By now, I think it is a secret to no one when I say that bloggers work in partnership with different brands. But how does this really work for a fashion blog like mine? What are the different types of partnerships that exist? In this article, I will answer all of your questions, whether you are a starting blogger or just a reader that stumbled on my blog. I really wanted to write this article in order for you to be able to take a peek “behind the scenes” of my fashion blog and to really understand what bloggers do and how our world works. It is important to note that I write this article to be as transparent with you as I can be (even if I risk facing reprimandations from brands, or who knows, maybe even bloggers), because that’s the way I work and I think it is the best way to build and maintain a trusty relationship between you and me.
Before we start, I’d like to be clear on one thing: I’m not going to apologize for turning my passion into my job and for making profit from it (or receive a lot of gifts). I spend an incredible amount of time on my blog, therefore, I think these gifts and gains I get out of it are fairly earned if we compare the energy I put in my brand on the other hand. Working with the greatest respect to my readership and in complete transparency, I think the rewards I get are not stolen at all. When I started working on my blog, my goal was not the gifts and the glam that comes with it, but of course it is nice to have! In fact, further in this article I will explain exactly how I work and what motivated me to get in this business in the first place.
This is a question I get a lot! When it comes to partnerships, there is no magic recipe: you need to wait for brands to come to you and most importantly you need a blog qualitative enough so that brands are actually interested in the content you produce. As a fashion blog, it is really important to work with brands that are fashion or lifestyle related. Personally, I have started to collaborate with brands only over a little more than a year ago, while my blog is almost 5 years old.
Of course, you can approach brands yourself. Unfortunately, this is not very well perceived at the brand-end, especially if your blog is only 2 weeks old and you have posted 0 articles. Nonetheless, you can of course do it (bloggers that claim to never have done it are lying, I promise), it is actually done quite often, but you need to do it with care and moderation (I think I must have reached out to 3 brands with whom I really wanted to collaborate with since my 5 happy years of blogging). The most important thing is not to do it with the intention of being showered with gifts. It just simply won’t work and brands won’t pay attention to you if you do not deserve the gift (when I say deserve, I mean not having a certain amount of followers, working poorly on your blog and producing articles that don’t have real quality etc). You must keep in mind that if a brand partners with you, it’s not just to please you and offer you gifts, it is for them a way to gain visibility and/or sales, thus they really expect something in exchange from you.
At the start of my blog (I mean like some years ago or something like that, I don’t remember exactly), I simply contacted a few Belgian agencies to present my blog, my concept and join their contact list (without asking anything, just to introduce my blog). After that, about a few months later, my blog grew and evolved so these agents sometimes decided to contact me for partnerships. When I have a real idea about a precise project (for instance a contest for the birthday of the blog) or when I see a piece and immediately have a big crush on it and I am already in contact with the brand, then I allow myself to reach out to my contacts (but this is rare because I don’t specially have the time to add new collaborations to the ones I already accepted).
Of course, there are techniques to get noticed and get partnerships… Personally, I find these techniques ridiculous and not very ethical (sending emails to everyone asking for something to promote is one of them). It really also sends out a bad image of the blogosphere: we are painted as greedy influencers, because of a minority that spends their time harassing brands. In stead of putting energy into commenting, following (and unfollowing and then refollowing) to all sorts of brands, you are better off putting that same energy into your blog, produce quality content and thereby elevating it, because in the end (most of the time) that is why we are here, not just to partner with brands. But of course, to each his own opinion.
There are lots of different ways to partner or collaborate between brand and blog. The most common ways are product placement, sponsored articles, publicity banners, link placement etc.
The most common way of collaborating in the blogosphere and what I, personally, use the most. It is simple: a brand sends you a gift and you feature it on your blog (or not). In this category, there are two different types of partnerships: either the brand can ask you to partner with her and offers you one or more pieces (that you can choose or not), or the brand already has your address and sends you new products on a regular basis. In the first case, I only accept brands with whom I can choose the products (for instance with a gift coupon on their website) or I impose my selection. I choose to work this way simply to keep my identity and not to find myself with pieces that to not match my style or brand and that I won’t even wear in everyday life (I will develop this part later on in the section “How I work”). In the second case, I figure that because I did not get to choose the product in question, I am free to talk about them, or not talk about them.
There are platforms that exist, which partner with brands carrying e-shops to suggest so-called “deep links” or tracking links. Once these links are implemented on the blog, they provide a percentage of the sale once someone buys a piece that they found while clicking on the link. For this matter, I use Zanox and Rewardstyle, which are kind of the leaders and possess agreements with a lot of brands. For instance, the tab “wishlist” you see on the blog (and on a million other blogs) is entirely conceived with Rewardstyle: thus I get a commission on the sale made when someone buys something by clicking on that link. Unfortunately, these platforms have their limits and not all e-shops are featured with them. In Belgium, there are way less brands featured than in France for instance, because the Belgian market is not as developed as the French one. For example, personally I can only posts links to Zalando, Pimkie, Urban Outfitters, Asos (which does not always work when you click on it)… or e-shops where I don’t often shop. Seen as I use the Rewardstyle widget because it is very easy for me (it creates the whole visual aspect of the wishlist page, I don’t have the time to code this myself), you don’t always see the things I shopped at Zara, H&M, Essentiel… I can only feature them with normal hyperlinks in my articles. But I promise I will try to make an effort to also put them in my wishlist tab so that you can see them more often.
The only thing I find unfortunate (I see this because I’m on the other end) is that some bloggers are going to choose to collaborate only with brands that are featured on these platforms so that they are assured they will get a commission on this afterwards… When they do buy something from Zara of H&M (for once), they don’t put links on them and only provide “deep links” for other pieces… Or that coincidently when they make a wishlist there is not a single piece without its “deep link”. Hmm, you see what I think about this.
Some brands also propose a monetary counterpart in exchange of visibility. There are different ways to work here also:
To sum up, the possibilities are endless! It is important to note that for these kinds of collabs, you must mention that the article is sponsored somewhere. Not doing it is forbidden by law and punished by severe fines…and sometimes even prison. Why? Because this is publicity and “hidden publicity” is an unfair punishable commercial practice! Of course, many don’t care at all and some brands sometimes even ask bloggers not to mention they are being sponsored, which is totally ILLEGAL! But to add on, once I discussed this matter with a PR agent who told me that she asked this all the time to the bloggers she works with and that 9 out of 10 do it. I can tell you that I was shocked. Some bloggers really don’t have any ethics and I’m certain that these techniques will soon kill blogging and its authenticity.
You can also place publicity banners on your social media platforms which will generate money either in terms of views, clicks etc. Personally, I use Google Adsense but I’ve never really comprehended how this thing worked and how I could optimize it. Some companies also suggest buying publicity space on your blog in order to sell them to interested advertisers and place on there what they want. I prefer not to accept these requests because I want to keep some control over what is being promoted on my blog.
Now that I’ve explained the different ways of partnering with brands through the blog, I feel like I need to tell you a little bit more about how I function and my work ethic.
First of all, what you need to know is that I get at least ten propositions a day of brands saying that they want to collaborate with me. I accept about one or two of those, sometimes nothing. This means that I refuse 95% of proposed partnerships! Of course, of all the propositions I get per day, there are a lot of weird and unreliable propositions, to which I don’t pay much attention. But you should know that in those projects that I refuse, there are actually really great ones as well such as trips to various countries and big interesting contracts. The reason I sometimes don’t accept these are multiple: either I don’t like the brand or it does not match my style, either I can’t work with them because I am already involved with another similar brand or sometimes I just have too much on my plate and don’t have the time to accept another big partnership. Brands can sometimes take offence to my saying no to them and don’t understand that I combine my blog with my studies and that it is not always easy to manage everything at once. Thus, I loose a lot of contracts with brands I appreciate very much, but those are just the rules of the game. So to sum up, I only accept things I really like and from brand I think are really good. Being a student on the side, I have to limit my workload in order to be able to succeed at university as well.
In order to select partnerships or not, it is very simple, I ask myself one question: if I had to buy the product myself, with my money, would I do it? If the response is negative, the email goes into my “no” file (oh yes, because a big part of answering my mail is kindly telling brands no thank you). If I tell myself that “yes I would totally buy this piece” then I accept. Accepting partnerships is all about increasing the quality and the content of the blog. I don’t have an unlimited shopping budget and I have lots of expenses so what I select in my partnerships must be coherent with what I would wear in everyday life. I wouldn’t even dream of accepting things I would never wear, just to sell them two days after I receive them and make money off of that. No no no! By the way, if you were to meet me in the street, you would see that I would be wearing something I posted online! I’ve heard rumors saying that I don’t wear in real life what I post on my blog, but sorry to disappoint you: I do wear everything I receive!
Another thing to know is that I accept only partnerships where I have complete freedom over what I write, what I receive and how to promote it. Imagine that a brand sends me an email saying “we really want to send you this piece can we have your address” but that I don’t like it and I see on their e-shop they have things I do like, then I propose that they send me that one instead of the original one. Most of the times, brands accept this. Even if I can earn money off the article, I only accept partnerships where I can really do my thing, otherwise I prefer to not break my head over it and refuse it. As I always say: I am the only one that knows best how to manage my partnerships all at once, no one will do it better for me than I can. Of course, I have no problem sending “previews” to brands and meet certain expectations, you have to maintain a level of professionalism. But if I can’t do it the way I want or if I have little to no freedom, I’d rather they send the product to another blogger that will fit them better than me. I have had a lot of cases were I’ve been blacklisted from certain brands or agencies (more than you could imagine!) because of the way I work and my way of partnering. I just don’t care. I have a blog for me and for you guys, and not to service brands or advertising companies. I’d rather have no partnerships at all, than write about things I don’t like, or worse: lying to you!
Let’s talk about the partnerships I do accept. I have changed my way of working, due to a few problems I’ve had with certain brands (one in particular). To sketch the story very quickly: my blog really began interesting brand at the start of 2015. I was really impressed by the number of partnerships I was getting, they were all so interesting! I started accepting a lot, way too much actually. It got to the point in where I was almost forced to produce one article a day to keep up with everyone and everything. I saw the quality of my content declining, paired with the exhaustion this kind of workload entails. There is one brand in particular that I had a very, very, bad experience with. This was really a dream partnership, that I was so proud to be a part of… in the beginning. To quickly tell you the story, the brand demanded that I post articles at precise hours (2PM for instance) and I got almost reprimanded when the picture did not get enough likes (between you and me, there is nothing I can do about this, I had warned them that these timeframes were not my usual ones for posting content). Adding on that, the brand asked me to send the content and picture for approval 2 days in advance, not taking into account that I usually work on weekends (shootings especially). So for me, when you ask me to publish something on Tuesday, I can send you the preview on Saturday, right? (except if they ask for 2 working days but this was not mentioned anywhere). But no, not for this brand. I found myself fighting over the phone with the girl of the brand for hours! I was also harassed of phone calls, messages, emails, it really was horrible. After this bad experience, I really had a disgusting feeling about partnerships, so I almost accepted nothing for months on. Luckily, this was right before exams so timing was perfect to take a break and think everything through.
The result of this was that for 2016, I decided to start over and only accept exclusive and interesting partnerships that I had real motivation for. I’ve really dialed back the amount of partnerships in order to focus on things that passionate me and to have more time for personal projects, unsponsored articles or really heavy projects but with a lot of time to invest in…And I love it even more!
Because I, too, am a reader of lots of blogs, I know what I don’t like to see and read. I thus try to apply this in my blog and in my way of working. For instance, I don’t accept partnerships that include a big amount of bloggers that will all talk about the same product anymore. For example, the bag “M” by Maje was gifted to a bunch of bloggers. I ended up seeing the piece everywhere and loosing any interest in it for lack of originality. Same thing happened with a line of lipstick of Givenchy that almost all my favorite French bloggers got. They even posted their articles on the same day! I thought it lacked authenticity and was fed up with the line. I must imagine I’m not the only one thinking this. So, I tend to not do this for my blog and orient to more exclusive partnerships. I’m not saying that I do things the best and most creative way. Of course I sometimes find myself with pieces that lots of other bloggers have or I shop pieces that I’ve seen on blogs, but I try to limit this as much as possible in order to suggest content that is authentic, genuine and interesting. I also think for you it is not the greatest thing to read about the same products anywhere, it must become tiresome even!
Of course, when you think about monetary compensation, it is hard not to doubt the objectivity of the blogger in question. A paid blogger will never bad mouth the brand for which she’s working. It’s logical and true at the same time. It is often stated in the contract that we cannot bash the brand image and that, if there were to be a problem with the brand, we are kindly invited to contact them and sever ties with them in proper ways. Personally, even if I am under contract, I have no integrity or authenticity problem because you I attach a lot of importance to analyzing projects beforehand: I always ask details of said project before signing anything. Like I’ve said, if I don’t like the brand, I refuse. Same thing if it is asking me to take too much risk towards my readership. I end up accepting almost nothing (even if sometimes the contract is very big and offers an incredible amount of compensation). I always make sure to love the brand and products I work with and that everything will go smoothly even if I’m under contract. This makes that I gain less money than I could, but at least I can be at peace knowing that I stay true to myself.
So I think, in the end, a bloggers integrity depends only on herself. It’s up to the blogger to do be introspective and identify the good and the bad in order for everything to be as smooth going as possible. I prefer to partner less, but with people I trust and brands I love in stead of earning a lot of money and not write about products I truly appreciate.
Ever since I started really sorting partnerships beforehand, like I’ve just explained, I’ve never encountered awkward experiences again. It has happened that I got products I did not like (just a matter of taste, not quality) but I just send them back. Of course, if one day I have real trouble with a brand, I’ll communicate it to you, because that is also part of my job as a blogger. I’m here to warn you and guide you through your online shopping experience. If I am being paid, I will simply wait until the contract is over before coming to you about it, and if not, I won’t have any problem telling you that something about this brand is off.
Of course, not all bloggers work this way, some prefer earning more instead of staying true to its readership. But these are often the same bloggers that buy their followers and likes and put their integrity at risk. I honestly think that as readers, you’re not fooled by these people and you’re smart enough to discern honest bloggers!
Actually, in terms of partnerships, I’ve decided to mention that I am collaborating with this brand, a certain way. You will find in each of my articles a mention that tells you if this content is sponsored or not. I will also make a difference between if it is a sponsored article or if it is simply a gift I’ve received. This way, I will try to keep you updated with everything that I do and if it is compensated or not. I hope you will see here that this is a way of keeping my integrity and being as straight-forward with my readership as I can be.
I will do so on Instagram as well. It’s less easy to do it on this platform, but as important as on the blog. All sponsored post will be marked with #ad so that you can see which ones are compensated. This ensures my transparency with you over all my social media platforms.
Well this has been a long talk! The subject is very broad and I feel it really is necessary to talk about it in every of its aspects. I hope it wasn’t too long! I also hope I have enlightened you on a certain amount of aspects on the blogosphere and that you have a better understanding of the process and how things work in this world. Above all, I really hope I’ve inspired novice bloggers or people wanting to start a fashion blog to keep a good work ethic and that they can draw interesting conclusions from this. Never forget that having a blog is all about writing, taking pictures, interacting with your leadership and, incidentally, partnering with brands (and travel).