How Bloggers Work with Brands and Media



Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel
210 Peachtree Street Atlanta
United States

Welcome to the BlogHer Food '11 liveblog of the "How Bloggers Work with Brands and Media" panel - with Georgia Pellegrini, Amy Johnson, Hank Shaw and Lori Lange

Georgia began the session by asking the panel, "Tell me about your first experience dealing with a brand?  Lessons you learned?"

AMY "A company wanted to give me something free. The free part of it took over my brain.  I didn’t ask the right questions.  (The item received) wasn’t my favorite thing.  In hindsight, I would have asked more questions.  She said that in the beginning, when approached by companies she was "nervous and scared to be firm".

AMY said she learned to ask if dancing is required.  In the beginning she accepted a company offer that requried dancing.  Know what she knows now, she would have contacted the company and said wasn’t comfortable with that.  She's more comfortable now asking for more information from companies before accepting free merchandise.

LORI on relationships with PR firms.

LORI "We (bloggers) get emails from PR firms who read your blog and understand you.  You have to give people a polite response.  Some people are new to the profession and --  if you send them a rude response they’ll never want to work with you again.  They might be working with ABC company in the future. 

LORI on accepting free items.  "In the beginning of my blogging days, Im almost embarrassed because they are things I would not buy.  Now, if I have reservations, I decline right away and say that it’s not the right fit.”

HANK – Dealing with pestering from PR firms.  He get’s 6  -1 0 emails a day from PR firms that want him to try products, even if his site isn't a good fit for their items.  “If you’re going to send a form later, great, but if you’re going to keep picking a particular web site, you should really know about it.”  I don’t do a lot of free stuff, but there are a lot of pr companies you can have relationships with certain people in the company.   “You guys are all people in the food world.  We’re starting to become the new real food writers.”

Georgia – “I’m pretty strict about what I put out there."  She says, you can dilute your own brand if you’re giving away stuff with no basis behind it.  About a company wanting something to be featured she says, "We should be getting paid for all of this.  I’m polite, enthusiastic and warm."  She gives them her ad rate sheet.  She sais, "If you treat this like a business, you need to be paid for your time and your work, esp. as women.  You can be warm, but you can be firm.  You can say, you expect XYandZ."

QUESTION: What should I charge?

GEORGIA – everything is based on page views, decide your audience, explain what your monthly page views are, explain who you are.  Decide how much your real eastate is worth. 

AMY – My time is worth a lot.  My kids aren’t going to understand why I can’t hang out and play guitar hero because I have to write about cheese.  I have an amount in my head about what I would charge for freelance writing.

LORI – PR firms don’t like to send out emails to bloggers and receive a rate sheet back.

Georgia – Well, too bad.  It’s your web site.  You need to be polite and give them the attention they gave you, but it’s ok to ask for what you want.

LORI - (About dealing with PR)  She offers, "Here are all the things we could potentially do together.  It has to be compensated.  Sometimes I give them a range.  It has to be negotiatled.  I negotiate up."

HANK – You have to be able to walk away.  I was asked to create receipes but I had to walk away.  I charge $600 a recipe because it takes a lot of time.  Many of you have very specific audiences, you can carge a lot more because you have all the vegans or the Alaskan pipe welders.  You say (to PR), "Yes, you want to talk to these people? I’m the one to talk to."

Georgia – highly targeted users – you charge for recipes, photographs and writing.  These are separate things and get different charges.

QUESTION: Once they sponser you how obligated are you to post about their products?  How often should you post?

AMY – All the way through always ask questions.  They are our client.  They are hiring us, so it's just like if we’re working in an office.

HANK – (About doing PR for a particular business)  I’ve gone with him because I buy his stuff anyway, but if you needed to get something online this place is one of the very few you .  If you do it has to mesh with your blog so you don’t look like a wholy owned subsideary of them.

AUDIENCE STATEMENT FROM SOMEONE WHO WORKS FOR PR FIRM: Our clients are slow on the uptake, but are getting better.  I’ve seen them change.  They were spending money on glossy magazine advertising … when you work with good PR people they are trying to educate their clients on how important this group is.  We have to educate them about what a page view means, etc.  When we do our job well, we’re trying to connect with you because you’re already a believer in some of our products.  We love working with you when you help us educate our clients. 

GEORGIA: How would you suggest we deal with a media outlet that approaches us? (to HANK)

HANK I was newspaper reporter for 18 years.  I used to teach seminars on how to deal with the media.  (Discusses meaning of “Off the record”)  You must say "off the record" to the reporter before you say anything and the reporter has to say “OK”.  Reporters work fast, we ski fast and fall hard.  You need to help reporters along with what they are doing if you want to be quoted and raise your profile as a food writer.  If you’re a certain age, blogs have a stigma to them.  If you want to be a source in media, “answer the damn call”.  You are all experts in what you do.  They are calling you because you know what you are doing.  Answer the questions resporters are on a very tight deadline, answer their questions.   Answering helps you lift your profile and become a professional entity.  When you’re dealing with reporters ask a lot of questions.

QUESTION: In terms of dealing with TV stations, are they dealing with you because you’re the expert?

HANK: They don’t know the right questions to ask.  I’ve been contacted to do a tv spot …we’re going to do a hog butchering…I don’t do hog butchering …  a lot of times they are so busy, they don’t know what to ask.

HANK: If you don’t go off the record, if it’s a profile there’s going to be some info that will help a reporter understand the context of where you’re coming from.  It’s important for a reporter to know why your quote is what it is.  It’s an integral part of reporting.

QUESTION: Do any of you have experience targeting brands you want to work with?

LORI: I have so many contacting me.  (She offers some advice from pr companies).  They like to get pitched, they like bloggers to approach them with unique ideas about how to work together.  Sometimes somebody who’s not so big will come through with ideas.

AMY:  I had a small get together in March.  I did contact companies, but I picked companies that were relevant.  It was mutually beneficial to what I was doing.  The ones that responded could see how that was a good fit .

GEORGA: The most important thing is to be well branded yourself.  It comes down to basics, really clean web design, good content.  You need to look like a brand first.  I’ve identified for brand purposes companies that would be a good fit.  I approached them with my brand, a pdf of rates.  We need to create a manifesto that we require payment and certain things to work with them because it’s much more effective.

HANK: There are pitfalls.  I approached a purveyor to “help me help my readers get what they want”.  There are reasons that most of us are with blogger, it pays pretty good and it’s easy.  I dealt with a particular purveyor who strung me along for 5 months. 

QUESTION: I’ve already talked about a lot of brands because I love them.  Is that a mistake?

GEORGIA: You’ll probably come up in their google analytics.  They search for that.

<<concensus>>> not a mistake

GEORGIA: I do what’s worth it for me, what is your time and space worth.

HANK: Blogger works on cost per thousand.  I work with small companies that want me to do affiliates.  I do cost per click.  You can try it and it’s a marker.  Click through rates, even if they don’t buy something.  Most equitiable structure between me and the publisher.

QUESTION FROM KELLOGG PR PERSON:  How often are you working with the PR firms?  Are you talking with internal folks and asking if you're speaking with our research dept?  (She says they have depts that will help with the understanding of their products including nutritional value.)

GEORGIA: I didn’t know PR firms offered that. 

HANK: I've never worked with a company big enough to have a research dept.

QUESTION: would you be willing to share an example contract?

GEORGIA: I have pdf with my rates.  I make them send me a check for the full amt up front.  I deal with smaller companies where I have personal relationships.

AMY: I put together an invoice they sign it.

HANK: As long as you have it in writing…<<keep the emails>>

Concensus: travel, food, per diem should be covered.  Charge a Speakers fee if you’re speaking for them.  Ask if it’s compensated.  Some of the bigger bloggers are charging a day rate.

HANK: I just got my first speaker's fee recently.  <<everyone claps>>

<<marla from audience>>  working with brands you’re going to find, there are some trips where I was paid and others weren’t paid.  Why?  Because I asked.  <<companies money IS there it just need to be reallocated.>>

<<joe from audience>> Do you value things that aren’t a direct compensation, but could lead to your site awareness, etc?

LORI -  I prefer to work with contracts.

AMY - If it’s somewhere I really want to go, I take that because it’s a cool trip.  If it’s a small company that might really not have a budget but you believe in them and want to support them.  Help them out, hopefully down the road it will be mutual for both parties.

HANK – Atlantic magazine syndicates my content.  I made the judgement that them syndicating my content was more valuable than other compensation.  Come into it with a clear head. 

LORI – (Explaining how to get into recipe development.)  (A company approaches and might say...) We’d like you to create a recipe for traffic (and it's from a big company).  If you’re just starting out it might be good for your resume.  You can mention to other companies that you created a recipe for land of lakes for example.

GEORGIA: I think it’s bad publicity to work for free because I think it sets a bad precedent.

<<Lorilee from audience on contacting PR>> Get a media kit together.  Be clear, direct, state objects, be brief and respectful.  I’ve done a lot of large brand work for a long time.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know them personally.  Are you concerned about staying diverse?

AMY:  I don’t want to be dictated by a brand.  I don’t want people to come and feel like it’s an adverstisement all the time.

<<Rebecca from audience>> There's an oatmeal company I do recipe developement for.  If I mention another oatmeal am I cheating on them?

GEORGIA: You decide.  What is your agreement with them? 

<<concensus>>Decide that up front.

AMY: I shoot Nikon, but if I went to Cannon it undermines that.  It just depends on what the product is.

GEORGIA: Your readers like your authenticity and who you are.  Be what those readers love, uniquely you.  If it feels kind of funny, it’s probably not right.

LORI:  Think of your readers.  If your readers are in the forefront of your mind I think you’ll make the right decision.

HANK: I write for my readers.

<<Statement from audience member who works for olive company>>: A reader wanted to write about our olives, we sent her product and then another company sent her their olives and she wrote about that.  All integrity is lost at that point.  If it’s all about getting free stuff that’s ok, we can find other people to work with. 

<<Statement from audience member who works for Kitchenaid>>: I do PR for Kitchenaid.  Moving around the dollars takes time.  I have to prove to them that it’s meaningful.  If you’re going to flirt with another brand (after doing PR with them), she says to come let her know so she can explain that to the company.

<<From Audience>>: For me to make a case to my boss, I need that pdf info.  She says it make it hard for her if bloggers come back and say make me an offer.  "Having your pitch together what your expectations are and what you expect help us."

<<From Audience>>: Is brand compensatation taxable?

GEORGIA: I’m not an acct.  For money, it’s pre tax income.  You pay at the end of the year for sure.  It’s all taxable.

LORI: I did something for free and was asked to do more projects with 4 more big companies.  (Discussing how doing free work can be beneficial.)

GEORGIA: I'm willing to do something for free when it’s products for my fellow bloggers.  That’s where it’s important to do without compensation.  You’re supporting your  community.

HANK: I save %35 of everything from the checks I get for taxes.  Open up a separate acct that has money in it for taxes.