Today, Hill+Knowlton Strategies hosted a panel discussion in Toronto with some of the city’s most well-known, vocal and active bloggers. The discussion centered on how to best engage with these influencers and, a point of much debate, whether they should be paid to share information on behalf of brands.

The panelists were:

The panel was facilitated by Hill+Knowlton associate and digital media strategist Eden Spodek @EdenSpodek.

In the media world we now live in, there are a lot more variables in terms of income generation and sponsored content. And as Matt Hartley pointed out, the term “blog” is extremely broad and can be anything from a personal online journal to a globally-influential technology site to posts on a traditional newspaper’s website. From what we heard today, the panelists fall into several categories and because of this have different opinions about, and strategies for, making money.

Matt Hartley, as a traditional journalist, is separated from the revenue and advertising department of the paper. However, Erica Ehm as CEO of Yummy Mummy Club is very engaged in developing revenue models and works with brands individually to determine a fit. Brands are able to sponsor content on the site, something that is disclosed on the blog post – an key factor that had the panel in agreement. Erica works with her bloggers to ensure that they are comfortable with the brand. In essence, Erica explained, she runs Yummy Mummy Club from the heart. She has not created pages of policies but instead does what feels right for her, her bloggers and her readers.

For both Zach and Alexa, as people that wear several hats within the social media space, revenue generation tactics were varied and dependent on the project. For instance, in regards to Alexa’s Cheap Eats books, she will not accept freebies from any restaurants as the reviews need to remain objective and reflect a dining experience that would match that of any person. However, on her personal site and on Twitter, she is open to trying out products for reviews as long as it does not move into any perceived bias that would affect Cheap Eats. Zach does not have accept payment for posts on his site but does have relationships with several brands where he blogs on their websites.

It is evident that research on every journalist and blogger prior to outreach is key. Before sending Matt Hartley a press release, we need to write a few paragraphs to him on why it’s important, why he should care and why it’s a fit for his paper. And when it comes to bloggers, it is important to not only research the topics that they cover but also how they work with brands. Erica Ehm is always looking for creative partnerships and is open to new ideas and relationships that fit with her audience.  But don’t send her news about plastic surgery – a big no-no on her site – and a sign that research was not properly conducted.

The panel concluded with some final thoughts from the panelists that we can all agree on. It’s about connecting, it’s about personalities and it’s about relationships. We in PR build relationships with bloggers and the media and they build relationships with their readers. It’s all about good content at the end of the day. The better we all work together and understand each other, the better the content will be.

Mary Warner is a senior consultant in the corporate communications group in the Toronto office.