Working with Brands Gracefully


Image by Orin Zebest


I may not work with brands on the level that bloggers like Gala Darling or Rumi Neely; it's doubtful that you'll see my face gracing a bill board, or on a luxury website.  It's doubtful that luxury designers will ever invite me to tea or hand over their handbags.  Despite this, I've worked with my fair share of brands in my years of blogging.  From those who have contacted me to those I've initiated the relationship with, working with brands is as challenging as the tango.


With the upcoming panel “Working With Brands Gracefully” at Evolving Influence, I thought I'd share some tips and thoughts, questions, and extra credit reading to get you in the mental mindset for the panel.


What Brands want from YOU:

Why do you want to work with brands? Is it for free swag? To increase your authority as a blogger? Is it to network and launch yourself in to a full-time fashion career? Are you aware of what brands what from you–whether it's SEO links or access to your audience? And are you okay with that?

One aspect of brand work that I pride myself on is my honesty; it builds my authenticity online, and I believe (and hope!) that my readers trust my opinions.  When working with brands, this is invaluable: this is what brands are really after– your voice, your relationships, and your authority. This is where marketing fails them.  Word of mouth and personal opinion can sway the opinion of other buyers so much more than a well placed ad can.


Your voice, your relationships, your authority? This is what you have to set a price on.  Not an ad space on your site, but yourself.


The FTC shook down the blogging community when it came out with guidelines on how a blogger had to disclose freebies and payments received (because face it– companies were doing shady things like paying to produce posts, paying to sway opinions, content & reviews, and that defeats the purpose of blogging).


Though many complained, this could have been one of the best moves for bloggers, as it gave us a built in defense against unethical (or just uncomfortable) business opportunities.  Has someone propositioned you with a brand collaboration that you're uncomfortable with? Find out how it fits within FTC guidelines.  Any brand who is WORTH collaborating with will respect you and your guidelines for content.


I encourage bloggers to think about these things before they happen– how do you feel about text links? What is your site worth to you? What is your audience worth? Do you want to integrate sponsored content? Is developing relationships with brands a priority to you, or will you evaluate based on the company and the offer?

Extra Reading:
Fashion Blogger Burnout
Fashion Blogs + Free Samples

Build Strategic Fashion Partnerships
The IFB Fair Compensation Manifesto


Credibility & Transparency- What's at Stake?

What defines a blogger's credibility? Who are bloggers you find credible, and why?  Is it based on their interaction not only with brands, but how they conduct themselves in the blogging community? Is it based on selectivity?

As a blogger begins to work more with brands, does their credibility go up/down/stay level?  Or does it vary based on the projects they are working on?  Does accepting the same product for review that is on 200 other blogs decrease your credibility?  Do more exclusive projects increase your credibility?


I believe that a blogger can work extensively with brands, be transparent, and maintain credibility.  A fantastic example of this is Sal from Already Pretty.  What Sal does and how she does it isn't easy–  a blogger's credibility can go from exemplary to fraud within a few months. (It's not just brand work that can impact a blogger's credibility.)  Sal manages to work extensively with brands, and in a way that feels authentic to herself and her site.


In my opinion, your credibility and authority is your most valuable asset as a blogger.  What value do you put on it? Would you let a brand relationship compromise it?


Extra Reading:
Does Gifting Affect Blogger Credibility?

On Fashion Blogs


Content Management: Editorial vs. Advertisements

Have you noticed in magazines how it's become difficult to tell the difference between advertisements and editorial?  That shift can and is happening in blogging.  You may see “Sponsored Post” in a title or a small notation saying, “This blogger received compensation for this post.”


As soon as you accept money for content, you've moved from editorial to advertorial: true or false?


Does it bother you when you see a blogger accept funds for posts? Or as a blogger, do you recognize it's just them making a living off their work?  On the flipside… how do those variables change when you consider that a substantial portion of a blogger's readership may be made up of non-bloggers?  And that those non-bloggers aren't aware of FTC guidelines, bloggers making money off their posts–that they just view it as fashion loving men and women sharing with the world?


I genuinely believe that banner ads will be obsolete within the next decade, if not much sooner.  With that demise will be a need to create new ways of promoting brands and products through blog, and that will likely call for new and dynamic means of integrated sponsorship.   Video footage, vlogs, brand endoresements, and more– we'll likely start seeing those on more and more blogs in the future.  How does that make you feel?  How does that impact your future vision of your own blog?


Extra Reading:
How do you feel about sponsored fashion posts?

The Money Myth of Fashion Blogging

Paying Bloggers for Coverage: A Good Idea?


Panel details:

Working with Brands Gracefully

When you start monetizing your blog, questions start to come up. How as a single blogger can you keep the division between business and editorial?  How do you maintain your credibility with your readers, is transparency enough?


  • Defining the difference between promotional and editorial
  • Gifts or Bribes?
  • Fact checking… is Google enough?
  • Integrated sponsorships. Do they affect your credibility?

Moderated by Kristina Medhus, Pretty Shiny Sparkly Panelists: Sasha Wilkins,  Liberty London Girl •  Rebecca Stice,  Clothes Horse • Kristin Knox, The Clothes Whisperer •  Lindsey Calla, Saucy Glossie • Rachna Shah, KCD

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24 Responses

  1. Madeleine Gallay

    Brilliant and timely post because right now it’s the Wild West.

    The thing to do, even with those pesky Dear Blog Owner I’ll give you 5.00 and ________ you write a review note, is always remain business proper. Thank you it’s not right for me.

    If you borrow for some reason something to shoot or write about its your responsibility to return it when agreed and in pristine condition or you pay for it with an apology.

    Thank you notes are very well remembered when you receive a product for review. If you don’t like it, get very specific: it is not ok to say yuck I don’t like it and leave it at that.

    The professionalism of bloggers is rising thanks to these wonderful timely posts. The transition can be delightful to a blogger who interacts with the entire world but manners along with common sense matter so much.

  2. FlauntStyle

    This is great information. I always think if there is honesty, transperancy, and disclosure you are on the right track. Also, working with brands that resonate with you and your blog.
    Looking forward to the conference!

  3. Jodi

    I didn’t know serious bloggers had to deal with this kind of thing; frankly, I don’t know much about serious blogging, but this post sparked my interest… maybe I ought to try blogging…

  4. Jaclyn

    I like the questions you present here. It really take a lot of quick learning to decide if you should advertise for someone or what exactly they want you to do. I know I’ve been unsure of certain propositions companies have approached me with. With so much effort put into the design and body of my blog, I wouldn’t want someone who follows me to be turned off by excessive promoting. It’s nice to hear how other people have dealt with it or what their opinions are. Thanks for sharing.

  5. MJ

    I agree 100% with this! I work with brands on my blog and the very first question I always ask myself is this:

    “If I came across this on the street or in a store, would I buy it and/or blog about it?”

    If the answer is yes, then I go ahead and review it. On the flipside, if I don’t have at least one good thing to say about a product, the review doesn’t make the blog and I explain that to the PR reps I work with. I’ve done that a few times as well as given not the most favorable reveiws and for the most part, they respect your honesty.

    Also, I try to make sure I don’t have too much sponsored content within a given week. I strive to give my original content as much shine (if not more!) It’s my way of staying authentic to my readers and not coming off like one big blog of advertisements.s

  6. Marissa

    Great post! I’m curious to know, though, why you think banner ads will disappear. I don’t disagree; I just really know nothing about it.

  7. Mallory

    After blogging for almost 5 years and now having an online store too I can kind of see both sides of the coin.

    With my blog, I try to only accept products for review or work with advertisers that are a good fit with the mission of my blog. With my online shop, which has been open less than a year, I’m already starting to get a lot of pitches from bloggers and similar websites who either want me to send them products to review or pay to advertise with them. The problem is, so far a lot of these sites have been “mommy blogger” type sites that are almost nothing but product reviews & giveaways. When that type of site approaches me I usually ignore it because I doubt their readership and community involvement. If someone from a blog that appeared to be thoughtful, well written, and had a lot of original content approached me I would be much more inclined to consider their offer.

  8. Kelsi (Dedicated)

    This is good timing and very re-assuring. I was approached by a brand over the past couple of days, a large brand that I’ve seen many bloggers (including IFB) work with.

    Unfortunately I could not see the benefits in working with them – they wanted to do a giveaway for my readers. In order to be able to give away the prize, I had to write a post with specific links and specific words – they even offered to write the post for me (which was appalling in itself – way to insult a writer..)

    After I’d done all of this I could award the prize to a commenter of my choice.

    Now, exactly what was in it for me? A temporary, minor elevation in traffic? As opposed to what they were getting (my traffic, SEO improving key word stuffing and the trust of my audience)

    Not worth it.

    I politely declined, stating my giveaway guidelines.

    They responded offering me a chance to work with another client of theirs. You can do a giveaway – we’ll give you one too, all you have to do is add our link to your blog roll.

    My blog roll is extremely exclusive and only features the 6 or so blogs I actually read daily. I ACTUALLY recommend them to my readers – for a measly beauty product you would like me to decieve my readers in believing I endorse this enough for a place on my blog roll!?

    I wrote back, declined, stating exactly why. And offered them the IFB Fair Compensation Manifesto to read.

    The thing is, and what actually pisses me off (you know aside from having my worth devalued in a few short emails) is I’m sure this large company has moved on to the next blogger, and they’re probably willing to do it – it’s a big company – it’s certainly exciting (I was excited to be approached by them) so even if you say no for all the right reasons, there’s always someone willing to say yes. Which devalues you furthur.

    And makes me frown!

    Sorry, that was quite the essay!

    Kelsi x

    • Advertiser

      From the advertisers perspective – ROI is a huge factor. On some bloggers profiles there is simply no return of investment. So who is devaluing who?

    • Chloe

      Hi Kelsi,

      A lot of the time I don’t understand what’s ‘in it’ for bloggers with regard to giveaways either, but for those who do offer them, most do so with various caveats – following, liking on facebook, twitter requirements etc, which do add some value – if only to increase exposure. Particularly helpful for newer bloggers, but perhaps not the very established sites.

      From the other side of the coin (I work for a media agency so see a lot of this going on), you’d be surprised how many bloggers expect sponsored content/giveaway content to be provided. I doubt they were trying to insult you, rather offering an alternative in case you happened to be one of those bloggers. When you work in online advertising you often have limited time to be able to communicate at length with bloggers, so it’s often easier to ‘lay your cards on the table’, so to speak.

      Having said that, I don’t think this particular company handled this situation very well, and should have backed off when you declined the first time around. Any marketer worth their salt knows when to stop pushing – it sounds like these guys failed, and burnt a bridge in the process. Serious no-no.

      Interesting comment, great to hear your views!



  9. isabel

    thank you so much for this post and although it wasn’t the main topic really: it annoy me so much that so many bloggers lose their integrity and authenticity as soon as some (as small as they may be) brands approach them! some people would do anything for some free give-aways

  10. anne

    Love this clearly written post. As someone who works on projects that incorporate blogger outreach for brands and someone who is still new to my own blog, it’s important to consider both sides of the spectrum when engaging.

  11. Christy

    I turn down 90% of the offers that I get. It might be a great product but it isn’t the product for my site. I have to whole heartedly feel like I can get behind something in order to feature it and if that means I seek out the shops and designers that I am going to feature than so be it. I’ve established some great connections that way and I feel great that my integrity is intact. It’s just not worth it to risk alienating your readers with spam like posts just for the sake of a free pair of shoes.

  12. Ruth W

    Great article. Full Disclosure, Transparency and Compliance does not need to be complicated, but there are some challenges in short form media (Tweets, Facebook status updates, or Foursquare check-ins).

    CMP.LY has developed the only comprehensive commercial disclosure method that addresses a marketer’s specific needs and liabilities under the revised FTC (and soon FDA/SEC) guidelines for all social media today (including blog posts, Facebook updates and tweets).

    The guidelines may be complex, but the solutions can be simple. For more on CMP.LY, you can reference the CNN Money article published Dec 1, 2010:

    And, of course, my disclosure:

    and FYI, CMP.LY is free for bloggers to use for clear transparency.

  13. Kristina

    A great post and clearly well thought out (and well written). I think we had such a great and lively discussion going with the panel, and this article is icing on the cake! It was so much fun moderating this panel – can’t wait to see the video, whenever it’s available!

  14. [email protected] Jewelry

    What a riveting post! As both a fashion jewelry owner and fashion jewelry blogger. I can see both sides—but I make sure to draw the line on how I represent both. People need to be able to make their own best informed decisions. I craft great jewelry on my site, Cityrockajewelrydotcom, and I deliver jewelry gossip news on my blog. I’ve even got ads from other jewelry vendors!

  15. Kimmiepooh

    I’m beginning to get the requests for ads and product reviews on my blog, so this post came just in time. I’m debating on monetizing my blog ( although it’s growing, I don’t feel my audience is large enough yet)but I have research to do. Thanks for the tips!