All About Sponsored Content.

All About Sponsored Content

Hi! So I do not have an outfit diary for you this week as I was sick last week and I doubt you want to see the same ratty tee and leggings I wore all week. It’s all very aspirational. 😉

All About Sponsored Content

Over the weekend I did an “influencer Q&A” over on Instagram, and I got so many questions around sponsored content and working with brands so I wanted to write a longer post about it. The Q&A is saved to highlights if you are curious, but this post will go into a little more detail about working with brands and what the process looks like. I hope it’s interesting!

How I choose which brands to work with.

The biggest thing here is that I have to love the brand. This means two things – everything on the blog (sponsored or not) is something I genuinely love. It also means that sometimes I will take a more random partnership. A few years ago I partnered with Coca Cola around that soda machine they have at the movies. I was really excited about it (I literally freak out whenever I see it in the airport), but my audience was pretty pissed at me for taking the partnership. So that one backfired. But I’d rather partner with say, a snack that I really love than a clothing brand I’m just medium on. Like Hi-Chew or Dunkin!

For beauty products, I need to be familiar with the brand. If I’m not I need to have time to GET familiar. I always ask for at least 2 weeks to test the product but prefer to have longer… a month, even six weeks if I can get away with it!

For clothing items, I need to be able to choose the items myself. A good example of a brand campaign that I initially passed on was this project with Sam Edelman. I was given line sheets and nothing was my style (it was mostly colorful boots and other really trendy items) so I passed. I did so nicely – I told them I love the brand, but that the styles being offered weren’t in line with my style. They understood and then actually came back a couple weeks later, offering classic styles and colors that were more in line with my personal style. I’m always very honest with brands and personally think that being discerning has actually helped me to get more work, not the other way around.

The Negotiation Process.

Every blogger handles this differently. I managed my own partnerships for years but ultimately found that I get treated better when I have it go through someone else. And in the past couple years, contracts have gotten really tricky so I really need the help. I have someone who manages my partnerships. Her name is Kristin and she’s awesome. I pay her a monthly flat fee and 10% of all projects that she negotiates for me.

We have a media kit that is 3 pages long. The first page details my audience, demographic information, and all blog statistics (monthly pageviews + unique visitors, instagram engagement rates + story views, and so on and so forth), the second page has case studies that show different projects I’ve worked on and how effective they were (different brands have different objectives – some want to drive sales, some want to drive awareness and/or get new followers on social media, etc.), and the third page has my rates. We set our rates based on stats and revisit our rates at the beginning of every year as my blog traffic and instagram audience increase. Were they to decrease I would decrease my rates to be fair to my brand partners but luckily that hasn’t happened!

In all honesty, I rarely deviate from my rate. My goal is to do just enough sponsored content to hit my financial goals every month, but no more than that. So if I discount my rate, then that means turning someone else down. This may be unpopular but I’d rather talk about a brand for free just because I really like them than take a sponsored post that doesn’t pay well.

I am not going to share my exact rates but a good starting point for setting rates is for Instagram to charge $10 for every 1,000 followers; and for a blog post charge $10 for every 1,000 pageviews. So for an instagram post, if you have 50,000 followers you can charge $500 (at least) per feed post… and if you have a blog that gets 500,000 pageviews per month you can charge $5,000 per blog post. Another thing you can do is look at your affiliate revenue. I have really great data from my network (I know exactly how much revenue every single link on my site generates) and can project pretty honestly what sort of sales I should drive with a blog post.

Another way that you could look at it is conversion. So say I am approaching Nordstrom. I’m using made up numbers but let’s pretend that I know (via historical Shopstyle – my affiliate network – data) on average, my blog posts typically drive 10,000 clicks to a retailer’s site, convert at 2% (conversion is the percentage of people who make a purchase after clicking), and typically spend an average order value (AOV) of $200.

I could present this data to the brand and say that I am confident that I can drive $40,000 in sales from my blog post (this is based on multiplying conversion rate times clicks, and then looking at average order value). Nordstrom could then say, okay cool, we feel comfortable paying you 20% of that and settle on a rate of $8,000. AGAIN this is hypothetical and made up numbers and not my rate, but I wanted to share an example. 🙂

Contracts

Once we decide to work together, there are contracts and agreements to sign off. Kristin reviews all of my contracts and then I review it as well. I laughed a lot because on our podcast with Carly she ranted about how intense contracts have gotten. She wasn’t exaggerating… it’s SO TRUE – they have gotten really complex! Exclusivity clauses (you can’t work with a brand in a similar category for a certain time period) and image usage rights (they can use your likeness for XX weeks, months, years), are the two big ones.

Exclusivity is a tricky one (it’s easy to mess up since I talk about so many beauty products – I have my editorial calendar literally grayed out for some campaigns) and I never really cared about image usage rights (I always figured, awesome if a brand wanted to use my photo… more exposure for me!) until brands started doing instagram ads using bloggers’ content and that’s where things can get sticky. Here’s an example. Say I partner with a skincare brand – let’s call it Olay (this is hypothetical), and then a year later they run instagram ads with my images. But then maybe I’m working with a different brand… maybe their competitor… say Neutrogena. So my audience could be seeing my ad for Neutrogena and then get served ads from Olay with me in them. Awkward!

I do a lot of non-sponsored beauty content and often get asked by brands if they can run ads using my likeness with the products. Usually they’ll offer money to do so but I always say no because I don’t want a zillion branded ads going on with my image.

So contracts are quite a bit of work to review. I spend a lot of time reviewing them and am really glad I have Kristin helping me there!

The Content Creation Process

It’s funny because what you (the reader) sees is just the tip of the iceberg. So much back and forth goes into every piece of sponsored content. The good thing is that it’s a true collaborative process, which is so important. I will never take a brand’s talking points and just use them – I want my sponsored content to reflect my true feelings about the product. Everything is always totally in my own voice and aesthetic but there can be a lot of back and forth with brands.

Concept

The first step is concept creation. The concept generally includes: which products I’ve chosen to feature, my key talking points, how I plan to photograph the product, the key benefits of the product (if it’s a beauty post). It’s basically a condensed draft. For some brands this is simple. Just a sentence or two will suffice. “I want to take a selfie of me holding the product and talk about how Hi-Chew is my favorite candy,” for example. For other brands it’s a lot different. With my Sephora partnership it’s a lot more complex. Every project (even just an instagram story) has an elaborate google doc concept and the brand gets two rounds of revisions for just the concept. But honestly it’s nice to be fully aligned – because of that I rarely end up doing re-shoots and the rest of the process is easy breezy.

Drafts

Once the concept is approved I will work with a photographer to shoot the product. Sometimes brands will provide a creative brief – this is always helpful. I especially like it when they show past examples of things I’ve done that they like. Obviously I won’t replicate those photos but it gives me a reference point for what they like. It typically takes my photographer 3-4 days to turn around images and then I start working on the drafts.

A week or two before the post goes live, a draft is due to the brand. (Sometimes this is a quicker turnaround but usually it’s about a week). Beauty brands tend to require longer for approval as they have to have their legal teams review any claims made. Same with alcohol brands. Legal departments can be really tough! An example of this is the Dr. Sturm post I did… my draft was much more gushy about the product but a lot of the things I said about it were not approved by legal so I had to soften a lot of the language. I felt much more passionately about the product than it may have came across, but from a legal perspective there are things you just can’t say.

Revisions

This depends upon the contract but typically the way I work is that every brand gets two drafts. I think the most frustrating thing is managing really delayed brand approvals. If you see me suddenly have 3 or 4 pieces of sponsored content in one week (and then NOTHING the following week or week before), I guarantee that it’s because someone somewhere in the process approved my content late. I usually plan to have no more than two, maybe three sponsored pieces of content per week across each channel, with lots of non-sponsored content between… but sometimes you get a bunch of late approvals and everything has to go live all at once.

And of course these things happen but I really do try to spread things out and make sure that in any given week I am not doing more than 25% sponsored content.

Gifted vs. Sponsored

I realize that from a reader perspective gifted items still feel like an ad but the process works really different for both of these things.

Gifted items work a few different ways. The bad way is that boxes of stuff just will arrive at my apartment. A lot of brands send things without ever asking you if you are interested. This is not the way to do it and is so wasteful. I think that once you give your address to a brand/agency, they share influencer databases and your information gets shared across different agencies. I was so happy when I moved a couple years ago and was only getting mail that I wanted… but now I’ve lived in my new place 2.5 years and we are back to the same shenanigans.

The other way that it works is that brands will reach out and send line sheets, asking you if you’d like to pick out an item.

For gifted items, I will accept the gift (but only if I really want it) and tell the brand that I can’t guarantee I will talk about it. I do this because the volume of gifted items is insane. I’m just being honest. If I committed to talk about everything that came in the mail, I would go crazy and also be really annoying to follow. (Everyone feels differently but I personally haaaate unboxings on other people’s channels… I want to hear about if a product works, not watch you open your mail!) If I talk about something that is gifted I will disclose the item as gifted BUT there’s no back and forth with the brand – they don’t get to see a draft or approve what I write about it.

Working with Hotels.

This is a newer one with the live shows for our podcast – I always try to work with a hotel partner when we do live shows as we are not at a place where we are earning enough from the live shows to cover two flights and two hotel rooms (I need my own room to decompress before/after shows; yes I am a bit of a diva there but it is what it is… after a live show I need to hole up in my hotel room and write/nap/decompress!). We’d go into the negative if we didn’t work with our hotel partners. Hopefully that will change as we grow and can get better deals with our venues/sell them all out completely but that isn’t the case just yet.

What happens here is I will reach out to a hotel that I want to stay at with all of my stats (and Becca + the podcast’s stats now too) and ask them if they’d be interested in comping our rooms during the tour. From there we will align on deliverables. The standard is usually that we each get a room, for one or two nights. For one night I usually will only promise a feed post (on all 3 accounts, + instagram stories). For a longer stay we will do more than that. I’ve never been given more than two nights; usually they will offer us a media rate (this is typically somewhere around 25% off) or we’ll just book the third night with our own money!

This is gifted content and not sponsored content so there aren’t any approvals and the hotels generally aren’t very strict about what we post. Some hotels are more particular than others… one time a hotel brand told us we aren’t allowed to shoot in our bed or to feature room service which was devastating as those are my favorite things to feature! 😉

How do Press Trips Work?

Press trips sound in theory incredible (who wouldn’t want a free trip!?), but as I get older I would rather just spend my own money on a real vacation than go on most of the press trips I get invited on. I feel like a spoiled brat and  I will still do one from time to time BUT I am now really careful. Going on one takes me away from my regular work, and a lot of times you don’t really sleep because you’re in planned activities all day and then have to do all your work at night when you get back to your room.

So YES it is a free trip and that is amazing and cool but oftentimes you are in activities from 8am til 11pm with a group of strangers. All the while you are expected to produce and post beautiful content in real time (usually it’s a minimum of 1-2 feed posts, 4 stories per day, and a blog post that goes live after the trip) without any downtime to edit your photos and write your travel guide or whatever it is you’ve committed to do. Not to mention regular work – I still have emails and contracts and daily blog posts to get up while I’m on those trips so I would end up running ragged and getting 4 hours of sleep and then getting sick.

I used to say yes yes yes to press trips but I’ve gotten a lot more careful; now before committing I will ask to see the itinerary and request downtime and also ask to see who is going ahead of time. I’m actually going on my first press trip in AGES this April but it’s one that I’m really looking forward to. More to come there!

OK! I think that is everything! I always want to be as upfront and honest about EVERYTHING – of course, let me know if you have any questions or comments below!

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Comments

  1. Pamela says 2.24.20

    Appreciate you sharing this, Grace. It’s such an fascinating look behind the scenes! Also as a reader gifted items and press trips seem awesome – was interesting to hear about some of the challenges I wouldn’t initially think of.

  2. Paula G says 2.24.20

    this is so refreshing, and also why I trust you and like you.

  3. Love posts that break down “behind the scenes” of blogging! So helpful for those that don’t realize how our industry works!

    xoxo
    Cathy, your Poor Little It Girl
    https://poorlittleitgirl.com

  4. Thanks for this post, Grace! It’s so helpful to us budding bloggers! ❤️✨

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  5. Tracey says 2.24.20

    Love the behind the scenes of your blog and content!! You are one of my faves to follow!

  6. Amanda says 2.24.20

    I really appreciate you taking the time to put together this really clear and interesting overview! This is a topic that I personally have had a lot of questions about– mainly just because I’m interested in the business and behind-the-scenes aspects of beautiful and really thoughtful blogs like yours! You are the gold standard for transparency, and this goes so far in terms of building trust with your audience.

  7. Betsy says 2.24.20

    This is all so interesting and I really appreciate you giving this look behind the scenes! Your transparency is one of the biggest reasons I trust you. Thank you!

  8. Linda says 2.24.20

    Thanks very much for this information! One clarification/question about the Instagram numbers – based on a rate of $100 per 1,000 followers, you should receive $5,000 for 50,000 followers, not $500. Or is the rate $10 per 1,000 followers (which would then be $500 for 50,000 followers?

    • grace at the stripe says 2.24.20

      Whoops! Ya that’s definitely a typo. $10/thousand!

      Please keep in mind this is just an industry metric and not a hard fast rule 🙂

    • Amanda says 2.24.20

      Just came down here to ask this! Can’t tell if it’s a typo in one of the numbers, or a math issue?

  9. Shannon says 2.24.20

    SUPER helpful post, Grace. Sometimes I find in this world the more I know, the more I don’t know so it’s beyond invaluable to have the pros {like you!!} shed light on everything and help lead the way. I very much appreciate your transparency with this. <3 http://www.essellesse.com

  10. Wendy says 2.24.20

    thank you for this inside look! Agreed- hate unboxings, no one wants to watch someone else open their mail. They are feel very braggy to me when someone is showing off eyeshadow palettes or a a gift of 30 lipsticks you know they aren’t going to wear, and are probably going to resell on poshmark.

  11. Jessica Camerata says 2.24.20

    Press trips are so misunderstood and look so amazing on the surface but can be so much work and exhausting! We’re so lucky to get to do what we do, but so many press trips are literally 18 hour long days packed with activities with zero down time to actually to do the work. We always say in our little blog circle that these brands/agencies should hire bloggers to consult because there’s such a disconnect. When they’re good though, they’re AMAZING. Can’t wait to follow along on yours in April.

    xo Jessica
    My Style Vita

    • grace at the stripe says 2.24.20

      Could not agree more! I have found that asking for a rough itinerary and that stipulating that I will need downtime to work + create content really helps!

  12. Hayley says 2.24.20

    Thanks, this is so interesting! The industry seems so much more advanced in the States than in NZ, but perhaps that is just my perception. I think you do a really great job with sponsored content.

  13. Jacqueline Smith says 2.24.20

    Thank you for sharing…it was a great post.

  14. Rachel says 2.24.20

    Love these posts! I always learn so much. Your content always feels genuine and I appreciate how transparent you are!

  15. Bridget says 2.24.20

    Thank you for writing this! Very helpful to understand how this business works. And I agree 100% about unboxing posts! It just makes me mad when I see people showing off all the things they were sent for free. I hate it!!

  16. carla says 2.24.20

    This is so helpful!
    http://www.motownsavvy.com

  17. Lori in Toronto says 2.24.20

    Very illuminating! And THAAANNNKKK YYOOUUU for sparing us unboxings! For the life of me, I can’t understand how watching someone else open a box of free stuff is a desirable way to spend time 🙂

  18. Johanna M says 2.25.20

    Definitely one of my all-time favorite posts from your blog. It’s really refreshing, as others have mentioned. I also can’t help but love seeing how you are a boss in the way that you earn a living, negotiate contracts, work in and for companies/products that you believe in, etc. Thank you for the insightful post!

    I say this also because I’m an academic, and people 1) tend to think that we are way overpaid and that 2) we should work out of love for our job, and not for money. There are some similarities there with how some people perceive influencer world. As if we don’t need to get paid for our labor, lol.

    • grace at the stripe says 2.25.20

      That is so interesting to me because I would never think of an academic as overpaid!!!

      And yessssss, while we ideally should love our jobs and find enjoyment in our work, we should also be paid for it – because even if you do love it, it’s still work! The notion of bloggers being overpaid is always a big one as rates can be very high but what people don’t realize is that for every sponsored post you’re creating, you’re also creating a ton of other content that you are not being paid at all for.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective 🙂

  19. rachel says 2.25.20

    hey grace! the sam edelman project hyperlink is taking me to the tata harper resurfacing mask. just thought you might want to know! thanks 🙂

  20. mary says 2.25.20

    Thank you for sharing the details. It does seem like a lot of work–but fun!

    The area where I’m now wary about spon con is with hotels. If a blogger “sells” me a pair of shoes, I can always return them if I don’t like them. If a blogger sells me on a hotel and I don’t love it, my vacation could be ruined. In the past, I had trusted a certain blogger’s hotel recs and had been very pleased, probably because she had personally paid for her stays. When I followed her lead to a hotel that had been for a sponsored stay, I felt swindled. I don’t know if the hotel review was dishonest or if the hotel itself had done a bait and switch, but when you factor in all of the upgrades and comps, it’s hard to trust that your experience will be remotely similar to a blogger. Caveat emptor. I will take Trip Advisor advice over a sponsored hotel review from now on.

  21. Annie says 2.25.20

    Kristin would be a great pod guest! Background, how did she get into this, is she at an agency, Where she would be in the Followers future state…etc!

  22. Abby says 2.27.20

    This was so interesting and detailes. Thank you so much for laying it out there. I have a whole new appreciation and understanding for blog work now!

  23. Jennifer Record says 3.8.20

    I found your perspective on this post refreshing, open, and helpful. I am a (new-er-ish) travel blogger and recently found your blog and enjoy checking in a few times each week. Beautiful photogrpahs and great writing.