Blogger Outreach Strategy: How to Build Buzz for Your Business by Reaching Out to Bloggers (or Not!)

Robin Sorensen, founder of Firehouse Subs with Dirk Hoag, an example of excellent blogger outreach strategy
Firehouse Subs founder Robin Sorensen (right)

If you want people to spread the word and advocate for your company, give them a reason to.

This sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

This week I was reminded of how a few businesses truly excel at blogger outreach strategy, while many more have absolutely no clue about it. Let’s take a look at an example of each…

“Word of Mouth” is the Holy Grail of the marketing world. Getting people to sincerely and actively promote your brand is not only incredibly cheap (how does FREE sound?), but tremendously effective.

One way in which companies can generate such buzz is by targeting those who can influence an audience, such as bloggers. However, it takes some planning & effort to pull that off effectively.

Seer Interactive has an outstanding post which talks about this very subject, breaking down the exercise by dividing bloggers into three general types: Influencers, Mid-Level Bloggers, and “Le Chad” (the solitary artist who can be hard to engage with). The basic idea proposed in that article is that the middle ground is where the sweet spot lies. This group is accessible, open to opportunities, and enjoys a connection with their readers that gives them credibility, if they choose to endorse your product. That is by no means a given, however.

As a certified Mid-Level Blogger, I can tell you that most businesses do a remarkably crappy job of such outreach. More often than not, they simply email you their press release addressed to “Dear Webmaster” or some other such generic salutation, and expect you to excitedly spread their news.

The Laziest of the Lazy

A perfect example of this hit my inbox today, in fact – with the National Hockey League currently shut down due to a lockout, one company is performing a day-by-day computer simulation of the season, and wanted me to send visitors to their site to see the exciting(?) results of the previous night’s virtual action, complete with updated standings and statistics.

All I could think of when reading this press release was, “who cares?” Any hockey fan with an XBox or Playstation 3 is already doing the exact same thing themselves, there is absolutely nothing novel about simulating games and posting the results online. Maybe that would have been cool 15 years ago, but come on…

Instead, these folks came up a lame exercise tied to the current hot-button issue for hockey fans, and took the shotgun approach by blasting this story out to anyone & everyone, in the hopes that it will catch fire. I doubt it will go anywhere.

How to REALLY Get Bloggers Fired Up

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Firehouse Subs, which brought together a collection of bloggers and social media-savvy fans to their store in Smyrna, Tennessee last night for an evening with one of the franchise’s founders, Robin Sorensen. While we sampled some of their wares (which were ridiculously good), Sorensen told us about how the franchise began, and has grown over time.

I’m going to write more about his talk in a separate post, because I think the business model was pretty fascinating, but for the moment, let’s review the keys to what made last night’s event so appealing in terms of blogger outreach:

1. Personalized Engagement

The Zimmerman Agency, the firm which helped Firehouse Subs put this together, contacted me directly with an email introduction and invitation, and when I wrote back for more details, I received a prompt, handwritten reply.

When I arrived, a gentleman greeted me at the door, and had printed biographies of each of the invitees, complete with photo so he could recognize the guests on sight. He took a few moments to introduce himself and made sure I got a drink before passing me along to another member of the crew, so I didn’t have to stand around wondering what was going to happen (it helped to also meet up with a pair of fellow Nashville Predators fans, @emmteedee & @zeejaydee, so we could commiserate over the lingering NHL Lockout). Like many other bloggers, I can get awfully introverted, so an active welcome was greatly appreciated!

2. Convince Us That You’re Special

While it’s great to stuff our bellies with fresh food, ultimately we need to know what makes your company so special, that we should represent you to our audience. Especially for bloggers, trust between the writer and the reader is a precious commodity built up over time, and it’s endangered when a blogger start shilling for any old business which throws them a bone.

So last night, Sorensen spent about an hour taking us through the story of the business, speaking from the heart about their mission of providing high-quality food, high-quality service, and community involvement through their Public Safety Foundation. He told us the tale behind each sandwich we tasted, a heartfelt demonstration of how involved he is in the process (and much more interesting than a mere list of ingredients). He also shared stories of how the business worked its way through the growing pains of regional expansion, and the importance of partnering with the right people as franchisees (thus connecting his story from the top level of the business with the local store we were sitting in). The discussion was not only interesting, it was utterly authentic.

I had never been to a Firehouse Subs before last night, but left convinced that I will be bringing my family back soon.

3. Give Us Something to Work With

Lastly, after we had heard (and tasted) so much about what makes Firehouse Subs unique within their field, they made sure that each of the attendees left with the tools to spread the word. It’s nice, but not enough, for folks like us to write about how great those subs are – thanks to some goodies (which included gift cards) which we can give away to our readers, we can not only share our experience with them, but provide an easy way for them to try Firehouse Subs for themselves.

That’s ultimately what brings the payoff for all parties involved – getting a detailed, personalized story in front of many small- to medium-sized audiences, rather than a generic blast at the broadest possible target.

It sure works a lot better than some tired press release landing in an inbox, doesn’t it?

Let’s give away one of those $10 gift cards right here! Leave a comment below this article, and I’ll randomly choose a winner and get the gift card to you. I’ll just count one comment per person, and pick the winner Sunday night October 28 2012 at 10:00 p.m. Central.


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  • codeyh

    Stellar job on outreach by Firehouse. Did you play with the Coke machine?

    • Dirk Hoag

      You know it! Lemonade with a bit o’ orange…

  • Jason Kirk

    Couldn’t agree with you more on the lameness of most outreach programs – if you can even classify most of them that way. I used to maintain a local Nashville blog and most of the emails I got – and in fact still get, despite an indefinite hiatus while I focus on other projects – are just plain press releases with no personalization at all. Nothing makes me move on faster than realizing this is the same stuff being fed to hundreds of other outlets. Nice to see that at least one local business gets it when it comes to blogger outreach.

    • Dirk Hoag

      Jason, congrats! Your comment was picked, and I’ve got a $10 gift card to Firehouse Subs for you…

      • Jason Kirk

        Just got in the mail. Thanks, Dirk!

  • Dave Delaney

    A great example of smart blogger outreach. I have learned a lot about this from both the blogger side and the brand side. It’s good to see Firehouse Subs understands.

    Thanks for the link love too. 😉

  • LC

    You know what’s even better than firehouse’s strategy? Their food. Phenomenal, and the little hot sauce bar is a definite perk.

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