Someone finally said it. Maybe, we’re doing it wrong. But perhaps not in the way that we think…

Bloggers = mainstream media
At this year’s Eat. Drink. Blog. conference in Perth, one of the highlights for me was Thang Ngo’s presentation on mobile and the future of blogging. In it, he warned us that if we’re not careful, bloggers could be dethroned by a more tech, mobile and analytics-savvy crew. He pointed out that our success, whether measured by google rankings, page views or the less tangible ‘relevance’, is in many ways a happy accident, whereby traditional media dropped the ball – they got online too slowly and we were already there. But complacency and failure to move with the times could leave us straggling behind.

Every day, it seems we are becoming more and more like traditional media, and they are becoming more and more like us. Could punchy, short, media-rich content save us? Certainly it would drive traffic and increase unique views. And then?

There’s more to blogging than numbers
As bloggers, what’s the aim of the game? Is it to be seen by as many eyes as possible? Of course if we write, we want to be read, so it makes sense to know how to ‘be seen’, but as I write this, the top story on News.com.au is ‘Box Office Bombs: the 15 worst movies in film history’, so clearly numbers are not all there is to blogging.

Saying ‘no’ to PRs
Then something significant happened. For the first time since I first attended Eat. Drink. Blog in 2011, somebody got up and talked about working with PR companies and said something other than ‘just do what feels right to you’ or ‘full disclosure’.

Phil Lees, the blogger behind ‘last appetite’ and Social Media Manager for Tourism Victoria, said that in his opinion, food bloggers shouldn’t write sponsored posts, because sponsorship influences the kinds of things they write about, and that will influence their readers.

This was hardly revolutionary, but all hell broke loose in our little corner of the twitterverse. As Phil himself tweeted:

You are an expert
Let me put it this way. PRs contact you because you are an SME; a subject matter expert. You are an ‘influencer’, with a strong brand. But how did you become an SME, how did you build that ‘brand’? Probably through hard work and dedication. Probably through your unique voice. Probably because you were good at finding something or saying something or doing something in a way that others weren’t. In a nutshell, you knew something they didn’t, and you were willing to share it.

So you’re approached by a PR company, and they basically want to co-opt your brand, grab some reflected glow from you SME status. They offer you whatever they offer you to get you to say something about what they are trying to sell. There is nothing wrong with this, but there is also nothing right with it.

Your blog is your space
As Erika wisely said in her recent post, your blog is your blog much like your home is you home. If someone wants to provide you with a product or experience that you wouldn’t otherwise be interested in and you wouldn’t recommend, your rejection of their offer should be a forgone conclusion. And if you do write sponsored content, one thing that you can never say is “I write what I want, I don’t let anyone else influence my content.” That’s impossible. That’s impossible anyway, none of us are un-influance-able. But it’s certainly impossible if you’re writing sponsored content.

WTF does that mean?
I’m not saying that if you do PR posts, you are an idiot or your readers are idiots; that you say you enjoyed x brand of cocoa and suddenly your readership is rushing out to buy it, and your blog becomes an value-less platform for product spruikers nationwide.

What I’m saying is, brands are paying to take up space in our ‘neighbourhood’, to be part of our conversation, a conversation they may have no right to be a part of. On a micro level, sure, you can do ‘what feels right to you’. On a macro level, a broader trend develops with outcomes we may not yet have anticipated. Brands may have presence and prominence and power that, frankly, they may not deserve.

Check out another presentation that blew my mind back in 2011, Journalist Simon Marnie on why authenticity and diversity of opinion is so important in blogging (apologies for the picture quality of the video).

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I for one am rewriting my editorial policy this week.

At the heart of it, we food bloggers are food lovers. We all started blogging for different reasons, but the reason we keep going is for the love of food. But it’s important to remember that there are some Australians who aren’t so lucky. Some for whom their next meal will be a struggle, not a celebration. Some for whom ‘bringing a plate’ is a near impossibility. That’s why a bunch of us bloggers came together to release The Potluck Club, an e-cookbook with all proceeds going to Foodbank, Australia’s largest food relief organisation.

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The book retails for just $5.95 and comes in both mobile device-friendly portrait and a pc/printer-friendly landscape formats. You get both when you purchase the book. But more importantly, each copy sold will fund a dozen meals for those in need.

Today I just want to take a moment to thank all the bloggers who have donated their work and their time so that Elise, Amy and I could put together a 50 page e-cookbook of fantastic recipes. We each brought what we could to the table; a recipe, a photo or two and after seven whirlwind weeks from start to finish, it’s done. So thank you.

Ai-ling Truong – Food Endeavors of the Blue Apocalypse
Alana Dimou – Alanabread
Anna Brownrigg – The Littlest Anchovy
Carly Jacobs – Smaggle
Cheri Flewell-Smith – Ms Critique
Christina Soong-Kroeger – The Hungry Australian
Heather Sharpe – The Kitchen Crusader
Helen Lee – Sassybella
Jacky Lo – Shared Plate
John Bek – He Needs Food
Jules Clancy – The Stone Soup
Lorraine Elliott – Not Quite Nigella
Manuela Zangara – Manu’s Menu
Olivia Mackay – Scoff & Quaff
Sandra Reynolds – $120 food challenge
SarahKate Abercrombie – Mi Casa Su Casa
Sarah Shrapnel – Love, Swah
Sharon Chan – Colour me plate
Shez Lee – One Bite More
Sneh Roy – Cook Republic
Sophie West – The Sticky and Sweet

And I also want thank anyone who has purchased the book so far. Your contribution makes a real difference in the fight against poverty. In the last three days we have already raised more than $100 for Foodbank! That’s more than 200 meals.

So today I received yet another unsolicited email from a media/PR company. They love bloggers. They love my blog. So do the companies they represent. They would like to give me some money to do a/some sponsored posts/s.

I’m interested in what y’all think about unsolicited PR/media emails. I get a lot of these, and they all run along the same lines.

If only PR companies would write to me on oldey timey typewriters. At least it'd be something a bit different...

Generally it’s a form email with your name and blog name inserted. It offers a vague proposal – sponsored posts or adspace at unspecified figures which will only be revealed once you’ve signed up/shown some interest…

Subject: we love you blog!
Dear (name),

We love (name of blog), perhaps for some reason that makes no sense at all or perhaps for I can’t be bothered to think of an example. My company works with bloggers and companies to make awesomeness. We will give you some money and our client (who totes loves your blog btw) will give you an unspecified amount of money to do an unspecified thing. How exciting!!!

I can’t tell you who any of these companies are or which one/s love your blog. How about you look at our website for testimonials and even more vague information? Cool.

We love bloggers. We love them because we know we can go to them with vague claims of representing brands and they’ll jump at the chance to sell us cheap adspace. We couldn’t pull this shit with ‘real’ media, that’s for sure.

Please respond to this email if you want to know more, at which point I will ask for all your personal information and get you to sign a contract before you see a penny.

Best,
(company)

I’m interested in what bloggers think about this practice. To me, there’s a spectrum of how these companies approach you. The relevance of their proposal is very much determined by how much time they’ve spent looking at your blog and whether they’ve considered your subject, audience, and so forth.

What do you think?
Are you interested in these kinds of promotions?
Have you had any good/bad experiences with these kind of promotions?
Do you have ‘rates’ as such?

And, most importantly:
What would improve this process for you?
Do you have any tips for bloggers?
Do you have any tips for PR/media companies?

I’d love to know what you think.

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