Should you have a sponsor for your blog? Is it worth the effort? Or are you selling out your soul by accepting filthy lucre for a company to have a say in your blog’s content and tone? And which company’s filthy lucre should you pursue?
(Yes, yes, not really, and it depends.)
I’ve been DMing with Mark Eveleigh, a first-class travel writer, book author, and photographer who takes some gorgeous photos of those places you’re never going to see before you die, about whether he should blog (he should) and if he could get a sponsor (he could). He also owns a freelance photography assignment agency where several other outstanding outdoor photographers are available for hire.
Mark has an interesting situation, because a sponsorship for his personal branding blog makes a lot of sense. As I see it, he would appeal two basic categories of readers: travel enthusiasts and photography enthusiasts.
The experience levels in these two categories may range from “I wish I could do that” to the serious amateur to the consummate professional. And because Mark is a specialized travel writer and photographer — trips to remote locations to take beautiful pictures — he is most likely attracting readers who want to do similar activities, or at least learn more about it.
Why Sponsor a Blog?
Travel writers have a special niche that can appeal to a wide range of readers — from people who like to travel to people who like to read about travel — who have self-identified as loyalists and users of a particular special interest. That’s a valuable niche for marketers to tap into. Anyone who sells products to travel fans should take advantage of sponsorship opportunities.
So who should sponsor Mark’s blog?
If he wants to appeal to the travel readers, he should talk to large travel agents that specialize in adventure travel, airlines that travel to out of the way locations (think Brazil, Thailand, South Africa), adventure travel gear manufacturers, and publishers of travel guides for the adrenaline-addicted.
On the photography side of thing, he should reach out to makers and online dealers of high-end camera equipment, camera bags, and other photography-related businesses.
(Frankly, Mark’s camera manufacturer, Nikon, should be begging him to throw their logo all over his blog, and include him in their ads.)
In exchange, Mark can write include basic mentions in an occasional article, review a sponsor’s service or product, and allow some ads on his site.
Sponsorship doesn’t always have to include money though. It can also include goods or services. For someone like Mark who travels constantly, it could be free flights for a year, or an expensive new lens to review and keep.
Prove Your Value First
Of course, pursuing sponsors also means being able to prove the value of the blog itself. It means knowing the number of readers, what their interests are, what kinds of influence they have, and even who they are.
Using tools like Google Analytics for web traffic (where they came from, what they read the most), Klout for influence (your readers’ and your own), and even what your network is interested in (using Twellow.com or Gist.com) can help bloggers show where their readers are coming from and what they’re interested in.
I think that as blogs grow in popularity and blog owners are able to show something newspapers have never been able to demonstrate — accurate and up-to-date reader stats — we’re going to start seeing more marketers get involved with real bloggers who can deliver on both great content and valuable readership.
Andy, the closest experience I have is as a blogger for the Indianapolis 500 and the Indiana Department of Tourism. In both cases, I’m asked to write about either the race (I get to sit in the media center) or a place I visit.
While I have NEVER been asked to not write about certain issues, there are some things I choose not to. If I see a driver act like a spoiled brat, I won’t take photos or write about it. If a hotel or restaurant has problems with service, I don’t harp on it or give a bad review. In both cases, I see myself as a reviewer, not a critic.
These are self-imposed restrictions on what I’ll say, although I have been critical in both instances. And I have always gone into a blogging relationship like this by saying, “if something major or serious happens, I have to write about it.”
However, to get to your other question, I don’t think there is any reason a blogger should NOT talk about a competitor. The original sponsor is not paying for content exclusivity or for the blogger to automatically denigrate the competition. They’re paying for space, mentions, and backlinks. Just like one store can never tell a newspaper to not accept an ad or write about the competition, a blogger should hold themselves to the same standards and ethics as the newspapers: advertisers don’t dictate coverage, they don’t get editorial input, and editors never spike stories just because they’re about an advertiser.
Nice post, Erik. Do you have any experience about agreements with a blog sponsor? For example, some content or stories could potentially share competing information. In this example, what if there was a hot new travel site that people are talking about – does discussing your sponsor’s competition become off-limits?