Have you ever wondered how this content creator got to work with this brand or how in the hell is this blogger is traveling around the world for free and getting paid for it? Maybe your buddies with some other content creators and you get general responses or nothing at all when you ask what works for them. It’s as if no one wants to spill the beans about the one thing everyone else is trying to do. Why? Competition. But the Influencer market is constantly evolving so what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow. Because of this a lot of content creators send a ton of bonehead queries, complain way too much, and end up missing out big opportunities because they don’t get how this all works. As someone who manages collab campaigns and as a content creator who works with brands all the time, I compiled a list of the 6 biggest mistakes I see content creators make.
1. You Have No Clue How This Works and Who’s Running Things
You’re interested in collaborating with a brand but you’re not too sure who the gatekeepers are and who you need to touch base with. Even more annoying, you’re not quite sure how this all works behind the scenes. Well, allow me to explain:
There are two entities that oversee collaborative campaigns and connections. It’s important to know this so you know why some things work and some don’t:
- Publicity firm or Marketing agency – This outside entity gets paid for the sole purpose to find you, the content creator. How did they find you? Simple. They use automated programs to search out keywords like “blogger”, “photographer”, “model, etc. They do the same with locations. This little nugget of information is actually why it’s important that you use keywords in any of your social bios. In some cases they may designate these tasks with team-members. These team-members are usually interns or assistants doing manual searches, gliding through your Instagram profile to see if you fit their needs. Keep in mind, I said interns or assistants. Not CEO’s, the payroll department, or even anyone with authoritative power.
- The In-House Social Media Manager – The in-house SM Manager is the toughest gatekeeper to get past. Why? Because they are incredibly busy with their day to day tasks of social media management: engagement, curating posts, and even dealing with your countless queries (and follow ups, LOL). Most of them don’t even have the time to respond or seek you out because they are already overwhelmed by their workload. Imagine getting 10-20 queries a day from people wanting to work with your brand. You just simply wouldn’t have time to respond to every single query. In some cases when they do they may immediately pass in a polite way or pass you along contact info to another team-member. Keep in mind, Social Media Managers also don’t have the final say if the said brand wants to work with you or not. They have to present you to their team and get their feedback before approval. So there are a lot more checks and balances than you may be aware of.
Now, you know who the gatekeepers are. What do they do if they do find you are or you reach them with success. They put your names and information in a huge database. If they reach out to you vs you reaching out to them the truth is in nearly most cases… no, they really are not really huge fans of your work. No, they didn’t really find your content captivating. They just want to get you on board to whatever campaign they are managing as soon as possible. Usually each campaign is looking for 15-20 content creators. As soon as they get what they need, that’s a wrap. Also, at this point, that’s when they take a closer look at your content.
2. You Don’t Understand Why They Won’t Pay You
The name of the game when it comes to marketing is keep the spend low and deliver on a larger ROI (Return on Investment). What does that REALLY mean? That means the number one goal for brands is to get YOU to create content on their behalf for free. In most cases, of course for them providing you products in exchange for spreading the word. But, because this is such an overcrowded market, some really don’t even have to do that. This is why negotiating can be difficult from both sides. You want as much money as you can get and brands want to spend as less money as possible. So, now you know the truth. Don’t pout about it. Understand how this works so you can adapt your game. You might have received crafty outreach messages or responses to your inquiries about getting paid for content with the good ‘ol “startup with no budget” or “we just ran out of budget”. In some cases that’s true. In other situations, it’s not and there are even guidelines and written instructions on how to respond to you if you ask for pay. So how to you get paid? There is usually a small budget to work with and they spend it on quality content creators (I’ll get into that in a second). Typically, this type of content creator has 100k+ followers, creates sizzling content, and has a proven track record of working with high-level brands. A smart thing to remember, is to know your value and always want to think of cost of time and the value of the brand you’re negotiating with to agree to terms.
3. You’re Not A Quality Content Creator
You read blogs like this, watch countless YouTube videos on how to grow your following, long debates with fellow content creators, and even iron out a tight schedule of content. But you’re just not growing the way you want and not getting the responses you want from brands. Why is that? This is where you take a critical look at the value you are presenting. On the other side of this, this is what brands typically look at: your content, number of followers, and comments. What’s the most important? Comments. Why? Because it proves your work reaches an engaged audience and alleviates concerns of bought likes/followers. Yes, we all know you can buy comments too but, out of the three this is the one we all look at the most to see if you’re the real deal or not. What’s a secret weapon to put you over the top? Your analytics and proof of success. If you create a media kit with those two things it makes a world of difference. It’s the biggest mistake I see content creators make. See brands want to work with you because your content is like a commercial for them. So if Daniel Wellington hires you and sends you a check along with a free watch they hope that your creative posts will bring them more revenue in sales and bring more followers to them. That’s what all of the brands want from working with content creators. So let’s say you don’t REALLY know your impact when you do influencer campaigns. Then you should stop everything you’re doing right now and find out. Yes, it’s okay to reach out to brands you previously worked with and ask if your content helped with sales at all. In fact, they like that quite a bit even if they don’t respond. It shows you genuinely care about the brand and there may be more opportunities for you in the future. Numbers don’t lie and it’s what we’re all looking at so use them to your advantage.
4. Your Pitch Is Wrong
The amount of direct messages I’ve received on behalf of myself and brands that are simply “let’s work” is enough to make my eyes melt out of my sockets. Then there’s the “I’d be happy to create content for you…”, “My blog gets 100 million users a day.”, etc. etc. Listen. No brand wants to hear how awesome you are and why they should work with you. What they actually want to hear is how obsessed you are with them and how much value you can bring them. In other words, you want them to get excited about the possibilities of working with you to the point that it’s almost impossible to say no. Here is a nice breakdown of what your initial message should look like. I’ve used this strategy myself and not only do I get most responses back but all of them are usually excited to work with me:
- First line – Provide overwhelming enthusiasm about how much you like the brand and one poignant detail about that particular brand that excited your the most. For example:
“I’m completely blown away by your menswear shirts. I love your IG. I finally had to reach out b/c it’s so lit.”
- Second Line – Ask them if they are looking for content/collaborations, etc. Again, ask. Don’t assume or state anything. Remember, the influencer marketing industry is booming right now and we get tons of queries in daily so jumping in and assuming anything is not the way to go about it. Instead ask, “By any chance do you collaborate or work with content creators?”
- Third line – Okay, I know you’re dying to brag about what you can offer. Here’s your chance. Humble brag with why you’re kind of a big deal. Remember it’s a humble brag with a one sentence highlight real your best value. So know your value! Ex: “I am super model with over 100 million loyal followers, best known for my commentary on fashion.”
- Fourth Line – List 3-4 of recognizable name brands you worked with. Always make sure the brands you list are in similar scope to the brand you’re talking to. In other words, don’t reach out to Airbnb and only have examples of fashion brands you’ve worked with. Ex: “I’ve worked with Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, etc so (insert name of brand here) would be perfect to collab with.”
- Fifth Line – Really hit home that you want to be a part of their community and company culture. Again. This is supposed to be appealing to them and they want to feel special. Ex: “I’d love to be a part of your community so if there is anyway we can do something together that would be so cool.”
- Sixth Line – Provide a gentle CTA to make it clear the next steps you’d like to happen to wrap things up. Ex: “If interested, mind if I get the email of who I can connect with about this?” — Notice, all they have to do is provide me with contact info. No real work needed on their part. You get to be in full control of what happens next after they provide you info. In all cases you better hit up the person you contacted ASAP and refer to your initial exchange.
- Seventh Line – Provide a link that showcases your social proof. This is where you provide a write-up/interview you’ve done, your official website, and yout top-performing social media channel. If this is an IG Direct Message query you would NOT provide your IG link. It needs to be something else. Ex: “Social Proof/References, go here: (insert link here)”
5. One and Done Collabs
You created content. You got paid or got free shit. On to the next one. Right? Wrong. You want to create long-term relationships with the brands you work with. Why? Because you will constantly have work without you having to break a sweat, searching night and day for projects to work on. It also increases your value as an Influencer because it adds credibility to your value. I never quite understood the “one and done” projects. That should never be your goal to “on to the next one”. Your goal should be to cultivate relationships because that’s actually how “word of mouth” works. When you do the “one and done” thing you don’t stand out at all. You’re putting more work on yourself. So develop stronger bonds and relationships with brands.
6. You Don’t Share or Pay It Forward
Remember #1? Brands want to save time and save money. What’s the easiest way to help them with that? Give everything to them in a tight package that will allow them to do the least work possible. That means not only do you give them a little extra content (nudging them to share on their own channels to boost your profile) but you also ask how you can help more. You even want to follow up with providing metrics (if they are worth sharing). As a cherry on top, tell them you have other friends/colleagues you would like to recommend if they’re interested. It’s a simple way to increase your value that most people don’t take advantage of. So take advantage of it already.
If you avoid the above pitfalls and understand this is an evolving business then you’ll be set up for success. Now, take some time to yourself and brainstorm. Strategize. Then attack with your unique voice and chase after the stars. If you think I’m missing some more massive mistakes content creators make when connecting with brands, leave a comment below. We all need your insight and tips to crush it!
CJ Johnson is an award-winning photographer and content creator, co-founder of J+J (listed as one of the Top 50 Digital Agencies in Los Angeles), a GQ Insider, and well-known “Branding Guru”. CJ has helped over 80+ startups to Fortune 500 companies all around the world find success and reach new heights. Learn more tips, tricks, and creative inspo and follow CJ on Instagram and Twitter at @cjjohnsonjr.