This is the sixth part in my Start a Blog series about blogging. In this post, I will assume that you have a blog and you’ve built up at least a small library of content. If you only have 1-2 posts, go back and keep creating before you worry about pageviews. It isn’t worth the extra work until you have enough content to keep someone interested for a while. Also, keep in mind that some brands won’t work with you unless you have a dot com and you’re self-hosting (both easy things to do!!) so check out my post about setting up a hosted blog if you aren’t there yet.
There are a lot of different ways to make money blogging. Many people start out by running ads on the sidebar of their blog. Sidebar ads can either be sold for a specific amount of time (one month, for example) or companies can choose to pay based on the number of times the ad is viewed (which is how Google ads work). Classically, this was a great option for bloggers and many bloggers still include sidebar ads as an option for advertisers. However, sidebar blindness is starting to become a problem. Blog readers are so focused on the content and so used to ads being on the sidebar, many may not even a notice the ads while they’re visiting. So, companies are beginning to pay less for sidebar ad space.
As an alternative, companies are choosing to sponsor posts, which can mean many things. Here are 5 common types of sponsorship:
1 /// Sponsored brand-created content
This option means that the company pays bloggers to cut and paste a blog entry without adding anything to it. You see this particularly on blogs that do a lot of posts about coupons and discounts, but it’s becoming more and more rare since readers don’t respond very well to heavy-handed advertising.
2 /// Sponsored brand-directed content
This means that the company directs bloggers by giving them a general topic or theme and usually adds specific elements, such as requesting that the blogger do a summer clothing roundup and then giving the blogger specific elements to include. Sometimes, just the theme is enough (often with a hashtag to connect that blog post to other posts in the campaign). This type of post is becoming more common and brands often work with affiliate networks so that many bloggers who run similar types of blogs do the same campaign in the same time period, making it easier for the brand to tell if the campaign was successful.
3 /// Product-inspired content
These blog posts are built around a specific product. This may mean that a blogger has received a product plus compensation for a blog post or it may only mean that the blogger has received the product. Sometimes, this means that the blogger reviews the product, but readers are starting to be resistant to believing sponsored reviews, so I’ve seen more brands simply ask that you include the product but leave out the word “review” and resist actually saying things like, “This did a good job of removing stains” in favor of things like “We had a lot of fun doing this thing and it was handy that we had this stain remover.” I think this might be the most popular type of sponsored post currently, especially because many bloggers starting out will do the review in exchange for the product without extra compensation (a cheaper option for the brand). This is a good type of sponsored review to start with.
4 /// Unfocused sponsored content
This is where the brand simply says that they want to sponsor some content and they trust the blogger to come up with content that would be a good fit. Often the content may have nothing to do with the brand, sort of like when you’re watching something compelling on television and it happens to be sponsored by a floor wax company. This doesn’t happen that often, mostly because a brand really has to trust the blogger to come up with something great, but I’m starting to see this more with people who have tons of traffic and long-standing blogs. Basically, the company is banking on the blogger coming up with something so great that millions of people read the whole post and then see the “This post was sponsored by X, makers of the awesome product Y, that does Z” message at the bottom. I’d consider this the holy grail of sponsored content.
5 /// Retro-sponsored content
This is another rarity, but a nice option for brands that don’t have a lot of money. Retro-sponsoring is when a company goes into a blog’s archives and finds a great post that wasn’t previously sponsored. The brand then contacts the bloggers and offers compensation to add a message to the bottom of that post. For example, if you had a post on Spring Cleaning that you did a couple of years ago and it’s still doing really well on Pinterest, it might make sense for a cleaning products company to add a brand message to the bottom of that post since a lot of people are still looking at it.
One thing to keep in mind no matter what type of sponsored content you’re talking about is that you do have to put a disclaimer in the post that your content was sponsored and you have to add the word “#ad” to any promotion you do for that blog post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Otherwise, you might get yourself (and the brand!) in trouble with the FTC. Some brands will give you a message to put out, but otherwise you just need to include the brand and the fact that it was sponsored. You do not, however, have to be specific about compensation.
Example: “This post was sponsored by X as part of the Y campaign. All of the thoughts and opinions below are my own.” (Assuming of course that the thoughts and opinions are your own…don’t lie…)
If your blog is still pretty new, landing sponsored content can be a challenge. However, that first sponsored post is important AND a great opportunity since other companies will use your work on that post as an example of what you might do for them. So, I’d say you should overperform by 200% (300%!) for your first sponsored post and try to give 150% to each after that. Don’t phone it in with brands – they definitely notice!
My first sponsored post was on my wedding blog. I saw another blogger was hosting a bracelet giveaway for very pretty bracelets, so I emailed the company and they sent a bracelet for me and one to give away. (Note: giveaways count as sponsored posts if you receive any compensation.) At the time, I absolutely could not believe a company had just sent me jewelry just for talking about them AND they were giving me something to give away. I happy danced around our apartment and toasted the awesomeness of the Internet.
Now, I did do something wrong, which has become more wrong as the Internet has grown up. DO NOT go after a brand because you saw another blogger working with them. This is the top way that brands get targeted, but the reality is that most brands have set campaigns and when they’re done, they’re done. So if you target them, you’re (A) going after the brand who has already emptied whatever they had to give bloggers and (B) you’re now part of the annoying deluge of “gimme gimme” bloggers who are running toward the brand with their hands outstretched. Don’t be that person.
Instead, do what I did with my second sponsored post. I was in the middle of planning my wedding and had a decent number of followers who were interested in the wedding planning process. I decided to make my own invitations but needed help with the expense, so I contacted a printer company and asked if they would send me a printer and some ink in exchange for being featured in my “invitation making” post.
This was a good beginner pitch because (A) it was a specific project, (B) I asked for product without additional compensation, and (C) I could prove that I had readers who might be tackling a similar project in the near future. They happily sent the printer and I happily used it and posted about it. Bonus: since the printer company was large, other smaller companies saw that I had done sponsored content with them and it helped me land more sponsored posts for other wedding items.
Here are 7 tips for landing your first sponsored post:
1 /// Make a list of brands who would be interested in connecting with your readers, NOT necessarily brands you really want to work with. For example, you might want a Honda but if you have a cooking blog, your audience probably isn’t focused enough for Honda to be interested in you whereas Calphalon, Dole, Betty Crocker, Magic Bullet, and a thousand smaller food companies may want to send you some product to be featured.
2 /// Ask for product, not compensation, if you’ve done fewer than 5 sponsored posts. It’s cheaper for the brand and less likely to be a “no”. Be sure to keep the products reasonable, too. Don’t ask for the most expensive thing they offer. (Sidenote: if you have less than 10 blog posts ever, it’s probably too soon to ask for any sponsorship. Most brands are nervous to work with new blogs because they lose money if the blogger flakes the week after the post goes up and never blogs again.)
3 /// Come with at least two ideas for the post you’re going to do and be sure to ask them if they’re working on anything specific for the seasons that you might be able to help with. Just saying “I have a food blog” doesn’t give them as much to work with as saying, “I’m hosting a group dinner on our next camping trip and I wanted to feature Product X as a great outdoor cooking solution.”
4 /// Give them a reasonable time frame to work with you. If you’re asking a party company for supplies, contacting them a week before the party is probably too soon for them to make a decision and send you something. A month is a good cushion for most brands.
5 /// When pitching, you’re looking for the email address for the media contact person, advertiser relations, or even the company owner if it’s a small brand. Sending a pitch to the general customer service email makes it much less likely that the right people will ever see it. Also, if you’re contacting people on Etsy, be aware that it’s actually against Etsy rules to pitch the shop owners so your account might get in trouble. I still contact people occasionally through Etsy because it’s a great place to connect with artists and many people appreciate the chance to trade products for blog posts, but I don’t do it too often because I don’t want them to suspend my account.
6 /// Absolutely do not make your pitch boilerplate. You can have a general idea of what you want to say, but each pitch should include something specific you like about the company and the product. If you can, include the reason you chose to work with that company in particular. If you are contacting multiple companies in the hopes that you’ll find someone somewhere to sponsor a piece of content, space the pitches out so that there’s two days in between. It’s embarrassing to pitch an idea to two companies, get two positive reactions, and then have to tell one of them no. It’s like asking someone out and then turning down the date when they agree. Weird. Awkward.
7 /// If you don’t hear back, feel free to send a light follow up a week later within the lines of “I’m just dropping a note to see if you saw my earlier message (attached below) since I know email inboxes can get crazy!.” Keep it light, short, and MOST OF ALL do not be offended if you still never hear back. The sheer number of pitches most companies receive often makes it unmanageable to touch base with each blogger and if a company isn’t interested it may have nothing to do with you, your pitch, and your blog. All sorts of things affect whether or not a company sponsors content – budget, timeline, other projects, similar things they’ve recently sponsored, a company policy on working with bloggers, exclusivity agreements, etc. Brush it off and move forward.
My last piece of advice is this: be careful with the sponsored content because adding too much of it to your blog at once. I think readers automatically lose a little trust when a blogger is sponsored too often, because it feels like the blogger is suddenly making a sales pitch instead of talking to a friend. I try really hard to always be honest when I do sponsored posts and to keep the posts useful, interesting, and creative, but I’m still very aware of when I do too many in a row because I don’t want anyone’s eyes to glaze over. Just something to keep in mind!
PS – You might be contacted by a company who offers you money for a sponsored post but beware! Many spam offers target bloggers and offer undefined amounts if you’ll put up “quality content” that they provide – definitely not something you want to touch if it’s a company you’ve never heard of. If you think the company is reputable, but you don’t think your readers would be into it or you don’t want to do the sponsored post, don’t feel pressured just because it’s the first time you’ve gotten an offer. Taking bad sponsored posts might really hurt in the long run, so feel free to be picky from the start!