20180812

The Truth About Sponsorship


A few weeks back I spilled the beans on how PR works - so if you haven't checked that out, you can catch up here, as it is a good foundation for understanding the second part of this, which is all about sponsorship... 


What is it and how does it work? 

Sponsorship is simply when an influencer receives money in return for content. This can take many forms and it can range from having to read a script about a product for YouTube to simply including a link to a particular website within your blog post. Sponsorship can be via a brand's agency or you can deal with them directly

Usually, whether or not an opportunity is sponsored will be stated in the enquiry, however there's nothing wrong with asking for payment if you feel the brand is asking a bit too much from you when they've simply sent you a couple of products to try. Obviously this is within reason - if you're dream collaboration comes knocking on the door, I wouldn't ask questions!

Contracts and obligations

It may seem like overkill to have a contract when you're uploading an Instagram post for £80, but the exchange in itself forms a legal contract, so having something in writing is for both parties' benefit. For example, how long they have to pay you is important to pin down and if they have any specific requirements you need to iron out all of the details before you create content that may have to be canned. A lot of the time sponsored posts are part of a campaign (this could be for a specific event - in which case everyone's content will go up at the same time, or it could be the opposite, where posts are staggered throughout a longer period so Instagram isn't flooded with everyone talking about the same thing at the same time) so knowing your deadlines is crucial. The brand will want to approve the content beforehand and whilst I've personally never been asked to entirely redo photography (I've only ever had requests for slight tweaks such as at which point of the post a product is mentioned in or minor factual corrections on the product features) you should factor in that possibility when you're agreeing timeframes. You need to ensure you have time to test the product, buy whatever props you may need (as sometimes there are specific themes the brand wants you to get across to tie things in with their wider campaign / advertising strategy) and take the photos. 

For me, if I don't already have and love the product, it's also important to make it clear at the initial stage that I'm not committed to doing the post yet. If a contract is sent to me, I won't sign it until I've finished testing the product. You usually get a really good amount of notice on these things so it's never been an issue for me. The only times I've had quite last-minute enquiries are where the brand or their rep sent me the product as PR a while back and I gave them a positive review on it and at a later date they've had something that they've wanted to promote. This makes things far easier, as all I have to worry about is creating the content because the product is already there, tested and ready to go.

You really need to check through any contract you're signing! If in doubt, ask a friend or colleague to have a look over it. I'm quite fortunate in that my job requires a good understanding of contract law, so I know what to look out for. Obviously most of you reading this won't have management to look out for you like the huge influencers do, so if in doubt: query it, ask that practical person in your life (you know the one: they have an actual budget spreadsheet and know which ISA you should have) what they think and if you're getting really bad vibes then bow out. Sometimes you may be signing up to not posting about specified competitor brands during a set campaign period, if the product is integrated into a wider post the brand may restrict the amount or type of other products you can mention in that post or on the extreme end; you may be unwittingly signing away your ownership rights to imagery you've created for them. There's a really wide spectrum - for one campaign I was made to essentially do regulatory test on what to do if anyone comments on my post that they've had adverse effects using the product (this wasn't outlined until after I'd created the content and there was a very short deadline to complete it within, which was frustrating and definitely a learning experience for me in ensuring I have all the details before putting the work in), whereas for others they've not minded other products being in the photo.

When should you say 'no'?

I think the fundamental question you have to ask yourself is: 'would I have talked about this product or service or event if I wasn't being paid to?' I think a sponsorship is essentially for when a brand wants guaranteed content, prominence on your channels or to ensure content goes up at a specific time. I know that I personally receive a lot of products in PR and my approach is that I'll get around to talking about it when I get around to talking about it! Or if I'm already using and enjoying a product, you may have seen it on my Instagram Stories but not my main feed yet. Or it may have been posted about on my feed with a bunch of other stuff I'm using. Sponsorship is a way for the brand to bump their product up my list, get it featured as the main focus of a post or to get me to post about it in line with their own promotion. It's not a way to get me to talk about something I'm not interested in! Sometimes it isn't as cut and dry as a glam fashion and beauty vlogger flogging budget detergent - I once had an insurance company approach me to do a post about what's in my handbag based around the cost of the stuff we carry around with us every day. This is obviously very relevant to me as an insurance underwriter by day, however it's not really something I talk a lot about on my blog so I didn't end up going with it. Was that the right decision? Maybe, maybe not. I'm not saying I'd never do a post like that but it just didn't feel like quite the right fit at the time and you have to trust your gut instincts on these things. I get that this is a tough call when you're doing this as your primary source of income, but I can only speak for myself and I don't freelance; I have a job with a consistent salary, so anything I earn from my blog is just a nice bonus that allows me to invest back into products and equipment to keep it going strong. It's also a bit unfair on the brand if you take money to talk about something you doubt your audience is going to be interested in!

As I mentioned, if you think you're being asked to hand over too many rights and freedoms (such as not being able to talk about x brand you love for x months or it feeling like rigid requirements around the content wouldn't fit in with what you usually do) and the brand won't negotiate (these things can be frustratingly prescriptive, which is why I've had to bow out of a lot of opportunities once getting into the nitty gritty) then I think it's best to put a halt to it. Although I haven't experienced this personally, I know for a fact that other blogger friends have had brands complain about their honesty in a sponsored review. This is pretty frustrating because you shouldn't be expected to airbrush how you talk about a product because the post is sponsored. This is sort of why I think Instagram posts are a better way of doing sponsorship because you're sharing an image and giving the campaign's message and you can give a full review (or probably already have done) on your blog independently of the sponsorship. If it's going to be review-based, it really is best for it to be a product you already know, use and love.

What should you charge?

This is one of the hottest topics in blogger circles! I know a lot of people have rate cards, however I don't because I want to be able to size up each opportunity on a case-by-case basis and I also don't want to put people off, as there have been many times that I've been excited about a brand, product or campaign and gone way below what I'd usually charge because their budget has been small. However where there's a limited budget, I do expect a lot more flexibility in creating the content my way and I wouldn't be willing to do it if there was a very short deadline.

So many factors go into being selected for a sponsored opportunity and how much you can charge for the content - obviously follower count and engagement rates are important but a big part is if you have the right audience. At the end of the day, you could have 100k followers on your fitness Instagram account but if only 1% of those people are going to be interested in a new young adult fiction release, the brand's money is better spent on doing something with an 18 year-old book blogger who only has 5k followers.

I think if a brand wants a post just on their product or is restrictive / prescriptive in a way that requires you to put more work in then you should charge more. If they're less rigid and are happy to have their content integrated within a wider post then I do think you can be more flexible in return when it comes to your pricing. I have charged anything between £50 and £150 for an Instagram post and between £75 and £280 for a blog post (you can also offer a 'package' price if they want you to promote something across platforms) based on this logic.

Getting payment

This is kind of the kicker! To be honest, if it's a small brand I'm working with for the first time, I ask for payment within 24 hours of the content going live. If it's a big company, there are lots of hoops to jump through to get payment for suppliers and I'm lucky if I get it within 60 days! There's usually a formal process to go through to get you on their list of supplier and then to authorise the payment, which all adds onto the time it takes to actually get the money in your bank account.

I've only ever not been paid for something once, which was pretty gutting at the time as I'd put the work in to create the content. I chased multiple times over many weeks and used the 'archive' function on Instagram a couple of days after they failed to meet the payment deadline. They ghosted me, so the post is still sat there! I really recommend doing this if you're having issues with payment because you can easily flip it back to show on your feed again if they do settle up.

Disclosure

It's really important to give your readers the choice about whether or not to support your sponsored content and to be clear about the nature of your sponsorship. For blog content you can put that it's sponsored in the post title or personally, I have it as the first line of the post (for people reading directly on my blog or on Bloglovin', to ensure it's in the preview) and where I share the link directly (such as on Twitter or Facebook) I put in the caption that it's sponsored, just so people know before they click. I do find it frustrating on YouTube when it's hidden in the caption or they just say it at some point in the video because I just want to know upfront before I start consuming the content. On Instagram I ensure it's in the caption, as mine are usually pretty short and clearly formatted (I include hashtags as a comment, to keep things tidy) however if it's long or wordy, I put this at the top, just so people who are scrolling don't have to expand the caption to know it's sponsored. 

I also ensure that at the end of the post (if it's a blog post where other products are included) I make it clear which brand has sponsored it and if it's sponsored content or just a link that's been paid for. I always mention that the opinions expressed are my own, because I obviously wouldn't have gone ahead with the post it if they were trying to make me say something I disagreed with! 

Can you trust sponsored content?

I know that everyone generally gets less engagement on sponsored content, so obviously there is still the perception that you can't trust sponsored content. I'm not saying everyone lives up to the ideals I'm going to discuss, but if you don't trust someone then why are you following their content to begin with? I think the wariness of sponsored content misunderstands the order in which things happen. The majority of the time when you're offered a sponsorship for a brand, it's because you've talked about their products before or had PR from them and liked it. You don't just get given a random, unknown product you've never seen before to flog! As I've already mentioned, on the small number of occasions I've been asked to sponsor something I haven't tried, I make it clear they are sending me the product to use for a period of time and if I like it enough then we'll do the sponsorship.

I guess it comes down to whether you trust the person who created it, because if you don't then you probably shouldn't be taking their other recommendations! If someone's sly about things, it doesn't take a sponsorship for them to be dishonest because they'll do it in other ways - whether that's raving about a product because they want PR or sponsorships from the brand or saying a new launch is amazing to stay in the brand's good books to get further PR.


Bloggers: have you done sponsored content and how do you tackle it? Consumers (or bloggers putting their 'consumer' hat on): how do you feel about sponsored content?


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