Let’s talk about how and when to reach out to brands to give yourself the best shot at landing a brand deal. It can feel like a daunting task, but we promise, it’s possible and we’re going to break down how you should go about doing it.
1. Know who you want to work with
2. Know who is the decision-maker at the brands on your target list
3. Why are you the best influencer for the job? Prepare a compelling pitch specifically for that brand and contact
4. Pick up the phone and call your contact, follow up with email
Pro Tip: Be prepared to defend your argument, negotiate rates and provide supporting stats, examples and/or references
Let’s dive in. The first step is to identify brands you think your audience would like. As much as you’d like to think brands choose you because you are amazing, the truth is, brands care about brands, and a brand’s audience is a marketer’s number one focus when choosing an influencer. Let’s say you would categorize yourself as a travel influencer. You post about your travel to a far off island destination, muddy mountain hikes, and funny plane experiences. Let’s say you want to represent a shoe company and start exploring a list of brands to add to your brand list. You select AllBirds because you think they are comfortable and stylish to travel in. The question to ask yourself, is, if I post about AllBirds shoes, will my audience feel like this post is authentic and fits the themes I like to post about AND they’re likely to engage, comment, or even purchase a shoe I promote in my feed or story? If the answer is yes, then that brand is a good one to put on the list. In this case, we’d agree with your selection because it’s likely your audience also loves to travel and will find your recommendation for a comfy travel shoe in AllBirds a good one.
Even better, is if you’ve repped a similar brand in the past and were rehired, complimented or provided statistics to showcase how well you did on that deal – add that brand back to the list and its competitors. Most brands don’t like it if you’ve worked with a competitor within a similar timeframe – 3-6 months, so keep this in mind and pitch throughout the year, scheduling in similar brand deals, but not at the same time in your feed. This is also a turn off for your audience if you’re always posting about similar types of companies unless, of course, your whole spiel is reviewing products.
Ok, so let’s say you now have a list of brands – AllBirds, Jetblue Airlines, and Arc’teryx. How do you know who to reach out to at these brands?
Most brands, especially the larger ones, use agencies to manage their PR, creative, and paid advertising. In some cases, a brand will have one agency they call an AOR or Agency of Record. Most of the time, brands have a specialized agency for each type of marketing. For the largest of brands, they may have a handful of agencies for each brand or category of brands. What does this mean for you? More opportunities to reach brands and make money.
Agencies are like gatekeepers, they manage brand budgets for various reasons and they always reserve the right to tell or not tell a brand manager about vendors, partners or in our case, influencers who want to work with the brands – that is, if the agency doesn’t feel the partner is a good fit for the brand. As you can imagine, this process is slighted because it relies on the opinion of one or a few individuals. Say you pitch to a brand’s advertising agency and you get a NO. This could happen for several reasons, including timing, budget constraints, shifts in a team internally, or that they don’t think you are a good fit for the brand (among many other potential reasons). Getting a no from one agency does not mean you got a NO from the brand, so don’t give up there. You’ll want to reach out to other agencies, or perhaps the brand manager directly.
How to know which agency works with the brand you are wanting to work with? Google can tell you. Simply open a new search and type in the name of the brand you want to work with and “AOR” or “agency of record” and you’ll see articles about which agencies have been bidding for the business and who has won. You can then scour Linkedin looking for common titles of people working at those agencies. Some agency contacts will list the name of the brands they work with and others will be more cryptic, i.e. leading auto manufacturers instead of Toyota, but you can deduce which brand it is because most agencies aren’t allowed to have two competitive brands under one roof. Simple research and common sense will lead you to where you need to go.
There are different types of job titles for brand managers and agency contacts. Here is a common list of titles you can search for on Linkedin below:
- Senior Brand Manager
- Brand Manager
- Assistant Brand Manager
- Media Manager
- Director of Performance Marketing
- Director of Influencer Marketing
- Senior Associate
- Associate Director
Great, now you have a list of brands and contacts to reach out to; next, it’s time to prepare your pitch. If you are reaching out to a brand directly, you’ll want to get to the point quickly and illustrate why you think you’d be a great fit to work with their brand (be specific in your email), and ask to be introduced to the correct agency or person to speak with about partnering on their next initiative or campaign. If you’re reaching out to an agency, it helps to drop names if you’ve spoken to someone at a brand first, and you’ll also want to make sure to research what campaigns this person has participated in or could be working on now. Try to make each email as personal as possible. Look up the brand and recent awards it received for campaigns – often, these applications also include the list of people who worked on them.
There is usually talk on media forums about active RFPs (or requests for proposals) for campaigns that are currently in planning. This means that there is money on the table and the agency is deciding how and who to spend it with. Great time to be in conversations with the brands. It might also be a good practice to follow specific brands on social and on YouTube. You might be able to catch an early teaser for a campaign that you can then jump on. There is often money saved for agile activations surrounding big launches that is on the table.
Call vs. Email. The answer is all of the above. You need to prepare an email with all of the relevant information – who you are, what you want, why you will be a great fit, stats, examples, etc. This is useful for the contact to look you up later, however, don’t rely on email alone. Lots of companies and individuals are reaching out to these brands and agency contacts daily, so you’re likely to get lost in the mix. Stand out and give the contact a call directly. Even if you don’t get the right person the first time, you can ask them to direct you to the correct contact to speak to, and even ask for an introduction via email.
Be mindful of timing; there are usually planning cycles for each business – whether that be seasonal or campaign-based (every 3-4 months). Some brands plan in the moment, but most plan up to a year in advance. There is also a lot of turnovers, especially at agencies, so keep in mind that you might need to get to know more than one person at an agency to protect your relationships with that brand/agency. Similarly, when you build a strong professional relationship with brand managers and agency contacts, you may get to follow that person’s career to new brands or accounts they’ll work on.
Ultimately, this will come down to intention, planning, and persistent outreach. Build relationships that last and don’t give up – often, it’s just that the people you are trying to reach are busy, not that they aren’t interested in what you have to offer.