I want to start off by saying that I feel very fortunate and blessed to have worked with a couple of big brands - some of which are my personal favourites, like Olivia Burton and Kate Spade New York - and these experiences have been such a big part of both my income and my artistic growth.
I know this post might come off as boasting, but let's not deny that having such brand names in your portfolio naturally gives you a big boost of confidence and validation. With that said, as glamorous as it all sounds, it is hard work, and not what you expect! Doing a workshop for a perfume launch campaign, lets say, is a world of difference from conducting a private workshop for experienced crafters. In this post, I want to lift the curtain a little and share more about what to expect working with these big names for brand activations, because the truth of it is, it isn't always as glamorous as you think!
What are brand activations?
According to Cramer.com, a brand activation is any campaign, event, or experience that enables your brand to engage directly with consumers and build a loyal brand community around your product or service.
So for us in the crafts industry, if we're hired for such events, this usually means hosting a live demonstration at the store, or teaching a small workshop for Media or KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders, aka social media influencers).
I don't know how this works in other countries, but BAs are very common in Singapore. It drives people to the store (increases foot traffic), bumps up media exposure, and naturally prompts higher retail sales. In the world of Instagram, engagement with KOLs is such a huge trend nowadays, and having a hands-on craft activity is a great way to engage these personalities and it looks good on the gram! Most of my past events had at least 1 or 2 - if not a whole bunch of - KOLs invited and headlining the event.
The first step - how to get brands to approach you.
Almost all my collaborations started from an email, or rarely, a DM on instagram. Yes, sometimes I get found on instagram, but I don't think the number of followers matter as much for such collabs. More often than not, I believe I was found by a simple google search of "paper flowers Singapore." This is where a good website can seal the deal.
Why invest time in your website? When hiring your services, the PR & Marketing team needs to know that you're a professional and will represent their brand well. So yes, include your photo! Most of these events require that you dress up (Yup, dress codes are common, sometimes even to a specific colour scheme), so having a nice picture of yourself will no doubt be more appealing to a prospective client. Think about it, you'll much rather hire someone when you know how he/she looks like, and trust that he/she won't turn up to the event looking like a slob, am I right?
Having a portfolio of past experiences will of course be helpful as well. Besides posting my past work on my website, I also have an online deck (compiled into a pdf) with all my rates (e.g. hourly rates for live demos, or price per pax for short workshops) that also includes photos of my past events. I send this via a Dropbox link (since the file size is huge) whenever I get inquiries, which makes my life a little easier since I share consistent rates and I won't have to repeat myself every time I get an inquiry.
Even if you're new and don't have any past projects to post, staging some photos isn't a bad idea at all! The idea is, to show that you're good with people too, and it can be you teaching someone (a friend, a family member), and that adds confidence to anyone who might potentially hire you.
When that invite comes in, get ready to negotiate!
Whenever I get that first email to collab on a event, it usually leads to a long back and forth with discussions over budget, my rates, and customizing my services to compliment the client's event goals. I'll often prepare an event proposal, with photo samples of the flowers to be made, that fits in with the event theme.
With regards to rates, it's hard to say what's the market rate (we're kinda quite secretive about our rates, even me! Haha). Everyone charges different rates and in different ways. I generally charge based on 2 different activation styles: Workshop vs Live Demo Station. If I'm teaching a short workshop, I charge by pax. If it's a live demo station, I charge by hour, plus the number of stalks ordered (e.g. 4 hours + 100 roses) since most of my flowers need to be pre-made, as opposed to something like Calligraphy, which is usually done on the spot for the client.
If the client has a very small budget, it is not necessarily a deal-breaker for me. In all frankness, I started out charging pretty low, primarily to gain exposure and build up my portfolio. As mentioned before, having these brand names under your belt is major when it comes to establishing your own brand. Ultimately, it is all up to you, if you're willing to compromise for the opportunity and exposure. Once your portfolio is padded, you can start raising your rates, and you can feel justified for it!
Product payment-in-kind is also something I do when the client is tight on budget (yes, this happens, even with the big luxury brands!). State that you're willing to negotiate. I've asked for product vouchers, skincare products, teaware, etc. It shows that you're a fan of the brand (and might even help promote their brand on your own platform) and gives the client another reason to hire you.
Preparing official price quotes is a common practice for me - I do this in a pdf as an official document versus just in an email, since that could be lost in the chain, and to make sure everyone is on the same page. Moreover, price quotes help me during invoicing since I can simply copy and paste the same info into my invoice template. Remember to state your payment terms in the invoice - this might be something you'll have to discuss before the event to avoid any confusion over late payments (which happens pretty often! I've gotten used to it.) Ask your client if they need an extension (my norm is 30 days, but for bigger companies they might ask for 60 days) and that way everything is clearly stated from the start.
Finally, if it's not a good fit, don't be afraid to say no! I've said no dozens of times, usually either because the budget offered is too low, or if the time frame is crazy tight, or if the hours are too long (I've been asked to do full-day demos that would last 10hours with no breaks, and I firmly said that I'm a one-person team and that's just not possible). Occasionally, I get approached by a brand that could be the completely opposite of what I represent, and I will respectfully decline. Keep in mind that this is about your brand image too! If they're not giving you enough time to deliver your best work, then rushing a project may do more harm than good to your business.
My biggest takeaway - when you're hired, it's not about you or your craft anymore.
When you're officially hired, hooray! You get to start the prep work and show up to the event with all the excitement a crafter would have after being secluded in the studio for so long. However, despite all the hard work you've put in, I have to share this - at these events, you're just a fringe activity. Essentially during those few hours - I'm on the client's clock. I'm helping them sell a product, or I'm the entertainment. It's not about crafting paper flowers anymore, it's all about selling the brand.
Rather disappointingly, I had to accept that not everyone who participates in these brand activations will be interested in who I am and what I do. They're not crafters you see, and they're here for the brand, not you. If its a workshop, be prepared to do most of the work for them if they ask, because some of the guests don't want to get their hands dirty, and I mean this. I've learnt my lesson and now, I hardly use glue at all!
I'm sharing this because it was possibly the one thing I hadn't expected - to feel small and insignificant in the crowd of KOLs and big media people. I thought people would love and appreciate all my hard work but I end up being just a side show. Now, don't get me wrong, there there are many KOLs or guests who are very nice and make an effort to chat with you. For others, you're just another one of the staff at this event they're attending, and there's nothing wrong with that. Don't take it personally. Shrug it off. This isn't a craft crowd after all!
I used to get a little upset after these events, when I felt I wasn't given enough time to teach what I wanted, or if the participants weren't putting in the effort, and ESPECIALLY when my resources were wasted (e.g. people throwing away crepe paper, or your namecards and postcards - that's happened at almost every event I've done!). Fortunately, as I've gain more experience, I also gained some perspective. You'll learn that hey, this is what you're paid to do. You're not here to show off your skills or teach a technique, you're just something fun and engaging for a short period of time. Once you've embraced that, it gets a whole lot easier! If you play your part as the salesperson and help connect what you do to the brand (i.e. promote the sh*t out of their products, in the most natural way of course), the marketing team will see that you're an asset, and they might just hire you again for future events!
Perhaps that's why brand activations aren't everyone's cup of tea. Personally, I enjoy them, even in the past when I wasn't paid as much as I am now. I'll admit that I like dressing up and being part of the behind-the-scenes. Of course, its a big plus when the pay is good (since such events are usually one-off, it helps my monthly income for sure).
I hope this was helpful to anyone looking to dive into the world of brand activations and collaborations! It might not be as glamorous as it looks, but it can be fun and rewarding if you approach them with a positive attitude and open mind! All the best to you!