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Bloggers, Here’s How to Work with Brands without Selling Out (or writing bad content)

by Marian Schembari on January 6, 2014

So we’ve talked about how brands can better work with bloggers. And while I strongly believe it’s the brand’s responsibility to know what they want and be transparent about it (set expectations, offer benefits, send traffic), it’s not realistic to think brands are going to do it perfectly. Remember: many are just starting out with this whole “blogger outreach” thing. Plus, it’s a two way street. And if you want to be a blogger that lands extra writing gigs and fancy perks, you can’t just sit on your ass. During pitching and after posting, there’s still work to be done.

Rule #1: Have your own ideas

If you’re going to approach a big company and ask for sponsorship or simply responding to someone who wants your influence, GET CREATIVE AND PITCH SOMETHING AWESOME. Don’t just say, “Give me x and I will write about you on my blog because I iz Important.”

Example: I went to a blogger’s conference in Toronto last May and found that most travel bloggers treat companies like piggy banks. If I had a dollar for every blogger who pitched some version of  “Pay me to go around the world, use your service and then I’ll write about my experiences,” I would be off traveling the world and writing about my experiences.

Very few of our appointments at the event had done any research. One blogger pitched us his blog management services for a blog that not only had we run successfully for months, but that I managed. Full time. [Insert slap in the face here.]

In hindsight, this is nobody’s fault. Brands don’t know how to work with bloggers and bloggers don’t know how to work with brands. So I’ll use this space to tell you exactly what companies want from bloggers:

  • Awesome content that appears on YOUR BLOG (with YOUR AUDIENCE) about your stories and experiences using MY BRAND’S service/website/hotel/gadget. I want you to tell your readers why your experience couldn’t have happened any other way then through us.
  • OR: Awesome content way pay you to write for our blog. For example…
  • Great story ideas. Pitch like a real journalist. Do your research. Find a quirky way to use Company X. Find one of our users in your hometown who brews his own beer and interview/write about him. That’s how journalists pitch. They write up a query letter, having done the research beforehand. They don’t rest on their blogging laurels. That’s douchey.
  • Your contacts. If you’re a big blogger you usually know others in relevant media. Pitch your story/experiences to said media on our behalf. Most decent companies will pay for this. If not, remember that many media outlets still pay their writers.

Rule #2: Be honest

Did you get a free meal at a fancy restaurant and the service was horrible? You are absolutely not obligated to write about it or do anything in exchange. In order to stay authentic, respected and “influential”, be honest.

Example: A well-known health company sent me a rockin’ box of pre-workout drinks. I loved the idea, especially since I was teaching yoga at the time and can fade fast. But after 10 minutes of drinking the stuff I felt nauseous and didn’t notice a difference during my workout. When the PR lady sent me a follow-up I replied,

“Thank you so much for sending me a sample! However, I’ve used it twice and both times it made me pretty sick. While I’m sure it’s great for many people, it definitely didn’t do it for me. I usually love your products but was disappointed by this one. I really appreciate you sending so many but, unfortunately, will not be mentioning it on my blog.”

Rule #3: Go the extra mile

Working with a brand doesn’t need to be a one-off situation. If you really loved your experience, you can easily form a partnership. You just need to ask. The sky’s the limit on this one. If you got a free stay at a hotel and loved it, suggest doing it again at another location. Or offer to be a “brand advocate” on your site. Give them ad space in your sidebar. Offer to write guests post for their blog. Keep the momentum going.

One thing I see bloggers do again and again is writing a post and being done with it. “I got my free shit so that’s that.” Don’t let it end there. Email your contact a week or so after your post goes live. Tell them how your blog post performed (traffic, social media shares, comments, etc), the general sentiment of the responses received and any other extras you threw in.

Example: When I stayed at the Point Reyes hostel in September, I wrote my blog post about my experiences, Instagramed my photos, tagged their company accounts, left a glowing Yelp review, wrote about them in an article I wrote for a different website and emailed a week after with stats on the post. A month later, I was able to stay in their Seattle and Vancouver locations and meet the marketing manager to learn more about their program. *drops mic*

Bonus Rule: Trust your gut

If you’ve been a blogger for years and have established a following, it’s tricky business to transfer into a business relationship with companies. If you get a free phone and then write about that phone on your blog, it’s probably going to be boring. Your readers aren’t going to share or comment and if you do it enough, people are going to think you’re a sellout. (This assumes you don’t have a blog that just posts phone reviews, then you’re okay.)

So my biggest rule is to trust your gut. Don’t partner with companies you don’t believe in. Be transparent with your audience. And don’t be afraid to get creative. Brands don’t know what they’re doing either and we should all be in this together.

Have you ever worked with a brand before? How’d it go? 

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  • bwagy

    Pricing! I come from an agency perspective, when we engage bloggers we always find they underprice, now it’s hard to accurately price (especially when engagements can be ad-hoc) but always give a range of options. That way you’re sure to capture extra value.

    If you’re really keen to get into it read up on Sponsorship Strategy, there’s tonnes on Amazon. Or check out John Chow – an extreme example but look at how he tackles it – should give you some of your own ideas how you can apply the slice it up options for sponsorship. Like Marian has said make it your own, keep it unique and relevant to your style & audience – that’s what a brand is looking for when they engage.

    • Marian Schembari

      YES! I agree with all of the above. Pricing is so tricky since brands specifically want to get as much as they want for as little as they want. But having done it a few times now, I realize that if the blogger has a few options and is confident regarding what they’re worth, they can usually arrange a sweet deal.

  • @dbsalk

    It’s fine line to walk between being yourself and being a d-bag corporate shill just out to make a buck, and I’ve seen too many people cross that line. I think your little guide might save a few people from that pitfall. Well worth the read!

  • Leucadia Chiropractic

    Nice! Thanks for this informative post. It’ll really be a big help for blogger wannabe’s like me. Can you recommend some of your articles that can help me improve my writing skills?

  • Suki F

    interesting. I have been considering accepting some of the offers for content
    on my blog but I didn’t know how to do it so it looks natural on my blog.

  • Katie LifeOnVista Haydock

    I got invited to a bloggers event being hosted by the company that made me redundant four years ago.The event sounded great but I couldn’t help but feel I’d be selling out.
    I gratefully declined.
    I’ve just stumbled upon your blog and have so far found so much useful information. Thanks so much xx

  • Anna

    Hey Marian. Thanks for this article. I am very new to the blogsphere and really appreciate so much help others give the newbies on the internet. Wish you all the best.

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