3 Tips for Working with Sponsors

Hi there! I work with Elsie, Emma and the team to manage our sponsorship program at A Beautiful Mess—which also means I get to work with our great brand partners, which I love. Before joining the ABM team, I worked at an advertising agency in Springfield, Missouri that gave me some great insights into how agencies work, which helps in my current role quite a bit. Sponsorships can be a scary word to use when talking about creating content, a lot of people are either scared of it or apprehensive of how people will respond to hearing something’s sponsored. This might make me sound crazy, but when I see sponsored content, one of the first things I think of is how cool is it that this brand has made a decision to support small businesses and a lot of small media companies (that’s us, bloggers!!). Julie Blanner gave an amazing session at Haven last year about that mental shift and how companies are not only ran by amazing girl bosses, but they rely on sponsored content as a primary revenue source.

Part of why I wanted to share tips on how to work with brands is to be transparent so readers know how and why we do it, and why we appreciate it SO much when you are excited about it too. The overwhelming majority of the content we create at ABM is done at our own expense so that we can share it freely, which the team loves to do. It’s because of our amazing brand partners that we’re able to support our business and continue to create that free content. So, although it’s important to pick authentic fits (spoiler alert: that’s one of the tips below), sponsored content is something to be proud of and excited about. Below are three tips I wanted to share about finding, working with, and growing sponsorships.

1. Know your worth
Your content is worth something. It’s one of a kind and unique. Knowing your worth is the first step to a positive relationship with brands. All brands have marketing budgets and are looking for ways to expand their reach. You can take a look at this post as an example on how ABM structured their first sponsorship program. We’ve grown and adjusted since then as channels have grown, platforms diversified, and to respond overall to the growth of influencer marketing, but as a baseline or starting point, this formula is fantastic. Trey actually had my position before me and I will forever be grateful to him for how he started our sponsorship program! Regardless of your pageviews, followers, or impressions (although those are important), your content is worth something. Your engagement may be through the roof, you might have an audience that will buy anything you recommend … no matter what it is, know what unique value you can bring to a brand and don’t be afraid to tell them! You could be exactly what they’re looking for.

2. Pick authentic fits
Sometimes we get offers from brands that we can’t take. I’m not saying “Oh, look at the offers we get,” by any means. What I mean by that is we’ve established guidelines around what types of brands we will and won’t work with. One example is around our clean beauty guidelines. As a company, we’ve decided to make our best effort to only buy, support or promote clean beauty brands. Are we perfect? Of course not. We’re always learning and growing. But, with that in mind, we won’t accept a partnership from a beauty brand that has artificial fragrance in its ingredient list. Two rules of thumb we have for picking sponsors are: Is it a brand we already use in our homes? Or are we interested in this product/brand even if we haven’t tried them yet? Using those two as guidelines allows us to explore new and cool things that we may share with our readers (usually we’ll ask for a sample or trial period before kicking off the campaign or fully executing a contract) or that we know we actually use or would or have bought on a regular basis.

It’s also important from a brand standpoint (and this ties into my third tip) that brands love it when you’re excited about their products. If you are genuinely a fan and think it would resonate with your audience, it’s a win-win-win. If it’s not something you would normally promote, the brand might get beautiful content out of it, but you could lose your reputation with your audience and the brand could see the disappointing engagement and feel taken advantage of, too.

3. It’s all about relationships
One of the biggest things (that I think is easy to forget when working with brands) is that behind the other computer you’re emailing a person. Maybe someone whose followed your blog for a long time, or just really thinks your content resonates with their campaign. They’re typically excited about the partnership and to see what ideas you have to share their product! By remembering we’re all people working together for a common goal, sharing great content is not as intimidating. My biggest advice on this piece is to get everyone on the same page upfront. Have a kickoff call where you talk about the content idea and the expectations around how the brand will be integrated. That way, there are hopefully no surprises when it comes to execution and everyone stays excited and proud of the end result. If expectations are managed from the beginning, it goes a long way in building and maintaining great relationships and even friendships with the brands for which you’re working on content.

Hope this helps you either in working with your sponsor partners or to understand a bit of what goes on behind the scenes for bloggers who do! We also recognize more people are looking for ways to earn a living or side income online through blogging or other social media platforms, so we wanted to offer up some tips that could hopefully be helpful. Thanks for reading! -Claire

Credits // Author: Claire Shaffer. Photo: Emma Chapman. Photo edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • I love this look into sponsorship relationships! It really is nice as a follower of this blog, and all its grown to be, to see the way it approaches sponsors. Keep up all the great work ladies!!

  • Hey, I’m wondering, how has the pandemic impacted your work with sponsors? I’ve read that for some US media companies, revenue is plummeting because brands are cancelling their ads and campaigns. Is this true for you as well? I hope you’re weathering this season alright!
    I also want to gently note that this is the third money-related post recently that had really strange timing. you also had the post about house flipping that really hit a sore spot for people, another posts about managing money and then the one recently where elsie talked about shopping for a sofa for her *second* living room… I don’t want to hammer you, I know not everything on here is going to be my favorite of all time. But I do want to kindly suggest that you might want to review your posting schedule in light of the current situation. I’d also love some transparency around this, if you’re able – I’m sure it’s hard to come up with ideas that fit the current vibe, and maybe we can all better support you if we know what’s going on behind the scenes (if you want to share).

    • First, thanks so much for your input! We definitely have noticed an impact from the pandemic on advertising. A lot of sponsors have had to take a step back and evaluate not only what their advertising spend is but also how best to help both their advertising partners and their customers. Our partners have been great about communicating their changes and plans and we’ve been impressed with the efforts they’re making to step in and really help their communities.

      Thank you for your feedback on the post topic too! We decided to go ahead and share this right now as we know a lot of people are looking for either creative outlets or additional ways to generate income, and if influencer marketing is something our readers are interested in we want to provide the insights we have. The other reason is I’m about to go on maternity leave, so we wanted it to go up before I’m out so that I’d have the ability to respond to any questions. 🙂 It’s a balancing act in generating content that is helpful and sensitive at a time like this, as well as encouraging and entertaining and we’re all figuring out the best way to approach it, so thank you for sharing your input with kindness!

      • I’d like to respectfully disagree with JayNay. I think any information about money and self-created content and revenue, is extremely valuable at this time. Smart and positive people will be eager to be very creative during this time, and there will most certainly be a need for new kinds of content because along with the pandemic, all kinds of new products and services are being born. Also, regarding the couch… I’ll bet TONS of people are putting in a lot of miles working and homeschooling and relaxing on their couches and may be on the market for a fresher one❤️

  • I’m so, so happy you’ve shared this. I’m a blogger too – it’s part of my income, how I pay my mortgage and buy food. And I agree that it’s important and healthy to be open about sponsorships. At their core, they’re a wonderful thing! I feel so proud when I share sponsored content – that “AD” label at the start is like a badge of honour; a company has actually trusted my style and self-taught abilities enough to PAY me to make content with them! And I get that same excitement when I see other bloggers sharing sponsored content, I’m like ‘YAY, good for you!’. 🙂

  • You know, I’ve seen several of these “gentle” suggestions about the timing of revenue related content during this crazy time. The fact is, despite the doom and gloom, there IS opportunity and many creative people are exploring their options and considering a fresh start. Why not educate,inspire, and maybe spark a new idea? Your idea of timing may not fit with someone else’s.

  • Thanks for this post, Claire. I am just getting into sponsored/partnership content, even though I’ve been blogging for 10 years. I definitely think selecting partners that you already love or think your readers would love is key! While it can be hard to turn down people who reach out, just because they noticed you (which does feel nice), it’s definitely important to stick to your values and what makes sense for your brand. I loved this particular type of content from you and look forward to more. Also, happy maternity leave!

  • Thank you, Claire! I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for including me!

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