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?
Before 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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.