I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now. Years, in fact. There’s so much mystery that surrounds sponsored content from the reader’s side, and confusion around how to behave from the blogger and brand side. It can sometimes be an incredibly complicated process and I think it’s due time we add a little transparency to it.
First things first, I am not an expert on this topic. I probably know marginally more than the average person because I do, in fact, produce sponsored content. However, when it comes to the legal side of stuff, I depend on the professionals. I, like most other creators, do my best to abide by the legal rules surrounding sponsored content, but this post is not about that.
This post is about what really goes on behind-the-scenes of sponsored posts. Not that there’s a heavy cloud of mystery surrounding it, but it’s not like bloggers and other content creators are casually talking about this stuff on their public profiles. So I’m going to because, well, that’s what I do.
Types of sponsored content
Let’s first chat about the types of sponsored content out there. For clarity’s sake, I’m not including ads (see those annoying things in the sidebar?) or affiliate sales. I’m talking about straight-up brand-blogger sponsorship where the content creator is expected to produce something incorporating the brand’s product or service to display on their Blog/Instagram/YouTube/Podcast/Facebook etc…
If you’ve been around THM for a while, you’re no stranger to sponsored content. The majority of what you see around here is sponsored blog posts, though I do occasionally do sponsored videos or social media posts. Here are a few examples:
Blog: How To Make a London Fog
YouTube: What Bodhi Eats in a Day
Instagram: Quaker Overnight Oats
Facebook: Stone Fruit Ricotta Toast
Who contacts who?
I get this question a lot and while I can speak to my personal experience, it definitely looks different on everyone. In my case, most of my sponsored work is inbound, meaning they contact me. I have done some pitching, but I’m incredibly fortunate to be in a position where I have work coming in.
Other content creators might have a different experience. If you’re just getting started or are part of a very niche community, you may be pitching more often than work is coming in. It’s totally circumstantial.
BTS: What goes down
Let’s walk through what typically happens behind-the-scenes of sponsored posts.
As I mentioned above, some people receive more inbound requests than outbound. In my case, I get about 10 a day (nope I’m not kidding!). At least half of them are spammy, from some foreign company looking for paid backlinks or want to share their infographic on my site (ummmm no). Of the other half, 80% of them probably don’t make any sense. Because while I’d just love to promote your new thigh-gap producing hula hoop, I don’t think that will ever fly on THM…
That leaves us with about one potential client and around 50% of the time it will actually come to fruition. But here’s how we figure it out:
When I receive an interesting inbound email, I respond inquiring about more info and cc’ my operations manager, Tanya. Tanya then follows up with my sponsorship guide (which includes my reach, rates, demographics and past work) and we begin the negotiation process from here. This usually weeds out the clients who are looking to get me to work for free pomegranate juice from those that actually are taking this as seriously as I am.
Once we both agree on a partnership, which can range from a single post to a yearly scope, contract negotiations begin.
Yes, I sign a contract with every brand I work with. Whether it be theirs or the one I personally send out, I have been burned enough times to know that a contract needs to be in place. Then it’s time to get to work!
We usually decide on a post theme and date and from there I let my creative juices flow. Once the work is complete, most brands require that I send them a draft. It’s an annoying process, but the better the relationship you have with the brand, the easier it is. Most of the time they’re just looking to make sure you didn’t say anything offensive or is FDA or FTC non-compliant. On the rare occasion, I have worked with brands that have tried to alter my voice and that is where I put my foot down. It is both built into my contract and also a non-negotiable for me. If the content doesn’t sound like me or reflect my true voice and opinions, I’m out. Losing my relationship with you guys is not worth the money.
But let’s just say everything works out, the content goes live and it’s time to start promoting it across social media (if it’s a blog post + social media). You will always know it’s sponsored whether it be with the FTC disclaimer, the paid tools in Facebook or Instagram or the always glorious hashtag AD. This is for two reasons: 1) because we legally have to and 2) because it would be completely immoral to promote something without you guys knowing we were paid to talk about it. Do I feel this detracts from the authenticity of the content? Sometimes. But I get into more of that below.
Beyond that, there’s usually a follow-up interaction with the brand about how things performed and then we begin it all over again if it’s a long-term contract.
So yeah…it’s a lot more complicated than people realize!
What I Wish Everyone Knew About Sponsored Posts
I think the biggest piece that I wish everyone knew was why we do sponsored posts. I think it’s easy to assume we’re in it for the money, and to a degree, we are. However, it’s also important to remember that very few of us started out thinking we could make money from this crazy blogging world.
We started out because we had a passion that we wanted to share with a like-minded community. Over time, this community grew and asked for more from us, which of course we gladly provided. However, at some point you have to make the decision about how you’re going to deliver more, and until cloning becomes a reality, it usually means dedicating yourself fully to this passion…and figuring out how to make money from it!
Do I wish I never had to do sponsored content and remove all those annoying ads from the blog? Yes, I do. However, until my landlord takes payment in Instagram likes, that simply isn’t an option. Everything that I share on THM is 100% free to all of you, and as a result I made the conscious decision to find a way to get paid, that wasn’t asking for a cent from you.
“I work for my readers and get paid by my brands”
That means that whatever sponsored work I do has to be relevant to you. I take this into account with every brand I work with. Is this valuable to my readers? Is this a product I think you’d actually use? Is it a product I would actually use? If it’s the right fit, it’s a win-win for everyone. If it’s not the right fit, you will likely let me know it, which is why I only work with brands that I align with The Healthy Maven.
That being said, there will always be the person or people who get lured in by the money. We all know them. They’re the ones where you have to do a double-take because the partnership is so off-brand you can’t help but gasp an outward WTF?! But this is not the norm, and I’d say 90% of content creators have YOUR best interest at heart.
What makes it even better is that a lot of the sponsored work I do is content I’d probably talk about anyway. I get to develop recipes using products I already use, take trips I’m already taking or share wisdom I already wanted to share. That is if the brand understands how to work with content creators.
And most of them do! I feel incredibly fortunate to work with some incredible brands who value you as much as I do. Simply Organic, Lorissa’s Kitchen, Stella and Chewy’s, Banff Tourism just to name a few. They get that no one has a better understanding of my audience’s needs and wants than I do and they allow me to run with that. While they’re certainly active in the content production, they trust my instincts and that’s why our partnerships are successful.
So not only do I want you guys to understand this perspective of sponsored work, but this is also my PSA to brands to not try to micromanage their content creators. Trust their instincts and knowledge of their readers and allow them to stay authentic and tell your story in a way that works for them. It’s far more genuine that way.
I truly believe that authenticity can exist with sponsored work. It just requires content creators to say “no” A LOT and ultimately work with the clients that actually make sense for their brand. It also requires the sponsors to accept that they have to give up a degree of control when they hire influencers. We aren’t walking ads and it’s a lose-lose for everyone if your goal is for us to be a megaphone for your product messaging.
What I Wish Brands Knew About Sponsored Posts
Maybe it’s because I’m coming hot off of Expo East and had to explain what I do to brands about 200 times, but I thought I’d add this little piece in here if you happen to work for a brand or run a brand and are looking to work with bloggers/influencers.
Generally, if you say or email us with something along the lines of “we can offer you this and you are so lucky!”, we will run the other way. I’m all about trying out new brands and products and sharing them with my readers, when they’re great. But if you think you’re doing us a favor by sending us a box of your protein bars/collagen/turmeric hemp pepita superfood sprinkle (you get the idea), think again. We get inundated with these types of emails daily. I have an entire cupboard full of products I get sent and try to pawn off on friends. While I’m entirely grateful for this, I unfortunately cannot pay my rent in free products and you’re not doing me a favor by giving me products to review or content to talk about on my blog. I’d say that 90% of bloggers will agree.
Does this mean I get paid for everything I do? No. There are companies I love, whose products I buy with my own money and talk about all the time, but almost always I was not pitched by the brand to talk about them – I just discovered them on my own. To support being able to provide FREE and valuable content with my readers, I expect to get paid. I’m sure everyone has an opinion on this, but until you’re in a position where you have to earn your own living it’s hard to understand. I just wanted to keep things real and also selfishly hope that any brand out there reading this can rethink their influencer strategy if they want it to be effective and empowering for all parties involved.
I think that covers everything for now! As always let me know if you have any questions. I’m all about transparency and would be happy to answer them.
*All photos courtesy of Bettina Bogar
How do you feel about sponsored content? Did anything about this post surprise you?
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