Jun 26

@garyvee, the Bloggers are Mad at You? Just Crush It Anyway

Gary Vaynerchuk’s winelibrary.tv is brilliant. If you sell something that people are intimidated to buy, create a TV show about it. Educate people. Let them know that you personally want them to be happy with their purchase. He’s basically taking the sales methodology of old (trust, passion) and applying it to the modern world with the new method that is social media. Like him or not, that’s pretty damned beautiful.

Gary has a new book called Crush It: Why Now Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m guessing he’s trying to show other salespeople and marketers how they can use social media to build flocks around their brand. As Hugh MacLeod might put it, you make your product a “social object” to bring people together in good ways. This is how people should make their livings–not in cubicles staring at stock prices, scheming how to squeeze more out of customers.

So various bloggers are mad because Gary’s PR people pitched that they interview him. The letter was a form letter sent to many other bloggers, many of whom expressed their offense on a BlogTalkRadio show Gary was on. An excerpt from the letter reads “He’d love to do book giveaway contests, interviews, Q&A sessions, an interpretive dance summarizing a chapter, really anything that you think your readers would like to see”.

Why does this make you mad? Because it wasn’t geared just for you? It’s not about you–it’s about your readers. Who cares how the email was addressed. Use the opportunity or don’t. Just offer a unique interview that others couldn’t offer as well.

Talking about social media is very easy. Anyone can be “an expert” and dictate etiquette that doesn’t really exist. Actually making money with it is very hard. I’ve succeeded and failed with it. Sure, you can get attention for your brand, but actually producing income is a different story. Gary Vaynerchuk sells wine online. Do you know how effing hard that is? Do you know how many state regulations and shipping costs come into play? It is VERY HARD TO CLOSE SOMEONE BUYING WINE ONLINE. The fact that he’s succeeded and made a brand for himself doing it is very exceptional and I have no doubt that Gary works his tail off.

Well Gary, I work for Interspire, who sells a shopping cart license and a hosted shopping cart called BigCommerce. I’ve worked in ecommerce for a long time, and I would love to interview you. I would love to do book giveaways. Why? Because I love watching people succeed at selling what they love online. It is so satisfying to see people who were former slaves at a company actually thrive when they open their own online store. I’ve also seen people with beautiful ideas and products pour their hearts and souls into a business and completely fail. It is completely heart-breaking. So if you want, send me your form letter. I’d like to share your advice with people who may be struggling to sell something they really love and know a lot.

Hold off on the interpretive dance though. I doubt that is your forte.

  • http://pr.typepad.com/pr_communications/ John Cass

    Hi Michelle,

    Am I mad about Gary’s pitch letter? No, but I am passionate about marketing and the real concept of what marketing is all about. I think marketing is the process of listening to customer wants and needs, and satisfying those needs efficiently and profitably. This concept is the reason why I am so passionate about social media because social media so easily gives companies a way to connect and conduct a dialogue with their customers.

    After reading your quote from Hugh MacLeod, which was “As Hugh MacLeod might put it, you make your product a “social object” to bring people together in good ways” I interpreted that to mean that Hugh MacLeod really gets what marketing is really all about: Listening to people to build a better product that attracts people to a brand, rather than just promoting a product because they have it.

    If it is the generally accepted practice in the public relations industry to read journalist’s and blogger’s material before making a pitch because a number of bloggers and journalists have publicly stated that is how they would like to be connected, shouldn’t business people listen to the industry and send an email that is personalized? I think this is merely an example of a person having the courtesy to listen to the customer and treat customers in the way they wish to be treated.

    Check out the New PR Wiki for the discussion about pitching bloggers going back to Dan Gillmor’s post in 2001 at the San Jose Mercury News.

    http://www.thenewpr.com/wiki/pmwiki.php?pagename=Resources.PitchingBlogs

    Chris Andersen is the editor of Wired Magazine and he became so frustrated with bad pitch emails that he started a list of people who pitched him. While there was some controversy about Chris publishing emails, I think Chris’ reaction was an example of a journalist who let people know how he wants to receive a pitch.

    http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2007/10/sorry-pr-people.html

    Also take a look at Kevin Dugan’s post about Chris Andersen’s reaction to bad pitches.

    http://badpitch.blogspot.com/2007/10/long-tail-bad-pitch.html

    Chris has not been the only well known journalist/blogger to react to bad pitches in recent years. Gina Trapani, a blogger at LifeHacker became so frustrated with bad pitches she created a bad pitch wiki and pointed to all of the people she thought had sent her a bad pitch.

    Brian Solis, Principal of FutureWorks, a PR and New Media agency in Silicon Valley wrote a great open letter to Gina that compared the various pitch practices of media relations people to Spam, Bacn and Tofu.

    http://www.briansolis.com/2008/05/making-mistakes-and-amends-in-blogger-and-media-relations/

    You suggested that Gary’s pitch was not about me but my readers. I typically write about marketing, PR and social media case studies, and provide analysis on marketing in general. If anyone does read my blog, it is probably because they are also interested in those types of stories.

    The email Gary’s colleague sent did not give me a reason why I should want to write about him. I think there was an expectation that I should have known all about Gary Vaynerchuk and given his celebrity status been excited about the opportunity to collaborate with him.

    I did stop and read the email because Gary’s name was in the first paragraph. I was first surprised that the email was not personalized to me, because I would have thought someone with Gary reputation in social media and personal branding would have understood that such pitches typically don’t work, and sometimes result in negative constructive criticism as the stories about Chris Andersen and Gina Trapani illustrate.

    You suggested that, “Anyone can be “an expert” and dictate etiquette that doesn’t really exist.”

    I’m sorry I have to respectfully disagree with you that no etiquette exists on the topic of bad pitches. I hope some of the links I’ve shared with you might point to some body of opinion about that subject.

    Also, in the FIR Live radio show Gary Vaynerchuk agreed that such pitches are the wrong approach and he would not recommend them to his clients. In fairness he also asked later, how does a person get a message out to many people without spending time on personalizing the message?

    On your point about Gary being successful, I think we can separate Gary’s success from the pitch letter. I think Gary succeeded with winelibrary.tv because he engaged people in dialogue and created great content? What matters is in sending the email he used a tactic that does not work well and many in the industry disagree with.

    Gary eloquently apologized on my blog and in the FIR Live show for his letter. He showed that he does understand how etiquette works in social media, through dialogue and engagement.

    Thanks again for your commentary, and I hope we are share more opinions on the topic.

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    John,

    I agree that it would be more effective to personalize a pitch. I always personalize a pitch. However, if Tarantino’s PR people pitch filmschoolrejects.com with a form letter saying they get carte blanche on an interview, FSR is going to take it because it is interesting to their readers.

    Is Gary a Tarantino caliber marketer? I wouldn’t go that far. But honestly I get very tired of the incestuous dialog about social media and want people to show me the money. Gary isn’t just about followers and RSS subscribers. Gary actually makes a substantial income selling a physical product with social media, and that’s why he is exceptional. Wine is very difficult to sell online.

    I didn’t mean to pick on you. I’m just tired of the politics involved in social media. The brown-nosing and tiptoeing around things. It should be more about what you do and not what you say. It should be more about providing value and less about back scratching and being polite.

    Between you, me, and anyone who reads this comment, I know a lot of social media “experts” who genuinely have no true successes making money for people but seem to be omnipresent in the social media sphere. It’s kinda old. So that’s where this all comes from.

  • http://pr.typepad.com/pr_communications/ John Cass

    You seem to be saying that your actions have to be looked at in the light of who you are, rather than what you do. But at the same time you say that people’s actions should be judged rather than what they say. Isn’t there a contradiction there? I hope I don’t seem argumentative here, I’m just confused, please help me to understand what you think about this.

    I really understand where you are coming from when you write about the need to support people who are successful in social media. You suggest we should support successful business people who are able to use social media to build their brand. I think that makes sense. But what if that success takes you to a place where you no longer able use some of the tactics you originally used? Just because Gary is successful, does that mean he should get a pass when it comes to conducting business using social media?

    When General Motors first developed its blog, there was huge support for the blog. But after a few months I noticed that GM was not actually engaging anyone on their blog or in comments. Then Christopher Barger joined the company from IBM, and GM engagement strategy stepped up a notch. I commented on GM’s initial success, my thoughts on where the company was falling down, and the new engagement strategy since Christopher joined the company. I comment to teach myself, and engage in a dialogue with other people in the marketing industry. I hope that people will read my writings and give their opinion, hopefully even criticize what I have to say, politely though. Because I believe that dialogue is all part of the learning process.

    I think our continuing dialogue may seem to some people that we are going into too much detail. But the reason I engaged you on the blog, is because I thought some of the things you wrote did not include some of the conversation we had on the FIR Live show, and I disagreed with your initial stance on the etiquette of social media relations. I thought it was important to include some of the points raised on the show, and also point to some of the conversations about these issues in the world of public relations, journalism and marketing.

    This whole discussion has been good, I’ve learned more about Gary, and frankly I’m very inspired by the way he produces his work, and the way he engages the wider community.

  • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason Cohen

    @Michelle — I’m 100% with you about how it’s about your readers and whether they would find it genuinely interesting.

    I got that letter too. I was neither offended nor flattered. It’s just marketing/PR in 2009, no more no less.

    Also thanks for reiterating the point about people blabbing about “how to ‘do’ social media” and how you can/should make money. You’re so right that almost no one actually makes money doing it.

    Excellent supporting article from the great Penelope: http://tinyurl.com/d93ltz

    So yes, the fact that Gary has actually *done it* is indeed newsworthy and probably interesting to many people who themselves read blogs.

    I’m still considering whether to do an interview, but as you said it would need to be something *unique*, not crap like “how did you get started,” but rather things unique to my point of view, like digging into the painfully, shitty, scary parts of the business when he wasn’t so confident, and how he addressed that.

    Jason Cohens last blog post..Sacrifice your health for your startup

  • http://www.michellesblog.net Michelle Greer

    Jason, I would read that post. This stuff is hard. It requires work, passion and patience just like anything else. In this quicki-mart world, I don’t think we hear enough about that.

    John, you say “I really understand where you are coming from when you write about the need to support people who are successful in social media. You suggest we should support successful business people who are able to use social media to build their brand”. This is absolutely NOT what I’m saying. Don’t interview Gary to support Gary. Interview Gary because dammit, this stuff is hard and here is someone who has done it right. Pick his brain so your readers have a useful tidbit to take home to their business. It’s not about Gary’s brand–it’s about helping your reader build his or her brand by being able to learn from others. Gary told you in a pitch letter that he is giving you carte blanche to ask him anything you want. This either helps your reader or it doesn’t.

    Michelle Greers last blog post..@garyvee, the Bloggers are Mad at You? Just Crush It Anyway

  • http://twitter.com/jasonstoddard Jason Stoddard

    From one of my favorite films, “Cool Hand Luke”: “…what we’ve got here is [a] failure to communicate.”

    Personally, I believe Gary is a victim of his own persona, personality and methodology here…Gary’s personal brand has far exceeded his business brand and when he (and his business) communicate with the rest of the world, the expectation, whether Gary likes it or not, is personalized, not generalized. Gary made it that way. Stick with what got ya there in the first place.

    In my estimation, Gary is the business equivalent of a gazelle, not a gorilla. Gary is no longer boot-strappin it. He is in new territory. He is now an enterprise in and of himself, and with this, comes minions.

    I’ve been following Gary since 2005 (when I was developing Cork & Co.); I was immediately drawn to his charisma, personality and the symmetrical thinking we shared when attempting to “democratize” the conversation, enjoyment and proliferation of wine. Not many people thought or spoke of wine like Gary before. Gary–as a person, story and song–was the differentiator, not the business brand. I was not compelled to buy my first Rose because I read about it on some site; I bought my first Rose because this crazy ass dude in Jersey essentially told me it was okay to drink something pink while watching a football game. Both he and his message were immediately accessible. At that time, by his own admission, crickets populated the intertubes for most of his webcasts for 18 months before his messaging and programming experienced the groundswell. This took devotion and faithful persistence to a school of thought that is now ubiquitous. 18 months is a very long time when you’re doing the same thing, day in and day out, and not getting the traction and momentum you anticipated. Shortly thereafter, social media exploded and with that explosion Gary’s wave crested and he has been riding it ever since. But over the course of that evolution, Gary’s business model and even his business category has changed. Gary no longer exclusively sells goods and services to support him and his budding family; Gary sells himself as an inspirational entrepreneur who changed the game. Gary is media, not click-and-mortar retail. Gary is the un-American, all American who crashed the global wine party and invited all of his crazy ass friends–us.

    So it comes as no surprise when the entangling alliances attached to his book deal, per their antiquated, quantitative messaging upset the proverbial apple cart with the staid, canned pitch….subsequently unsettling recipients because it is attached to Gary…the guy that was supposed to have changed all of that.

    Gary made a mistake vis a vis his people–for a guy that had complete control and creative ownership of his message and position for years, this was inevitable. But business is less about success as it is mitigting mistakes. You can bet a ’62 Chateau Margaux he will make it right and never again forget what got him where he is, despite the fact that internal detractors will tell him he cannot scale as fast as they would prefer. But then, they were not there for the first 18 months talking to crickets, were they? And for good measure, a possible solution. Gary: drop ship an autographed pouring oxygenator to all those that received the infamous form letter, coupled with a short, handwritten note asking for a conversation, one to one. When they accept, tell the story about the retired dutch plumber that invented the pouring oxygenator and how entrepreneurship makes the world a better place. They’ll eat it up. Gary wins. Bloggers Win. Readers win. The PR crew wins cause they got an unexpected vacation and a real lesson in what it takes to be different.

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    Jason,

    You should be @garyvee’s minion. You can do a lot of the work, but still have a face and a name because you too understand wine. Now how’s that for a solution?

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  • http://andybeard.eu/ Andy Beard

    I received the email a while back – instead of offering to promote at this early stage, I sent the PR person some practical tips on how to set up the product launch for backend sales, and suggested a few mutual friends Gary should chat with.

    If it had been Gary, he would have sent me a reply – his PR people didn’t reply.

    Andy Beards last blog post..Climbing The Heights Of Mount Google

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    Andy,

    Yeah, that’s odd. It doesn’t take much to say thanks and then follow up.