Why “I Have No Budget” is No Longer an Appropriate Response to Influencer Inquiries
While we all wish multi-billion-dollar contracts would just fall in our laps, to many influencer’s chagrin, they quickly learn that pitching is part of the process. Sure, some brands reach out to me to work together, but as a freelancer, I need to ensure I always have a certain number of projects in the pipeline, which requires proactively reaching out to pitch campaigns because like pitching articles, it is a numbers game.
I send out dozens of pitches to potential partners a year in painstaking detail outlining why I’m a perfect person to champion their message, why I’m the best brand advocate to sell their praises, and why I’m the storyteller they need to craft their narrative.
When you pitch, three main things may happen:
A Positive Response
Huzzah, you want to work together. Generally, this takes multiple emails to work out the details but high-fives and warm fuzzies all around.
There could be a million reasons why your email went unanswered. Maybe the recipient is not interested, maybe you emailed the wrong contact, or maybe your email simply got lost in the Internet abyss or dreaded spam folder. Maybe they’re out of the office on holiday, on maternity leave, or just inundated with inbox messages. No response used to be the most personally infuriating, but you can always follow up until you annoy them so much you get an answer.
Now there are many acceptable reasons for them to say no. You’re not the right fit for their target audience, they’re not looking to promote this season (either because of weather or it’s high/low season and they’re too busy), they’re looking for niches other than what you specialize in (ie. you’re an adventure traveler and they want families or couples), yada yada yada. Sure, I’ll be mildly offended you don’t think I’m the perfect partner, but I’ll get over it if you at least give me a legitimate reason.
As Camels and Chocolates so eloquently articulates, you don’t have a budget is not a legitimate reason. As a non-for-profit government agency, your operating expenses and funding are public domain. You may not have allocated room in the budget right now for this specific project, but you have money. Move it around. Consider my proposal. Trust me, spending a few thousand with me will more than pay off compared to some of the things you’re wasting money on (spoiler: billboards, print ads and likely a million other things).
Why “I Have No Budget” is Flawed
Every state has a tourism board whose function is to promote the destination. Most are government-funded bodies or they’re self-funded by lodging tax with an average of 1-10% of every hotel room booked going back into marketing the destination. And while 1% may sound small, for Nebraska, that means $5.9 million dollars, which doesn’t even take into account the economic impact on restaurants, attractions, and entertainment. In 2019, the average state tourism office funding was $18.7 million dollars a year. These are not small peanuts organizations. You have a budget; you’re just not using it effectively.
In this day and age, relying solely on earned media is an outdated, idealistic concept.
Now I have nothing against traditional journalists. A story from them is PR gold and you should still try to get as much coverage as possible. They are throughout reporters and storytellers in a sense that I never could be. If they’re good, they’ll dig up characters and anecdotes from interviews and in-depth reporting doing deep dive research that could take months or even years for a hosted trip to pay-off. That’s nothing like what an influencer/blogger does who relies on the speed of social media and their own digital publishing to disseminate your message to a highly engaged audience craving aspirational content.
And with agreed upon deliverables – you know exactly how many posts you’re getting, on what channels, during what timeframe, and can control the topic to some extent. Sponsored content is essentially a paid ad buy. It comes from the marketing department and is a more authentic endorsement than any ad you ever could put out. Visually-driven listicles, they generally appeal to the millennial traveler who’s saving and sharing content. They may either be at the top of the sales funnel looking for new destinations to frequent or they may have a trip already booked. But unlike a PR story whose goal is to info-tain, this piece of content has a different goal – to reach a large, engaged audience and inspire action.
They are a completely different part of the marketing mix. And there’s room for both.
A Tale of Two States: Kansas and Nebraska
I choose these two because they both have largely the same perception as flyover states and treat their media and budgets vastly different.
Kansas historically has one of the lowest tourism budgets in the US, yet they manage to maximize all opportunities. They invest heavily in technology like Arrivalist (which costs around $30K), but allows them to track their ad dollars to manage its attribution success and tweak ROI every year. By pixeling their digital campaigns, they can put a snippet of code in any online asset which allows them to track all online communications to the extent if I put this bit of HTML at the top of my blog post, they can tell who read my blog and physically ended up in Kansas via their geo-mobile technology. We’ve done multiple campaigns together because they see my content converts. People aren’t just reading, but actually visiting and spending money. Blog posts remain online forever so while it’s an upfront investment, with smart SEO know-how, more people will continue to see your content over time.
In 2017, MMGY named Nebraska the least visited U.S. state. So what did they do after telling me they had no budget to work together? Award a Colorado marketing agency a $28.6 million contract to come up with the tagline and campaign, “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” What quickly became the butt of many jokes, the campaign won a few awards and helped their bottom line, but was more polarizing than anything.
Instead of investing online, Nebraska buys expensive billboards without so much as directing viewers to a specialized landing page and many without a website listed at all to be able to track conversions or effectiveness. It’s just like tourism boards who invest heavily in radio or print guides and brochures that sit unread in visitor’s centers for years until they eventually end up in the trash. It’s outdated, wasted dollars.
They also rely on four group press trips a year throughout the year to get most of their media coverage, ignoring individual proposals and don’t believe in paying influencers because they think the destination will sell itself. Missed opportunity? Absolutely.