How to Work With Brands and Build Successful Relationships

by Marla on November 13, 2011 · 94 comments

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Here is the first thing you need to ask yourself: What is my brand? Then we can move forward…

Marla Meridith self portraits

“How do you work with brands?” is one of the most common questions I get asked in emails and at conferences. For those of you who visit here just for recipes please excuse this small diversion of topic. I like to switch things up from time to time. If you are anything like me maybe you want to stick around read this. You never know when you might learn something new.

Before we begin in this journey, please cast your daily votes for my Thai Spiced French Fries. Every vote, every day counts. Really. Be sure to enter my giveaway for a brand new 7 Qt KitchenAid Stand Mixer too.

Man with little boy and girl in white towel. Dad with little brother and sister.

See that photo of my sweethearts? I have that image there so I can keep my priorities in check. The needs and love for my precious family governs everything I do.

The discussion of working with brands comes up often and it is a topic I have been asked to speak on at conferences including TECHmunch and the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit.

Whip attachment for KitchenAid mixer Marla Meridith Photography

Define You

You go way beyond your blog name. Who are you?

What is your story, angle and elevator pitch? Here is mine:

“As the creator of the highly successful lifestyle blog Family Fresh Cooking, Marla has great experience in healthy recipe development, food styling, photography, social media and graphic design. She has been published in various print publications, around the web and been on TV. She has an upbeat, fresh style and personality that is captured in her vibrant whole food recipes and lifestyle & travel photograph. Marla is the proud mother of two small children. She delicately balances a life filled with great ambitions, athletics, parenting and lots of travel.”

Before you can work with brands you must define who you are and what you stand for. What are your strengths? You also need to know your weaknesses. Defining your weaknesses will only make you stronger. Do it.

Stay true to you. When other people are all dressed up I would rather be wearing cowboy boots with my Lululemon workout clothes. That is who I am. If you are meant to score the book deal, ambassador program, magazine spread, etc then you will. Brands will believe in you if you believe in you.

Park City Utah Burns Saddley boot store

What is your Brand?

All of our blogs look different and thank goodness for that. When someone lands on our blog homepage we want them to know they are in a special place. How does the look, feel and energy of your blog reflect you? Brands want to get to know you quickly and easily. Think of your blog as one GIANT business card. Make it simple, quick and easy to navigate and be sure it looks spectacular.

Do you blog about health, baking, hunting? Are you vegan, a carnivore or gluten free? What drives you and feeds your soul with life and great passion? Not only should each and every blog post reflect who you are, have an about page that tells people more about you.

I am a cowboy boot wearing, Caffe Americano aficonado, mom of 2 who loves to ski and take beautiful photos of food and life. I eat healthy and cook high energy great for you food. I live in the OC and escape to Telluride, CO as often as possible. I am petite but make up for that with a BIG voice.

San Juan Mountains, Telluride CO skier in pink ski jacket

What is Your Background?

If you want to be treated like a professional then you must present yourself as one. I used to work for Disney, Warner Bros., Scholastic and many huge brands. My job was graphic and textile design. My strengths are visual. These days I have transferred those talents over to my love for food and travel. That love is seen in my photography. I have always seen life through color and light.

Learning photography takes lots of patience and practice, that practice is paying off in a new career…based off my background and history.

Kids walking with dad in a rain storm. Live Life Beyond Your Blog

Take charge of your life and step away from your computer. Go on a walk, take pictures, give your kid a hug. Do yoga, run, lift weights. Go to the movies, call an old friend. Ski the highest mountain you can find. Connect with life.

The more you do the more you will get done. I firmly believe in the idea of the busier you are the more you get done. Greg from Sippity Sup, Marissa from Ridiculously Efficient and I spoke about that concept in our panel on Time Management at the IFBC conference this weekend.

Divert when you need diversions and focus when you need to. Your clients will pick up on your vibe and energy. When in doubt “act as if.”

Marla Meridith travel photography

What are your Strengths?

Embrace and market what you are best at. I love creating healthy whole food recipes. I also love food styling and photography. Blogging and writing is fun too. My passions shine in my blog posts. Make your strengths sparkle. They will set you free and keep you loving what you do.

The photography aspect is turning into something bigger and larger than life as time goes on.

Baked oatmeal breakfast with pomegranate seeds, nuts and mint leaf. Seek Help When You Need It

Are you a wonderful graphic designer? Great, then you can design your own blog. Do you need help with that kind of thing? Not a problem. There are many resources out there that can help get you started. You can spend a lot or a little. Look at the blogs you love the most and ask those folks who designed it. Often they have this information in their side bar or the footer of their blog.

Think of your blog as your home. If you are looking to invite readers and brands into your virtual home you might want to tidy up before they arrive. Also,answer your virtual doorbell quickly. What I mean by that is, make sure everything works well behind the hood, your loading time, navigation, etc. Make things clean and easy.

We designed all aspects of Family Fresh Cooking ourselves. Thankfully my admin is also the father of my children.

Family Fresh Cooking family photo

Maintain Your Image Both Online and For Reals

The longer you blog them more you will come in contact with brands at conferences and events. Dress nice, look your best and *smile* Be the best you can be. If you are having a telephone meeting have as few distractions as possible in your path. Remember this is business and you are a professional.

Also remember that Twitter and Facebook are public forums. You probably don’t know all of the people who follow you. Be careful what you say and how you say it. Have fun with it, but be mindful.

Man hiking in Telluride CO

Define Your Personal and Business Goals

Do you have kids, pets, a mortgage, real life expenses? I bet you have at least 2 of those in your life. Face it life costs money. The more you want to do the more money it will take to do it. As unique individuals we are willing to accept many different kinds of offers. Calculate the offers you accept carefully. I have built relationships in many different ways. Know what you want and go for it in the way that works for you. Please remember though:

  • A free cheese stick does not pay the rent.
  • A free bottle of olive oil does not pay for a season ski pass.
  • 50 cent coupons do not pay for your health insurance.
  • Life costs money.
  • The PR person on the other side of the phone and the people at the corporate offices are all getting paid. They do not work for free nor should you.
My kids goals are to eat as much ice cream as possible…
Little kids eating big ice cream waffle cones

Read All Contracts Completely

Always remember that contracts are legal documents. Once you sign them you are bound for a term. The term can be 60 days or a lifetime.

Read every single word of those contracts…

I cannot stress that enough. Sometimes the beginning of the contract is harmless. Once you get to page 2 or 3 things can get nitty gritty. If you do not have the time or understanding to read your own contracts be sure that you can have someone else do it. Depending on the complexities and money involved you might even need to hire a lawyer. *gasp*

That is Lola. I met her this summer in Telluride. She takes no bull..

Boxer dog in Telluride Colorado

Recently I received a contract that went like this: Brand X wants me to develop recipes with photos for them. Yes, they are paying me for this. On page 3 of the contract it states that they will have exclusive rights to the recipe and all of my photography from those posts. Um NOT.

It would cost them a fortune to have those photos taken in house or anywhere for that matter. I am having that contract re-written with my terms. I granted a non-exclusive use for my work. Anything above and beyond the terms we set will require them to pay me more. Your contract needs to state how and when clients can use your material. Clearly. Find yourself an agent if needed, they can negotiate this stuff for you.

Do not do work for hire. That means you have given up all rights to your photos and other material. I would never do this.

Vegan gluten free, sugar free pear sauce with carrots yogurt parfait

Media Statistics & Rate Sheet

Have all important information in one place so you can work on pitches quickly and efficiently. Set up some PDF’s with all the info that a potential client or sponsor could ever need. When they come calling all you need to do is attach those documents in your email. While you are at it keep a signed 1099 tax form available.

Remember you are running a business and must behave like one.

Telluride, CO Town Park. Mom with kids in park. Do Not Settle

Be true to yourself, your mission and your greater needs. You are your own boss and you manage your own destiny. Do what works for you. Never let anyone talk you into things that you know in your heart might not be the best fit. Remember those mouths you have to feed and the roof over your head. The right opportunities will happen.

Silly kids plate with herbs and micro greens

Be Picky, Mindful and Have FUN

I do not settle for mediocrity. I am a go BIG or go home kinda gal. When I choose ingredients I want the best. Travel time is precious and I make the most out of that too. I am on this earth for one go around and I want to make a BIG splash. Mindful behaviors will set you free. Choose clients and brand partners that make you shine. Then make them shine too.

No matter what, try to have fun. Put a smile on your face even when you don’t want to. Act goofy. Goofy is good.

Little boy lying down on a street acting like a dog

Respect and Integrity Goes Both Ways

If you make promises be sure to keep them and the same goes for the brands you choose to work with. Leap with careful and mindful intent….

Little girl jumping up to reach a Swiss flag in Telluride CO

If it Feels Weird Don’t Do It

Recently a guy from an appliances company (he calls himself the Fairy Hobmother, go figure) contacted me to run a text link for Bosch appliances. He sent me an Amazon.com gift card and promised to award one of my readers the same in a giveaway. I happily emailed Ian the winner. The email bounced back 3 times. Ian cannot be found. I then contacted Appliances Online and they never responded (see below). Lookout for Fraud. Just sayin’

The $50.00 gift card ended up coming out of my pocket. My brand is true, strong and honest. Others do not have such good intentions. I was just about to report them to the Better Business Bureau when…

Great news! The blog community comes together quickly. Bloggers were horrified about that fairy tale gone wrong. They too had been contacted by the Fairy Hobmother and had only positive reviews. What I have come to find out was that Ian left the company without reporting our open ended deal. Alex has taken over and will be putting the money back into my account. This situation can be filed under: Seek Help When You Need It

Little boy in blue spider man shirt with big smile on his face.

Be True, Honest and Follow Your Dreams

Do what feels right and best for you. Ultimately at the end of the you need to *smile* BIG.

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