One of the questions that I get the most as a blogger is not how I come up with my stories or what I want to accomplish with the blog, it’s how I make the blog work as a business, or more specifically: how I make money with it. It’s actually quite a bold question to ask someone, but I can understand where it comes from. Even though blogs have now been around for over 10 years in Germany, it still is a fairly new medium – people have a lot of questions about it.
The magic words are “brand collaborations”. If you want to break it down into more simple terms you could also call it advertising, but what we do and how we do it is quite different from traditional advertising that you might know from TV or magazines. We want to explain a little…
Apart from the editorial work and photography coming up with concepts for brand collaborations is actually a really fun thing to do – it’s a challenge that requires a sense of responsibility and a level of creativity that goes beyond the typical blog post about how awesome Berlin is. This is also why I chose this topic for (now comes a little self-advertising) my next workshop at the upcoming Content Creation Week that’s going to happen next week at Blogfabrik – embedded into a program of many other exciting workshops and talks by my talented colleagues.
When I started iHeartBerlin almost 11 years ago I had no idea that this blog would one day be a full-time job. There was no reference at the time – neither for inspiration nor for business. I just did it purely by intuition and out of love for my city.
It took a few years before I got the sense that there was a certain potential to iHeartBerlin and to blogs in general. At the time there weren’t so many known ways to make money with it, but it was also not something I even thought about because I ran the blog on the side of having a regular job. But once brands and agencies started to notice the growing popularity of the blog scene they started to knock on our doors. It was an exciting feeling to get this kind of recognition.
The first request from a brand that I remember came from a famous vodka brand. They are still our partner after 10 years now. We’ve been able to grow into what we are today also thanks to the collaborations we’ve done with them and other brands – and ultimately this gave me the opportunity to quit my job and fully focus on iHeartBerlin.
Working with brands has taught us a lot about the business behind publication and marketing. There are a lot of synergetic powers between publishers and brands – both having their own platforms, audiences, identities, but both being able to gain a lot from one another – if done right.
Those 10 years gave us a lot of time and room to try out different ways to work with commercial partners. We’ve experimented with affiliate links, booked banner campaigns, joined publisher networks, collaborated with PR agencies and also worked directly with brands. Of course, some things worked better than others. You never stop learning, especially since things in the digital world constantly change.
As a blog you always have to be extra careful with commercial collaborations – even more than magazines I think – because there is always this expectation that you have to stay independent, otherwise you will quickly be considered a sell-out. It’s all about authenticity. Luckily, our readers have been pretty understanding so far that some of our posts are sponsored. I never felt like I had to explain it. We do our best to only pick brands and campaigns that make sense in our context, and we always try to be honest and transparent about it.
With every article we publish – regardless if it’s a brand collaboration or not – what matters the most is the story and how we tell it. It’s what made me start this blog and it’s what makes our readers come here. All those brands, products and campaigns floating around in the digital landscape finding their way into blog posts, Youtube videos and Instagram streams – they are in a way little accelerators empowering us to do the things we do best: writing about the things we love most.
For those of you who want to learn more about brand collaborations and content marketing (now back to the self-advertising) I’m doing a workshop about it on Wednesday, June 20th at 16:30h at Blogfabrik during the Content Creation Week 2018 explaining the dos and don’ts, sharing my experience of the last 10 years and giving a lot of examples of successful brand collaborations.