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Q&A with Ariel Burstein of Thought Leaders Agency

Q: For the creator who's looking to work with brands and considering what's authentic & aligned for their audience, where are you seeing partnerships with the most success?

A: I have a four tier system of whether something has a chance of being successful. Tier 1 is when the content is spot on to the brand and the sponsorship history is successful, meaning that numerous brands have come back time and time again. Tier 2 is when the content is somewhat relatable to the brand vertical, and sponsorship history is strong. If the creator can make the partnership seem relevant and authentic to the audience, that’s actually where we see the most success right now. Tier 3 is content that is either spot on or really close, but there's zero brand sponsorship, and then something that we never touch is Tier 4 where sure, your content is spot on, but you only have failed brand sponsorships in your history.

Q: Can you give a more specific example of Tier 2?

A: Let's use the example of trade coffee, like a direct to consumer coffee delivered to your house. If we're looking at our tier system, how many channels, accounts, podcasts or newsletters are there that are actually about coffee? Maybe not that many, especially ones that will have the right audience and demographic for advertising a coffee brand. So Tier 2, that’s the 75% of the world that drinks coffee, so it doesn't really matter what their channel’s content is about, because then that integration is seamless as a personal recommendation, whether I post about food, fashion, beauty, whatever--I can easily say, hey, I wake up and I have trade coffee and I gained so much that I don't have time to go to the store to buy coffee so they send it to my door. Everyone drinks coffee. Essentially in every vertical, brands like Raycom which is cheap headphones, HelloFresh, everyone cooks dinner and needs headphones and such. The success is up to the Creator to make it that seamless integration or have as much fun as they want.

Q: What about those creators in Tier 3 looking to demonstrate successful brand partnerships but they’re just getting started? How do they start?

A: I love that space where the content is spot on, or makes sense, but there’s no past sponsorship history, because I’ve seen huge success. I can't tell you which brand, but I just did a placement. The brand paid $100 and the creator sold $36,000 for the product in three days. Now, that is obviously an outlier, but I can consistently say that for people in Tier 3’s to be competitive and get started they just need to be at the correct price. Without getting too specific, you need to know the benchmark for successful people in your industry, and be priced a little below that to start out. You just can’t get started with no history and be charging these top prices, you have to not lose money on the creation obviously but as you build a pattern of success just get started lower and then you can move up the ranks pretty quickly.

Q: At Willa, we encourage pricing transparency so creators can get an idea of where they should be situated in their particular industry. Typically the vibe of our conversations is to charge more, but we don’t want anyone to get scared hearing this, because I think it makes sense within the context of warming up your audience and building a runway. You're not just saying to charge super low for this to get a foot in the door with brand sponsorships, but you have a clear intention behind it and a pathway to using that to charge more eventually.

A: Exactly. I can give you a really cool example--I can't say the name of the YouTuber, but a big food YouTuber, someone who only launched his YouTube channel two years ago. He does 8 videos a month, so about 2 per week. And just before the end of last year he started getting sponsors, charging about 50% of the benchmark for his industry. He’s now sold out through the end of this year, meaning he doesn’t have any more video spots for sponsors, which with 8 per month, think about that volume. He's still pricing himself fairly, but a little bit under the rest of the market, so that he can make sure that his brands are just going to stay for forever. It's just incredible, if for that first 6 to 12 months, you price yourself low, make it attractive and make it so that the brands are almost always going to be able to hit their conversion targets, and then six months down the line when those other brands start coming knocking you can charge more. Just don't forget about those brands that got you in the door. I'm not saying continue to give them the same pricing for two years, but keep those relationships because those are the ones that are going to stay with you forever, through thick or thin.

Q: What else can creators do to warm up their audience, if they're nervous about sharing sponsored content or if they're not sure how people are going to react? What does that build to success look like?

A: A creator can just make a transparent announcement in a post or a video about the fact that they’re starting to do sponsorships. Or, just before the sponsored post, to lead in with something like “Hey guys, I'm going to start doing sponsorships, I just want to let you know why it helps me create better content.” I think a lot of creators, and at least from a media buying side, we're not where we were four years ago where everyone's gonna write in the comment section you're a sellout. Or don't even announce it. If you want to announce it you can. I think humor, just like everything in life, always helps. So kind of poke fun at yourself and that first integration would be like, I gotta pay my rent, or my partner broke up with me and now I gotta find an apartment and, oh, the sponsor knocked on the door and oh look at that I got my first sponsorship. And actually it’s great to do this because I'm making more of an income, which means you in the long run, get to see more and better content. We find that a creator’s followers do want to see them succeed.

Q: If a brand turns me down in our negotiation to work together, what might be a way to change their mind?

A: First of all, understand why they turned you down. Just ask, hey, we'd love to get this to work, what would it take to make this to work? Sometimes, at least when I'm buying media, it's two things. If the demographics are off you can charge $0 and it doesn't matter, it just won’t be a fit. But if the demographics are there and the channel turns you down, you just ask why, and sometimes they'll come back and say, hey, the price was too high or, hey I personally don't like your content. Most of the time it's going to be that it’s not the right price. Now, the reason why the brand feels that the price is too expensive is a million and a half to everything, maybe you don't have the brand sponsorship history they want to see or maybe you've done a bunch of sponsorships with competitive brands but they never came back. That's something else, but a lot of times it's going to be either demographics, and they're off so there's really nothing you can do, or its price, and then you can kind of, then, then you as a creator decide okay how low do I want to go in order to get this sponsorship rocking and rolling. It’s important to remember that it's a negotiation on your side too, as the creator, of what works for you.

Q: Would you have any suggestion of how to reach out if a creator is looking for information and just kind of wants to get some of that inside scoop? Is it ever cool to just come to a brand agent via email and see if they get back to you?

Yes, absolutely. It’s super easy to just email or connect with a couple of content creators that you like that you know are doing sponsorships that you've seen. You can say, hey, I'm a content creator and I'm interested in getting sponsorships. Would you be able to give me some advice? People are super friendly in the creator community. So you should definitely be talking to other creators, and you can benchmark offers against each other. I shouldn’t recommend that from the brand side as it can kind of screw us, but there it is. People are very friendly to talk in this industry. So never forget that.

Q: We had one final follow up question when we were talking about emails and reaching out and sending brands tons of information and just making sure they have everything they need, and it was “do you have any suggestions for what's included in the email versus in like attachments or PDFs?”

Yeah, you don't need to build a whole sponsorship deck. If you have one, sure, but don’t make it just for that. For one channel or account, you don't need to build a whole four page PDF, because I think it kind of gets lost in translation. What you might want to say is, hey, this is my channel, this is what I'm posting about. These are the brands I've worked with, and attaching a screenshot of my demographics below, please let me know if you'd like to work together. Keep it really simple and don't do information overload. I get a ton of these four page sponsorship decks from really really excited creators, and I always say like, I'll work with you but you didn't have to put in all that because people aren't gonna read it, just give me the demos and a little bit about the channel.

Q: Overall, what are your key takeaways or top level tips for folks to take away from this call today?

1*. When you're trying to get started with monetizing your account and you don't have demonstrable sponsorship history, price yourself lower than the market.*

It will make you more attractive to brands, and your brands probably have a bit of a better chance of hitting their conversion goals and they'll come back more which will then bring in other brands who then six months after you started doing sponsorships, they will pay the rate that you actually want.

2. Make it easy for the brand.

If you have to give a draft of something ahead of time and they want it in 48 hours before the post, get that done, maybe a little early. Try to get it turned in 72 hours ahead (so a day early). You don't have to give it in early, but if it were me, I would. My dream is to get drafts 48 hours ahead, so we always ask for that and normally I get it four hours before, which is annoying. So just do what you can to make it easy for the brand and be open with them in asking for feedback on how easy you are to work with.

3. Have fun with the integrations!

That's honestly the most important part. The more fun you have, the more genuine you feel, and people will buy the products. I think almost every single time I send out talking points for a brand  we always say, have as much fun as you want with this partnership. If you're enjoying it, your fans and your viewers are going to enjoy it and that's going to lead to success.