Wikipedia has this to say about public relations:
Public relations provides an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.
Before I was an active blogger I didn’t know much, if anything, about public relations. The first time I got a PR pitch I didn’t know what to do, with the pitch or with myself. It’s been a few years since that first PR email made its way into my inbox now, and I’ve developed some informal rules for myself. It’s my own rough framework that helps me decide whether or not something is a good fit. Here’s what I consider:
- Is this something I would talk to a friend about? I consider the people who visit my blog to be friends, and I don’t want to share something that I don’t believe in.
- Is this something that conforms with my values? I’m not about to promote a product that I feel isn’t sustainable, for example.
- Would this make for good content? If it’s not sufficiently interesting, I don’t want to write about it, both for my own sake and for my visitors’ sakes.
- Is this worth my time? I’m not interested in promoting someone’s product in exchange for “exposure”. I need to consider what value I am getting from the arrangement in return for my efforts.
- Would participating be particularly fun or enriching for my kids or for me? If so, I’m more likely to jump on the opportunity.
I rarely get paid directly for the PR work I do, and I am very choosy about what opportunities I accept. When I am compensated in some way, I make that clear. I want to be transparent about what’s happening, and I want to feel good about what I’m doing. I’m not about to sell my soul in exchange for some free laundry soap. It’s just not worth it.
At the press conference for British Columbia’s new Family Day
One of the things that has been interesting to me lately is the way that other people respond to the PR work I do. When I get free admission to the Vancouver Aquarium or a free cardboard playhouse for review purposes, everyone seems pretty positive. When I accept an invitation to be at an event with British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, the tone changes. On Twitter, people even said that if they had the chance to meet her, they’d say some pretty rude things. I think that basic civility is always called for, but the shift in attitudes was hard to miss.
I understand why politicians bring out everyone’s inner cynic. They love to make lots of promises, and a good portion of them never come to fruition. Plus, we all have different political orientations, and no one is better at highlighting those differences than politicians. It’s also true that anytime I’m invited to an event as a blogger, the unspoken expectation is that I will blog / tweet / post to Facebook / create a YouTube video / etc. So, yes, if I’m in a room with a politician and a whole bunch of mom bloggers, I get that there’s some PR happening. They’re hoping to get something from me, by giving me something.
Hannah kisses the glass while Premier Christy Clark speaks
Yesterday I met the Premier again. There was an announcement about British Columbia’s new Family Day. Local families were invited, including mine. Since my daughter Hannah’s teachers were having a professional development day, I loaded her up and headed to the Vancouver Aquarium for the event. She got to hold a sea urchin, we had an opening to discuss how our government is structured, she got a front-row seat for a press conference, and she got to meet the leader of our province. I realized that my child was being used as a PR tool. I was okay with it, because (1) she really enjoyed herself, and (2) I felt she got a fair bit out of the experience on a rainy day that would otherwise have been spent watching too much TV.
Anytime you’re responding to a PR pitch, you’re making a calculation. For me, that means asking myself those questions I highlighted above. But what it really boils down to is this – am I willing to participate in this exchange? Is what I’m getting from this experience of sufficient value to myself and my audience (and not necessarily monetary value) that I’m willing to hold up my end of the bargain?
The Premier, my daughter, and a sea star
I am not what you would call a Christy Clark supporter (although I’m not a supporter of any other party leaders in my province, either). On the two occasions I’ve met her, I did that mental calculation, and decided that I would accept the bargain that comes with any PR pitch. The opportunity outweighed the downside. I understand that some people may attribute certain political leanings. While that’s not the case, I can accept that. I am willing to own my decisions. But I think it’s interesting how the PR ploy (which it surely is) is pointed out when there’s a politician involved, while no one called PR ploy on my free ferry passage to Victoria earlier this month to cover an exhibit at the Royal BC Museum.
I’m not the only blogger who runs into this type of situation. Many people accept far more PR pitches than I do, without a word of complaint. And then one day the accept a pitch from Nestle, or McDonald’s, or they go a little overboard when presented with swag. On the one hand, I think it’s important to own your choices. You need be clear about each opportunity that comes your way, and who you’re working for. This is why I myself have passed up pitches from brands like Nestle, McDonald’s and Coca Cola. On the other hand, it can be shocking for people who’ve never faced any pushback to suddenly encounter it.
Hannah floats her “free ice cream for children” plan to the Premier
When we accept a PR opportunity, we’re lending our voices to a cause. It’s important that we recognize what impact accepting the opportunity will have on the way others view us. My experiences meeting the Premier have definitely highlighted that for me, and underlined the bargain I’m making. As I said, I accept that. I can honestly say that I would make the same decisions again. But I also think that it’s an illuminating experience. There are clearly some products we’re willing to be sold (cardboard playhouses!) and some products we’re not willing to be sold (politicians we disagree with!). It’s given me food for thought, both as a blogger and as a consumer. What bargains am I willing to make on both ends of that equation? My answers are always evolving.
I wonder what you think. How do you decide what opportunities are and aren’t worth accepting? Do you find that you respond differently to the PR ploy depending on how you feel about the product? And have you ever had a negative response to a review or article you’ve written based on a PR pitch? I’d love to hear!
PS – Family Day is going to be the second Monday of February, which is very disappointing for me because Hannah’s birthday often falls on the third Monday of February. I was hoping my kid would get a birthday long weekend. I guess that even PR pitches we accept with open eyes can bring disappointment.