Why it doesn’t always make sense to go after A-listers

March 21, 2011

Blogger outreach, Social media

As communications consultants, it's our job to counsel clients about the value of the magic middle and that it's not always about the A-listers.








Can you get me on Oprah? We’re looking for someone to get us in the Wall Street Journal. I see our brand on the front page of USA Today, The New York Times and The Washington Post. We could get The Huffington Post and Mashable with this story, right?

If you’ve heard these questions and declarations before, you work in PR. Or you just have friends who are overly passionate about publicity and need to get out of the house every now and then.

Every company at one time or another has dreamed of the high-profile front page story or TV appearance. And if you’ve worked with any of these companies, you’ve likely heard them ask for the moon with a side of cheese. There is absolutely an issue with brands that don’t understand the difference between publicity and PR. But I’m not writing this to make that point. My friend Gini Dietrich already did a much better job outlining the issue than I ever could.

What I want to talk about is the responsibility you, I and any other communicators out there reading this post have to our clients. It’s our job to explain to them why it doesn’t always make sense to go after the A-lister, whether you’re talking about traditional media, online media or blogger outreach. We’re supposed to be strategic counselors and if we’re not counseling our clients on why the magic middle might make the most sense for their brands, then frankly, we aren’t doing our job.

The magic middle

The magic middle is a concept Technorati created and began championing, along with Brian Solis, in 2006. The concept has evolved a bit over the years, but the long and short of it is the magic middle when it comes to bloggers are those who have built communities and influence within a specific niche but aren’t the A-listers mentioned in the first paragraph of this post. Often times developing relationships with these bloggers can be easier and more influential for your brand.

Think about it. Let’s say you’re working with a client that has identified moms as its target audience. You research and identify several mom bloggers that fit your brand positioning requirements and would make sensible outreach partners for your client. You also identify some contacts at A-list publications and add them into your spreadsheet of outreach targets. Now, my question for you is: “Who’s going to get you the best return on the time you’re about to invest?”

  • A-listers: Your client will no doubt be familiar with the A-list targets. But they’re only likely to cover your brand once if you even get the placement. Plus, they get so many pitches – probably hundreds a day – that it’s easy for your story to fall through the cracks.
  • Mom bloggers: The mom bloggers provide your client an opportunity to build a long-term relationship. They aren’t getting as many pitches as the A-listers, so they’re more likely to read your pitch and be open to a follow-up conversation. And they fit your client’s target audience better because of their niche audience.

True influence

In the end, the answer to the question above is clear and simple – the magic middle almost always wins. That doesn’t mean an A-lister placement doesn’t help your client. It absolutely will. But when it comes to true influence, A-list media and blogs are much more often a catalyst to short-term exposure that hopefully peaks customers’ interest enough for them to enter a more targeted, trusted conversation about the brand or with the brand.

Take Augie Ray’s recent post on social media influencers for example. Augie, who used to work at Forrester and is now executive director of community and collaboration at USAA, points out that “the influence of key influencers is overstated and the influence of the masses is too easily overlooked.” Another way to say that if you ask me is that people may hear about something from a familiar big brand name or publication, but they are more often influenced actually take action by those who they know and trust.

In the example we discussed above, a TechCrunch or Huffington Post article or tweet may serve as the point of exposure about a new technology or trend moms need to pay attention to. But that POV really sinks in when a mom feels her peers or friends – some of which may include those targeted, magic middle mom bloggers or their community members – join the conversation.

And don’t forget that a pitch to TechCrunch or Huffington Post on some of these niche topics may be seen as irrelevant or worse, may never be seen by the person making the decision on what stories to tell. On the other hand, a brand may build up such a positive relationship with a niche blogger that you can just pick up the phone and give them a call. Plus it’s becoming more common for companies to enter strategic paid partnerships with niche bloggers to serve as their brand ambassadors. Assuming full disclosure of course.

The bottom line

The bottom line is this – the way people consume news has changed and continues to evolve. As the number of available “news outlets” increases, we continue looking for the communities that most align with our passions and beliefs. That’s where we as communicators should be advising our clients to be…where a smaller, targeted audience is focused on the message they are bringing to the table.

That’s where the true magic happens. A-lister placements can and do provide an awesome awareness of the story a brand is trying to tell. But for the most part, trust and affinity are formed at the niche level. And that’s advice we should be sharing with our clients.

  • Do your clients ask for A-list publicity often?
  • How do you balance A-lister and targeted outreach for clients?
  • How do you go about researching magic middle niche bloggers?

Image from MaccabeeGroup.com.

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