130: Creating a Full-Time Income from Sponsored Content with Jenny Melrose

Welcome to episode 130 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Jenny Melrose about making the transition to being an entrepreneur, connecting with brands online, and using a website that helps you price your sponsored content.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork interviewed David Lebovitz about how to develop the ability to stick with it, a lesson that helped him build his brand, and his a-typical approach to blogging analytics. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Creating a Full-Time Income from Sponsored Content

Sponsored content is a popular way for bloggers to monetize their businesses. You partner with a brand, create posts promoting their products, and then you’re paid based on a rate you negotiate.

If it seems like a lot of work, it is. But on top of that work, how do you make sure that you’re producing content that’s of value to the brands you’re working with?

That’s where Jenny’s expertise comes in. She has cracked the code on creating awesome sponsored content that is both on-brand and useful to the companies you’re working with. Her tips on creating an avatar, staying true to your voice, and pitching the right people can all help you earn an income from sponsored content work.

In this episode, Jenny shares:

  • Why she started The Melrose Family
  • How she created an avatar
  • Why it’s important to pay attention to your reader demographics
  • How to find the right contact for the brands you want to work with
  • When to pitch a brand
  • How she secures brand sponsorships
  • The difference between PR agencies and working with a brand directly
  • Why you should follow-up with brands after a campaign
  • What tool she uses to keep track of her campaigns
  • What tool you can use as a guideline for your sponsored content rates

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Bjork Ostrom: In this episode we talk to Jenny Melrose about making the transition from teacher to entrepreneur, and leaving behind a three hour commute, tips for connecting with brands online, and a website that helps you price your sponsored content.

Hey everybody. Bjork Ostrom here, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. We are deeply grateful for that. Each and every week, we have thousands of people that download this podcast and it means so much to us that you listen in and I hope that you get a lot of value out of it. I know that you will with today’s interview with Jenny Melrose. She runs two sites, JennyMelrose.com, as well as The Melrose Family.

She’s going to be talking about sponsored content and working as an influencer, and some of the things that she’s learned through the years that has helped her scale up her business. One of the things I love about Jenny’s story is she’s not only teaching it, but she does it. She has JennyMelrose.com, the education side, but she also has The Melrose Family, where you can see her putting into practice some of the things that she’s going to be talk about today.

We’re going to talk about things all across the board when it comes to influencer marketing and sponsored content. From pricing your content, how to go about doing that, how to connect with brands, and how to talk with brands in a way that allows them to be excited about working with you, and there’s some really specific examples that Jenny gives that will really help to open up that conversation as you’re reaching out and starting to get sponsored content. Can’t wait to share this interview with you, so let’s go ahead and jump in. Jenny, welcome to the podcast.

Jenny Melrose: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, it was almost a month and a half go now. We had met at a conference, we were both speaking at the conference called Blog Brulee, so dieticians, nutritionists. Lindsay and I told our story and talked about Pinch of Yum a little bit, and you gave a presentation that I thought would be a really good fit to talk about for the podcast, which is about pitching, and with brands and working with brands.

But before we get to that, I want to hear a little bit about your story. You not only do business consulting and consulting with bloggers and have a couple courses, but you also have your own blog where you’re actually applying this stuff. So, take us back to when you started The Melrose Family. What was going on in your life at that point?

Jenny Melrose: Absolutely. I had just had my first daughter, she was six months old, and we had a lot of family that lived down South. We had lived in New York at that time, not always, but we would stay there. I was a full time teacher in an inner city school district, I was a reading specialist, and I had a crazy caseload of kids. About 250 kids on my roster, and they all were probably two to three grade levels below the reading level they needed to be at.

So, it always felt like a losing battle when I walked in. I loved my kids, I loved to teach, but I struggled with the fact that the second I stepped in, I felt like I didn’t have a chance to move them forward. So, I started The Melrose Family to be able to share things that were going on with my new daughter, and then also get back to a little bit more about me and my passions, and things that I like to do.

At that time, I was just learning how to cook because I was not the one that used to cook before kids.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jenny Melrose: It was always my husband. So, I was able to share my journey of learning how to cook and be comfortable in the kitchen and then also be able to share parenting things that were going on with my daughter. As the years went on, I started to get a better idea of what and who I was creating my content for, and created that avatar that I’d have in my head whenever I was creating my content. It just grew. I got sucked into the blogging world and loved every second of it.

Bjork Ostrom: A couple things within that. You talked about an avatar. Can you talk about what that was and when you defined that for your blog and maybe what the result of that was?

Jenny Melrose: Absolutely. It took me a little while to really start to feel like it was more than I was just talking to my mom, my sister, and my in laws. It started that way. So, once I started creating content and seeing people come to my site and what they were interested in, and when I was really passionate, they I found were really passionate.

I started to step back and had heard other people talk about an avatar, and having that one person that you were also talking to in your audience. I remember Amy Porterfield did an interview, and I can’t remember who the name of the girl was that she interviewed, but she described her avatar to the point where she talked about how she made lavender soap and she lived on a farm, and she had a kid, and she talked about the child’s name.

It was just so specific, and I thought back and thought to myself, “I need to do this. I need to know who I’m talking to, so that I can keep my voice in line with my content, no matter what I’m writing about, and I can make sure that they are appreciating it because it is in line with what they’re looking for.” I put together this avatar and it was a mind shift for me, and then when sponsored work stated to come on, it kept me in line.

I knew that if I was writing something, and my avatar would have called me out and said, “Yeah, that’s not you. You don’t use that product. That doesn’t make sense,” then I knew I shouldn’t be writing about that. That always kept me in line with my voice and the content that I was creating for my audience.

Bjork Ostrom: So a couple of questions specifically about that. I think it’s an interesting thing to talk about and an important thing. Did you define that avatar before you were working on your blog full time? So, was this still early stages for your blog?

Jenny Melrose: No. It was probably two years in that I realized that I was all over the place. Because as a working mom with now, I had a second child as well, I was all over the place. Whatever we were making for dinner was up on the blog, whatever craft I was working on ended up on the blog. It didn’t have a direction and I felt like my readers didn’t always know what they were coming to get from me.

As I was trying to figure out how to really create my influence and understand my audience a little bit more, ’cause that’s what everybody of course was talking about, I realized that I needed to really hone in on that person. It was probably about two years in that I realized that, and the best advice I can give when creating an avatar is to think about yourself probably six months ago to two years ago, and where you were. Then, add in a little bit of your best friend.

Because the best friend is normally the person that’s going to keep you in line with your content, and if it’s something you wouldn’t normally say, she is going to call you out on it, or he.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by six months to a year ago, who you were?

Jenny Melrose: I think a lot of times you have these shifts. Whether it’s in your own personal life, with your kids growing, or you just hitting different milestones with your age. Because of that, you’re talking to that person that’s learning how to do those things.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Jenny Melrose: When I started, I didn’t know how to cook, so when I was creating my content at that time, I did know how to create some recipes, and I did feel comfortable in the kitchen, but I was creating content for the person that didn’t. So, it was myself probably two years ago, when I was creating it.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. The idea being that whatever the niche it is that you’re in, whether that’s recipes or maybe you’re developing a certain skillset, let’s say it’s sharpening knives, you think about, “Two years ago where was I at? How would I talk to myself, that version of myself, in order to teach them the things that I now know?” Is that right?

Jenny Melrose: Yes, that’s absolutely right.

Bjork Ostrom: Then on top of that you say, “What if my friend was also sitting next to me, that old version of me, what would their feedback be?” And blending those two together.

Jenny Melrose: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So, was that the process that you went through when you were creating the avatar for The Melrose Family? Can you talk to me a little bit about what the result was for that, the avatar that you came up with?

Jenny Melrose: Yes. That was definitely the process that I went through. I also definitely added in a little bit of my best friend into that, because she has a very strong personality which I think most best friends definitely seem to do. But once I started writing content that way, I could see that my readers were engaging more with me.

They felt like they knew me better because I was creating this content with that avatar specifically in mind. Creating things that explained how to do something, or told a story about myself that connected to them, because they were at a similar stage. The results were definitely that I saw more engagement across social media, as well as on my site in general.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Have you ever used let’s say Google Analytics or Facebook … YouTube would maybe be another example, where they have demographic information to fold into the avatar. So, an example would be look and see, “Hey, for Pinch of Yum, it’s 78% women,” so it’s like, “Well, our avatar should probably be a woman” so we know that and we can see, “Hey,” in the Google Analytics or Facebook that the primary … I’m just making this up. This isn’t necessarily true, but like the primary age is 28 to 42. So like using those as data points to help craft that avatar?

Jenny Melrose: Yes, and that’s definitely what the avatar falls pretty much right in the middle. We see from the ages of 25 to 45 is about 60% of our audience, and then it’s pretty much a lot of … I think that we’re at this time like 90% women. I think a lot of times we’re creating content, we’re creating content with really ourselves two years ago, so it ends up falling into the demographics that we see on analytics.

But that definitely came into play, and it really came into play, the analytics side of things, when I started to understand a little bit more about the content that I was creating. Because before it was, “I’m going to make this recipe because that’s what we’re eating tonight,” whereas, when I created that avatar, I also looked at, “Okay, what are they coming to me for? Is it the easy family meals? Or, is it the really crazy desserts that they love?” So that I could make sure that I kept giving them content that they wanted from me. The analytics definitely plays a huge role.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. For those that are interested in learning more about those, you can just Google Facebook demographics or Google Analytics demographics, and pull those up. I think it’d be, for those that haven’t done that before, it’d be really interesting for you to see who are the people that are actually coming to your site, just to get a better idea of maybe what that avatar would be like for you.

So follow-up question would be, what is the … So, the purpose of the avatar I would assume is to have somebody that you can then imagine as you are, like as you’re creating content, that you can imagine that you’re creating content for them. Is that right? Or, how do you, in a practical day-to-day manner, with your content creation, what role does this avatar play?

Jenny Melrose: It’s the story that I tell. I know that they’ll connect to that, and it makes me make sure that I keep my unique voice in there. Actually, interesting story, I was at my daughter’s gymnastics practice, probably a week or two ago, and the owner stopped me as I was getting ready to walk out and she says to me, “I have to tell you. I was making these banana breakfast cookies, and I started reading after doing the recipe, and I’m reading about this Avery child and this Riley child, and this person talking has this snarky, kind of funny attitude in the way that she’s talking.”

She goes, “And all I did was think of you and then I read that it was Huntersville, North Carolina, and I realized it was you.”

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, funny. Yeah.

Jenny Melrose: So, it was my voice. It’s the way that I would talk to my best friend. When I would describe my kids, I’m not overly lovey dovey and they’re the perfect child in the world. I will do the snarky little kind of trying to be funny, but still, a good mom at the same time.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. For sure, for sure. And having that avatar defined allows you to feel confident in crafting that voice and communicating with them. So, a follow-up question to that would be, is there a right or wrong avatar? ’Cause I can imagine I would go through, and I haven’t done this, but it would probably be a good thing to do, and I feel like I have a rough feeling of it, but hey, who’s the avatar for the Food Blogger Pro podcast? Or, the avatar for a Food Blogger Pro member?

I feel like I have a good idea of who that is, but I should probably craft an actual avatar to have an idea of who that is, but is the act of doing it in and of itself beneficial? Or, is there a right or wrong? Like, what if I craft an avatar and the avatar I craft isn’t actually who the primary person is? How do you know that?

Jenny Melrose: So, that’s where your analytics would definitely come into play. You want to make sure, and check yourself to see, “Okay, what are my demographics? Who is my audience that’s coming to me?” If they don’t fall within that when you’re creating your avatar, then I would say you’re probably not on the right path.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Jenny Melrose: And may want to just shift a little bit to see, “Okay, what is my voice? Who am I talking to when I’m creating this?” It definitely is something that I actually routinely will do, probably every six months to a year, because I feel like I shift in the way that I view things, ’cause as I get older, I view things a lot differently than I did when I was in my early 30s. Because of that, creating that avatar and checking to see that the content is in line is always a good practice.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. We went down the avatar trail, but I want to go back now, turn around, walk back the path where we first diverged, and talk a little bit more about your story. You said two years in, you made this decision, “Hey, I’m going to define my avatar. I’m going to be really intentional with the content that I’m creating and I’m going to really lean into the growth of my blog and this brand.” At what point along that journey did you start to realize, “Hey, this maybe could become something that I build into a sustainable income?”

When did you start to have those thoughts of, “Maybe it would make sense for me, as our family changes, as my job continues to weigh down on me,” to start to think about, “Hey, maybe I could build this into something?”

Jenny Melrose: Well, for me I was very much a part of I feel like the blogging world. You have Facebook, you have all these different groups you can be a part of, and there’s just so much content and resources out there for you to see what other people are doing, to be able to see, “Okay, this is the income they’re making” and they’re even going to share with you how to do it.

I think at that point when I created the avatar, that was when I was like, “Okay, we need to look at ways in which this can continue to grow. How can I monetize? How can I make this worthwhile and possibly, pie in the sky dream, retire from teaching and not have to teach and not have to commute three hours every day?”

Bjork Ostrom: That’s so insane.

Jenny Melrose: It was so insane. For me, it just was really trying to figure out, “Okay, what path am I going to take? What works best for me and my personality?” When I looked at it, ads and affiliate income for me, I saw and read that of course you needed a lot of page views. I at the time when I created the avatar, realized that I wasn’t going to be a huge site that got millions of page views. That just wasn’t who I was appealing to.

Because of that, I needed to find a different route that yes, the pay I would receive would be dependent upon my page views and social media following, but I wouldn’t have to get eyeballs, and it’d add up over time. It would be something that could result in a contract and be paid 30 days later.

Bjork Ostrom: So, can you talk about what that looked like? You have this realization that, okay, ads and affiliate income, it’s probably something you want to implement on your site, if it’s a blog. There’s a lot of instances where ads or even affiliate maybe wouldn’t make sense, especially if you have a product that is the focus for your website.

But for a lot of high traffic oriented sites, or sites that will have a decent amount of traffic, you probably want to layer that on in some way. Pinch of Yum would be an example, but we have other sites like Food Blogger Pro or our recipe blog and site WP Tasty. We don’t have ads on there ’cause it just doesn’t make sense.

You said, “Okay, ads, affiliate marketing, this makes sense for my site, but it’s not going to be the thing that makes the difference in bridging the gap between my day job and the three hour commute, and transitioning over into doing this on my own.” You have this realization that it needs to be something else, and that something else has to do with working with brands and doing sponsored content.

So, when you had that realization, what did it look like to move forward and take those first steps towards bridging the gap and creating an income from sponsored content?

Jenny Melrose: At that time, I was working within a lot of the networks that are out there. You could submit your numbers and hope that you would stand out. Again, it came down to numbers and a lot of times some of them didn’t even let you put in a pitch. They were just picking you based on your numbers.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jenny Melrose: So, a no doesn’t bother me. Reaching out and not hearing back, I have very thick skin. I was a 5’4″ Division 3 basketball player. I can take getting beat down a couple of times. It made sense for me to start reaching out to the brands, and it was definitely a process. It was trying to figure out who was the right person to reach out to, and then really crafting a pitch so that I wasn’t sounding needy, but I was sounding like I was the right fit for them, that I brought something to the table that was unique and different.

And not only that, but it was in line with their product or their mission. I think that’s where a lot of people get confused, is they feel like, “Oh, my God, I’ve got to push myself. It’s got to be all about me.” It’s not supposed to be about us. It’s supposed to be about the brand and being able to bring our influence to them.

So, knowing their mission and understanding that to craft that initial pitch was really what made the difference. It probably honestly was a six month process of falling on my face and not hearing back and figuring out, “Okay, that doesn’t work. Let’s try this. That doesn’t work, let’s try this.” But now I’m to a place and have been for a couple of years now where it’s consistent and it’s a consistent income that my family could rely on to the point where I could walk away from an $80,000 salary.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s a couple things within that that I think would be good to pull out. The first thing was, when you had mentioned learning how or learning who the right person was to reach out to. I think that’s one thing that people really struggle with, is it feels like this spray and pray method, where I’m just going to bunch a blast of people with an email, or connect with as many people as possible on social media and really hope that somebody follows up.

But I’m guessing there’s a way you could be a little bit more intentional with that, so what would your advice be to people that are not quite sure of who the right person is to connect with, and how should they go about finding that person?

Jenny Melrose: Absolutely. So, you want to start with their website. A lot of times the website will have a tab that’s up top or down on the footer that’s going to say, “Media or press releases.” Once you click over to read a press release, they’re going to tell you about a new product. Make sure you pay attention to that, ’cause you probably should have that in your initial pitch as well, talking about this new product they have coming up.

But you’re also going to see an email address for the person who wrote the press release. That’s the person that you’re looking for. Now, sometimes, probably I’d say about 50% of the time actually, websites are not that easy. They don’t make it that simple. So, I do teach a process where you go to Twitter or Instagram and you can even go to LinkedIn now, where you would put out a tweet or Instagram post about the brand.

You’re not looking to drive traffic to your site with something. You’re just looking to say that you’re using the product and attract their attention. Once you attract their attention, they follow you, you’re then able to ask for the person on their team that works on blogger or influence campaigns. That’s honestly how I get the majority of the email addresses that I cannot find, is doing it via Twitter or Instagram.

But a tweet would look something like, “My buffalo chicken lettuce wraps are perfect with @Marzetti salad dressing.”

Bjork Ostrom: So that’s you reaching out via social media to the company and connecting, not necessarily pitching right away?

Jenny Melrose: Exactly. You have to create that relationship and you absolutely do not want to put your dirty laundry out on Twitter or Instagram. In other words, you don’t want to put out a tweet, @Marzetti, “Hey, I’d love your email address so I can pitch you.” Like, no. They’re not going to react well to that. You want to start to show them that you are using their products, and I always tell people, ’cause people will ask me, “Who do I reach out? There’s so many brands.” Especially if you’re a food blogger, there can be ton.

So I always say, “Well, who’s in your pantry? What do you know, use, and love?” If you can figure that out, then you start with those, and then you can broaden depending upon if you’re trying different recipes. Maybe to make something gluten free, you’re going to use a gluten free product. That would work for your audience.

Bjork Ostrom: So let’s say that they see that, they respond, then what? At what point do you transition to sliding into the brand’s DMs, as the kids say? But like, at what point do you make it more of a formal conversation around sponsored content?

Jenny Melrose: So, once I have that email address, then it comes down to the initial pitch. The initial pitch is what I send three to four months in advance. So, if right now, we’re talking in like early November, then we’re going to be looking at pitching at least New Years, maybe even Valentine’s Day at this point.

When I’m creating that pitch, I have that in mind, because I’m going to give them a broad idea of what I’m thinking. I’m not going to give them the kitchen sink where I’m going to tell them I’m going to make my grandmother’s award-winning apple pie with a cinnamon crust and a strudel. I’m going to keep it broad and I’m going to show them in the pitch how my unique position of whatever it might be, whether you’re a Michelin trained chef, whether you are a mom of eight kids and you homeschool and you make every single meal from scratch.

Then you’re going to have that in your initial pitch so that you can then have that conversation with them. I always give one call to action at the end of the initial pitch, so that they have one thing to say and one thing only. That call to action is that, “I’d love to send you my media kit and a proposal for your review.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and then what I love about that is in a way there’s this initial pitch, but it’s not the actual pitch. It’s kind of permission to pitch, where you’re connecting with the brand, and another big takeaway that I think is important to point out is that you are showing that you have a unique understanding of not only the brand, but also the marketing calendar for the brand. If you can find out those upcoming products or upcoming campaigns that they have, how beneficial that can be when you have those conversations. I think that’s a huge, huge takeaway.

One thing that I wanted to clarify, let’s say that you have this interaction on social media, and like you said, you don’t want to have this interaction of like, “Hey, can I have your email address?” But how do you eventually get to that point? Let’s say you tag the brand in a recipe post that you recently did, they respond, they heart it, they retweet it, whatever it is, you maybe go back and forth with them a little bit.

Is there a point where eventually you have to ask, like, “Hey, I would love to connect. Can I send you something?” Or, what does that look like on social media to make that transition into pitching to do the initial pitch?

Jenny Melrose: I would say that once they are following you, that’s when you can take it-

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Jenny Melrose: … to direct message or private message. A lot of questions I will get is, “Well, they don’t have a Twitter account.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jenny Melrose: I’m like, “Well, then check Instagram.” If they don’t have an Instagram account, they are probably not going to see the value in an influencer. Move on to a new brand.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, sure.

Jenny Melrose: You have to be smart obviously about the brands that you … Because you don’t want to work with a brand that doesn’t understand the value, because you’re probably not going to get paid what you’re worth then, and it’s also going to be a process, because you’re going to be trying to teach them exactly what you can do for them. I would definitely say that once they are following you, that’s when you would have that direct message, private conversation. “Can I have the email address for the person on your team that works with bloggers or influencers?”

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Then, the other question that I wanted to ask in terms of reaching out to brands, how much of the sponsored content that you’re doing is from you connecting with brands versus brands reaching out to you? I saw that for instance you have a “Work with me” area on your website. Do people come through that, or is the majority of the interactions and connections and then relationships that you have from you intentionally pursuing brands?

Jenny Melrose: I love that you asked this question. I would probably say it’s 50/50, and for the longest time, it wasn’t that way. It was probably 80% me reaching out to them, and then once I worked with a couple PR agencies, my name and email address got put on a couple different companies now.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Jenny Melrose: But what I can say about that is I still get like everyone else, or many people at least, I get those blanket emails that are sent to every influencer they have on your list, and they are trying to get you to either work for products or they’re looking for you to work for free.

One of my big caveats that I talk about is that instead of just deleting those emails and ignoring them, those are emails that you want to hit back with a renegotiation email is what I call it. I simply will say to them that, “I think your campaign is great” and I will state why it’s a perfect fit for my audience. Maybe it works well with my kids, whatever it might be, and then I give them the statement that in order to keep the integrity of my site to my readers and any brands I’ve previously worked with, I only work on compensated content. “Be happy to send you a proposal and a media kit for your review.”

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, yeah. So, not just blasting back an angry email saying, “How dare you assume I work for product. That can’t pay the mortgage. Get out of here.” Like, to try and be kind and considerate and to respond and say, “Thanks so much for reaching out” and explain, “Here’s the deal. Would love to work with you, but at this point can’t necessarily work just for product. Here’s what it would look like if you did want to work together.”

Jenny Melrose: Yes, absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. In some ways, it’s a warm lead. It’s somebody who’s reached out to you, who’s looking for a response. That could be one of the best ways to have a relationship, and even if that doesn’t work out, that would be a really important contact to save. That’s one of the things that we’ve been doing this year and have tried to be really intentional with, is to build our database of PR agencies and brands and to have a list of that that we manage and track.

We use a site called Highrise, which used to be part of the Basecamp suite, but essentially it’s like contact management, but I know other people use Contactually or you could probably even use just an Excel spreadsheet with some notes on it. But that’s one of the things that we’ve been trying to do a little bit better, is to keep track of those.

But to go back to one of the things that you had talked about, you talked about a PR agency and being on a list. Can you talk about the difference between PR agencies and working with brands directly? And then maybe give a little breakdown, percentage wise, of what people can expect in terms of PR agency versus working with the brand directly? How often would it be PR versus a brand?

Jenny Melrose: Absolutely. So, honestly, I would probably say the percentage, ’cause that’s what I … Majority of the time it’s a PR agency. Even when you’re reaching out to a brand, they normally have a PR agency. Percentage wise, I would probably say as high as 80–90% of the time, that is who you’re dealing with. There is nothing wrong with that, but that’s just something to keep in mind to really make sure that you build that relationship.

Because PR agencies don’t normally just work for one brand, and there have been lots of times that I’ve created a relationship with one PR agent over a specific brand, and then the next time they had a campaign for something else, they wanted to work with me again, so now I’m working with that brand.

That’s the same thing that you have to remember when you do get those emails where they’re asking you to work for product or for free. They probably have other brands that maybe if you replied politely, and professionally, that when they have a campaign or a budget for a different brand, maybe they’re going to reach out to you, because they appreciated the fact that you handled it well.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. That actually brings me to another question that we think a lot about with Pinch of Yum when we do sponsored content, when we work with brands. Lindsay and I both talk about, with the team we talk about this reality that a huge thing to consider is not just the performance of the content, but also the enjoyability of working with the blogger or the content creator.

Something could perform really, really well, but if that person is miserable to work with, then it’s probably not going to be something that the brand or the PR agency pursues often. The flips side can be true for bloggers. Like, you can have something that maybe pays really well, but if the brand or the PR agency is a nightmare to work with, then you probably aren’t going to do much to try and make that relationship move forward or continue to work with that company.

Another follow-up, either or percentage question, do you have any type of gut feeling on … So, when you’re working with the PR agency, let’s say, and individual at a PR agency, how much of it is how professional and how strong relationally the blogger or content creator is, versus how well the content actually performs? Both I think are really true, but how do you approach that and what is your gut on that, in terms of like is there one that’s more important or both equally important?

Jenny Melrose: I would say that they are definitely still going to want to see their return on investment but I would actually say your relationship with them will edge out if something falls on its face. They still may want to continue to work with you, just because they see the way that you handle yourself. Creating that relationship can be so huge for both parties. If you can help them do their job seamlessly, they’re going to want to work with you.

As the same point, if you can work with a PR agent, that makes your life easy, that is someone that you want to have in your life as well to continue that relationship and create long term contracts work. Because that, honestly I think, is the difference between working with a network and starting to pitch brands on your own. When you work with a network, it’s one and done. You have no relationship, there’s no way to continue it, but when you pitch brands on your own, you can start with one and then follow-up and show them that you delivered and be able to land a long term contract with them. That’s how you start making consistent income.

Bjork Ostrom: So how do you help the PR agency, or more specifically, if you have the person at the PR agency, how do you help them do their job well? What does that look like in specific terms?

Jenny Melrose: Absolutely. So, I make everything very, very simple and easy. If you’ve worked in a network before, you normally will give your URLs and then you’re done. That’s the end of it. When it comes to working with a PR agent, I give my URLs but I’m also going to follow-up 30 days after a post goes live with every single piece of data that I can give them.

Whether it is from my Google Analytics, whether it’s from Facebook with impressions, my reach, my engagement. Every social media outlet at this point gives you some sort of data and I provide them with that. I also teach in my course that it’s good to give them a culmination document, is what I call it. It’s pretty much the best of the best when it comes to your social media shares. It also is when I will pitch for long term, so I put together a document that shows them, “This is the pin and this is how many repins it got.”

Then, I’ll have some great comments that came from it, and I’ll show like a tweet or something. All the good pieces of the campaign that did amazing is on one sheet, and the follow-up email is, “Here’s everything. I would love to send a proposal for the next three months, or the next six months” or whatever it might be.

Bjork Ostrom: So, a couple concrete questions with that. How do you remember to do that? What tool do you use to remind yourself?

Jenny Melrose: I am a Google Docs person. I keep everything. I have an Excel spreadsheet that is meant for every single campaign, just a template that’s ready to go, and then I also have main spreadsheet that keeps all my sponsored posts. It has the title of the post, when it went live. It’ll have the date on there when I’m supposed to follow-up with all of the data so that I can then go back over to my spreadsheet that’s specific to the brand, and be able to deliver that to them and create that culmination document.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Jenny Melrose: But I keep everything in spreadsheets.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure.

Jenny Melrose: It’s the teacher.

Bjork Ostrom: And for the culmination document that has everything in it, is that the one thing that you deliver? Or, do you also do like screenshots of the performance in Google Analytics, screenshots in social media? What does that look like?

Jenny Melrose: The email that goes back to them, I will have that spreadsheet that has the URLs with all of the data as far as impressions and things like. I don’t normally give them screenshots of data, because I feel like I’m giving them that in the one spreadsheet that has all the URLs. The culmination document is where I’ll give screenshot of comments on Facebook, or a screenshot of the comments on the blog, or whatever it might be. I’ll add that into the culmination document.

It looks kind of like a media kit, but it’s just geared towards that brand, and the campaign that I worked on for them.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Then, what does it look like to do the pitch after the pitch? Let’s say you get done with a relationship or a campaign, I guess, and you have this positive relationship with a PR agency or a brand. At what point do you come back to them and say, “Hey, I would love to continue working with you” and essentially re-pitch? What’s the best way to do that?

Jenny Melrose: After the campaign is live, I’ve done all my social shares, that same day I deliver the template that has the URLs in it for them. 30 days later, I follow-up with them with that new template, with all the data in it, a culmination document done, and that’s the email that I would say, “Hey” … That normally also includes the invoice, or sometimes the invoice has been in the first one, depending upon my contract.

But the email will say, “Here’s some documents. This is all the data that we’ve had. This campaign has worked out so well. I’m so excited about it. I’d really love to talk to you about creating a proposal for working with you again, because it has been such a joy.”

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Jenny Melrose: Something to that effect.

Bjork Ostrom: How often will that result in them saying, “Yes, we would love to?” We’re talking a lot about percentages, but like 50/50, or 25/75? How successful is that reengagement campaign with PR agencies?

Jenny Melrose: I would probably say it’s about 60 to 70%, but with that being said, it’s not always immediate. So, in other words, there could be a three month downtime where they’re not really … They don’t have a campaign or they don’t have a budget, so it’ll be down the road, three months, six months, but about 60–70% of the time, they end up coming back.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Yeah, that’s great, and I think that’s another really important takeaway for everybody that’s listening, is maybe in a phrase, it’s what we all know, the easiest customers to get are the ones that you already have, and if the customers that you’re looking to get are people to sponsor the content that you’re producing, it’s easier to reengage those people versus trying to go out and win other campaigns.

Like you said, even better if that can start to be long term campaigns as opposed to one off engagements, just a post or something on social media. Do you ever, when you’re moving into a new season, let’s say you’re going into the winter season, as we are now, would you ever email out the different contacts that you have and say, “Hey, would love tow ork with you. I have a certain number of openings in the year to come, or in the next six months. Here’s what I’m thinking?”

Or, are you individually connecting with each PR agency and saying, “I know that you have these brands and these are the products that you’re going to be producing, and would love to work with you?” Like, do you ever send out a generic email to the contacts that you have?

Jenny Melrose: My email normally adjusts a little bit. What I do have a tendency of doing, depending upon how many pitches I’m sending out, and depending upon what my calendar looks like, I will theme my days for pitching, so in other words, I’m a lifestyle blogger so I do food, but I also have parenting, I also have crafts. If I’m going to pitch a food company, then I would probably pitch multiple food companies and try to be in that food frame of thought when I’m creating my pitch.

Because it probably is relatively some … Are going to be specific things that I’m going to switch up a little bit, depending upon their products and their mission. I always make it specific to them. It’s not a copy and paste kind of like, “I can send this out to 20 brands all at once.” It’s definitely something that I take the time to do each individual one, and like you said, as far as the follow-up with brands, it definitely is the 80/20 rule.

Like, 80% of my sponsored posts comes from 20% of who I’m working with in the past. Absolutely following up.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think one of the things that people will be thinking at this point is, “Okay, I understand the process that I can go through.” People understand the importance of following up with brands and I think even if they didn’t before, I think we revealed some things that are really important considerations as it relates to sponsored content. One of the things I know everyone will be thinking about and everybody always is thinking about, is, “How do I go about pricing this?”

That is like the big question that doesn’t have a concrete answer, but can you talk about some strategies for pricing content and maybe as it relates to different stages within your blog? So, if you’re just getting started out, or maybe have been doing this for a while, how can you be strategic about pricing?

Jenny Melrose: Absolutely. This is such a conversation that so many people are having and I think it’s also something that we like to try to keep secret. We don’t feel comfortable sharing things about money, and I think if we were more open about it, it would be easier for us to price things based on our stats, but at the same time, there are things that make us unique.

So, one of the sites that I use, just as a guideline, it is not the end all, be all. Some people say that’s crazy, but SocialBluebook.com is a great resource to be able to put in your Google Analytics, put in some of your social media outlets, and it’s going to spit you out a range of a rate.

Now, it’s just a guideline. It’s not like absolute. So, it may go low or it may go high, depending upon where you’re comfortable. I’ve had some people say to me, “Well, my Facebook page is really high, and the amount that they want me to charge for a post I don’t think I could ever get.” Well, that’s where you’re obviously established, especially if you have a large Facebook page, so you know what you’ve got in the past. You can judge it.

Now, the one thing I can tell you is that I do have a principle of a hate rate. I have a rate that I am absolutely not willing to go below, because I know that I will hate myself and the content that I create. If that’s the case, it’s not going to serve my purpose of getting long term contracts, because they’re not going to want to work with me again.

So, it’s better to walk away and tell them, “Listen, your budget’s not where it needs to be. I’m sorry. I’d love to work with you if you had a larger budget.” Walk away and you’ll be surprised at how many brands will turn around in three months when they do have the budget, and come back at you at your asking price.

You want to make sure that you’re not going below that rate, and again, there’s obviously your numbers do come into play, but there are times where your expertise comes into play as well. I am very comfortable on Facebook Live and I have a four year old that is off the wall, but we do Facebook Lives and we do them as sponsored Facebook Lives. I know that I can charge a decent amount for it, even though I don’t have a million followers on Facebook.

But it’s because of that expertise and how comfortable I am and I know that it’s going to get the engagement or the reach that the brand is looking for, so it’s going to be worthwhile.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, yeah. Social Bluebook, that’s a great … I remember from your presentation, that was one that I jotted down. What I love about it is I didn’t realize it’s like any other bluebook. Like Kelley Blue Book for car pricing, but it’s like the social bluebook for social media and influencer marketing, and getting a little bit of a baseline. Because I think more than anything, that’s what people want is, “Just give me a number and then I’ll adjust based on if I think it’s worth it, if I don’t think it’s worth it.”

There’s so many factors that go into it. How much sponsored content are you doing? So, if you’re booked out for three months, and you only do one post on each social channel a month, then maybe you can increase your rate a little bit, because it’s a supply and demand thing. A lot of factors that go into it, but we’ll make sure to link to Social Bluebook so people can check that out.

In general, how does that work? Do you have to link to your social media accounts, or do you just put your numbers in? What does that look like?

Jenny Melrose: You link to your social media accounts. They do one of those app, like Facebook does, and says, “Is it okay for us to link to us?” You say yes, and it just grabs it. I know people will get nervous, “But I’m giving my” … I’ve never had any issue whatsoever with it being like someone’s in there or whatever.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jenny Melrose: They have protected.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, okay. Great. So, we’ll link to that and people can be sure to check that out. Coming to the end here, but Jenny, when you think of sponsored content, when you think of getting started with it, and you know because of the people that you work with, maybe a lot of the fears that people face as they’re getting into it, what would your advice be to somebody who wants to take the leap into doing this, or is maybe doing it on the side and just really wants to ramp it up and do it really well?

Jenny Melrose: I think the first thing is you need to have almost a mindset shift. I think too often we say that we are just bloggers, or we are just blogging. It’s not that you are just. Like, when you start to think of your blog as a business, that’s when it starts to happen. You have to treat it like a business before anyone else will treat it like a business, and that goes for brands as well. They’re going to be able to tell that you are just blogging if that is the way that you approach it.

So, once you start treating it like a business, brands will do that as well, to you. I would say as far as the fears, if the worst thing that’s going to be said to you, they’re going to say to you, “No, we’re not interested.” It’s nothing to do with your site. It’s just to do with their budget and what they have available. You can’t take it personal. Again, it’s that business perspective. It’s a business and that’s the way they’re approaching it. You approach it that way as well, and you won’t get your ego kicked around.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. I think there’s something to be said, you talked about this six month period of figuring it out, and so often I think there’s this deep fear and potentially an insecurity, and I know this, because I feel it in lots of different things that we do, of, “I don’t know how to do this and therefore I won’t do it.” But the best way to feel confident doing it is to push through the insecurities that you initially have, and iterate and make small changes and say, “Okay, this felt a little bit off. Now I learn from this, and we’re going to change and adjust that.”

Even today, for Pinch of Yum we’ve been doing sponsored content or influencer marketing for a few years, and we’re still in the stage of like, “Oh, we should really make sure that if we’re doing sponsored content, we’re creating content, that we are really clear on if it’s work for hire or if we own it.” Like, are we creating content that the brand owns, or do we own this? If the brand wants to own it, if the PR agency wants to own it, then we should probably charge a little bit extra, and to make sure that we pinpoint that and find that in the contract.

We’re still totally figuring it out, as well, as I know many people are that are doing this. I think maybe just jumping in, like you said, and getting into it, and knowing that the worst that can happen is that somebody can say no. Great advice, and I feel like a good note to end on, but before we officially end, Jenny, I know that you have, we talked a lot about The Melrose Family blog, but I know you also have a personal blog where you talk about some of these things.

You have some courses and a podcast, as well. Can you talk about where people can check those things out?

Jenny Melrose: Absolutely. So, I have JennyMelrose.com, and the podcast is Influencer Entrepreneurs with Jenny Melrose, and then one of the things that I offer up as a freebie to my audience is my Pitch Perfect Checklist. It’s a checklist that actually walks you through what should be in that initial pitch, and it has definitely helped a ton of people to be able to just stay focused in what it is that they’re trying to write.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. We’ll link to those in the show notes, as well. Jenny, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today.

Jenny Melrose: Perfect. Thanks so much.

Bjork Ostrom: One more big thank you to Jenny for coming on the podcast today. As always, we include show notes with the podcast, and if you use the podcast app, especially if you have an iPhone, but other apps will have this as well, there’s a place where all of the notes that we talk about are included and they have links as well.

What you can do is you can click in to see the description for this specific podcast and it’ll have those links there. If you don’t see that area, what you can do is you can go to FoodBloggerPro.com/blog, and that will bring you to the page where we have all of these podcast episodes. But if you have the podcast app, that’s one of the great reasons why you can subscribe, because all of the notes for this, the show notes, will be included in the description area.

It makes it super convenient as you’re listening to just pull those up and to go to the sites that people are recommending, and Jenny recommended a couple good ones today, so I’ll include those in the show notes. Be sure to check those out, and maybe most importantly, make sure to take action on those things that you take away. So, don’t just jot those down or think, “Hey, that’s a good idea” but think about, “How can I implement those things?”

Because that’s what really makes a difference. It’s making those small, incremental changes over a long period of time. We talk about that as 1% infinity, getting a little bit better every day, forever. Thanks so much for tuning in. We’re going to be back here as always, same time, same place. Until then, make it a great week.

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