I Don’t E-Sleep Around

Call me an idealist, but despite this being the digital age, I still believe in etiquette, and the fact that relationships matter. I don’t e-sleep around. I want to get to know a person or organization first. I receive a lot of pitches at Boston Mamas and many of them are straightforward to process (see here, here, and here on how not to pitch me). However, lately -- whether due to the economy, awareness about social media outreach, or both -- I have seen a rise in pitches asking me to donate money, time, and/or editorial/advertising space to a cause.

Now, I don't have a lump of coal for a heart. I understand that it’s a challenging time to raise money. And that there are scores of good-hearted organizations competing against one another for philanthropic dollars. But during a conversation with Jon this morning (regarding Example 3 below), I commented that it’s one thing to ask the general public for money; it’s a completely different thing to ask a blogger to leverage their site and voice and readers for your cause without bothering to engage in any kind of relationship first, and without offering some sort of karmic reciprocity.

When I mentioned the reciprocity component, Jon bristled. Following my recent NPR interview re: bloggers and corporations and ethics, he wondered whether it was ethical to expect something in return from an organization in exchange for supporting them. And I explained that in my opinion, working with an organization to help them raise money is very, very different than something like a product review (note: there is no pay for play whatsoever in my editorial space at Boston Mamas). And in these cases, I need for a relationship – gasp, a two-way relationship! – to be in place. Perhaps this is best explained by way of examples:

Example 1 (good karma):

Two years ago, the March of Dimes contacted me and said they would love to form a partnership in advance of their March for Babies walk. At that time, Boston Mamas was smaller; it was well before all of the press and accolades. But they weren’t concerned with metrics; they loved and believed in my site and thought it was a perfect fit, even if the reach at that time wasn't huge. And I was thrilled to connect with them, not only because it was an honor to be affiliated with a well-known organization, but because I believed in their work. My brother and his wife were pregnant with twins; one died in utero and one was born premature. And when I worked at Mass. General Hospital in Boston, I helped design and implement a research protocol to use music to help relieve infant stress responses during heel sticks in the NICU.

During an extended phone conversation with the March of Dimes, I shared these stories. I also discusses my metrics and the various ways I could help them (banners, editorial, forming a walk team), and they offered reciprocity in terms of web presence and a (surprisingly large) banner at the Hatch Shell for the walk. My relationship has continued with them; both through this past year’s walk and also by signing on as a March of Dimes Mom. I can truly say it has been a pleasure and honor to be partnered with them. And as Boston Mamas has grown and gained national recognition in the last two years, I believe their investing in our relationship paid off for them.

Example 2 (bad karma):

I was invited to visit a local organization that helps women and children. Though it wasn’t convenient for my schedule, I squeezed in a visit because: a) I believed in their mission; and b) partnership for an interesting upcoming event was suggested. When I arrived, the director of development gave me her schpiel and it soon became very clear that she invited me not in the context of being a media partner, but to pitch me as a major donor -- and one who would also leverage my readership to gain additional donors. I explained that I was not in the position to make a large direct donation, but would be happy to discuss a media partnership similar to what I had done with the March of Dimes, assuming there weren't time conflicts (I'm loyal...the March of Dimes is my first philanthropic priority). Her expression changed markedly; she said she would think about it and follow up with me, and I haven’t heard from her since.

Example 3 (possibly worse karma):

I was invited to a blogger luncheon for a local children’s charity. At first I felt compelled to go because it’s a well-known charity that does good work, but when I read the agenda (lunch, facility tour, meeting the mom of a really sick kid) I had a sinking feeling; it was a transparent effort to jerk the heartstrings. I didn’t like that -- I’d rather they just engaged with the bloggers directly instead of using the mom of a sick kid to appeal to other moms.

Then logistics made my attendance more challenging and I canceled. I felt some relief actually, and then received an email saying:

I have another request for you – would you consider donating ad space on your site for an ad for ___________? Your readers would be a great audience for us to reach.

In a world replete with puppy dogs and unicorns, I'd like to believe that people mean well, even despite one-way approaches such as Examples 2 and 3 above. But I'm a realist and I've seen enough pitches to know when an organization simply wants to take advantage of bloggers to their own gain, with not even the vaguest consideration of reciprocity (I mean, really, it’s not hard for an organization to toss a logo on their web or print materials; I design this sort of material all the time...). And in my opinion, what makes matters worse is that ultimately, this kind of behavior stinks of greed hiding behind the covers of organizations meant to help people.

Relationships matter. And contrary to what many people apparently think, they’re two-way. So just bear in mind that if you approach me with a pick up line that is all about you without even acknowledging that I’m here, I’m going to turn you down.