I love free product? Fortunately, hair care lines are awesome about giving out products for free at meetups and some even even swag for larger expos. It’s GREAT!

Shouts out to Sofn’free, Beautiful Textures, Shea Moisture, Jessicurl, Curls and smaller brands like Amazing Botanicals, The After Affects, Amorouscents, L.A.C.E. Enterprises, Desirable Essence for being more than generous in sponsoring past and upcoming events. Sofn’free and Beautiful Textures are working with Natural Hair Parade on a large campaign to distribute full sized products for 400 people nationally in support of Grand Marshals events being held on May 19 in conjunction with Natural Hair Parade’s NY event and National Natural Hair Meetup Day. Their support of this large effort is priceless and mutually beneficial.

However, and you know there is a however, I’m a bit perplexed about what seems to be an epidemic prevalent in the natural hair and more specifically black blogging community. Perhaps because of miseducation on our part, lack of business savvy, or an understanding of marketing, PR and advertising, many event coordinators, content publishers and community leaders are only receiving product sponsorships and very little, if any, monetary sponsorships for what amounts to the brand as free or very low cost advertising.

As a marketing and PR professional and having worked with various brands and advertisers, I’ve seen plenty of sales sheets, decks, budgets and sponsorship packages. I study extensively marketing strategies, advertising budgets, and the ROI for all marketing and communications outreach. I’m very familiar with how marketing and advertising works.

Also, I’m also familiar with the value to advertisers to pull their budgets from television, radio and print advertising and reassign those budgets to online advertising and event marketing. The goal is to reach people where they are and right now, most consumers research and make buying decisions online. DVR makes it simple for folks to fast forward right past commercials, and with Kindle’s, Nooks, iPads and other mobile devices, a brand will miss the opportunity to engage consumers unless their strategies reach across these and other platforms.

Here comes the mighty blogger, event, and community influencer. Armed with captive audiences and with a voice that almost packs the punch of a nod by Oprah, these online and community influencers provide opportunities for advertisers to reach their audience–and not just anybody, as in the case of TV, radio, or print ads, but a very specific, qualified group of consumers CRAVING for information. And guess what? THAT IS GOLD!!!!

Yet, we’re only getting product sponsorships? *scratches my head*

For an uninformed person that’s not used to getting anything, a product sponsorship seems like the best thing on earth. You’ve got mail! A package of hair care products that only costs pennies to produce and package and a few bucks to a few hundred dollars to ship. No, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I feel like plenty advertisers in the haircare and in other industries are looking to many bloggers and community influencers and assigning them low value.

Let’s strip it down like this and talk industry budgets and ROI:

Industry standard for marketing budgets is 10%. Some spend much less, at about 1-5%, and others, much more according to research by the AMA as noted in an article about marketing ad spend benchmarks in Inc. magazine. The article states, “In a survey published in 1996, the American Marketing Association (AMA) reported that in 1994 business-to-business companies spent an average of 3.49% of revenues on “marketing,” which the AMA defined as direct-selling expenses (sales salaries, commissions, and bonuses), marketing communications (advertising, direct mail, public relations, and so forth), marketing support, market research, and telemarketing. But the smallest companies spent more than the average, the AMA also found.”

And guess what? In terms of budgets, in a glimpse at Taiwan’s 2008 ad budgets by industry give us some input. The Pharmaceutical and Beauty class RANKS SECOND in advertising spend, and grew their ad budgets by about 17%, that year.

While most of the beauty companies we’re reaching out to don’t have Budweiser budgets, they are part of larger conglomerates like Proctor & Gamble, the company behind the My Black Is Beautiful initiative to reach African-American women and the makers of Cover Girl and Pantene. Another way we can gauge budgets and spending is by contacting Essence, Ebony or other mainsteam media outlets and finding out how much it’ll cost you to place an ad there. I’m sure, though we’re taking major distribution, for an ad there, you can spend upwards of $30,000 as it’s been rumored.

Some of us have a fraction of the reach mainstream media outlets have and yet are extremely influential and have a broad reach of loyal readers and followers that we engage both online and offline. So why aren’t we offered (and not needing  to beg them on hands and knees) for a fraction of $30,000 or a million dollar budget for that matter?

Neilsen has detailed reports by industry and insight the insightful State of the Media: Advertising Spend and Effectiveness white paper gives us a big picture understanding of advertising and how it works, including product placement, which is in affect what is primarily happening within the natural hair community. Not only are brands in other industries placing the product, but they are paying to place the product, yet the majority of the time I’d venture to say influencers within this industry are not seeing these dollars.

I’m curious as to why. It’s clearly not because brands don’t see the value of paid advertising or tax-deductible sponsorships. Why, they do it all the time. Just not with us. Is it simply because we’ve not asked, or because we’ve spoiled them?

Small businesses may truly not have the budget, but within brands planned yearly ad spend budget, they have funds allocated to get their message to targeted audiences as a part of their strategies to increase sales, build brand awareness and gather market data. And we’re happy with a bag of sample size cream for a blog post….

Funny story I heard this weekend from new blogger, who blogs infrequently and about celebrity gossip, got a check in the mail for $500 from an advertiser out of the blue. After calling them and asking what the check was for, they said, ‘Oh, that was for a blog post that you did talking about our product.’ The advertiser saw the bloggers value, the blogger was happy and they thanked each other for doing business together.

Also something I know for a fact–advertisers LOVE bloggers. Many of you haven’t attended the BlogHer conference, but this is the mother of blogging conferences for women. There are plenty others, but this one targets female bloggers amongst others. The swag you get there is ridiculous, as I saw in my 2010 visit there. Why? Because the advertisers see the influence of bloggers, and pay if not for product sponsorship, the definitely do for the opportunity to have an exhibitor booth there and for selected bloggers that they work with to be there. We’re not talking $100 vendor tables or $25 registration either.

Planning is a big part of the equation so I can’t go without saying that we should pop up with something out of nowhere and expect brands to jump on it with monetary sponsorships or paid advertising. In some instances, when they see the value of involvement, brands do. I’ve found what some, and please don’t get me wrong, I really mean some, are saying is, not that they don’t have the budget, but simply, “We aren’t going to pay YOU for this.”

So, back to the drawing board. What are we asking for? What are we offering in terms of value to advertisers? Does our reach, readership, targeted audience, event-in-a-bag and/or influence and ROI mean anything to brands? It should and it does.

In a convo with one influencer, it was emphasized to me, “I don’t do it for the money.” That’s noble. However, in a similar conversation, one complained how they were unable to sustain their meetups because there was no ROI for her. With the former, it is to be noted that they also had a defined sponsorship package and sell tickets to events. What we do costs money. Whether it’s a passion-based business or a profit-based business (which some seem to feel can’t exist together), money is needed to sustain whatever it is we do.

In my opinion, humble as it may be, seasoned full-time bloggers and event planners should not also have to work full-time to earn a living. According to Angel’s Laws of Blogging by the ConcreteLoop.com blogger, Angel Laws, there is one well-known celebrity gossip blog that brings in $111,000 a month. Another event planner in the Los Angeles area, $30,000 per event. Pick your face up off the floor.

Now hair and beauty bloggers aren’t celebrity gossip bloggers but I’m confident that their influence and readership could be comparable. I know bloggers making $100,00+ yearly, but any $100K monthly…nope. Not. Even. Close. Most may not even have that as a goal but some ad income on a regular, sustained basis is ideal. How can one get to that?

I’ll continue exploring that and share with you as I embark on my Get Money journey. P.S. I write sponsorship, ad and other sales packages if you are having trouble in that area (did I tell you that I’m a marketing and PR professional? Okay, yeah. Holla.) One  can explore ad networks, and those are extremely valuable as a part of your ad sales and sponsored post strategy. Affiliate networks and Google Adsense are great too. However, at the end of the day, when we’re looking for real relationships with brands and providing endorsed content and events as a part of a marketing service to them, we need to negotiate this directly with them and we need to be paid, and not it gum, uh hem, shampoo.

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