Marketing Agencies for Beginners

Photo credit: David Erickson

In the parenting blogger universe, there’s no topic hotter than compensation. Only the perennial “I can’t believe the lame PR pitch I just got” rant might rival the compensation discussion in a popularity contest — which mom blogging is not, by the way.

I’m with the majority in believing mom bloggers — and all bloggers, for that matter — should earn something for their labor, and receive something in exchange for the attention of their uber-valuable audience. But turning those lame PR inquiries into dollars requires an understanding of marketing agencies and what they do. Different types of agencies have different roles and objectives, and it pays to know what they’re trying to achieve — so you can sell them on how you’re going to help them reach their goals.

In this post, I’ll explain the differences between the two types of agencies most likely to touch bloggers. (A caveat here: the agency world is changing, in part because of the influence of blogs and social media, and every agency is a little different, anyway.)

The PR Agency

These are the folks that most commonly reach out to mom bloggers. Their job, historically, has been to forge relationships with — or just plain send press releases to — traditional journalists, in print, TV, radio, online, etc. Their expertise lies in identifying which reporters and outlets are interested in what particular type of story. (The reporters and outlets are responsible for looking our for the needs of the audience.) The best PR professionals then look at the message their clients are trying to get out there, and pitch an interesting angle to the reporters most likely to “bite.” What results in the ideal sitution is a story that’s interesting to the audience (making the reporter happy) and that highlights the client favorably (making the agency and client happy).

In this very traditional scenario, the agency gets paid by the client, but there’s no budget for them to spend, other than on the labor of their employees. The PR agency just plain doesn’t get access to any money, because they are supposed to be getting free, or “earned” media coverage. “The operative word here is ‘free,'” explains PR blogger Kel Kelly of Kel & Partners, in a recent blog post called The Mommy Elephant in the Room.

What happens a lot with mommy bloggers is that they get a PR pitch, and then, perhaps insulted at being asked to write about something for free, they respond with their advertising or sponsored post rates. Since PR agencies rarely have the budget to buy advertising, I’d suggest this may not be the most fruitful approach.

An alternative might be to seek something that could be in the PR agency’s power to provide — a giveaway. If your audience would genuinely enjoy hearing about the product, and appreciate the chance to win one, then you should pursue that route with the PR agency. But, honestly, I’d suggest valuing the PR agencies for what they do best — provide information about products or trends that might be of interest to your audience. If you never talk about products in your editorial, a polite “no, thanks” or “please take me off your list” may be the best response. Believe me, PR professional are accustomed to rejection from journalists, and should welcome the opportunity to narrow their efforts to the outlets where they might get coverage.

If you’re looking for ad dollars, however, you might ask the PR agency who handles the client’s media spending.

The Media Agency

Media agencies buy advertising space — online, in the display category, that’s banner ads. They’re all about the CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions), and some are only authorized by their clients to buy on a CPM basis. They’re the ones who can buy ad space on your site, or, potentially, do a sponsored post buy. These are the agencies we work with most often at Federated Media. You’ll know you’re talking to a media agency when they say they want to RFP you, and you’re expected to turn something around in 24 hours or less.

The challenge of working with mom blogs for these folks is that — especially for those working for bigger clients — buying on tons of small sites is sometimes more time consuming than it is worth. (Most every mom blog is small when you compare it to Yahoo or MSN.) They often need to reach humongous amounts of people, and they’re looking for efficient ways to do that. Sometimes, they’re willing to work with smaller sites — which is fantastic — but there are a lot that won’t.

As a mom blogger looking for marketing dollars, your best bet is really to deal directly with the client if at all possible. The smallest companies won’t even have an agency of any kind, and the marketing folks on the client side are closest to the budget, anyway.

Bloggers, what’s been your most successful technique to turn PR pitches into revenue for your site?