In Spaces Between

Building a Blog You Love: Brands, PR’s and Making the Money

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Welcome to another installment of my Building a Blog You Love series!

So far we’ve covered everything you need to know to get your blog set up along with the design essentials, and today I’m thrilled to bring you a chock-full-o-goodness interview with Nikki Parkinson from Styling You, who has generously shared her impressive knowledge on Navigating PR, Sponsorship and The Blogger-Brand Relationship with Style.

I’m sure you’re already familiar with Nikki – award-winning Australian blogger named ‘best in the biz’ last year for her fashion and beauty know-how – but if not, you’re in for an absolute treat. I’ve seen Nikki speak twice (most recently at the Problogger Event, recapped here) and let me tell you – she knows her stuff. Inside out, back to front.

One of the things I love about Nikki’s approach to earning a living online is that not only is she a consummate professional, but she always brings it back to the reader. Her community is highly engaged because she’s highly engaged. I can’t recall who it was but someone once said to me about Nikki: “Isn’t it great that she still replies to most of her comments? Love that.” I couldn’t agree more.

Pour yourself a cup of tea and soak up a wealth of actionable insights on working with brands and moving towards monetising your site.

Again, the lovely Sian from Fresh By Sian has whipped up the poster above with Nikki’s top tips for you to refer back to so download it, save it, print it, Pin It. Enjoy!

Let’s start with PR. If you’re pitched to by a PR rep or a brand directly, how do you respond to them? Tell us a little bit about how the process usually plays out.

I would receive on average about 50 PR emails a day. These range from a straight PR release through to a personal pitch. Coming from a media background, this is something I’m used to. I don’t take it as a front that a PR rep is contacting me for possible inclusion for their client on my blog. They’re just doing their job.

PR companies generally work two ways – the blanket saturation approach or the targetted pitch. The blanket approach is usually not addressed personally to you (unless in a mail merge in which case it seems like it is!). The personal pitch shows a bit more creativity – the PR has chosen your blog as a possible target for a reason.

With the sheer volume of emails I have to deal with, I process them by either:

DELETE if not personally addressed to me and not relevant to my blog.

FILE if not personally addressed to me but of possible relevance to my blog.

REPLY if personally addressed and pitched to me, I’ll reply in a timely manner with my thoughts on the pitch.

REQUEST PRODUCT if the pitch is about a product that I think has relevance to my readers then I will request a sample to try. No sample = no coverage, unless I really, really want it and buy myself. I cannot risk running a promo about a product on my blog if I haven’t tried it first. People buy off my recommendation. You can’t afford to fake a recommendation.

On event invites… If I’m invited to a launch or an event I will ALWAYS rsvp. If you’ve ever organised an event, you will know that you are making the event organiser’s job easier by indicating whether or not you can attend.

On products… I’m quite frequently sent product I have not requested. Over the course of the week, this builds up. I have a “filing” system for this and rotate new product that I think will be of interest to my readers to my bathroom for trial.

When I have a group of similar products together, I’ll create a post around that theme. It is extremely rare that one brand or product would receive an exclusive post on my site. Exclusive posts are reserved for sponsored posts.

How can bloggers go about making themselves known to PR agencies and brands?

1 // Follow PR agencies and brands on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

2 // “Talk” to them via these social media channels.

3 // If you have a list of brands you’d like to make contact with, search for their PR contact via their website. This might not be listed on the site but there will be a number to call. Pick up the phone and make that call. Get the name, number and email address of the person you need to talk to. Often it will be someone working in an agency and contracted to that brand.

4 // When you have those details – pitch them. Have your media kit ready to email as well as a brief outline about you and your blog. You need to sell yourself to these agencies. Many are still very much “old school” and will concentrate on the glossy magazines (especially in the fashion and beauty fields). You need to sell what makes you worth their while working with you.

5 // Don’t lie about your stats. Quote Google Analytic stats – brands want to know monthly stats for Unique Visitors (UVs) and Page Views (PVs). Blogger and WordPress stats are not reliable for this information – stick with Google Analytics and send a screen shot of your latest months’ stats.

6 // If you feature a brand’s product, email a link to your blog post to the relevant PR person. This keep the lines of communication open and show how much you’re interested in the brand.

Authenticity. A desire to add value. A deep respect for your readers. These are all things that you embody and I think you’ve absolutely got the blogger-brand relationship nailed. What are your personal guidelines when working with brands? How do you ‘keep it real’ for your readers?

This can be broken down into two sections – paid and unpaid brand work.

When deciding what products to include editorially (unpaid), I will base those factors on a “news sense” for what I think my readers what to read and find out about right now. If I have received free product in association with this, I will disclose it at the end of the post. Free product does not equal sponsorship. You can’t buy groceries with free product!

For paid/ sponsored work, I still use my news sense when deciding which brands I will agree to a commercial relationship with. The brand has to fit. Ideally it’s a brand I already use and love as it’s a blogger’s personal recommendation that brands are looking for. If I can’t tell a story around a brand or product then I won’t accept a sponsored post from them. All my sponsored posts are clearly marked as such at the top of the post – that way I people can click away if they do not want to read sponsored content.

It’s sometimes the case that blogs with less traffic can have a more engaged and powerful readership, but coming from a PR background myself, I know metrics and measurement are still a top priority for agencies. While traditional media exposure is measured in “dollars,” online coverage often comes down to “eyeballs,” so I’d love to know: what kind of numbers should bloggers be hitting before approaching brands?

I’m not sure about exact numbers but an engaged and influenced readership is what a brand will want to see signs of – as well as decent traffic. Remember bloggers are competing in the digital space with big online sites as well as mainstream media. Even a “big” blogger in Australia is very much small fry in the media landscape.

“How much should I charge?” It’s such a big question and something we all grapple with at some stage or another. Can you talk a little about the process of defining your rates?

There are no standards as such. Rates are determined by what the market will pay and they are based on readership statistics. I’m very lucky that I now have an agent who sells my blog on my behalf. It’s such a difficult thing to put a monetary value on yourself.

There is a definite rate of scale when it comes to what brands and agencies will pay bloggers for sponsored posts but it is not uniform across the board. I would love to see something like a union’s rate of pay in place but just like freelance journalism rates, it’s all very well to have a rate of scale but rarely is it stuck to. It comes down to market forces.

What are the essentials for a great media kit?

1 // Keep it short and succinct – particularly the first page – get your point of difference across here.

2 // Include up to date stats and a Google Analytics screen shot.

3 // Include prices for sponsored posts and banner advertising.

4 // Include ways that brands can be involved in giveaways and other editorial (free) opportunities.

5 // Include your contact details and how you’re best contacted.

Let’s touch on opportunities that aren’t quite right for you and your readership. I remember reading somewhere when I started my blog that “99% of the time you’ll say no” – which at the time seemed slightly ridiculously but I now know to be pretty accurate. Do you have any tips or a standard spiel you’d like to share with us that says ever-so-graciously “Thanks but this one probably isn’t for me?”

Get clear on what your blog is about and who your readership demographic is. Once you are clear on this, it is easy to respond to a pitch that is not something your readers would be interested in.

I usually keep it short and sweet: “Thanks for your email, I’m sorry but my readers are unlikely to be interested in the latest styles of cut-off denim shorts … my demographic is busy women aged 28-45 years and mostly they like to wear pants that cover their bottoms … etc.”

When you run a giveaway on Styling You, how long does it generally run for and how do you go about promoting the comp to ensure its success?

I had to get clear on my competition guidelines as I could no longer give brands an exclusive post in return for giveaway products. If brand want that, it’s sponsored content.

Instead, I run monthly multi-draw competitions. Brands inquiring about these receive a pdf document outlining the minimum value I require from them and what they receive in return.

They start on the second Wednesday of each month and run for two weeks. I promote them via Twitter and Facebook throughout the competition and average about 1000 entries. The entry form is linked to my email marketing Mail Chimp account so those entering have the possibility to subscribe and opt in to my weekly email newsletter.

I also occasionally promote the competition via Win Free Stuff but mostly, they get picked up by other competition sites and referred and linked to. I’ve also started doing a little Facebook advertising around these competition posts.

Nikki was never allowed a Barbie doll as a child. Her politically correct mum thought Lego and Tonka trucks were more fitting. Now the Queensland-based blogger advises women what to wear and put on their face for a living.

The former journo and magazine editor manages an award-winning blog Styling You – offering real world fashion and beauty advice for busy women. Don’t tell anyone but she’s secretly a closet dag who likes nothing more than relaxing at home with her family but open a champagne bottle and she can have her heels on and hair done in minutes.

Connect with Nikki on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

OVER TO YOU:

Do you work with brands/ PR reps? Are you looking to make money from your blog or is it solely a “passion project?”

Working in PR “by day,” this topic is one that’s close to my heart so if you have any questions for me – or Nikki – please ask away in the comments below.

Image: Who What Wear | Castles Crowns and Cottages | Muhs Home | Matthew Taylor Wilson

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18 Responses to “Building a Blog You Love: Brands, PR’s and Making the Money”

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  1. I really like Sarah Wilson’s notion of not doing things if they don’t ‘smell right’… It’s hard to go wrong when you are properly listening to your gut (or your nose!) xo

  2. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Jess: Agree, wise words from Sarah. Marie Forleo’s advice is also pretty bang on:

    “If it’s not a HELL YES, it’s a no.” x

  3. Thanks so much for hosting me here Rach. Happy to take questions from your readers. And thanks Fresh By Sian for making my words look so good!

  4. Thanks again for another great article Rach and Nikki! I started my blog a few months ago but I am hoping (if all goes well) that I will eventually be able to start monetising my blog.

    A few questions I have for you…
    a) when do you think is the right time to start approaching PR agencies/brands about working with them?

    b) any tips for building meaningful relationships via social media? I finding it hard for people to ‘take notice’ of me and my blog at the moment, I don’t feel like my readership is growing. For example, I have added lots of PR agencies and brands I would like to work with through Twitter, but I am not sure how to reach out to them without looking like I am just spamming them or wasting their time…

    c) what do you think PR agencies and brands are really looking for? What do you think has been the key to your success?

    Thanks!

  5. Great advice Nikki! I’ve enjoyed hearing you speak, always a total pro and a complete babe!

  6. These building a blog updates are awesome, I love seeing what insights and from who you have to offer each week.
    A question about Google analytics (just unsure and would love anyones help) why did you say that page views is among the most important measurements? I would have assumed visits were? Thanks

  7. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Claire: Thanks for your fantastic comment. To answer your questions (and Nikki might have some input here too):

    A) It all depends on the type of blog you have and the way you sell yourself, but bear in mind that the PR’s will ask for your traffic stats as they have to report back on the exposure for the product.

    I’d encourage you to start building relationships straight away and then when you feel that you have something to offer (and that could be RIGHT NOW), drop the PR a line over email. Make their job easy by very clearly and succinctly stating why you’d like to team up, what exposure you can offer (traffic stats, exposure on social channels) and go from there.

    Remember that your blog doesn’t have to have huge traffic to be beneficial to the brand – often smaller blogs who are speaking directly to the audience the brand wants to capture can be just as powerful. Again, it’s all in the way you sell yourself. If your traffic isn’t huge but you get lots of comments, use that as your selling point.

    B) It all takes time lovely – just keep at it, and – as I’m sure you do – always start your interactions from a place of authenticity and a genuine desire to connect. Start integrating mentions of the products you love and want to work with into your blog posts and tweet the PR/ tag the brand to let them know you’re giving them some love. Let the relationship build from there.

    C) I’ll answer this from my experience in PR – PR’s are looking to establish relationships that will in turn lead to positive coverage for the brands/ organisations they represent. They (we) generally work to a targeted media list – which these days includes bloggers.

    Focus on the content and THEN the rest. My blog grew quite quickly through consistent posting and as a result, brands started making contact. I work with a select group of brands that I really love and nurture those relationships – that’s what it all comes back to. x

    Louise: Isn’t she just! x

    Maddison: Thanks gorgeous. Page views show how engaged your readers are and that they are trawling through past content. They are great for measuring ad impressions because each page view is a new ad impression (which is why advertisers tend to focus on PV’s).

    Adding a widget like LinkWithin can help, as can interlinking your articles and only posting an excerpt of an article on your homepage with “Read More” which is something I’m not a fan of personally — just a reading preference — but that will help increase page views. x

  8. Sorry, just coming back in now!

    Claire: I think it will often happen organically that they will contact you as you grow. However, I think if there are brands that you’re really keen to work with, be proactive. Find out who their PRs are and email them. Keep them informed of your stats as you grow.

    Include and link to the brands you already know and love and share the links for those posts with the PRs who you have made contact with. Share the posts with the brand’s twitter handle too. Instagram is becoming a good way to tag in brands – they’re noticing it too!

    PR agencies and brand are looking for exposure for their brands or products – the savvy ones realise that blogs add to that mix.

    My success – focussing on content that is of interest to my readership demographic and letting the rest happen organically with a little bit of networking an strategy on the side!

    Louise: thanks xxx

    Maddison: According to my agent, unique visits offer the most important stat but many brands are keen on seeing the page views number too. I always offer both.

  9. Great interview Sarah! This is such an interesting topic and deserves lots of discussion as newer bloggers (especially those without a journalism background like Nikki, and myself) are unsure where they stand.

    I’ve just spoken at a food bloggers conference about this issue last weekend posted today on my blog – it’s spooky how many similar things we have both mentioned – but also great that a type of standard is starting to form within the industry of blogging. Sorry for the long comment! :)

  10. Ooops, sorry I meant Rachel! Got too many things racing through my brain – I HATE when people do that too, sorry times a million x

  11. Christie @ Fig & Cherry: Spooky! I wrote this for Rach about 4 weeks ago then spoke at Problogger about the topic too.

  12. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Christie: Don’t be sorry, I’ll answer to anything ;) (it’s normally Renee or Rebecca so Sarah is a nice change).

    Love seeing this kind of (much-needed) information being shared so generously by smart women like yourself and Nikki, particularly given your backgrounds in media.

    There’s no doubt it can be a confusing topic but what you’ve both shared definitely provides some structure and serves as a “blueprint” for newer bloggers to work off, which is wonderful.

    Big thanks for stopping by! x

  13. Thanks so much for your advice, very helpful! I think the main thing is that I need to be patient, keep at it and hope that all the hard work and networking pays off.

  14. You asked great questions to illicit some thought provoking and actionable answers. Thank you :) As always, some clear and succinct advice from Nikki, a real Pro.

  15. Veggie Mama says:

    Such a savvy gal Nikki is! Has learned so much forging the way for us all :)
    I totally agree about comments, I answer all mine. I couldn’t bear not to, I’d feel so rude! I wouldn’t ignore them if they said it to my face, why would I ignore them taking the time to write on my online space?

  16. Rach - In Spaces Between says:

    Veggie Mama: The irony of this being I totally missed your comment! :O Agree that Nikki is a total pro and is so generous in sharing that we’re all better bloggers as a result. xx

  17. Pretty! This was a really wonderful post. Thanks for providing
    this information.

  18. Alice says:

    Thanks – great read. I’m working on my media kit right now and this has def helped.

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