As bloggers and entrepreneurs, we live and breathe the positive relationships we keep—especially when it comes to establishing effective relationships with coveted fashion, beauty and style brands. In fact, cultivating positive partnerships with top labels is becoming more of a mainstay as marketers realize the power of the influencer.
With bloggers ever-present at NYFW this year, we were motivated to continue the conversation on how bloggers and entrepreneurs can effectively connect with brands and grow their reach.
We chatted with PR whiz Kari Feinstein of Kari Feinstein PR to gather her professional insider scoop on working with brands, along with tried and true user experiences from some of our favorite Chicago-based bloggers: Maya McDonald of Charmingly Styled, Jess Keys of The Golden Girl Blog and Anna Baun of A Lily Love Affair.
Together, these four powerhouses offer fail-proof strategies and personal accounts on harvesting mutually beneficial brand collaborations–from initiating contact, to getting noticed on social media (at all levels of follower engagement), to working with an agency and doing it all on your own! This is one juicy read—bookmark this page and jot down some helpful notes when developing your next branding outreach!
Good luck ladies…go get ’em and don’t forget to share your expertise and efforts with us. Like branding partnerships, our readership is based on community and we love celebrating your wins!
In reality, bloggers are a crucial part of the fashion ecosystem We are some of the hardest working (and underpaid) writers, photographers and critics in fashion — and, collectively, have just as much power (if not more) to generate consumer interest and drive sales as traditional print editors. –The Business of Fashion
INSIGHT FROM A PUBLIC RELATIONS SPECIALIST
Why Top Media Outlets Are Paying More Attention To Bloggers
Bloggers and social media influencers drive immediate sales and exposure for a brand much quicker than a traditional press hit in a long lead magazine. They have built-in audiences watching on a daily and hourly basis what they wear and how it looks. They can even make purchases immediately on their phone while seeing posts go live on Instagram. These bloggers have become walking fashion magazines that are in the know on the latest trends. Brands that have their product endorsed by these bloggers immediately become a “must-have” commodity. In some cases, it is becoming just as strong as celebrity product placement. For example, we just did two events with Proactiv, Hearts on Fire, and Chapstick—we had bloggers like Sonya Esman (Class is Internal), Mary Leest, Jessi Malay, Jeanne Grey (Grey Layers), and many others. The bloggers came and instagrammed images of the table settings and product photos receiving well over 2K in likes, and one reaching well over 100K in likes–the traction is with the bloggers.
Matching Bloggers With Brands
For example, for NYFW, we selected fashion & lifestyle bloggers based mostly out of LA and NY that have a minimum of 25k followers up to 1.5m followers on Instagram with strong engagement (substantial likes and comments on each Instagram post) for an intimate blogger brunch. We wanted to make sure the bloggers matched the brands that we were working with as well. For instance, two of the brands, Proactiv and Chapstick, were more beauty-based, so we selected bloggers that have included beauty products in their feed in the past in addition to fashion.
Initiating Communication With Brands
For bloggers just starting out, always make contact information easily available. Reach out to fashion and lifestyle PR firms and brands to introduce themselves with their stats of followers and engagement. We always look for bloggers that take clean, interesting photos and clearly give credit to the brands they are wearing with tags and hashtags. The quality of their images need to be on point.
Research other bloggers to see what similar deals have gone for. There is a lot of opportunity to connect with brands and this is a business of self-promotion, so there is no room to be intimidated. Some brands are looking for certain pieces to be pushed, so bloggers need to be open to the brand’s recommendations even if they have their eyes set on a certain piece.
Getting Endorsement Deals
My advice to new bloggers is to email an overview of who they are with links to their blog and Instagram page with stats and letting the agency know they are interested in collaborations. Bloggers starting out should not look to get paid for placements initially and should post for brands so they can get their foot in the door. Once their following is large enough, they can start to charge fees. For bloggers looking to sign with an agency, beware of the agencies that will try to overcharge brands as you might lose some paid opportunities. They also need to be reasonable, yes they may be a blogger with 30K followers, but asking for 1K for a post is a little outrageous. They need to be willing to put in the time and energy to build their credit and following.
Getting PR Representation
I have mixed feelings about bloggers with representation. Some agencies are great to work with and others try to overcharge drastically to make their commission, which is a turnoff. Choose the right agency with the best reputation. I think it’s too soon for a blogger with less than 15k followers to seek representation. Also for new bloggers, if they do move forward with an agency, they should have their personal email listed on their blog as well so that they can be the initial contact and know if their agency is setting their fee too high/having them miss out on an opportunity.
How To Effectively Get On A Brand’s Radar
One of the best ways to catch a brand’s attention is by posting on their Instagram and using the proper tags and hashtags–brands will continue to see the posts and a blogger will catch their attention. Some brands might even regram your picture which can build your following drastically. Follow the brand and comment on their photos/posts–it’s best to make sure they know that you are keeping up with their latest collection, etc. Lastly, get in touch with the brand–staying in touch is key. Follow up and say you’d love to do a feature (with already owned product) and ask if there is anything specific they’d like mentioned. It’s a great way to stay connected!
Also for bloggers, if you are just starting, make sure you have content. It doesn’t work if you post once every week, it’s not enough. It needs to be every other day at a minimum and consistent. For new bloggers, don’t tag too many brands in a picture as well (3-6) is enough. Anything more than that is overwhelming and can be a turnoff to brands. Also, make sure you can clearly see the product you are tagging. Brands will be turned off if they can hardly see their product in the picture.
Bloggers & social media influencers drive sales & exposure for a brand much quicker than a traditional press hit in a magazine.
INSIGHT FROM BLOGGERS LIKE YOU
Next, we tapped Maya McDonald of Charmingly Styled for her informative insight on making ideal brand connections. Did you know Maya is one of the founders of Midwest Bloggers? Her advice is a can’t-miss!
Making the Connection
Typically, I work with brands that reach out to me, but I’d love to be more proactive in pitching to brands with fun partnership opportunities in the future. I also work with a variety of influencer networks like Mode, Collective Bias and Collectively that work to connect influencers and bloggers with opportunities that match their audiences.
Initiating First Steps
I think having a media kit or a deck that outlines your experience, social following, site visitors and ideas with how you’d like to work with that brand always help show your interest and professionalism! It’s also good to reach out to the PR companies who represent brands since you’re more likely to get in contact with the correct person (and they may be able to share other opportunities with the brands they represent as well.)
Knowing Your Worth
Always know that wherever you are in your blogging career, your talents and content you’re creating is valuable! Even if you’re just starting out, you are providing a service, and brands are lucky to have your support! Go in with courage and confidence!
Making Connections On Social Media
I’ve found that Instagram and Twitter have been the best ways to communicate and reach out to brands besides email since they often check tags and messages! I typically use email as my best form of communication though.
About Those Numbers
Social media following definitely helps, but I think your content speaks the strongest for your ability and skills, especially when working with brands. If there’s a brand you want to work with, feature them in a post and tag them to get their attention in tandem with a DM or email. Your love of the brand will speak highly for your interest and brands will be able to see the quality of content you can produce!
Social media helps, but your content speaks the strongest for your ability and skills, especially when working with brands.
Be Friendly on Social
There are a variety of ways I go about connecting with brands! I think one of the most effective ways is through social media. Making friends on Instagram has been particularly effective with smaller and medium-sized brands and messaging larger brands on Twitter to initiate first steps in collaboration is very helpful. Another way to find the right contact to reach out to is by emailing a company’s customer service inbox–they’ll always be able to connect you with a person from the marketing team!
Introduce Yourself to the PR Powers
Many of the collaborations I have come from PR companies that I’ve cultivated relationships with in Chicago. Plus, you’ll make a lot of friends along the way, too! Additionally, when a brand reaches out to me, I always ask if they’re looking to connect with more bloggers (which, they always are!) and I usually send a list of recommendations. In turn, those bloggers usually do the same for me! You can go so much further when you go out of your way to help each other out.
Make Things Irresistible
Make them an offer they can’t refuse. You should be OK working for free in the beginning in order to build up your resume. Maybe it’s reaching out to a local boutique and asking to borrow their clothes for a shoot (even if you just shoot right outside the store, and come back in!) Then, you give them free photos, free publicity, in exchange for nada. By eliminating all the barriers, there is no reason a brand can say no!
Decide What’s Most Important
I think you have to assess what’s the most important for you. Is it working with the brand or is it the money? Decide what your comfort level is upfront and stick to it. Also, I always ask a brand’s budget upfront. A lot of times, you’ll sell yourself short if you throw out a number off hand–often times I found that I would’ve lowballed myself majorly had I made an offer blindly. Don’t worry about what other bloggers are charging. You are the only one who can decide what is and isn’t worth your time.
Use Local Hashtags
I will say a LOT of brands have found me because I use local hashtags often and I include my location in all of my social media bios. If a brand is looking for bloggers in a certain area, the first thing they’re going to do is search social media. By using hashtags like #WindyCityBloggers and #ChicagoBloggers, I make it a piece of cake for brands to find me.
Keep It Simple and Be Persistent
Again, it’s going back to making an offer they can’t refuse. Be concise, clear, and outline exactly what you want and what the brand is going to get from you in your pitch. Make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. Make a short pitch deck to show off your skills (photography, writing, branding, etc.) and continue to cultivate that relationship via social media. Tag them in photos, wear their items in your outfit posts, tweet out a link to that sale they’re having. Show them love and they’ll show you love back!
Engagement Goes A Long Way
Of course, numbers are important, but they aren’t the end all be all. I think your overall voice and brand is the most important. Also, engagement! If you have a small following but it’s a very engaged following, I think that’s just as great as a blogger who has a much bigger following with a lower percentage of engagement. If a company loves your voice and your brand, they’re going to want to work with you!
Be In Love With Your Blog
Remember, you didn’t start a blog just to work with brands. You started a blog as a creative outlet and to have fun! Don’t let one unanswered email from a brand get you down. It takes time to build brand relationships. Just keep doing what you’re doing to the best of your ability and everything will fall into place. Never stop having fun!
Always ask a brand's budget upfront. You might sell yourself short if you throw out a number off hand.
And lastly, this in-depth insight wouldn’t be complete without the amazing Anna Baun of A Lily Love Affair. She’s as authentic and insightful as they come. Have you checked out her insanely beautiful Instagram feed?
Making that One-On-One
Thus far, my relationships with brands have started by a brand rep or PR firm reaching out to me directly via email or—in some cases—social media. I now also work with a number of affiliate networks that have helped facilitate a number of brand collaborations and partnerships.
Securing Brand Collaborations
When securing a relationship or partnership with a brand, there are a number of things I try to keep in mind:
Be timely in your response. I know firsthand how crazy life can get—with a full-time job, a family, and a life outside of work and blogging, it can be really difficult to find the time to sit in front of your email to address questions and relationship build. However, trying your best to respond to all emails in a timely fashion demonstrates your level of professionalism.
Create your pitch. Whether you have gone as far as creating a media kit (there are some really great ones on Etsy, FYI!), or you are simply summarizing your stats via email, know your worth. What makes you stand out? How will collaborating with you make the brand stand out? You have a lot to offer, so don’t sell yourself short—but do prepare those details in advance of the conversation or dialogue via email.
Know the brand. If a brand, big or small, has reached out to you to inquire about a potential collaboration, do your research before discussing next steps. What was their latest collection/campaign? Is there a particular item that resonates with you and why? Demonstrate for the brand that you know about their business and are not simply responding because you are in it for the money or free goods.
Also, if you require payment for sharing on social media or your blog, consider whether your payment terms are likely to fit into that brand’s budget. If they are a smaller boutique or start-up, but you really love their collection, are you willing to lower your terms or do you have an alternative plan in mind for the collaboration? Having these details ironed out in your mind will save both you and the brand time.
Don’t be a diva. When you’re interacting with brands or PR firms, do so with a smile. Make sure you are coming across to the brand or representative with a positive attitude and genuine interest.
You Offer Value
Putting yourself out there can be really tough, right? But you likely work very hard to produce highly engaging, quality content so don’t sell yourself short.
First and foremost, know your stats. And I mean all the ins and outs. If you haven’t done so already, download Google Analytics and start to track your websites traffic and user demographic info. Once you have done that, I suggest creating an attractive media kit that highlights all of your blog and social media statistics. There are a number of great templates you can purchase on Etsy if you’re not overly handy in creating one on Photoshop.
Once you have become familiar with your core stats—everything from your blog traffic, to social media follower counts, to reader engagement—determine what you have to offer to a brand in terms of exposure. Next, determine whether you are willing to accept collaboration based on a simple exchange of merchandise or if you would also like to be compensated for your work monetarily. If you have determined you are only willing to work with a brand if monetary compensation is involved, many use a standard calculation of $100 per every 10,000 page views your site receives or total social media followers you have acquired.
However, while it can be really difficult not to, my recommendation is to also think beyond the numbers. If you are a new blogger, or even a vet, consider what you have to contribute to the relationship beyond your stats. Are you a blogger who has only worked with smaller brands or boutiques, but the ‘client’ has been really pleased with your work? If yes, showcase that and use it to your advantage when pitching to newer, larger brands. Ask those you have worked with in the past to provide testimonials and include it in a media kit or email responses. Is your traffic or social media count lower, but you have a high reader/follower engagement? If so, highlight those figures. Even if you only have 2k page views per month or have 1k followers on Instagram, you can use an affiliate network to track your sales and clicks and provide statistics with your followers’ purchases or link to certain products from the brand you want to work with, driving traffic to the respective brand’s site.
Lastly, remind yourself every day you are worth your time and effort. Stay true to yourself and your brand.
Dream Collabs Are Possible
My favorite brand connections thus far have been with J.Jill, Stowaway Cosmetics and my relationship with The ShopShare Network. I absolutely love the women I work with at all three companies. Not only am I a huge fan of each brand and the work they create, but our relationships are incredibly organic and fun! I have had a longstanding relationship with each and they all feel more like sisters, than business partners. In my opinion, those make for the best types of mutual partnerships.
Connect On Social and Email
Craft personable, highly engaging, original communication that is specific to the brand. Besides expressing your desire to partner with the brand, include brand specifics such as what recent work speaks to you most or why you’re a long-time fan.
Also, provide a brief mention regarding your thoughts on a potential collaboration. For example, if you’re pitching to a luggage brand because you’re planning an upcoming “Vacation Essentials” post, make note in your pitch why the brand will be a great fit for your feature and how you can bring attention to their collection. There’s nothing worse than sending communication to a brand or potential partner and giving the impression the email is stock or unoriginal. Before sending, offer to send your media kit, which includes details on your blog and social media statistics.
The Number Factor
While I think social media numbers are important, I personally think the quality and engagement of my followers have been equally important. I cannot speak for every brand, but one of the biggest selling points for me thus far when building brand relationships has been my ability to demonstrate my strong relationship with those that follow along on social media channels and the blog. If you have 1-2k followers on Instagram, and your followers are often times commenting on what you’re featuring—use that information in your conversations with brands. You likely worked very hard to secure those readers/followers, and if they’re engaged in your work, that is equally important.
Also, focusing on ensuring all of the work you share is done with quality—both in the photography and the write-ups on social media and your blog. Most brands will look back at your work to see how you have represented others in past collaborations and you want that work to be a selling point for future partnerships. Even if you have only promoted for a brand on social media, if your photography is crisp and engaging, it will attract more potential partnerships in the future.
Staying On Your Own Brand is Paramount
When it comes to collaborating with brands, be mindful of the partnerships you enter into. Remembering to stay on your own brand is essential. There are a number of partnerships that I have been presented to me, which I have respectfully declined—some of which were willing to pay a high price tag to be feature. As a reader of several blogs myself, I can tell when the creator has accepted a partnership simply because they’re being paid. For myself personally, I only enter into relationships I am 100% behind. I never want to give readers the impression my brand is not genuine. For example, I was recently approached by a large beauty brand to feature a line of makeup in an upcoming post. I respectfully declined the partnership, as I have always been honest with readers about not wearing makeup. While I am sure I could have used it for the blog, and potentially spun the promotion, I felt doing so was not staying true to my followers, to myself or to A Lily Love Affair as a brand.
Blogging is a journey. And the journey can be tough from time-to-time. Keep your head high and hustle! Be open to feedback and criticism and use those thoughts to propel your work to greater heights. Also, surround yourself with those who are loving and supportive of the work you create.
A big thank you to our contributors for making this article super informative! Tell us what takeaways will you be employing in your next brand outreach!