How to Make the Most of Collaborations: Thoughts from Influencers + PR Professionals
Influencers, bloggers, social media marketing – technology is practically evolving at the speed of light, as is the influencer industry. We’re all figuring it out as we go and trying to make the most of it, from bloggers to brands and PR firms. I’ve rounded up a few blogger pals and PR professionals to get their thoughts on how to make the most of collaborations. Enjoy!
Alex & Kelly (AK) – @livelycraze
Aubrey Yandow (AY) – @TheCoastalConfidence
The Coastal Confidence is a New England lifestyle blog that embraces all the charms and traditions of NewEngland living. The blog focuses around how New Englanders approach to style, food, decor and travel, and I believe it inspires the everyday women to embrace a lifestyle they resonate with. I don’t think you have to be in New England to live a New England lifestyle; it’s all about finding your tribe and vibe, and helping women embrace that.
Sanae Ferreira (SF) – @BlueBootsGo
Where the BlueBoots Go is an adventure blog written by Sanae Ferreira. It is a lovely destination for stylish, artistic foodies and travelers to find colorful and thoughtfully curated inspiration. Boston-based, she features original recipes, reviews best restaurants in cities she travels to, gorgeous shops, and draws your attention to surprisingly beautiful places in the fashion, home decor, food, and wellness spaces.
CC Mason (CC) – @CCMasonRlly
What’s up guys and gals?! My name is CC Mason and I’m a singer, songwriter, actress, fashion influencer, and model living in Los Angeles, California!
When I’m not making music at Conway Recording Studios in Hollywood, or appearing on shows like “Pretty Little Liars,” “The Mindy Project,” or “Vegas,” I’m chasing the latest fashion trends!
You can follow me @CCMasonRlly on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, visit my website CCMasonRlly.com, and watch my Youtube videos at Youtube.com/CCMason!
Corey Golden (CG) – @SeeGoldenStyle
Danielle C – @asequinedlife
A Sequined Life is a Boston-based lifestyle, fashion, and travel blog focusing on finding the fun in the every day. Expect bright photos and a cheery outlook– with just the right amount of realness.
Elissa Garza (EG) – @Style_wire
Emily Fanning (EF) – @emilyshell
Glam Karen (GK) – @Glam_Karen
Marissa & Meredith Daly (MMD) – @Your_Daly_Dose_
Molly Galler (MG) – @mollygaller
Nishat Nguyen (NN) – @nishatnguyen
Nishat is a YouTuber, Instagramer and social influencer who posts lifestyle content. She loves donuts, dressing up, and her dog.
What’s most important to you when choosing which campaigns to accept / what brands to work with?
AK: When choosing a brand to work with we look for a lot of different qualities. One of the most important aspects is that we actually like the brand and the quality of there clothing. We don’t want to post products that are poorly made to our followers. We want them to trust in us and know that whatever we post they will love as well. The next thing we try to look for is more affordable options. Most people won’t pay full price for an item anymore so we try to look for something that is budget friendly unless it’s a piece we wouldn’t mind splurging on as well!
AY: When our team is considering working with a brand, the most important thing for us to consider is, if it’s a product we honestly use and if it’s a topic we want to discuss. I would say 8 out of 10 times our team turns down collaborations, from all walks of life. To be honest, if it’s not something we organically wouldn’t talk about, we have to pass, sometimes even great brands aren’t the proper fit for our readers.
CC: One of my favorite things about fashion blogging is that it’s given me an opportunity to style clothing that I never would have worn otherwise. I’ve discovered the elegant sihlouette of a midi dress, embraced the khaki trend, and relaxed in the most luxe of loungewear and furry sliders, all because I’ve worked with companies that pre-fashion influencer CC would have found “out of her comfort zone.” For that reason, I’ll never turn down a company because they’re different or unusual or make you raise an eyebrow. I love the challenge! The only thing that will make me turn a company away is the quality of the items. I’ve definitely had companies that have sent me things, only for me to decide that, in good conscience, I can’t promote something that is falling apart in my hands as I take it out of the package.
CG: The most important thing to me when agreeing to work with a brand is how I genuinely feel about the product. My followers know when something is inauthentic and I would never want to promote a product or brand I don’t actually like. I think there’s a loss of trust when that happens.
DC: For me, several factors are considered before partnering with a brand. Does it fit with MY brand? Would my audience respond well? Can I recommend the product / service without reservation? Beyond that, I like to feel that my time and creativity is valued and that I am respected as a professional. Most campaigns have parameters, but as a general rule, the looser the better as that’s where the magic happens! The whole point of using influencers versus a more traditional advertising medium is because of the unique perspective each person brings.
EF: Do I believe in this product/brand, and am I its target customer? Authenticity is so, so important to me, and I will only take on collaborations that excite me and that I truly believe will excite my readers. Great compensation means nothing to me if it isn’t a brand that works well with MY brand.
EG: Five years into the game, I look at compensation first; unless it’s a brand or cause I’m passionate about I don’t work for free. Then I determine if the brand is a good fit, has a quality product, or a mission I can get behind. I say no to campaigns all of the time, even paid ones. I’m not willing to put my name behind just anything!
GK: I never work with a company whose morals I don’t agree with. If a company tests on animals – goodbye. If a company has poor quality and/or takes months for a customer to get an item, I won’t encourage my followers to purchase, even if it’s more sell-able for me to profit. I don’t work with those types of companies. However, a company gives back (locally, to the environment, etc.) or is fair trade or shows incredible mindfulness with how they create their products I am always all about working with them. I love supporting local artisans, boutiques, venues, etc.
MMD: We really want to stay true to our actual style. Sometimes in the beginning, we accepted a lot of product just because we needed more content, but now we really don’t just accept anything by those contacting us- we definitely stay true to looks/styles that we’d actually wear- whether its a casual everyday look, or a fancy event.
MG: When I’m reading through pitches or talking to PR people at events, the one thing I always ask myself is, “Would I really use this? Attend this event? Support this cause?” If the answer is “no,” then I politely decline. If the answer is “yes,” then the fun begins. For me, product quality and brand identity are the most important things. I never decide on a collaboration based on compensation. Ever.
NN: I only say yes to campaigns featuring products or experiences that I’d actually buy myself! I don’t care much for the brand name, and I work with businesses big and small. I also make sure that I can create authentic, quality content that I would actually post about. I have had companies come to me with some pretty strict guidelines that I just felt wasn’t a good fit and have had to say no to lots of campaigns for that reason.
SF: One of the best parts about being an influencer for me is building community. I thoughtfully consider each brand that reaches out to me and research the company. Overall brand recognition is balanced heavily by whether or not the product or service fits with my lifestyle and personal brand. I then check with fellow influencers if they have had a good experience: I see if they liked the product, were compensated fairly, and if the PR company or brand they worked with was responsive and up-front about the expectations of the collaboration. As an artist, I have a small business as well and I like to take every opportunity to help shine some light on great women-owned businesses, particularly on the local scale. Being an influencer comes with perks and new experiences, true, but it is a lot of hard work. The partnerships that I am most proud of and find to be most meaningful occur when I can help build community across different sectors and highlight others who are doing great work in the process.
What can a PR company / brand do to make your job easier as an influencer?
AK: From our experience working with a PR company is a lot harder than going directly through to the brand. The PR company has to go back and forth with us and the brand to get approvals. We think PR companies should try to find out what the company wants up front that way it is easier and quicker for us to all work together. We both work in corporate for high-end luxury fashion companies so we understand that approvals can take long but try to get all the approvals up front and ask the right questions so you are able to push forward quicker. Also the obvious one, not paying on time, is beyond annoying. We put in a lot of work to create great content so we expect brand to pay on time or at least let us know if payment will be late.
AY: When we work with PR companies we look for responsive members, a lot of blogging collaborations are last moment, I’ve even had some copies requested to be submitted the following day, so having a member of the team that will respond quickly and even on weekends, can take a lot of anxiety out of these quick-turnaround collabs.
CC: I consider myself to be a very flexible influencer. I can work just as well with companies that tell me exactly what they want, as I can with companies that say, “Do what you want! Go crazy!” I’m also very understanding of companies that don’t respond to emails or DMs right away. I mean, hey, we’re all human! We don’t run at 100% efficiency all day, every day. My only wish would be that companies would set up email forwarding when someone leaves the company. There have been several occaisons where I’ve emailed someone and not gotten a response, only to email a different address and get a reply to the effect of “So-and-so doesn’t work here any more! We didn’t know that you didn’t get the new email address!”
CG: If the brand is very particular about their content, it’s always helpful to get a brief at the start of a campaign so that I can make sure I understand the brand’s objectives and what they’re looking for. I think being fairly compensated for your work and time is also important. People don’t realize quite how much work goes on behind-the-scenes when they only see the final photos on Instagram or read the finished blog posts, but it really does take a lot of time on the back end.
EF: Be clear about what exactly they’re looking for (two Instagram posts, a blog post, etc) by what date (if necessary) and what kind of compensation they’re offering – monetary or product.
EG: Just being responsive. Sometimes you need a quick response and it’s so frustrating when your rep is unreachable!
GK: A PR company or brand needs to offer compensation. Bloggers work incredibly hard to build their brand to create high-quality posts/photos for their followers. When a blogger recommends something, and the followers know the vibe of what the blogger supports, that company can make great profits from that bloggers work. To not get paid for that is insane. No one works for free, and for companies to assume that is frustrating as companies KNOW they will get rewarded from that bloggers publicity, so to not play fair by paying for “advertising” is insane.
MMD: We don’t work with any PR services at the moment, we do everything our selves, but we ask for pay/compensation based on the brand/company/what we’re promoting, etc.
MG: Longer lead time is my greatest wish! I often hear about events 2-3 days before they are happening or receive a request for a product review in less than a week. Since I work full time in addition to blogging, my calendar isn’t always as flexible as I’d like. Ideally, I’d have 3-4 weeks with a brand to chat, discuss, agree, plan and execute. My other wish is that PR people could be more responsive in the evening and on weekends. Since I juggle my blog with my full time gig, I am often reading and responding to pitches outside of work hours. I know that’s not ideal for the PR team, but it would help move things along if they were willing to check in more often outside of the typical 9am – 5pm window.
NN: I love when PR companies respond to e-mails promptly! I have a TON of questions always, and want my posts to be beneficial for everyone, so I get to know the company’s needs and I also express my own concerns if there are any. At this point in time, I request pay for permanent instagram posts. If a company wants to send me something complimentary to try, I’m all ears, but I always tell them I can’t promise them a post. I often offer to do Instagram stories or Twitter posts for companies who just want to get their product out there or have a lower budget for influencer marketing.
SF: Beyond addressing the elements most important to me above, I think partnerships work best when PR companies and brands understand the kind of people they are working with. I work full time in the healthcare industry, and I have to be selective about my time to maintain work-life balance and overall wellness (an aspect of my personal journey that I highlight and encourage others to do). I am most appreciative when brands recognize the value of the creative process and the expertise and hours that a content creator devotes to craft content that not only satisfies the requirements, but also adds a special, personal element that only they could achieve.
Pet peeves of working with PR / brands?
AK: We hate when a brand/PR company tells us they don’t have a budget to work with us and then some of our blogger friends tell us that they got paid by that specific company.
AY: I think knowing your worth and sticking to it is important when working with brands. I’ve had some brands ask me to create content for them and expect me to eat all the costs (photographer rates, travel cost, prop costs, and our time) just for ‘exposure’. It’s important to really stand your ground, be polite, and remember you are providing value! It can get overwhelming feeling like a small fish in a big pond sometimes, so when that happens take a step back and make sure the collaboration is mutually beneficial. Whether that means compensation, product exchange, attending an event; don’t feel pressured to say yes if you’re getting nothing out of it!
CC: I love it when companies give me specifics, and I’ll gladly work around their promotional schedule and post when they ask me to, but there has been a rare occassion when a company made wild demands of me long after I had fufilled all of my comitments to them. My wildest story is that I once had a PR person email me saying that they (the PR person in question) wouldn’t get paid unless I did a bunch of extra things for them that the brand never told me they wanted in the first place. Luckily, this is a very rare experience for me, as generally the brands I work with are absolutely lovely! Long story short, all a brand needs to do is tell me what they want, and I’ll make it happen!
CG: I really do enjoy collaborating with brands, so there isn’t much about the process that I don’t like. However, it’s always preferred when a brand offers their creative vision, but doesn’t require you to lose your own voice in the process. Brands tap into influencers for a reason and having that trust between myself and a brand is great. That way, I can really get creative and be true to my style.
DC: When I am bogged down in strict expectations, a lot of my creativity is stifled and my voice is lost. I also tend to go above and beyond the less a brand explicitly asks of me. With that being said, if there are non-negotiable guidelines, the sooner a brand/agency is upfront about them, the more I feel comfortable working with them. No one likes a bait and switch!
EF: (1) Hearing that a brand isn’t willing to offer compensation or product – if I’m promoting a product, I need to see it and believe in it before blindly advertising it! I think even worse though is being offered a coupon to buy the product at a discount. I’m not going to pay out of pocked to give you free advertising. (2) Asking to see a draft of any posts. (3) Also receiving constant followup emails along the lines of “have you posted yet?” While I have my own quarrels with bloggers who take that free meal, outfit, hotel stay, etc. and taking four months to post about it, unless we have settled upon an agreed date/date range my post needs to go live by, brands shouldn’t feel entitled to expect their return by any certain date. Especially when monetary compensation is involved, there SHOULD be a contract that lays out a timeframe, but when no deadline is discussed ahead of time, it’s almost insulting to receive the constant followup.
EG: Don’t over-promise or over-sell your product. I worked with a reputable blow dry salon that I will no longer patron because they promised one thing for collaboration and didn’t hold up their end of the bargain despite the work I put in, and meeting all of their requests for deliverables. Even worse, when I inquired about the mishap they stopped replying to my emails and requests!
GK: My biggest pet peeve has to be agreeing to work together, then not hear back for months. But then out of the blue an email from them comes in wanting to work together and let’s get this going… and again, crickets.
MMD: A lot of times, companies who reach out to us only want to send over 1 outfit/piece of clothing! There are two of us so we always have to make that really clear up front!!
MG: My number one pet peeve is when PR teams or brands don’t do their homework. Always, always, always research the influencer before you reach out. Start by searching the influencer’s site to see if they have ever written about your brand before. That should always be step one. Step two, read the person’s bio or “about me” page, their last 5-10 posts to get a sense for their style and check out their social media profiles. Just take the time to understand the influencer’s point of view and approach to sponsored collaborations. If you do that, your pitch should be like shooting fish in a barrel.
NN: I don’t have many pet peeves, but I think it’s important that brands and PR representatives understand that an influencer’s time is money. On top of that, an influencer’s creativity is money, too! I have had people assume that I should go out of my way (physically, get to a place miles away from my home) for free. Brands need to understand the costs of that, especially for someone like myself who lives in the city and doesn’t drive. Will I go to the ends of the earth to pick up something for free that a company expects me to then photograph, edit, upload and write about? Probably not. Respect is key in any business relationship, and a brand partnership or sponsored posts counts!
SF: Fortunately, I have only had a few negative experiences working with brands where a lack of transparency and poor quality of communication were the issues. In one case, they continually asked me to generate innovative ideas for the partnership, told me they couldn’t do any of them for various reasons, and then took one of the ideas and implemented it with another group of influencers. It was highly unprofessional. In another instance, I pitched an idea to a brand and they declined me – which is absolutely fine – not everything is a match. The next week, they reached out as if nothing had happened and asked me to promote their product. Streamlined communication amongst team members working on a campaign is key. Another brand declined a pitch, and titled the subject line of the email simply, “REJECT.” It was laughable, and I wrote an instructional reply, but I cannot think of an instance where that mode of communication was appropriate. I endeavor to keep communication professional when working with PR and brands, so I would hope and expect the same courtesy.
Elissa Garza (EG)
Molly Galler (MG), LaunchSquad
Natalie Mazzarella (NM):
Natalie Mazzarella Poulakos, Account Director at SKOOG Productions, is an accomplished and dynamic marketing and public relations professional with a specialization in brand development, media relations and event activations for fashion and lifestyle brands. Formerly, Natalie spent three years as a manager of a $3.2 million retail store and nine years managing a small studio salon business before supporting regional marketing strategy, social media, and brand ambassador facilitation in the client marketing department for LOFT, an ANN INC. brand in New York. In Summer 2017, Natalie will launch Wear You Are Now (www.wearyouarenow.com), a fashion and lifestyle blog dedicated to genuine living viewed through the lens of what we wear.
Madison Sheffer, Regan Communications Group (MS)
What are the top factors you look at when choosing an influencer for campaigns?
EG: Photo quality and engagement! Followers go a long way, but My “sweet spot” when it comes to influencer collaborations is a creator with over 5K followers, high quality images, and an active community. Too many followers can work against you, lots of my clients are working to reach a very specific audience.
MG: As a PR professional, hoping to match my clients (the brands) with the ideal collaborator, I am looking at a few things:
- Storytelling. How well does the influencer tell a story? When she shares about a product, service or experience, does it sound genuine? Is she taking the details we’ve provided and the brand messages and applying them to her own life? The best sponsored posts are the ones that read like they aren’t sponsored at all, like the person has a sincere interest in the brand and what it offers to consumers.
- Writing. What is her writing style? Strong writing is one of the most important factors in whether or not we move forward with someone. If you have spelling and grammar errors, or you seem to be doing the bare minimum when drafting your copy, that’s a major red flag.
- Visuals. How does the influencer capture a product, service or event? With so many people accessing sponsored posts through visual mediums like Instagram, photography and styling is more important than ever. We are looking at blog posts and social media feeds to see how an influencer has styled products for sponsored posts in the past. When we do that, we are imagining what our client’s product would look like through that lens.
- Follower count / readership. I hate to say it, but the thing most clients (brands) care about most is the follower count, especially if there is cash compensation involved. They want to know exactly how many eyeballs will be on a particular post.
- Cost to collaborate. This completely depends on the client (brand) and their overall budget for working with influencers. When we initiate a conversation with an influencer about working together, we always try to be as transparent as possible about what we can offer (product, VIP access, an exclusive, cash compensation) and then we can negotiate from there. An influencer being unwilling to budge on a rate is often the reason a brand has to back away.
NM: As a publicist, it’s my job to always put the best foot forward for my clients, which applies to everything from advising on an event, to creating a strategic partnership, to choosing an influencer for a campaign. The first factor I consider is always the brand’s objective for the partnership. Are they hoping to increase their exposure to a new market? Are they looking to create specifically targeted content? Are they looking to build a relationship that can continue down the road? Understanding the end goal helps me better determine what to look for in an influencer partner.
Outside of the typical check list (followers/reach, budget, photo quality, etc.), I always consider the identity and style of the influencer. The best partnerships feel organic and authentic and I want to recommend an influencer who, as they are, fits with my client’s story and personality.
MS: When we research an influencer to determine whether we should include him/her in our outreach, we typically first look at the number of followers and compare it to the average engagement on that account’s posts. It is important to us and our clients that influencers have a genuine and loyal following since buying followers is becoming more common these days, and we want to work with influencers whose followers trust and value their opinions. It’s also an added plus for an influencer to have multiple social media platforms in addition to just Instagram, such as a blog, Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat as cross-platform engagement is beneficial for our clients, and influencers who take the time to write longer or multiple posts about their experience provides more detail for followers and more exposure for our clients.
How do you measure results of an influencer campaign?
EG: Such a tough one! I tell my clients to think of influencer marketing different than traditional marketing as ROI (return on investment) can be difficult to gauge. I use the analogy of a billboard; you’ll pay thousands for that type of advertising and you’ll reach thousand of eyes, but as an influencer I can guarantee that those eyes you reach will be a relevant audience instead of everyone and their mother on the Mass Pike!
MG: We measure in several ways. The first is quality. We read and review the posts for writing, image quality and inclusion of the brand messages and / or assets provided (images, videos, links, promo codes, etc.). We are also monitoring engagement – likes, comments, shares, as well as traffic driven to our client’s website via the sponsored posts. We try to provide custom, trackable links as often as possible so that we have the best chance to truly measure the impact.
NM: On traditional media, we look at UMVs or readership on the influencer’s corresponding blogs and websites. On social media, results are measured in likes and shares/reposts across multiple platforms.
What makes PR companies / brands likely to work with an influencer again?
EG: If the content resonates with our audience you can bet we’ll be knocking at your door again! Especially if there’s a drive for a specific event or coupon code and there’s a good number of new clients, email collection, or code redemptions.
MG: For me, having done this now at PR agencies for 10 years, I will invite an influencer back again if the quality of their work is excellent, they delivered the content on time, they willingly and happily promoted the work and they communicated with me and my team in a timely manner. In PR we work very fast and if an influencer is taking days (or sometimes weeks) to respond to emails or calls, we’re unlikely to consider partnering with them again. That type of radio silence signals a lack of respect.
NM: Like in any professional setting, I like to work with influencers who are invested in what they do. Good communication and kindness go a long way!
MS: Speaking for myself as a publicist, I enjoy working with influencers who are responsive, timely and reliable. I take the time to develop relationships with influencers who I can count on, and who are aware of the role they play in public relations and marketing. Brands may be more apt to work with influencers who relay the key points to their followers in an accurate way that reflects positively back on the brand.
Etiquette: Pet peeves when working with influencers?
EG: Communication! If you promise a deadline stick to it, and if you know you won’t meet it, communicate that ASAP! I’ve had to redo entire content calendars because of late submissions or an influencer who fell off the map.
MG: I have three pet peeves: unwillingly to be flexible about the rate / compensation package, long response times in between emails or calls and not disclosing the partnership via FTC guidelines.
NM: Following through and sticking to deadlines is of utmost importance. It’s critical for both parties to be transparent about their expectations on the front end of the partnership. Being forthright about your rates, your reach and your availability will ensure a successful partnership for both sides.
MS: Influencers who accept an invitation, reservation or product and then either physically don’t show up or take advantage of the opportunity in a way that exploits the brand or company will not remain high on anyone’s list of people to work with. Accountability is key!
What can an influencer do to make your job easier from a PR perspective?
EG: I love when the influencer is more on top of things than I am, emailing links and drafts ahead of deadlines and especially when they provide recaps or reports months after. The more data the better!
MG: The best thing to do to impress a PR person is to be really communicative. For example, if the post isn’t due to publish for two more weeks, but you just did a photoshoot, drop a note to say, “Hey, wanted to let you know we shot the photos this weekend and they look awesome. Really excited to put this together!” It shows the PR person you are invested and you are really taking the time to produce great work. Once the posts are live, it means the world when you proactively send the links. We are stalking anyway, but if we can wake up to an inbox with everything already sent to us, that is an incredible bonus and we really take notice.
NM: Working in PR means a lot of clients on your plate and a lot of projects on the docket- even on a slow day! Responding to emails in a timely manner and sending links for posts are incredibly helpful for our work load.
MS: We love working with social media influencers as it allows us to target a larger community in a fun, succinct and visual way, but it’s not easy to keep track of the resulting “coverage” as we call it, with the fast pace of social media. Influencers who send over a quick “thank you” note with the links to a social media or blog post are definitely some of my favorites to work with!
What are your views on the future of the influencer industry?
EG: Be ready to change. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that this industry is always evolving. You have to adapt with it to stay relevant.
MG: We have more technology available to us than ever before and anyone can be his / her own publisher. You can share on a blog, through a YouTube channel, via Facebook Live, on Snapchat, through Instagram – the list goes on. In the future, to stand out in this sea of publishers, influencers need to focus on storytelling and quality. Follower count is not enough. I also think video has become increasingly important (Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Facebook Live) so being creative about how you offer that dynamic medium to brands can differentiate you significantly.
NM: We live in a market where consumers are able to digitally connect with the brands they know and love on a daily, up-to-the-minute basis. In my opinion, the involvement of influencer campaigns helps bring a bit of humanness back into that interaction. Seeing a blogger or public figure that you follow and relate to speak about a brand or project, makes that connection relatable. It puts a face to a brand name and creates a more meaningful conversation.
Hope you enjoyed this insight from a variety of influencers and PR professionals! A common theme I see is that collaborations can be mutually beneficial when both sides are professional and putting their best foot forward. Being courteous, transparent, prompt, proactive, and always putting your best effort into your work goes a long way!
Comment Challenge: What in your opinion is needed for a good Influencer – PR collaboration?