An Economist PR Experiment

So the idea that I was the person to speak to about blogs spread. Until one day Charley Smith, PR and brand guru, walked through the door and asked me – can you believe it? – to help her get in touch with bloggers.

My breath got short, with knuckles white I struggled to contain myself. “Yes of course I can help” came the unsurprising answer.

Tom Standidge had written a very funny article on the real dangers of air travel – definitely not something to read before an Aeroflot flight to Ulan Bator. Charley wanted to get in touch with bloggers about it.

After a bit of a think three strategies came up :

a) Contact A-list bloggers with the piece, to get as much viral as quickly as possible.

b) Find out who had written recently about air travel, then give them a very funny piece on it.

c) Approach Economist reading bloggers and reward them with a pre-press scoop.

In the end we decided the third option (option c, for those weak in the alphabet) would be best. For a start getting linklove of top bloggers is a chore. They get so many approaches a day that it would be tough to get anywhere.

The second choice (b) was better as it involved finding people with a concern, then providing them with some great content. However, it was close to the liquid explosive on planes incident and could look a little opportunistic (a little too “good day to bury bad news“).

And any way option c (no. 3) looked far more exciting. Rather than going to the top, or going to those on message, why not go to our fans? Use the passion that our readers have for The Economist to generate word of mouth.

Charlotte sent the article to Michael Seaton’s blog Client Side, saying Michael could “scoop us on it, you can criticise it, do what you want with it, or even just ignore it”. Best to hear what happened from the man himself :

“My delayed reaction was a serious “wow”. Being a long time reader of The Economist I am really intrigued and impressed at the notion of using the blogosphere as a test-bed. Especially in the way they have reached out.

Sure, it feeds my ego to know that one of my favourite magazines has asked me to participate in this little social media and PR experiment. I must say that I really respect that they seem to have a grasped how to engage folks like myself in a conversation where the outcome for them could go one of several ways…

The bottom line is that this tactic worked with me. So, am I a sucker? Am I part of an elite group? Not sure yet. Let’s see how this plays out”. (Link)

Not only did this story reach one blogger but it caused a (mini) splash from Toronto via Talinn (do not adjust you browser, that is in Estonian) to Calcutta.

Lee, a PR blogger in Toronto commented on the story thus :

“i think what the economist has done is fantastic; inviting you to scoop them, not being anally retentive about their content – it seems as if they’ve really learnt from, as opposed to reported on, the social media survey.

i’m just mad that my favourite periodical didn’t get in touch with me!” (Link)


Mad Lee 

Whilst Louis liked the fact that The Economist “ought to run with the idea of engaging with (in contrast to the Independent’s asinine attacks on) the blogosphere.” (Link)

This side project shows that I have some understanding of how the blogosphere works. That I can get positive results through it, and can be innovative. What’s more, this combination of word of mouth marketing with digital PR show that I have quite wide interests and skills. And startups frequently have to rely on generalists, more than specialists.


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