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In my blogging Facebook groups, I always come across curious posters inquiring about “how travel bloggers can work with brands,” and if such a thing is even possible for them to accomplish. This high level of interest doesn’t surprise me at all. I think everyone who owns a blog has a desire to know to how to collaborate and build a real business, but to tell you guys the truth, the answer hiding behind the “how” is quite complicated to explain.
First of all, partnerships take many forms. For instance, you can take a comped day tour and write about your experience. You can also request free packing cubes in exchange for a writing a thorough review on your blog. You can even partake in a full blown campaign – including blog coverage and social media promotion – led by a tourism board. Partnership opportunities are endless, especially considering the rise of online influencers. This market will only expand in the future. It’s an exciting time for all sorts of entrepreneurs to thrive.
However, there are “right” and “wrong” ways to approach finding partnerships. I read horror stories all the time about bloggers and brands who are simply uneducated about the process (and potential!) of online marketing. Need an example? Well, recently, a luxury hotel in Dublin banned all bloggers, and the outcome of this situation was … uhhhh, dramatic, to say the least. I seriously felt like I returned to the glory days of Fandom Wank or something. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, don’t bother googling, because you’ll think I’m an even bigger nerd.
So I’m here to help newer bloggers navigate through this confusing world! As always, you’re welcome to email me or leave a comment if you have any questions or want further clarification on any of the listed items.
Let’s get started!
1. Make Sure You Have a Real Audience
Okay, I understand it’s exciting to know that travel bloggers are going on press trips, working as brand ambassadors, and participating in full blown campaigns located in beautiful destinations. I feel you. I first got into travel blogging hoping to take part in the industry, too. Nothing wrong with admitting you want pretty, pretty gifts. I love to travel for travel’s sake, it’s why I’m here, but let’s be real: earning money from travel is a dream come true for many of us.
However, it’s unrealistic to expect partnerships to happen if you’ve only been blogging for a few months. Think about it. Why would a business bother working with you? You’re not promoting them to a single soul except maybe your mom. At the end of the day, you need to put in the time to create great content and (more importantly) build an audience.
Time is definitely the most important factor when it comes to building a strong audience. In the busy world of social media, it takes effort to break through all the noise and capture people’s attention. Online users have the attention spans of bloody gnats.
Additionally, time cannot be faked. By blogging for two or three years, you demonstrate that you’ve an enduring passion for the field, because you haven’t given up on your goals at the first sign of a struggle. So many bloggers quit. By sticking with it, you stand out by default.
Unfortunately, a lot of bloggers want to take shortcuts so they end up “buying” thousands upon thousands of fake followers to make it appear as though they have excellent numbers, but the engagement doesn’t exist. PR people aren’t stupid. So rise above the temptation. Create great content. Put in the time. Once you have an audience, everything else will fall into place, I promise you.
2. Learn the Art of Pitching
Don’t send emails to brands just asking for free trips. You’ll look like you want to take a vacation on the tourism board’s dime, which is not the purpose of being an online influencer. Partnerships are work. Fun work, but still work. Furthermore pitching is an art. Like all art, it requires some practice on your end for you to eventually be competent at it.
In your pitches, you need to explain your blog’s purpose clearly to whoever is reading your email. It’s not good enough to say you “inspire people to travel and follow their dreams.” Not to sound harsh, but who cares?! All travel blogs have that mission!
Instead ask yourself what do you do in the industry that’s different? Unique? Makes your content super duper special awesome? Even travel blogging niches, like “solo female travel” and “adventure travel,” are too broad for to WOW! most brands and tourism boards anymore. You need to stand out in a sea of thousands of blogs. Make sure your specific niche captures their attention.
After talking about your mission, then go onto explain how exactly you hope to work together. Don’t just ask for a free trip. Instead focus on what you’re hoping to do for the business. Convince them that you’re here to help. Make sure to attach a media kit (more on that next) to your email.
Don’t be afraid to follow up on pitches either. PR people get busy and sometimes emails are forgotten. Wait a week before reaching out again with a gentle remainder. If you’re professional, don’t feel scared about pitching. The worst someone can say is “no thank you.”
3. Create a Media Kit
Partnerships need to be mutually beneficial for everyone, not just you. Sure, you want to own a new swanky backpack or take a food tour in Granada. Who wouldn’t? However, you need to prove to the company, board, or DMO that your blog can provide a return on investment. Meaning you need to demonstrate to PRs that working with you will help their business, as well as provide great content for your website.
So bring on the media kit!
What’s a media kit? Basically, it’s a compilation of everything that a brand needs to know before making a decision to work with you. A good media kit includes a short description of your blog, number of monthly pageviews and unique visitors (taken from Google Analytics), social media handles and number of followers, a list of previous partnerships, and reader testimonials.
To create my own media kit, I used Mac’s Keynote program (similar to Google Slides) and converted everything into a .pdf to make it easy to open.
4. Join Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards: A Guide to Successful Partnerships To Grow Your Business
I honestly didn’t know much about working with brands in my early blogging days. I wanted to learn more details, but as I googled, information was very hard to come by. Honestly, I think a lot of this industry is still shrouded in mystery, especially for newbies. So why not join a course and know exactly what you need to accomplish to be the professional who brands love? I did!
Enter: Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards: A Guide to Successful Partnerships.
Amanda’s course is excellent even if you’re not quite ready to develop partnerships yet. You can get off on the right foot – which saves you valuable money and time. The course covers pitching, media kits, types of partnerships, interviews with bloggers and PR people, and so much more!
The course is reasonably priced at $147. As for me, I’m going through this course for the second time to make myself even more appealing to brands. I definitely found it worth the money. In addition to the course and webinars, you’ll receive access to the secret facebook group where you can ask questions in a safe and supportive environment.
5. Attend Networking Conferences
Let’s say you don’t have millions of followers yet. You might feel as if you pale in comparison to the big names, and therefore you want to forgo partnerships, because why bother. Don’t throw in the towel yet. In your case, sometimes it’s better to make business connections in person rather than via the internet. Unfortunately, PRs are swamped with emails from bloggers asking for xyz. It can be impossible to reply to every single request in a timely manner.
Actually meeting people face-to-face makes you much harder to ignore or forget. Not to mention, attending a conference shows you’re serious about participating in the travel industry and want to provide a return on investment. Influencers looking for freebies aren’t going to invest their own time, money, and energy into traveling to these conferences.
So go and stand out!
Some of the more well-known conferences, which are geared toward travel bloggers and other media, include TBEX, International Media Marketplace, and Women in Travel Summit. If you want a smaller conference, one where you can also develop your skills as a blogger, then you may want to apply for BlogHouse. I attended in the BlogHouse in Philadelphia, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made regarding my business. My connections are still serving me well.
Finally don’t underestimate the potential to connect with other bloggers at these events. The collaboration can be truly beautiful.
6. Don’t be Afraid to Start Small
If your blog is brand new, then don’t pitch to a tourism board requesting a comped five night stay at a luxury property and free roundtrip airfare. You either won’t receive a reply at all, or the PR employee will understandably say “no,” which would feel like a discouraging start. If, by some miracle, you receive a “yes,” you’ll still be unable to provide a return on investment, and disappoint whoever chose to work with you. This damages the entire industry.
Instead start small and local. Perhaps pick a museum or a small tour in your area for your first partnership. For example, the first partnership I ever pitched on my own was with Austin Detours, a company that runs day tours in Texas’s capital city. I had a great time on the tour!
You can provide substantial return on these smaller partnerships. Plus you can talk about them in your media kit to prove to bigger brands that you have some experience under your belt.
7. Be WISE About Your Partnerships
Pursuing partnerships and growing your business is a wonderful endeavor. Hell, I’d even say it’s empowering. At the same time, though, please don’t ever forget your readers as you’re chasing your dreams. They are your #1 priority. So make sure you work with brands that appeal to them and their needs.
Let’s go with an obvious example. You’re a budget traveler and promote backpacking to young people who are hoping to travel at an affordable price. Suddenly you’re taking a luxury tour to an exclusive and expensive destination. Can your readers afford to splurge for that trip? Probably not.
I implore you to think about tour companies and products you already use, as well as destinations that are already on your bucket list, so you can stay true to yourself. If you would pay out of pocket for an experience or item, then it’s probably a good fit for your audience. Sponsored posts are fine, but they must feel organic on your blog. Don’t sell out.
8. Always, Always, Always Show Appreciation
At the end of the day, you’re enjoying experiences that many people would love to have, and a little appreciation directed toward the industry is always welcome. PR people work hard like the rest of us. A simple “thank you” goes a very long way when you’re working together with brands.
You may also want to send a “summary” of what you accomplished after taking the tour or using the product. Tell the company how many posts you wrote along with the number of pageviews for those posts. Tell them the number of shares on Facebook or retweets on Twitter. Reaching out demonstrates you care about the return on investment and the chance the company took in choosing to work with you.
Have you worked with brands? What are some of your experiences and suggestions for how travel bloggers can work with brands? I hope to see you in the course!