When I received a pitch from a popular beauty supply company, I was elated. A lifestyle blog I started in 2012 was finally “going somewhere.” After all, I told myself, bloggers are influencers. I jumped at the opportunity to test a product. The company shipped me a $200 blow dryer to test and keep, free of charge. All I had to do in return was share my opinion in a blog post.
It wasn’t until after I received the package that I discovered the review would not be completely my own. The next morning, an email arrived in my inbox, leaden with key words, talking points and links that the company “highly preferred” that I include in my content. Unclear communication and unexplained expectations turned the partnership into a negative experience.
Blogger-brand collaboration is a growing trend in the digital world. Writers behind popular blogs have become trusted voices for their daily audiences. But blogs have also become favorite platforms through which brands, along with marketing and public relations firms, share messages from a trusted source with an already established audience. But growing a blogger-brand relationship can take both time and effort.
What does good collaboration look like?
Relationships between bloggers and brands can come in many different forms. Jill Badlotto works as a representative for the Chicago Blogger Network. According to Badlotto, the network, made up of approximately 600 Chicago-area bloggers, specializes in connecting bloggers to brands. The network has facilitated partnerships that include tweet chats, campaign promotion, giveaways and exclusive events with major companies such as Rent the Runway and Nike.
“Product reviews are always a huge focus for brands. In exchange for their free product, which is a minimal cost to the brand, they receive great advertisement,” Badlotto explains.
Collaboration can also take the shape of purchased advertising space, sponsored content and social media engagement. But working with a blogger can also give brands the opportunity to think outside the box by co-hosting an event with a blogger or working with smaller bloggers to reach niche audiences.
It wasn’t long after Caitlin Wilson began blogging in 2010 that she received an email pitch from a clothing company interested in working with her. Wilson is the blogger behind the lifestyle blog Re-Mix-Her. Despite a relatively new blog and slowly growing audience, Wilson worked with the brand to execute a successful feature of an upcoming product line. Afterward, the brand sponsored a giveaway for Wilson’s readers. To date, she remembers it as one of her most positive experiences working with a company.
“The thing that stood out for me the most was that [the company] was willing to be flexible and build me up as a blogger, while I was helping out them too. It’s a two-way thing,” she explains.
What are the ground rules for blogger outreach?
While there is no set formula to blogger outreach, there are steps that brands can take to ensure success. Research should serve as the basis for any relationship building. Brands should understand who the blogger is as a writer, his or her focus, tone and audience. Read through a blogger’s recent content, the “about me” page and any sponsorship information.
Use the research to draft and tailor an email for the intended blogger. A personalized pitch shows the time and effort a brand is willing to invest not only before a partnership, but also during and after. Include the blogger’s first name in the pitch and a reference to recent content that was fun or informative shows even more of an investment.
According to blogger Alissa Futhey, generic and impersonal emails are easy to overlook. Futhey began her blog, The Adored Life, in the spring of 2012. On average, she receives two or three pitches each week – a combination of mass emails and tailored requests. From her personal experience, it’s easy to identify the brands that have taken time to do their research.
“Take five minute to learn my name and grab something from a recent post of mine to comment on,” explains Futhey. “Some brands will go to my about me page and pick out one or two facts. There’s a little bit of personalization.”
Before sending a pitch, ensure that the content is clean and professional. According to Wilson, bad spelling and grammar are black marks against any company. “If your brand is worth it, you should have someone to perfect those sorts of things. It shows you care about your brand,” she says.
Pitches do not have to include all the details upfront. An initial email packed with information might overwhelm and distract the blogger from the opportunity. Instead, provide an applicable time frame and clear expectations in the conversation following the pitch.
In the planning stages of any collaboration, brands should spend time mapping out finer details. What aspects of the product or service do we want to highlight? How will this content fit into our overall campaign? When should this content be published? Answering such basic questions and then outlining them in an email to the blogger can be essential for clear communication. Bloggers should also be prepared to take initiative and ask for clarification when they need it.
There are also other ways, such as using social media, to support and thank a blogger after the collaboration ends. Once a blogger’s content on a brand is posted, says Badlotto, share it – and fortify an ongoing partnership.
Blogger and brand collaborations, like any good relationship, are a two-way street. Background research, clear communication and a personal touch can set apart a thoughtful pitch from a mass email. “It doesn’t take that long to write a personal note,” says Futhey. “We’re still humans and want to be treated as something besides an advertising platform.”
Callie Gisler is a writer and communications professional in Eugene, Oregon.