Wow, I feel like all I’ve been doing lately is posting recaps from conferences I’ve attended, and today is no different. I promise, I have more “typical” content to come. However, yesterday I spent the day at the Brands and Bloggers Summit in Chicago, and there was lots of great info I want to share. It’s a one day conference focused on getting brands and bloggers to connect and more effectively communicate in each other’s world. The first session of the day was a panel between several brands who are sponsoring the summit and some well known bloggers. There was a lot of interesting discussion, which I am sharing below. These are the notes I took, so again the recap is very rough and unedited – but enjoy the conference recap!
Brands and Bloggers Panel
The panelists featured were:
Barbara Rozgonyi from @wiredprworks
Beth Rosen @bethrosen
Duong Sheahan @duongsheahan
Dwana De LaCerna @houseonahillorg
Meagan Francis @meaganfrancis
Stephanie Precourt @babysteph
Wendy Piersall @emom
Clever Girls Collective/Ubisoft – Sheila @clevergirlscoll @ubisoft
Flatout Bread – Nicole @flatoutbread
GMC – Connie Burke @thisisgmc
Connie – this is not a one time thing. Once I get you in the family, I want to keep you in the family. This is not a one night stand. I’m into that keeping the relationship going type thing. I don’t pick people to work with based on numbers. It’s not a popularity contest. To me, I look for if you’re authentic. Passion is contagious. If I feel you coming through, that’s what I get excited about.
Sheila – The blogosphere has really changed from, send me diapers? SURE, I love diapers. Of course I’ll write about them. And then you write and promote and do their marketing for them in exchange for some Gummi Bears. Now it’s grown into a whole industry where there needs to be so much more to it. In a lot of ways, bloggers should be paid. We are doing their work now, and it’s about your influence. If you can get 60 people to do something, that’s huge! Clever Girls is like match.com for bloggers, putting those relationships together and making sure they’re good relationships.
Duong – An ordinary blog can turn your lives around. We need to become a better community, develop a better relationship with brands and have just strong strong connections.
Wendy – Brands and bloggers live in two different worlds and don’t speak the same language. Brands live in a world of spreadsheets where we need to show the results of what they did and what they got from their money. As bloggers, we’re friends. Our influence isn’t measured in numbers. Our influence lives in our hearts, and we care about each other. As you come and be a part of our community, we embrace you. Bloggers are the social part of social media, and brands are the media portion. We need to coexist, however. How do we take this passion and love and mesh that with dollars and sense? That’s the goal.
Stephanie – I go back and forth about whether to work with brands at all. I like the freedom of just having the opportunity to write about my family and what I want to do. But if
Duong – Why is she being picked and I’m not? Guess what, not all companies are connected to the Internet. There is enough for everyone to get around, you’re not going to be left out. You need to focus on who you are and what you’re doing for you. It will work out. Just because you have smaller followers doesn’t mean you don’t produce better results because you’re more authentic and powerful. Some of the large numbers can be generated by bots and are not authentic followers. Sometimes deciding who I want to work with and who my niche is means that I need to walk away from a brand opportunity because I am who I am and now who I appear to be.
Beth – She had 7 blogs for each aspect of her personality. It was too much. You know what you know and you know how to use it. Be true and authentic to who you are, and the brands will find you because they realize that you fit a niche of theirs (and yours!) and are authentic about it. You may have influence in another way. You may have a great Twitter stream or Facebook following or have another way of connecting.
Who makes the first move? Who pitches who?
Stephanie – I usually will wait for brands to come to me and see if that works for me. There have been times when it works the other way, though. What do I have to offer in return – for example a GM car for a road trip. I could wait and hope that a car company pitches me, or I could go and pitch them because I have an angle for something I needed. I feel like it’s totally ok to pitch brands, as long as it makes sense. I’d love to have a lot of luxury items, but it doesn’t fit me.
Connie – It’s a case by case basis. Sometimes I need you, and sometimes you need me. It’s about getting to know you, and the referrals from people who I’ve worked with in the past are great. If I get to know you and know your interests and what you’re all about, then things will happen where I’m not the owner or project manager of and the lightbulb goes off and you’re a known entity who’s proven that you deliver. You speak in an authentic voice, and that comes through. Your blog is your brand and your business, and we can find a way to meet in the middle. A great end result will come from it. It’s been proven every time we’ve done thing.
Meagan – If you pitch a brand, you may have to wait a long time because they may have used their budget for this year. Or they need to get approval elsewhere. Or it may turn into another idea or opportunity altogether by the time it all comes together. It takes them sometimes a long time to make it work and put together the package and proposal. It was worth the wait to get the braces that are now sponsored – a year and a half in the making.
Nicole – We like to take a step back. We develop a calendar. What are we doing – a product launch, is it back to school or Super Bowl or grilling season? From there, we try to identify what we want to achieve in that time period and what will be the benefit of reaching out and developing blogger outreach with that campaign. We will reach out to bloggers to work with them. We like to be contacted by bloggers, as we’re a small company and can make decisions quickly and come up with unique opportunities. We aren’t paying attention just to your numbers – your Klout score or followers. We look at it on a case by case basis with the goal to create people who want to be brand ambassadors. Bread isn’t the sexiest thing out there; it’s bread after all. But we’re fresh, healthy, homemade, and we want to find people who are into that, too.
Sheila – It’s sort of like a dance. I agree with Meagan that it can take a long time, but sometimes it works where you fit perfectly and you’re dancing all night. From the blogger perspective, you have to know your stats and know what you’re pitching. I’m also here with Ubisoft which makes Just Dance line of video games. People will come up all the time and say “I love that game. I have an Xbox, and you should give that game to me!” Just because you’re a blogger doesn’t mean you deserve to get something. As bloggers, we have expectations that brands are going to treat us as professionals, and we need to present ourselves that way, too. If you tell me you have a Klout score of 75, then yes, we will check that and you should be telling the truth. If you say you’re going to do a post, then do it. So far as pitching goes, it’s fair to say that it’s happening both ways. You’re fully within your rights to go to a brand and say this is what you’re thinking about doing and pitch it. At Clever Girls, we put together scholarships to send as many members of the network to conferences as possible. We received over 200 responses, and the pitches were fantastic. They said what they were going to do and what they were going to get out of it and what Clever Girls should expect. It was amazing. If you do this, then yes, you can absolutely get a brand to work with you – if there is a good fit and good timing.
Duong – I will only pitch a brand if it’s something I’m absolutely passionate about. I lots of time pitch companies who aren’t yet on social media and offer to help them get on social media. There are times that I’ll not hear back from them because they just aren’t ready but then get an email a year or year and a half later from them when they are ready to make that move. They obviously got my pitch and filed it away under the “hmmm this is interesting” file and then contacted me when they were ready. You can easily go to the website and find the PR department and contact them.
Stephanie – I’ve had great success with googling PR or Social Media agency and the brand name. That and looking at the press releases that frequently have the contact information and email for this type of thing.
Beth – Join the different networks that are out there. There are lots of opportunities there to connect with various brands through there. Make sure you talk to people and create connections. When you’re sitting at a table, you get to know people who are sitting around you. this is how I’ve primarily gotten a lot of the relationships and jobs that I’ve had.
Nicole – We find people on Twitter frequently. It’s a great way to start a conversation and get to know people proactively. After a few tweets, we can take it offline and then see what comes from there.
Stephanie – You don’t need to keep any contact information and things you receive to yourself and hoard it. It takes a quick email to share with a friend to do an introduction and get the door open.
Blogger Partnerships and Brand Ambassadorships – How Should That Relationship Work?
Connie – It has to grow organically. Dwana is a great example of that. I ended up giving Dwana a vehicle loan. she really loved her time in that vehicle and wrote about it. She came up a great idea where they could get a bunch of vehicles back to back to shuttle kids from one school to another for a mentoring program in a less advantaged area. It was a huge success, a very creative idea. Doing a vehicle for a vacation is great, but it’s been done. I love the new angles and creativity of it – especially where we’re all doing good.
Wendy – A lot of times, the ones that are the truly creative pitches that aren’t the ones of been there done that are the ones that come from bloggers. Because you know who you are and the assets you have to work with, you can find what’s magical and how you can work together, though it’s a little harder pitch to develop. It’s worth it, however.
Sheila – I’ve been a brand ambassador and brand champion for several companies, luckily. The best programs, however, are the ones where relationships are being built. Brands are getting better at this now, though. It used to be just where they wanted you to say that you were an ambassador or to put a badge on your site. Now they want you to provide feedback or beta test products, etc. A lot of times they’re now also compensating you either in cash or via product. What is the benefit for me as a blogger? Will they take it seriously – taking the notes down on what we say or market it differently because of our feedback. Clever Girls is only one network out there – from One2One Network to Collective Bias and more. Look at some of those companies that are working with the brands that you really like that would be a good fit for you.
Effective Social Marketing Tactics for Companies – Blogging relationships is the most effective but also the most difficult – how can we make it easier?
Dwana – You also have to have fun with your groups. I do a lunch bunch. We go from restaurant to restaurant, and it was under the radar for awhile. Then restaurants started asking us about Twitter and Facebook, and we started to educate them and work with them. It isn’t that you want to take on the position of being that person with them, but you can learn about what they’re trying to do and how they can maybe get there.
Wendy – Brands and bloggers come from very different worlds. It works best when a blogger can walk into a brand’s world and talk statistics and numbers effectively or when a brand can get past the spreadsheet way of thinking and walk into the blogger world of relationships. It’s hard to get outside that comfort zone and push ourselves beyond the emotional limits we place on ourselves. We need to be more comfortable tooting our own horns sometimes.
Connie – I come to events like this all the time. It works both ways. It’s all about networking. You create fans and friends and followers one tweet at a time. It’s all done on a one by one basis. We mass produce vehicles but sell them one at a time. Every person I meet is an influencer. When you’re making a big ticket purchase like a car, you ask your friends and neighbors and that’s how you make your decision. I need to see what you’ve got, and it works from there. If you put together something great for me, that’s when I think about you for someone to send to the Auto Show or to a sponsored event or a media backgrounder. This is where it starts.
Nicole – To give our brand to you as a brand ambassador is a scary thing for our company. We want to make sure you will take care of our brand like we take care of our brand. WE have to be accountable internally, not just for the success metrics but also the brand standards in place and how you’ll represent it when we’re working together. As a new blogger, you may not understand or be comfortable with shifting how one brand likes to work one way and another one likes to work another way. Where are they? What are they doing. We want you to be an extension of us. We are thrilled to work with bloggers because that’s another person working for who we are, but we also need to make sure that it’s going to protect our brand and who we are.
Sheila – Things are changing. That’s it ultimately. things in PR are changing. I remember my first job where I was handed a list of people to call for people to write on the product. There’s still a little of that but even the term of blogger outreach and blogger relations – some companies are scared of bloggers and don’t know what this even is. They’re trying to figure out how do you do this, how do you do it well, and how do you do it credibly, and it’s a scary thing for a lot of companies. The smart brands come to the party though. The smart brands are the ones who want to be a part of the conversation, whether they’re here at a conference or are on twitter. They will look to see who is tweeting about them – the biggest things for brands and PR firms to do is to listen. The smart blogger invites the brands to join them and work with them – bring them to the party.
Meagan – We are the very public face of our blog. When we come to events, people forget how they’re coming off when they act at conferences and other public events. You need to act how you want to be perceived. I used to get really frustrated by brand ambassadorships. I felt like they didn’t do much research into who they were asking. they just wanted as many people doing it as possible. It seems like they’re now cultivating smaller groups that are a little more targeted, and that’s a step in the right direction. It’s much better to have ten good people writing fantastic things about my brand rather than a hundred who are so so.
What do bloggers want from compensation/terms/what we’re going to do?
Wendy – before you even think about money and what you can get out of it, before you think of how it’s going to work, think about if you want to work with a brand. It is going to stick with you like glue. Think if you’re willing to stake your personal reputation on something, because that’s what you’re doing.
Stephanie – A lot of times, I’ll google the brand name and controversy. It’s a good way for me to know if it’s something that I’m not comfortable with and want to step away.
Duong – Sometimes you get so excited to work with a big brand. You go back and forth and you forget to do some of your research. When the product arrives and you look at the product, it may not match your criteria. You want to earn something, but if it isn’t a good fit, Duong will protect her brand and integrity that she can’t support and tell them that she can’t do it. Sometimes, it’s easy to point fingers that they didn’t disclose enough, but you are the one who needs to do the research on products to ensure that it fits with who you are. The brand needs to know that there are bloggers out there who do have that integrity, and that they will follow through.
Meagan – It’s better for everybody when there is serious money invested in campaigns. For me to work a product in, I need to do it into campaigns that I’m doing already. I don’t do reviews. If I can have a few flagship things that I’m working on, then I don’t have to dilute my efforts so much. I can really invest in my campaigns. A blogger might do something for no money, product, or a small amount of money. If they’re trying to earn an income, then they have to do a lot of that. If you have to do that all the time, then it dilutes the effectiveness of this for everybody.
Wendy – When I was a Blog World, I heard someone say “It’s easier to sell a $20K advertising package than a $200 package.” In their world, dollars equal results. If you pitch a brand, I can offer 10 million impressions and high engagement with my readers and here’s this amazing campaign, and it’ll cost $200. What will they think about this? Wow that’s great, but $200 – what’s the catch? Is it really worth it? That doesn’t mean that you now have license to charge $20K, but put a real time value and fair price on your work. What would a corporation pay for 10 million impressions? What would they pay for 10 evangelists that you’ve just converted for them? That will start to lead you to a number of what you’re truly worth to them.
Barbara – I like when I can show how I can bring them up in rank with Google. I went somewhere and did a post that had really high rankings for lots of search terms.
Stephanie – I think it’s important to have an agreement with what the payment will be. I advise to find out ahead of time how you’ll be paid – do you need to send an invoice, will it come in 30 days, etc. I’ve definitely had things happen in the past where a company has said they’d do something and have ended up waiting. I may have chosen something different if I found out how it worked earlier.
Sheila – I don’t do anything without a contract, both as a business and as a blogger. It’s not that hard to send a contract that says this is what we’re doing to do and how it’s going to happen. I want a contract with you that you’re going to do it. And as a blogger, you want to know the details. When it’s just a review program, it’s not always the same though. When something just arrives on your door or it’s sent out to a thousand people, they know not everyone will.
What doesn’t work?
Stephanie – Say you’re going to work for a brand and you put yourself out there. They need to have the damage control in place. There can be drama or implications. Does someone have your back if something comes up. If you’re going to align yourselves with a brand, is their fan page stagnant? Is it going to make you look bad, or are they going to stick up for you?
Nicole – From a brand perspective, we’ve had minor failures – predictably. Failures come from all of us when we make decisions too quickly when we don’t do our homework. When it is a major event or capital investment or a product launch that has an opportunity to have a lot of publicity. The more professional your pitch or idea, the more attention it will get. Just because we’re a small company doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be professional. That said, you may have a fantastic idea, but we just can’t afford you as a blogger right now.
Meagan – One thing I always look at in the contract is the content. I always look at how long they get to use the content and own it. How long do they get my name and likeness. What if they go down a whole different path or get bought out by someone who you do have an issue with. You want to make sure that they don’t own it forever.
Connie – If you don’t write about it, I’m left to assume that it’s not a good fit. I try to come from it from the perspective of “what do bloggers want?” You want loyalty to be rewarded. You want access to our brand. You want fast, friendly service. I think it’s good to give you a peek behind the curtain. To give you first drive opportunity to do something, it’s a learning.
Sheila – If it’s something that maybe you get and doesn’t fit you perfectly, let the brand know. Get back to them and have a conversation about this. Maybe the pitch can or should be adjusted. Maybe they find a different product that is a better fit. This is great for PR firms who work with multiple brands. They will take you seriously and see you as someone who wants to partner with them. They have brand or products that might be a better fit. No one wants to have a blogger who just complains about everything and knocks down every product. That’s very different from a fair and balanced review that has the good and the bad or talks about why it isn’t the best fit for you.
How do you turn things from a niche and getting product to getting paid?
Beth – You need to develop a pitch for the brand that talks about what you’re doing. What will you bring to the table and how you can prove this to them, then build the relationship with them to go back and put together a larger program.
Nicole – Pick the top three to four brands where you like their products and the company and look at what they’re doing in the blog world, social media world. See what they have coming down the pipeline and see how you can insert yourself into that. Put yourself out there and show them the metrics that you can deliver. Hopefully then you have one of the brands that will come back and be interested in this. You will have to stop reviewing other teas then, but where do you want to go with this? You can also then start writing for tea trades. Go to events and start talking about tea. Start a consultancy for this, where you can be on retainer with them.
Sheila – Think about what your goal is overall? Are you trying to reposition yourself? Do you want to earn an income from it? What are you trying to do?
When you’re new and/or don’t have a niche, how do you get in with brands?
Wendy – If you don’t have a niche, you aren’t standing out from the crowd. If you want to be successful, you need to find your niche. If you’re in it for the personal thing, you don’t need a niche.
Nicole – From a brand perspective, if you don’t have a niche (or three that you’re passionate about) then you haven’t become someone who’s an expert in a field that a company feels they can attach themselves to.
Meagan – You can write about a lot of other things. Just tie it together with a larger view, for example improving motherhood writing about cleaning and wellness etc etc. That’s how you can write on a variety of topics.
How important are numbers? Klout score, etc
Sheila – When I know what you write about, your personality, and your metrics, it’s easier for me to know that you’re a good fit for a particular campaign. The overall page views doesn’t matter as much as it sometimes appears. When there’s a campaign, a lot of times they are looking for aggregate numbers or they’re looking for a very specific demographic.
What was your big aha moment?
Beth – NBC contacted her saying they wanted to carry her podcast on their site. You have to still stay true to your niche, but something appealed to them. Let people know that you’re out there and creating this content beyond just the blogosphere – the radio stations, what’s happening in the news. Can you bring another audience or another viewpoint to the media? They are looking for content and for bloggers. You may be able to get a radio gig or something else.
My niche is X. How do I identify brands that fit it, and how do I approach them
Stephanie – Look at magazines or other media that cover your niche and see what they’re doing there. What brands are advertising or mentioned? Start identifying them through there and then move forward.
Dwana – Reach out to other social service agencies. Community based programs often have grants that can help support your niche – especially in the case of a minimalist decluttering.
Nicole – Brands are everywhere. You probably just haven’t thought of all them. Look at what products you use on a daily basis or are involved in that space in any way. Google every brand you are passionate about and try to find the relationships with them. Linked In is a great way to find out who’s doing what at various brands, too.
What’s in a proposal?
Wendy – The simplest way is – what’s in it for them, whether it’s numbers or something else.
How do you go from getting info from companies regularly to getting paid?
Stephanie – You could maybe purchase an ad in the sidebar or do something different rather than constantly just writing unpaid reviews.
Sheila – Make friends with the PR people. And don’t feel like it’s wrong to say, I love working with you and how can we further our relationship? A lot of PR firms are having in house ambassador programs – this is a new and growing sphere.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a complimentary ticket to the Brands and Bloggers Summit. I was not compensated, nor was I asked to post any content. All opinions expressed are my own.