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InsideFMM | July 29, 2014

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How-To: Fix The Broken Relationships Between Bloggers and Brands

Did you know that I was one of the first women in the fashion industry to write about how brands could build successful relationships with bloggers? I must say that what blogger/brand relationships are today are not what they were in 2008 or 2009. About a month ago, two articles — Haider Ackermann Thinks Street Style Blogs Are ‘Taking Things to Proportions Which Are Absurd’ and Have Bloggers Become Fashion’s Sycophants — really brought the ever growing complexity of the development of blogger and brand relationships to a tipping point. It appears that brands and designers are tiring of bloggers, and bloggers may be tiring of brands. Why?

Blogger and brand relationships are broken.

It’s time for the fashion industry bloggers and brands to pause, assess what they are doing with one another and fix their fundamentally broken relationships.

Are Bloggers More Influential Than Traditional Or Mainstream Journalists?

Fashion Bloggers Magazine IssueBefore we dive into the topic of brand/blogger relationships, I think we must set the context for the problem. Today, our industry is torn between what bloggers represent. The most common debates are if these citizen journalists should be able to wear the label “journalist” at all; and if they do, are they more influential that mainstream, more traditional writers and media outlets.

Well, the answer is yes and no. It’s like comparing apples to oranges in the sense that there really is no comparison between traditional journos and bloggers; they’re two different things, though they often overlap.

Journalists such as Cathryn Horyn (New York Times), Cate Corcoran (former WWD Technology Editor) and Jessica Michault are in a league of their own, and a writer such as myself would never dare compare them to any blogger or even myself. These are venerable figures — and editorial muses — that were here long before the fashion blogger phenomena rose, and they’ll remain just that even after Conde Nast, Hearst and Fairchild acquire all of the top independent blogger talent and engulf it into the folds of Elle, Glamour or whatever magazine they choose to position them in. They are women to follow, read and learn from.

But then there are fashion writers like myself, Lauren Idvik (Mashable), Amalia Agathou (TheNextWeb) and Rachel Strugatz (Women’s Wear Daily). Our work is created and resides in digital mediums (with the exception of Rachel, who has had print WWD features). We love digital ink and it’s a medium that we are knowledgeable about. We’re comfortable there, we dwell there. We’re highly influential in certain circles and in very specific niches.

While we don’t influence the same exact groups that Horyn, Corcoran or Michault do, there is a cross over. Moreover, we influence our shared audiences in different ways. We digital writers also influence online audiences and people within the fashion industry that these authors don’t reach.

As writers, we are all influential. People listen to us, look to us and respect our work. So should we be treated with the same courtesy you give the most established writers and editors? Yes. While it does not mean that you have to give us a front row seat, it does mean that you need to treat us with the same respect you extend to more established journalists.

The New Definition Of Famous

While bloggers are not famous editors or major Hollywood celebrities, they have impacted and morphed the definition of fame. Bloggers have people who read their websites and who comment on their work, and bloggers live their lives very publicly in order to develop those audiences. And honestly, once they have established these audiences, they are famous to some extent. Otherwise, why would everyone from Dolce & Gabbana to Coach, Net-A-Porter to FOAM magazine, and Pitti Umo to the MAGIC Trade Show leverage them for editorial, photo shoots and collaborations?

Influential Fashion Bloggers

Their brand extensions build customer bases for those they work with. Their micro fame builds brand awareness, brand engagement via digital channels and the best of them translate to serious revenue for your company (American Apparel nets 25% of its profits to bloggers). Bloggers are the very reason that fashion brands and retailers have outreach programs, media companies start blogger networks (Glamour, Teen Vogue, Vogue) and agencies such as Halogen specialize in building influencer networks. Micro fame equates to online influence – and influence is the one thing that every consumer facing brand and retailer is vying for through social engagement, gaming, content and entertainment right now.

So What Happened To Blogger And Brand Relationships?

Several things, honestly. And in no particular order, here are the reasons blogger and brand relationships are failing:

Brands attempted to apply dated marketing methods to digital marketing. It comes as a surprise to me that many brands and retailers still don’t grasp the fundamental meaning of the word “social.” Though there have been huge strides in this arena, the majority of brand communications via social channels are still very inauthentic. Fashionable darlings, social media is not a drive by shooting and building a social community takes love and care.

Brands decided that the PR department should run social media. When social media was turned over to the PR department or the PR agency of record, that’s when things fell out of alignment and frankly, crap hit the fan. Sadly, most PR departments or social media agencies (with the exception of about FIVE — yes five, which I’ll name in a later post) have come to view bloggers as quick-hit PR for their clients or brand. Buzz (people talking about something a brand or retailer is doing) and Engagement (people interacting with the thing that a brand or retailer is doing) are not the same thing.

Often, bloggers are invited to events by the PR people who are creating non-engaging social media buzz (also known as NOISE), offering them a goodie bag with $100 worth of product in it, a third rate seat at an event or runway show and then expecting them to write about how glorious it was. This is not only unrealistic, but it’s quite shameful on the part of the representative.

Retailers thought the e-commerce department should run social media. In most cases where I’ve dealt with the e-commerce department or company running the social media show, I’ve often found that the individuals in these roles are too analytical; focusing on conversions, not conversations. I’ve also found focus solely on content conversion, not content quality or engagement.

Just because something is the most read or most shared, it doesn’t mean its the best piece on the site. While best performing content should be duplicated for continued success, sometimes a little inspiration is needed to draw in that next big brand advocate. While there are exceptions to this rule, there are not many. This is where my time old saying comes in: there is a line between digital love stories and digital data. Fashion is fueled by aspiration, inspiration and passion — There is no algorithm that can qualify or quantify that.

FASHION FACT: IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY, SOCIAL MEDIA IS ITS OWN DEPARTMENT THAT WORKS WITH MARKETING AND PR. – Macala Wright

Photo: Australian Vogue August 2011

Fashion brands, retailers and publications have become unimaginative in the blogger talent they worked with. Our industry now uses same bloggers over and over and this has become a major problem. There are industry firsts such as Susie Bubble, Bryan Boy, Jane Aldridge, Rumi Neely and Sartorialist that people latched onto first (around 2007). They became so popular that every brand and retailer wanted to use them because they were the “IT bloggers” on the Web, and to some degree, they were “safe” to work with once highly established. You can now flash to Susie Bubble for GAP; did this make no sense to anyone other than me? Avant garde doesn’t match preppy.

To this day, they continue to seek out the most used bloggers. While this is phenomenal for these talented people, of whom I have nothing but respect for, it’s made it hard for other bloggers to break through and have their voices heard.

Are Bloggers Looking At The World Through Rose Colored Glasses?

Because of the treatment laid down by brands and because of unimaginative patterns that over three quarters of the industry has adopted, bloggers have done two things that have led to a third thing that’s just horrid:

Bloggers become jaded. It’s hard for a creative person to know how to manage a relationship with a brand or an agency seeking them out. At first they’re excited for simple recognition and validation of their work, and this is great start for an unknown, but after the blogger has become more established, the brands have continued to approach them in the same way. That is, offering zero to little payment for their work or offering product in exchange for validation. Product and prestige don’t keep bloggers in those fashionable outfits they painstakingly put together on the Internet, nor does it keep the lights on in those tiny New York, Brooklyn, Los Angeles or metropolitan city apartments — only money does. But then we run into an issue with money…

Bloggers now want celebrity appearance fees. Some bloggers now ask for $3,500 to $5,000 per day (and up!) in appearance fees, five star hotels and business class flights. As a blogger, you’re not Kiera Knightly (whom I know costs a great deal more), Kim Kardashian or even Snooki from the Jersey Shore. You ARE a social media personality within the fashion/lifestyle/or beauty vertical — and that’s a pretty SWEET thing to be. Your personal brand has value. The appearance fee must be commensurate with the value of the brand extension you, as this social media personality, bring to the table for whomever you are collaborating with.

Well Macala, can you determine this value? Yes, I can and I do this through a combination of analytics softwares; monitoring your social media profile, looking at the depth and quality of your content, engagement (not views or traffic) of that content, a dash of passion and good, old fashioned instinct. As a social media personality and as a marketer, I make sure that I’m fairly compensated for any work that I do, pour my heart and soul into it and make sure that the brand or client I’m working with comes back for more. I don’t ask for outrageous sums of money, but I do ask to be compensated fairly now that I have the credentials to back it.

The worst thing that ever happened to the fashion industry: BLOGGER AGENTS

Misguided perceptions have led bloggers to believe that they need representation, and blogger talent agencies decided to prey upon them like third rate Hollywood agents. There is no way to sugar coat this fact, but here it is: celebrities need agents, published authors need agents and professional athletes need agents; not bloggers.

As a blogger and digital author, I represent myself in my own deals and negotiate what is fair. If it’s not a good deal, I walk away. – Macala Wright

As a marketer who has wanted to work with certain bloggers, I’ve had to walk away from potentially good collaborations or projects because I could not pay $10,000 for one blogger for 2-3 days. Why is the fee so high? Because the agent takes anywhere from 12-25% of the deal, and some even have a set monthly fee on top of that percentage.

As a blogger, do you know what you may have missed because your agent couldn’t strike a deal that was in his/her – oops, YOUR – best interest? Three more projects or collaborations, more press, great video and more credentials to further your career as the amazing personality you are…

Your missing out on certain opportunities wasn’t because I was cheap; it was because, as stated above, the fee was not commiserate with the value I could present my client. You may need to consider ditching the third party negotiator.

So moving forward, how do we resolve and build positive relationships with bloggers and brands?

The Formula For Brand + Blogger Success

There is a lot that could be written about this area, so I’m going to go with what I think is most important.

For Retailers and Brands:

  1. Treat all bloggers with respect. Whether they have 50 hits per day or 50 hits per second to their website, you never know where the next “it” personality will be found. Treat all bloggers equally. In the bigger picture, we should be following The Golden Rule, so this should not be a stretch.
  2. Look for talent rising out of all the bloggers and influencers you interact with. It’s cool to go with well known figureheads, but also continually look for new talent. Troll Lookbook.Nu, Teen Vogue Fashion Click, start clicking through the links on the sides of your favorite blogs, study the people your favorite bloggers tweet at, follow bloggers you’ve never heard of in other countries and click through. Don’t just automate the process through your social media monitoring software. Take the Alice In Wonderland approach and fall down the rabbit hole of discovery.
  3. Pay your top talent. While we don’t have the digital spends and budgets to pay all talent, nor should you, make sure you focus on cultivating your relationships with your 10 favorite influencers. Do a private event for them, send them thank yous for no reason (write them and mail them; Twitter doesn’t count) and when you can, pay them with money, not just product and prestige. You don’t know how valuable these influencers may be as they grow in their knowledge. Who knows, they may end up working for you one day.

For Bloggers

  1. Define your goals. As a blogger, define what your goals are for your work. Are you using your blog to generate revenue and want to make it a full time job? Or are you using it as an online marketing tool to land a job at that brand you want? Do you want free products heaped upon you or do you want to make money so you can buy products yourself? Take some time to figure out exactly what you want from your digital personality and figure out how to get there. It’s never too late to do this.
  2. Work with brands that fit your goals. If you’re a blogger who wants to specialize in a certain area or genre, then only work with brands and retailers that fit that niche. Honestly, you can’t work with Forever 21 and then expect to work with DKNY or Chanel; it just doesn’t work. Pick what you love and focus on working within that area. Just make sure you’re focusing on something you’re going to love two, three or five years from now; you don’t want to burn out.
  3. Become business savvy. Bloggers needs a lawyer (a few hours of legal helps with a lot of contract headaches) before they need an agent or publicist. If you’re going to invest money, then invest it into things that are going to help you build a second stream of revenue that may eventually become your business. Develop a media kit with advertising, join Independent Fashion Bloggers, do your homework on SEO, ad networks and whatever else you feel you lack. I guarantee you can be business savvy and build your own brand. If you still think you need an agent, please read Yuli Ziv’s new book, Blogging Your Way To The Front Row and Be Your Own Publicist by Heart’s Jessica Kleiman before you sign that contract.

bloggers fashion week

As a blogger, what are you concerns with brands? What systems have you put in place to successfully work with them?

As a brand or retailer, what have been your challenges working with bloggers? What are you doing that’s totally working for you right now?

Photo credits: Styliete.com, FOAM Magazine, Net-A-Porter and Vogue Australia.

Comments

  1. This was an amazing, thorough, and well-thought-out article! So many brand/blogger collaborations have fallen flat to me, and your post really articulates why.

    Usually when I check out a brand/store/event/product I saw on a blog, it’s either something really cool or something where the blogger seems to have a close relationship/passion with the brand or its founders.

  2. Alex – Thank for the comment. Yes, many collaborations do fall flat.

    When a brand works with a blogger, it has to be well thought out and that person has to align with their brand. Really, when a brand or retailer, no matter how big or small, works with a blogger, they are extending their brand name to that person. When a blogger works with a brand, they are lending their brand name to that retailer/brand as well.

    It’s ironic, the one that that all companies and people work so hard to protect is the thing that at stake because of how easily they can get muddled up.

    It’s sad, but in a way, it’s was like – I can’t pay for editorial coverage and I can’t pay earned media people at big pubs. Let’s give this blogger thing a go and blur the lines.

    - Macala

  3. One of your best Macala. This is a must read for anyone thinking of starting a blog, working in PR, brand managers or in fashion media. And a great read for anyone who thinks they understand social. Engagement is key!
    Well done!

  4. Fantastic article for both brands and bloggers to read up on. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Macala – This article couldn’t be more timely, it captures so well the state of the fashion blogosphere. And thanks for the book shout out!

    While I agree on the issues you raise with blogger representation, I think it could be valuable, when done right. We use a different approach at Style Coalition, by building custom brand/blogger campaigns that involve marketing, advertising and social media, and never compromising bloggers own voices. We are there to guarantee campaign success for the client as much as for the bloggers we represent, and try to focus on branded content that has value to blogger’s audience, versus focusing on blogger’s own persona.

    The truth is bloggers do need brands to support them, if they want to turn their blog into a real business and make a living, and sometimes using third party (a network, in our case) allows them to focus on what they do best – creating amazing content. I think the key is finding the right representation – someone who understands the market well and also has your best interests. We are operating in such a new environment with very little guidance and official rules, so unfortunately I think we will be seeing more missteps until the space will regulate itself. Industry education is very important (that’s the reason I decided to dedicate my time to writing the book), and sites like yours definitely help guiding, so thank you!

    • Yuli – Thank you so much for your comments and as always, very valuable insights.

      I think Style Coalition is great example of an organization that helps bloggers and brands interact. You (as usual) did something first that’s influenced the industry and the way it operates.

      I think organizations that help teach and educate are a far better way to go than a singular agency/person that says – let me rep you and doesn’t really have any level of transparency with the person they rep as to how they’re repping them.

      You book so came at the right time, hence the link :)

  6. Great article. I had been thinking along those lines for a while but this points everything out perfectly.. Hopefully bloggers and brands will read this.

  7. Pretty spot-on article on so many levels.

    One of the biggest issues I have when working with brands is when they think telling me that “x-blogger” is doing this or that for free, that I’ll immediately jump at the opportunity. I don’t.

    I loathe nothing more than when bloggers agree to work for free, especially when a lot of work is involved. It hurts everyone. I’ve lost count of how many brands approach me from this “will you do this for free” stance, because everyone is doing it. Now, I counter with an opportunity that works for both of us, it becomes a bit of a struggle, but those brands who respect my brand reshape the deal so it works for both of us, but it’s still a battle when others are all too willing to work for free.

    I wish more bloggers knew their worth and built better alliances with individuals and network agencies who progress the industry. There is nothing wrong with working with brands, especially if it’s part of your livelihood, but it has to be different than it is now, and it has to be mutually beneficial, and on brand with your message.

  8. Dawn

    As a fairly new blogger mainly focused on beauty but fashion as well; I found your article very informative and insightful. This was like reading through a mini guide of blogging facts and procedures. Thanks

  9. This is a seriously fantastic piece! I just rambled across it and I couldn’t be more delighted. Well done!

    Claire

  10. Macala,

    Great post. Very much on point and insightful. I do want to talk about the blogger representation. I have co-founded an agency that does just that and our approach is very different than how you described it.

    Before we even talk to anyone who approaches a blogger we represent, we ask the talent what he/she would like out of the arrangement, what level of compensation he/she is comfortable with and we NEVER “lose a deal” for someone because we follow his/her lead. Even if the answer is no compensation, we support it and just ensure from a marketing perspective, the blogger’s name/image/likeness is being used in an optimized manner and that the talent is taken care of in-kind, which means we do not make a penny but our mantra is that if it’s good for our client, it is good for everyone.

    We take in mind our talent’s profile, traffic, recognition, influence, and content quality when negotiating and firmly believe talent should not be handling the finances and deal points (consulting from a marketing perspective, which is what I have been doing for much of my career is a very different story). We come from a place of understanding media, PR, marketing, talent, branding, imaging, and approach everything with what is a fair value for services rendered and we ensure the brand is getting the most out of it as well.

    Everything has to be mutually beneficial and symbiotic. We ensure that brand/blogger collaborations are organic and that the blogger is passionate about the project before taking it on. We have a very holistic approach that keeps in mind the full picture of whatever the opportunity is and we look at the blogger’s long term goals before doing anything.

    We are now booking bloggers in television commercials, working on TV deals, bringing them very interesting design partnerships/brand ambassadorships, hosting opportunities and beyond and we do not do a thing without consulting with the talent to ensure he/she is comfortable with it.

    That said, I can’t speak to how other agencies or managers/agents approach the space but I can guarantee that our approach is the opposite of what you described in your piece.

    I’m so glad to see you’re talking about this as it’s something that’s on everyone’s mind right now!

    Thank you,
    Karen

  11. Nail on the head. Thanks for writing this Cala!

  12. Macala,

    I love that you wrote this post. When the brand/blogger thing became trendy, a lot of brands thought they better jump on the bandwagon. Certain brands starting treating these bloggers like royalty without even considering what it is they actually do. We took the more conservative approach by welcoming what basically is a new fashion industry subculture into our regular fold of traditional journalism, but with the mindset that we do not yet know what this relationship will be so the front row is not where they are starting. Over the past two years I have immersed myself in the digital playground and have formed some very long lasting real friendships with many. As you know, we did a collab with Bag Snob this year and that idea was generated from a very real place. Aside from Bag Snob you and I have shared a mutual admiration and respect that has blossomed into a real friendship. But all fashion digital writers or bloggers are not created equal and to treat everyone as such wouldn’t be fair. I have always maintained that bloggers are important because of their OPINION. Aside from a few writers you mentioned above, there are very few who will actually go out on a limb and write a bad review. Or at least very few that people really take to heart. As far as blogger agents I think there are many bloggers who really can function as their own agent or publicist, but I am sure there is a lot of untapped talent out there who may not know how to make the connection with brands. I don’t fault them for needing help. What everyone needs to understand is that this is a new industry and it needs to be embraced. That being said bloggers won’t save your brand. They can be a great partner and certainly add value but I think there needs to be a legitimacy to the relationship or it doesn’t work. Nothing is worse than “me too” people, brands and bloggers have to find the relationships that make sense for them. Just like when you see a great celeb with a terrible brand or vice versa, the motivation is totally transparent and no one is buying it anyway. xo

    • Thank you so much for the comments. I think you brought two excellent points to life:

      1. Bloggers need help in connecting to brands – but it needs to be companies/individuals who want to see them flourish as people. These companies/people don’t exist yet, I think we’ve discovered a great maturation of a business model in place! To great minds.

      2. Bloggers won’t save your brand – I think that point was best clarified by this comment. Everything a brand has to do with marketing need to very well thought out. Selecting a blogger is the same as selecting a celebrity spokesperson or event the model for an ad campaign.

      Thank you again.

  13. My expertise is in tourism and travel; I came to this post through a link in the Twitter hashtag stream from a travel bloggers’s conference, where several people were saying that travel bloggers ought to pay attention to what bloggers are doing in the fashion industry.

    Couldn’t agree more – you could substitute “travel” for “fashion” blogger and “CVB – Convention and Visitors Bureau” for “brand” throughout, and most of it would still ring true.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful assessment of the current landscape.

  14. Amazing article! I can’t think of the last time that I read something so thought provoking online. I’ve been a blogger for almost four years now but I’ve only had my fashion site for a little over a year. When I first started the site, I signed up for a few media alert lists and sometimes, I truly want to kick myself for that.

    Brands constantly ignore me, send me releases about events (after they are over) with pictures asking me to write about it & telling me how great it was, or they send me releases about things I have never and would never write about on my site. The worst is during fashion week when I get invites to events & I’m told they are full after I RSVP or I get the canned “we can’t accommodate you due to small venues” line. These are again, the same PR/Marketing teams sending me pics of who was at the event after the fact.

    I understand that I’m not the biggest blogger, but, my site is quality and even better I write real reviews. You won’t find a bunch of pics of me in my NYFW street style, nor will you find pics of me and random celebrities who don’t care that I exist only that they’ll be on some blog, and you won’t find any subpar posts. If I don’t feel like a post is 100% perfect, I don’t publish it. And if I go to an event & I don’t like more than 75% of the collection, I don’t write about it. I feature quality content of my choice, sometimes collaborating w/ PR but sometimes not. Also, I feature international & multicultural content to make it diverse and relevant to different people from all over the world.

    Some of my bad experiences w/ PR teams & my passion for communication/social media led me to start my own PR company. I only represent emerging ethnic creative talent (models, stylists, make-up artists, designers) and my focus is social media marketing and online media relations. It’s my home and it’s where I’m most comfortable. Also, traditional PR just doesn’t work when it comes to approaching bloggers. It’s about building relationships & having conversations, first. Then if they like you, your company, and your client, they may bless with you a post. My approach is taking time but since I’m building personal brands for my clients, time is what I need. I’m going to end my comment now before it turns into a post. Thanks for writing this post! It was some serious food for thought.

  15. Great article Macala and thanks for the shoutout to us.

  16. I truly appreciate this article post.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.

  17. Wonderful summary of how bloggers work and how brands can work with them Macala. As a blogger and a marketer who works with bloggers in my day to day job, I can agree to what you said about some bloggers asking too much and acting in occasions like they are the ruler of the world just because they have a blog. Sure, of course some bloggers do an outstanding job, have a great following, put a lot of time into their work and treat brands with respect when working with them, but I do think that there needs to be mutual learning from both brands working with bloggers and bloggers working with brands. Bloggers should remember that money could be deemed better spent on advertising in more traditional media with perhaps better cut through than on them, so being professional in working with brands is very important.

    I have written a couple of posts that relate to this and provide more insight into the professional element of blogging:

    How to reach out to bloggers – 6 top tips for blogger engagement http://wp.me/pFOp5-bg
    The Delicate Art of a Sponsored Blog Post – http://wp.me/pFOp5-aI

  18. Great article. I’m a new emerging label in Australia who has been working closely with bloggers for the past year. I fully support paying bloggers what is fair and reasonable, but in my experience the one of the biggest problem is bloggers not understanding what they are selling to brands. Bloggers also need to understand if you want to make a living from your blog, then you are running a business and every brand you engage must be treated as such. Sucessful businesses are built on relationahips, not making a quick buck. You have made some great points about these issues, and I agree an agent isn’t the answer. As a brand I’m going to be supporting the up and coming, agent free blogs because they are the people I can build a brand relationship with. Together we can come up with interesting new ideas that benefit us both.

    • Marguerite Darlington

      That’s really great to hear! I think you’ll find a lot of success going that way.

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