While preparing for my trip to Australia for Eat.Drink.Blog next month (I know! So lucky.), I came across this article in the daily paper there. It portrays food bloggers as naive amateurs willing to flog products, people, and restaurants.
A PR firm invited a handful of Australian bloggers to a demo of dried soup stock by Chef Marco Pierre White. The author of the article ridiculed food bloggers for writing about the event and endorsing the product, as did several others he quoted. A sample:
“Do you know how many newspapers ran [news] stories on Marco Pierre White during his visit?” asks Ed Charles, a prominent Melbourne blogger and freelance journalist (who did not attend the event). “None. Firstly, because most people under 40 haven’t heard of Marco Pierre White, given he hasn’t cooked in a commercial kitchen since 1999. And secondly, because what PR people have realised is that bloggers are a nicer audience to deal with than journalists. Very few bloggers are critical and if you give them something to write about they will just publish it.”
But then, I say the same thing when I speak at food blogger conferences. I am tired of gushing product stories, and I’ll be bringing up this subject at Food Blog South in January, where the topic is ethics.
You may not know this, but PR people are sneaky about getting coverage for their clients. I used to work in public relations, so I’ll let you in on how it works. Part of my job was to dream up fun, exclusive-sounding events like the one in Australia. People came because the evening sounded entertaining, and because I appealed to their egos and let them know they would be pampered. Attendance proved to my clients that writers thought their products had merit. About half the time, a mention or story followed. Indeed, the PR company for the event was “very happy with the coverage.”
You don’t have to tweet or post about an event or product, of course, unless you have signed an agreement to do so. But guilt is a powerful thing. Many bloggers will write a post as a thank you for being treated well or just getting something for free. So if you’re asked to events or sent products to write about, here are three suggestions on how to bump up the quality of your post:
1. Evaluate the invitation. Be honest. Will you go because you’re flattered to be asked? Because it sounds like fun? Or is this a product your readers should know about?
Will you post about the event itself (as in “I was cool enough to be asked” — I’ve seen plenty of those). Is that important to your readership?
2. If you like the product or company, don’t gush. Gushing is boring. Besides, it makes readers suspicious as to why you think a product is 100 percent perfect. You don’t want readers to question your credibility, do you? Instead, discuss the pros and cons. It’s fine to be positive. Just temper your comments with a few statements about what you thought could be improved.
And by the way, if you endorse a product, service or company, disclose that you received something for free. Above all, you want to be transparent to your readers and stay within the law (at least in the US).
3. If you don’t like the product, think about writing a post anyway, and stay away from trashing. Life is not black and white, and your post shouldn’t be either. Just as there’s no reason to gush, there’s no reason to trash.
Instead, consider the grey area between those two extremes. For example, in the case of this dried stock, it’s convenient, and we all need products that make our lives easier on hectic days. But it also contains astronomical sodium levels, and strange ingredients like autolyzed yeast extract. What the heck is that?
Above all, think about your readers. They want a well-considered, relevant post. You ARE writing for them, right? Or are you writing a love letter to the company for sending you a box of granola bars? If so, exactly three people will be moved by your post: the PR person, the head of the company, and the marketing person.
Lastly, read Food Bloggers as Marketing Puppets, an excellent response to the newspaper article, from the Australian food blog Deep Dish Dreams.
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- Does Truth Matter When Writers Constantly Promote?
- The Value of Disclosure in Social Media (Food Bloggers of Canada)