Lately, I’ve been asked about my process of brand connections as a blogger, influencer and content creator. There’s been some curiosity about how I go about running my business, whether I reach out, brands contact me and so on. In this day and age, everyone and their grandmother is online so it’s to be expected that there is so much noise out on social media, it’s hard to be focused sometimes. The chance to collaborate with brands is fun, but if you’re an influencer, blogger, artist (or trying to become one, learning how to be one), etc then you’ve probably already understood that there’s lots of incredible content, stiff competition in the online marketing world and seemingly, not much useful first-hand guidance on the tips and tricks to look out for when looking at how and when to contact a brand, or advice on what to do when a brand contacts you. After a couple of years in the game, I’ve come up with a list of the most important things that I personally consider and things I always look out for when communicating with a brand on a collaboration. I’ve broken it down into the two most common scenarios: Brand Reaches Out To Me and I Reach Out To Brand. Maybe grab a cup of coffee because my list is quite detailed!
Brand Reaches Out To Me
To Be Paid or Not To Be Paid?
Often, brands will approach you with a narrative that leans towards a “gifting” style exchange. They give you product for free and you post it on your social platforms. Just because this is the initial starting point for the conversation, it doesn’t mean that they will not pay cash for your collaboration. I understand that it can feel a little awkward responding to an e-mail that only offers free product and ask them for money. That’s why I made myself a neat little Rate Card/Media Kit (and I plan to make a dedicated blog post on how to make one of these!), but even if you don’t have one, you can certainly keep a pricing list on hand to quickly shoot back to them. For a long time, when I considered myself “small”, I didn’t have the confidence to ask for money. Then, as time wore on, I realised that I work really really hard at making original, authentic, captivating content. And when I really took a minute to think of the time I spend thinking about my social platforms, I decided to put a stop to that attitude. So: It’s TOTALLY FINE to ask for compensation. However, if this is a brand you really want to work with and absolutely love their jam then by all means, go ahead and discuss gifting/free promo exchange, there’s no harm in it. But don’t be lured into wasting time with products or services just because they’re free, because you could be spending that time making amazing content that focuses on YOUR BRAND. Other questions that will help you make a decision are: How big is the brand? Will it elevate your brand by working with them? Are they willing to repost your content on THEIR Instagram (i.e. driving their audience to you also)? Don’t forget that other brands will always check to see if you have ever worked on campaigns, done sponsored content etc. Sometimes it’s good to collaborate with brands for free if you’re just beginning to get a little Instagram collab experience under your belt and showcase to other brands you are in demand!
Verify The Brand’s Authenticity
The other day I was contacted by a seemingly large-scale brand. They weren’t a name I had ever heard of but they had over half a million followers on IG, which is a very difficult feat. But when I began to look a little closer at each post, I noticed a huge red flag. Posts had less than 1K likes and almost no comments (under 5 on most) which is an insanely low proportion! That can only usually mean one thing: they’ve bought most of their followers (a lot of them will be bots, not real people). Not only is that annoying and frustrating to us influencers who are busy building our audience organically, but it’s also completely meaningless to collaborate (unless they pay a pretty little penny and that’s the only thing you’re looking for). You’re not going to get any insanely great product and, even if they repost your content, you’re not really going to get much audience cross-over discovering you. Always verify the authenticity and best practices of a brand. You don’t want to be wasting time working with fakers (brands also check your authenticity so the same applies the other way around). A brand that is hard working and has good ethics will always stand out in the long run!
Other Influencers Working With The Brand
Have a quick peek and see if you can find who else is working with the brand contacting you. Follow the hashtags that brands sometimes include in their pitch. Do your research. That will give you an indication of whether you want to be part of that tribe and jump on a collaboration. It will also hint at the scale of collaboration that the brand is operating which will in turn help you decide on what terms and conditions to present to them.
How Much Do You Really Love It?
Make no mistake, your audience will see right through you if you post content that isn’t in line with your vibe or brand. Especially these days when, in the USA, the FTC requires influencers to disclose clearly that they are collaborating by including #ad or #sponsored (although I see a shocking amount of influencers and bloggers – and I’m talking HUGE names too – avoiding this practice, intentional or not, I don’t know). Companies are reaching out to you because of your engagement, following and hopefully, above all, your philosophy and fit. Before you decide to collaborate with brands, take a long minute to think: How much do I really love this? Is this opportunity unmissable, completely worthy of a post, my time, my effort and releasing onto my brand platforms? Does this actually make sense and is there a natural synergy? I’ve been contacted for some of the randomest things from colored contact lenses to bean bags, none of which I find particularly exciting and I doubt would resonate much with my audience. No-one likes to see their favorite blogger spin some product or service that they know they wouldn’t actually use. It just cheapens your brand, I think, so I avoid it! Don’t be afraid to politely say no (I talk a little bit about the art of saying no here!)
I Reach Out To Brand
Look For the Right Person to Contact
I know this seems ridiculously obvious but you’d be shocked how many people don’t know how to go about finding the person they need to speak to about collaboration. Some brands are really open to being contacted, they state it obviously and have a dedicated e-mail address. Others make it really hard (on purpose) because of demand, exclusivity and preferring to cherry-pick who they contact. Most of the people working at these places are online these days though – so with a little research through avenues like Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook you can at the very least find the name of the person in charge of Influencer Outreach, PR, Social Media Coordinator, Brand Rep and so forth. It takes practise and patience to locate a possible good e-mail contact for any of these individuals but it’s worth it if you’re e-mail will be directly reaching them vs going to a massive inbox with countless other correspondence.
Know Your Pitch And Make It Personal
If you want to collaborate with brands then you should keep your pitch simple, short and sweet. A clear suject line is important – nothing salesy or spammy. Remember, brand reps comb through hundreds of e-mails a day so try and make it easy for them! Don’t ramble, beat around the bush, don’t suck up or shower with compliments. Just be you, be authentic and friendly. It took me a long time to get my pitch where I want it and I still revisit it often when I update my ideas and find better ways of putting across the philosophy of my brand. Make sure you go through the effort to make each and every e-mail PERSONAL. Do your research on the brand, maybe point out something in their philosophy that resonates with you. DON’T just send one of those awful “blanket e-mails” (we all know what they are, just sounds like you’re everyone’s B). 9 times out of 10, I delete these types of e-mails quickly because I don’t appreciate being treated like part of a massive PR push just to see who will bite the carrot. So, make the effort to personalise and acknowledge the person on the other side.
Influencer and Blogger Platforms
Get acquainted and registered with the abundance of Influencer and Blogger platforms that exist! These are platforms you can register on (most are free) and brands can find you in the database and request you on a campaign. On others, you can even write to the brands yourself and pitch an idea for collaboration. A few that come to mind are FameBit, TapInfluence, Influence.co and many many more! Some of these platforms are more “elite” than others and require vetting and consideration before they accept you as part of their network however, using these platforms is one of the ways I collaborate with brands and make most of my income as a blogger, so they’re important and they work.
Don’t Be Shy, Don’t Be Scared
I know it’s daunting to start out something for the long run. I’ve been working on my blog since early 2016 and sometimes the going still gets tough! Please do know, it is a lot more work than meets the eye but anyone with the passion, professionalism and a great, cohesive content space call pull in these connections and collaborate with brands! Don’t be afraid to start a conversation. Don’t be shy to ask for what truly makes you feel valued and realistically reflects the work and positives you’re bringing to the table for the brand. Don’t let anyone take you for a ride with it. For some brands, you just won’t be the right fit – and that’s OK too. Move on to the next and the one after that!
A quick note about FTC Guidelines. Any time you are paid, sponsored, given anything for free, in-kind, gifted etc to collaborate with brands. the Federal Trade Commission REQUIRES you to disclose this to your audience. There are rules about exactly HOW to disclose (things like not hiding #ad or #sponsored in your caption) and I highly recommend you read and learn about these rules so that you’re not getting yourself into any trouble. What’s the point of building such a great platform just to have it wiped out by the FTC for incompliance? Later have wonderful articles on this and more.