Liveblog: How Food Bloggers Work with Brands and Media

BlogHer Original Post

Welcome to the liveblog of the BlogHer Food '10 panel "Vocation - How Bloggers Work with Brands and Media: Advanced Techniques to Professionalize Your Blogging."

Here's the description:

The business of blogging has never been more complicated…there are a myriad of ways to use blogs to earn income and promote your career. These include advertising, freelancing, social media consulting, food writing, recipe development, photography or styling gigs, becoming brand ambassadors or spokespeople, hosting giveaways, reviewing products, becoming ghost-bloggers, working directly with brands on sponsorship or marketing campaigns, managing social networks, creating multimedia…the list is long. Bloggers act as both editor-in-chief and publisher of their online media empire. This session will deal with how to diversify your professional blogging and how your blogging can enhance your profession. Get down to business with Jaden Hair from SteamyKitchen.com, Georgia Pellegrini, Anupy Singla from IndianAsApplePie.com and David Leite from LeitesCulinaria.com.

How Bloggers Work with Brands and Media: Advanced Techniques to Professionalize Your Blogging

Georgia Pellegrini: How do you break into professional and paid blogging. Let's start with Jaden - how did you first approach blogging?

Jaden Hair: I have never approached a brand. Opportunities have come to me because of my philosophy: I see brands and PR agencies as my clients. So many bloggers hate emails from PR agencies and then they bitch about not having enough money and wanting to monetize their blogs. Steamy Kitchen is a business. PR companies are my clients and making my blog more than a personal journal was my goal.

A high end cookware company approached me early last year, and sponsored me throughout my book tour. I wasn't sure how to price myself - we're all new at this blog as business thing. If you're a photographer or a writer - you know how much you charge for an hour. But as a blogger - how much do you charge? Do I charge for my shopping time, etc? I didn't know.

I asked too little for my first sponsor - they agreed to my price right away. The next sponsor, I doubled my rate. Next time I doubled it again, then doubled it again. Keep asking for more until you're met with resistance.

Moderator: David, do you have advice for a newbie blogger?

David Leite: Apologies to any cookbook publicists out there. I'm old, I'm fat I'm not going to have a long career so I wanted to go on the Today Show. I approached every single producer, sending book and note after book and note. I finally found an advocate who was half Portugeuse (the book is Portugeuse fare) I corresponded with another producer for 6 months. Be funny, charming, warm and nice to be around. Make great food. No one wants to beat awful food.

I realized after I went on the show that I am my own brand. My book and my website and perhaps a future line of products falls under me. Raise your hand if you have copywriter the name of your blog (1/4 room raises hands) I recommend that the rest of you get the name of your blog copywriter. How many versions do you have of your website? 2 (few people raise hands) 3? (even fewer) 4? (almost none) I have many copies of my site. Protecting yourself and your brand is very important. I have 5 different URLs for my website so no one else can use my brand for a porn site.

Question from the audience: Are all those URLs active?

David: No, they are all forwarded. I've been on radio and they will say leitesculinary.com - no one can remember that. I changed it to lcwrites.com - easier to remember.

Georgia to Anupa Singla: You have a background as a reporter. Any advice?

Anupa: I appreciate being on this panel because it made me think more about my brand. My brand is that I am a reporter - first and foremost I am a reporter, especially in Chicago. I was also a business reporter for a long time. What I offer to people is honest, critical, and my philosophy is not to take anything for free. If I get something, it's full disclosure. When I'm done testing it, I give it away or back to the company. I write for the Chicago Sun Times that way and for other publications.
When I took a step back from TV news to cook and write about it, I had to rebrand myself. Who wants to write print? (few people raise hands) Do your homework. Know what else is out there. Understand what's a good story. As reporters, it takes times to allow stories to percolate. Pitch a story 3-6 weeks in advance, especially for newspapers.

Question from the audience: Are you saying that this is the way to go about it if you want to go into publication yourself? Or for another publication?

Anupa: I hired someone to pitch me because it was uncomfortable to pitch myself to people who were former colleagues and who knew me. You should probably get representation to a certain degree. With my book, I also did shoot folks messages, people that were friends in my field…just FYI notes…letting them know that there was no obligation

Jaden: I have a bit of a different perspective. I think you need to get comfortable with it and be your own advocate and be the PR person for yourself.

David: To add to that: I wrote the book and I was DONE with Portugal. And suddenly, that's when everyone wanted me to write about Portugal. I had an aha moment. I don't want to be a writer, I want to be an expert. I realized I don't have to write about Portuguese cuisine anymore, but I want to sell my book. I wanted to be the story. This has helped me a lot. There's something called the legitimacy fallacy: if you write for a newspaper or magazine, you are legitimate. This is just not true. Don't feel you need to slave away for ten years making next to nothing to gain "legitimacy"

Jaden: FTC guidelines are totally different on TV.

David: And they will tell you that on TV. I could not mention Nordic Cookware (the cookware I used on air) when I was on air or I could get charged for mentioning them.

Jaden: And some networks don't really care at all.

Georgia: People don't talk about the visual side of branding. One thing I have learned is that you should spend the money on someone who knows how to brand you and polish you. Brands want to be associated with someone who looks good to make them look good. When you look good, you look like an expert. Branding yourself visually is so important. People don't have time for bad color palette or confusing design. How do we best position ourselves as brands, with examples.

Jaden: I was just talking about this. I believe in having a life motto. Mine is "magical moments." Everything I do, from my biz to my lovelife to being a mother…is around having magical moments. This took years to develop. It came down to 2 sentences, and then one, and then two words. When I first started steamy kitchen it was Easy Asian Cooking. Then I got bored with that and expanded beyond that and I created a tagline: fast, fresh, and simple enough for tonight's dinner. I challenge you to come up with your life motto because it will extend out to your business. This is your journal, your diary, what your family eats every single night.

David: For me, it goes back a long way. I have always been goofy. There was always an element of humour. What I do that most people don't do - I'm a food humorist. I'm not interested in politics. I want to write about sustainability but in a funny way. I spent 18 years in branding and marketing and I wanted to become a food writer. I trademarked "hot food, dry wit." I also added a mission statement for myself which is *thus* long which is wrong. The important things to take from it though are education and entertainment. If you build it, they will come.

Jaden: Authentically.

Anupa: I'm glad you said all that because I am in the early stages of branding myself. I started meeting, talking, tweeting, facebooking -- and saying that if you come to my house, I have food for you for free - if you give me feedback.

Jaden: I want to touch on a few things. The best thing I have ever done for my company is having someone re-design my blog and create a logo for my site. I want to be entertaining and useful and searchable - all under the value of community.

Georgia: You're just giving this content out into the world and hope that someone gives back by commenting or saying they like it. When you have your brand that you created, it needs to be a reflection of what makes you happy. My website reflects me. People feel that vibe; visually, whether it's infectious. You have to have your story and it has to be visually tight. David, you talked about the sanctity of your brand. Can you talk more on that?

David: Your brand is yours and you must protect that. You can't make changes quickly. Don't cross pollinate. Whatever your brand is: keep your brand, keep your centre. Don't do publicly what you should be doing privately.

Question from the audience: Do you work more on branding of Steamy Kitchen or your name?

Jaden: I want you to remember Steamy Kitchen, that's my brand. Hopefully one day that brand will live beyond me.

Georgia: I went in the other direction. I'm selling myself. In my case, it made more sense to have my name recognized over and over. I made that choice in a very calculated way.

David: I think also you can balance that. You can market yourself, and you can market your brand. You have a certain kind of clout scores among publishers.

Anupa: You are your brand. Just to give you a quick example. Donna Pierce (in the room) is one of the former editors of the Chicago Tribune.

Georgia: It's all about karma! Next thing I want to talk about is naming your value: getting others to see it and pay for it.

Jaden: 3 areas I diversify: the first thing is platform. All the kinds of media where you get mentioned regularly. It was very important for me to have multiple platforms: teaching, speaking, faceboo, twitter. Not just relying on people who come to my bog. Second part is skills: I invested time on photography, styling, writing recipes. Diversify your income. Advertising revenue is only a small part of it…by design. The way advertising is right now…it will not last. It's going to change. I develop recipes, food photography, speaking engagements, etc. I calculate all of that together to determine what I'm worth.

Anupa: There's monetary gain and personal gain. When I first started out, I was a reporter. I felt when I was writing pieces for papers, it didn't matter what the price tag was. I would have done it for free at that point. It's what you do in the beginning. Hopefully in 5 months my prices will be different as the market changes. A few people for silent auction items: another way to get your word out there.

David: What does someone see how valuable you are? I was asked by a major national newspaper - they wanted me to write a piece on Portuguese cooking. I said yes, I would love to. I asked the editor what I was asking about money wise. She offered four hundred dollars. I was silent and she interpreted it as not happy -- offered me 600 bucks. If I would have burped or ran to the bathroom? She would have offered me four thousand dollars. Publications do not offer static rates. You have to be able to walk away from any negotiation. When you're asked what your number is? Throw out a number that is 25% higher than you think. Or ask…tell me, what do you think I am worth?

Jaden: My no's are so much more important than my yeses. When I first started blogging, I said yes to any free thing that came my way. Then I realized that if I wanted to turn this into a business…I realized I couldn't do that. If I decline, I will make suggestions about someone that might work instead.

Georgia: When you first start off it's easy to get anxious. You don't want to miss any opportunity. Sometimes silence is key in negotiation.

Jaden: You live your life in scarcity or abundance. If you live in abundance you know if you say no now? That there is opportunity right around the corner. I'm not scared to say no. Live in abundance.

Georgia: We have 15 minutes left so I want to open this up to questions

Question from Audience: I want to know - when do the brands start calling?

David: Keep your head down and your ass in the chair and blog. Let's talk in a year.

Jaden: Start forming relationships with brands you love and that are passionate about. Consistently make good content.

David: Do you know how many bloggers are not bloggers after 2 months because they don't realize how hard it is?

Question from the Audience: You're all so dynamic. How important do you think that is to your success?

Jaden: Practise. Talking. And with that small television station. I looooove blogging. I love teaching and sharing so it's easy for me to come alive in this situation. If you're talking about dynamic in other platforms like radio or TV…it just works.

David: If I were someone who was shy…I wouldn't want to be on TV but I would be killing the writing element. It's about finding your true self.

Anupa: I love the camera because there are no faces. Sitting in a room like this is harder.

Question from Audience: I'm Kim from Kraft foods. You talked a lot about creating your own brands, how much do you charge, etc. How do you like to interact with brands?

Georgia: I just had an experience with this yesterday. I don't like getting random plugs all the time.

Jaden: I prefer working through a PR agency because I like having an intermediary. I produce content best. I love working with Weber Shandwick and other PR companies because they understand my language and my client's languages. I work with smaller companies directly because they can't afford PR companies.

Anupa: It's really key to get the blogger's name right? Expectations have to be realistic.

David: Make sure that the blogger knows your blog. If they don't understand what your mission is about and they are giving you..if they're sending you baby formula and you have no children -- you shouldn't work with them. I have been working with Wiley for a long time. I never get a book that's inappropriate. We're not being sent stuff that's not of our brand, even though we may not use them all the time. Find one brand that fits me…and send that to me.

Question from Audience: I am Jenny. My question is - I have people who are willing to pay me…and others who tell me I can buy my own dessert to review. I am trying to figure out ethics.

All on panel: Vigorous "NO" They should not pay you for a review.

David: We pay for everything. If it's a product…I buy the product. Therefore I cannot be accused of being a spokesperson. You have decide what's comfortable for you.

Anupa: If it's an expensive piece..I give it away or give it back.

David: If someone wants to pay you for a review…that's not a review, it's an endorsement.

Georgia: We all have books! (all panelists provide names of books)

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