Colin Delany May 14, 2007

Somewhere Between Obvious and Odd: The Politico on Befriending Bloggers

[Update: The Politico’s James Joyner responds.]

Guest article! My good friend and colleague Burt Edwards has a bone to pick with a recent Politico article, and he’s not afraid to do it in public for your amusement. Be warned — if you’re going to portray your publication as being for political insiders, you’d better write something other than the bland and blatantly obvious. Take it away, Burt:

I hate to pick on Politico.com, but I found their recent article on Netiquette: How to Befriend a Blogger a bit…lacking. I give them kudos for putting some thoughts out there on a subject that has drawn much debate in the public affairs community as of late; however, I found the seven listed “tips to make sure you’re reaching bloggers most efficiently” was walking the line between obvious and odd — “odd,” as in, “disturbingly oblivious to what I think most of us would consider standard good public affairs practices”.

After a quick email rant to CPD, he asked me to collect my thoughts into something coherent and a touch less sarcastic that he could share with epolitics.com’s loyal [Editor’s note: and extremely attractive] readers. And so, without further ado, I bring you:

Seven slightly less sarcastic thoughts about Politico.com’s seven ways to reach bloggers more efficiently:


1. Bloggers cover stories that interest them, not all the news that’s fit to print.

A blogger who focuses on military affairs is not going to find a message about agriculture subsidies particularly useful. Understand what they write about and send only relevant information.
Burt Edwards — This is just sad. Why would any communications professional think anything else in the first place? And besides, not ALL news is fit to print, even for a blog. Thinking of the web as a place to dispose of your news scraps is a bad idea and potential problem waiting to happen.

2. Bloggers are lone individuals with limited amounts of time rather than large institutions with a space quota to fill.

Blogs don’t have dozens of reporters looking for stories to break or editors to please. They are usually one-man or one-woman shows, trying to crank out a few posts while keeping their day jobs. So don’t repeatedly send them unwanted e-mail. Do this to a journalist at a traditional media outlet and they will simply ignore you. Do this to a blogger and he or she might write a post about how you have no idea how to communicate effectively.

Well, this advice might be doing you a favor if you think spamming other journalists doesn’t get you blackballed in the newsroom (note: you’re kidding yourself). David Henderson’s article “PR: The World’s Most Prolific Spammer,” which was featured in a recent epolitics.com post, has some great thoughts on this issue.

3. Bloggers write about topics in their areas of interest from a particular point of view.

Unlike mainstream reporters, bloggers do not have to pretend to be objective. Target your e-mail accordingly. Do some research before reaching out in an e-mail; read their blogs and try to understand their point of view.

WOW! No, really. I’m shocked to hear that bloggers have opinions…CPD, is that true? [Editor: Disturbingly true — bloggers are a feisty bunch. They should rarely be invited to a civilized dinner.]

4. Bloggers need material for posts rather than quotes from both sides.

Bloggers are quite happy to get newsworthy tips or inside scoops on matters that interest them. A press statement from an obscure congressman demanding the release of hostages or opposing increased spending is not newsworthy.

Gee, I thought made-up soundbites WERE news. You mean there’s something more? Hmmm, if only I had majored in communications instead of political science…

That said, it is possible to marry good soundbites with substance — it almost always should be the goal to shoot for. You need substance, but you need a good hook and something to keep people interested, too. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just part of the biz.

5. Consider giving exclusives, especially to more prominent bloggers.

A blogger will appreciate the attention if he or she is given time with an elected official or access to exclusive information.

OK, not bad advice. And I think giving exclusive access to a blogger you know and trust can be a great way to get a message out. But, again, it seems to assume that the reader doesn’t already think of bloggers as important. They can be, but a blogger exclusive won’t be the cure for all ills. The key is being strategic about what medium would best carry your message and knowing what your end goals are for the project.

Are you leaking information or fleshing out a story or character profile? Will an exclusive with a blogger fulfill the expectations of your organization and the powers-that-be? The answers to these questions are key in deciding what type of exclusive you want.

6. Bloggers aren’t party operatives.

Just because a blogger tends to support your party and ideology, don’t assume he or she will flack your talking points.

As I work for an environmental organization, I think I will save a virtual tree and recycle on this one (see sarcastic comments under suggestion #3, above).

7. Less is more.

If you have sent out seven or eight messages before noon and something on the scale of the 9/11 attacks has not happened today, you have sent at least six or seven too many messages.

OK, not bad advice, but again this is not exclusive to bloggers and is just a truism for good public affairs in general. While bloggers do operate differently than your normal beat journalists in many ways, good public affairs practices apply to both. After all, aren’t people just people?

Or perhaps I just took that ol’ Depeche Mode song too seriously.

Thanks Burt, for being unafraid to let no oversimplified article stand unchallenged. For more, see the e.politics guide to blogs and blogger relations.

3 Comments:

  1. Kari Chisholm (Politics & Technology)

    Yes! More Burt! More Burt!

    Seriously, Burt, start your own blog or maybe join e-politics as a regular. This is great stuff.

    (Well, good stuff, anyway. But you get upgraded to ‘great’ for making a Depeche Mode reference.)

  2. Cindy Sue Causey

    Loved it.. Unless something otherwise equally shiny crosses my line of sight in the next few, will be seeking out a way to sign up for more.. 🙂

    PS.. Hurt to see reflected through your combined thoughts, words that, much as I truly try, my blogs really don’t give equal Time to all sides of the story (either)..

    BUT.. As Time goes on, do intend to consciously feature other sides from their own camps because it “feels” to be a really good tool for determining where education and advocacy efforts might be effectively focused at any given moment.. 😉

  3. James Joyner


    Burt,

    I appreciate your feedback on this. Yes, much of this is obvious to bloggers and should be obvious to PR professionals.

    And yet one look at my email inbox tells me otherwise. The chief blogger relations guy for one of the GOP frontrunners sent me five emails within two hours of this week’s debate. The commo staff for several mid-level congressmen send me generic press releases on a near-daily basis. The White House Communications Office sends me several talking points emails a week, including a daily summary of what the Commander Guy is up to. Major PR firms send me press releases on a regular basis that are about things that couldn’t conceivably interest me or my readers.

    My conclusion is that most of these people are either completely clueless or incredibly lazy. Or maybe both.

    Completely bizarre. Sounds like we’re going to have to enroll the entire DC media relations corps in PR 101. Hmmm, maybe there’s some money to be made here… — cpd

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