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What I Wish Everyone Knew About Sponsored Posts

September 19, 2017

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now. Years, in fact. There’s so much mystery that surrounds sponsored content from the reader’s side, and confusion around how to behave from the blogger and brand side. It can sometimes be an incredibly complicated process and I think it’s due time we add a little transparency to it.

First things first, I am not an expert on this topic. I probably know marginally more than the average person because I do, in fact, produce sponsored content. However, when it comes to the legal side of stuff, I depend on the professionals. I, like most other creators, do my best to abide by the legal rules surrounding sponsored content, but this post is not about that.

This post is about what really goes on behind-the-scenes of sponsored posts. Not that there’s a heavy cloud of mystery surrounding it, but it’s not like bloggers and other content creators are casually talking about this stuff on their public profiles. So I’m going to because, well, that’s what I do.

Types of sponsored content

Let’s first chat about the types of sponsored content out there. For clarity’s sake, I’m not including ads (see those annoying things in the sidebar?) or affiliate sales. I’m talking about straight-up brand-blogger sponsorship where the content creator is expected to produce something incorporating the brand’s product or service to display on their Blog/Instagram/YouTube/Podcast/Facebook etc…

If you’ve been around THM for a while, you’re no stranger to sponsored content. The majority of what you see around here is sponsored blog posts, though I do occasionally do sponsored videos or social media posts. Here are a few examples:

Blog: How To Make a London Fog
YouTube: What Bodhi Eats in a Day
Instagram: Quaker Overnight Oats
Facebook: Stone Fruit Ricotta Toast

Who contacts who?

I get this question a lot and while I can speak to my personal experience, it definitely looks different on everyone. In my case, most of my sponsored work is inbound, meaning they contact me. I have done some pitching, but I’m incredibly fortunate to be in a position where I have work coming in.

Other content creators might have a different experience. If you’re just getting started or are part of a very niche community, you may be pitching more often than work is coming in. It’s totally circumstantial.

BTS: What goes down

Let’s walk through what typically happens behind-the-scenes of sponsored posts.

As I mentioned above, some people receive more inbound requests than outbound. In my case, I get about 10 a day (nope I’m not kidding!). At least half of them are spammy, from some foreign company looking for paid backlinks or want to share their infographic on my site (ummmm no). Of the other half, 80% of them probably don’t make any sense. Because while I’d just love to promote your new thigh-gap producing hula hoop, I don’t think that will ever fly on THM…

That leaves us with about one potential client and around 50% of the time it will actually come to fruition. But here’s how we figure it out:

When I receive an interesting inbound email, I respond inquiring about more info and cc’ my operations manager, Tanya. Tanya then follows up with my sponsorship guide (which includes my reach, rates, demographics and past work) and we begin the negotiation process from here. This usually weeds out the clients who are looking to get me to work for free pomegranate juice from those that actually are taking this as seriously as I am.

Once we both agree on a partnership, which can range from a single post to a yearly scope, contract negotiations begin.

Yes, I sign a contract with every brand I work with. Whether it be theirs or the one I personally send out, I have been burned enough times to know that a contract needs to be in place. Then it’s time to get to work!

We usually decide on a post theme and date and from there I let my creative juices flow. Once the work is complete, most brands require that I send them a draft. It’s an annoying process, but the better the relationship you have with the brand, the easier it is. Most of the time they’re just looking to make sure you didn’t say anything offensive or is FDA or FTC non-compliant. On the rare occasion, I have worked with brands that have tried to alter my voice and that is where I put my foot down. It is both built into my contract and also a non-negotiable for me. If the content doesn’t sound like me or reflect my true voice and opinions, I’m out. Losing my relationship with you guys is not worth the money.

But let’s just say everything works out, the content goes live and it’s time to start promoting it across social media (if it’s a blog post + social media). You will always know it’s sponsored whether it be with the FTC disclaimer, the paid tools in Facebook or Instagram or the always glorious hashtag AD. This is for two reasons: 1) because we legally have to and 2) because it would be completely immoral to promote something without you guys knowing we were paid to talk about it. Do I feel this detracts from the authenticity of the content? Sometimes. But I get into more of that below.

Beyond that, there’s usually a follow-up interaction with the brand about how things performed and then we begin it all over again if it’s a long-term contract.

So yeah…it’s a lot more complicated than people realize!

What I Wish Everyone Knew About Sponsored Posts

I think the biggest piece that I wish everyone knew was why we do sponsored posts. I think it’s easy to assume we’re in it for the money, and to a degree, we are. However, it’s also important to remember that very few of us started out thinking we could make money from this crazy blogging world.

We started out because we had a passion that we wanted to share with a like-minded community. Over time, this community grew and asked for more from us, which of course we gladly provided. However, at some point you have to make the decision about how you’re going to deliver more, and until cloning becomes a reality, it usually means dedicating yourself fully to this passion…and figuring out how to make money from it!

Do I wish I never had to do sponsored content and remove all those annoying ads from the blog? Yes, I do. However, until my landlord takes payment in Instagram likes, that simply isn’t an option. Everything that I share on THM is 100% free to all of you, and as a result I made the conscious decision to find a way to get paid, that wasn’t asking for a cent from you.

“I work for my readers and get paid by my brands”

That means that whatever sponsored work I do has to be relevant to you. I take this into account with every brand I work with. Is this valuable to my readers? Is this a product I think you’d actually use? Is it a product I would actually use? If it’s the right fit, it’s a win-win for everyone. If it’s not the right fit, you will likely let me know it, which is why I only work with brands that I align with The Healthy Maven.

That being said, there will always be the person or people who get lured in by the money. We all know them. They’re the ones where you have to do a double-take because the partnership is so off-brand you can’t help but gasp an outward WTF?! But this is not the norm, and I’d say 90% of content creators have YOUR best interest at heart.

What makes it even better is that a lot of the sponsored work I do is content I’d probably talk about anyway. I get to develop recipes using products I already use, take trips I’m already taking or share wisdom I already wanted to share. That is if the brand understands how to work with content creators.

And most of them do! I feel incredibly fortunate to work with some incredible brands who value you as much as I do. Simply Organic, Lorissa’s Kitchen, Stella and Chewy’s, Banff Tourism just to name a few. They get that no one has a better understanding of my audience’s needs and wants than I do and they allow me to run with that. While they’re certainly active in the content production, they trust my instincts and that’s why our partnerships are successful.

So not only do I want you guys to understand this perspective of sponsored work, but this is also my PSA to brands to not try to micromanage their content creators. Trust their instincts and knowledge of their readers and allow them to stay authentic and tell your story in a way that works for them. It’s far more genuine that way.

I truly believe that authenticity can exist with sponsored work. It just requires content creators to say “no” A LOT and ultimately work with the clients that actually make sense for their brand. It also requires the sponsors to accept that they have to give up a degree of control when they hire influencers. We aren’t walking ads and it’s a lose-lose for everyone if your goal is for us to be a megaphone for your product messaging.

What I Wish Brands Knew About Sponsored Posts

Maybe it’s because I’m coming hot off of Expo East and had to explain what I do to brands about 200 times, but I thought I’d add this little piece in here if you happen to work for a brand or run a brand and are looking to work with bloggers/influencers.

Generally, if you say or email us with something along the lines of “we can offer you this and you are so lucky!”, we will run the other way. I’m all about trying out new brands and products and sharing them with my readers, when they’re great. But if you think you’re doing us a favor by sending us a box of your protein bars/collagen/turmeric hemp pepita superfood sprinkle (you get the idea), think again. We get inundated with these types of emails daily. I have an entire cupboard full of products I get sent and try to pawn off on friends. While I’m entirely grateful for this, I unfortunately cannot pay my rent in free products and you’re not doing me a favor by giving me products to review or content to talk about on my blog.

Does this mean I get paid for everything I do? No. There are companies I love, whose products I buy with my own money and talk about all the time, but almost always I was not pitched by the brand to talk about them – I just discovered them on my own. To support being able to provide FREE and valuable content with my readers, I expect to get paid. I’m sure everyone has an opinion on this, but until you’re in a position where you have to earn your own living it’s hard to understand. I just wanted to keep things real and also selfishly hope that any brand out there reading this can rethink their influencer strategy if they want it to be effective and empowering for all parties involved.

I think that covers everything for now! As always let me know if you have any questions. I’m all about transparency and would be happy to answer them.

*All photos courtesy of Bettina Bogar

How do you feel about sponsored content? Did anything about this post surprise you?

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  • Reply
    Brie @ Lean, Clean, & Brie
    September 19, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Yes Yes Yes! I could not agree more with this post and love the fact that you shared what goes on behind the scenes of a sponsored post. Thank you so much for being so open and honest about it, because truly, us bloggers are trying to provide the best and most relevant content to our readers.
    Brie @ Lean, Clean, & Brie recently posted…Jalapeño Lime Shrimp Tacos

  • Reply
    Melissa
    September 19, 2017 at 6:32 am

    This is EXACTLY why I love reading your blog. You’re so honest and have great insights. Thank you for letting us in to the mysterious world of blogging!

  • Reply
    Juliette | Namastay Traveling
    September 19, 2017 at 8:16 am

    This was a really good overview and answered so many questions I had about sponsored posts! I’m new to the blog world and am still have a tricky time turning people down when I’m reached out too and not always sure when to say yes. Thanks for these thoughts, so helpful!

  • Reply
    Kayla
    September 19, 2017 at 8:35 am

    So much yes. It’s a tricky thing to navigate for sure, as I’ve learned. I love the point that you bring up about not asking your readers to pay, I never thought about it like that.

  • Reply
    Lee
    September 19, 2017 at 10:10 am

    These photos though.

  • Reply
    Sara
    September 19, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Thank you for being so honest! It’s crazy how some brands just fire out emails with that whole “here’s our product and you’re so lucky” mentality. As a blogger who hasn’t dabbled too much in the sponsored post world, how do you even get started with creating your own contracts?! That seems super daunting/way over my head, but so, so important.
    Sara recently posted…The Weekender 9/16

  • Reply
    Jocelyne
    September 19, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Thank you for giving your advice Davida! I see that you are doing sponsored content but who cares? You do it really authentically and this makes me really happy to give it a try or just read further. Everyone has to earn some money 
    Thank you also on the tips on how to work with them or the little overview. Helped a lot!

  • Reply
    dixya @food, pleasure, and health
    September 19, 2017 at 11:04 am

    i have just started doing some sponsored content and can relate to all of these things here..definitely with readers in mind + i cant take free granola bar and write a whole post on it, sorry.

    thanks for keeping it real 🙂

  • Reply
    Ashley | FIt Mitten Kitchen
    September 19, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Thank you thank you thank you times a BAGILLION!! This was so well written and pretty sure all of the bloggers out there (both full-time and aspiring!) would agree. YOU DA BEST.

  • Reply
    Skylar Allen
    September 19, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Yes, yes, a thousand times YES! Thank you so much for talking about all of this Davida! Having worked on the brand side and personally being on the content creator side, I’ve just about seen it all. And it’s crazy to me how many people (and brands) still don’t understand how it works and how valuable this kind of content can be. I say no 99% of the time because I care way more about the partnership making sense than anything else.

  • Reply
    Sam Vander Wielen
    September 19, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing and being so open! It’s so helpful to learn about it. Gorgeous pictures in this post, btw : )

  • Reply
    Katie
    September 19, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    I absolutely love your transparency! I get a handful of sponsored post inquiries come in, though not nearly to the same capacity as my blog is quite a bit smaller. I think where I get annoyed (and if you have any advice, I’m all ears!) is trying to explain to brands why I won’t work for free/product only. I feel like I find a nice way to explain it and then sometimes get some nasty responses. Obviously at that point, they’ve proven it’s not a company that I am in alignment with, but I also can’t help but wonder if I’m not sharing my value well enough, if that makes sense?
    Katie recently posted…It’s OK to be Vulnerable

  • Reply
    Kelsey Preciado
    September 19, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    So well written and explained!! Definitely book marking this to share with people when they ask! XO

  • Reply
    Kaitlyn @ Powered by Sass
    September 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Super helpful information, especially for me as a new blogger. My inbox has been bombarded lately with requests for free product reviews and promotions because “my readers would love it.” No. They wouldn’t. While it’s tricky saying no, it’s even trickier trying to pay my bills with zero compensation and also feeding my readers content they don’t come to my blog for. Thank you again for your transparency!
    Kaitlyn @ Powered by Sass recently posted…Air Shows, Oktoberfest and GoT Weekend

  • Reply
    Milena
    September 19, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Thank you so much for this info. I am trying to start a blog and any information like that helps. Thank you !

  • Reply
    Roxanne West
    September 19, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Frickin love this post babe, great job! xo

    http://www.bonjourblissblog.com

  • Reply
    Micaela @MindfulMomma
    September 19, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    So glad you wrote this! It will be perfect for sharing with brands and other bloggers. I was just at Expo too – and it’s crazy how little the brands seem to understand about how to work with bloggers – there’s so much variation! Sorry I didn’t get a chance to say “hi” at Expo – that influencer summit wasn’t very well set up for socializing. Next time!

    http://www.mindfulmomma.com

  • Reply
    Catherine @ A Cup of Catherine
    September 19, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Such great info! I have very little experience with sponsored content (small blogger here), but it’s a good reminder that, even with a small audience, i should be mindful of my value.

  • Reply
    holly wood
    September 19, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    This is a fantastic overview, thank you so much for sharing! I alway wondered about the #ads especially when some of them are super random like you noted. Now that beautiful kitchen you’re photographed in, is that your apartment kitchen or a stage?!?!

  • Reply
    Nicole @ Laughing My Abs Off
    September 19, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    Love how real and approachable this post was. I’m definitely not even close to a place where I can get sponsorships, but it’s so cool to read about the reality of the process from an established blogger like yourself.
    Nicole @ Laughing My Abs Off recently posted…Connecting with Me {A Weekend of Singing and Reflecting}

  • Reply
    Carmy @ carmyy.com
    September 20, 2017 at 12:59 am

    If only my landlord will take my rent payment in running socks LOL. I love the breakdown of this post, it can get a bit difficult to explain what we do to people and educate brands that product for post doesn’t always work. I’d love to know more about how you found Tanya! It seems like it’s much more productive to have someone else take care of that part of blogging for you and you can focus soley on the creative side!
    Carmy @ carmyy.com recently posted…How to Survive a Road Trip With your Girlfriend (aka Carmy)

  • Reply
    Emily Winters
    September 20, 2017 at 10:28 am

    AMEN TO THAT! It’s so frustrating when they say, OH I’ll send you this and you can do a post and I’ll see if I like it. I don’t have time to do all those posts for free people Here’s hoping ALLLLL the brand managers see this post. Thanks for writing what we’re all feeling Davida!

  • Reply
    Emily Winters
    September 20, 2017 at 10:29 am

    AMEN TO THAT! It’s so frustrating when they say, OH I’ll send you this and you can do a post and I’ll see if I like it. I don’t have time to do all those posts for free people Here’s hoping ALLLLL the brand managers see this post. Thanks for writing what we’re all feeling Davida!
    Emily Winters recently posted…Evolution Fresh Organic Superfoods Juice + a Recipe!

  • Reply
    Amber @ Bloom Nutrition Therapy
    September 20, 2017 at 11:42 am

    I loved this post! I am still just getting my feet wet in the blogging world and this was really eye opening about the receiving protein bars and such as payment. I have received similar offers a handful of times already and have gladly posted for them thinking about how “lucky” I was that they wanted ME to write the post! But now I honestly feel almost taken advantage of, lol! I’m definitely going to be stepping up my game going forward. Thanks for this great info!

  • Reply
    Casey the College Celiac
    September 20, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    Yes, Yes, and YES! Thank you for writing such a thorough, honest and relatable post on such a touchy topic in the blogging world.
    Casey the College Celiac recently posted…Chunky Banana Bread Energy Balls (Gluten Free, Vegan, Nut Free)

  • Reply
    Curt
    September 21, 2017 at 6:11 am

    Fantastic post Davida! I’m just getting into the blogging space now and this is extremely informative.

    You mentioned Tanya sends out a sponsorship guide to prospective sponsors; I would be very curious to know what this looks like, as well as the contents of your contract. I can guess what is in each of these but would love to know more about your process, or hear your recommended resources.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Reply
    Emily Adler
    September 21, 2017 at 7:34 am

    i really appreciate your honesty – and that’s one of the reasons i keep coming back to your blog 🙂

  • Reply
    Amanda - Create N Plate
    September 21, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    This post came at the perfect time! I just quit my desk job last week and now I’m deep into this on a whole other level than before. Thank you so much for sharing so openly and honestly about a topic that I don’t see many people talking about nearly enough. xx
    Amanda – Create N Plate recently posted…Thought Collections – Watkins Glen Experience

  • Reply
    Melissa
    September 22, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing all this helpful info! Your photos are gorgeous! 🙂

  • Reply
    Ashley @ A Lady Goes West
    September 24, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Davida! Great post! I feel like loyal readers don’t have a problem with sponsored posts, as long as the content is relevant to them. And I LOVE the phrase “I work for free for my readers and brands pay me.” Amen to that! It’s the truth. I think that brands are getting a little bit better at working with bloggers and influencers, which is good — but there’s still so much room to grow. Nice work on always getting a contract — definitely worth the extra time! 🙂 I like this post a lot! Keep up the great work!
    Ashley @ A Lady Goes West recently posted…Things that are making me smile this week

  • Reply
    Britt
    September 26, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    I love your honesty and willingness to share openly about this!! <3

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