The Blogger PR Blackout - The good, the bad, and the completely puzzling

BlogHer Original Post

There have been any number of times that I have eagerly clicked over to my favorite personal blog, awaiting a hilarious breastfeeding story or an engaging rant about reality TV (Kelly Bensimmon, you just kill me with that orange skin!) only to find an uninspired giveaway of Consumer Package Good X. I'd be lying if I didn't admit I often wonder what the blog world would be like if everyone got back to blogging their passions, as they mostly did 3 or 4 years ago (I know, call me Granny), and away from the half-hearted marketing plugs.

So I was intrigued to learn that this week, a blogging community called MomDot issued a call for a PR Blackout next month.

MomDot is challenging bloggers to participate for one week in August in a PR Blackout challenge where you do not blog ANY giveaways, ANY reviews, and Zero press releases. In fact, we don't want you to talk to PR at ALL that whole week.  We want to see your blog naked, raw, and back to basics.

Evidently this is necessary because bloggers in this community are now experiencing "deadline stress equivalent to what the General Motors CEO must feel every time he drives into work." Wow, writing your opinion about soup is now comparable to being responsible for the livelihood of 325,000 employees and their families! That is a lot of stress!

Admittedly my first thought was, it's a nice idea, but haven't bloggers learned to use the delete key on their email accounts? 

Unless you are receiving money from a sponsor or have some other contract, a blogger never has an obligation to post about a product. Never. Not even if that product came free. Not even if that product came free, hand-delivered to your door by a shirtless Hugh Jackman. But then, I would wonder what in the world is going on in your life that's more interesting than writing about a shirtless Hugh Jackman at your door. 

Susan Getgood, a respected marketer and PR professional in the mom
blogger community cut right to the chase on her own blog, Marketing Roadmaps:

I really cannot figure out the reason for the boycott. If product reviews are too much work, don’t do them. Or do fewer. If you aren’t getting joy from something, stop. If the value isn’t there, don’t do it.

Seems logical to me. But it would seem that this Product Review Stress Syndrome is palpable and does somehow need to be addressed, as a few dozen bloggers have eagerly embraced the effort. Grandma blogger (cool!) Cindy of Moomette's Magnificents suggests that she didn't start as a product reviewer, but it has increasingly taken over her time. Similar thoughts have been echoed by Heather at Maternal Spark and Tammy of of Autism Learning Felt who says quite clearly:

This is not to shun PR, but to give us mommies a break. We put a lot of time into doing reviews and giveaways. Time that we don’t get paid for. Yes, we got a free product. Big whoopee. A $10, $25, or $50 item for all the hours we put into reviewing an item, writing up the post and promoting the giveaways. The main reason most of us do it is because at one time it was fun. Lately, for some of us, we miss just blogging about our family and our life. We want a break.

And I totally see her point. We--especially moms with such limited time and resources but really all bloggers--should all be putting our energy towards the activities that give us the most reward and fulfillment in life. Online and off.

But then, why take the shot at PR people? Why not call it "Write Well Week" or "Blog About Life Week" if the idea isn't to antagonize or alienate the PR community? Ostensibly, that's what an effort called "PR Blackout" is doing.

And if the effort is such a sincere act of community building, I cannot figure out why MomDot would seek to antagonize those who don't participate. The day after the call for a blackout, MomDot editor Trish initiated a further call to bloggers, suggesting that they are "whiny" and "weak" if they won't or can't commit to the blackout because of existing obligations to marketers.

Listen up whiny babies of the blogosphere: If your [sic] afraid to take a WEEK, a WEEK off of PR blogging, then you have a PROBLEM.  

Now go dry your eyes with your boogie wipes and jump on the bandwagon...The real question is, are you strong enough to take the step?

Hm.

I keep channeling Eden Marriott Kennedy of Fussy (WWEMKD?) and the creator of National Blog Posting Month. Her own effort was designed to promote great writing by simply encouraging bloggers to write each day for a month. There was no villain in this equation. No tension. No blackballing. No bad guy. Unless you consider lethargy to be a bad guy, as it often is. 

Writer Caroline McCarthy at Cnet writes a sharp analysis of the blackout on her article, Do Mommybloggers Need to Grow Up? in which she suggests the effort is not only misguided it's "immature," and even "insulting."

Working with the public relations industry is core to any journalist's (and now blogger's) job, as is the use of press releases and in some cases review products. What MomDot is assuming is that "mommy bloggers" are simply rehashing press releases and posting photos of stuff they got for free, turning less into independent bloggers and more into PR mouthpieces.

That's a little bit insulting, in my opinion, to the scores of
smart, funny, and critical bloggers who happen to write about their
lifestyles as mothers.  

I have to agree, there are indeed plenty of wonderful sites that deliver outstanding content while relying in part from tips from public relations. BlogHer itself springs to mind first. Then I think of the food blogs, political blogs, design blogs, and tech blogs, many of which are published by moms. Even my own shoppping blog, Cool Mom Picks relies on our marketer relationships for scoop - on charitable efforts, breaking news, big sales and other info that would be valuable information for our readers. To perceive PR as simply a source of free products seems to be a limited view.

In fact, while the Hershey's and Pepsi's of the world certainly are invested in social media, the majority of our outreach comes from entrepreneurs and mom-run startups who rely heavily on journalists and bloggers to get the word out in lieu of an advertising budget. Shutting them out would be counter to our mission to help support small business, particularly in such a challenging economy.

I suppose, like Susan, I'm having trouble getting to the root of the real intent of the blackout. Something about it just doesn't sit well with me.

It seems too provocative to seem authentic, too antagonistic to be about community building, and even at odds with some other posts on MomDot about dissatisfaction with the current level of compensation currently received for posting reviews. Could the blackout be an effort to harness the collective power of mom bloggers to strong arm marketers into paying for posts or increasing the value of freebies?

Kim, one of the admins of MomDot had blogged earlier this week: 

I joked the other day that if it ain’t a car, a computer or major electronics, that I will not be doing reviews and as much as I laughed, it’s pretty much true.  It is going to take something REALLY shiny to get my attention from now on.  Or something green.  Green and with the face of a former President. 

 Well, there's one way to cut down on the number of pitches you get.

 If you don't like what you're blogging, don't do it any more. If you're not passionate about reviews, don't write them. And if there are actually PR people out there willing to blackball you for not covering a product, I'd report them on ethics violations. 

I'm with Christy of More Than a Mommy, a member of the MomDot community who suggested in comments,

Rather than an anti-PR/product week,why not a back-to-basics day where we all just post about something that inspires and refreshes us? 

And then with Susan who summed up her post beautifully:

 Instead of polarizing boycotts, teeth gnashing and wailing, let’s all pledge to Blog with Integrity.

Why wait until August? I say let's start now.

Liz Gumbinner is the author of Mom-101 which does not review products, and Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Cool Mom Picks, which is happy to accept relevant pitches in August and beyond.

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