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Let’s Talk About Finding A Sponsor, Shall We?

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Laila (@OnlyLaila) July 8, 2012, 6:00 pm

    Great post Melisa! I’ve yet to approach or be approached by a brand but it’s something I’ve wondered about. I also think there’s something to be said about paying your own way to a conference. Granted some of the blogging conferences are more expensive than ones in my profession, I figure it’s worth it!

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 7:04 pm

      Thanks Laila! And yes, I agree about “there’s something to be said about paying your own way…” but I know lots of people who really try to make blogging their profession and enjoy attending multiple conferences as (truly) professional development. That can get very expensive after a while…
      Thanks for reading! πŸ™‚

  • Michelle July 8, 2012, 6:03 pm

    Amen. ’nuff said.

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 7:05 pm

      Thank you! πŸ™‚

  • Christina July 8, 2012, 6:10 pm

    Of all of the guides for attending BlogHer (or other conferences), I consider this one of the most important. You nailed it – anyone looking for a sponsor should reference this before starting their search.

    The random tweets begging for sponsorship can’t have a high rate of return. I get it – conferences are expensive – but “cold-calling” everyone feels like a last ditch attempt. Targeted messaging would produce a better result and I’d think would also earn you a better reputation with brands.

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 7:06 pm

      Thanks so much!

      Yes, I would like to see some stats on “cold-tweeting”. I have heard people who got sponsorships that way but…??? I think (obviously) targeted messaging is way more effective.

  • Momo Fali July 8, 2012, 6:18 pm

    Don’t be downin’ Playskool. We’ll be grandma’s someday.

  • Momo Fali July 8, 2012, 6:19 pm

    Damn that apostrophe! Though, I wouldn’t put it past us to be grandmas who OWN someday. Just sayin’.

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 7:07 pm

      So true. Never say never.

      (I DO LOVE PLAYSKOOL FOR THE RECORD! haha)

      I’m not in a hurry to be a grandma, though I agree: you and I will OWN someday. Us and our things.

  • @kimmoldofsky July 8, 2012, 6:21 pm

    Filled with great advice! I am with you (and Connie and Cat –great quotes) on this. I think it’s tacky for a blogger to whore herself out to the highest bidder.

    Also, this: I was at a conference at which a blogger was walking around with a PAPER SIGN PINNED TO THE BACK OF HER T-SHIRT advertising the sponsor’s name and website.

    What a horrible way to present herself and the brand.

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 7:08 pm

      Thank you!

      Ooh, the thought of someone using a paper sign gives me the willies. I can’t imagine thinking even for a second that a paper sign on the back of a shirt would be effective marketing. Surely the brand didn’t know about it…

    • MJ Tam July 8, 2012, 8:14 pm

      No freaking way! lol

      • Johanna M. Cook July 11, 2012, 12:01 am

        Is there going to be paper and pen at the BBSummit12??? LMAO

  • Jennifer W July 8, 2012, 6:52 pm

    I’m so out of the loop that I didn’t even realize people did this! I just assumed sponsors found bloggers they wanted to work with themselves. Shows what a good blogger I am, and why I never attend conferences, huh? While I don’t know who exactly got you going, a quick Google showed quite a few tacky beggars out there doing this & asking for ‘extras’ in their ‘packages’. I think your example of how to is a good one. It shows her interest while keeping things simple – and isn’t tacky.

    @kimmoldofsky – OMG no. Just no. I’d be an angry company if I heard of that kind of brand promotion – but to each their own.

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 7:11 pm

      Thanks Jennifer! Yep, lots of bloggers seek out both sponsorships and relationships with brands in general. (For the record I don’t think that not knowing that makes you a good or bad blogger! haha)

      • Jennifer W July 8, 2012, 7:34 pm

        LOL thanks for the vote of confidence! I guess I just assumed relationships were created behind the scenes in private since I’ve only had a few brands contact me, which was ages ago – before you had to put the disclaimer up! I never even thought of blogging, or asking someone, for sponsorship to get to a conference. I learn something new every day – both how to and how not to.

  • Kate Coveny Hood July 8, 2012, 7:30 pm

    Can I just say that I wish I lived in Chicago so I could go to your conference?

    But I’m really looking forward to seeing you at BlogHer!

    By the way, I will not have a sponsor. Four years after starting my blog – I’m still pretty clueless about this kind of thing. But all of those grueling years I worked as a professional conference planner are paying off now in hotel points and air miles. I’m very fortunate – conference travel is expensive!

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 9:13 pm

      I’m looking forward to seeing you, too! Yay!

      Gotta love points and miles…also, you don’t have to do anything for them in return since your outlay already happened! πŸ™‚

  • Jenn July 8, 2012, 7:49 pm

    Just so you know, I heard that puppy’s life is still in danger. You know, in case anyone asks. I think he wants to see “Wicked.” Bwahahaha!

    Thank you for writing this. I haven’t a clue how to properly pitch myself to a company, but I know how NOT to! I even struggled to send a proposal to someone who asked for it. May we all learn from rack others’ successes and failures.

    PS- The only sponsor I’ve pitched for BlogHer (successfully) since 2005 is my husband. But I think it’s illegal to do that with brands. πŸ˜‰

    • Jenn July 8, 2012, 7:51 pm

      *rack = each

      • Melisa July 8, 2012, 9:14 pm

        Oddly enough I knew exactly what you meant by “rack”. What does that say about me/you/us?

  • Carol July 8, 2012, 8:24 pm

    Yuck. That is all.

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 9:15 pm

      Yeah, that would’ve made a really short post. πŸ™‚

  • Dwana July 8, 2012, 8:52 pm

    Well put, well said, and you rock!

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 9:16 pm

      Thanks, lady!

  • Karen Hartzell July 8, 2012, 9:09 pm

    Great info, MJ! May I just hire you to find me a sponsor? LOL

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 9:16 pm

      Assuming you meant Melisa but MJ and I both thank you. haha!

      (and to answer your question, uh…no. :)) You can do it! GO GO GO!

  • Jen July 8, 2012, 9:33 pm

    Amazing post Melissa! Points out a lot of really great points for bloggers in all stages of the game. I lost hope in finding a sponsor because it feels so overwhelming to attack the whole process. But I am going to take a deep breath and go for it (if not for this years BlogHer, for next years….it’s a little late now, but also, not impossible!). Thanks for your expertise, I’m certainly going to reference and promote this post. See you soon!

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 9:59 pm

      Thanks, Jen! Don’t EVER lose hope. I know it can be overwhelming to get started, which is why, if you are organized about things and start small (and way in advance), you might find the process a little easier. Let me know if you need any feedback whenever you get going: I’m happy to lend an assist.

  • Megan Broutian July 8, 2012, 9:56 pm

    Loved your post. It was like the designated driver’s sober voice in the middle of a drunk party cacophony. Hope we’ll cross paths at BlogHer12.

    • Melisa July 8, 2012, 10:01 pm

      Thanks so much, Megan. Your comment just might be in my top ten favorite comments of all time. πŸ™‚ Hope to see you in NYC too!

  • Connie Burke July 9, 2012, 10:15 am

    OH, YEAH…THIS!
    Spot on, Scrawlsie. And not just because you mentioned me in a most flattering way (…thanks for that!).
    If someone could make an app out of this post that becomes an auto reply for every cold call that every PR person receives, then puppies everywhere would piddle with joy. (Joy, being that gal grappling with incontinence).
    I believe you covered every point, and I might add: please, PLEASE don’t hand out your hard-won PR relationships (meaning, contact info) without the courtesy of an e-intro or at least a private heads-up that you (the PR peep) were referred on…we’re not baseball cards.

    The whole “burning bridges” point was exceptionally well said. Not only do PR folks move on to other jobs and other industries, but we talk to each other. A lot, both personally and through professional organizations. Whether we’re competitors or colleagues, we share often as to who is a treat to work with, and even more often who is NOT. So, don’t blow your top. There is a “no fly” list out there. Same goes for PR types.
    You, Scrawlsie, are one of the A-listers who is wonderful to work with – and not surprisingly, the bloggers you tend to associate with are much the same.
    But, there’s always the instance where someone is in a rush, or hasn’t thought something through, or wasn’t raised right (where they just simply EXPECT). One-way roads typically have dead-ends. For me, the worst is being called out on Twitter, oh-so publicly, because “Twitter makes miracles happen.” NOT. It will always result in utter silence from me – and not the golden kind.

    A big, hearty, THANK YOU for this post, from PR peeps everywhere.

    • Melisa July 9, 2012, 10:24 am

      Connie:

      1. You leave the BEST comments.
      2. I need to figure out a great pet name for you, too. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for adding the “don’t give out your contacts w/out a proper (and private) intro first”: great point and I remember having a conversation with you about this.

      Thank you also for your kind words. I’m blushing. Now I have to go work on that pet name.

  • Busy Mom July 9, 2012, 12:51 pm

    Opportunities available to send me out of town somewhere, but act fast!

    My 6 months of blogging can get your product in front of spammers, my cousin and the school secretary. Be sure to inquire about the chance to pay my mortgage.

  • Ally Bean July 9, 2012, 3:16 pm

    In the 8 years that I’ve kept a blog I’ve never once even thought about getting a sponsor for my blog. I had no idea what people went through to get one, but can see that it takes a lot of effort. I find this post completely fascinating. Thanks for explaining it to me.

  • Patty July 10, 2012, 7:48 am

    Very Impressive! I love how you really explained it all. Starring it in my google reader for future reference! πŸ™‚ Nice job!

    And seriously Broadway tickets? oh Please! That’s one I haven’t heard before.

  • Toni July 13, 2012, 7:09 am

    My feelings exactly. I read said post and was rather appalled. It probably doesn’t help that I am already a bit disheartened at the way brands and bloggers are trying to work together…almost to a point where I may give up brands all together…and just blog. πŸ™‚ Very well written post, girlie. πŸ™‚

    • Connie Burke July 16, 2012, 10:41 am

      Hey Toni – I’d be interested to hear more about why you are so disheartened over the way brands & bloggers are working together (or, not). Any details you could give?
      Thanks, and hope all is well!

  • Maria @amotherworld July 13, 2012, 7:24 am

    Excellent post! Bloggers need to remember that sponsorship usually does come after building relationships with brands first. Bloggers should remember to always be professional – you never know who is reading!!!

  • Nadia Jones July 13, 2012, 7:26 am

    Excellent tips and post! I will be sharing with my community members for sure. Do you think there is enough time to still get a sponsor for BlogHer? I have received that question a lot. I would think there is.

    • Melisa July 13, 2012, 7:36 am

      Hi Nadia,
      In my opinion, unless a conversation is already rolling OR you (or whomever) has a super-great, frequently-working-together relationship with a brand, it’s probably too late to get a sponsorship for this year’s conference. (not impossible, but would probably be difficult to pull it together in three weeks’ time.)

  • Heather Novak July 13, 2012, 7:38 am

    I have been blogging for a year, so I do not feel super ready for sponsorship but am gathering GREAT info like this for when I am. Hope to learn more at BBSummit, my first conference. THANKS for all the work you do, and for being fearlessly direct. PRICELESS.

    • Melisa July 13, 2012, 10:49 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Heather! Can’t wait to see you next week!

  • Hyacynth July 14, 2012, 8:18 pm

    I think that the key to securing a great fitting sponsorship is having worked together in smaller ventures in the past, as you said. These are great tips!