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Gini Dietrich

Blogger Relations: Know Your Audience

By: Gini Dietrich | September 12, 2011 | 
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In the 1970s and 1980s, Folgers ran an advertising campaign that had hidden cameras showing diners enjoying coffee in high-end restaurants.

The catch? The coffee was actually Folgers and not some hoity toity brand you’d expect in a white tablecloth restaurant.

Many other companies have replicated the campaign, including Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Coke, Pepsi, and now Marie Callender’s.

Last month, ConAgra, the company that owns the brand, and Ketchum, their PR firm, invited food and mom bloggers to a night out with “Ultimate Cake Off” host George Duran and (my favorite) food analyst Phil Lempert. The invitation was to an underground NYC restaurant, Sotto Terra, where they were told they’d enjoy a “delicious four-course meal,” the celebrity chef’s “one-of-a-kind sangria,” and learn about food trends.

What they were never told is that the lasagna and dessert from dinner were both actually frozen meals from Marie Callender’s. And hidden cameras caught all the action.

“The twist at the end was not dissimilar with what brands like Pizza Hut and Domino’s have done in the recent past with success,” said Stephanie Moritz, senior director of public relations and social media at ConAgra, referring to hidden-camera advertising campaigns. ConAgra expected to use the footage for promotional videos on YouTube and its website, and for bloggers to generate buzz when they wrote about being pleasantly surprised.

Turns out, upon finding out, bloggers were not pleasantly surprised. Sure, 62.5 percent of them enjoyed the food when they thought it was something prepared by George Duran and his team. But when discovering the switch they were outraged.

Many of them blogged about the whole evening being a “sham,” but most were upset by the fact that they live and preach organic living, only to discover the food they were served was not only highly processed, but also included 36 percent of their daily sodium intake.

Clearly bloggers are not the right medium for this kind of event. Going to festivals and street fairs and outdoor events and doing side-by-side hidden comparisons with consumers is a better choice.

For all of us who counsel clients (either internally or externally) there is a very valuable lesson here…and one I talk about consistently when I speak. Bloggers are the fifth estate and should be treated just like media. Traditionally, you would never invite reporters to a night out like this and then expect them to write stories. It’s seen as dishonest and unethical when working with that audience.

So why are bloggers any different?

This is a simple case of knowing your target audience, which is something our industry always tries to shortcut. But the research to gain the intimate knowledge of what they write and their beliefs, cannot be discovered through a shortcut, an algorithm, or a media list.

If bloggers and media fit your target audience, then perhaps a special night out for them and two of their readers is a good idea. But inviting bloggers who wouldn’t buy your product or service? Bad idea.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

111 comments
wagnerwrites
wagnerwrites

Gini, I pretty much ignored QR codes until yesterday. I had previously downloaded a reader app on my iPhone but had been frustrated in trying to use it. Then I was walking with a colleague at lunch time and we saw a beautiful home for sale. She was dying to know the price. Pulled out the iPhone, scanned the code, shazaam! (A cool million. No, this was not my neighborhood.) Tried it again last night at YogurtLand for their sweepstakes, though I hadn't read the fine print about how that ended on 9/4.

keithprivette
keithprivette

Ummmm yes targeting, but if you target are you getting targeted answers to stuff you already know. Now if they mixed the room with targeted and non-targeted audience don't you get results you can use? Couldn't they then invite the "outraged" and "not satisfied" into a larger discussion in how to improve their product, maybe discover an additional audience that can be targeted? There still will be outrage but every product has that. They will have to put in more effort on the second path and sometimes I think big companies get lazy when it comes to this.

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald

Funny, if this stunt was pulled on established food critics, the same bloggers would have been delighted to write all about it.

I have a hard time mustering up sympathy for anybody whining about a free meal, especially when its because their ego wasn't stroked appropriately. Although I do understand how ridiculous the whole stunt was to begin with. But still... they agreed to a free meal, 62.5% enjoyed it and then complained when it wasn't exactly what they thought it was.

lauraclick
lauraclick

There's definitely a right and a wrong way to reach out to bloggers. My friend, @janpmorrison , did a great blogger outreach program at the Nashville Ballet. They invited influential "mommy bloggers" to a preview of a children's ballet performance. The kids got to learn ballet moves and touch the costumes. They then gave the bloggers free tickets for the show and sent them a media packet for them to write about if they chose. It was a smashing success and the show sold out.

The reason this worked is that the Ballet really understood their audience and they did a lot of research to target the right folks. It made all the difference.

I did a video interview about this with my friend, Jan. You can check it out here: http://flybluekite.com/2011/02/03/how-the-nashville-ballet-increased-ticket-sales-using-social-media/

Part of the reason the ConAgra campaign flopped is that no one likes to feel duped. Why would a blogger want to write about how they couldn't tell the difference between gourmet and frozen food? Ouch! I know I wouldn't.

janwong
janwong

I find this situation very much relevant to many businesses out there. They see and know the power of including bloggers as part of their marketing campaign but they forgo the basic preliminary research. The least they could do is to talk to some bloggers first to have an initial indication before actually executing it. On the other hand, some bloggers are just paid to write good reviews so that doesn't really count.

SusanOakes
SusanOakes

I think there are two elements to this. The first one which has been covered about knowing your target which is marketing 101 and this was doomed as nobody seemed to use common sense. The other element is perception. The bloggers probably had a perception that they would be able to notice the difference between this type of food and one made with the right ingredients by a chef. When faced with the reality especially for the 62.5% it probably felt like a slap in the face. Again common sense by the company should have seen this coming.

WordsDoneWrite
WordsDoneWrite

Interesting story. I hadn't heard about this. I'm with you in that this stunt is more for fairs and festivals.

Using a real name, George Duran, really changes the dynamics of this promotion, too. Frankly, I'm shocked that the chef would even agree to it. But, heck, Timothy Hutton agreed to that terribly distasteful Groupon commercial for the Super Bowl. Perhaps celebrities are simply short sighted when then in comes to quick and easy cash?

manamica
manamica

Yep, bad targeting. I like that you and others are writing about this more. I'm seeing a new trend out there -- the chasing of the new "targeting" shiny object. Brands are ditching experience and common sense and chase the influence score instead. Take Klout Perks for example - many of the brands that jumped in didn't use much targeting outside of the actually Klout score and some geography. In the past year I've been offered a man's jacket, a psp (I only use macs), a children's toy box (I have no kids), and I could go on. Targeting influencers is a good idea and it will work, but we need to find the right influencers who would actually want to try the product...

ScottHepburn
ScottHepburn

Last week I wrote about the Marie Callender's blogger outreach debacle, pointed out the mistakes, and offered lessons learned. But today I discovered another side to this story: There are HUNDREDS of bloggers who were invited to try the lasagna for free, and many of them wrote rave reviews. Some of them -- perhaps all, I don't know -- received a stipend for their effort.

There's a healthy debate about if and when it's appropriate for brands to compensate bloggers. I'd rather a brand approach a blogger honestly than play bait-and-switch like ConAgra and Ketchum did in New York. If honesty and transparency means you also have to offer a stipend, so be it -- it's an open marketplace. At least if there's a stipend, a blogger can disclose it.

What do you think? Better to pay bloggers for their time, but be transparent about it, or better to seek the "earned" publicity and play games? The full scope of Ketchum's blogger outreach continues to unfold...and give us lots to talk about.

angela_lowry
angela_lowry

Thanks for sharing this story...It's so true how bloggers can spread the good and bad like wildfire. That's what I love about this new media.

jeanniecw
jeanniecw

It's like what I tell my kids: make sure the person you like scaring/tickling LIKES being scared/tickled. It's a weird but true fact.

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

Thanks for a most instructive story. Al Ries and Jack Trout have ben telling us for decades to have a crystal clear business focus and a narrow, specific target market. Clearly ConAgra doesn't have the latter for Marie Callender frozen meals. Doesn't say much for Ketchum eother.

Clearly they don't realize how precious so many bloggers are.

When will they ever learn? I think I know the answer to that.

Make sure you have fun

Regards

leon

Anthony_Rodriguez
Anthony_Rodriguez

I would say bloggers can be more influential than journalists. Lately, every time I have heard about a poorly designed and executed marketing campaign it has come from bloggers. And they're loyal followers can spread bad news faster than a desert brush fire. Because bloggers are perceived as ordinary you-s and me-s people listen to them. They're deemed trustworthy and their opinions matter.

Journalists, on the other hand, sometimes hear the ire of readers for not asking the right/important questions or rushing to be the first to break certain news.

Bloggers deserve better than this from marketers. They deserve to be treated as professionals who can influence behavior. It's clear that they can. I would rather be on the side of the blogger. Our social media world no longer relies solely on the news media to be informed. As for me, I'm treating a blogger just as if they were a professional journalist ... maybe better.

Verilliance
Verilliance

And you just know some poor schmuck got fired over this. I mean it's easy for everyone here to say in retrospect, "tsk, tsk, shoulda better understood them bloggers", but for all we know they really thought they did but missed one very important factor. It's not so much "understanding bloggers" as it is needing to understand human behavior in different contexts and situations.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@keithprivette I don't necessarily think you're getting targeted answers to stuff you already know. The issue, in my mind, is not that they wanted to show how good their lasagna is compared to a fine meal. The issue is that they invited bloggers who are crazy about their organic or healthy lifestyle eating and then they were given highly processed and high-sodium food. Add on top of that, they gave away seats to the dinner to their readers. So they were duped...and their readers were too. Doesn't make for a good anything.

That said, I love the different thinking around creating a brand ambassador program with people who love the food, but also the outraged.

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald

Been thinking about this some more... If was ConAgra, I'd double down on this. Use the videos to create a commercial. Show the bloggers enjoying the food and then show their disgust.

Bloggers aren't representative of anyone, anymore than print journalists are. People read them for the same reasons - for entertainment and information. Short of that, we have no connection to them. To watch ANYONE acting like this after enjoying a free meal is beyond interesting - it's fascinating. And it gets two points across - the food is good and only a snob would complain about it.

This will never happen, of course. But it would be nice if someone at ConAgra thought outside the box on it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@lauraclick I would be livid, if I were a food blogger. And my ego would be hurt. But mostly, like Chubby Chinese Girl, I'd be really mad that a) I was wasting my very precious calories on something that will hurt my rides for the next few days and b) has meat in it.

That said, if I were in a restaurant, ordered lasagna, and they replaced it with their frozen dinner. Or told me they were doing a taste test, I wouldn't feel duped.

I think these programs can work IF the right research is done.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@janwong But it's too much work! I hear that all the time. It's too much work. Well, then. Find a different job.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@SusanOakes I agree...some of it is ego-driven, too. A few bloggers have said so much, rubbing it in the face of the food bloggers that their palates aren't as sophisticated as they think. Humiliation provides a strong reaction.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@WordsDoneWrite Oh I'm not shocked. Having done lots and lots and LOTS of work with celebrity chefs, I know they just sign the contracts and show up. There aren't any tactical discussions with them at all.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@manamica I thought your blog post was really well done, too. Don't get me started on Klout! I got a Lebron James poster, but wasn't eligible for the wine, something I tweet about ALL THE TIME. This stuff does not replace our relationships.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@ScottHepburn My thought on paying bloggers is this: Church and state. Just like PR pros don't pay reporters, if bloggers want to be treated like journalists, the same consideration should be made. I understand the argument that journalists are paid by the medium they represent and not all bloggers make money from their blog. But my answer to that is figure out a different way to make money. Sure, you might get free products/services, which happens in the traditional media world, too. But that's different than cold, hard cash.

jenzings
jenzings

"many of them wrote rave reviews." So, it seems as though we are back to the old MSM trope, "if it bleeds, it leads," huh?Very interesting. I must say I was wondering if there were any positive reviews, but had not looked for them.@ScottHepburn

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@angela_lowry I love it, too. It's scary for most companies, and this is why. But it's super effective, when done correctly.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Leon It does seem like we're always saying the same thing, doesn't it? If we made this mistake (and trust me, we make mistakes), I wouldn't have turned to PRWeek to tell my story. I would have turned to the blogosphere. Another mistake on the part of Ketchum.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Anthony_Rodriguez I agree with you that, in some cases, bloggers are more influential than journalists. We spend our time building community with readers. Most journalists don't do that, to your point. When I speak to PR pros, your last line is EXACTLY what I say. Every time.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Verilliance I hope no one got fired over it, but the client took it as a learning opportunity. I know I made a pretty big doozy of a mistake many, many years ago and wasn't fired over it. But I'll tell you what, I've never made that mistake again.

jgombita
jgombita

@SheSpeaksInc personal branding was NOT the topic of discussion in yesterday's #brandchat when you inserted that tweet; bad chat etiquette.

lauraclick
lauraclick

@ginidietrich Totally. I think the problem was that these bloggers likely were incredibly excited to get to eat a meal from someone they admire. So, not only were they duped, they were sorely disappointed. They smashed their expectations with a total bait and switch. I'm guessing they used the celebrity chef and food analyst as a hook to get them there....only to then eat frozen lasagna. Ugh.

WordsDoneWrite
WordsDoneWrite

@ginidietrich Pity. I mean it's only their name and reputation. Why have tactical discussions to determine if an association is in their best interest as long as the check clears, huh? Sheesh.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@ginidietrich@ScottHepburn How do you define "pay", though? If you comp a blogger flights and accommodation to cover a big media launch, and give them swag for attending, that's a pretty hefty investment - much more than a couple hundred bucks to write about something.

I think it's a fine line as to what constitutes pay and what constitutes earned media.

ScottHepburn
ScottHepburn

@jenzings Yes, there were indeed positive reviews! I'm not surprised -- after all, the product offers convenience many parents crave, and I'm sure plenty of folks think it's a tasty dish.

I would LOVE to see sentiment data from bloggers who received free product and a stipend compared to those who participated in the "Surprise!" stunt. Something tells me the combination of a stipend and a deception-gone-awry yielded a big disparity in product favorability.

Leon
Leon

@ginidietrich Gini, Please.......don't threaten my curmudgeonly reputation by suggesting that I'm becoming agreeable. I only agree with you 'coz you're right. After all, the difference between HR and PR is only eight letters.

Leon

jenzings
jenzings

I also hope no one got fired. The whole meme of firing someone because of a misstep in social media is pretty tired too. Learn, correct, adjust, move on. This was a misstep, but I truly don't think anyone should be fired over it. That sends the wrong message too--companies will stop trying new things, or get scared of social, neither of which is a good outcome. @ginidietrich @Verilliance

Erin F.
Erin F.

@lauraclick@ginidietrich I know that I would have been excited to receive the invitation and very disappointed when I learned that I had been duped. Even if I had enjoyed the food, it wouldn't matter. I would be reeling from the fact that I had been lied to. If, say, the point had been to do some sort of comparison - such as the ones Coke or Pepsi sometimes does - I would have been fine with that. I would have had the right expectations.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@WordsDoneWrite I have a really good story about a certain celebrity chef and clarified butter. Remind me to tell it to you sometime.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JGoldsborough@Danny Brown@scotthepburn You know, JG, that's a good point. I know Laughing Cow is doing that. They pay four bloggers (it's nominal) to develop content for them. It's under their names, but it goes on the corporate sites.

I see that completely different than saying, "Here's $250. Write us a review."

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

@Danny Brown@ginidietrich@scotthepburn Definitely a topic you could write a whole separate post about. Have to say that I don't see bloggers and journalists as the same. And that doesn't mean I don't think bloggers should be treated with the same respect.

The way we like to consume media today has evolved a ton even in the last five years. Two years ago, I would have told you paying bloggers was absurd and unethical. But I have seen brands work with bloggers via paid spokesperson-like relationships and see MUCH more benefit than they ever do from traditional blogger outreach. They get better content, more of it, build a better relationship with the blogger. And I have heard straight from the bloggers' mouth that they are looking for these types of long-term relationships.

You'd think the trust factor would be an issue, But I don't think it really is. You don't see any of these bloggers' readers openly calling them out or appearing to trust them any less because they fully disclosed that they were paid to write a post. The way we engage media is changing and I think we have to be open to these types of evolutions. All that said, respect is respect is respect. And that was obviously an issue in this story. Cheers!

Verilliance
Verilliance

@jenzings@ginidietrich Oh, I agree. I hate hearing how someone got fired over a major PR/SM misstep, but unfortunately it does happen. I'm certainly not wishing for it.

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