10 things to know when working with brands
Six years, y’all. That’s how long I’ve been blogging. That practically makes me a dinosaur in blogging years. And I’ve got a big sweet tooth and a constant mountain of dishes in my sink (OK, and a lot of recipes) to show for it.
It also means I’ve picked up a few experiences along the way, many of which I shared with you back in this post. That post was super fun to write and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, many of whom have followed up with me via e-mail or social media (hai, frands!) to connect and ask more questions. I love it. It makes me remember why I do this in the first place, and hopefully my rambling words have helped you. Help me help you. How very Jerry Maguire of us.
A lot of your follow-up questions have had to do with my ongoing partnerships with brands, which you may notice in a sponsored post from time to time or by checking out my portfolio page. In the time I’ve been running this bloggity blog, I’ve worked with dozens of brands, big and small, national and local, etc. These partnerships have been huge for my food blogging career and are the source of a good chunk of my income.
But it’s been about so much more than the income, too — the experiences I’ve gained (like, walking through Iowa cornfields or cooking in the Kitchens of General Mills or shaking Bob’s hand) are unforgettable, and the relationships I’ve cultivated are unmatched. I am insanely grateful for all of it.
That being said, it hasn’t been all sunshine and lollipops and rainbows (though there have been a few rainbow-themed recipes). It’s been a LOT of hard work and there have been many lessons learned. I thought I’d take some time to share some of those lessons — or, in a “more fun” manner, top 10 things to know — with you today. Neato, gang!
(P.S. For those of you who don’t blog/aren’t interested in working with brands, tune in next week when I may or may not have a fun surprise for you! I’m such a tease, I know.)
1. Know your audience.
Hi, audience! I may not know each and every one of you individually (though I wish I did!), but over time, having interacted with some of you on social media, chatting over e-mail, receiving your responses in my annual reader survey, etc. I’ve learned a bit about what you want to see here in terms of content. That’s really important to me, to share with you the things I love and the things you love, and that means working with brands that I know will fit in both categories. That’s not to say I can please everyone with the brands I choose to work with, but overall, before I decide to partner with a brand, I think first and foremost about you guys and gals, my audience. I think that’s key to cultivating a long-term relationship with a brand, whether through sponsored posts on your blog, contributing posts to their websites and the like.
2. Know the brand.
On the flip side, it’s equally important to know as much as you can about the brand you’re working with before you begin a partnership. Why? Because if you don’t, it could end up feeling like a blind date gone horribly wrong (and we’ve all been there, amiright. Ahem). In short, if you want to come across as the creative, knowledgeable, impressive and hardworking blogger you are, you have to do your homework on the brand’s mission, products, creative goals and objectives in their blogger program before you dive headfirst into the work. So dig around on the brand’s social media handles, research what other bloggers have done for the brand and scroll through their websites to see what kind of recipes they share and get a feel for their style. That kind of background will take you far in your future partnership.
3. Know your brand.
One of the best things I’ve ever done for this blog besides its redesign (by the amazeballs Wooden Spoons Kitchen) was to establish my brand. The WSK team actually helped me out with this in order to come up with a design that fit within that scope. I know that sounds kind of obscure or vague, but having a really clear idea of your brand — that is to say, your blog’s niche/mission statement/focus/main objective/personality — is crucial in going forward with working with brands. Because if you don’t know what you’re really into blogging about or why, the brand won’t know either, and then neither of you will know if you’re a perfect match until it’s perhaps too late and you’re sobbing into a pile of bits of overbaked, flavorless, low-fat, sugar free gluten free vegan brownies on the floor of your kitchen while simultaneously e-mailing the brand rep to say you just can’t make this work (and we’ve all been there, amiright. Ahem).
4. Reach out.
I know many of us approach blogging in so many different ways, and that’s so awesome. But time and time again I hear bloggers talk about how they haven’t been contacted by some of their favorite brands to work with them, and that makes me sad. Because guess what? YOU can contact them. There are real, live people behind these brands that you love and a lot of them are pretty great. And because they’re pretty great, they’re also pretty willing to chat with you, get to know and see if you’d be a good fit for their opportunities. So don’t be afraid to say hello in a direct message on Twitter, or in a personal e-mail, or even in a phone call or a letter, if you’re old-school like that. Many of the partnerships I’ve made with brands have been a result of me reaching out to them, and it was the start of a beautiful friendship.
That being said, there are times when reaching out to a brand will result in crickets or a shut door, and hey, that’s OK. Good for you for at least giving it a try! You never know if that door will open again and they’ll remember you for a future campaign.
I also often tell bloggers who e-mail me that one of the best things you can do to grow your blog is to network. And by network, I mean go to blog conferences, or to blogger meetups in your area, or to local events being hosted by brands. Meet and talk with other bloggers to see whom they love to work with, or better yet, introduce yourself to any brand reps at the events who work for a brand you love. I’m pretty shy and even I’ve been able to make partnerships happen this way because of two reasons: 1) bloggers are incredibly kind, helpful people and will often be willing to help you get in touch with brands and 2) many brand reps are actively seeking new partnerships when they are out and about with bloggers. It just makes sense. So go get ’em, tiger.
6. Keep in touch.
If you’re working with a brand on a single assignment or campaign, it never hurts to follow up after the project is done to offer your services for future opportunities, if you’re interested. Don’t be afraid to send an e-mail asking if there are any more projects in the yearly budget that are yet to be assigned and if you can’t be the blogger to fulfill them. This shows initiative and continued interest in the brand beyond just getting a paycheck.
7. Be genuine.
This tip is extremely important to remember, if for no other reason than because I have firsthand experience in knowing what it’s like to work with a brand that doesn’t fit your blog’s brand. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. It’ll leave you feeling like you just left that awful blind date only to come home to those bits of gross brownies you attempted to bake and you don’t even have ice cream in the freezer to mix them into to make them somewhat palatable. So even if a brand at one time felt like it was a good fit for you and your blog doesn’t mean it will always feel that way. So be sure to keep yourself in check as you move forward in your partnerships. It’s OK to move on. Help me help you, remember? The same goes for the brands and for you.
That also goes for deciding whether or not to work with a brand in the first place. If it doesn’t feel like a natural fit, say no. Just don’t do it. You’ll be so relieved you passed on the potentially awkward relationship when a better one comes along that matches perfectly with your niche — and now you have the capacity to work with them.
I’m just going to say it: As a blogger, you also are a businessperson, and that means you have the right to negotiate. So when you’re about to partner with a potential client/brand and they present you with a number for compensation for a project, don’t be afraid to ask for more. Sometimes, they have more room in the budget than they initially mention to you. And sometimes they don’t, but hey, at least you gave it a shot. It never hurts to ask — the worst they can say is no, and then you simply have to decide if the compensation is worth it to you.
9. Be a lover, not a fighter.
I use this mantra for so many aspects of my life (unless you are attempting to take the last slice of cake, because I will fight you for that), and it works just as well for how I approach my work with brands. So, be a lover, not a fighter: as in, treat the brand you’re working with like a business partner, or like a real human being. Don’t try to bully the brand into what you think is the perfect partnership if you think that includes all the bells and whistles and benefits and they’re not giving that to you. If you truly love the brand and you decide to work with them in the capacity they can fulfill for now, there is a decent chance that, in the future, you may be first in line for a better partnership with them.
10. Don’t saturate your market.
Finally, don’t pile on so many sponsored posts into your blog that none of the posts are coming directly from you. Remember your audience, and remember why you blog in the first place — to create and to share recipes that you make because you’re passionate about it. It’s not all fun and games, but it’s not all a job, either. There is a balance and it’s not only good for your readers, but it’s good for you, too.
And finally finally, don’t work with all the flour brands or all the bean brands or all the pasta brands that exist out there and are offering work – it shows that you don’t have brand loyalty and not only does it confuse people, but it can be detrimental to your partnership with a brand. Decide whom you love best and stick with them.
Oof! That was a novel. In any case, I hope those tidbits of information are helpful to you! And as always, if you have any questions or want to chat further in depth about anything here, feel free to e-mail me or message me on social media. I’d love to hear from you!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to fight for that last slice of cake.