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C-Suite Not Yet Sold on the Blogosphere? Try This...
By: Jeannine Wheeler
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What’s in your PR plan? Social media, media outreach, video, SEO, stakeholder engagement? What about blogger outreach, particularly if you’re working in the hospitality sector? Bloggers can be an integral part of your success…but is everyone sold on the idea of gifting expensive destination packages to travel bloggers?

To learn more about how to leverage the blogosphere, I spoke with Ryan Sheehy, APR, a PR pro who specializes in travel, tourism, and entertainment. Based in Austin, Texas, she services clients in The Lone Star State, as well as in Orlando, Florida. In addition to running her consultancy SHEEHY creative, Ryan teaches PR and emerging media at Texas State University. 

Q&A with Ryan Sheehy

Q. Is there value in incorporating travel, food, and entertainment blogger outreach in your engagement program?

When I think of one of my niche markets, which is travel, I seek out those who are capable of sharing a compelling story about their journey. And that is bloggers.

Take Rachelle Lucas, for example, who is a contributing writer for multiple travel sources and author of the popular blog The Travel Bite. She’s a travel expert, speaks with an authentic voice about her experiences, and has a loyal following. Her storytelling is captivating, and so is her imagery.

In comparison to a mainstream media outlet, I believe that Rachelle has a stronger impact on the reader. She doesn’t have to play the role of “objective journalist” and can share her own story and sentiment. Today, readers value having a connection with the writer, as much as learning from their experiences.

Q. Why is it important to establish a rapport with bloggers? Especially when promoting travel and tourism?

When you’ve spent your career working in the traditional media landscape, sometimes it can be difficult to wrap your brain around the blogosphere. Not to mention, it’s still a challenge to convince clients and the C-Suite of the value of blogger outreach. Let’s face it, a typical comment is still: “We want to be in USA Today or The New York Times” when setting media coverage goals.

One tenet of effective communication is to know your audience. Part of knowing your audience is understanding which forms of media they consume. Our industry has changed significantly, and so have the roles of the credible sources with which we once had relationships. From a travel perspective, when you scan the media landscape — especially major dailies, and lifestyle magazines — staff resources have been significantly reduced. There’s limited space to secure coverage, which means we have to find new avenues to feature travel coverage. The beauty of promoting travel is that it’s a niche market, and top-tier bloggers, several of whom are former journalists, have established a sizable readership — sometimes even larger than those of the more traditional media outlet.

Q. Does the client see the value in a blogger hit, or are they just waiting for the full-page spread in the regional or national travel section?

Since the mid 2000s, PR pros have seen the value in working with bloggers. But that’s not to say that some decision makers aren’t still leery about their credibility. Quite frankly, anyone can have a blog, and millions do! It can be difficult to identify credible sources of  “news” versus those bloggers who seek a platform to write about their passion, and then claim they’re media and deserve the “free stuff.”

However, I don’t believe employing just one strategy is ever a good idea. Campaigns evolve, and so should your media outreach plan. Traditional news sources are still incredibly powerful. I find that maintaining a healthy balance between my rapport with bloggers and my focus on journalists in the mainstream media is key.

Q. What are the metrics of the blogosphere? And how do you report that to a client? 

Every client is different, based on brand, product, and service; the PR strategy varies as well. Goal-setting is essential. Some seek to reach the masses, while others have a well-defined target audience. By using metrics, I can convince a client of the value of blogger outreach, which can mean giving hospitality away, but when someone has solid followers and is influential in the marketplace, it is well worth the effort.

No matter what, I believe in establishing standards. There are a variety of factors that help me form my opinion of what deems a blogger “excellent, good or average.” This allows me to prioritize my efforts and support their needs accordingly. Here are a few guidelines:

1. Read the blog to size up the blogger. I study the blogger across all social networks, analyze their storytelling ability, niche audience, and reader engagement.

2. Study the numbers. These include the following:
  • Monthly website visitation. I use Compete (www.compete.com)
  • Alexa rankings (www.alexa.com)
  • Google page ranking ( www.prchecker.info)
  • Email list subscribers
  • Social media channel followers and fans:
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Instagram
    • Pinterest
    • LinkedIn
3. Seek out cool peeps to help build their brand and biz, too. I cultivate relationships with individuals who will also benefit from working with my client. After all, they’re developing a brand and running a business too. If the feature they develop while working with me leads them to capture new readers, fans, followers, and friends, I know I’ve done my job well.

Q. What are the ethics of treating bloggers or indeed the nationals to an all-expenses-paid vacation?

A traditional media outlet might tell you it has a standard policy about accepting gifts, and some follow it religiously, but in order to experience something, and write about it appropriately, sometimes that means forgoing “policy” for the sake of serving readership. I handle this on a case-by-case basis.

For bloggers, it’s a different ballgame. There’s more room for discussion on the nature of their story, the timing of their visit, and their willingness to accept a complimentary visit to the destination.

I’m still torn on the ethics of paying a blogger for their work. Yes, a press trip could be perceived as compensation, but just like any other experiential product — a theme park, concert, movie, or musical — you have to experience it in order to form an opinion. There are businesses, like Izea, who have formed relationships with social influencers and pay them for their engagement on behalf of working with a brand. Blogging, tweeting, and posting to Instagram are all part of “engagement.” Would you believe Kim Kardashian gets paid more than $20k for just one tweet?

According to FTC disclosures regulations for bloggers and brand, bloggers must disclose the various forms of compensation. To that end, I appreciate blogger Rachelle Lucas’ response on this matter: “This blog is for entertainment purposes only. I’m not a journalist, I’m a blogger.”

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About the Author
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.
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