So… at first it seems like a typical day of getting down to work, my workout is over, I have my coffee, I’m going through emails and generally getting caught up in the book world. For me, that includes a lot of book blogs, Twitter and Facebook for news, networking, researching, pitching, following up.
I immediately see a Tweet that catches my eye, from one book blogger to another that involves PR-blogger relations. Uh-oh, I better check that out, and I follow the link to a post on Flavorwire: How to Alienate Bloggers and Boost Book Sales, http://flavorwire.com/17026/how-to-alienate-bloggers-and-boost-book-sales.
The full post about the campaign for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a new novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, is worth reading because it includes the letter the blogger received along with a review copy of a book. The letter contains a number of demands – and the problem begins there. It’s one thing to make requests, but the way this letter is worded is so unprofessional, threatening and harsh that any recipient is bound to be annoyed – perhaps to the point of not wanting to review that book or any book from this company. That’s PR FAIL, no question about it.
I’m particularly sensitive to bad PR practices because I was a journalist for many years and on the receiving end of some bad PR myself (I also had professional relationships with plenty of good PR people). Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I try to do the things that I appreciated when I was being pitched. Lately I’ve seen a lot of griping about PR practices, so this has been on my mind.
From a PR perspective, there are several problems I have with this letter, starting with attitude and tone. I’m not aware of a single successful PR pitch that included threats – such as a warning that bloggers will never work with this firm again if they don’t do things the firm’s way. PR and bloggers have a give-and-take relationship that can be mutually beneficial – when executed appropriately.
Here are some of my thoughts about what seems more like a bully’s temper tantrum on paper than a review request from a PR pro:
* The wording of the request for an embargo. I understand the desire to have reviews appear only after a certain date, but the condescending tone is a turnoff. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you choose to send out a book (or any information) with an embargo request the recipient does NOT have to comply with your request. If the review date matters, ask the bloggers if they can schedule the review after X date in a nice way and explain *why* that particular date is important. Then, the bloggers can make an informed decision and many, if not all, will probably be happy to agree to those terms. Yelling at bloggers in the letter, using all capital letters and ending with an exclamation point is rude, childish and pointless – unless you’re hoping to never deal with any of those bloggers again. In that case, congratulations, you’ve succeeded.
* The admonishment about not using excerpts is factually incorrect and also comes across as childish – under Fair Use reprinted quotes are not a copyright infringement. Sounding like Big Brother, the letter writer states: “Trust me, I’ll find it…” in reference to reprinting excerpts. That tone certainly doesn’t result in a spirit of cooperation. Again, why not simply ask the bloggers to let you know if they plan to use book excerpts, if there is some reason to track their use? Reviews that use book excerpts are a plus; it’s another way to give people a feel for the book. Using a threatening tone is not going to ensure compliance – or even a book review.
* My favorite line: “If you don’t abide by the above terms, we will never work together again.” In bold type, too. I’m thinking by this point, most people are probably hoping to never hear from that PR person/company again, and for good reason.
I’m amazed at the sense of entitlement this person seems to have. Developing relationships as a PR pro takes care – every person (blogger) is different and if you’re in this for the long haul what matters is taking the time to get to know people, their likes and dislikes, and their preferred method(s) of contact. Sometimes being in PR feels a lot like the Rodney Dangerfield routine – we just don’t get any respect – but it’s critical to have a thick skin and act professionally at all times. It stings to send out a nice review request and receive an unkind comment in return (it’s happened – maybe they’ve had a bad day) and rejection is never fun (yet a huge part of being in PR, but it’s not personal). The rare unkind comment and not-so-infrequent rejections are part of the job, and taking the high road 100% of the time matters. I might take a break from the unkind commenter and look for an opening to contact that person later on, but the blogger who says “no” today to one book review request may be quite enthusiastic about saying “yes” to the next book request, so there’s no need to burn bridges.
It can be tempting to try to cut corners with form letters, mass mailings and an impersonal or even curt approach because there are only so many hours in the day and it seems difficult, if not impossible, to get everything done. That approach is guaranteed to fail, however. For one thing, bad PR practices these days will probably have the practitioner outed online almost immediately – via Twitter and blogs – and instead of alienating one person there may be a large number of people who will want nothing to do with that PR person/company. Clearly that isn’t going to help future book publicity efforts when your online footprint consists of a large number of people noting how poorly you perform your job.
I’m also not particularly fond of sending unsolicited books to a list of people – this tactic has been used on print journalists forever and it hasn’t been wildly successful so why it would be considered a good idea with bloggers is beyond me – unless you’ve received their permission to simply send books. Otherwise, it’s a matter of getting to work, getting to know people and using your information on their likes and dislikes to match them to your books. Besides, circumstances change all the time – reviewers take a hiatus, or have to stop accepting books when the TBR pile gets too large (it’s probably too large all the time, but sometimes a break helps make it seem manageable).
I realize that there are certain growing pains in the book world, as print is ceding its role to the online world and there aren’t many, if any, rules yet. There are plenty of issues to discuss as the old guard (print) gives way to the new guard online, and many bloggers are new to this arena. (I would argue though, that the average book blogger online gets the point of book reviews in a way that the old guard never did). That’s a future blog post or more – old guard giving way to the new; professional standards/guidelines, etc. – but, nothing trumps good old common sense.
In the end, it boils down to one thing: respect. Mutual respect, in which book bloggers are not seen as lackeys who take orders from PR people but book lovers who put a lot of time and effort into reviewing books and creating a dynamic online community that showcases books in a variety of ways. When PR people understand that, and treat bloggers accordingly, they will find some great opportunities for their authors and books, and then everybody wins.
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Posted by Paula Krapf of Author Marketing Experts, Inc.