No, not everyone is a publicist… even if they think they are or want to be.
Full disclosure: I did not go to school for public relations or marketing. My major was public affairs journalism.
Everything I learned to get me where I am today didn’t come in the classroom, regardless of my major. I interned at a local TV station before working in TV both behind the camera and in front of it for more than 10 years. That is how I learned how to be a publicist.
How to be a Publicist
The definition of a publicist is a person responsible for publicizing a product, person, or company. It’s a job many people think they can do… and try to do. How hard can it be? You just tell a bunch of people wonderful things about a client or yourself and that’s it, right?
Wrong. Many think they know how to be a publicist, but really don’t know. At all.
There are a lot of self-proclaimed experts who give hard working and smart working publicists a bad name. Two of these “experts” are bloggers and online influencers. Not all of them, but some of them. Here’s why.
In a way, bloggers act as publicists. We help spread the word about whatever brand we’re working with on our platform. We make some media connections if we do a great job promoting ourselves as marketers… but that does not mean a blogger can act as a publicist for others.
Don’t get me wrong, some bloggers do it and they do it well. It’s because they get it. Some don’t get it.
One big difference between a blogger and the traditional media is paying for coverage and earning it. Some bloggers earn a living by promoting brands. The traditional media cannot promote anything. That’s not their job. Understanding the difference and how to approach the media with a pitch for editorial coverage is very different.
As a publicist, I stopped pitching bloggers because many would refuse coverage unless they were paid. If they deserved payment, and my client had an additional advertising budget, then we’d talk… but unfortunately, many bloggers believe they are worthy of payment because they have a blog… just because they have a blog.
On the flip side, sometimes being a blogger can help you be a publicist because you know how things in the blogosphere work – just like me working in TV helped me, but you need a little more than just that bit of experience.
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of online influencers launch publicity products and courses… but they have no education or experience in publicity. They only experience is the said influencers earning media attention for themselves… but the media attention the influencer shares to bring in new followers is recent media attention – after that person became successful.
To most people, all that media attention looks great. To someone who understands the business, it’s not that impressive.
If Oprah made a few calls and got herself on the cover of Forbes today, we wouldn’t be too surprised. It’s expected. She is already a successful business woman. If Oprah made a few calls and got herself on the cover of Forbes 35 years ago when she was a radio reporter in Mississippi, that would be unexpected. That would be a big deal.
That is not what some of these online influencers are doing. Instead, they are earning coverage after they’ve made it big and trying to sell you on that coverage. Earning coverage before you’re successful is not easy and I’m not sure influencers know how to do that, but that is what their followers need.
So, to get back to the topic of “How to be a Publicist” there is no right or wrong answer. It’s not like math where 2 + 2 is always 4. Some things work for some people while different things work for others. We all have different methods of outreach, different relationships with people, different clients in different industries.
There is one thing that will always work. It’s being strategic.
I’ve seen so many publicists when I was in TV and when I worked at public relations firms throw a bunch of things at the wall and hoped a couple of them would stick – also known as pitching 500 people with the exact same thing and hoping a couple will run with it.
That’s not strategic. Be strategic.
Bloggers are tricky. I recently got a lot of heat for a blog post I wrote about bloggers and why I don’t pitch them. To be clear, I do pitch bloggers and/or influencers, but I am very selective.This is the deal with bloggers, nine times out of 10 you will need a budget to pay them. That’s not earning coverage. That’s paying for it. There is a difference between editorial and advertorial. Most public relations firms or publicists are hired to earn coverage and not pay for it. On one hand, journalists cannot accept payment for their work. That is unethical. However many journalists blog. I am a journalist, and I also accept payment for blogs. (Not here. On Mascara Maven.) The difference is noting a conflict of interest and/or disclosing when the coverage is paid for. If a blogger accepts a payment of any kind, it must be disclosed on the blog. This is a federal law… and it’s pretty new because of the way the blogosphere and social media influencing has blown up in the last few years. Some bloggers will throw you a bone and post something free of charge. This doesn’t happen a lot, but if the blogger and/or influencer is a friend or truly loves your brand, it could happen.
If a client has an extra budget for advertising, then the vetting process begins… and this gets even trickier. (Why vet? Because there are millions of bloggers and influencers online looking to make money because they are in a lucrative business.)
Usually, a blogger will respond to your pitch with a media kit that includes information about their reach on their site and on their social media channels as well at rates, etc. This is where I, as a blogger, get frustrated. Not with the rates, but with the reach. Growing an organic following of people who truly like your brand takes time – months, if not years. Too many bloggers fake their following, for lack of a better word. When I say fake, I mean a couple of things. Here’s one: Their following is paid for. Yes, there are quite a few places that offer the service of buying visits to your website, likes on your Facebook page, comments on Instagram, followers on Twitter, etc.
Look at this site. It’s slogan is Fastlane to Online Fame! (So embarrassing!) If you want to promote your brand online, you do not want to pay someone who claims to have a huge following, but in reality it’s this. It will do nothing for your brand. These fake numbers are not real people who will become customers. But how do you know if the following is real or paid for? I can tell who puts money into a service like this by looking at the comments onmy Instagram account. The comments are always so random and have nothing to do with the picture. (A downfall of automation.) How else do you tell? Well, there’s an app for that! Actually, there are a few apps for that. They aren’t 100% accurate because some count inactive accounts and in a few cases, it’s hard to tell who’s real and who’s fake. There is an app called Fakers that basically calls people out on a fake following. For example, I get terrible pitches from a woman at a PR firm that will remain unnamed. In her pitches, she starts by basically saying, “As a thank you for sharing this news on your outlet, we will share it with our 117,000 Twitter followers.” Being a social media manager, I wanted to check out this amazing Twitter account.Well, most of those followers are fake. Paid for. It’s a shame too because 21% of 117,000 is more than 23,000. That’s a great Twitter following. Why ruin it by buying fake followers?!There are also other ways to tell. Check outmy Twitter following. It is growing, but it is slow and steady. If one day you see numbers spike, someone just went viral (which is rare) or they bought their following.This is why bloggers are tricky. It can be hard to tell if a blogger really will have a positive impact on your brand or if you’re just throwing money away. (That’s the marketing industry in general.)There are also Facebook groups devoted to helping bloggers get more likes and comments. I actually used to participate in them when I started blogging. I thought it was great to have people read my blog, like my Facebook page, and comment on a post. Then, I remembered why they were doing it – because I would return the favor, whether or not I liked the content or not. In some groups, there are even rules that state you will get kicked out if you don’t like or comment in return. Keep in mind, these aren’t friends we’re talking about. Showing a friend or acquantance support online is completely different. These are complete strangers on the internet. I felt like it was a misrepresentation, not to mention very time consuming, so my participation in those groups was very short lived. (In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t care about how things look. I care about how things really are. I’m a principle person.)
Now, don’t get me wrong, as a blogger, it’s a great way to promote your blog and get it in front of others who may turn into true fans, but the majority just want the numbers to say, “Look at my numbers.” I’d rather have 100 real views, likes, followers, and comments than 10,000 fakes ones. If you’re paying for coverage, I’m sure you would agree you’d like to see real numbers.
Today, I read blogs, comment, like, and all that, but it’s because I want to, not because I’m getting something out of it in return.
With all of that said, this goes to show how influential bloggers are. Some operate their blogging business honestly and have a real following. Others want to get there too, but unfortunately, are taking short cuts.So, if you are looking to spend money on a blogger or influencer in exchange for publicity, make sure you know what you’re paying for.