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How to work with brands

how to work with brands // a thousand threads
Last week I posted a link to an article by Casey Neistat that I thought hit the “sponsorship” nail on the head. In it, he talks with some disdain about the folks who’ve reached out to ask him how they might talk a big brand into paying for their vacation. His answer boils down to this:

I have made 86 videos for my YouTube channel in the last couple of years. 8 of them were for clients, 78 of them were for me. My focus is and always has been on making the work I care about. It is an honor to have found a way to get paid to create work like this, something I value greatly. There are no shortcuts. No one is going to pay for your vacation, no one cares, no one gives a shit and they never will. If you want something, anything, do the work and earn it.

It’s harsh, but true, and I can identify with what he means. There are no easy breaks here… and the goal isn’t the perk. The perk is just a nice bonus. The goal is the dream.

On the other hand, I know where those folks are coming from. The ones who contact Neistat about sponsorship unicorns. And it’s not always, as Casey understandably assumes, that they’re really just looking for someone to finance their vacation. Rather, I’d be willing to bet that most of those folks are looking for some way, any way, to follow their dream. Because whether that dream is to write or take pictures or make films or art or anything else, we all know it won’t come cheap. So in today’s world of underfunded art programs and shrinking newspaper staff, makers and doers are turning inward, looking for a way to reach their goals on their own… and the path that many, including both Casey and those who’ve reached out to him for advice, are turning up is that sponsorship is key.

But how do you make it happen? How do you catch the eye of one of those brands that really “gets it” and is willing to invest in the power of a dream you both share. Well in addition to reiterating the advice quoted above, because it will be hard work, I thought I’d pass along a few real-world tips I’ve picked up along the way.

how to work with brands // a thousand threads
Think about this question first before you ever consider reaching out to a brand: Are you ready?

You might not be yet, and that’s okay. Before you take the first real step toward sponsorship, you will have to prove yourself. Which might sounds scary, but I promise it’s not… what I mean is that you’re not just going to pick up a bunch of sponsors after opening a free account and throwing up a post here and there for a month.

This is why: Moving from hobby-blogging (which is totally okay to stick with and completely worthwhile) to sponsored blogging is the line between business and pleasure. Would you launch a food business before your recipes were both tested and perfected? I don’t think you would.

Blogging is a little bit different, because you can launch… you can work and learn and take classes and improve your work by doing until you come to a place where you feel that the space you’ve created on the internet is worthy of not just someone else’s time, but their money. When you feel you have a truly saleable product, then it’s time to take the first step. Until then, keep learning, keep working, and don’t rush.

P.S. Saleable doesn’t always mean you have big traffic numbers… in fact most brands won’t even ask. Saleable means beautiful and professional work that will do justice to the product. This is a really important distinction that often gets lost in the scramble to hit that magic number that doesn’t necessarily exist.

how to work with brands // a thousand threads
It seems pretty basic, but there is one more important thing you’ll have to do while you’re learning and growing your brand. Get to know the community around you. Get to know your fellow creatives, possible mentors, and potential sponsors… and while you do, it should go without saying, but be nice. Be nice even if they’re not. Nobody wins on the low road… or something like one of those cliches.

Also, nobody wins by reaching out with a lack of knowledge about who they’re reaching out to. Maybe you’ve followed a brand on Twitter for a year. Maybe you’ve retweeted them a few times or even said “hi.” One day, if and when you want to reach out to them with a super kick-ass idea, they may or may not remember you. But if they’ve never seen your name once, or you just expect them to know it because you’re oh-so-important, even though you haven’t taken the time to learn a single thing about them, then well… they probably won’t, and your super kick-ass plan might get overlooked.

how to work with brands // a thousand threads
When you ARE ready, this is one that I see a lot of folks skip, and it’s maybe the most important piece of advice on working with sponsors that I can give. The brands you really want to work with probably won’t just magically see you and shoot you an email with an amazing campaign and tons of money attached. Sometimes they do and it’s beautiful, but it’s very rare.

In order to work with brands, you will have to do the work. You will have to have an idea and you will have to send them a pitch. The pitch might be as simple as a very professionally-written email describing your blog and your credentials and presenting an idea, or it might be as elaborate as a fully-illustrated proposal, it depends on the size of the project. But whatever you send, it should be courteous, thorough, and free of typos. Remember, you’re representing a business, not just some lady with a blog.

how to work with brands // a thousand threads
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but your idea should fit the brand, it should be creative, and it should make sense as to why the brand you’re reaching out to would want to invest in this particular idea now.

And you should explain in your pitch why it’s all of the above.

how to work with brands // a thousand threads
This is a tough one, because when you’re small you need the exposure, so here’s the thing: think of it in terms of ROI (return on investment). Say a brand isn’t willing to pay but they’re going to give you an awesome free product and provide a ton of social media amplification for your post. If you really feel like you need that amplification, maybe in this case you work for “free.”

Now say a super big brand wants to send you a free product for you to push out or review without pay or cross-promotion. This is where things get a little tricky. Remember, if you agree to provide a service in return for the product (i.e. a review or even just a tweet saying how awesome the product is) you have to claim said product on your taxes. Is it worth it? Especially if the shampoo or shake or whathaveyou doesn’t really jive with your personal brand? It is okay to politely decline.

Okay so the “working for free” lecture is almost over, but here’s just one more thing to keep in mind. The business of blogging is still very much the wild west, and freelance writers are being paid less and less for their work. If you’d like to someday turn this thing into a career and actually get paid for your posts, you should try hard not to contribute to a culture that rewards the folks who are willing to do it for free. Make sense?

how to work with brands // a thousand threads
Last but not least, when you land that super awesome sponsorship with your super kick-ass idea, darn it, do your best. Go the extra mile to make sure the post is great, and once it’s up push it out to your networks just a little bit more than your agreement says you have to. Then when it’s all said and done, thank the folks you’re working with and let them know how it did.

Be professional, go the extra mile, and you’ll be rewarded with long-lasting relationships with brands that will want to work together again and again.

Hey I want to say it’s simple, and a lot of it is… but getting there is work, I know. Keep at it.

If you feel passionately about your dream, you’ll make it happen — and hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful along the way!

27 Comments


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