The Centsible Life: Expanding Your Blog to Work With Brands

Kelly Whalen is a writer, consultant, and “debt slayer” living in the suburbs of Philadelphia with my four spirited kids, fluffy dog, and superhero husband. She blogs at The Centsible Life, a website devoted to the helping readers live the life of their dreams on a budget, and the winner of the Third Annual Plutus Award for Best Frugality-Focused Personal Finance Blog.

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Why did you create The Centsible Life?

I created The Centsible Life to share the money advice and information I was sharing with friends and family on my own journey to get out of debt. As a stay at home parent at the time it was a creative outlet for me, too.

What is a brand ambassador and what does he or she do? Are there any differences between being a brand ambassador and working with a sponsor within a sponsored posts campaign?

A brand ambassador is hired by a company to personalize the brand’s message and represent the brand. The brand also sees value in connecting with the audience the ambassador has built, whether that’s on a blog or social media platform.

As far as expectations for ambassadors, roles vary greatly. Generally, there is a component of representing the brand beyond just writing about it. An ambassador may attend events on behalf of the brand, speak on their behalf, film videos or commercials, or appear in advertising for the brand.

How can publishers move beyond the “low hanging fruit” of the endless pitches for reviews of mediocre products to get to the better, stronger brands?

To really stand out when pitching, first figure out what forms of advertising and brand partnerships make the most sense for your website and platforms. Put together a list of options you can offer to pitch to companies and brands you have worked with in the past, or send that information to the people pitching to you in your inbox.

Go after brands that you feel are a good fit by connecting on social media platforms, finding the right person to email via LinkedIn, and networking. Prior to sending your pricing and options, send a quick email introducing yourself and explaining that you are looking to partner with the brand. Additionally, you can join networks for online publishers that work with advertisers such as Kasai. There are a number of these influencer networks in a variety of niches.

What was the first company you worked with at this level? How did the relationship come about?

The very first company I worked for as a paid brand ambassador was P&G. I worked with them on a series of posts about their partnership with a charity that help reduce childhood hunger: I took a trip to Los Angeles to bag food for families and see the launch of a celebrity auction, and put together a fundraising campaign in our local area.

It was a great introduction to this type of role, and many of the relationships I formed on the trip are vital to my success today.

What qualities (or quantities) do companies look for when seeking brand ambassadors?

As someone who has also worked on the hiring side for these roles, most often brands look for several important things:

  • Fit with the message or brand. Everything has to be a good fit for the brand and the particular message. If a certain marketing campaign is focused on military families, it makes sense to find ambassadors who have experience in the military as active duty members or military spouses.

  • Authenticity. Your voice and presence should be unique and authentic to you. Don’t try to change who you are to fit a particular brand’s message. For example, it makes sense to say “no” to the luxury product line when you’re a frugality blogger.

  • Activity. If you have a part-time social media presence, or only write occasionally and with no routine, that shows a lack of follow-through and commitment.

  • Professionalism. Simply put: spend the money to get a clean, simple, and edited website. Own your own URL. Put forth your best effort in everything you do. Be willing to say “no” if something is not a good fit for you and your readers, and be honest about any delays or issues that come up.

  • Responsiveness. Reply to comments, engage on social media, and respond to emails.

  • Reputation. Your reputation is almost more important than anything else. If I need someone in a pinch, can I call you? If you always deliver on what you promise, I’m more likely to hire you.

  • Track, but ignore your numbers. It sounds like contradictory advice, but while you should track your growth, readership, and followers, you should also not stress about them. If it’s a good fit for your audience, you may get better engagement than someone with 100 times the followers.

  • Know your worth. It’s tough to know what to charge, so network with other people in a similar niche and similar size and style of site so you can support each other and ask questions. If I have a question about what to charge, or I’m debating whether to work with a brand, I talk it over with a trusted group of colleagues who will give me straight answers. If you’re just getting started don’t expect money to rain down on you — you have to create value first.

How can a publisher increase the likelihood of of major media appearances, like national television? How do these appearances come about, and how can a creator publisher for them?

As far as landing an appearance, creating engaging content and especially content that focuses on current topics can be a great way to get coverage. Signing up for sites like Help A Reporter Out (HARO) and responding to queries is another great opportunity to share with a broader audience. Network with reporters and journalists and be willing to be a resource to them, whether that’s answering questions or helping them find someone else for an upcoming story or piece.

Whenever you are mentioned in press or on other sites, be sure to share it with readers and on your various social media platforms. Keep a press page on your website so that producers or reporters can see what experience you have. You can also contact your local TV stations with pitches for pieces they might be interested in covering, or simply sharing your expertise so they can contact you as needed.

To prepare, if you are planning to discuss a particular topic, nail down exactly what points you want to get across. Know how long the segment will be so you can come up with 3-5 points or products to share. Practice talking in front of a camera as often as you can. You can discuss other topics and use those videos on YouTube which will help you reach a larger audience as well.

Are there benefits to being a brand ambassador beyond the paycheck, and are there any drawbacks to aligning yourself with a brand?

If it’s a great fit, and it should be, you will most likely feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in working with a brand or company you believe in. It also allows you to showcase your talents to other potential brand partners. 

There is always the risk that you may align with a brand that experiences a PR disaster or failure along the way.

Additionally, you may alienate certain readers if they are not fans of the brand or prefer only editorial content, though maintaining a balance and being honest help reduce that risk.

How does being a brand ambassador change the way you work with colleagues?

In most cases, it helps lift up the entire community by showing brands what you’re capable of doing. Be honest about your affiliation with a brand no matter when or where you are discussing the brand or company.

What is the right balance between sponsored and non-sponsored articles?

In general it should be at least a 1:3 ratio, preferably more. In some cases I have obligations that bump up against each other so I will sandwich in other content surrounding those sponsored posts. If I’m looking at blogs to hire someone if I go through your last 10 posts and they are all affiliates, reviews, and sponsorships I’m unlikely to hire you.

How do you determine how much your ambassadorship is worth to a brand?

Jim Wang gave me great advice early on in my career. He said you’re only worth what someone is willing to pay you. Negotiations can be tricky, but you should have an idea of what your need to earn and what your expertise is worth in a dollar amount, and what other value you’re receiving. If you find setting a dollar amount challenging, turn to trusted colleagues. You can literally ask how much someone would charge.

I often coach bloggers and freelancers on negotiation and find that most often it’s when that dollar amount gets uncomfortable feeling that you’ve hit the right number to ask for.

What kind of protections should a brand ambassador have?

Setting your business up as an LLC or LLP provides some protection. You may need additional insurance or you may be covered under your homeowner’s policy, so check with your insurance agent.

Can brand ambassadorship be a primary source of income? How has it been a part of your freelance income in comparison with other efforts, like freelance writing or advertising?

It is generally one stream of income among many, but it can be the most lucrative if you hone your skills in front of the camera and behind the keyboard. Brand ambassadorships tend to make up anywhere from 20-35% of my income over the past several years. They have led to increases in advertising dollars and affiliate income streams as well.

If you’re interested in being a brand ambassador or have questions about negotiation or how to get started, I offer coaching on a limited basis. I can be reached at kelly@thecentsiblelife.com and found online at thecentsiblelife.com.

Thanks for sharing your expertise, Kelly!

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3 Comments

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Eva Baker · May 11, 2015 at 9:05 am

This article is so helpful Kelly! I am just starting to work with a second company and this into will really help me as I work through the details with them. Thanks!

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    Kelly · May 11, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Eva, no problem! Any questions you have just let me know. 🙂

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Shannyn · May 11, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Loved this post Kelly- your guidance and transparency has helped me so much in growing my blog. I’ve had two successful ambassadorships so far this year, and it’s been amazing!! 😉 Thank you for paying it forward!

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