Hi there. Trey here, the ad guy. I thought I’d give you a look inside our sponsored content process.
If you would’ve asked me how I felt about sponsorships when I was a kid, I probably would’ve rolled my eyes and pointed to my super rad 5 Star Notebook that said “MONEY CORRUPTS” in whiteout—well, if you could find it in the sea of bands my mom wouldn’t let me listen to. I think I wrote N-I-(backwards)N over 20 times on that notebook. I was pretty cool. While it’s hard to argue with all that upper-middle-class angst, I have to say that at 29 I feel a little different.
I think living in the online world, where we essentially get all media for free, has us pretty accustomed to the word “sponsored.” It makes it possible to continue to enjoy our free content, while the content creators sustain a business. And the value of banner ads seems to have maxed out. Enter sponsored content. I think there was some justifiable hesitation mixing editorial and advertising at first. No one wants to see their favorite bloggers sacrifice their content for a dollar. That said, having been in the industry in one form or fashion for pretty much all of my career, I’ve noticed people don’t really care whether it’s sponsored as long as it’s authentic.
Now, it can be argued as soon as money enters the door all authenticity goes out the window. But ultimately, I think that’s up to the blogger. It can be true, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s your blog, so it’s your terms. Sure, it’s unlikely you’re going to read a lot of negativity in a sponsored post. But frankly, if you’re looking for critical analysis on a brand, a post sponsored by that brand might not be the smartest place to look.
While I definitely hunt down leads at companies we want to work with, a lot of my job is just filtering requests we get through the sponsorships email. And we get every kind of company inquiring about our program, from car brands to tech start-ups to insurance companies to “adult” products to brands that actually fit our content. My inbox is awesome.
I have a pretty simple filtering process for our sponsored content inquiries:
• Is it a brand E+E like? We will not work with a brand they’re not into. Simple as that. Aside from it feeling super shady to write, you guys are too smart for that. We would justifiably get called out immediately. Like, you see our Macs in every other post it seems like. We couldn’t just spring a “10 Reasons Dell is the best!” on you.
• Does it fit our content? There are plenty of brands out there that E+E like that just don’t fit within the type of content we run. We won’t invent a whole new feature for a sponsor. We have to design features around readers, not sponsors. It would be pretty weird if all of a sudden we posted about the benefits of off-roading in our Subarus.
• Do they actually want what we offer? We’re very narrow about the kind of sponsored content we offer. We have a short list of features a brand can get within our posts for a firm price. Often we get requests to do things we just don’t and won’t offer.
The first two are pretty easy to manage. It’s as simple as looking at the brand and politely declining. The last point is where it gets tricky. It typically takes a couple of back-and-forth emails to figure that one out, especially when ad/PR/media agencies get involved. They sell this whole blogger campaign concept to their clients, complete with $50,000 consumer research, dorky hashtags (#PeopleHateHashtagsEvenWhenThey’reNotSponsored), photo editing requirements, over-the-top legal language, royalty-free rights to your brand, and a continued laundry list of actions they expect the blogger to take—all in exchange for a Facebook shoutout and a gift card.
But they build out this whole proposal without ever checking if that’s something bloggers even offer. It’s just strange. I wonder what it’s like going to a restaurant with these people. Do they walk into McDonald’s, shut their eyes, and shout, “I want a pizza with a side of sushi for $3 and a Jiffy Lube coupon!”?
Having worked in marketing and for agencies, I totally get the lengthy process of getting your client’s/boss’s blessing on something. All the approvals you need sometimes are a nightmare, and all bloggers do it a little differently. So I can appreciate wanting to be as complete as possible with a plan, but we just need a little flexibility if you’re going to ask us after the fact.
For the most part, I’m able to be pretty upfront and clear about what we offer, so we can sort out relatively quickly if we’ll be able to work together. In fact, I have an almost perfect track record of never canceling after we’ve started work with a brand. Almost perfect—except this one time…
So we work with a handful of media agencies or publisher networks who develop relationships with hundreds of bloggers/publishers and connect them with brands interested in sponsoring a blog or a group of blogs. What’s nice about the particular media agencies we work with is that they specialize in blogs. So for the most part, they thoroughly understand what we offer and our challenges.
This one agency in particular had been a great partner to us over the years. Now I can’t disclose names here, but we’ll make some up. And our contact (we’ll call her “Jenny”) came to us with a three-post campaign from a juice brand (let’s get creative and call it “Juice”) that could’ve made a great partner for a recipe post series. I ran it by Emma, and she was immediately throwing some ideas at me. So, as clearly I could, I spelled out exactly what our sponsorship program entailed and how we could work with the brand: (I’m paraphrasing here) ABM would post recipes using Juice, and Juice would be featured in the photography, called out as a partner in the copy, and linked accordingly. Jenny is and has always been a great person to work with and said that was fine and she’d get back to us directly.
A month passed, and we hadn’t heard from her. Then she emailed me something like—
Sorry for the delay! Finally heard back on Juice. It looks like we’re a go! Just to recap the details:
– 3 posts featuring Juice. The post will show Elsie and Emma’s blended interests and how their generation is always working on so many things.
– 3 Facebook posts tagging Juice
– 3 Tweets with #JUICERATION (made this up obviously, but it was equally lame)
– 3 pins
– 3 Instagram posts with #JUICERATION
I look forward to hearing from you!
Not quite what we discussed, but I’m sure there’d been a lot of back-and-forth since we’d last talked. So I figured I should clarify.
I think I must’ve misunderstood. We should definitely be good, as long as the posts can be teaching-oriented. Essentially the only way Juice could really fit into the content is through some recipes Emma dreams up. Sponsored lifestyle posts aren’t something we can offer.
And just to be clear, our social won’t include @s or #s. We just promote the post, like we do all our content. If that works with Juice, this sounds great.
We clarified a couple more things, and we seemed good to go again, or so I thought. The problem was this became a little bit of a pattern. Every time I thought we were on the same page, a month or two would pass, and she’d email the exact same list of deliverables: the weird lifestyle posts, the hashtags, etc. And again, I would insist that the only way Juice would be in our content was through recipes Emma wrote. This whole cycle went on for nearly six months, and every time we tried to back away entirely we were told our terms were fine.
We finally got to the point where everyone agreed we were doing the recipes, and Emma came up with some awesome concepts on a crazy fast timeline. We sent our first post for them to review, and we got a mile-long email worth of input, leading off with how Emma’s writing tone didn’t ladder up to the JUICERATION concept document they sent over. Then they went on to say the recipe itself wasn’t good enough and didn’t reflect the “Juice Generation.” So by the time I got to the full paragraph of legal language they wanted us to add to the post, I was done. We were canceling. No more emails. No more hashtags. We were done.
They were asking Emma not to be herself, and that’s exactly why people hate sponsored content. So yeah, canceling sucked. We wasted a lot of time and passed on some money. But it just wasn’t worth it. At the end of the day, when it comes to sponsored content, the sponsor can never be your first priority. It always has to be you guys, the readers. Without you, sponsors wouldn’t want to talk to us in the first place. There was nothing inherently bad about what Juice was asking us to do. It just wasn’t something we thought you guys would like and therefore not something we believed in. If you’re a blogger considering sponsored content, I can’t stress enough not to back down. If you don’t stand up for your blog and your brand, sponsors will definitely overstep and drive readers away. It’s your blog. You call the shots.
Great post Trey! I loved your example and writing style! I’m looking forward to reading more in the course!
This is such a great post and I completely agree, when we were just starting out (not so long ago!) It was really a hard decision when sponsored posts came knocking, money was bleak and we were faced with the decision of whether to accept and take the money or decline, scrimp by but remain true to ourselves and it’s honestly so reassuring to read this is completely normal and you should always stay true to your readers!
I also just wanted to say that we purchased Blog Life a couple of days ago and haven’t been able to put it down, we already feel so much more focused on where we want to go and what we want to achieve and feel like we have a clear path on how to get there! Best e-book we’ve ever bought my far, jam packed with so much encouraging information! Thank you for being so bloody helpful and such an inspiration. xo
Us new bloggers really appreciate you guys sharing all your wealth of information. Love this community and a Beautiful Mess, such a bunch of wonderful people. So selfless and caring xo
Love this post, it’s great to hear from Trey! Might just have to sign up for the Blog Life course…
Out of interest, how do you politely reject requests (as I imagine you get loads in your inbox) especially the obvious disconnect ones?
Such an interesting post, great to know more about how the sponsored post business works.
Trey, Elsie or Emma
So I read thru most of the comments so I apologize if this is repetitive.
I own 2 small boutiques in Orange County, Ca. and we are just launching our online website.
We offer men’s women’s and kid’s apparel and accessories. 90% of our stuff is under $100
As a clothing store that has to compete with large online stores like Madewell, Modcloth, Anthropolgie and Lulus. How do you recommend we stand out?
**One of the ways I feel that we personally stand out is that we offer cool unique mens apparel and accessories. Brands: Pendleton Surf, Almond Surf, Altru, Super, Herschel, Krochet Kids, JACHS. Our focus is trying to keep the majority of what we offer under $100. However I am not sure if creating a men’s focused “blog button” would be a good idea on blog like a Beautiful Mess. Thoughts??? **
Thank you for being so honest about the whole process. It’s so difficult to find someone in this industry so cool about opening up to the readers about the way they make money. As a reader and a brand content professional, I appreciate your honesty!
PS: Trey should definitely write more often!
Good question! For sponsored posts, we have complete control over every single sponsor that comes through. That ad in particular is running ad networks. More than likely what you saw was fed by Google Adx or Google AdSense. It’s why you probably feel like those ads follow you around the web (most sites run AdSense in some form). We don’t have the staff to sell each individual impression we serve, so a handful of 3rd party companies pay us to run their tags in the sidebar. And we only have the ability to block based on technology. So we don’t want any auto-play videos, pop-ups, anything with unprompted audio, etc. When we see any particularly weird or annoying ads, we copy that link and go in and block it.
So next time you see an ad that particularly sucks in that spot, screenshot it, and email it to me: trey AT redvelvetart DOT com. I’ll block it.
Thanks so much!
I have a question. First off I wanted to say this post is great and I love how you write. But what bugs me is that I scroll up to search for another post and right above the E+E photo there’s an ad for testing how acidic is your body and its one of those annoying neon ads… I feel that it doesn’t fit with the atmosphere of this blog. Why allow it?
You should write more often, Trey! I had fun reading this 🙂
Hey I run myself too (a kinda smaller than yours anyway :D), but I have been in the same position once or twice, it’s like as soon as they hear an “ok, let’s discuss that sponsor idea” your blog it’s their to do whatever they want. pfff no
Oh and trey, I lost the discount from your survey last month and I hoping to use it now for the “Blog Life” course. Is there anything that can be done?
Thank you for sharing, Trey! I love these looks behind the scenes.
As a blogger whose day job is working in a media agency I can totally relate to both sides 🙂 It can be a great partnership as long as everyone is on the same page about expectations and style.
Also as an artist with a small business one of the most important things I’ve had to learn is to say NO when it doesn’t feel right. I’ve never regretted it.
I second all the other commenters, loved this post and would enjoy reading more business and more Trey 🙂
Great post~~! I think this is the first time I have seen someone explain behind the scenes of sponsorship on a blog.
Thanks for posting this Trey! A Beautiful Mess is providing a valuable service – teaching things that are more useful than what we paid to learn in uni, for so much less. Keep it up, we’ll keep reading!
Although this was an interesting read, it will not change my mind about sponsored posts : they suck.
As soon as I see a sponsored post, I am ready to skip the post entirely, and it bothers me. It puts a doubt on the author’s honesty in it (I’m not saying the author can’t be honest, but it puts a doubt on what is said anyway), as he literally has been paid to write on this, and will not obviously be objective, as all possible negative points will not appear. I don’t read blogs to read this kind of biased things. I seek honesty, objectivity and freedom of speech.
I hope sponsored posts will remain a minority on this blog (if they could disappear…. but I guess it’s not going to happen)
Thanks for such an honest post,it’s always great to hear about how it doesn’t always work out instead of just hearing all the positives, really love hearing your perspective, meabh
This is really interesting to read! I hope that one day my blog will even have one opportunity to try this.
I actually really like the sponsored products. I check this blog at least twice a week. I talk to some of my friends less than that haha! So I think of the sponsored posts the same as I would a friend talking to me about something they liked.
I’ve tried all (???) of the sponsored cocktails, sometimes trying the brand sponsored and sometimes not.
Anyways, thanks for the info, trey!
Thanks for this post! It’s rare that influential bloggers ever share what goes on behind the blog which is such a shame because there is so much learning to be done! I don’t dislike sponsored content, but i’ve unfollower a few blogs that just seemed to do a sponsored post every day about extremely odd things that didn’t seem to fit with the person. It felt very forced in the bloggers writing. I’ve never ever felt that about your blog – i read your blog for many reasons, but i love that you pass on so much of your knowledge!
This is a really great and informative post, thanks Trey. Great to hear a real example of when things sadly aren’t as clear cut and you have given some fantastic points to consider if deciding to go down the sponsored route.