How Bloggers Can Collaborate with Brands… From a Digital Marketing Manager

There are so many new blogs created every day that it’s increasingly difficult to get noticed among the noise. And I’m sorry everyone, it’s not getting any easier. The volume of content being churned out on blogs is greater than ever and the way that people consume content is changing.

People are now looking for short posts that get to the point, not feature length articles. In addition, micro-blogging continues to grow in popularity along with video content. Why? People simply don’t have the time to consume large volumes of information and they sure as hell won’t remember it when they leave your website to move on to the next post.

Social media engagement, micro-blogging and building a social media audience is for another day, so this (yes, feature length post as I have a lot to say), focuses directly on you, primarily a blogger, who is not only looking to get noticed by brands but also get considered for collaboration.

Hey, Nick, you’re relatively new to the blogging scene, what the heck do you know about working with brands?

Well, I’m glad you asked – believe it or not, writing blog posts on Life of Man isn’t my day job! So, a little about me…

I am a Digital Marketing Manager at one of the UK’s largest high street retailers with 10 years professional experience in online marketing. Over the past decade I have sponsored several of the UK’s biggest blog awards ceremonies, worked with (and for) some of the UK’s biggest brands and in 2016 my digital marketing team collaborated with in excess of 400 bloggers!

To date I would estimate that I’ve worked with 3,000 to 4,000 bloggers, given away at least 5,000 products and handed out around £100,000 in cash and gift cards (yes you read that correct).

That’s, a lot, of make-up.

If that’s not evidence enough that I know a little bit about how bloggers can work with brands I don’t know what is!

So, as the guy who’s marketing team often looks the other way when we see your blog, leaving you feeling deflated and hard done by, here are my top tips for what to be aware of and how you can collaborate with more brands moving forward.

1. Understand how brands work

Now this is my first tip and above all else on this page, the 1 tip that you need to really understand – every brand works differently with bloggers and the relationships can get quite complicated. The more you understand these relationships, the better your chance of collaborations.

Multiple teams

Take where I work for example, it’s a very large business and so there are multiple teams working with bloggers, including:

  • Editorial
  • PR
  • Marketing
  • Local marketing
  • Beauty marketing
  • Social media
  • Affiliate marketing
  • SEO

In addition to this, each team often collaborates with the 3rd party brands that we sell. Therefore it could be that we are looking for bloggers to work with our brand, to promote a 3rd party brand. Basically think of department store like John Lewis looking to work with bloggers to promote a brand like Kiehl’s.

It may also be that an agency is involved, looking for bloggers to either promote our brand campaign directly or on behalf of the 3rd party brand. Think of a digital marketing company like iProspect looking to promote Boots as a skincare destination. Similarly to my previous example it may be that the agency is looking to promote Clarins on behalf of Boots.

Therefore you have 2 key collaboration scenarios:

  1. Working with an in-house brand team
  2. Working with an agency acting on behalf of a brand team

Things then continue to get complicated. Each of the 8 teams mentioned above may be working on separate campaigns, using a mixture of in-house managed campaigns and agency supported campaigns, both directly and on behalf of a 3rd party brand!

Each team may also have different campaign budgets available to them to fund product gifting, events, goody bags, sponsored content, gift cards or competition prizes… the list goes on!

Confused? Let me visualise using a brand like House of Fraser (HOF) as an example (note the below is completely fabricated):

Team Campaign Managed Focus Budget
Editorial Skincare In-house Kiehl’s £0, Samples only
PR Valentine’s day In-house Ultimo £0, Influencer network content only
Marketing Valentine’s day In-house Ultimo £3k
Local marketing New store opening Agency 1 HOF £5k
Beauty marketing New brand launch Agency 2 Shiseido £30k
Social media Valentine’s day gifts for him In-house Chanel £2k & Samples
Affiliate marketing Skincare Agency 3 Clinique £25k
SEO Men’s fashion Agency 4 HOF £5k & Samples

As you can see, there are many opportunities for bloggers to collaborate with a brand, especially where in a large department store like John Lewis, Debenhams, House of Fraser or Marks and Spencer the above may take place on a monthly basis.

That is of course at the top end of the scale and with smaller retailers such as ASOS or Topshop there may be smaller teams who are doing fewer campaigns and are therefore focused on very specific objectives month to month. Take things a little more niche with a smaller and more specific brand such as Converse and their activity may be extremely limited.

Understanding the complexities of how brands work with bloggers is really important as you may be sitting there desperately trying to get noticed by a brand for collaborations when the reality is that you need to be getting noticed by the brand’s agencies. Not only that, you need to ensure your website is the right fit for the specific brand/agency led campaign, which will have very different objectives relating to who they are or are working with.

2. Understand a brand’s objectives

So now you have a better idea of how a brand works with bloggers, you need to understand what the collaboration/campaign objectives are likely to be to identify if you’re likely to be a good fit. If you thought my first point was complicated, things are about to get a whole load worse.

Now I’m not going to go through the requirements of every team as per my above example but I’ll certainly explain a few things that you need to be aware of relating to 2 of the largest investment areas when it comes to blogger outreach and collaborations.

PR & marketing teams

Like any team, a PR and marketing team doesn’t simply head out in the dark looking for bloggers whilst you sit there hoping that they will stumble across your blog. There is a clear objective.

Let’s assume with Valentine’s day approaching that a brand like Boohoo has decided to undertake a marketing campaign promoting their range of sexy lingerie or men’s underwear. Their objective for this campaign is “reach” which in simple, online terms means getting their marketing message in front of as many people as possible.

They, or indeed their agency will therefore be paying close attention to your readership including metrics such as pageviews and unique visitors to your blog. They will likely also be looking at your social media network and more specifically how many followers you have, how often your content is shared and how many comments your blog posts receive – essentially, engagement. If they’re a fashion brand then they’ll also be paying close attention to how strong your photography is and particularly on visual social media networks like Instagram. Therefore think about how a brand will look to work with you.

With campaigns like this, it’s unlikely that the brand will be looking to work with a lot of bloggers. Instead, they’ll simply be looking to work with those who are the most influential.

Each campaign or brand is going to have different objectives with this. Some will be looking for bloggers with more than 1k Twitter followers and over 10k Instagram followers whereas others may be looking for 50k Twitter followers and 50k Instagram followers – it completely depends on the brand, the type of industry they operate in and the social media networks that the blogger is active on. Therefore if you have 10 followers on Instagram/Twitter/YouTube etc., you’ve got some serious work to do.

You’ll also read a lot of advice on Google in this area about creating media kits. That’s fine to do so but don’t over-inflate your numbers as you will be found out – the brand may ask you to evidence your stats before a collaboration by having you show them your Analytics directly.

Additionally, a lot of this advice about approaching brands and expecting a collaboration with a good pitch is a little nonsensical – don’t get me wrong, by all means do it – however for the major brands at least, decisions will be be made on quantitative metrics and not your great idea as any collaboration is going to:

  1. Cost them time
  2. Cost them money
  3. Most likely be misaligned from the marketing calendar

The key here is understanding how things work and being realistic about the outcome. For smaller brands it can certainly be a lot easier to work them. They will have smaller budgets and so won’t be able to afford the big influencers, opening the door to those bloggers who are up and coming with smaller metrics – ideal for increasing your profile. Additionally, they are able to be more flexible on their marketing activity so if you pitch them something good, you might just get lucky.

Finally you need to consider your audience. If you love a particular perfume and want to get hold of a free sample for a review, if you are a 20 year old blogger with an audience for your blog that targets 18-22 year old girls, when the perfume is positioned for 25 to 30 year olds, you’re likely to lose out on a collaboration. This is marketing, not giving you free stuff because you want it.

SEO teams

Like marketing and PR, every brand’s requirements for blogger collaborations relating to SEO is going to be different however the SEO objective remains consistent.

Whether a campaign is being managed by an in house team or an agency team, the SEO objective is to get your blog to link to the brand’s website via a “follow” link. Why? Well, when you link to a brand’s website Google see that link as a “vote” of confidence. Therefore if a brand is looking to perform better in Google for let’s say, men’s aftershave, the brand needs to obtain “votes” for their aftershave page. This does of course happen naturally every day of the week – bloggers link to brand websites all of the time which helps those brands rank a little better. However if a brand wants to perform a little better in Google for a very specific thing, they may undertake an SEO campaign with bloggers to increase the number of votes i.e. links.

However it’s not all about the quantity of votes to rank higher in Google, it’s about the quality of those votes. Therefore SEO teams and their agencies are primarily looking to work with bloggers whose websites carry authority – additionally, more authority than the websites that link to their competitors.

SEO teams typically use 2 major pieces of software to identify how authoritative your website is and these are accompanied by 2 metrics:

  1. Majestic: Trust Flow (TF), Citation Flow (CF)
  2. Moz: Domain Authority (DA), Page Authority (PA)

An SEO team looking to work with you on a campaign will be looking for websites which meet a minimum DA or TF. Get over to these sites and check your metrics.

How to put off an SEO team?

If you have less than TF10 or DA10 you can almost certainly write off any SEO collaborations – your blog simply isn’t authoritative enough to add any value. To increase your blog’s value, you need other websites to link to your own website with follow links, though this is easier said than done.

Secondly, if you are still running your blog from a generic sub-domain such as the following you can completely rule out an SEO collaboration too as links from these types of website simply aren’t desirable for SEO:

  • https://my-blog-name.wordpress.com
  • http://my-blog-name.blogspot.com

Sort out your blog and transfer it over to a standalone domain like https://my-blog-name.com.

Finally, do you add “nofollow” tags to all of your outbound website links? Nofollow links pass no SEO value to brand websites therefore if this is how you create your links, you’ve likely just ruled yourself out from the majority of SEO collaborations.

The use of follow/nofollow links and sponsored content is a MASSIVE can of worms so I’ll save that for another post on another day!

Ultimately an SEO team won’t care too much about your social media network as they want a link from you. Therefore don’t miss this major opportunity to work with the thousands of SEO agencies and in house SEO teams that exist around the UK, let alone wide afield.

Other teams

This is only 2 examples but it’s something you need to consider. Different teams have different metrics that they look at and different requirements. You need to evaluate what teams you are appealing to and it may be one or indeed all of the above, or none at all.

Got a huge social following, you’ll be on PR and marketing team’s radars. Got huge authority in your domain, you’ll be appealing to SEO teams. Writing specifically about fashion, you’ll be appealing to fashion brands. Based in a specific geographic location, you’re ideal for local brands/marketing agencies and national retailers.

Identify what your strength and weaknesses are and you’ll be able to better gauge how you need to improve to increase your blog’s appeal.

Ultimately this comes down to your “value proposition”. Yes, you want to work with brands however if they invite you along to an event, send you product or work with you on a competition, think about what value you are giving them in return.

3. Get your website visible in the right places

So, now you know what brands and their agencies are looking for from your blog, one of the key questions is whether or not they know you exist. If they can’t find you, they can’t check your blog’s metrics and that’s a sure fire way to be missing out on some of the biggest collaborations going.

If for example you’ve spent all of your time and effort following your favourite brands on social media, commenting on their posts and hoping for collaborations you’re probably barking up the wrong tree.

Many of the major brands use agencies to undertake their marketing activities which means trying to speak to the brands directly is pointless. You need a change of strategy. You need to pay more attention to following digital marketing agencies and if you really want to work with a brand, find out which agency they use.

How? Well this is search marketing so take a look at the biggest awards websites in the search marketing industry, the brands which are shortlisted and those which have won including:

Also check out some of the biggest digital marketing agencies and their clients pages to get an idea of who is working with who. The list of agencies is endless so you’ll need to do some research however a couple include the likes of:

Similarly, get yourself on Linkedin and look for “outreach” managers / specialists / coordinators / assistants as they will be the key contacts for brand collaborations.

Once you have this information the thing that I always find interesting is how many bloggers are scared to ask a brand for a collaboration. In many instances, if you don’t ask you don’t get. Best case scenario, you get a collaboration, worst case you get a rejection. Either way, they are now aware you exist and your details will likely be added to an internal database or passed over to their agency.

Finally, are you listed on the UK’s biggest media databases? Brands and their agencies use these databases every day of the week to discover new people to work with so if you’re not already on them, go and do it. The biggest ones around are Gorkana and Vuelio – if you’re not listed on these, chances are you really are missing out on some big opportunities.

4. Stop feeling so entitled to brand collaborations

Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to bloggers at events, on social media or via collaboration rejection emails where a blogger has asked me why they “never get their chance” or “their opportunity” to work with the brand I work for or work with.

Similarly many bloggers don’t understand why they can’t just fill a spare seat at an event or indeed invite one of their mates along, who may also be a blogger. Well, read back to my earlier points. Do you meet the campaign requirements relating to reach, authority, influence or any other campaign specific metric? Similarly, does that blogger mate of yours you want to invite along to an event also meet those requirements? If an event is being run by an SEO team who are looking for authoritative blogs to link to them and you’re running a .wordpress site, you’re simply not getting invited.

Similarly I’ve heard repeatedly from bloggers that brands take advantage. And to an extent I do agree with that. This simply comes down to a combination of supply and demand and buyer power. There is such a vast supply of bloggers and relatively few brands seeking coverage that the buyer power of brands is incredibly strong. If you don’t want to work within the brand’s requirements they can simply find someone else. It’s an unfortunate fact of life.

Working on campaigns with 3rd party brands can often mean there is simply no marketing budget available so you won’t get paid – the 3rd party brand may however be willing to give you a product as this cost may be attributed to a different budget. That means you don’t get paid for your services however you receive some other form of incentive. It’s not the brand being tight, it’s just that the campaign has limited and/or no cash budget available to it.

Bloggers tend to have a sense of entitlement to work with brands just because they have a blog with some social media activity attached to it. However if you fall into this category then you need to better understand how brands work, that budgets are limited and that different teams have different requirements. Once you understand these things a little better, any rejections should make a little more sense or a lack of contact from brands should become a little more obvious.

Summary

So the reason you’re not getting the collaborations you desire falls into 2 categories.

Firstly, the brands and their associated agencies simply may not know you exist! Go fix that – learn what databases agencies and in house teams use and go get listed on them.

The second and certainly the far more common reason is actually very simple and unfortunately a cold hard truth that many bloggers are certainly not happy or indeed willing to hear. Ready?

Your blog is not good enough and/or you are not influential enough.

That hurts right? I know. Unfortunately you may have the best design, well written content, incredible photography and the right type of coverage on your blog (and there are thousands of you out there) however there’s a reason why brands aren’t working with you.

Just because you have a blog and a load of followers on social media it doesn’t mean a brand wants to work with you if they are looking for website, not social media metrics, a certain type of photography and people who are of a specific demographic.

The bloggers who “get all of the attention” from brands that you see worked with repeatedly do so for a reason. They meet the specific needs and metrics of a brand’s campaign which are often the same across different brands – this of course relates to website authority, reach and influence.

These guys getting the collaborations have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are, build their profile and develop their websites. So if you want to be up there too, involved in the big brand marketing campaigns and getting invited to all of the events, you need to invest the time and effort into your proposition.

And how to do that?

Learn how brands work, build a brand around your own blog and make yourself attractive and discoverable to the types of brands that you hope to work with.

Thanks for reading – happy to answer any questions in the comments below!

9 Comments

    1. Thanks for reading! I think it’s really important for bloggers to know that every brand approaches working with bloggers differently. Not only that but the relationships relating to campaigns, budgets, priorities and who gets a collaboration are extremely varied. Typically the big brands are far more complex, with bigger budgets, going after the big influencers. Smaller brands on the other hand have less budget, work with less influential bloggers and are more willing to try new collaborations. What’s really important however is that with the big brands quite often different teams aren’t aware that other teams are also working with bloggers. Therefore you may be rejected by a brand but there may still be opportunities with them via other avenues.

  1. Great post, I love how the way you’ve laid out the different teams, it makes sense for those who don’t know.
    With regards to the SEO I think that if brands/sites are still asking outright for follow links it’s a very bad way to go, it’s not 2006 anymore, it’s too much of a risk. Nofollow links are not worthless, and there’s plenty other factors to get better rankings 😉

    1. Thanks for reading, I think a lot of bloggers don’t realise that multiple teams are often engaged on different campaigns within the same brand so it’s good to create that awareness!

      With regard to your SEO comment, to an extent I agree and a can of worms may be opened by discussing the subject area! Nofollow links do not add direct SEO value. They never have. There may be tertiary benefits such as increased referral traffic or for certain types of SEO campaigns but there’s certainly no direct ranking benefits. Most SEO teams won’t therefore work with or invest in bloggers sites that use nofollow links, else they spend clients or their own budgets for no return. And these guys have performance targets to hit. Link building in the SEO business is big, big bucks whether via direct link building, competitions or content marketing. To put it in context a brand I used to work with was spending £150k per year just on link building activity. And that’s cheap. Ultimately, SEOs need follow links whether it be by asking or acquiring or attracting them naturally.

      I agree that brands shouldn’t necessarily ask outright for follow links if part of an SEO campaign (especially if they’re playing by Google’s rules down the the last letter). However in many instances there’s good reason to ask bloggers to link to the brand site e.g. If the blogger loved an experience why wouldn’t you want to send your visitors there to take a look and vote for them with a follow link? Unfortunately many bloggers read a little about Google, immediately become SEO experts and then completely misuse things like nofollow links though!

  2. I agree with a lot of that! 🙂
    I think it all depends on what someone’s definition of what an SEO actually is, I think we’re long past the stage where it’s just link building. Nofollow is not supposed to “pass link juice” as they put it, but as mentioned there’s a traffic benefit, and if you believe in having an overall clean link profile as some do, (good) nofollow links may be a benefit in that way too.
    It’s a catch 22 situation for a brand; You want good natural (follow) backlinks from good sites/blogs, but if you just buy them from a blog, you’ve got to imagine that blog’s sold other links and will do in the future, turning that good blog into a bad one (in linking terms).
    You can ask a blogger to link to a site, I’ve had them, and it’s a bit cheeky but I can fully understand the strategy behind it, however from a blogger point of view why do I need it to be a follow link? My readers don’t know and it has no benefit for them, which is what it’s all about 🙂
    Whenever people talk about follow/nofollow (and it’s a lot even just in the blogosphere!) I always say the same thing whether it’s a blog or brand/business; If your main income is not from search and you can do well without it then OK. If you can throw away the site and start another then OK. if need/want results from search (which to be honest you almost always should) then don’t try to manipulate links.
    All in all to still be doing old ways is a bad idea; It’s been getting worse and worse since Penguin (that was 5 years ago – time flies!) and I don’t think it’s going to get better/easier for old ways. If you’re trying to get top of Google by doing things that could actually get you thrown out, it’s almost counterproductive. It must be hard these days doing SEO (the link building part) for big brands! 🙂

    1. You Michael are pretty on the ball about this stuff and certainly more than anyone else I’ve spoken to in the blogger world – you talk a lot of sense! Do you work in SEO out of interest?

      As for your final point, my SEO team certainly do find the links side of things extremely challenging these days, particularly with bloggers, so you’re pretty bang on with that statement! We have incredibly deep pockets but the good old days of link building are definitely long gone. Though our biggest challenge now is managing the 70m links that point to the website!

  3. Thanks 🙂
    I don’t work in SEO, just been creating sites for ages, long before social media, so you really needed a good understanding of search/SEO to get people there! 😀 It’s always good to talk SEO and the technical aspects of it all with someone who understands it 🙂

    Managing large numbers of links must be tough, especially for multiple clients all at once!

  4. Woah – this is by far the best guide I’ve read. Makes sense too. Basically, to collaborate with brands you need the combination of being in their target audience AND need sufficient traffic through your blog to justify working with you. Sounds easy. I’m a newcomer to the world of blogging and would like to get there eventually. I need to get more hits on the blog before I can do that though. It’s still fairly new and the content is good – not amazing but good for now. What I need to do is take hits from hundreds into thousands. It’s so competitive so won’t be easy. Is it just a matter of getting posts onto the site to begin with and then grow from there?

    1. Hi Harv,

      Working with the brands you want to work with really depends on how they’re setup – every brand is different. As mentioned, some use agencies, some are in house. You mention a need for visits here and if working with a PR team then yes they will be making estimates as to your traffic volumes to justify a collaboration. If an SEO team however then you need to get your website authority higher which is achieved through other websites linking to your own website. If you create great, resourceful content you will naturally acquire those links however to accelerate the process you need to market your content which is achievable via the usual social media channels.

      My advice to new bloggers is to create enough content so that anyone reviewing your site generally knows what you’re about and secondly write high quality content that people want to read and engage with, share and link to. This can be extremely tough at first when starting out though as your traffic numbers will be so low it can feel like you’re writing for a non-existent audience.

      Nick

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