Lori Lange‘s food blog, Recipe Girl, made last year’s list of one of the top food blogs in the US, according to The Daily Meal. Upbeat and energetic, Lori never seems to run out of easy meal ideas.
One of the things that interests me about her blog is the way Lori works with food companies. As you know, I’m a hard nut to crack on the subject of sponsored posts. I’m no longer opposed to writing them, but I get frustrated by how few food bloggers write about products well.
Lori takes a professional approach, writing directly to potential clients in a “Work with Me” page, and creating straightforward, non-advertorial posts that always disclose she’s been compensated for products and spokesperson work.
This strategy has paid off. Last year, about a third of Lori’s income came from working with companies. The rest came from her five (!) ad networks, a forthcoming cookbook, and affiliate links.
I met Lori and her family at Food Blogger Camp in Mexico in 2010, and we’ve kept in touch. Recently we spoke about how Lori works with companies and her advice for food bloggers who want to do the same:
Q. How long had you been blogging when you decided to start doing sponsored posts?
A. I started my site in 2006 as a recipe database, and started blogging in 2008. In 2009, a major brand contacted me to develop three recipes at $350 per recipe.
Q. Do you sign contracts that spell out what you agree to do?
A. The major brands offer a contract and terms about what you can and can’t say. The larger the company, the more detailed the contract. At the very least, they want a product mention with a link, and a mention across my social network.
Q. What about disclosure?
A. Sometimes it’s spelled out in the contract. I always include it in the post. I haven’t been in the habit of saying it’s a sponsored post on social networks, though. If I do think to do it I put #spon at the end. Sometimes the contract specifies it.
Q. What kinds of sponsored posts and spokesperson work do you do?
A. Typically it’s recipe development. Sometimes it’s for a kitchen gadget, where I link to the product and show photos. Sometimes there are contests.
A. There was no contract for an ad to appear in my content. They wanted an announcement about the partnership and it was up to me to share. It has to feel natural, that I’m talking to my readers and they have to be interested.
McCormick was one of my biggest projects. It was part of the contract to share the videos we created.
Q. What do you tell people who ask what you make?
A. I can’t tell someone what I get paid because that’s not necessarily what other people will be paid. You have to start somewhere.
Two hundred is an okay amount for developing a recipe, just to get your foot in the door. A lot of companies will say they don’t have the money in their marketing budget, but there are also companies that will pay $350 to $500 for the first time. It’s okay to ask for more too. The worst that can happen is that they say no.
Some bloggers get excited about coupons and $100 gift cards as payment, or exposure. But it’s okay to respond to a company and tell them what you want and what you will do for them, if you’re not willing to take a coupon. You might find that companies will pay you. Or ask for more money to develop a recipe. I’ve had really good luck with that and I know other food bloggers have too.
Q. How do food bloggers know what to charge?
A. People have to know their value. They have to look at their stats and figure out what they’re worth. People who are new to it get so excited and want to make a decision right away because someone has contacted them, but it’s important to do a lot of thinking about what’s believable for your readers. Like, are you comfortable hosting a Twitter party, or creating a Pinterest board for a brand?
Q. Have you done work that you wouldn’t do again?
A. I created a Pinterest board and it felt really wrong. Several of us did it, and we talked about it and it didn’t feel right. It’s not an exact science.
The same with Tweeting. I’ve had companies tell me what to tweet and I’ve said no way. I tweet what I want to tweet. Also if a company asks for overpromotion, like four posts in a week, that’s not believable to my readers.
Q. Will you do sponsored posts if a whole bunch of bloggers are doing posts on the same product at the same time?
A. I have, yes. I don’t prefer that. I prefer a more exlusive relationship, but that doesn’t always happen. If it’s duplicate content, then it’s a little odd. Sometimes I don’t know who else was hired and I don’t find out until we write about it. Sometimes we talk behind the scenes after we’re hired and then we find out who got paid what. Often we find that it differs quite a lot.
Q. Is it always the same group that gets the offers?
A. It’s the people who attend the blogging conferences, who are active in the community and active in their blogs. They’re the people who get themselves out there and get to know the brands on Twitter.
Q. Do you follow brands on Twitter as a strategy?
A. Sometimes I see a brand follow me and if I’m interested in them, sometimes I’ll follow them back. I do think that is a good strategy if bloggers are trying to get relationships going. They could respond to their tweets and develop a relationship.
Q. How do you distinguish between advertorial and promotion in your writing?
A. You want to be careful that you don’t sound like an advertisement. I might have fallen into that earlier on, as I’ve written more of them I’ve learned to be more personal. Some contacts ask for talking points, where they want certain language, like “cream cheese is not just for bagels anymore.” The best thing to do is get the product in your hands and use it, and that’s where that natural voice is going to come in.
Q. For what reasons would you turn down a sponsored post?
A. There’s a lot of talk about bloggers being offended by an offer. I think you just ignore it or give a polite no. You need to think about your future with this PR person who could be a more senior PR person at a big company later.
If I like the brand, but the offer’s too low, I always say something like, “Your brand is a great fit with me and my readers, so if you have a bigger budget in the future I would love to work with you.”
Q. What has come to you as a result of these relationships?
A. Bigger, more expanded lucrative projects, not just one-post offers. I’ve had brands approach me with PowerPoint presentations about why they want to work with me. I’m being taken more seriously with all the experience. Now I feel that I’m at the point where I can have a minimum fee.
I got to go on a cheese-tasting trip to Europe. That was pretty cool. And I’m speaking at BlogHer Food this year on growing your audience on Facebook and Twitter.
Q. Any final advice for readers who want to work with companies?
A. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t let people lowball you. Come back with a better offer. People are afraid to do that, and they’d be really surprised that the brand will negotiate. Several of us were working with a brand recently, and we all found out we were getting paid vastly different amounts. Then you’re upset that you didn’t ask for more.
Talk with other bloggers to find out what their experiences are like and how they are handling working with brands. See who’s working with brands and email them to ask if they’d like to talk.
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