Bad Blogger Outreach: II (The Ugly)

Pursuant to Bad Blogger Outreach: I (The Bad), here is Part II... II - The Ugly:

I received an invite for a local event while I was in San Francisco; it wasn't a terribly enticing pitch and I hadn't yet replied before receiving the below follow up. I start here with the follow up thread since the amount of cutting and pasting rendered it very similar to the original pitch.

I wanted follow up and see if you might be available on [dates], to kick off [our awesome corporate event]. The [awesome corporate event] will be an interactive challenge to generate the most innovative ideas from women all over the world.

If you are interested in leading the Challenge for your readers we would like to invite you to a pre-launch kickoff luncheon at [corporate headquarters] to provide you with more information about the Challenge and how you can lead the way.

[Another paragraph of cut and past schpiel about client and why they’d love for me to be a part of the campaign.]

Now, typically because the pitch was so poorly constructed (strangely vague about seemingly important details, obviously cut and pasted with corporate schpiel), normally I would delete this. However, the company has local roots so I wanted to make an effort to get more information and responded with:

Can you tell me what you mean by "leading the Challenge for [my] readers"? I am open to attending events to learn more about products, etc. but I do not necessarily blog on events that I attend (depends on how much they move me/are relevant). Just let me know.

To which the PR person responded:

Great to hear from you! The [awesome corporate event] will be an intimate gathering of influential bloggers we’ve identified as women who bring creativity, problem-solving and innovation to life every day. [More cut and paste PR schpiel regurgitating the event concept…].

Additionally and as part of the [awesome corporate event], a special microsite is being developed for the program and we ask that our [awesome corporate event] bloggers be featured on the site with an image and short bio. Some make-up and hair-styling will be provided!

[Paragraph reiterating event timing details...]

Coincidentally, I hear that you are acquaintances with [well respected professional acquaintance I know in a very limited capacity]. She will be attending the event, and mentioned that she’d give you a call to discuss [awesome corporate event]. If you have questions or are interested in participating, please let me know. We’d love to have you join our team!

This response bothered me for three reasons: First, more dreadful cut and paste PR schpiel. Second, she didn’t really answer my question about what was involved in being a challenge leader. And third, it felt as if she threw a bait-like curve ball by tossing in the name of someone who I respect professionally but only know vaguely.

At this point I was frustrated and growing suspicious, but now I was invested in the communication, so I responded with:

Thanks, I'm interested in learning more -- I'm local to Boston (obviously) so just let me know of the itinerary components.

Also, I'll want to learn more about the challenge before agreeing to be a team member and have my image on the site -- I don't mean to sound paranoid, but I can't agree to something that seems like endorsement without knowing the full details.

To which she responded:

No worries, we understand your concerns. Basically, we are asking you (and eight other female bloggers) to rally readers via your blog, and challenge them to submit their “ingenious” ideas. Ultimately, our goal is to create an interactive showcase of everyday womens’ brilliant ideas [more cut and paste schpiel...].

[Another paragraph of cut and paste schpiel about how awesome and smart me and my readers are]

In participating, we’d ask that you host [our awesome corporate program] for about a month on your site to allow your readers a significant amount of time to think and submit ideas, post comments, etc. Feel free to call me or let me know if you have any more specific questions or concerns. It may sound a bit vague but we will be able to walk you through the program during the kickoff luncheon more in-depth.

[Repeated date logistics...]

OK, whoa, back up a second cowboy. So not only have my concerns about likeness and endorsement not been addressed, but now she reveals that "leading the challenge" means promoting their company on my site for a month? And they want me to commit to this without knowing the full scope of what is entailed? It basically sounded like an advertising/endorsement campaign, i.e., a compensated program.

So I responded:

This "offer" is puzzling to me. If I understand correctly, [company] wants to use me to promote and generate content for them -- plus essentially serve as an endorsing party (via likeness on the microsite) -- for an entire month, with nothing in return except the "opportunity" to do so. From the details you have presented, this seems like an alternative advertising campaign that should be compensated financially.

As I mentioned before, I only attend events when I'm not required to write about them; if the event is, in fact, useful, interesting, inspiring, etc. I do write about it, but being required to write/participate about something before knowing the full details makes no sense to me (and defeats the purpose of true editorial). I have turned down event invitations from major corporations for this very reason; if a company does not have enough confidence in the event they are hosting to leave it to the blogger's discretion as to whether to post, it's very possible something is wrong with it (and I've seen this play out and backfire dramatically in at least one case). On the flip side, events where I've been told that there are no requirements to blog -- that I'm only asked to attend, learn, and enjoy -- have been amazing and educational and I have written in depth about them.

So, if you are looking for me to sign on now as a challenge leader, with only vague details and no form of compensation the answer is no. If you would like to compensate me for this campaign, I would still want to know the full details of the arrangement before committing. Finally, if you would just like me to stop by the event to learn more about the program (with no commitment), I would be willing to do that.

Finally, from a communications perspective, it's troubling that it took this many emails of me pushing back for you to reveal that the campaign expectation is an entire month. Your clients (and your own time) would be better served if you clearly layout the expectations, details, and compensation (or lack thereof) at the outset. The fact that each of my inquiries basically was responded to with cut and paste [corporate name] PR schpiel and gradual releasing of more (critical) information casts a very suspicious air over the whole thing.

To which she responded:

I appreciate your response and explanation. I would like to clarify that there were no expectations for you to blog about the kick-off event. Our goal is to facilitate a gathering of minds and dive into the details of the [awesome corporate program], which we hope will inspire and capture the creativity of women nationwide. [More regurgitated cut and paste schpiel]

I feel badly if my replies frustrated you; please know that my intent was only to provide enough information without compromising the flexibility of our campaign. I will certainly let you know how the [awesome corporate event] goes, and hope that perhaps we can work together as details are solidified in the coming weeks.

Yet another response where I felt as if my issues were never really answered...I haven't responding to this yet. However, as I was writing this post yesterday, I received an email directly from the VP of Marketing for the company. She apologized for the PR firm's miscommunications and explained that this week's event serves to solicit advice in advance of the actual campaign. It still was not clear from her email whether they are asking for a formal commitment at this juncture. At any rate, I suppose it hardly matters, as I was not invited back to the event simply to learn more -- no commitment required -- an option I had suggested.

I still need to structure a response to the VP of Marketing. Meanwhile, this thread troubled me for two major reasons. First, the outreach was poorly written and executed; it pains me to think that a client is actually paying for that shoddy work to go out. The initial invitation was vague about what was involved, and every time I pressed back with a question, not only did my question go answered but crucial details (such as, um, hosting their promotion on my site for a month...) were revealed. Second, I don't really think I was being a hard ass for desiring more specifics and I'm curious whether other bloggers received the same pitch (I assume so) and if so, why they were willing to agree to the invite terms with so little information. Did others push back as I did then find themselves satisfied with the answers, or did they say yes immediately to the vaguely presented concept right at the outset, trusting the corporate name? The former I am OK with as everyone operates their blog differently, but the latter is troubling, not only because we know corporate doesn't necessarily mean good but because clearly they did not lay out all the terms and expectations in their initial pitch.

Since the PR firm and company would not detail the expectations to me it's hard to translate here what is involved. However, if my perception of the campaign is correct based on the information provided to date, it seems as if this corporation essentially wants to leverage us lowly (apparently "free-for-service") bloggers for what seems like a rather involved marketing campaign, with no compensation whatsoever.

While I'm upset about this potential devaluing of bloggers in general, it did occur to me that even if they offered to compensate me, if the campaign is reflective of the correspondence to date, I probably wouldn't have been excited about the details, and the non-sellout in me wouldn't have gone for it anyway.

This is why I'll likely never make the big bucks, but at least I'll still have my integrity.

And finally, up next: The Unfathomably Absurd