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How to Sell Big Brand Advertising Like a Pro

Credit: 401(K) 2013</a

Credit: 401(K) 2013

When it comes to big traffic personal blogs, I challenge you to find one as big as Wise Bread. At nearly 2 million unique visitors a month, they are easily one of the largest personal finance blogs around and it’s amazing, but not at all surprising, what Will, Greg, and Lynn have built over the last few years.

There’s a lot you can do with 2 million unique visitors a month and the Wise Bread team has figured out how to unlock the value of a rabid fan base without selling them out.

Will gave a presentation for FINCON12 titled “How to Land Big Corporate Campaigns and Keep Them Coming Back” that was filled, from start to finish, with incredible knowledge you can only learn by building a huge site and interacting with household brand names.

These are lessons he learned, on the job, from working with enormous brands like Microsoft, American Express, Chase, Intel, Skype, TurboTax, and Equifax (and who knows how many more since 2012). If you look on the site today, you’ll see partnerships with even more companies on their Tweetchats, giveaways, and display advertising.

I can’t think of anyone else more qualified to give a presentation on this subject so get out your notebook and get ready to take some notes. A lot of notes.

Take it away Will!

Part 1: How to attract the attention of big brands

Focus not on number of readers, but on who is influenced by your blog.

A few years ago at the Blog World Expo, I was on a panel with Darren Rowse from Problogger, he said something interesting: I don’t mind if my blog only has 5 readers, if all 5 of them are millionaires, I can retire right now. Because influence is more important than page views.

When you talk to advertisers, don’t just focus on raw page views. Show them you have influence over people like these:

  • Journalists
  • Producers
  • Other bloggers
  • Industry experts
  • Respected reviewers.
  • Social media power users.

Record instances where these powerful influencers have interacted with you, such as:

  • wrote about you, commented on your blog.
  • promoted something you wrote on social media
  • exchanged email with you
  • met with you in real life!

Record these with screenshots, pictures, or ask for testimonials. Always include this information in a press kit when talking to advertisers. Whenever someone said something nice about you, hit that screenshot button and save that for your press kit. That should be an instant reflex.

A while back, the nice people at Get Rich Slowly tweeted this nice thing about Wise Bread’s Wise1000 chart: “Looking for the best personal finance blogs? @Wisebread has THE list.”

The second I saw that message I took a screenshot and I’ve been showing this screenshot shamelessly in every press kit, presentation, I have a wallet-sized version of this, I bring it to bar mitzvahs, I bring it on dates… I show it to anyone who will sit still for more than 5 seconds.

Why is this important? You need to let advertisers know that when they are buying advertising on your blog, they are not buying page views. They are buying the opportunity to reach the hearts and minds of these other influential people, like GRS. Maybe they can’t afford to buy advertising on Get Rich Slowly, but they can indirectly get Get Rich Slowly’s attention by advertising on your blog.

Survey your readers

Another key way to get the attention of big brands is to survey your readers. Ad buys are very targeted. That’s why it is so important to understand your demographic through surveys.

Here’s an example of a Wise Bread reader survey. You are probably all aware of the basic type of questions to ask, like gender, household income, and education. but I want to focus on three questions that have been especially helpful to landing clients for us. What % of people

  • What percentage of your readers rely on your blog to make purchasing decisions ?
  • What percentage of your readers are likely to share product reviews with their friends?
  • What % of your readers are looking to buy new products or services?

These questions tell advertisers that your readers are the kind of people they want to reach. They are ready to buy stuff, they rely on your opinion to buy stuff, and once they bought something they will tell their friends about it.

Be professional

Another key way to get the attention of big brands is to be professional. One of the biggest fears big brands have about blog advertising is that they are afraid of dealing with someone unprofessional.

How do you project an aura of professionalism?

Create a legal structure for your company

First you want to create a legal structure for your company. There are a lot of different structures, like partnerships, limited liability companies, C-Corp, S-Corp. Generally for most purposes LLCs are best for bloggers. When you create a legal structure, you show advertisers that:

  • you understand the concept liability,
  • you understand how business works, and
  • you treat blogging as a serious business and not just a hobby.

Don’t do anything crazy for SEO

Wise Bread gets a lot of campaigns last year because we were not affected by Google’s Panda or Penguin updates. Big brands don’t want to associate with blogs that might have negative seo problems. I recommend against selling links or jumping on SEO fads. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Be transparent in your “About Me” page

A big part of professionalism is transparency. Have an “about me” page that is open and error free, with real name and real pictures. Anonymity makes brands nervous; also the whole point of buying advertising on blogs is to get a spokesperson with a real face and a real following, so if you are anonymous you are worth a lot less to brands.
Have great photos. (it is worth investing money in professional photo shoots)

Avoid controversy

Last but not least. This is perhaps the most important takeaway from this session: AVOID CONTROVERSY. Advertisers are terrified of controversy.

There are horror stories of brands buying advertising with a blogger, a blogger gets off the rails and starts bad mouthing the brand. You want to make sure your potential advertisers NEVER get the sense that you are volatile or unstable person.

Your potential advertisers are going to Google you. You don’t want them to find anything online showing that you did anything that can be construed as unprofessional. You want to be as diplomatic as possible in every situation.

Do product reviews

Brands are always Googling themselves, and if you come up high in the searches, they will want to talk to you and buy advertising on your website.

Evergreen article reviews:

  • I’m talking about something that takes weeks to write. 1-2000 words at least. I want to see pictures, graphs, video of you using the product, video of your dog using the product, do a little dance in the video, exhaust all possibilities. Just imagine you’re writing this review for the most anal person in the world, and know that your goal is to write the most detailed review of this product ever. For example, we spent a ton of time on our best travel rewards card article. It was so well-written that it even got on Jean Chatzky’s radar.
  • Review MUST BE OBJECTIVE. A fawning review will not help you win advertisers and hurts your credibility in the long run.Only review products that you really understand.
  • Instead of randomly reviewing stuff, create a series of related reviews. You want to specialize in one niche. You want to be the “disposable diapers guy” or the “vegan grocery lady.” Having the group helps with seo and also establishes you as an expert i the area.

Now here’s the key tip that a lot of people miss: once you write a review, make sure you contact the company that makes the product. Call them up, write them an email, tell them hey I have this review, I would like to keep it current, so if you have any news please let me know. If you have any opportunities for input into the future, let me know.

Don’t say anything about advertising. This is not the time for a sales pitch. Just say you want updates and you’re happy to give feedback. This contact will get you on the list of the ad agency representing this product. Next time they want to run an ad campaign, you’ll be on the top of their list.

This is an amazing tip and I’m surprised I never thought of it. When you write a review, definitely email the public relations company for the products creator to get on their radar. PR companies are always looking for mentions. If nothing else, you get on their radar.

Another great opportunity bloggers miss out on is their old reviews. A lot of bloggers ignore their old reviews. When you go home, go through your blog, look at all the brand’s you’ve mentioned, if they were well-written reviews contact the company’s publicist and tell them about it. If you don’t have time for scouring your site and contacting people, you can hire personal assistants. There are a lot of reasonably-priced personal assistants who specialize in this kind of work.

Let people know you accept advertising

Don’t be shy… let people know you’re open for business.

  • add an advertising page to your menu
  • message on “about me” page
  • talk to fellow bloggers
  • reverse pitch everyone who contacts you

What is reverse pitching? Every day you are bombarded with people asking you to do stuff for free–they are asking you for free review, free links, free social media promotion.

Make sure whenever someone is pitching you something, you have a reverse pitch ready. For example someone emails me asking me to promote a product for free. I’ll respond with a template email that says “hey thanks for telling me about your product… blah blah blah… by the way did you know there are numerous advertising options on Wise Bread?”

Then attach a PDF press kit to the email. The PDF press kit should have info like description of advertising options, rates, and the stuff we talked about earlier, like survey results, press mentions, and of course that nifty quote from Get Rich Slowly.

This sounds kind of complicated but this is all done with templates and takes no time at all. You end up sending out dozens of templates a week. Reverse pitching has lead to a dramatic increase in advertising sales for Wise Bread. So it is definitely worth your time.

Part 2: How to make the perfect pitch

Step one was the hard part. Now that you’ve made the connection with a big brand, they’ve seen your rate sheet and they want to talk about buying ads, they want to set up a phone call what’s next? How do you make the perfect pitch to lock in that campaign?

Do your homework

Even before the phone call, you want to take the time to do a ton of research. Here are the key things you need to know.

  • Is the product right for you? Don’t accept a campaign if you can’t wholeheartedly endorse a product or if a product is not a good fit with your audience. If you reject a campaign but you’re honest about why you can’t accept a campaign, the ad agency will respect you and keep you mind for future projects.

    This tells ad agencies that you are selective, that you are a credible blogger and your endorsement is valuable and means something. In the long run this actually increases your value.

  • Research the brand the ad agency. Do a search on Google News, look at their company blog, look at advertising industry magazines like Advertising Age. What are people saying about this product? Has there been a product recall? Has there been a public backlash against the brand? Did the company get a new round of funding? Knowing these details will help you craft your pitch.
  • Look at how the campaign is currently executed, look at how other websites are servicing this client. You are a small part of a large multi-million dollar campaign. You want to understand the tone, scope, the message that the entire campaign is trying to convey.
  • Most important of all, do some research on the person you’ll be talking to, your point of contact with the ad agency. Go on LinkedIn, check out their twitter or personal blogs, figure out their history and learn about their experience, background, and they’re interested in. Of course, there’s a fine line between research and stalking. Resist the urge of leaving a thousand comments on their Facebook page. You want to learn about this person, not scare them away.

Your first phone call

After you’re finished with your research, you’re ready to take the first phone call with the client. You want to be be professional and upbeat. Generally I like to stand up when I’m making this call. It makes me feel more energetic. The very first question they’ll ask you is “tell me about your blog” so have a 2-minute elevator speech ready summarizing how awesome you are.

This phone call is a cakewalk for you, because thanks to your research, nothing in this phone call is going to surprise you. Your research is going to make you look like a superstar. You already have a good sense of what the agency wants from you, you know the product inside and out, this is just to demonstrate your expertise and your mastery of the process.

Now here are three things during the phone call you must bring up. Again, these are things that makes you look super smart in front of the client.

Questions to ask:

  • Objective of the campaign & metrics of success. What do they consider a successful campaign? Are they going to measure pageviews, number of tweets, number of mentions?
  • Demographic they’re trying to reach? Since you have your demographic data for your own site, you can speak very intelligently about how your blog fits with their target.
  • You also want to see examples of the campaign material. This not only give you a sense of the tone of the campaign, but seeing how other bloggers are running this ad will make your own execution much easier. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Setting up the agreement

After the initial call, you’ll probably be asked to send over an insertion order (sometimes called contract or term sheet) Basically an agreement describing what you are going to deliver and what you’ll charge for it.

Don’t get intimidated. You don’t need a super fancy form. I’ve done huge campaigns with contracts that are just a few sentences over email. Many campaigns move really fast, so flexibility is more important than format.

  • Clear deliverable: duration of campaign, location, type of ad, social media promised, etc.
  • Point of contact: Who will you be working with? Very often the person who talked to you in the beginning is not the same person executing the campaigns.
  • Contingencies: What happens if you cannot deliver? Describe if you’ll provide a refund or provide alternative promotions.

How to negotiate/set price

I think bloggers worry about this way too much and while there’s no absolute right way to price things, here are a few strategies I use:

  • See what other people are charging. A lot of blogs publish their rates its not a secret. Banner rates for Simple Dollar and Wise Bread are public knowledge. You can ask your friends. forums, etc.
  • Bloggers tend to charge lower than they are worth. This is part of the reason why I asked you to do a ton of research earlier. Because once you realize a brand is spending millions of dollars on your campaign, suddenly it sounds silly for you to be charging only $100 for a sponsored post. When in doubt, charge more than you think you’re worth.
  • The first couple of campaigns, it is more important to get it right than to get paid. Once you have successful campaigns under your belt, clients are not going to haggle over too much.

Part 3: How to keep them coming back for more

After landing and executing a great campaign, how do you keep the customers coming back?

  • Provide detailed reports. Learn Excel and sign up for some third party reporting tools. Make some graphs and provide as many stats as possible. Remember what I said earlier about showing influence? You want to take a ton of screenshots of influential people who have engaged with your blog during this campaign. You want to show that influential people saw the ad. Ad agencies have to create internal reports to their clients. If they can just copy and paste your report into their own reports, you’ve saved them a ton of time. They’ll love you for it.
  • Respect the chain of command. You are part of a huge campaign with a huge chain of command. There’s the main client, several ad agencies under the client, and subcontractors working for those agencies. Do not go over anyone’s heads. Don’t skip the middleman. If an agency thinks you’re trying to cut them out of the loop, they’ll never come back to you.
  • Additional value is better than discounts. If a campaign didn’t meet a client’s expectations, never offer a discount. You don’t want the client to remember you as “that blog that sucked so bad they had to give us 50% of our money back.” Instead, offer additional value. If the first sponsored post tanked, do a second one for free or find other ways to promote the company. The client will remember you as the blog that went above and beyond the call of duty. They’ll associate you with additional value instead of failure.
  • Especially with corporations, offering a discount is not even a good incentive. There are so many people involved in approving an insertion order and they have to spend their budget that a discount is actually creating more work for your point of contact. You giving back some of the money means they need to deploy it elsewhere (and figure out the logistics of getting it back). They’d much rather you work harder to try to hit the metrics they need.

  • Be flexible (and reachable). Big campaigns sometimes move at the speed of light. There’s always a lot of last minute changes. You have to get used to, and embrace this chaos. You might think that these big campaigns run like clockwork, but that is not the case. I’ve received phone calls ten minutes before a post is supposed to go live with edits because the lawyers in Washington say it has to be changed. You want to make sure they always have your phone number, you always answer the phone, and are able to reach you so you can make changes.
  • Clone the process. After 4-5 campaigns you’ll get a feel of the process and you can start creating templates for every step of the process. I’m a huge fan of templates. During last year’s presentation, I mentioned that if you invested 5 minutes to develop a template, over 5 years that 5 minutes can save you over 1,300 minutes. That’s the greatest ROI you can get.
  • Word of mouth is king. After you successfully executed a couple of campaigns, you can stop looking for opportunities. Most of the campaigns we do on Wise Bread comes from word of mouth. We don’t really actively look for advertisers anymore, which is really nice. I think anyone can do this. If you follow the steps in this presentation, executed a couple of great campaigns, then word of mouth will do all the selling for you.
  • I want to thank Will Chen for this epic post – it has a ton of information but it’s a gold mine for anyone looking to secure advertising deals from big brands. If you want to connect with Will, he’s on twitter @WillChenEsq and, of course, over at Wise Bread.

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    In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog ( that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

    14 responses to “How to Sell Big Brand Advertising Like a Pro”

    1. I am SO glad I signed up for your newsletter; otherwise, I would have missed this.

      Thanks to Will from WiseBread for providing these incredibly valuable steps to successfully working with advertisers. And thanks, Jim, for bringing it to us. You’re right – there are great takeaways that bloggers at any level can apply, with advertisers from any size company. Good stuff!

      • Jim says:

        Thanks for subscribing and I’m glad you enjoyed it – the best part is that so much of it translates to blogs of any size. If you’re new to blogging, collecting all those kudos can add up and turn into a nice little “brag” page later on.

    2. Great post!

      I’m curious… I know you are against posts that are just for selling links, but what ydo you think of sponsored posts? Where companies allow bloggers to write the post, create the content, but they are paying for it? Are these all lumped into the same category in your mind? I’ve seen some big name brands go for sponsored posts, especially through networks like BlogHer and with mommy bloggers and I was curious if you considered those the same thing or not.

      • Jim says:

        I’m rarely against anything and my stance of sponsored posts is that they’re good or bad based on what you want to accomplish. If you want to become involved in affiliate marketing, those posts can hurt you because you’d be competing against yourself. That said, money is money and a sense of moral superiority doesn’t pay rent. Or put food on the table. 🙂

        As for the ones clearly labeled as sponsored, no-followed links, and follow all of the Google guidelines — I think those are perfectly fine and safe. I know has a really big program doing this exact thing, Toni Anderson of The Happy Housewife is managing that program I think.

        FWIW, I know that Wise Bread doesn’t accept sponsored posts by a brand, they take advertisers/sponsorships but they write the content themselves and has yet to be a problem for brands or readers. I think this is a better way to handle it because then Wise Bread can write content that works for readers and still satisfies advertisers without having content that looks like an ad on the site.

    3. Thanks for these tips–as a new blogger the information about hitting up the company’s PR entity with a request for information rather than a pitch for advertising is great. I look forward to putting these into practice!

      • Jim says:

        Please let me know how it goes.

        Also, thanks for commenting because it introduced me to your blog, love it. My wife is winding down her PHD this summer and while it’s not 4 kids and 2 degrees in 6 years (2 kids, 1 degree in 5 years), I suspect she’ll be a big fan of your blog!

    4. James says:

      Hi jim,

      I recently subscribed to blogelina reading blog roll, and it was from there that I saw this captivating headline.

      I read through your content, and I must say its a masterpiece, worthy of mention to MBA students.

      My blog is new ( will be four month old by middle of next month February), and I have been thinking lately on how to monetize it ( don’t want to go the way of Google Adsense).

      Your post gave me an unusual way to approaching my niche advertisers and I must say thank you for this resourceful post.

      Do have a nice weekend.

    5. Caleb says:

      Wow – another post full of terrific info. Thanks Jim and WiseBread.

    6. Jim,I missed this one at Fincon and I really appreciate the recap. There is a lot of great information here to implement. I especially like the “screenshot” save one. I get so much positive regard from all over the place and need to get it organized so maybe I can derive a few bucks from it. And I must agree that Wise Bread is an awesome model of a superb personal finance organization. Thanks again, another post to “save”.

    7. Mark R. says:

      Awesome post. I have it bookmarked for when my site meets the qualifications and is worthy of big advertisers.

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