If you’re a new blogger or even a well-seasoned blogger, the times lately are a bit scary, making it even harder to navigate the wild wild west of Instagram and sponsored posts.
I’ll be the first to admit that promoting yourself can be daunting, frustrating, and unforgiving. I think knowing that the space is very saturated, and accepting the fact that it will take time to build your brand is the first step. The next step is hunkering down and really thinking about who you are, why you’re here, and who you’re trying to reach.
When I worked in ad sales, one of the first things I learned is that if you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one. Every brand briefing I ever read had a “target audience”, someone they were specifically trying to reach. These “people” were often so detailed in their demographics and behavior, it went right down to the type of dogs they owned and the cars they drove.
I’m not saying you have to get THAT specific, but my point is, it helps to know who you’re going after. This clear outline will help shape your own image, as well as make your approach to brands a lot easier.
Take me, for example. I love eating, writing, cooking, and I’m a bacon-enthusiast. When I first started blogging, I focused a LOT of my content around bacon. I know that sounds weird but at the time (2008), bacon wasn’t in literally everything the way it is now. But I digress.
So if I’m a meat-eater, do you think I’m going to reach out to a vegan food brand? Probably not. I have worked with a select few of those brands by this point in my career, but they reached out to me, not the other way around. If you’re smart and creative, you can make it work, but stick to the low hanging fruit first. That’s another old sales term I use, which means go after the stuff that’s easy and accessible for you.
If you’re a healthy food blogger, and you see some sponsored posts going up from your peers from a brand you really love, send them an email or sometimes you can just slide in their DMs! I have cultivated MANY relationships with brands that way, believe it or not. The key is to still be professional while pitching yourself in a casual environment. Make sense?
DMs are a casual medium for communication, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the fact that this is a large, national brand with a marketing team, social media team, and (hopefully) budget to work with.
This leads me to my next piece of advice, which is: know your worth and be realistic. I manage social media accounts for restaurants and brands, and a lot of folks out there are straight-up delusional. Some of the people who call themselves influencers have fewer followers than my cat. I don’t say this to be mean, I just say it because it’s the truth. If you have less than 1K followers, that’s fine! You have to start somewhere! BUT, don’t go asking for the moon from anyone just yet. You have to manage your own expectations and build first.
That’s one of the biggest questions I receive: how do you measure your reach and determine rates?
I think you have to look at a variety of factors, assuming you have more than one platform. Even if you don’t, that’s fine, but I’d say the standard for Instagram is around $100 for every 10K.
For some of you, that may sound insane, but it’s a good barometer. You have to start small, and you might do a lot of stuff for free at first, but at the end of the day, if it’s truly your passion, you’d be doing it for free anyway, right? If you’re trying to look at it as a business right now, then you would need some sellable product or service to charge for. Otherwise, I think expecting a brand to pay you for just being you when you haven’t established a following yet is a little unrealistic. And again, I am a blunt person so I’m just being as honest as I can in hopes that it will help you.
In my case, I have been a food blogger for over a decade with strong readerships, I have over 90K followers on IG, I’ve judged national and local food events, and if you Google me, I pop up in multiple news articles as a trusted source on many topics related to food and the industry. I’m not bragging, I’m just giving you a clear explanation as to why I can ask for money from brands, as well as free products.
To that end, when I’m reaching out to brands, I usually lead with my strongest following (Instagram), followed by my blog traffic and Pinterest viewership. I think a lot of people get stuck on followers on Instagram and think that’s all that matters. Typically, a brand will want someone who has a breadth of reach and content, and if they don’t want to work with you, it’s ok. It happens to me too, especially since the algorithm has killed a lot of my posts, but I know my voice and my content is valuable, it just may not be the right fit for some brands.
If you’re starting out and you have less than 5K followers, try sending an email to the brand you’re eyeing (usually can be found on their Instagram bio) and ask for products in exchange for a post (in-feed). If you’re a good photographer, believe me this is helpful to them. You’d be surprised how many social media managers don’t have good photography skills. Framing it as a way to help THEM is always a good idea, and frankly, that’s why you should be looking to partner anyway. The key word here is PARTNER. This isn’t a one-way street. If they’re giving you free products, you should be giving them something back.
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The next question I get a lot is about media kits: how do you design it, how long should it be, etc.
CANVA. I cannot stress this enough. I love Canva for presentations of any kind, but they have really come in handy for my media kits. A lot of the templates are free and easy to customize. I am FAR from a design wizard, and most people tell me my media kit looks “polished and professional.”
In terms of length, I think mine is 15 pages INCLUDING multiple case studies. If you don’t know what a marketing deck looks like, just think of it like this:
If you were looking to advertise your product with someone, what would you want to know about them?
Who they are
What they do
How much reach do they have (this is the numbers part)
Examples of other clients/work they have done (numbers here too)
That’s really the bare bones of a media kit. Don’t make it a lot of fluff and plaster photos of yourself all over it just because you like the photos. Believe me they won’t care. They will most likely skip the bio about you and go right to the numbers. That’s why I think having case studies (with measurable results/numbers) is most important. And finally, keep your pitch short! If it’s too long, a lot of it will go unread.
Let’s say you’ve nailed a campaign with a brand. YAY! Congrats! Now, how do you come up with your content?
Usually the brand will have an idea of what they want, but make sure it’s in line with what YOU want. I have worked with brands that wanted me to do things or take photos that were not organic to my brand, and it felt like a fight with a lot of back and forth. If it feels like an ad, people will be even more turned off to it. By now, almost everyone can spot an ad on Instagram, but there are differences between the good and bad ones.
Good photo: same style as you’re used to seeing from me.
Bad photo: a style you would never use, that looks out of place in your feed.
If you don’t post a lot of “product shots” with a ton of branding in them, then throwing the product packaging in every crevice of your photo with their logo on it might look a little obvious, not to mention cloying, no? I think the key to a good ad is subtle unless the concept of the ad campaign is supposed to be over the top.
Once you have the creative in mind, you can begin to build your caption. This is another area that takes some finesse and practice, but here’s a good distinction:
Good caption: As most of you know, I’m obsessed with peanut butter, so I absolutely loved this new PB-infused ice cream from XYZ brand! Lately I’ve been overdoing it with the snacks, so it helps that these babies are sugar-free! You can find them at most grocery stores or check out their store locator on their website – link in bio! #ad
Bad caption: If you love peanut butter, you will love this new ice cream from XYZ brand. It is made with love and care for over 32 years, in a small facility in Chicago, where peanut butter is made from the finest peanuts in all of peanut land. Non-GMO, organic, gluten-free, and sugar-free, even kids love it! Pick up a package today at your nearest grocery store or authorized retailer. #ad
Maybe it’s not obvious to everyone, but the “bad” version just reads like the back of the ice cream carton. Do you care about things being made in a small facility? Do you seek out the finest peanuts? Do you have kids? If you don’t, it probably doesn’t make sense to mention it, right?
If it sounds like marketing collateral for the brand, you’re doing it wrong. Make it sound like YOUR voice, while also promoting the product attributes. You CAN do both. Even if you’re not a good writer, you can work in your own originality, which is why these brands want to work with influencers in the first place: aligning with unique voices. So make it unique to you!
The approval process can be annoying, I know, and sometimes you have to change things up a little, but try always to remain true to you. If you believe in the product and believe it’s a good fit, you’ll find a way to make it work for both parties involved.
I hope this helps a bit! And if you need any further advice, feel free to email me at email@example.com. I’ve got plenty of time these days.
ABOUT DARA POLLAK
Dara Pollak is a born and raised New Yorker, classically trained dancer, and professional writer. Following a devastating car accident where she nearly lost her leg, Dara was forced to give up her dreams of being a dancer on Broadway and chose a new career path in digital media, with a creative outlet in food. The Skinny Pig is a top New York food blog born in 2008, covering “the Three R’s”: restaurants, recipes, and rants. Dara started the Instagram account @skinnypignyc (90K+ followers) in 2014, attracting the masses with her sarcastic, witty humor and unapologetic honesty in tackling topics like depression and PTSD. A former ad sales and marketing executive, Dara now operates The Skinny Pig Inc. full time as a social media consultant and content creator. She is a recipe developer and brand ambassador for FreshDirect, and has made appearances on Thrillist, ABC, CBS, Zagat, Tasting Table, and more.