In light of the success of my article for the Cats Protection blog about the benefits to my mental health having a cat has had, I thought it might be a good time to talk a bit about what it’s like to collaborate with organizations/charities/companies and why I do it.
There are a few controversial issues in the blogging industry such as whether or not to monopolize your blog and feature ads, if you should make your blog into a ‘brand’ and whether you should collaborate with others on joint projects and partnerships.
I guess I decided to do collaborations pretty early on in my blogging career and had a guest blog feature on Time To Change’s website within months of beginning I’m NOT Disordered. I made the decision to work with the brilliant organization who primarily campaign to eradicate the stigma against mental health quite easily. I had been enjoying writing/blogging and found it a huge relief to have somewhere to vent and offload all my pent-up thoughts and feelings that were magnetized by being in a psychiatric hospital. So, it just seemed to make sense to also write a piece for such a huge, well-known, and influential organization like Time To Change. Seeing my number of readers grow after the collaboration was very rewarding and realizing that working with more established organizations would shed some light on the existence of my brand new, little, unknown blog led to more and more collaborations.
This is another controversial issue in the blogging industry; the importance of your numbers. When I first started blogging in 2013, I really didn’t care how many people were reading it because I was doing it for me. I was doing it to keep a record of my mental health recovery journey and didn’t, for one second, consider that it had the potential to help other people but that changed when I saw the number of readers climb. And climb. And climb! I quickly realized that people wouldn’t be reading I’m NOT Disordered if it was no good, and when I heard that my local Crisis Team were recommending reading my blog to service users, I felt a sense of achievement. I guess it’s not so much about the numbers, more what they mean. To me, the higher they climb, the higher the chance I’m helping more people. And the higher they climb, the higher the chance that I can work different organizations.
Collaborating isn’t a new thing in blogging; fashion and beauty bloggers have been doing it for years; but it’s only this past year or two that more companies are realizing the potential that bloggers from other categories (e.g. travel, lifestyle, and mental health) have to influence a huge audience. I, personally, have found that if I approach organizations and don’t mention my number of readers then I get very little interest in collaborating but as soon as I say ‘over half a million’ their ears prick up and they’re intrigued by my collaboration idea. Yes, you read that right; I approach them. There’s a few bloggers out there who seem to sit back and wait for opportunities to be handed to them on a plate but my Mum raised me with a good work ethos; so that I’m a full believer that opportunities are more rewarding when you’ve worked your butt off to make them happen!
Although I collaborated with Time To Change very early on in my blogging career, I don’t think that I fully started partnering with organizations and charities until more recently (six years later). My influence to start collaborating came from InTheFrow blogger; Victoria Magrath in seeing her collaborations move into luxury brands as opposed to the high-street companies she’d worked with when she began blogging. I saw it as a bit of a promotion and was inspired to become a bit creative and imagine the organizations that would be the sort of… mental health equivalent to Chanel and Dior! After working with Young Minds on their ‘Vs’ campaign, however, I realized that I wanted more original collaborations. The blogging scene was suddenly being flooded with mental health bloggers and I needed to continue to keep I’m NOT Disordered ahead of the game. When I started blogging in 2013, I was the only mental health blogger to be writing as an inpatient so I found a niche in the industry but as it became saturated with budding bloggers and I was discharged from Hospital, I soon saw that I would need to start working a little harder to maintain my blog’s originality.
Learning this, was what inspired me to look into working with organizations and charities who were a little different to the typical mental health related ones. Of course, it isn’t about thinking that my blog is too good to work with these companies; more that I think it’s important to highlight the potential that lesser known ones have to influence mental health. I think that my first most creative collaboration came by working with the high street store; Oliver Bonas. I found a mental health related book in one of their stores and it inspired me to look into promoting their other products that might also benefit your mental health; so the OB Team very kindly gifted me a few products to write reviews about and take pictures of.
When I really enjoyed doing something so different, I began looking into other companies who could be relevant to mental health yet weren’t known for that. Landing a collaboration with Cats Protection was a big deal to me. I remember telling my Mum about my idea of the 12 Cats of Christmas series for the Christmas of 2018 and she suggested I contact Cats Protection and I just laughed at her; “a big company like that won’t be interested in working with me!” I said. But my Mum always says ‘shy bairns get nowt’ and I realized that there was no harm in emailing their Media Team with my idea. I was very fortunate that they too, could see how beneficial pets – and cats in particular – could be to your mental health and so they agreed with the collaboration proposal.
Another very different collaboration to have come from my own ideas was with Bandana Bowtique. In approaching the team, I took motivation and courage from my now numerous partnerships with Cats Protection. I figured that mentioning I was working with such a huge organization might encourage the Bandana Bowtique team to trust me with their reputation. I think that the fact I recognize how huge a deal it is for an organization, company, or charity to collaborate with an external individual helps a lot in securing the collaboration. I realize that they’re trusting you with their reputation and are respecting your own work and achievements, and most importantly, they have a belief that working with you will be beneficial for them. In case they’re unsure or don’t realize this, it’s a good idea to tell them just how they will benefit from a collaboration in your proposal.
My second motivation – next to illustrating the wide reach mental health has across your life - for collaborating with particular organizations is to help better their service. This is mostly true for my partnerships and collaborations with Richmond Fellowship, Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear (CNTW) NHS Foundation Trust, and Northumbria Police. With CNTW and the Police, I’ve been especially motivated by an eagerness to help them in avoiding other service users from experiencing their organizations in the same way I occasionally have done. I want to better staff’s understanding of mental health, help them to realize how their responses need to change and improve, and show them the impact that will have on a service user’s mental health. With Richmond Fellowship, it has been more about bettering their already top-notch organization because they too recognize that if you’re not constantly trying to improve things then you’re just sitting still and becoming complacent. This is something that is also true for my blog; I constantly and consistently want to better I’m NOT Disordered’s content.
Finally, I think that an essential quality to have in collaborating with others is a fierce loyalty and whole-hearted dedication. It’s important that you illustrate to them that you aren’t just suggesting the collaboration for freebies or publicity; you do have an actual, genuine interest in the organization and their work; and that you support them and all that they stand for.