When, in the course of social media events, it becomes necessary for a group of bloggers to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with a bunch of well-intentioned but sometimes irritating marketing people, and to assume among the powers of the blogosphere, the separate and equal station to which the laws of journalism and freedom of expression entitle them…
What I am trying to say is that, from time to time, one needs to reassess the state of one's union. I've been talking to several garden bloggers lately who feel that the marketing efforts aimed in our direction have gotten to be a bit much, and a bit weird.
I get the impression that marketing people go off to a seminar every couple of years to find out how to deal with us. The reason I think this is that all at once, every couple of years, the kinds of pitches and press releases and other such things coming at us here at GardenRant World Headquarters change in a very noticeable way. The only logical explanation is that they all went to a class. Sorry–a webinar.
I think this year's class was called, "Treat Bloggers Like Your Very Own Unpaid Staff."
Here's what we're seeing:
Scripted video appearances.
I was recently asked to participate in a marketing initiative (I believe they called it a "social media flash mob") that would involve me making a video of myself reading from a script that the marketing person sent to me.
Demands that we write very specific things on our blogs when we review or give away a book or product.
MANY marketing people have lately supplied me with the specific language they'd like me to use when I describe their product on my blog. They provide me with links and the text that should be attached to those links (for their SEO strategy), they tell me what date they'd like my review to appear, etc. etc.
The answer is no.
If you want to send me a product to review, send it. If I decide to review it, I will. If I decide not to review it, I won't. (and usually it's because the product is garbage, but in such a bland and banal way that I can't even get worked up enough to write the bad review it deserves.)
Now, I do understand that if a company is donating a book, a plant, a product for a giveaway, they expect something in return. GardenRant turns into Giveaway Central in the spring, and we're happy to give our readers free stuff, and we just don't give away anything we don't like.
But here's the thing, Marketing People: If we like it, it's way better if we say that in our own words. Copying and pasting someone else's PR-speak into our blog post just makes everybody look lame. Yes, it's a little risky to just trust us to say what we really think, but that's what makes your day exciting.
Unsolicited Shipments of Inappropriate Plants, Followed by 40-Minute Online Surveys.
Ship me plants. That is fine. There is nothing I'd love better than more free plants. In general, what we all want is more free plants. This is a no-brainer. But lately, I've been getting plants so boring, so generic, so ubiquitous, so unsuited to my climate or my gardening style, that I don't even bother asking around to see if any of my friends would like them. Because I know they won't. Because it would be an insult to their taste for me to even offer them.
I'm sure the marketing people don't want to just pack up plants and ship them into a black hole. They want feedback. But the ratio of interesting plants to length of time spent answering online surveys is way, way, out of whack. Something is broken about this system.
Offers to write free guest posts, and/or exchange text links.
This is more like spam, and hardly even belongs on this list. But we do get bazillions of them, and we wish they would stop.
Lots more junket invitations.
We here at GardenRant never used to get invited on junkets. What self-respecting company would want the likes of us poking around their corporate headquarters, anyway? I think what's changed is that marketing people now subscribe to databases like this one that list the contact information for influential bloggers. (We didn't sign up for this, by the way–we just got added.) So a busy PR person might just run a report and send out an email blast to everyone who fits the criteria. As a result, offers of plane tickets come whizzing our way. We have been invited to attend (are you ready for this?) a golf weekend with a turf company, a baseball spring training event with power tool company, and a "garden writers' seminar" at the corporate headquarters of a global agribiz company that shall remain nameless.
(okay, it was Bayer. The guy actually called me, and I replied cheerfully that I'm pretty much opposed to everything his company stands for and that he probably doesn't really want to let me on the grounds. With equal cheer and goodwill, he apologized for bothering me and thanked me for my time. Nice guy, really.)
Then there's the P. Allen Smith Garden2Blog event, which caused a bit of a dust-up last year as bloggers either did or did not reveal that they were on an expense-paid trip as they blogged, tweeted, and Facebooked their way across the P. Allen empire. (Here's a nice post that gives you a sense of what that event is like.)
So, look. I'm not opposed to junkets. People in food, travel, beauty, high-tech, and booze journalism go on all kinds of junkets. Sure, these things do need to be properly disclosed, and some publications ban them entirely, and it probably is hard to stay objective once somebody's flown you to their chateau in France.
But I am not anti-junket, I'm just saying that there are definitey more of them, so many more that even we churlish, argumentative GardenRanters are getting invited along.
This is not to say that every encounter we have with a marketing person is an irritating one–far from it. These are just the things that have been happening lately that got us talking.
Your thoughts? Go right ahead.