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Discount Stores Don’t Need Discount Public Relations

Blogging isn’t just for nerds anymore. Blogging is simple, and it’s as close to free as anything ever will be. You can go to a public library and set up a blog using any number of different free services. There is a low threshold for entry into blogging. Anyone can do it.

I remember watching Arianna Huffington hit every talk show when the book her editors she wrote was released and she kept saying, “everyone should have a blog. Everyone has the ability to have a great blog.” Well, no, that’s not quite true. Not everyone writes well, not everyone can create concise posts about interesting topics, not everyone can code. Not every blog is good. Not every person should be a blogger.

The web offers us a false sense of parity. Sure, anyone can start a site, but unicorns and sparkles won’t make you the next BlogHer any more than talking about tech will make you the next Mashable. I know second grade was amazing, but by the time you got to third, there were grades, and not everyone got A’s. This morning, when I pointed out that a campaign (which has yet to launch) is a train wreck in the making, I was told, “Well we are trying. Everyone starts somewhere.”

That’s not good enough.

Last year I stood on stage at the 140 Conference and reminded people that if they wanted good publicity they should hire a publicist. Today I would emphasize that even more. The FTC created some guidelines around blogging and partnerships that ought to be heeded, not because it’s the FTC, but because these guidelines will save you from looking like more of a shill.

Here’s the quick version of things, since I know y’all are going to want a blow by blow account.

  • I checked in at ShePosts (as I do every morning) and saw that Sears Outlets were looking for bloggers
  • I noticed that some bloggers had even offered to put signs on their front lawn, for free
  • I filled out the application and took some screenshots.
  • Almost fell over when I read: You CAN give and post negative feedback on Sears Outlet. All we ask is that you allow us the opportunity to correct it if possible first.
  • Followed by: And yes, you must abide by FTC laws on disclosures.

I’m not the only person who sees problems, yet there are so many here that I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll start in the middle.

If you want publicity hire a publicist. A call for applicants should not be a blog post, complete with comments, grammatical errors, misspellings and periwinkle blue links. A call for applicants should be your finest moment, it ought to be fully polished, readable, quotable and enticing. In theory you want to attract bright people. Bright people will not be attracted to a messy site.

If you’ve already decided that you’re going to use a blog post to attract applicants, let’s look at the content of the post. The FTC does not (nor will they ever) make laws. The FTC creates guidelines, lawmakers make laws. The FTC may fine people, based on the guidelines, they investigated Ann Taylor recently, but nothing happened. If you are going to worry about the FTC and their guidelines the best thing you can do is read them.

Now, let’s assume that you don’t much care what the FTC says, and you also don’t care about the quality of the work that a “Public Relations Firm” puts out on your behalf. Assuming all of that, please tell me who is going to trust anyone who signs up for this? What about this is trustworthy? Negative reviews have to be submitted to the PR firm first? I have never seen anything like that before, and certainly hope to never see it again.

I won’t even talk about taxes. These women, these poor gullible women will have to pay taxes on items they may or may not actually want or need. There’s nothing quite as lovely as picking up the tab for your local megastore.

I understand that the PR firm behind this is a new one, and it seems as though they may be a pro bono one as well. I can tell you this; I have many friends who are PR Pros and everything about this made them cringe.

Once again a discount store has made the mistake of trying a discount marketing campaign. In some ways it doesn’t really matter who it is, or why they did it, the takeaway should be hire a real agency.

18 thoughts on “Discount Stores Don’t Need Discount Public Relations”

  1. You want me to bring your campaign into my community, but I have to check with you first if I have something bad/negative to say? And then expect that my community continues to trust me? Gross.

    Mediocrity begets mediocrity. or worse.

  2. All I am going to do is pick on paragraph three and say “talking about tech will make you the next…” I would have used TechCrunch.

    I must say this is raising some questions in my mind in all the camps.

  3. Honestly, I don’t really care if this gives PR or bloggers a bad name. I have no stake in this at all. I have a blog. I write on it. What happens after that is out of my control, and takes too much effort to worry about. My two cents is this: if you want to benefit from buzz on the internet, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You take a calculated risk and prepare to take the bad with the good. Because that breeds respect. Without respect, you have nothing. With respect, you can overcome most obstacles.

    But typos? Unacceptable. What you put out there in your final draft (digital and otherwise) represents you and your client. Typos just indicate that you didn’t care enough to proofread. That’s why I throw out any resume with a typo, as soon as I catch it. If you want to be taken seriously in the business world, you MUST care enough to proofread. That is step one. Always.

    1. That’s why I throw out any resume with a typo,

      Not me. I have a simple method for hiring people. I take the stack of resumes and then fling them down the hall. The person whose resume flies the farthest is always hired.

  4. This whole thing is mystifying to me. I’ve worked at three reputable PR firms and winning a client (even for a one-off project as this may be) is challenging, sometimes all-consuming work, even for the best of the best. It often requires long nights of writing strategic marketing plans, developing and practicing your pitch, compiling clips and examples of your best prior work, providing references….I wonder if MommyPR went through the same screening process as many traditional PR agencies do when they are seeking new clients?

    My other point of confusion is: why are they using their own website to promote their client? PR firms are typically “behind the scenes” so I don’t understand why a large corporation would hire a group of review bloggers to run a campaign on their own website. I am a food blogger with food clients and I hardly even mention them on my own blog, even in passing, let alone use it as a vehicle to promote them. That is because I receive a paycheck to help promote my clients. If I wrote editorial about how great they were it would feel unethical (and even if I disclosed, would people believe me?)

    My issue here is that this doesn’t seem like “PR” as many of us know it and it irks me that people are looking at this campaign and thinking “ugh, PR is terrible.” Should this even be an example of public relations? I don’t know. Can *anyone* call herself a public relations professional now if she asks her friends to promote a company on her blog?

    It’s scary. GOOD PR is highly, highly valuable and Jessica, I understand that some people might not like the way you say things or agree with everything you say but it is important that people are aware of the difference. Thanks for starting this conversation!

  5. I think the salivating that occurs on the part of some bloggers over campaigns like this has a lot to do with the perceived status they believe they will earn from participating them. Being chosen by a brand somehow validates them, so they don’t mind doing it for free. I was once wowed by the possibility until I woke up and realized what a crock it all was.

    1. @Mommie Daze, I hear what you’re saying. At first people feel flattered that brands notice them and that certainly is the wrong reason to engage.

      However, I think that when there is a mutual benefit for a brand and a blogger to work together, it can be great. On the other side of the coin, as a PR person, I would certainly hope that any member of the media (blogger or otherwise) who accepts samples of my client’s products is doing it because they are genuinely interested and not because they’re thinking “oooh, freebies!”

  6. I read this post and maybe I am just not understanding the point of it. Is this a diss on MommyPR or on Sears? And you mentioned that you applied to be a blogger for them. Did they not choose you or did you withdraw your application?

  7. Peggy, I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I filled out parts of the application in order to see what the vetting process was.

    As I had suspected, it was inane. I have screenshots of all five pages if anyone is interested in seeing what the process is.

  8. It is fascinating to me how the popularity of blogging has led people to completely lose their minds. The desire for status via sponsorship, the insatiable craving for free stuff, the horrendous conflict of interest issues, the sense of entitlement because you have internet connection and a keyboard – it’s crazy. I’m not in marketing or PR, but what you’ve described is frightening – and disheartening – on so many levels.

    Thank you for reading my blog post today and commenting. It’s appreciated.

  9. I’m so confused about this “Mommy PR”. It reads like a personal blog, but this person is also doing all of this work to help Sears Outlet put together a campaign, but won’t be getting paid? WHY?

    I work with dozens of PR firms and I’ve never seen a PR firm that is also a personal blog. She has advertisers, does giveaways – why wouldn’t Sears Outlet hire an ACTUAL PR FIRM for this?

    Again, so confused.

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