The pursuit of sponsors is a hot and heavy topic right now because bloggers are smack-dab in the middle of conference season, and the Big One (BlogHer) is coming up in less than one short month. I typically restrict my commentary on finding a sponsor (or sponsors!) to offline conversations with friends, but yesterday I hit my tipping point when I read an especially audacious sponsorship post and now feel compelled to share my view on it. (Hopefully this will provide some education or at least food for thought for those who are new to the scene.)
Finding a sponsor to help pay for the costs of attending a blogging conference is a great idea, regardless of whether you truly need the financial assistance or not. (I don’t see anything wrong with a person who has the ability to cover all costs involved on their own trying to find a sponsor.) I believe strongly in the brand/blogger partnership (obviously, considering that I am a partner in a company that connects brands and bloggers AND hosting a conference of our own in two weeks). When done right, a brand/blogger relationship can be hugely beneficial for everyone involved.
A few of the most important things I consider when I get the opportunity to work with a brand (or contemplate brands with whom I’d like to initiate contact that will hopefully lead to an actual relationship) are:
1. Is the brand a good fit for me and my blog? For example, I wouldn’t ever work with Playskool, not because there’s anything wrong with Playskool but because I have sons who are 17 and 20.
2. Is there potential for a long-term relationship? As my smart friend and GM social media expert Connie Burke has said in the past in reference to both brand/blogger relationships AND customer/brand relationships, “We’re not looking for a one-night stand.” The best relationships with brands are those that last for more than a day. Sometimes it’s hard to determine this kind of thing ahead of time, but if you do research on the brand (which you should be doing ANYWAY), you might get some clues.
3. Does the brand representative in question treat me respectfully and understand that my expenditure of time and effort is valuable, just as I would treat them? This is very, very important and not always something that people think about. Trust me.
To that end, I believe that finding a sponsor for a blog conference isn’t a matter of figuratively waving your hand in the air and screaming, “Who wants to sponsor me???” I have seen lots of “Please sponsor me!” tweets, even, and it makes me sick. (Note to my friends who were *obviously* kidding when they tweeted “Save a puppy: sponsor me!”: Okay, that was funny.)
I believe that writing a “Sponsor me!” blog post that includes the amounts of money you’re asking for (at multiple levels of sponsorship, even!), exactly what you’ll do for that money, your stats, and requests for extras like specifically named technology items and–gah, this is what threw me over the edge–Broadway tickets to use during BlogHer NYC is NOT the right way to do it. I think that posts like that make the blogger look desperate, unprofessional, out of control, and not like someone who truly wants to be taken seriously or treated professionally. (Please note that I do have an example coming up of what I think is a GREAT way to post about your sponsorship hunt, if you still choose to go that route after reading my thoughts. Stay tuned.) In addition, I think there is a possible integrity issue here: what if a brand that you don’t agree with at all (or isn’t a fit, or whatever) offered to cover your whole conference experience? Would you accept their money or not? It’s something to think about. I believe it’s better to put yourself in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing who you want to work with. GO GET ‘EM! Put some ownership on this. MAKE IT HAPPEN, don’t wait for it to happen.
So, how would I recommend finding a sponsor for a blog conference?
In my opinion (I suppose I don’t have to keep slipping that phrase in, do I?), asking a brand for conference sponsorship comes after you have worked with them on projects before. Gradually building a relationship with a brand is akin to being friends with someone for a while before you start dating. (That said, it’s not impossible to cold-pitch a new-to-you brand for conference sponsorship: I know lots of people who have been successful with it.) Note that even if you have a relationship with a brand, there are no guarantees that they will sponsor you for a conference, but you’ll never get it if you don’t ask. Asking privately means many things, not the least of which is that nobody will know all of your business.
Once you figure out who you’re pitching, do some prep work. Make a media kit if you don’t already have one. Karen Moran recently published a really good post on BlogHer about must-have items for your media kit. If you have never seen a media kit and/or don’t know what one is, do what I did back in the day: ask one or two of your blogging friends if they have one, and if you can see it. I created my media kit as a PDF that I can send out but I know some bloggers who have theirs online: it’s personal preference.
Before you send an all-out proposal I would suggest emailing (hopefully a rep you already know), “I will be attending the X conference and would like to find out if Y Company would be interested in discussing sponsorship possibilities. Can you tell me if you are the person to whom I should send my proposal?” Doing this will not only give them the opportunity to shut you down if there is no way they will consider sponsoring anyone (saving you time and effort) but will also ensure you aren’t sending a proposal to a “middleman”, which often results in a state of limbo for longer than necessary.
Also before you send a proposal, make sure you know what the sponsored blogger guidelines are at the conference in question. BlogHer has very specific guidelines (rightfully so, considering history). BBSummit12 has rules too: the Blogger ticket is for bloggers who are only promoting their own blog. Any blogger who is sponsored may not hand out stuff from or promote a company/brand unless they have purchased a Marketer’s ticket. If you aren’t aware of what the conference allows, you might promise something to a brand on which you can’t come through, and in that case everyone loses.
Once you get clearance to send a proposal (if you ask for clearance first, that is), it’s time to work up a great one. I’m not going to do a detailed tutorial here but writing a convincing proposal involves creativity, honesty, and professionalism. My buddy Cat Lincoln, Co-Founder/Partner at Clever Girls Collective offers up a Pro Tip: “(Writing/saying) ‘It would be such a great experience for me’ is not a compelling reason for a ANYONE to sponsor you. Also, brands don’t care how you *feel* — in general they care about what they get in return, and in particular if you will help them make money.”
What it boils down to is, this isn’t a game: it’s business. Brands have to worry about their bottom line and a proposal needs to be mutually beneficial, period. If you don’t know how to write a good proposal, I recommend (again) asking friends who have done it before–especially friends who have been successful in finding sponsors! You can also Google “Blog sponsorship proposals” but if you do that, I’d look at a bunch of different ones to get a better picture of what to do.
As I mentioned earlier, not every fantastic proposal results in sponsorship, so don’t be surprised if you do end up with a rejection. (It happens all the time!) The best way to handle it is to be gracious, thank the brand rep for his/her time and consideration, and move on. NEVER BURN BRIDGES. EVER. Not only do you want to avoid developing a poor reputation, but you never know what the future holds: that brand rep might come back to you with a different opportunity someday, at the brand you pitched or at their new job elsewhere.
Let’s say that you find yourself sponsored. Congratulations! Make sure that you fulfill each and every promise you make in exchange for your plane ticket or whatever monies the brand is providing. Keep in touch with the brand rep, and after the conference, make sure to send him/her a recap/thank you note. You want to make it clear that you’re looking at this as a beginning or continuation of the relationship, not the end.
Before I finish up, I want to show you an example of the good “Please sponsor me!” post that I mentioned earlier, for those of you who still want to do it that way. Fellow Chicago-area blogger (and friend!) Lisa of “Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy” challenged me when I posted a Facebook status about this topic yesterday, saying that she put a request on her blog and was successful in getting a sponsor, and that she recommends doing this. I always want to hear out differing opinions and ideas from my own, so I went to look at Lisa’s post, and although I still believe that a private proposal is the way to go, her post is (by far) the best one I’ve ever seen. Check it out, here. I really, really respect that Lisa kept her post short and to the point and very vague. Instead of “baring it all”, she wrote a post that acts as an invitation to discuss possibilities.
In closing (did I really write that? What is this, Essay Writing 101?), “my way” may not be the same as “your way”–or anything you agree with at all, for that matter–and that’s fine. That said, I think we can all agree that “a rising tide lifts all boats” (John F. Kennedy said that, but probably not about blogging). Bloggers who conduct themselves in a professional manner will, one by one, make things better for all of us.