A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about brands who expect bloggers to work for free, and some of the comments on that post made me realise there’s another side to this story, too. 

I mean, yes, sure, there are tons of brands out there who obviously don’t have a whole lot of respect for bloggers: who see us as an easy way to get some cheap (or free!) publicity, and don’t understand or care about the time and effort that goes into the posts they ask us (or sometimes order us…) to create for them. Which sucks, basically.

At the same time, the fault isn’t only on the brands’ side. There are also plenty of bloggers out there who treat brands equally badly: using them mostly as a source of “freebies”, and then not delivering much of anything in return. Which also sucks. For some reason, there’s a real lack of communication between the two sides, and that’s a real shame: when it’s done right, brand collaborations can be a great way for brands to get their message out, and for bloggers to make a living from something they love. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to work with brands without destroying your integrity, alienating your readers, or messing up your hair because you can’t stop pulling it out in frustration…

how bloggers can work with brands without losing integrity or alienating readers: done right, collaborations can be good for both brands and bloggers, but there needs to better communication between both parties for that to happen

01. Pick and choose your collaborations

When you first start to be approached by brands, it’s really exciting and flattering, and you feel like you should just accept every single opportunity that comes your way, otherwise they might never ask you again. I think most bloggers have probably made this mistake: I know I did, and not only did it not really help either me or my blog, I’d be surprised if it helped the brands much either. The fact is, collaborations work best when they’re highly targeted: they’re better for you, because you’re not annoying your readers by bombarding them with a ton of sponsored content that they’re not interested in, and they’re better for brands, because they’re not spending money on having their product shown to people who aren’t going to buy it. Everyone’s a winner, baby!

These days, I reject way, way more offers than I accept. For every sponsored post or gifted item I feature on my blog, there’s probably a few dozen I say “no” to: as far as I’m aware, turning down offers hasn’t made the brands who make them any less likely to come back to me in the future, so as long as you’re polite, there’s really nothing to lose by saying “no” to the things that don’t interest you – and a LOT to gain in terms of keeping your content authentic, and your readers on-side. It’s also worth remembering that the higher the quality of your content, the more brands will want to partner with you – and the more they’ll be willing to pay to do it. Accepting every offer that comes your way, and stuffing your site full of products you don’t really care about will only harm your blog in the long-run, by effectively turning it into a giant advert: so don’t be afraid to be picky!

02.  Get everything in writing

In terms of the collaborations I do say ‘yes’ to, my main rule of thumb is that the post I end up writing has to be something I’m genuinely interested in, and happy to have on my blog. I write all of my content myself, don’t give copy approval for sponsored posts (because I’m a blogger being paid to write a post on my own blog, in my own style, not a copywriter working to order), disclose everything, and while I will try products and services that I might not otherwise have come across (I’m running a business at the end of the day), if I really don’t like it, I won’t write about it, end of story. And I make all of this clear to the brands I work with BEFORE I agree to work with them: because if you DON’T make your terms crystal clear, that’s when the problems start.

I’m sure you’ve all read stories about bloggers who end  up having very public disputes with brands (last year’s #bloggerblackmail story springs to mind here), and that normally happens when there hasn’t been clear communication between the two parties. Before agreeing to post about something, it’s REALLY important that you know exactly what the brand are expecting from you, and that they know exactly what you’re agreeing to do for them – and what you’re NOT agreeing to do.

Ideally, it’s a good idea to get all of this in writing. I normally communicate with brands by email (or via my agency, who deal with all of this on my behalf!), so that’s already covered, but if you’ve been dealing with a brand by phone, or in person, and have agreed to some kind of collaboration, I’d always follow up with a quick email saying, “Just wanted to confirm that this is what we’ve agreed…” That way both parties know exactly what the deal is, and you won’t run into problems further down the line: well, hopefully not, anyway.

how bloggers can work with brands

 03. Disclose all collaborations appropriately

You know that sponsored posts and gifted items should be disclosed to your readers. Brands know that sponsored posts and gifted items should be disclosed to your readers. Hell, EVERYONE knows that disclosure is important, and even if wasn’t a requirement by the ASA, it would still be the ethical thing to do: your readers want to know when you’ve been paid to write about something, so TELL them: it’s not that hard, seriously.

Sometimes, however, it IS that hard, because even although they know it’s not really legit, there are plenty of brands out there who will ask you outright to lie to your readers, by not disclosing a partnership, and making it look like you just spontaneously decided to write about whatever it is they’re selling. Please guys: DON’T DO THIS. It’s just not worth it: not only could you get a rap on the knuckles from the powers that be, you’ll also stand to lose the trust and respect of your readers – and when you lose that, you lose everything. Moreover, brands who ask you to do something you know to be illegal/unethical are never good people to partner with: if they’re willing to break the law – or pay YOU to break the law for them – then that doesn’t say a whole lot about their ethics, does it? Do you really think you can trust a brand who’re starting their relationship with you by asking you to lie? I wouldn’t – and I wouldn’t want to be associated with them, either.

04. Don’t take on too much

The feedback I’ve had from my readers is that most of them understand why bloggers need to do sponsored posts and other collaborations, and are willing to accept paid content every now and then. Everyone has their limit, though, and when it gets to the stage where every second post is sponsored, it can be a bit much – it’s like sitting down to watch a movie, and getting an ad break every five minutes. I do my best to try to space sponsorships out as much as possible, and I think it’s important to try to do that, not just for the sake of your readers, but for your own sanity, too. Creating sponsored content can be stressful: I’m used to being my own boss, and being free to write whatever I want, so suddenly having to meet deadlines, deal with clients and worry about what they’re going to think of the resulting post is a big change for me, and not something I want to do too much of. Spacing posts out gives me a bit of breathing space, and also keeps things balanced, so if I DO run into a situation where I have a couple of deadlines close together, people are a little more forgiving of it.

yellow flowers on desk

05. Always keep your promises

As I said at the start of this post, bloggers may have plenty of reasons to feel frustrated with (some) brands, but they’re not always totally innocent themselves, and one of the things I hear from brand reps is that some bloggers just don’t deliver on their promises: so they’ll accept an item of clothing, say, but them not bother to feature it on their blog – which is totally unprofessional, and really unfair to the brand who sent it. If you’ve agreed to feature something, it’s only right to follow-through – or at the very least, to let the brand know if there’s a reason you can’t do as you said you would. This is the case regardless of whether or not you’re being paid to write a post: if you’ve been sent something on the understanding that you’ll cover it, it’s not fair let the brand down just because you changed your mind or couldn’t be bothered.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that you’re obliged to feature something you don’t like: if the product arrives and it doesn’t fit – either literally, or in the sense that it’s just not right for your blog – I’m not suggesting you should write about it anyway. In cases like that, I simply contact the brand, explain the issue, and ask to return the item: most brands would much prefer for you to do that than to keep the item and not cover it (and they’ll normally offer to cover the return postage, too), so don’t be afraid to contact them if you have an issue with something.

Of course, if something turns up that you DIDN’T agree to feature, you’re under no obligation whatsoever. This does happen from time to time, when PRs send items out on spec to bloggers they’ve worked with before: I know a lot of new bloggers panic and assume they HAVE to write about whatever it is they’ve received, but unless you specifically agreed to cover it, you don’t have to do anything here. Brands are – or at least should be – well aware of this, so don’t feel pressured into writing about something you didn’t even know you were getting – there’s absolutely no obligation to.

Some things to ask yourself before agreeing to a collaboration:

Here are some things to ask yourself before entering into a collaboration with a brand:

Will I get as much out of this collaboration as I’ll be putting into it?

Is the brand a good fit for my blog?

Is the product/service something I’d wear/use even if I wasn’t being paid/receiving it for free?

Can I write about this in a way that will blend in with the rest of the content on my blog, and be interesting to my readers?

Is the deadline reasonable, and can I meet any other requirements involved in the collaboration?

Is the brand happy to let me disclose the collaboration?

Do I have a clear idea of what’s expected of me – in writing, ideally?

If you can answer all of these, the collaboration’s probably a good one – and if not? Well, you know what to do…

 

12 Comments
  1. really useful thanks. This bit is really pertinent for me “I write all of my content myself, don’t give copy approval for sponsored posts (because I’m a blogger being paid to write a post on my own blog, in my own style, not a copywriter working to order),”-
    I recently got asked to do a sponsored post where they asked for a do-follow and that immediately put me off but what completely bypassed me was that they were also asking me to write it *then* ask the brand for their approval. I genuinely never thought twice about this so thank you for pointing that out! x

    1. From what I understand, most bloggers don’t seem to have an issue with giving copy approval (I actually suspect my ad agency probably consider me a bit “difficult” about this!), but my background is in journalism, and it was always such a huge no-no to give copy approval that I think that attitude has stuck with me! For me it just changes the whole nature of thing, and turns it into an advert, rather than a “sponsored post”, which should be exactly that – the brand ‘sponsoring’ a post that I have full control over. I think I might be alone in not wanting to do it, though!

      1. no, I completely agree with you, it makes total sense. If you’re seeking approval that definitely changes the nature of the sponsored post to advertorial. And we’re not copywriters either. Your post has just crystalised it for me, thanks!

  2. I think these are all great points, and it’s something always try to stick to. I think it can be easy, especially when you’re a smaller blogger, to feel like you have to say yes, even if it’s not a great fit, because you think that if you say no then a brand / PR company might not email you again. I think I probably put out one or two posts a couple of years ago because I felt I shouldn’t say no to a PR company, but since then I’ve said no and the people I’ve said no to have actually come back to me later on for campaigns that have been a much better fit.

  3. I did a horrible thing. I took one look at your high heels, meticulous home and your glittery gold blog name and I judged you. With a capital “J”, in ways too horrible to mention. I shelved you away in my bottomless pit of bookmark shame with all the other “damn internet celebrities” that I secretly loved to hate.

    Until one day I was actually bored enough to read one of your posts (this gets better, I swear!). And to my utter shock and terror, I laughed. Not in the polite “I don’t know what else to say so I’ll just type lol” type of way or a small giggle because I’d be wracked with guilt if I didn’t laugh at the cute puppy vid I saw today as much as I laughed at the one I saw yesterday. I actually laughed out loud, and wouldn’t stop longer after I had stopped reading. And it felt amazing!

    Since then, your blog has been a drop of sunshine in my otherwise lonely life when I’m alone all day waiting for my fiancee to come home. Everytime I refresh my Feedly I’m looking for your name, and I deliberately read slowly so your posts never have to end. The combination of wit, charm, grace and humour in your writing never ceases to amaze me and you have thought me not only to be kinder in my judgement, but also to be true to myself and find my own style instead of chasing after one Instagram pipe dream after another.

    In a world of blogs filled with 20 pictures of the exact same shot followed by “Excuse the crappy eyebrows”, it’s refreshing enough to find a very talented writer like you. But not only that, you have found your own unique voice and manage to still have your personality shine through every detail on your blog, despite how professional it looks and feels. I can’t imagine the amount of work that goes through to making every post special no matter how sick or crappy you feel, or when you simply have a boring week with nothing exciting to talk about. I wish more people would appreciate how difficult it is, and (moving onto creepy internet familiarity status) I’m proud of you for sticking to it as your profession. How much you love your job definitely shows, even when people don’t see it as a “real job”

    Please, in whatever platform you choose, don’t ever stop writing and bringing joy and laughter into my life every day!

    1. Wow, this comment has seriously made my week – I can’t even tell you how happy this made me! I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired lately, and it really helps to know there are people out there reading, so thank you so much for taking the time to post this 😀

  4. I love this! Something I have never given a second thought to, is getting everything in writing because the majority of the time I communicate is via email. However it is easy to still have a bit of confusion via that, i’m going to be more clear in future upon agreeing on a job. Bullet point what is agreed upon and what that means. Thanks so much for this post.

  5. I think this post is spot-on, Amber! You make so many good points. I usually accept gifted items (and disclose them as such) only when they’re aesthetically a good fit for me and my blog. I’ve been paid for a couple of other collaborations, but by-and-large, I’m paid in product. If I were looking to make a living from my blog, I’m sure I’d go about things a bit differently, and perhaps that’s why some bigger bloggers are so willing to accept offers from brands that aren’t such a perfect fit for their blog – because the bottom line is that they want to be able to make money, and there’s some cache that comes with working with a larger brand. It really is alienating though, because these bloggers then come off as really fake and not very trustworthy, so it totally backfires. I’d so much rather make less money and have fewer partnerships than promote something that doesn’t make sense for my niche. And clearly, you feel the same about this, since I’ve never been put-off by anything you’ve promoted. Thanks for this thoughtful post! All bloggers should read this.

    xox Sammi

  6. Great post! Sponsored posts are a tricky thing to get right. I think there’s a sweet spot, and you definitely have to be selective to find the partnership that best works for both parties. Sponsored content when done well can be very useful. There’s also something to be said about blogs that have a level of spontaneity and authenticity to them, that often don’t come with frequent sponsored posts. It’s all about balance!

    xoxo – Kelly
    http://www.dreaminlace.com

  7. Hello Amber! I just found this blog post via BlogLovin and I’m so happy I did. These tips are very helpful and thank you tons for sharing your experience with us. While I’m just starting out it is so crucial to know the proper rules so as not to srew up as a beginner blogger. Not sure if you’d be want to dwell further on the subject or not, but I think it would be also very interesting for newbie bloggers (who wish to turn writing into lucrative activity) to hear about how do the collaborations usually start in the first place? I mean, should I wait till someone notices my blog and offers to collaborate? Should I take initiative and reach out? Are there channels via which brands and bloggers find each other? Also, what is considered to be a good number of visitors per month which would attract the brands? I know the latter is very generic question, but I was wondering when can I start being a little proud of my numbers 🙂 Thanks again for great advice. xoxo, nano

    1. In my case, I’ve always just waited for brands to approach me/my agency: not very helpful, I know, but I’m not great at selling myself, so I use an agency now, who deal with brands for me, and before that I’d just deal with the ones who contacted me directly. I know lots of bloggers who DO approach brands themselves, though, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t, it’s just not something I’d be very comfortable with! As for your other question, I know it’s not what you want to hear, but there really isn’t a magic number brands look for, as far as I know: different brands tend to look for different things, so only they would be able to answer that one, really!

  8. When it’s a product/service to try, I always say I will consider writing about it, but I will not guaranty. So far only 1 I didn’t write about it because the company sent me 2 samples, I think I can value them (comparing to the price of a full packet) at £0.50. I’m not going to blog about it because I think their approach was unprofessional. The product was around £5-£6 with shipping included, I don’t think I was greedy to expect a package and not a small sample. For the rest of the items and services, I talked about them on the blog because it was something I liked. The things I don’t like I don’t accept, so there is no hassle.

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