Meeting with the ‘enemy’?

Last night I attended an event affectionately known on Twitter as #BPRSummit. Sounds really high powered and like it could be about trying to fix a major world issue such as climate change or war or something? Whilst it wasn’t quite as serious as all that it was about trying to get the food blogging community and food PR’s to have a discussion about how they might or might not work together going forward instead of randomly (and often justifiably) slinging mud as has happened a fair bit of late.

The event was conceived and organised by Sarah of Spoon PR and Tim Hayward of The Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog and Tim did a call to arms last week outlining some of the problems that have arisen: food bloggers being referred to as food blaggers, talk of a ‘code of ethics’ raising hackles and some food PRs running woeful campaigns and alienating bloggers. So it was that a group of bloggers and PRs met at the Rubens Hotel near Victoria to thrash things out.

A few of us bloggers met first at a nearby pub and spent half an hour mulling over what the evening would hold, would it be a useful and helpful discussion or would it turn into an almighty spat. At 6.30pm (BST) we duly wandered over to the hotel to find out. Here we were directed to one of the conference rooms where we were greeted by Sarah and badged up (red for bloggers, blue for PRs).

In the spirit of all good summits we had a panel of expert speakers to kick things off and then we would move to an open Q&A. Tim (as quizmaster/chair) got the ball rolling with a brief round of introductions and thanks. Then the serious work began.

First up we heard from Kelly, Jacob & Adam of Luchford APM who act for the likes of Daylesford Organics (although Luchford don’t only work with food companies). They explained a little bit about how they work and suggested that for PRs to work well with bloggers there is going to need to be trust on both sides. They seemed keen to understand what bloggers do or don’t want from PRs, food companies and restaurants and also how they approach blogging.

Then it was the turn of Anthony of Silverbrow on Food who explained his motivation for blogging (personal enjoyment) and some good and bad PR experiences he’d had:

bad = an approach to review bacon when his blog is strictly about kosher food – oh dear!

good = Starbucks PR convincing him to try their new instant coffee despite him regularly being openly dismissive of Starbucks.

The difference being all about how the PR approached him and the fact they either clearly had or hadn’t done their background research on what his blog is about. A straightforward lesson maybe, but one that the subsequent comments from bloggers on the floor demonstrated still needs to be learnt by many PRs.

Next it was on to Sarah of Spoon PR, a much smaller operation than Luchford, a different approach and an equally impressive client list (e.g. Petersham Nurseries). Sarah explained that she only works with food companies because that’s what she’s passionate about. Its obvious she’s already very tech savvy but she was also very clear that she wants to learn how bloggers work and how they want to work with PRs.

And finally on the panel another food blogger, Oliver Thring from Thring for your Supper. He echoed much of what Anthony had said and emphasised the fact that bloggers want to be taken seriously by PRs i.e. not treated as some amorphous mass of cheap resource to be ‘spam’ mailed but instead individual relationships should be forged.

And then to the floor. Rather than questions it was more a case of people throwing in their thoughts on the overall relationship that needed to be built or adding their comments on how the world looked from where they stood either as blogger or PR. I’d say the PR’s got a bit more of the airtime that the bloogers…but I think we all learnt a fair bit, bloggers and PRs alike.

The discussion threw up the following points:

  • many clients of the PRs are resistant to being involved in blogger events because of the bad press surrounding a minority of bloggers
  • the PRs seemed genuinely keen to engage properly with bloggers to the mutual benefit of both sides
  • the bloggers want to be treated properly not as spam fodder
  • both sides always need to be clear what ‘the deal’ is for any particular PR/blogger activity
  • events during the working day aren’t going to get much response as most bloggers have day jobs
  • lots of bloggers talking about the same product or event or restaurant at the same time makes for less interesting reading perhaps PR’s should phase any campaign
  • some bloggers feel that approaches direct from company and restaurant owners are better than from a PR company
  • some bloggers are never going to accept ‘freebies’ its not what they do

Overall the event was a good way to start bloggers and PR’s engaging with each other but there’s much debate still to be had. The issue of ethics and a blogging code didn’t really get aired and there were few traditional journalists there to put forward their views or concerns.

And then, as if set as a test, the bloggers were told there were goodie bags to take home….now then who didn’t blag one eh??