Apr 29, 2019
A question I get sent over and over again is, ‘Vix, I’m doing so many free collaborations for gifts or for ‘exposure’ and I don’t know how to turn them into paid collaborations’.
Let me tell you - there’s a lot to unpack here.
I begun taking on paid collaborations around 6 months into blogging but was that a good thing? Fuck no! The brands weren’t right. The products weren’t aligned with my audience. The fees were less than minimum wage. I didn’t have a relationship with the brand as soon as I pressed published. Neither of us knew if there was any return on that investment or if I’d done a good job at all!
I get it though, we see our favourite bloggers and influencers getting paid, being able to do the job full time and we feel like we’re sat on the otherside of a door that we don’t know how to unlock.
In this episode, I’m going to break down paid vs gifting collaborations, how to rock them and how to ask that age old question, ‘excuse me sir’, in the style of bloody Oliver Twist, ‘please can I have some budget?’
How did this all start? Seriously? Who remembers the ‘olden’ days? We used to blog about Rimmel lipsticks, Tunnocks Tea Cakes and Easyjet Speedy Boarding because we stanned. Not because they were paying us, or they’d gifted us or we hoped to work with them.
Well, I suppose the influencer industry boomed. Brands saw that by collaborating with influencers, to provide air quotes authentic promotion of their product that they’d tapped into a more organic form of marketing.
So influencer marketing became an actual department and budgets started to rise. But the actual experience, theory and knowledge of how influencer marketing REALLY works, didn’t necessarily develop as quickly as the rest of the industry did.
So influencer outreaches - who found themselves new to the role - had to hobble together approaches based on their limited experience and knowledge as well as their bosses.
In the beginning, the benefit of using influencers for marketing was simple - more influence for a lot less money.
Magazine, TV, radio and celebrity endorsements are EXPENSIVE, and in an expanding digital world, much less useful. Influencers paved the gap.
Brands aren’t stupid - if they can get the same amount of coverage to an audience 10% the size of a celebrity and pay them 1% of what they’d pay a celebrity, they’re laughing.
So how do blogger and brand collaborations work? Well there are lots of different schemes, facets and approaches nowadays but the main two, I suppose, are ‘gifted’ collaborations and ‘paid’ collaborations.
I’m going to preface this to say I fucking haaaate the word gifted. A gift is what you get from your boyfriend when you get your period or a shitty calendar from your Aunt at Christmas. It is not an item in exchange for hours worth of work poured into creating content. PR product seems a better fit!
Anyway, how these collaborations work are as follows…
A brand reaches out to an influencer and offers a product or service in exchange or a piece of content to be created.
A brand reaches out and offers money in exchange for content creation.
Now, way back before blogging was a business - everyone had air quotes regular jobs and just did it as a fun hobby on the side, you can bet your arse we were DELIGHTED to be offered a meal out, a voucher for a high street shop or a lipstick and OF COURSE we’d make an amazing piece of content to show how grateful we are. It was, and still is, a huge privilege to work with a brand in this way - which I’ll get more to later.
But as the influencer business grew and marketeers and PRs got more savvy - so did bloggers. We started to notice that other creators were working on ‘sponsored’ content with brands and we thought - dayum, if that person can actually get PAID, maybe so can I? So hand in hand, we started to be offered paid work and we started to seek it.
Somewhere along the way - probably on Twitter - we started to see creators begin to complain about gifting because they were then doing work ‘for free’ where other creators were being financed. And suddenly, being gifted something was seen by some as an insult. Eh, I’m not good enough to be paid?
Which, by the way is a hugely multi-layered thing that I’ll get into.
And this is the first misconception I want to quash. And again it goes back to how we’re using our platforms.
Remember when we’d DIE to be gifted a Mac lipstick? It’s because we were obsessed with Mac lipsticks. Of COURSE we’d love to feature them on our blogs - we loved them.
But then we started accepting gifts for things we weren’t obsessed with, or didn’t love - in the name of being seen as a successful blogger - and so then gifting collaborations where we took stuff we didn’t love just for ‘content’ left us feeling used and unfulfilled.
Listen, I wouldn’t have gotten a single paid collaboration without doing some unpaid ones first.
So here’s the crux. Content creation - good content creation - isn’t a piece of piss thing you can do on a whim in 2 seconds and bosh it up. It takes time, energy, ideas, creativity - these things should absolutely be compensated for.
How then do we navigate this?
Should we take gifting collaborations to build up a relationship? To build a portfolio? Should we always ask for money?
Because from a brand perspective, perhaps their budgets this time only stretch to paying certain influencers but can gift to thousands. Do we say no to the gifting, even if it could start a long term collaboration?
I’m going to tell you how I approach it - is it the right way? Who knows if there is a right way, but here’s what I do.
And let’s flow chart this shit up, grab your pen paper or notes app or whatever!
Firstly I get an exciting email. My first three branches are - is this a brand I love? Is this a brand I’m intrigued by? Is this a brand that’s not for me.
Then off of, ‘not for me’ we can branch down to a bubble that says, ‘reject politely’ and we tell them thanks but no thanks and all the best - or even, if you’re feeling particularly kind, suggest other influencers who’d be a better fit - it’s what I do. I believe in karma.
Then let’s think if it’s a brand we love. So for me, my favourite brand at the moment is & Other Stories. If & Other Stories were to slide into my box with an email offering me free clothes - I’d be BLOODY ECSTATIC. But here’s where the dilemma goes in, and under the other two bubbles of brand you love and brand you’re intrigued by, you’re going to want to put, ‘is there an obligation to post - yes or no?’ And here’s where our thinking comes in.
If Other Stories said I could have free clothes but in exchange I’d have to do a post for them weekly or monthly, an obligation to post, I’d need to work out here whether to ask for budget or whether because they’re a brand I already love and spend my money with, are the air quotes free clothes good enough compensation? No one can make this decision for you by the way, it’s down to you.
However, if they were a brand I was only intrigued by, and I didn’t know if I’d post about them organically if they weren’t going to gift me something, but I am still obligated to post, it might be here that I’d start to think - hmm, maybe I need to be compensated on top of the gift.
But let’s go back to if there’s no obligation to post. In this case, it often means that brands do not have a budget for sponsored fees. They just want you to try out the product and if you like it, post about it. Of course you can ask for budget - if that’s what you want to do, but bear that in mind.
So right, you’re back at the stage where you’ve had an exciting email from an exciting brand with an exciting proposition to collaborate on content and in exchange for a gifted item you are OBLIGATED to provide content, and you’ve decided you want to ask for a fee but you don’t know how to do that? Here’s how…
Dear Sexy Brand,
Thank you so much for reaching out. I am a fan of/intrigued by Sexy Brand and would be delighted to try your product. May I just ask if there is a budget for sponsorships for the content you’d like me to produce?
Looking forward to discussing further.
THAT’S IT. Don’t over complicate. Don’t over egg the pudding. Don’t say, ‘well because for instagram I usually charge x’ - the ball is in their court. You’ve asked if there’s budget. There will only be 3 outcomes here, usually.
But at the point where they say they don’t have budget - it’s just the gifted product, you can ask yourself further questions. Are you ok with that? Would it be content you’d make anyway? Then go ahead and take them up on their offer and lay the seeds of a longer term relationship with that brand.
But if it’s pissed you off a bit that they want hundreds of pounds of work off of you in exchange for a lower-value product, then I often would reply back and say, ‘Completely understand. Happy to try the product and post about it organically, in a way I see fit, however if you’d like guaranteed coverage with your key messages relayed, there will be an associated fee.’
Here, they’ll come back to you and either say thanks, no thanks or they’ll agree to send you the item with no obligation to post.
Whatever the outcomes of the flowchart and the circumstance, one thing is clear. You are in control of your content. If you’re happy to work in exchange for gifted items, great. If you insist you must be paid for every piece of content you create - that’s on you too.
Like I said though, it’s a many layered thing. And a good portion of my paid collaborations have happened because I did unpaid, natural or organic content for that brand first.
I’d also send out a word of warning that if you’re just starting out - no audience, no brand work pieces to show off, no experience with working with brands, no return on any investment (whether that’s building brand presence or actual click throughs and sales etc) to go straight in asking for money is going to be tough.
Sometimes, working with a brand on a gifted basis, to then show them your value and what you can produce - or even to show other brands your value is worthwhile.
But again it’s all down to you. So let’s chat about it - gifted or paid? What are your thoughts? Do you now feel equipped to turn those gifted conversations into paid ones? Let me know!