If you read yesterday’s post you learned about my high and lows from 2017, weee and some of my goals for 2018. I also promised you a spicy post for today – my brand burn book so get excited lol.
First, I wanted to introduce a new segment here on Color Me Courtney – Blogger Tip Tuesday. Its come to my attention that a large amount of my following (as high as 25 percent) are content creators themselves: bloggers, instagramers, youtubers etc. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me, infant when I first started growing my followers I specifically targeted bloggers because that is who I wanted in my community, more on that in future weeks. Anyways, because of this fact and because I am in a place where I am secure about my business / blog / etc, I wanted to take every (ehhh thats a little ambitious, lets say most) Tuesday as a chance to share a tip about the blogging business. These posts won’t be just for future/current content creators, they will also be for the non bloggers who are curious about the industry, want more insight into my day to day or just have general blogging questions. This is my way of giving back to part of my community, sharing what I’ve learned, mistakes I’ve made and success I’ve had in my career. I’m not an expert, and my following/blog is very unique and niche so my answers aren’t a one size fits all solution, but rather my opinions and experiences. I’m happy to share whatever I can to help you grow your business, and truly believe that there is enough room for all of us without a competitive aspect that so many of us in this space feel. To be honest, I’m secure enough in my business that I don’t feel threatened by new and upcoming bloggers, but rather challenged and inspired as we all should. As a result, If you have a question you want answered, leave it in the comments of this blog post and I’ll tackle it in future weeks.
OKAY So now that you know all about blog tip Tuesday, lets talk about todays post. Today I’m sharing my favorite projects of 2017 and rounding up the best and worst brands I worked with this year. The point of this post isn’t to call anyone out, but to really honor the brands that I had the best time working with and provide transparency behind the post. Its also a great resource for new brands, looking to work with content creators and might show some of the do’s and don’t about
Before we dive in, lets talk about branded/sponsored content. So as a blogger I make my money a few ways, one of which being sponsored content ( a topic I’ll cover more in depth in coming weeks, so if you’re confused hang with me for a second). Sponsored content occurs when a brand comes to me and asks me to promote their content in exchange for an agreed upon amount – it could be as low as a piece of clothing in exchange for a single tweet or as high as a six figure amount in exchange for multiple pieces of content, exclusivity, ambassadorship and more, all depending on the nature of the partnership. Sometimes I get full creative control, other times its a very specific ask that I have to agree to comply with or decide to pass on. Luckily, I’m in a place now where I can be extremely selective about the partnerships I take on and where sponsored content is only one part of my blog business, so I have some flexibility. As time has gone on, my brand has become more specific, more niche and extremely unique and therefore I have become more selective about the collaborations I say yes to. My following has also reached what in my opinion is the ideal size for content creators, making it again easier for me to be desirable to brands while still being affordable – not to go off on too much of a tangent, but if none of this is making sense tune in next Tuesday and I’ll go into more detail about this for you guys, so tune in.
Needless to say I am really appreciate for any sponsored content offer that comes my way. I am so thankful that brands want to use me, the community I’ve build and the brand I stand behind to promote their own.
As a former product developer (I used to make handbags at Coach before blogging full-time) and MBA (I have a MBA in marketing form San Francisco State) it really means the world to me not only on a personal, but also a professional level.
THE BEST – My favorite Collabs of 2017
I love being a brand ambassador, those are my favorite collabs! This year I got to kick off my ambassadorship with Herbal Essence which has been SO FUN so far because they brought me to their HQ to tour the factory and meet the awesome team of WOMEN scientists behind the brand, so cool. I’ve had an ongoing partnership with Dunkin Donuts
for a few years now that includes an ambassadorship as well, a few years ago they also invited me to their HQ for an immersion day which really allowed me to see all the work that goes into their brand and products. Hopefully you’ll see more of both of these partnerships in 2018
San Pellegrino – We’re kind of obsessed with San Pelleginro in our house, so when they came to me and asked me to create a colorful walking path of my favorite instagrammable locations in NYC for their exclusive app, I was over the moon! This project was by far one of my favorites in my blogging career because they really empowered me to do what I’m best at in a new and exciting way. I can’t gush enough about this collab.
See some of the San Pellegrino posts here
Lidl – Esmara by Heidi Klum – Sometimes the stars align and an idea you’ve had FOREVER gets to come true with a collab, this was true with my partnership with Esmara a new line deigned by Heidi Klum exclusively for Lidl! I got to wear one of their pieces for fashion week 10 ways, and Idea I’ve wanted to come to life for years. It was super challenging but brought a reliability to one of fashions biggest weeks with a Color Me Courtney twist. I’m thankful that Lidl provided me with the opportunity and autonomy to bring this idea to life.
UBER – I’ve really loved working with Uber this year, because it’s a brand I rely on IRL and because of how they have structured their collaborations. If you follow me on instagram stories, you’ll frequently see me applying my makeup in an uber or even doing my nails on the way to an event, #classy. I really do live in Ubers especially in NYC. What you don’t see is that I also LOVE the subway, and actually prefer it to any other method of transportation in NYC because I get really car sick, but if I’m taking a car its usually a Uber. I used to love cabs, but since ride share organizations have taken over, the best drivers have switched and now most cab drivers are the bottom of the barrel – swerving everywhere, not knowing where they’re going and just not how I want to spend my commute, especially with my extreme carsickness. I’ve tried Lyft early on and never liked it, it always felt like I had to wait too long to get a car and I hated that. A lot of my friends prefer it or Juno to Uber, but I’ve remained loyal to Uber it’s what I’ve always used, it works best for me and I trust it.
I could go on and on about Uber and why its the best option for me right now, but I wanted to talk about the collaborations they empowered me to create this year – two specifically. The first was for their credit card that launched this year, to celebrate they treated Paris and I to a dinner on a double decker bus in the middle of Manhattan, which was really cool. I usually say no to collaborations like this because I have a really specific and curated feed, and when I’m asked to attend an event I know nothing about and post a photo of my experience, I don’t know what I’m walking into photo wise, but because of my past experience with Uber I said yes. In my opinion this is the best way to work with influencers, and to interact with your fan base – to create experiential face time with the influencers in something really unique. The other collaboration was for NYE promoting using an uber instead of driving drunk, which is reaaaaaallllly important to me. I’m not much of a drinker, I probably have less than 5 drinks a year … and actually don’t think I had any in 2017 but I have some serious issues with drunk driving, its a big passion point for me, so I love that uber gave me a chance to rant about this and encourage people to be safe …. plus I really like the photo we created!
See the posts on instagram for Uber here & here
PowerPuff Girls – I’m a HUGE PPG fan, like I still watch the show on the reg IT’S MY JAM I even dressed up as a powderpuff girl with some of my friends for the MORP dance in highschool (prom backwards) so yeah, I love it. They recently relaunched the show and introduced a new “diversity” (aka black lol) character, so I was offered an opportunity to collaborate and create awareness with some the programs going on surrounding it – specifically a “fan art” contest that they were running. To promote the content, I created my own “powderpuff” inspired photo and I’m kind of obsessed with it. It became one of my favorite pieces of content for the year and was so fun to work on something that baby (and current) courtney love outside of the blog.
This collaboration was through Refinery 29, I work with them quite often and they’re a huge part of my business. For those of you whoo don’t know, sponsored partnerships usually come through a few ways 1) directly through the brand (like Unique Vintage below & Nickelodeon), 2) through a PR agency where the brand pays the agency to be the middle man connecting the blogger and the brand, in this case you rarely talk to the brand and the agency usually advocates for the brand because they’re cutting the check or 3 ) through a “blogger” like agency like Shop Style, Rewardstyle or even Refinery 29 & Collectively where the relationship is pretty fifty fifty. Although I’ve been a reward style member forever, it took them a long time before they ever offered me a collaboration. The first one to do so was Refinery 29. I’ve since created great relationships with some of the girls there and they’re actually my friends IRL. They always keep it real with me and fight for their content creators, plus they know me and my brand so they always pitch things that are an actual fit. I feel really lucky to have such a strong relationship with a organization that I’ve loved forever and get to work with almost daily now. Thank you r29 for all you do for content creators, you’re really fantastic to work with.
Unique Vintage – Another brand I worked with for the first time ever was Unique Vintage. I’ve shopped their site for years and they’ve gifted me clothes in the past but never had a sponsorship budget, to be honest a lot of brands say they don’t have a budget but they’re paying someone else, and I always notice. Plus blogger talk – but unique vintage truly didn’t have a budget for influencer marketing until this year and worked with me first and a few other girls to follow (all girls I love) so that was pretty cool. This collaboration started out rocky because of a misunderstanding (this sometimes happens when you’re only communicating on email) but we were able to patch things up and it ended up being one of my favorite collabs. I actually am really proud of the way we were able to turn things around so will probably share more about this story in the near future. This was one of my favorite partnerships because of the turning point, history and the people, it’s really awesome when you get to work with brands you’ve worn for nearly a decade, nothing can compare to that kind of history.
For the first time every this year I got to work with nickelodeon which was really exciting! They approached me with a cool idea late last year in which I would be responsible for creating content on their new nickelodeon style instagram, which was essentially created as the Nick counterpart to Disney style / Minnie style, specifically stop motion videos. The partnership didn’t end up working out for a few reasons, one because it would require I cut ties with Disney which I wasn’t willing to do, but we still were able to work together in other areas. They ended up attempting their own stop motion videos without me and cutting me out, which is kind of messed up but happens a lot. I’m not sure they know I noticed (lol they probably know now, oops) but they did end up offer me some promotional work on three occasions throughout 2017 so I’m really thankful for that opportunity.
For the most part I really liked working with Nickelodeon. They were kind of new to the influencer game which sometimes makes things difficult, usually because most brands are used to a pay for play atmosphere. Most think that because they’re paying for a post they get to control the content, and if thats what you’re looking for as a brand then you don’t want an influencer, speficially an influencer like me where you will never control my content. I’ll walk away from a lot of money even after the content is created and my work is done if you want me to make major changes, or alterations that I feel go against my message and brand. I’m stubborn, but I think thats what makes Color Me Courtney strong and our following somewhat cult-like. Anyways, Nick was new to the influencer game but they learned as we went along, I’m really honest and transparent and I think brands either love or hate that about me. I don’t sugar coat, I’m sweet but I’m also direct and will always propose a solution after I share the problem. Together we were able to work together on multiple occasions this year, I have really high hopes for the new direction that the brand is going and hope to partner with them again soon.
Target! For this first time this year I got to work with Target multiple times! This was also through refinery 29 and has been a dream brand of mine to work with for ever!!!! I loved all the content we created for them and hop I get to work with them again soon!
See some target posts here: one // two // three
Cath Kidston –
Another favorite partnership of mine was the Cath Kidston one I did throughout Q4. Anytime a brand has the trust and budget to be able to to invest in multiple posts its a win for me, this is because I feel like I can really introduce them to my followers through a collective series of posts instead of just one flash ad. I’m even pickier about these collaborations, and will only do them with brands I really resonate with. I also usually like to do them with brands I haven’t really worked with in the past, because if I’m doing a series of ads for a brand I already wear / promote monthly it gets to be a little much. Anyways CK trusted me enough to purchase multiple blog posts, instagram ads and a stop motion video surrounding their holiday collection and Disney launch – My organic obsession with Disney has brought me so much business because so many of your are Disney obsessed and love all things Mickey just like me – so thank you guys for being so awesome!!. Anyways, this ended up being one of my favorite collaborations so I worked overtime for it, I think I was required to do maybe 4 instagram posts, I did close to 8, 1 required blog post turned to 2 (I think?) and I did so many extra instagram story posts just because I LOVED the content we created and wanted to over share it. When brands empower me to create content with full autonomy, you get something super special and I end up over promoting it. In the end, they get double the amount of posts from me … so yes, I’m giving away work for free but its because its some of my best work that I really want you to see, so I”m okay with that. I was super honored and humbled to work with a great and classic brand with Cath Kidston and hope I get to do it again soon. When I get to share a brand with a story and heritage behind it it always means so much more to me.
– I’ve been a big fan of Kelly’s for like EVER and so excited when she launched new Cant Clutch This collection this year! To sweeten the deal, she asked ME to be the first blogger she collaborated with to promote the collection, which I was honored to do! I love being able to work with other bloggers with a similar colorful outlook and vision, so working with Kelly was a major moment for me.
Google – I’ve been lucky enough to work with Google a few times this year both through Refinery 29 to promote the “Okay Google” google assistant and through events. One of the best events I attended this year was a murder mystery party where we were given the new Pixel 2 powered by google and asked to use it to solve a mystery – this was a great way to celebrate halloween and the cell phone launch. I’m not sure if the credit should go to Google or Team Epiphany, the unparceled agency who put on the event and other amazing ones I attended this year, but either way bravo.
– As a mentioned before, its amazing when the stars align and I’m empowered to share a story or product I’ve been using for years. This can be true of Sally Hansen insta dry polish! They asked me to try the product and share my experience, not knowing it was something I had been using for 3 or 4 years and a staple in my handbag. Those projects are the easiest for me, because I’m so familiar with the brand and product, and usually you guys are too.
– I don’t read many magazines, mostly teen vogue, cosmo and seventeen. No, I’m not seventeen, but I like how the magazine is organized and the youthful vibe. I’ve been reading it since I was fifteen and have no intention of stopping anytime soon, maybe I’ll quit when I’m thirty? Anyways I had the honor of working with seventeen on three occasions this year and both were really exciting for me. The first was a VS pink collab on instagram. The second was a big full prom editorial complete with seven looks and a full day photoshoot. Although photoshoots like this are really fun, they’re really challenging for me because I have to give up control and thats not easy. Nevertheless the photos turned out fine and I loved working with the seventeen team. The second time I worked with them was a video shoot, which is also really scary to do when someone else is pulling the strings – but it turned out great and again I loved the content we created. Most importantly, they gave me a platform to talk about skin insecurities, something I still face and share my own acne story, so I really loved that. Now that they know how old I am (Spoiler Alert, I’m not 17) I’m not sure they’re hire me again but I hope they do.
JetBlue – I’ve had some not so successful partnerships with airlines in the past, but this years collaboration with Jet Blue was quite the opposite. They sent me and my brother to Jamaica for a service trip with Jetblue customers turned contents winners. I was able to hep rebuild a community center for kids in need, and it was one of the most memorable projects of the year.
SIX:02 – Once again, another brand that empowered me to create multiple pieces of content and had a good message tied to it! Here I was able to create 4 unique pieces of instagram content as well as a stop motion video that ended up being one of my favorite videos, top 5 at least!
I also wanted to give honorable mentions to Chase
who took me to the US open for the first time and I really LOVED working with and other must name brands like brands like YesTo
, Soap and Glory
, DSW, Topshop, Nordstrom, Modcloth and Chobani who I have continued to love working with. Our partnerships are usually simple and straight forward, but that doesn’t mean they’re not special.
Not all partnerships are created equal. Some don’t turn out the way I want them to, and in those cases I usually walk away, from the money, from everything because I would always rather take a loss than to put my brand in jeopardy. Thats probably a bad business man of me, and one of my blogger friends always gives me crap for it, but if I can’t stand by my brand I don’t know what I stand for.
I did a bunch of stop motion videos this year which can be really successful or really not. With photos, a brand can ask you to reshoot something and that SUCKS especially if you loved the content, but its not the end of the world. When someone asks me to change or reshoot a stop motion video, its 100 times more work. Lets say each photo takes a total of 5 hours from concept development, to prep time to the actual shoot and editing, well a stop motion video takes about 30. Asking me to reshoot a stop motion video basically makes me break even, especially if I had top hire someone to help with it … and its really heart breaking if I LOVE the video. This happened twice, this year once with Limerita & again with Oreo.
I love working with food brands, but they’re a lot pickier than fashion ones which can be tough. I created a really cool video for Oreo, but they rejected it because they felt I used too many Oreos, and they only wanted me to feature 3 at a time (but like who eats only 3 Oreos?) anyways they needed me to reshoot it or crop out half the video. So I did, we reshot the video at 3 am one night making that my 3rd all nighter of the week, the worst part is I felt the first video was way better. Going into. reshoot sucks, because you feel like your original content that you loved somehow wasn’t good enough – and that kind of messes with you. To this day I hate the Oreo video we posted because I felt like I created something better that you didn’t get to see. After that, I vowed I wouldn’t be in this situation again and if I needed to I would just walk away instead of have that sour feeling I did when I posed that Oreo video. I’ll share the never before seen Oreo video tomorrow so stay tuned
Oh Limerita. So like I said I’m not a big drinker, but I get a lot of alcohol partnership opportunities. I probably say no to one a week, no lie, and I think I have only taken on one ever, and that was for Chandon. Alcohol usually has big budgets, but I just don’t really drink a lot so its not organic for me, I usually recommend a friend who’s a better fit and hope they can work things out. Anyways Limerita came to me last spring about a collab, I said no and passed it on to a friend who was a better fit. After that they asked 2 other times, “no thank you”, “no thank you”. Until they came to me in summer and asked for a stop motion video, I instantly had a great idea for how a fun video so I agreed. I was really busy and lets say the content was due by Wednesday EOD. I spent Wednesday creating the comet (4 instagram shots and 1 stop motion video) and ran around all day, so I was out of office, off email. Around noon that day they send me new requirements for the content, that I of course didn’t see until I went to send through the content I had worked so hard to create. Anyways they’re new details stated they needed really close up phots of the product with limited background “distractions” – so basically a very simple and colorful photo / video with just the limerita can. I said no, because this wasn’t what I agreed to and not content I was comfortable creating. We went back and forth a bit, I offered to replace two of my pieces of content with what they wanted if I could keep 3 of the pieces (including the video) I made. They said no, it was all or nothing, so I choose nothing and walked away from the thousands of dollars. It wasn’t worth it to me to compromise. The worst part about a collaboration falling apart like this is that it was one with a PR company in the middle – so the brand will never know my side of the story, they probably think I’m a flake when really I was trying to compromise. Oh well, maybe I’ll share the content anyways someday because it was pretty cute.
I was lucky enough to partner with Old Navy this year, its a brand I’ve loved working with forever. They’ve been a big supporter of my stop motion videos, buying on average one a month for most of 2017. However in Q4 they stopped asking for videos and coincidentally they started creating their own “stop motion” like videos instead, which is their right to do but it kind of rubbed me the wrong way, especially because they didn’t give me any warning and I passed up on a really large collab that quarter with someone I felt was a “competitor”. A lot of my agreements don’t have competitor agreements, but I grant exclusivity anyways. For instance, if I do a watch partnership, you won’t see me wear another watch for probably 3 months, there are always exceptions but I like to spread things up to keep things fare to the brand and most importantly, my readers. I shouldn’t have assumed that they would have continued to do what they had been doing for the past 9 months and took the competitive agreement instead so I didn’t miss out, but I didn’t and thats on me. It just kind of sucks to feel like you were slighted by one brand you are trying to be loyal too and then missed out on another opportunity as well. Anyways, I wouldn’t call this a bad partnership, just a luke warm one. I would work with Old Navy again in a heartbeat if they asked, but might just adjust my expectations for something long term. To be fair I haven’t told them how upset I was, so they never were given the chance to rectify it. And all of my contact was through an outside agency, and the content creation of the gif like videos was done by Old Navy in house, so they probably didn’t ever see the connection of that when my videos stopped theirs began, it really could be just a coincidence. In my real life relationships, I feel that if you have a problem you should say something, otherwise you got to swallow it and move on – and I didn’t take my same advice here, so I really have no right to complain. I still continue to buy and wear their pieces on my blog because they’re one of my favorite places to shop at, but when you feel like you’ve given your all to a brand and maybe didn’t get the same in return it can hurt. Maybe I’m being too sensitive, probably. But my business is personal, so I take things personally.
Last year (2016) I partnered with Fossil and created a video I LOVED based on an agreed upon story board and they hated it. They wanted me to reshoot it in an impossible 12 hour turn around a few days before Christmas, I pushed back and said no – take the video as is or wait till after Christmas. This isn’t work for them, so I walked away from the check. Luckily, I was able to find another awesome partner (Amazon, who I love working with) to purchase the video at a discounted rate and shared it anyways. This year, in early 2017 I got invited to a fossil dinner, most attendees were payed to attend, but not me – which is totally okay. Then I came face to face with the fossil team who I felt had burned me before, but played nice. Fossil promised that everyone in attendance would get sponsored content opportunities for 2017. I watched as every gal and guy at that dinner did a Fossil ad through this year and I was never asked, I followed up with the team a few times and they failed to respond to my emails. I’m not bitter that they didn’t want to work together, but just prefer honesty and transparency instead of false promises and unanswered emails.
I have one other potentially problematic partnership I’m finalizing right now – In this case they came to me asking for a stop motion video. I made a mistake with my scheduling / travel plans so the post timeline changed on my end – my bad. In an effort to save the partnership I offered to do an extra post still instagram post for no additional charge. They agreed, I posted it on my channel (can you guess what post it is). After a lot fo back and forth they kept not approving my stop motion concept, after a few rounds I told them I was now unable to meet their new content deadline because we were still not aligned on a concept – this upset them and they decided to cancel the project… but decided they would not pay me for the content I originally created, the “free post”. I told them they could walk away if they wanted, but needed to pay me for the content I already created… they refused to respond. We’ll see if they end up doing the right thing but I’m doubtful, nevertheless I’ll wait to expose them until its resolved.
In 2017 year I was lucky enough to create over 200 sponsored pieces of content, some collaborations turned out better than others, but for the most part I really enjoyed all of the work I was able to do. For every collab, good bad or ugly I learned something – how to protect myself better or be a better partner. In business you won’t like everyone you work with, and this can be tough for a personal brand like mine because my face is always tied to it. A marketing agent or PR person can hide behind their company, but I’m expected to fight for myself, represent myself, promote myself and do it with a smile on my face – I can do It, I’m not complaining but I think its sometimes helpful for new bloggers and brands to see both sides of it. For me, it’s not just business, it is personal, because I am my brand – thats why I am so stern on the content I produce, thats why I fight so hard for my brand and thats why I take it so hard when a collaboration doesn’t work out.
Thanks again for following along in 2017 – sponsored content is only something I am able to participate in because of you and your support so I am extremely appreciative.