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Saturday, April 16, 2011

SK{ru}SH: Tips for Working with Sponsors

Greetings! This is Sara from SK{ru}SH, and I'm psyched to be taking part in Natasha's guest blogger series. I've been keeping up my own style blog for about three months now, but my experience with blogging extends back to 2009 (ancient history, right?). In fact, it's this previous experience with blogging that I want to share about today. I worked for a year as a blogger liaison for a local company. It was my job to set up product reviews, giveaways, and sponsorships through social media. This would occasionally involve me seeking out popular bloggers to work with, but more often than not, I'd find out about opportunities because independent bloggers sent an e-mail to the company and suggested some kind of partnership. I worked with a lot of people in a wide variety of situations, and I definitely came away with some insight about what companies would like to see.

If you run a blog and are thinking of reaching out to companies for reviews, giveaways, or sponsorships, I can help! Here are a few general tips that will get you started on the right foot.

Have a track record – Companies you work with want to see some indication of how they'll benefit from working with you. You'll help yourself out a lot by keeping a spreadsheet with all the information from your previous giveaways and sponsorships. What information am I talking about? The number of entries from previous giveaways would be a great start. Another good idea is to ask your company contacts for the amount of traffic you brought to their sites; depending on the size and type of company you're working with, they may or may not have this information available, but it doesn't hurt to ask. I also suggest asking for testimonials following any particularly successful stints. These factoids will prove really helpful when you're soliciting new partnerships.

Now, assuming you're just starting out and don't have any track record to speak of, you'll want to consider doing free advertising for a friend's business/blog or hosting a few giveaways yourself. This can be a great way to demonstrate a proactive attitude, and it's also an easy way to build some numbers. Once you've got a few bits of experience under your belt, you'll be ready to branch out.

image from w00kie on Flickr

Be thoughtful about the companies you contact – Now that you have some basic information to use, it's time to contact companies you'd like to work with. (Note: when I say "companies," it's really just shorthand; I'm referring equally to corporations, local boutiques, Etsy shops, promotional blogs, and anyone else out there that you wanna work with.) It's important to be discriminating and intentional about how you proceed here; as a former blogger liaison who worked with hundreds of bloggers, I can tell you that it's easy to spot the greed-monsters who just want free junk from anyone who will give it, and that vibe can be a major turnoff. It's better to contact companies that you really connect with and want to learn more about. I'd suggest seeking out companies who (a) relate in some way to your blog (a vintage shoe seller on Etsy is a good match for a vintage fashion blog, a nail polish company is a good match for a makeup/beauty blog, etc.) and (b) are not already all over the blogosphere. If you only seek out companies that you've seen featured on other blogs, the chances are good that they're burning out on the social media front and aren't eager to reach the same readers over and over again. That said, if you really connect with a certain company's aesthetic or products, don't stop yourself from contacting them just because you've seen them around the block. It's all about sincerity, friends, and as long as you're truly interested in working with and helping a company, it'll shine through.

Write a good e-mail – In the case of the company I used to work for, I was originally hired as a copywriter/blogger and later branched out to work with other bloggers. I know that lots of other companies follow this same pattern and expect their writers to pull double-duty by working as liaisons, and that means that you've got a bumload of snooty English majors (like myself) who are waiting to receive your e-mails. Spell check! Grammar check! Take your time in writing proposal e-mails. Be friendly, be concise, and be direct about what sort of partnership you're after. Pay honest compliments, and above all else, be confident about the opportunity you're bringing to the table. If there's something that makes your blog special, speak up. A little boldness can go an awful long way.

image from Linh Ngan on Flickr

Maintain a relationship – This rule holds true whether you end up working with a company or getting a "Thank you, but we're not interested" e-mail. Never pass up the chance to write a thank you note. If the company does agree to host a giveaway or sponsor you in some fashion, be sure that you live up to your commitments (every last one of them). In another few months, you might want to check back and see if they're interested in working together again (or for the first time). And hey, if you really hit it off, your blog will be the first one the company will think of when they want to publicize a new product or boost their social media presence. It pays to be reliable and easy to work with.

Check yourself (before you wreck yourself) – This is a general tip that applies at all stages of the process, and it basically boils down to being careful with the secondary messages you send via blog and e-mail. The company I used to work for attracted many run-of-the-mill mommy bloggers, but we also attracted our fair share of ... shall we say, extremists. It was usually difficult to partner with these kinds of bloggers; we wanted their business and were happy to work with them as individuals, but we also didn't want our company's name to become too closely-tied with industry fanatics, and furthermore, there were some bloggers whose opinions I found personally offensive. I'll never forget the time I received an e-mail, proposing a blogging partnership, that was signed with a really offensive automatic signature; the quote said something-or-another about how democrats were brainless scum, and of course, being a liberal voter myself, I was none-too-eager to work with this person, regardless of how popular her blog may have been.

How does this translate to you? While you might not be a political or religious extremist, it's common for all of us to have an old rant or two (or seven) back in the archives of our blogs. Those kinds of things can come back to haunt us, am I right? Before you try to work with new companies, it's helpful to make sure there's not anything in past posts that will turn people off from working with you. If you find something damning and still stand by it, feel free to keep it on your blog; it's just good to be aware of what messages you're sending. Of course, the sword cuts both ways on this, and it's also smart to be informed about the companies you're partnering with; readers can be very unforgiving if they discover something unsavory about a company you've promoted. In short, be careful out there.

image from Luza on Flickr

Good luck as your pursue new opportunities for your blog. If you experience setbacks and troubled waters, remember that you're still making your mark on the world with your words, with or without the assistance of some flashy sponsor. Try, try again, and have fun with it!

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