Breakfast, Featuring Keynote: The Intersection of Brands, Bloggers, Ethics, and Opportunity



Alicia McGlamory, @masterbuilt AND @mcglamorous
Cassidy Stockton, @bobs_red_mill
Elise Bauer, @simplyrecipes
Jaden Hair, @steamykitchen
Jory Des Jardins, @jorydj

Jory: (introduced all the panelists)

The premise of this panel…there's evolution in how we work with brands and monetize and work with platforms. We're going to talk about how we're shifting. There isn't one path to building a brand, monetizing (or not). There is no one right way. We have 2 bloggers that have succeeded, in different ways, and they are still friends. They have different philosophies in how they monetize. Brands have different approaches for innovating the way they interact with bloggers.

Jory: Share your philosophy on how you build your platform and work with brands.

Jaden: I am a food blogger as well as a minority mother. I am a food blogger, but I've also built a business that supports my family. I can't wish for my mortgage to be paid off, but I'm having so much fun doing both that it's not either or, it's one and the same.

Jory: You're open to working with brands and monetiziation?

Jaden: I work with just a handful of brands that I feel is a true partnership. The times of partnerships I look for are long time relationships, minimum of 6 months. I work directly with a PR agency instead of a brand. I'm very lazy; I don't like to work. My passive income bucket is big (advertisement from site, the book, products I'm creating). Active income is writing recipes and promotion. I don't have to wake up and say what do I have to create for my client today. The more passive the better because that's more time i get to spend with family. Right now my income is 70% passive, 30% active.

Jory: There's a give and take with brands. Some people are thinking right now, oh, that's nice.

Jaden: Someone said: honest day's pay for a honest day's work. I believe in that, but I believe that the company that can afford to pay for a PR agency can work with me, but I'll do something for a company that can't.

Elise: I don't consider myself a journalist. I'm a home cook that takes pictures of food and writes about it. Everything I do is in service of my readers. I use my own website, my family uses my website. I'm always thinking about how does this appear to those that actually use it. I don't do product reviews. When I started out, I was more open to them, but over time I decided to focus on recipes. I actively don't work with brands. If I receive PR pitches, I put it into my spam filter so I never have to receive one from the company again.

Jory: What if you're approached by a brand that you often use?

Elis: I'll say: I love your brand, I recommend it, I write about it all the time, but I won't do a paid engagement. I don't ever want to be paid by you.

Jory: And yet you make money for your blog?

Elise: If I do any type of engagement, it's through my advertisements. I want to focus my time on cooking and recipes and recipe testing. I don't want to have this conversation.

Jory: It's amazing the different approaches. Advertisers are a wonderful source of income if you have an incredible amount of traffic. It's a shifting revenue source with changes in advertising world. What are changes you're anticipating? Earned media is a write up, supposedly generates thru purely authentic means. The advertising may be paid for, but any responses are earned media, like tweeting about it, or further posts.

Elise: It's a metric they can measure, they're getting a value out of it. We've (she and Jaden) collaborated on things like that. I'm looking at my stats, 2 years ago, mobile phones represent 5%, now they're 20-25% of traffic. I make 99% of my money from banner ads. If I were an advertiser, I'd say I don't want to pay for ads on the phones. When people access the site more and more thru the phone and I'm not receiving the income. In 2 years, 50% web traffic will be coming on the phones. What happens in a world that's built around computer platforms? How are we going to monetize the shift? Should there be sponsoring the experience?

Jaden: As I see my business in the future, the less my income comes from my ads, the better. I don't like relying on outside income. Ad income goes up and down. I feel uneasy to have a big unknown when I'm building a business.

Jory: I want to address brands and how they're working with bloggers. I'm talking to brands that have built a following.

Cassidy: We don't have a very big budget for what we can pay bloggers. We try to find bloggers that are smaller and have a passionate following and create a genuine relationship. We want people to play with our products more than offer a product review. We've had bloggers create a recipe with 5 ingredients and then offer that with a gift pack for a blog reader winner.

Alicia: Masterbuilt is a cooking products manufacturer. When I first came on board, no one was responsible for creating relationships with bloggers. Our messaging at MB is about sharing experience with the family and friends around the table. I'm the one that establishes relationships with bloggers. We're not interested in a one-time thing. We want to talk to people that have the same values as us. It's interesting the friends we've made thru the process. We don't want to be perceived as the big bad brand.

Jory: Very often brands have metrics and ways they use to measure their efforts? What's the bottom line?

Cassidy: We've been very blessed at BRM, but that's not something we focus on. Social media is very difficult to measure, especially compared to blog traffic. We all have measurable objectives. We use tools like "jive" to see the conversation around our brand. We're given the free range to do what we do. Measuring is really difficult.

Alicia: We've come full circle. When I came on board it was all about numbers, follower count. It's about building a community. I'd rather have 10K that are a community than 10Million that never check the page. So many fans share pictures of their food on our page, unsolicited. That is a measure of success. But we still want you to post successful blog posts.

Jory: Do's and don'ts to blogger approaches?

Alicia: do's:

-Approach me. Be bold enough to come up to me and build a relationship. Don't be afraid to approach a brand. Face to face is great (like BlogHer conference). A phone conversation with me is great.

Jory: You can actually use a phone to speak!

Cassidy: People who call me are 90% more likely to fit with me. Then I can find out their philosophy.

Alicia: back to do's:

- Call MB and ask to speak to me. Also, ask about our philosophy and our business. Bloggers tend to jump in and talk all about your blog, but haven't heard anything about the brand yet. Do your homework; don't come to me without doing research about the company. You don't have to know our entire 40 year history, but look at the website and see the products we sell. We use bloggers to give us suggestions for new products.

- Follow up, follow up, follow up! Take the initiative to follow up. We're busy and have a lot on our plates. We may not follow up with you but you should do it with us.

- Take the word no very graciously. We brands talk.

Jory: Would you say there's a little more sense of entitlement in bloggers over the years?

Jaden: In the beginning, we were swarmed. Companies were approaching bloggers like crazy. Bloggers didn't have pro experience in business.

Alicia: In house, we do more than media thru blogging. We're in all types of media. Watch your graciousness.


- Don't be overly aggressive

- Don't overwhelm me with your stats in your first request. It's funny when they are low stats.

Elise: Do you think you're unusual in this marketing world?

Cassidy: From our perspective, it's the same thing. A lot of brands here at the conference do the same thing.

Jory: In some of the bigger brands, you're not really dealing with the brand but with the PR agency the brand has hired.

Alicia: You're normally speaking to a PR buffer. But they have a set of metrics and measured by stats, etc. We use our pr agency for our media, but not for blogger relationships.

Cassidy: If you want that genuine relationship, you have to build it with the brand. The stats are great for the PR agencies because they have goals, but not for the brand.

- Another do: come to me with an idea.

Alicia: We want you to be creative. We had a blogger that did a video with our turkey fryer (a thanksgiving meal in under an hour). I'm in love with that.

Jaden: You asked me earlier what brands I like to work with. I like to work with brands that let me be creative. I'm not interested in just writing something nice about your fryer. I want to do something fun.

Elise: Don't: if you are looking to monetize your blog, do not be overly emotional or erratic on your blog post. Don't go all crazy. It's like in the sports field when a player crosses the line. Be real careful before you hit publish.

-name your blog and twitter handle very carefully. The off the wall handles can be cute but may not work with the brand you want to work with.

Jory: Determine how much a priority it is when working with brands. In the early days when you received a lot of PR, you had good advice about how to turn that relationship around. You said, this isn't for me, but this is how I'll work with you.

Jaden: I tell PR companies that this may not be perfect for me, but here's someone that might like to work with you instead. Twitter is the easiest way to establish a relationship with a company. Start with twitter, follow them, create a relationship, establish communication. Once you have a good relationship, send them a tweet or DM: is it ok if I email you and run some ideas past you? In the first email, do not pitch, but mention that you have ideas you'd like to run some ideas by them. Now you have permission to pitch and send ideas to them.

Jory: We don't want to delve into stats right up front. Not everyone has huge traffic. Can you share your strategy about traffic?

Jaden: I embed a Quantcast code in my site and the company I'm talking to can go to that third party website and find them, so the conversation with the company/brand is NOT about the stats.

Elise: Journalists want to know it as well. If you don't make it available then the company is guessing. You'd rather have them know.

Jaden: A company has asked me for certain measurements, but it's best to lay out my expectations first. I let my agents do the negotiations when it comes to that.

Question: I don't work with brands, but I'm making a good living from my blog. I notice that as a blog reader when I see a post that shows a picture of a product given to them from a company, it's a turn off and not appealing. The most important relationship on my blog are with my readers. Do you think there'll eventually become a point that so many bloggers are doing sponsored posts they won't be useful anymore to brands? Question 2: My brother tells me when PR companies can go to a blogger and give them products or take them on trips, they're getting a good bang for their buck, then you're shooting yourself in the foot when you're not accepting free items. How do you feel about that in the long term?

Jaden: There are thousands of food blogs out there. I love giving people choices, telling them to do whatever they want on their blog. As a reader, do I go to certain blogs? absolutely, because I love this person. My readers and family are at the same level, and as a business woman i have to make choices seriously.

Alicia: We don't want to deal with blogs that are just reviews or sweepstakes.

Jaden: Every person can make that own choice. Paula Deen had a big blowup with the companies she worked with.

Elise: We can do whatever we want with our own blogs. It's a free country. I'm so pro-financial empowerment for people with their blogs. If you don't like the channel, change it. If you don't like what you see on a blog, go to another one.

Jaden: I like to focus on things that matter to me. I have a steamy kitchen store that I make money from. The more I can make money from that, the better. I urge you to do the same thing; have your name on a product. To create more than just a blog. That's brand extension.

Jory: Sweepstakes are still going to happen, as are review programs.

Alicia: All the TV you watch, "they" sent them the clothes they wear, makeup, etc., so much of what we see was supplied by a brand.

Elise: Every time you see an Apple logo, it's being paid for.

Question: In the 45 minute video cooking the turkey, was that just on spec or did you work with her on that?

Alicia: She did it on her own. We have not historically paid bloggers. We provide a very expensive product free shipping plus a prize for one of your readers. We are not in the business of writing big checks.

Question: I am an SEO consultant. But I'm also a political writer. Authenticity is important to me. Alicia, you were advising bloggers to think about what they name their blogs.

Alicia: I prefaced that with "if you want to monetize your blog." We won't share philosophies with everyone.

Question (cont.): Bloggers have an authentic relationship with their readers. There's a big movement towards blogs that are focused on product reviews and giveaways. If bloggers decide that's the way they need to be written now, will that dilute the authenticity of blogs?

Alicia: We agree with that. We would never encourage someone to be dishonest. It just may not be a good fit with us, our company. At what point does it become inauthentic or obviously just trying to appeal to brands?

Cassidy: There are blogs that are a good fit for all sorts of brands. Our companies are family-friendly, so we have to keep an eye out on the blogs that are a good fit with us.

Alicia: Our company being "family-friendly" means my kids are liking and active on the company Facebook page.

Question: We all struggle with technology. Given the complexity with some of the production value, when you're trying to be creative that may be outside of the box, how do you deal with that?

Jaden: I charge money for the production costs. If a company can afford to hire a PR agency, they can afford to hire/pay me. I like to work with companies with a budget for this, then they can allow me to be more creative with the project.

Jory: Starting out, how much investment did you put in?

Jaden: Very little, with a flip camera and having my friends teach me how to use iMovie. Partner with someone who is great at video editing.

Question: Would you be willing to work with kid food bloggers?

Cassidy: You're the perfect age! absolutely!

Question (cont.): What kind of advice can you give to an 11 year old?

Jaden: Stay in school!

Elise: Just do it. Don't wait for permission. This is my advice to everyone. Don't want for the universe to give you permission to go and do something.

Cassidy: You're remarkable from a brand perspective, because there aren't very many like you. You're special. Don't be afraid to call us.


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