Hello from the other side

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Today’s blogpost is going to be a little different: I wanted to tell you about a whole bunch of things that I’ve been thinking about for a while, long enough to finally allow it to come out.

After almost 7 years (!) of blogging, among which 5 I’ve spent working in different types of communication agencies, I’ve learned many, many things on both sides of the mirror. Some I’ve taught myself, some I’ve learned by making mistakes, and some I’ve learned by listening to the good (or bad, for that matter) advice of the people that have surrounded me through all these years. Oscillating between these two opposite yet complementary positions, I’ve made my own path and took some notes.

Through my blogging-“career’, I’ve seen many “do’s & don’ts for PR people” articles, but I rarely came across posts that were giving good, constructive advice and insights to the bloggers themselves. Today, I notice more and more how important it is getting to give a little heads up to everyone who wants to know, well, what’s up. Every other day, I read a blogpost or a comment that makes me realise that agencies and bloggers/influencers seem to be growing apart, that they don’t understand each other anymore, and that they’re actually not really trying anymore. Frustration, grudges, feelings of injustice and damaged self-esteem, I see all these terrible emotions being linked to blogging, which makes me sad because I strongly believe that, most of all, blogging should be fun. Right?

Thanks to the experience I have acquired in the past years, I thought I might be in a good position to play the intermediary and explain a few things that you might want to know about how my day job works, and how it has helped me maturing as a blogger. I’ve studied communication and graduated in advertising, after which I worked several years in different marketing agencies. In August 2015, I eventually ended up at PR agency Walkie Talkie, where I combine both worlds like I was born to do it. My daily life is thus constantly navigating from one side to the other, and I have to say I’ve never learned so much, so fast.

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Anyway. Why don’t you spit it out, Nadia.

Today, we will talk about monetisation, professionalisation, expectations. And hopefully, I will provide you with some answers that will help you see clearer in a world that is sometimes lacking transparency for those who don’t know the tricks of the trade.

Let’s go!

You want to professionalise. Bravo! Congratulations! Cool decision. Honorable ambition. What now?

Be curious

Before all the rest, before I even got my degree, I was a blogger. Since 2009! Maybe some of you were already there? We were having a lot of fun, back then. And I have to say, as a blogger, I’ve been through all classic stages of love and hate, from the fed up “I’m not doing anything for free anymore, I’m tired of being taken advantage of” to the very extremist “alright, I’m just going to say no to everything, leave me alone”. Luckily, after a while, I gained a clearer view on things. I learned how everything worked, who’s who, what the client’s part is, what my part was as a blogger.

And I know not everybody studied marketing or communication, or has experience in that field, and that’s a good thing because who needs a world filled with self-sufficient egocentric marketing people right, but I’ll tell you one very important thing: if you want to professionalise, you’re going to have to get interested in how things work on the other side, and take some perspective.

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What is PR?

The first thing you have to really understand is the difference between public relations and marketing/advertising. To explain this to you, I’ll base my case on traditional press, which is actually the closest thing there is to bloggers as a media.

Like Valerie explained last week in her blogpost about paying influencers (in french, if you understand it you should check it out), a media can publish two types of contents: editorial content (that is what we often refer to as ‘organic’ for online outlets) and paid content (a.k.a. advertising).

A PR agency’s work mostly revolves around the first type, the editorial content: this means that our goal is to get journalists to talk about our clients and their products in the ‘informative’ content of their magazine/paper/website/show. And we hope they do so because they saw a value, they found what we had to say interesting, original and useful enough for them to share it with their readers. This is actually exactly the same for bloggers: we send you a press release, we invite you to an event or send you a product to test, thinking maybe it’s your thing, hoping you’ll like it and doing our best to offer you a positive experience. And of course, hoping as a result to get as much coverage, mentions, publications as possible, so that we can show our clients that we do a good job.

Our mission is thus to ‘match’ our clients (brands) with the right journalists, bloggers and influencers, to connect with them in a natural, organic way, that makes sense for both parties in the spirit of a win-win collaboration – I know this expression has a very bad reputation, but it’s also the essence of public relations, and it’s actually a pretty cool way to work, if only the right people get in touch with each other.

Why? Well, simply because the impact of a brand’s communication on its target audience will be more credible and important if it goes through natural and spontaneous ways than if it’s forced and pushed. A media, on the other side, will profit from the opportunity to share content that is interesting, sometimes exclusive, or at least that will interest its audience, making said media grow at an organic, healthy pace.

A PR agency is NOT:

  • A media buying agency
    Occasionally, depending on the choices made by our clients, we develop campaigns that have a marketing part. When that’s the case, we get a budget that allows us to pay the influencers and/or bloggers that we work with, just like we would buy advertising space in a magazine (an advertorial, for example). Please note that this is, right now, more the exception than the rule, and while it’s slowly shifting, most of our work has more to do with relationship building and ‘matching’, like I was saying earlier. Maybe you think: “well, instead of spending 5K on an event where you invite 50 people, just give each person 100 euros and send them your product at their home, the result will be the same – there will probably be even more coverage – and less efforts will have to be made”. And while it’s tempting to think like this, it’s absolutely not how our profession works and what it’s based on: organic word-of-mouth, goodwill, natural, spontaneous. People who actually liked what we presented to them, so much that they would like to share it themselves, with their readers and/or followers. It’s for this kind of return that our clients hire and pay us. So the reason why, in most cases, there is no budget to pay influencers, isn’t because we’re greedy and we want to keep it all for ourselves; it’s just because that’s not really what we do.
  • A product-testing lab
    As crazy as it sounds, I still get daily requests from people who seem to think being a blogger or an instagrammer or micro-blogger is just asking around for free stuff that they then have to take a picture of, topped by a very boot-licking caption. Not only is this insulting for the people who actually blog with passion and hard work, it also makes me want to run away from you as fast as I can. No, a PR agency isn’t a huge warehouse filled with products that are just waiting to be sent to every clickfarm-boosted Instagram account that contacts us to offer us the privilege of “testing our products”. Please.

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Don’t be afraid to talk about $$$

Every media does paid content: that’s actually how a magazine can afford to pay journalists to write objective editorial content. So obviously, if at some point you want to monetise your blog and start living from your revenue, you will have to make space for some kind of advertising. It’s up to you to decide how, in which proportion, and which sacrifices you’re willing to make. If you want to guarantee your financial safety but that you’re not very demanded (yet?), you might end up turning into a bus station billboard, because you’d be ‘forced’ to accept any partnership, as long as it’s paid. And that’s not always the most interesting stuff. But you’ve got to put butter on your sandwich, right? Unless you make millions of page views every month, which would maybe allow you to live off the revenue generated by a simple, boring banner, you will have to find some kind of balance, and each of those has upsides and… downsides.

My point is, you shouldn’t be ashamed of letting advertising in, but I advise you strongly to think twice before you accept projects based purely on the fact that they are paid or not. Living off your blog is a great ideal, but becoming trapped by your own ambitions because it’s too hard to make it without selling out is very depressing, isn’t it?

So don’t be afraid to talk about money: it’s a big part of the world you’re venturing into, and it’s normal that you get some part of the revenue that is generated thanks to you. But here comes the difficult part: how much does that represent? How do you know how much you can ask? Should you compare yourself to others and see who’s got more and less followers? Should you send a quote like you’re an agency or a photographer? Or just ask for a reimbursement of your costs? A compensation in nature?

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The options are pretty much endless and so complex that it’s hard to give you a proper answer without studying every specific case, but I will tell you this: what determines the value of a blogpost, an Instagram or a snap on your accounts is not the fact that you need money to pay for your rent and need to make a minimum wage every month. And it’s not because you think a blogpost you write is worth 500 euros that it’s actually the case. It might sound a bit cruel and cynical, but it’s the truth, and you will only move forward once you’ve understood this. Once more, please open up to the PR people that you’re dealing with, talk about your motivations, about the work that you’re planning to invest in your projects, about what you can bring to the client and how you see things. Ask honestly what the possibilities are in terms of budget, and what is expected from you.

One thing that I see more and more and that is making my eyes roll all the way to the back of my head every time I receive it: the ‘menu’ that some ‘influencers’ send me back when I e-mail them with a proposal. X€ for an Instagram post, X€ for a blogpost, X€ for a BJ, X€ to attend an event. Believe me, I understand how important it is to be able to get something back for all the time and effort you put in your blog and everything that goes with it, and I know how frustrating it can be to realise how little return on investment you get. But when I receive such a standard, impersonal reaction, I just want to ask: “are you interested in this or not?”.

Because if you’re not, then my job is useless. And if you are, let’s discuss the possibilities and the terms together, I’d be glad to.

And if you really see your blog/IG/FB/Snapchat – aka your work! – more like a billboard on the side of the road than as a passion that makes you feel accomplished and happier… dayum, you are depressing.

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You wanna professionalise? Be professional. 

One of the most common mistakes I see with bloggers or influencers that want to turn their activity into a job, is that for them, this mostly means they want to earn enough money to live off it. And they don’t realise that the first step in order to become a professional in their field is to, well, act professional. Turn their passion into a job. And a job implies to take things seriously. If you want to reach a level that will allow you to one day quit all the rest and earn the equivalent of a decent month’s pay, the minimum you can do is to act and work in the most professional way you can. Train yourself, learn, impose some discipline to yourself, and make the right choices. Keep your promises (especially if you get paid). Answer your e-mails, even with a “no” or an “I’m sorry, something came up and I can’t anymore”, instead of letting people beg you to let them know. Double check your writing, step up your photo game. Be proud of the work you deliver, because it’s your best business card.

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Be reliable

Keep your promises, honour your commitments: someone reliable is someone people want to work with. Often. It’s someone we want to give all the coolest projects, because we know they’ll be in good hands.

Some bloggers make us go out of our way and hustle hard to make things happen for them, and we’re happy to do it because it’s our job and we want everyone to get the most out of it. So we discuss a collaboration, define terms, deadlines. But once our part of the work is done, as fast as possible and with a big smile… nothing happens. No further word, no more answer, let alone a publication. Not cool, right? Nope, not okay. If I have to negotiate a deal for you with my client and convince them you’re worth their time and money, the least you can do is prove that you are. Don’t let me down. If you don’t respect your commitments, you make us look bad, and make yourself look even worse. This, by the way, is a one-way ticket to our blacklist.

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Remember that on each side, there is a person.

I keep repeating it all the time, because it’s something that I’ve learnt every single day of my life, both in personal and professional contexts: respect is the key🔑. Whenever you’re in touch with a new person, whether it’s IRL or per e-mail, never forget that it’s another human being talking to you. Have a chat, listen, anticipate, try to exchange around whatever subject you’re discussing. There are very few things more insulting than people who send us ‘subtle’ e-mails to ask for free stuff without making a proposal, explaining why they want something, or even showing any interest for the brand. PR people are usually hard workers, they’ve studied and interned for years before they arrived where they are, they work hard  (PR is definitely not a 38h/week job) to provide happiness and, of course, results. People with a passion, ambitions, motivations. You have no idea how much I love receiving an excited reply to a press release, from someone who has a creative idea, a proposition that shows they get the brand, they see a match and they have a real interest. Enthusiasm, creativity, motivation, those are the things that will play in your favour. Seriously, if I can make it happen, be sure I will. So, be straight-forward, but don’t send me “cute shoes, I’d love to have a pair, my size is 39”. I’m not a goodie-dispenser. Explain me why I should give you the shoes, what you have in mind, what you want to do with them, and I’ll be open and happy to discuss.

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Be yourself: be consistent

A majority of you has probably never even thought about this, but I’m saying it here because it’s something that is more important to PR peeps and clients than you might think: one of the things that define your quality, is your personality. People who create value are people who manage to stay themselves, who don’t jump on every trend and dare to say no. Bloggers who place consistence and integrity very high on their list of priorities. And of course, everyone mixes Zara with H&M, and it’s not a problem to present both brands in your outfit; but from the moment you receive a payment (or a very generous offer in nature), you become a brand ambassador. Which means the brand you are working with is placing its trust in you and expects you to be smart and professional enough to represent them with honesty and pride. So when, a week later, you post a series of pictures done in similar conditions for their biggest competitor, you can imagine the disappointment. Talk about an investment… Now, I understand that this might not be the most obvious thing in the world, but it is crucial to understand it for the professional you want to be: being a double agent will not bring any satisfaction to anyone, it shows your ignorance and your lack of experience in the field. Again, if you’re aiming to turn this into your job, you’re going to have to follow certain principles to avoid making enemies and getting your clients and partners upset. You might also want to think about your readers, who could get the impression that you’re just trying to have it all a little bit too much and won’t enjoy discovering your “personality” anymore.

To summarise this very, very long article, I think this one sentence says it all: you wanna become a professional? Then step up your game and… be professional. It’s the only way to make it.

Peace!

Anything to add? Something you’d like to know? Leave a comment or holla at me on Facebook!

PS: All the pictures I’ve used in this blogpost are actually oldies from the very first version of Simple & Funky. Times flies!

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