Gemma Pears and the National UK Blog Awards: an interview

Gemma Pears and Becki Cross

Gemma Pears and Becki Cross

Gemma Pears, the founder and co-organiser of the National UK Blog Awards, took time out of her busy schedule to talk to me. Creating and managing this mammoth national awards certainly revealed some fabulous managing skills, and I was intrigued to know more about the driving force behind this successful venture.

First I asked her what made her decide to do a blogging award. She revealed she had worked in the Events and Marketing Industry for quite a number of years, and Events was originally her passion, but then she worked with a number of businesses and during that time developed a knowledge and passion for social media, and in particular blogging, and how these attributes contributed towards developing business publicity and awareness.

“I felt there was a huge gap in the market for not recognising industry professionals, and also letting people out there know how powerful blogging can be. So many industries have not jumped onto the bandwagon yet, so I felt an award would showcase that and recognise people who are already doing it and their great achievements.”

I mentioned that this kind of blogging awards was a bit different from the norm, as there were so many already for lifestyle bloggers, and there were so many business and industry bloggers who didn’t get a chance. Gemma agreed:

“This is such a great tool; we’re going away from a culture of looking at websites to looking at blogs for information, as it is a great insight as to how that business would work – or the individual if you’re interested in just reading a blog from an individual’s perspective – what’s their insight into things, and what’s their inspiration and ideas. I just think there’s so many different aspects and angles to a blog as well and what it can offer people.”

So you think that people who don’t blog for their business are missing out as nobody’s reading their stuff?

“Massively, because it can show a further insight and it can showcase their intellectual property further. So for instance, if you’re a legal firm, I think it’s quite a big deal that you should have a blog, because you’ve got so much knowledge within that firm, then why shouldn’t it be showcased and therefore develop your clients’ trust, and it would create further credibility for the firm, and things like that? So I think it’s a really interesting aspect that a lot of businesses aren’t actually blogging yet.”

I asked her opinion about the legality side of blogging, particularly from a firm of solicitors, who might be extremely cautious about what they said in their blog for copyright, litigation and other legal stipulations. Gemma was ready for this:

“Well obviously referencing is a really big thing so that’s got to be acknowledged, so if there’s any litigation or case law that you’re referring to, you’ve always got to reference that. And there’s certain blogs that can easily provide opinion in whatever they want, that is if they are blogging as an individual, but as a company and a brand, I think it can get a bit more technical and complicated. What the technique is in direct opinion, so you’re not actually providing an opinion, you’re asking a rhetorical question. So you’re discussing a topic that might have been in the media; for instance, you could refer to a certain case law that was similar to what’s happened, so you’re not actually giving your opinion as such, but it’s a media debate for discussion.”

I asked her of those who entered the blog awards, was she satisfied to the amount of industries and professions who applied.

“There were probably some industries that I would liked to have had a few more entries, but we can’t expect everything in the first year.  And I also feel – what I’m really happy about, actually, is the likes of #bloghour – when we did guest #bloghours for the health industry, for instance, there were people who came into #bloghour who were involved in Twitter and were discussing blogging in their industry, but quite a lot of them didn’t have a blog, so they were saying they were going to go off and develop a blog as a result. That’s another thing I feel that the Blog Awards as brought into the industry this year, so even though we might not have got as much in each category that we wanted, or in certain categories, I feel that we’ve planted that seed and that’s the main thing actually.”

#Bloghour is a Twitter hashtag that facilitates a Twitter discussion every Tuesday evening from 9-10pm. After congratulating her on her success, I asked her how long had she been doing #bloghour? Apparently only since May 2013.

“It was a very slow start, with a lot of perseverance. And I suppose that’s one thing, if you’re sat on your own, you’ve got to keep going with it; there were some weeks with #bloghour and there was no one there, and I would literally be talking to myself, and there were so many times when I really wanted to tweet #tumbleweed [laughs] but I thought, no keep going, keep going. And I was actually on holiday in Majorca last August, and it was literally like a switch, and all of a sudden I had about 20 people participating, and from then that was it, so it was great! And I think it’s a great help for everyone as well; and everyone says it’s one of the best, and it’s really nice that people can come along. It’s quite a focused hour as well, people leave having actually learned something and having been inspired, so it’s good.”

#Bloghour has proven to be excellent at raising awareness, educating people, encouraging conversations, interaction and finding new friends, all within the realms of blogging. Twitter hashtag chatrooms are extremely useful for people to make connections within their chosen niche, and Gemma confirmed this activity helped towards raising awareness about her awards.

I asked Gemma if she used Twitter to find particular people, including me, to connect with her and invite them to join the awards. She used Twitter and looked under the hashtags and searched for top bloggers in order to locate and connect with as many people as possible to try and showcase and raise awareness for what she was doing. And then she just followed them to get them to notice her.

“It was as simple as that, and now we’re getting lots of followers and we’re no longer having to look as much, I must admit. There’s a lot of people following us now the word has got out, which is great, because it is a great platform that we’re offering to people.”

I asked Gemma how much publicity, media and PR did she get from the awards:

“We have had quite a lot actually, we’ve had quite a lot of regional PR for the actual winners, which is nice for the winners because that’s what it’s actually all about. [Regarding national coverage] Yes, we have had a few, but it’s been more regional actually. But in my eyes that makes it national anyway, because the winners are all across the country. It’s a lot more personal as that is what we’re all about. We’re not a big company, and we don’t try to make out that we are, but what we wanted to portray the whole way through is that we’re personal, and we offer that personal service to people. In the likes of #bloghour and email it’s not done by administrative staff, it’s us that’s responding, you know, just the organisers.”

I asked her what were her ideas for the future.

“Well, Blog Awards 2015, about which we’re currently undergoing conversations with various people, and the conference which we’re hoping to run in October if we can get everything organised in time. Again this was just something I had noticed that people weren’t being offered within the blogging industry, because there are a lot of people who just start blogging for fun, but they like to make careers out of it as well, which is very interesting. So I feel that people go on a bit of a blogging journey, and they start from the beginning, maybe not 100% knowing what it’s all about, leading to being an expert in their field and being hired in a company point of view.

“So basically I felt that it would be really good to have a conference that was a bit like a blogging journey conference, so it will be an exhibition with various suppliers that could help everyone, and also blogging platforms and with brands that would want to connect with bloggers in an exhibition area, but then also have a variety of workshops that everyone could choose to go to, but that would be relevant to their level, throughout the day, so if someone wanted to learn a bit about how to market their blog, or across social media a bit more, or know more about plugins, HTML coding, how to develop the right content, writing styles – you know there’s so much that it could actually cover, and there would be to certain abilities for everyone to come to. So that’s my initial thinking as what’s kind of lacking in the industry for bloggers.”

I reminded her that October was not very far away, especially since she had said she was only in the initial stages, but she didn’t seem to be phased by the prospect. It was definitely going to be a short turn around. Would it be held in a fancy hotel in London?

“Well, that’s the other thing about it, that I want to do, which we’re going to do in a couple of weeks, we want to do a blogging race predominantly on Twitter but also across social media, and there will be four or five different locations and there will be a vote as to where the conference will be held, because again I’m very much about people having a voice. I’m calling it a blog race, because it’s a blogging conference, to basically let them decide where the event will be held. So it’s a race for them to try and get their conference in the location that they would prefer.”

So if a large amount of people suggested Manchester over London, will it be held there?

“Yes, exactly, looking at the feedback from the Awards, there were some people who were not able to attend due to costs and things like that because it was in London, and I would like to give people a chance. If I get a lot of votes for Dublin in Ireland, because it is a UK National Award, then the conference will be over there, and if we get a lot of votes for Edinburgh, it will be in Edinburgh. It’s a really nice fun way for people to get involved in the planning as well, from their point of view. It’s been very important for us about the people’s voice; we did the same with the type of Awards that we put on, we asked people if they wanted a sit down meal as opposed to standing and networking, and the majority vote was standing and networking, so that’s what we went for.”

Well, Gemma, you certainly won’t be sitting around twiddling your thumbs for the next few months! I asked her how much events experience she had.

“Well, my parents have got a hotel in Cumbria, so I’ve been working in that industry since I was a child. I probably worked in Events since my my early 20s, probably about 10 years.”

Was putting together the Awards the same as working in her parents hotel and in the events industry? No, it was completely different, a massive learning curve, always learning something new every day and definitely very enjoyable, or she wouldn’t be doing it! Her co-organiser, Becki Cross, was a former employer, and they’ve been friends for about six years. It was from that time she learned about social media and blogging.

Gemma is a truly inspirational young woman, juggling her young daughter and family life around a career that is more than full-time because it is her own business. I’m very much looking forward to hearing about the developments of the conference in October, and the outcome of the blogging race to learn which location it will be held in, and also the next National UK Blogging Awards in Spring of 2015!

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Alice Elliott writes the award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog for beginner and post-beginner bloggers to “explain things really simply” about blogging and WordPress. She provides simple, easy to understand, highly visual courses and tutorials using ordinary, everyday words. Visit her new Beginner Bloggers blog to find her latest learning resources.
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