When people ask me, “How do you monetize your blog?” they are disappointed when I don’t offer up an immediate solution like, “Through Google Ads!” It’s as if they want an easy, one-size fits all solution for making profits from online passion. But if you’ve read my first post in this series, JP’s 3-P Perspective on Blog Profitability: Passion, Program, Platform, then you know I don’t think it’s so easy. First, you have to have Passion for your blog topic—because only passion will fuel you through challenging, tough and lonely times on the info superhighway. Passion also is a prerequisite for the next P—Program. Like Passion, there’s nothing simplistic about Program—bloggers must think beyond simple advertising services like Google Ads, and create Programs that help brands connect with their readers. Bloggers have something brands want—a relationship with readers. Providing opportunities for brands to become part of that relationship—both online and real time—creates a Program that becomes much more financially lucrative and fulfilling than simple display advertising.
Granted, those ad services are easy. Most are blogging as a hobby with limited time and resources. So an ad service seems like a great solution. But if you’re one of those who want to monetize your blog and dream of blogging full-time, then it’s time to stop putting all your eggs in the ad service basket, hoping that your readers click thousands of times so that you make a measly income. Most really successful bloggers I know who have terrific traffic tell me that they in no way make a decent income from advertising services. Then what’s a blogger to do? Think beyond advertising—think Programs.
Here, I take my cue from the print world. That’s right—there’s still a lot to be learned from the world of print that applies in the electronic world. For several years I was privileged to work for one of the most successful magazine companies Condé Nast—publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and the title I worked for Condé Nast Traveler. The company had a rule that they wouldn’t negotiate the advertising rate for a page in one of their magazines—and those pages were the highest premium around. So, how did they compete when other magazines were heavily discounting?
Condé Nast prided themselves on the quality of their product and their relationship with readers. They wouldn’t discount, but if you placed advertising in the magazine you received “added value.” The magazine would create extra programs, sometimes an event, sometimes a special mailing, which would get the brand’s products in front of the readers in a different way. If it was a fashion advertiser, it might be an intimate fashion show of the brand’s clothes at Saks with the magazine’s fashion editor speaking to invited readers. If it was an alcohol brand, it might be a special party at a hot new club inviting readers to sip on the brand’s cocktails.
For my blog, I applied the added-value principles. Knowing that I had dedicated readers with whom brands wanted to connect, I created a Program bringing the two together. Last year, as I traveled the country on book tour for Alphabet City, I organized a series of appearances at book clubs of my readers/fans. For many brands, there’s almost no place they’d rather be than in the intimacy of someone’s home, having their product sampled and messages delivered by a trusted friend—in this case, me.
Whole Foods Market was one company that saw the value in having their 365 Branded products like chips and salsa at the parties, and have me deliver messages that it doesn’t cost a fortune to throw a great get together. As I traveled, I also integrated them into the content on the blog providing recipes and photos that were authentic to the experience. So, Whole Foods got both an online and offline program. Similarly, Kimpton Hotels was looking to expand their outreach to the gay and lesbian community. Knowing that many of my readers are their target, I created a series of events in their hotels inviting my readers who were thrilled to hear about Kimpton’s innovative support of a gay writer. The Kimpton program even became newsworthy itself, garnering coverage in the New York Times, expanding the value to Kimpton even further.
Programs don’t have to be just events. They could be special newsletters that you send to targeted readers including information about their products. It could be agreeing to integrate product references into content with a special sweepstakes giveaway, just make sure you clearly tell your readers about that per FCC rules. But if you choose your brands carefully, ones that fit into your own passion, then I feel like readers don’t mind. Because I write about healthy eating, Whole Foods Market was a no-brainer for my readers. Similarly, because Kimpton Hotels are, well, Poptimistic in design and spirit, my readers were happy to hear about and see pictures of the various properties. So choose your program tie-ins carefully.
Selling your program to an advertiser does take some work. I’m not going to kid you about that. But that’s where your passion will help you. If you can demonstrate to a potential brand partner that you’re passionate about your topic—and your readers—that’s half the battle. The other half is presenting your program idea succinctly and intelligently. I suggest creating a one-page sell sheet that has the title of the program, two or three sentences about what the program idea is (think of it as an elevator pitch), background statistics on your blog (traffic, readers, etc), and summary of your credentials. Find the right marketing or communications person to send it to, and let the conversations begin.
It’s not as hard as you might think to find the right person—look on a company’s website for marketing or PR information and email them asking who’s the contact for evaluating a blog partnership. I guarantee you that most companies today are desperately looking or at least thinking about how they can do interesting online programs. When you do find the right person, start the conversation by asking what it is the company wants to achieve—what are their objectives—and see if they match up with what you can deliver with your readers. Don’t do the classic mistake of just talking about you and your blog without even knowing what the company’s priorities are.
It’s often easier to get your foot in the door, and get a company to say yes to your Program when you have a track record of success. That’s one of the things we’ll tackle in the last P—Platform.
Next on Biz Savvy Blogger: In the last P—Platform, JP encourages bloggers to expand the meaning of “monetize.”