5 Reasons Your Sponsorship Pitch Failed


We know that not every request travel bloggers make to destinations, publications, tour companies, and others in the travel industry will get a “yes” – but it may not always be clear why that proposal you thought was so great was rejected (or, worse yet, never got a reply at all). In this guest post, Viator’s Commissioning Editor, Katie Hammel, discusses some of the reasons why she has said no to sponsorship pitches in the past – and some of the lessons she’s learned as she’s sent out pitches of her own.

Creative commons photo by hans.gerwitz via Flickr
Creative commons photo by hans.gerwitz via Flickr

As Viator’s commissioning editor as well as a freelancer writer, I’m on both sides of the sponsorship/”comp stuff” fence.

At Viator, part of my job is to find freelancers to experience a Viator tour and then write about it for our Travel Blog or Things to Do sites (and often their own sites as well), and I’m on the receiving end of dozens of blogger requests for comped tours each month. As a freelance writer, I often work with tourism boards, hotel chains, PR and marketing reps, and individual tourism companies to arrange sponsored trips for myself.

Because of this, I’ve learned (and continue to learn) what works and what doesn’t not only from my own experience pitching sponsorship arrangements, but also from the pitches – both good and bad – that I’ve received. The pitches that aren’t successful generally fail for one of the following reasons, some of which simply aren’t within your control; for those that are I’ve included some tips for how to stack the odds in your favor.

You left out critical information or weren’t specific.

This should be a no-brainer, but I’ve received a staggering number of requests that are missing the most basic info, such as the name and link to the person’s blog, or even the dates and locations of the tours about which he or she is inquiring. An email to a hotel chain telling them you want to review their hotels “sometime” will likely get put in the “to respond to…..someday” file, which means you might not see a response for months, if at all. Email that same hotel chain asking for a complimentary stay at a specific hotel, on a specific date or date range, and there’s a much greater chance that the recipient will take action.

What to do instead:
You don’t have to lay out your entire plan in the first contact email, but you should be able to succinctly explain who you are, what it is you are looking for, where and when, and where you blog (or where your writing will appear).

I didn’t have the budget, or you asked for more than what you can give is worth.

To hear some people talk, you’d think companies are just overflowing with money that they want to throw at bloggers, but that’s not the case for most of us. If we have a budget to invest in bloggers, it still has a limit, even if that limit is on the higher side. When you make your request, we have to take into account all the other requests we have already received or committed to and balance those against your request. Maybe we just don’t have any more to spend this month (see below on pitching early) or maybe we do have a little more but we’re just not sure you’re the best blogger on whom to spend that money. That doesn’t mean we don’t think you’re worth the cost; it just means that there is someone else out there who can offer a better return on our investment.

I’m always evaluating the cost of what the blogger has asked for against how much of my budget I’ve already committed and comparing the cost of fulfilling the request to how much promotion I think we’ll receive from the post. It’s a complex equation with no real formula (try as some bloggers might to create one). One way to ensure that I’m interested in allocating a piece of my budget for you begins with taking a critical look at your blog and its reach, then developing a pitch in line with that.

Sure, it’s great to start big and then negotiate, but ask too big and you turn off a potential partner. It comes down to how much of the budget the person thinks they should spend on you, and how much return that will generate. If a company has a $1,000 budget for blog partnerships for the month and you ask for $800 of that but your blog only has 2,000 monthly readers, it’s likely your pitch will be denied. But if you start small, maybe ask for something of a $50 value the first time, there’s a greater chance of your pitch being accepted – and if you show a good return, the partnership could grow with time.

What to do instead:
What is “too big” is going to vary from company to company so take a look at the range of prices for the company’s product or service, aim in the low-to-middle end to begin with, and keep in mind where you fall along the blogger spectrum. If your readership is small, asking for the Presidential Suite or the first-class seat or the most expensive tour is not the place to start. If your blog is just starting out, focus more on creating quality content and building up your readership before you start seeking out sponsorship arrangements.

Regardless of how much you ask for, it’s your job to show the potential partner what you are worth. If your readership is small but dedicated, or if your blog is the perfect niche for their product, or if a previous sponsored post generated 200 referrals, let them know. It’s not all about big numbers, it’s about the right numbers. Demonstrate what you can offer but don’t oversell yourself or make promises you can’t keep.

You asked too late.

Sending an email on Friday to ask for a tour that starts on Monday won’t get you the response you want (it might not even get you any response at all). In most cases, the person you are pitching can’t and shouldn’t have to drop everything to accommodate your last-minute request.

But what constitutes “too late” can vary from person to person. For my circumstances, arranging a complimentary tour can take anywhere from one to two weeks. It’s a process that takes a few emails and can span several time zones. I can sometimes accommodate requests that come in with only a week or two of notice, but it’s more difficult to do so and more of these requests end up getting declined than those that come in further in advance.

What to do instead:
If you can, find out how far in advance that person prefers to be pitched. At the very least, allow three weeks for arrangements to be made for one-off tours or accommodation. If you’re pitching something bigger – like a week-long trip, anything that has multiple components (flights, tours, and hotels), or is arranged by a country or city tourism board – expect the process to take more like six to eight weeks.

You weren’t easy to work with.

I get a few dozen pitches per month, more than I have the time to respond to or the budget to fund. Many PR reps and tourism board contacts get more. We have to constantly make decisions about which bloggers are the best fit based on the location in which they are traveling, the tour they want to do, when they are available, how well they write, how big of a reach they have, how much promotion they are likely to do, how good of a fit their blog is for the company/product/service, and how much work the entire process will take.

All other things being equal, I would rather work with someone who is easy to work with. I am looking for someone who doesn’t make unreasonable demands, who doesn’t make a million last-minute changes, who seems professional and reliable (we do pay attention to your online persona!), who submits work on time, and who I think will help make my life easier – not harder and more stressful.

What to do instead:
Increase your odds of being the person chosen by demonstrating that you are easy to work with; give ample time for requests, be clear on what you are asking for and what you can offer in return, and always deliver on what you have promised. Always disclose comps and sponsorships, and be professional and ethical in both your online and offline dealings. And don’t forget to follow up afterwards! Bloggers who follow up with a thank you and a link to their coverage have a much better chance at a second invitation to work together.

Your blog wasn’t a good fit this time.

You may have done everything right – you demonstrated that your blog has a large audience and were professional and pitched with plenty of time – and maybe I had the budget that I could have spent on you… But it just isn’t the right fit right now.

What to do instead:
If an arrangement won’t work out this time, keep the lines of communication open. Once you’ve made contact, follow up for your next trip, as any number of circumstances may have changed and now your blog might be a perfect fit.

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”Your turn!”]Do you have any other tips for a successful pitch?[/stextbox]

Author bio: Katie Hammel is Viator’s Commissioning Editor and a freelance writer. At Viator, she manages the site’s network of travel blogs and works with writers who want to review any one of Viator’s thousands of tours and activities in more than 80 countries. Want to work with Viator? Apply what you’ve learned and send her a pitch!

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19 Responses
  1. I really like these tips as it is always good to see the perspective from the other side of a partnership.

    One of the things I always put front in center on my side as a travel writer is what I can offer, not what I want. I prefer to let my partner make the offer on what they can provide based on my capabilities, site readership, etc in return for promotion on our pages if they are interested. I think doing that helps both sides come to a fair agreement inline with both business and website’s goals.

  2. I like to write multiple posts when I travel to a destination. That way, I can cover a lot of different aspects of a trip, without generating just one 2,000-or-so-word post…and create more opportunities for my stories to come up in searches, etc.
    When I’ve worked with CVBs and DMOs in the past, I’ve tried to let them know if I have any special interests so that they can suggest other things to do when I’m on a trip with them. When the PR person for the latest fam trip I took found out that I liked writing about regional history and vintage architecture, she pointed me towards the town’s local Carnegie Library. The library was a bit off of the main roads, so I might not have found it otherwise. But our visit to the library resulted in an additional story that I posted about the location.
    I also try to keep in contact with the people I work with on the road by letting them know when I’ve published or placed stories resulting from the trip elsewhere…or by connecting to them online via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or other social media to keep the relationship growing.
    I’m still working on the idea of doing more pitches for my site and for my work, so I found this article really helpful.

  3. Thanks a lot!

    Some of these one could guess, but that’s always good to have such a compilation =)
    I’m in the moment of sending my first pitches right now and there are quite good responses and some are not interested. Hope I will do better next time with use of your advice =)

  4. Thanks SO much, Katie. It’s great to read this from ‘the other side.’ I fully agree on the professionality/ easy to work with aspect. Many sponsors seem surprised that I respond to their emails within a few hours… My travel blog is not my main job, but I treat myself and my blog as one of my many social media clients, and respond to email as I would for any request at work – always within 24 hours! I think this is something that could help put smaller bloggers ahead of the crowd where we can’t win on numbers.

  5. These are definitely helpful tips. Most of them I have followed anyway, but it is always good to have a list of things to take into consideration and be able to tick them off one by one.

  6. This is excellent information. This provides an excellent frame of reference.

    Thank you for providing numbers such as “If a company has a $1,000 budget for blog partnerships for the month and you ask for $800 of that but your blog only has 2,000 monthly readers, it’s likely your pitch will be denied. But if you start small, maybe ask for something of a $50 value the first time, there’s a greater chance of your pitch being accepted – and if you show a good return, the partnership could grow with time.”

    “If a company has a $1,000 budget for blog partnerships for the month and you ask for $800 of that but your blog only has 2,000 monthly readers, it’s likely your pitch will be denied. But if you start small, maybe ask for something of a $50 value the first time, there’s a greater chance of your pitch being accepted – and if you show a good return, the partnership could grow with time.”

    These are gems of nuggets.

  7. Suz

    So, I’ve operated my travel blog for several years now…I had absolutely no idea that things like this were done. Very interesting and something to think about. I wondered how some people were always traveling.

  8. Great article which really explains the business side of sponsorships and the position of companies. “To hear some people talk, you’d think companies are just overflowing with money that they want to throw at bloggers, but that’s not the case for most of us. ” -> I think this resonates strongly and really drives home the reality that companies have budgets and although ROI isn’t crystal clear when it comes to blogger/writing campaigns, it’s something that many bloggers lose sight of.

  9. Simple and plain. This article is a huge resource for people in the travel blogging niche and especially folks like myself who are in the process of starting something new! Seems like it all comes down to being a considerate and easy-to-work-with person and maintaining/building relationships. Duly noted! Sweet job.

  10. Glad I found your site. I am just going to start pitching some hotels for overnight stays and want to do it right the first time. Very good info here and I am going to sign up for your blog posts as well. I find it so wonderful that there is so much information online for us bloggers to use to help us succeed. I took a blog class in November and really felt it wasn’t needed as most of what I need to know, I find online!! Thank you again !!

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