or news through traditional media. So, engaging (I hate that word) with bloggers is vital. It’s as important as that call to check that a press release was received or following up on the details of an event with a client. It’s a skill that needs to developed more.

PR people don’t charge their clients to learn how to send an email.  They don’t charge to know where their list of media contacts is saved internally. They don’t charge for the quality of their relations with those in the media. (Although quality is always recognised). Why should they charge for the foundation work of building knowledge or contacts in the blogging world. To me, it’s a long-term strategy that PR people need to play. Like building lung capacity for a marathon.

Given some chat last night, I think it would be far easier for a blogger to up sticks and become a go-to PR professional that could shark the market on engaging with bloggers.

Free does not always mean me

Darragh had some interesting points on asking for invitations and about exclusivity meaning something to bloggers. Being invited to see something or asked if you want to review a gadget is nice, but the integrity of the blog must be maintained. A blog is not an extended ad or somewhere to talk  up everything and anything on regular basis. It’s not an excuse for freebies or gaining a social life. It’s a slice of someone’s brain.

Reading blogs that continously zip from A to B to C in an events frenzy is not only incredibly boring but also reads smarmy. “What so X went Y and Z and this happens day in, day out?” So, where is the objectivity? Is this person continuously for sale? They write glowing reviews about things they go to. Where is the integrity?

I suppose in a way, it’s a warning to both PR heads and bloggers that good judgement is needed. PR people ought to protect the image of their clients by working with bloggers with a reputation for independence and writing honest reviews. Bloggers ought to question where their voice sits and keep their fingers true. Bloggers are not for sale.

You can’t learn piano from a book

PR people need to blog. Blog regularly. Meet bloggers informly, not at pure networking events either. One of the PR speakers last night remarked that PR heads were hesitant to connect with bloggers because of the fear of being the one who messed up relations for a client. That’s a short game. It indicates the underlying fear in the PR industry that they can’t control what people say about there products online. But the future is here, the Internet has disrupted the traditional feeding cycle of client -> PR -> media -> Joe Soap. Your clients products and events are already being talked about in the wild. And you aren’t there.

The sooner PR people blog, tweet, go to Tweetups, support the Blog Awards by giving prizes or goodies and go to them, the better. You can read all the advice in the world about how to approach bloggers from Social Media (Meijit) Consultants but until you actually start typing and meeting them in the flesh, you’ll never truly understand the medium.

Got any more?

(Update: Excuse the edits, I typed this up in a whirlwind)

Join the Conversation


  1. Free does not always mean me

    Brilliant paragraph Alexia – actually great post but I can contribute on this one. There are loads of events happening that I have no interest in, so I just wouldn’t go to or blog about. I don’t think I’d be able to even feign interest or enthusiasm, and sure I tend to be positive about everything.

    PR people, as a few of us said, should read the blogs of the people they approach and see what sort of things the blogger might like. Otherwise, as you say, your blogger becomes a parody, a Gavin Lambe Murphy esque character which can work for some things but, yes, smarmy.

    You made an excellent point in your talk last night about life experiences feeding back into a blog, so exposure to the events is not necessarily a bad thing; the expectation that a blogger will find something interesting to talk about just because they’ve gone is. It won’t suit everyone.

    I had a really interesting talk with a couple of PR people during the evening. As you said, PR people are afraid of the lack of control they have over what bloggers can say or tweet, afraid of the criticism, afraid of potential ‘attacks’ on their clients, afraid that something they do will be seen as another blogger calling another PR person stupid and that reflecting on the industry as a whole. The event last night helped the people there, put faces on both sides, explained a bit more. When, as you say, PR people start blogging, they’ll have a better understanding.

    We’re moving in the right direction.

  2. Hi Alexia,

    Was very interested by blogging discussion last night – didn’t get to stay for drinks but I’m sure there was plenty more said after a few cocktails 🙂

    You’re quite right about PR people’s obsession with billable hours but I think it’s a general distrust between both groups that has really stopped us ‘engaging’ (sorry!) due to a simple lack of understanding. That’s why last night was so good – putting faces to names and realising that neither PR people nor bloggers are the sharks our imaginations create, has lead to a greater understanding of what each group does and what it wants.

    Hope there’s lots more discussion on this.


  3. Hi Alexia,

    Good round up of many key points from last night- I was one of the pr people in attendance and I think the billable hours piece was a bit overstated – as communication consultants I think we are all beginning to realise it is imperative for us to develop our skills in terms of communicating online and with bloggers. Event’s like last night’s “collision course” are definitely useful in gaining some understanding in this regard- thanks again, Petrina

  4. Good discussion piece Alexia, and I’m glad you took the time. One area where I felt that bloggers didn’t sell themselves at all was the aspect of niche categories. PR by its nature is an extended marketing tool for any and every client imaginable. Blogging by its nature is an extended and deeply involved knowledge base for every interest imaginable. What a natural fit!
    From my take on the collision course however, that did not come across. The more social aspect, where blogger-social media interests coincide, did. Getting invites to things is one aspect that got too much air time, perhaps. I stand up now (here, in my seat where I’m sitting) and take blame for not redressing the balance myself on Thursday. It is an aspect that gives far more relevance and penetration to so many subjects from PR’s perspective. If they want to know about what’s really, really happening with autism for example in this country, where it really matters with the people on the front line, they should learn to talk to Hammie and her network. That’s just one. There are thousands of special interest groups out there, in sport, in hobbies, in food, in health, in education etc etc, but PR have to learn to engage as bloggers, I quite agree with you.
    Roll on Collision II: Meet the Freebies.

  5. Getting invites to things is one aspect that got too much air time, perhaps… Roll on Collision II: Meet the Freebies.

    Nick, being one of those who spoke about same, perhaps you’ll indulge me for a few lines. To clarify from my perspective, it’s not just about getting free invites, gifts or tickets to things, it’s about the PR person recognising the blogger as a listened-to-voice in certain niches (as you say) and using that to their client’s advantage. People talk, people listen and talk about what they hear. Surely that’s the core fundamental of PR?

    There’d be little point in a film distributor giving tickets to a free preview to someone who doesn’t blog about films. Record labels wouldn’t give free concert tickets or albums to someone who doesn’t blog about music. Everyone likes a free meal but there’s no point in offering dinner in a great hotel to a blogger who hasn’t shown that they can write competently and engagingly about food and the experience. Similarly, tickets to events where the blogger either hasn’t experience in or doesn’t see that they’d have to take photos, video, interviews or communicate another side of things about the event is probably going to be a waste of time. And so on and on.

    Similarly, your readers, if you do blog about these things are most likely going to be interested in them and that’s why they read your blog. A good market there.

    I’d like to see a list of PR people who are willing to talk to bloggers about their clients in such a way that both sides can see the value in the discussion. So, PR person X has tickets to event Y for bloggers interested (like BT and the Young Scientist Exhibition) so a discussion starts.

    It comes back to what everyone is saying – the PR people should get to know the bloggers and what they blog about. “I saw you blogged this, well, this is happening, would you like..?” could be worthwhile for both parties.

    Now, I’m not advocating contracts or agreements or any such idea where the blogger attending *must* blog it, but the PR person needs to know they’re getting value too. Word of mouth and mouse are hugely important. We all know this.

    I know how much time it can take to put together a good post. I know the time it takes to get to an event/film/festival/concert etc, to take good photos, to walk around, to construct the post, to get it right for the readers. I know too how much work can go into a campaign from a PR perspective. There has to be some visible benefits from both sides.

  6. The unasked advice I would give to PR people is:

    Think of bloggers in the same way a journalist thinks of contacts. This contact is the go-to girl for tech related matters. This contact is the go-to guy for music.
    That type of thing.

    While forming a media list may be “monkey work”, a targeted media / house list is worth its PR weight in gold.

    Remember : For us its a hobby, not a job.
    The professional media expect to be contacted with something thy are not interested in. Some spent their careers writing about stuff they aren’t interested in.

    Bloggers have the freedom to write about what interests us. Its “our view”.

    Things that may help both sides.
    1) Introduce yourself and ASK.

    If we bloggers were looking for a contact in X then chances are we would tweet it first and see what happens.

    Of course we are following a lot of conversations.
    Join in.
    I’d suggest you mention Collision Course in your first tweet before you “follow” anyone. Most (all) of us look to see “who is this person following me”. Of the 15 there on the night, I think most of us will follow back.
    Just let us know who you are first.

    Then ask…

    Would anyone like to go to the launch of the new Orange Tea Box on Tuesday at 8pm.
    Could you suggest any bloggers interested in Orange Tea
    (I hope that there isn’t an Orange Tea at this point)

    You’ll get a few time wasters, but not too many. And you might get a good contact for that one.

    But joining Twitter and just tweeting without following anyone will not get noticed. Look up “Network Effect” to see why twitter seems to work.

    Get to know twitter clients (software applications) and search.twitter.com.

    By the way, Bloggers aren’t looking for freebies. Most are looking for information. If blogger X writes about Tea, they will want to know all about Orange Tea. No freebies needed (unless you count images they can used and information as a freebie).

    On that note, if you find that a blogger has blogged about Red tea, see if (s)he has contact details on their blog ans ask, if the blogger would be interested in the forthcoming Orange Tea. No press release, no clips.
    Just your details, and why you’re mailing them.

    It doesn’t smell like spam, because it isn’t. They may e-mail back abuse, they might accept.

    Time consuming. Yes. Cost high.
    Potential rewards, higher.

    2) Don’t spam…
    If you got someone for Orange Tea, they may be interested in Yellow Coffee.
    But that does not mean they want to be contacted for Blue Cars.
    The Blue Cars mail would look like spam. A mail with “I see you were interested in Tea, could I interest you in coffee” wouldn’t. (It does sound automated, but you get my point).
    Besides, you’re asking.
    You’ve formed a relationship with the blogger, don’t destroy it really quickly.

    If you have formed a relationship, asking if they know someone interested in Blue Cars isn’t that spammy. Bloggers tend not to hoard information, if we did, we wouldn’t blog.
    I’ve passed on info to people I know who blog about stuff (or are just friends interested in things).

    But ask.

    3) Read Blog.
    If you invite bloggers to do something, you should have read their blogs first.

    Read other blogs. I know, long and boring work but look at what you are interested in only (at first). There are blogs about everything under the sun (and a few things that aren’t). Blogs on Make up. Blogs on Man U. Blogs on cars. Blogs on caravans. Blogs on rashers.

    Blogs on PR.

    Look at things. Get to know a feed reader.
    This is a slow step. If you need a hand to hold, see step 1 to find one.

    4) Audio blogs / podcasts
    Listen to how others have done it.
    F.I.R (For immediate Release, the Hobson and Holtz Report) is the big daddy in this arena. It’s also 90 mins long and twice a week.

    For lighter listening, I’d suggest
    “Media driving” or “Marketing Over Coffee”
    Yes their focus is different, but they are short. Media Driving is 10 mins, Marketing over Coffee is rarely 30 mins. And only once a week. Think commute times.

    They suggest others to listen to as well.

    5) Join in. You might be happy with twitter/facebook/linkedin/justsomerandomsite but by blogging (maybe blogging on PR/Shoes/Cars/Tea) you’ll see why.
    For us its a hobby, not a job.
    It’s called passion.

    Do it yourself. If you can, say what you are working on. If not, blog on what you care about.

    And finally…

    The Irish blogging community is, surprisingly, a community.
    I don’t know anyone who would visit me in hospital via blogs; but its happened (remembering tweets and people dropping food parcels off to people stuck on Casualty trolleys). Wandering up to a random person in a community centre and pitching to them is, well, silly.
    Remember that when you want to talk to us.

    Its better to ask for permission as a backlash is too late to ask for forgiveness (examples were given in the meeting).

    Once we get to know you, we’ll let you screw up.

  7. @Rachel: @Petrina: Thanks for your comments.

    @Nick: On the blogs, yes – you are right. I think last Wednesday was a kind of impetus for members of PR industry to start playing with technology a bit more. Some are already jumping in.

    @Darragh: Interesting comment. I believe that last Wednesday evening was about dispelling preconceptions: 1. All PR people do is spam 2. Bloggers rant all the time etc.

    Instead, from some of the chat shared, I got the distinct impression that lobbing freebies in certain directions and a post makes everything rosy. Just what does mean? Who’s being cod here? Possibly the PR company and certainly the reader.

    There is opportunity on both sides, but I would be disappointed if respectable voices on the scene took up as ambassadors for bloggers, built connections with PR companies and abused that relationship.

    Lots of words like ‘market’, ‘words of mouth’ etc pad the issue. What I’m questioning here is the set of morals a blogger, or a self-proclaimed ambassador of blogging has. There are many ways to rig sneaky social sales. I’m sure PR companies would not like to risk their client relationships in grey matters.

    @Paul: I wasn’t aware of any, but I may be wrong. Anyone else know?

  8. Instead, from some of the chat shared, I got the distinct impression that lobbing freebies in certain directions and a post makes everything rosy.

    Hey Alexia,

    Everyone appreciates a freebie. Most of the bloggers who go and review an event they’ve been at, a film they’ve seen, a product they’ve bought etc do it having paid for said experience or volunteered or gone to ask if they could, and not getting anything to blog about it. Generally then they’ll say that in their post.

    I think what Rick and I were getting at is that sometimes we don’t have that opportunity, or even know about something happening. A PR person saying “this is happening, would you like to go?” is a more welcome message then saying “promote my event”. The best I can come up with here is Preview Screenings (or as they used to be called, “talkers”) for movies – go a week before the film, see it, tell your friends.

    That there’s the opportunity – company x is cool, they respect me as a blogger and you as my readers by inviting me to this and asking me to share it with you. If the experience is good, isn’t that a win?

    I don’t think anyone would – or could – abuse the relationship, because, as your own talk demonstrated re spam – people talk, credibility is questioned again and again. It would be found out very quickly and exposed for the charade it is. No PR person or blogger wants to risk that, surely… which is what you’ve said in your last paragraph anyway. So I’m talking in circles again.

  9. If the experience is good, isn’t that a win?

    Absolutely, but what if it’s not good? Does the blogger blog it? Or simply skim over it?

    Perhaps the undependable blogger does the blog it as good, knowing that putting consistently honest reviews of bad experiences on the blog will put off people giving freebies? Or maybe the odd bad review is needed I suppose to give cheerleader posts a veneer of believability.

    My point is, that bloggers engaging with PR folks (and vice-versa) is not about freebies or invitations at all, it’s about respect and communication. I believe that got lost in maelstrom of “yes please, I’ll have some.”

  10. @ Alexia

    100% spot on. If Dublin Bus is trying to encourage people to leave cars at home and their PR company want to engage bloggers as a medium, they have to do so in a fashion very different from press release mode. If eircom want to engage people about the slow rollout of broadband, if Galway City Council want to tell people that the water is ok to drink, if Heinz need to reassure people about a product line, if Revenue want to inform people about changes to tax bands via blogging then this is engagement. All of that involves PR, none of involves inviting bloggers to anything other than dialogue. Big picture relevance. We are all members of special interests groups. PR will wake up to this when they actively blog themselves. They have a huge hump to get over, I accept. They have to encourage and allow honesty, including the negative kind. Although Dublin Bus or any company not yet used to engagement (pretty much all of them, then) might recoil at the thought, it is a far better long-term brand builder than to ignore it or concentrate on traditional push media exclusively. Nobody blogs about this with more relevance than Seth Godin, and bloggers as well as PR people can learn from him.

  11. but what if it’s not good? Does the blogger blog it? Or simply skim over it?

    Then isn’t the onus on the blogger to say why it wasn’t good to maintain their credibility or their voice on such matters? Every review is up to challenge. It’s all just opinion. I think people read and take the review into account as much as they do the person writing it and what they know of them and judge it that way.

    I agree with your point about engagement.

  12. @Darragh: Oh yes, I agree on that.

    You go to a lot of events Darragh, so you are the perfect examplar in this case. Out of all the events you’ve attended in the last while, just how many have you given an unfavourable review of?

  13. Ah. How very interesting.

    I don’t go to events, volunteer at events, take photos at events or talk about events that I won’t enjoy. What would be the point in that? Every event I spent time on in the last twelve months, I’ve done because I enjoy it. I’ve volunteered now with St Patrick’s Festival for nigh on 7 years, with Darklight for 2, with others because I got the opportunity to. I wasn’t asked or invited to do any of them, I did them because it’s what I like to do! Obviously I’m going to talk positively about what I like to do. Should I not because being positive is not the accepted thing? Should I look for something to complain about? Would that be better?

    I’m quite confused by your comment to be honest.

  14. I’m even more confused by yours. How can you know that you’ll enjoy an event even before you go?

    I would hope that objectivity comes before positivity and negativity, Darragh. But you are right in your earlier comment. It’s obviously all about opinion.

  15. Personally, I blog about positive experiences because I’m more affected by them and motivated to blog about them than negative ones. I go to plenty of conferences/events/lectures that I DON’T mention on my blog because they’re not worth the time or effort, but I don’t see the point in slamming events that go badly (what’s that old saying about the worst thing is to NOT be talked about?) especially free events or ones run by volunteers.

    On the other hand, if I went to a conference/event and PAID for it, and was pissed about it, of course, I’d whine and moan about it on my blog.

  16. How do I know I’ll enjoy an event before I go to it? Other than basing it – objectively – on past experiences and my personal taste and interests, do you mean? I don’t. I’m completely open to the experience, to trying something new.

    I’m either lucky that way or easy to please. I guess it’s up to the people I talk about what I do to to decide for themselves.

    I’m with Sinead on this, I’ll blog about the good things and won’t mention the bad, unless I see a constructive point in doing so.

    Objectivity works both ways. I don’t expect my readers to take what I say as gospel, I just share my opinion. That’s all. It is what I do.

  17. Isn’t there also the consideration that most bloggers are more or less irrelevant?

    If you’re a well known tech blogger, for example, then your opinion on such matters holds some weight, and rightly so, because there’s a level of expertise and knowledge which sets you apart. And if you’re getting loads of traffic/visitors then you become more interesting from a PR point of view.

    There are niche bloggers (beyond tech) out there who have credibility, traffic and whose opinion counts – Nialler9, Beauti.ie for example. I’d imagine those guys have plenty of contact with PR people, placing products/gigs/info/events at their disposal.

    However, your average blogger with just a couple of hundred visits a day, who writes about all and sundry hardly carries the same weight of opinion. If most of your comments come from fellow bloggers then what, if anything, is a PR company going to get from that blogger?

    ‘All my online friends think X product, or Y film is great’. So fucking what? It’s not like each one of them blogs about that opinion which might, possibly, spread it a bit further. When your opinion goes no further than your incenstuous (and I mean that in a nice way) circle of friends then it’s understandable that PR companies are reluctant to engage with most bloggers.

    And Lexia is right about the credibility thing. Not everything is great just because you’ve been invited. And using Darragh as an example imagine how much more interest people would take in discovering there was something he wasn’t fond of.

    I mean, I know it was a prize and everything, but I think if I’d won a slick new phone and it only held 200 text messages I’d be pissed off enough to write about it!

  18. I am totally with Nick and many of the others on this view we even mentioned it on leaving the event. I have worked with advertising agencies for the past 15 years and to be honest the message that came out was all wrong, this is not what my clients would have wanted to hear. I was sick to death of all the talk of freebies and I left thinking is this what we are about?

    I for one am proud to say I have never been personally spammed by a PR company ever, possibly because I dont write much on my personal blog so how could a PR company benefit from me. To be honest I am unsure, and I still think even after the other night I wont be on any mailing list.

    But the whole thing about freebies really made PR heads turn and I personally felt the bloggers looked foolish at the end of the night!

    At the same time the time management thing that the PR people brought up quite a bit was not something bloggers really care about. To be honest it ain’t our problem. It was said at the start of the PR speech you have account directors, account managers and account handlers on accounts surely one or more of these people could do a bit of research into who blogs about what and target them.

    Will Knott is right get onto twitter, it is the easiest way to communicate with the majority of the irish blogging community quickly! Use http://search.twitter.com/ and search for the keywords of your campaign, the search updates itself in real time and within an hour you would know the bloggers you need to get to know.

    Anyhow I think for Collision Part 2 a new group of bloggers should go to get different opinions, at the end of the day as bloggers we are all different, blog about different things and have different ideas.

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