Brand Collaborations w/ Jess Ruhfus

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A must watch on Brand Collaborations!

Jess Ruhfus, a talented and experienced Publicist and Founder of Collabosaurus; shares the ins and outs of Brand Collaborations to help you maximise your next collaboration. 

Over 15 minutes, Jess takes us through countless actionable insights for Marketers from the foundations, real world examples, what goes wrong, how to master this invaluable skill set and her predictions. Grab your munch and tune in to hear 15 years of experience distilled into 15 minutes to expedite your marketing career.

Thank you, Jess! 

AT: Hey team Andy here. Thanks for joining us for another Munch & Learn. Today, I’m super excited to be joined by Jessica Ruhfus to talk all things, brand collaborations. Wooo! This is awesome! 

JR: Friday topic of the week! 

AT: I know, right? 

AT: So a little bit about Jess. Jessica is the founder of Collibra source and marketing platform. That match makes it brands for clever collaborations and partnerships with a background in fashion, publicity and marketing education. Jess was frustrated, sourcing core brand partnerships and events, products, and social media. So she launched Collabosauarus in 2015, which is now attracted over 8,000 brands, including Porsche ASOS, Olay, TopShop and one of the largest global retailers in the U.S just won the 2019 BNC 30 under 30 award and entrepreneurship. And has spoken for Apple, Vogue, General Assembly ADMA and the College of Event Management. It’s pretty impressive! 

JR: Thanks. 

AT: I’m pretty excited, obviously for this 15 minutes of what you can share with the audience, rapid fire collabs into collaboration real fast, real quick.

AT: If anyone needs to reach out to you, if you’re not in the community, you can join the community. Jump on in. I’m sure Jess as always is happy to answer questions and help people. So Jess, so we get into it. Let’s do it first off. 

What is a brand collaboration? 

JR: Great question and an excellent place to start.

So I think the word collaborations she gets thrown around in a million different contexts. So very important that we establish what I’m talking about when I’m talking about brand collaborations, because that can definitely get confusing. What I mean when I talk about them is when two or more businesses or brands team up. Create something cool together and then leverage each other’s existing assets to help each other grow. And this could look like anything from social media, content, competitions, and giveaways, limited edition products or product bundles and things like that, or experiential collabs as well. So really it’s about businesses teaming up doing really cool stuff together and helping each other grow with powerful cross-promotion across so many different channels.

That’s my nutshell. 

AT: I think you’re right around this powerful thing, because it, you do, you sort of cut it’s compounding, right? So you’re taking two brands, two audiences potentially, and you’re, and you’re getting that impact. So that’s exciting. Let’s dive further into it. There I’m sure a whole bunch of ways that you can collaborate, right?

Can you share some examples? 

JR: Definitely. I think it’s a common misconception that brand collaborations just happen on Instagram or that they just fit influences or their competition and giveaways alone. But there are so many different ways you can collaborate my favorite types kind of get bucketed into three main buckets, which is social media, products and events inc. experiential. And under the social media banner, that could be things like content collaborations. So teaming up with another business and running a content series or ITV series together, for example, or a YouTube series. MailChimp did that really well with Vice and they created short stories around business owners who use MailChimp.

And that was a really powerful collaboration around storytelling. Then there’s of course, competitions and giveaways, which I would say use sparingly can be effective if they use very sparingly. And then when it comes to product collaborations, that’s probably what everyone’s minds first go to because it’s what all the big brands are doing. Their teaming up to collaborate on limited edition product releases. Or you could even do things like product bundles. So I see this happen around sort of mother’s day Christmas stuff like that. There was a really good one with that Pepe Saya Butter. They teamed. I think it was Sonoma for a mother’s day thing a little while ago, and they packaged their services together and sold it as a collaboration, which is really easy way to create a limited edition product that doesn’t require the whole manufacturing process. 

Products can also be soft products, so digital products downloadables able books, courses, all kinds of different things. And then experiential, which is my favourite and it’s like slowly coming back post COVID, you know, lock downs and everything like that. But there’s a great example with Microsoft that we just saw come to life where they teamed up with a daily street roasters to the collaborate service platform. It was this themed event around the school of surface, Microsoft surface and everything was school themed that they did like you book photos and collaborated with the photographer at the event, they gave everyone coffee to keep your eyes open in class kind of thing. It was very well integrated, it was clever marketing and it was businesses teaming up to work together to achieve something really awesome. So there’s a million different ways you can collaborate. There’s examples for each of those. I’ve got, I can pull out of a hat if you wanted a little bit more description on either one of them, depending on time.

AT: My mind’s swirling, but I think that’s yeah, like the, the thought process and how you can put something together that’s meaningful, right? It’s like, yeah, don’t rush it. Just doing a co-lab because you feel like you need to think about. Like your audience and what would be meaningful to offer them and how that then comes together with that other brand, right? 

JR: Exactly, yeah, collaboration for collaborations sake rarely works, but you know, we’re so much stronger together. And so teaming up with other businesses in a strategic way that has some thought behind it. Yeah. So powerful. 

AT: The budget question. Yeah, sorry to bring it up. Can it be done in a budget collaboration, most cost-effective strategies you can actually do when it comes to marketing?

JR: I think that’s another thing that people shy away from partnerships because of traditional structures around sponsorship when that’s not necessarily the case. As I just mentioned, there’s so many other ways you can collaborate and budget, you know, often there’s currencies other than cash that are being exchanged.

So 90% of the collaborations that happen through the collab resource platform. Don’t involve cash exchange whatsoever. So you don’t necessarily have any budget. You can have a look at what you have from an asset standpoint. So what marketing channels do you have available to you or your clients? What skill set? What time? What resources do you have available? That could be everything from graphic design to photography assets to pay off skillset. I mean, when I started out doing cloud resource and I was collaborating. Yeah, I didn’t have a massive social media community. I had no budget to speak of at all, but I was like, you know what? I’m a publicist. So anything really cool that we do together, I can pitch this to media. So that’s what I could bring to the table. So at the end of the day, you know, brand collaboration is a win-win exchange of value and it’s mutually beneficial, but that value doesn’t have to be cash. It can be leveraging all of the things that you already have available to you in your business.

AT: That’s also very encouraging for teams that I think obviously this goes back to thinking it through and looking for other brands that you could collaborate in a meaningful way where the exchange is bi-directional and it’s not like you’re begging with them to do it, right? 

JR: Totally and I mean, that’s one of the benefits of, I’m sorry to toot my own horn, but collab is the word I say, because that was one of the reasons we built it, because I think traditional pitching, you were sort of spraying and praying and hoping that someone would be interested in collaboration and stuff like that. Whereas on the platform, you know, everyone’s already interested in looking by the time you connect or match with them, you already know what they’re looking for and what they can offer you and vice versa. So the conversation becomes. So much easier because you know what each other are bringing to the table and some creative ideas can come out of that.

And I would say in terms of how the exchange works, it varies so much depending on the collaboration. I mean, every brand has something quite unique to bring to the table in terms of what not only what channels and what their community looks like, but also the skill sets and resources and products or services that they could use and leverage in an exchange as well.

AT: Now that we’ve dealt with the budget question. Oh, it’s getting harder.

What goes wrong? Where the teams fall apart with Brand Collaborations? 

JR: I think I was having a think about this. I think there are four major things I say going wrong in collaboration conversations. And the first one is communication that often breaks down and it’s usually when either one party gets super busy or things just like get hazy and the communication just breaks down. So my biggest point with that would be that relationships are at the heart of all collaboration. So never go M.I.A, if you don’t understand something, you should say. So communication is so key. 

Second to that is having a marketing goal in mind. So something that goes wrong that I see happen all the time with collaborations is that collaboration for collaborations, sake teams are going, you know what everyone’s collaborating. We need to, to like let’s collab. And it’s just like this spray and pray method.

Where there’s no strategy behind it so actually having a marketing objective in mind, whether that they email list growth or website traffic increase, or, you know, building engagement or media buzz, like the Iconic and Binge teaming up and doing that inactive wear campaign was so clever and well timed because it got so much media attention.

So I think having a marketing strategy in mind is super, super important. That’s the second thing that goes wrong is when brands don’t have that. So communicate and communicate your marketing strategy in particular. 

The third one would be not changing up the type of collaboration.

So if you’re collaborating on a limited edition product, every single month, that’s going to exhaust your audience. It’s not going to become new and exciting anymore. Same goes, if you collaborate on the Instagram competition every single month, I often recommend you should be aiming for about six collaborations a year, but shifting up who you collaborate with and the type of collaboration you explore. So don’t keep doing the same types of ones. There’s so many different creative ideas you can explore to help you achieve all sorts of different marketing goals. Build into your funnel as well. 

And then number four would be tunnel visioning on one channel. So I see so many brands still obsessed over Instagram following, and it drives me mental because there is so many other channels and exactly, and you can in a collaboration that one of the great things you can do, which is quite different to influencer partnerships. Is that so much happens outside of Instagram, you can leverage web traffic. You can leverage email list. Cross-promotion Podcast mentions event on stage mentions in integrated sort of branding opportunities. There’s just so many channels you can explore. So they would be my top four, not having a strategy, not communicating, doing the same type of collaboration all the time and tunnel visioning on one channel. 

AT: Yeah, that last one’s a doozy. What we see is a fixation or leaning too heavily into channel first. Right. Rather than being audience first. And so then that goes back to your previous advice. If you’re thinking about your audience and you’re thinking about their audience, we should have some crossover and complement. Then the channel should obviously always be relevant. But by disseminating all of the content and the collab. as well, you can get so much more mileage out of it. I imagine? 

JR: Exactly. Yeah, definitely. And I mean, I think. You know, if you just look at the organic reach rates and engagement rates on Instagram. Yeah, you get so much more mileage out of leveraging it across multiple different channels and building a campaign out of it, rather than, you know, having a collaboration focus around one post or two posts on Instagram, you know, it could be a much longer, more effective campaign that actually drives results.

AT: Yeah. Short time thinking.

Crystal ball time. Where do you think brand collaborations is going to go? 

JR: Ah, this is a good question. If you had asked me at the beginning of 2020, I would have said something completely different, I think, but now I dunno. I just, I was seeing such a huge rise in, you know, moving away from digital and creating these amazing intimate brand experiences, which I still think going to be happening more and more.

I suppose in the future, but not necessarily immediate future. But then COVID hit and things changed a lot with how you could deliver brand experiences. And I mean, there’s still some really clever things you can do around digital collaborations, for sure. But I would say predictions for this coming year.

What I am loving saying artists collaborations. Really taking the stage, which is so great. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Mecca and National Gallery, Victoria collaboration. They release every year where they create holiday packaging in collaboration with one hero, National Gallery of Victoria artist that then they promote throughout in-store experiences and signage plus all of the holiday collection and it becomes very limited edition. It creates so much buzz. It’s so exciting and fantastic for creatives as well to be able to showcase their work. So artists collabs for sure would be one of them. 

My second prediction would probably be around the PR landscape and, you know, PR agency teams in particular, especially with everything that’s happened in the media over the last few years, it’s becoming so competitive and harder than ever to get media placement. So I see partnerships and collaborations actually being a fantastic way to supplement media placements with clever reach, you know, you can team up with brands and achieve more engagement and reach and all that kind of stuff through clever multi-channel, cross promotion in a partnership than you would necessarily in a, in a media outlet. So I think the PR landscape is going to change and partnerships are going to become more and more sort of common practice for publicists. 

AT: That makes a lot of sense. I think that’s where it’s headed and it’s only natural for those guys to think that way as well. All right. Well, yeah, my mind’s swirling, as I said, so I just want to go and implement some of this stuff. 

JR: Well, thankfully I think collaborations again in the past have just taken a lot of time.

There’s a lot that’s involved. Not from a budget perspective, but from a time perspective of going okay, coming up with a creative idea, building a list of brand partners, finding the decision maker at those brand partners. Pitching an idea and negotiating, and then actually bringing a campaign to life which can take so long. You know, it can be months and months and months before things come together. Whereas now, you know, with platforms like Collabosaurus, that time gap is really closing and more opportunities are readily available and quicker to implement, which is really exciting to say. And I mean, we’re launching an app in the next couple of weeks, which is exciting so you can basically do collabs right from the palm of your hand, which so more and more, that kind of stuff is getting quicker. Thankfully. 

AT: Well, I’m glad you got that in. I was going to prompt that plug, but not necessary. I’m a publicist. Now you did mention something earlier, which I just want to reiterate. Yeah, there’s so much in your brain and the platforms they have for people to jump in and, and start to play around with. But I feel like what you’ve shared today is very much sound around and so valid around the foundations before you jump in and before you start to just execute on a once off collaboration, like you described thinking more broadly and strategic. So jump into the Focus community if you haven’t already, just as in there just share with me any links obviously that we can share with the guys Munch & Learn is really fast bite size. So if anyone wants to take this further please reach out. I’ll put all your links and contact details within this, but thank you so much for your time today and sharing your knowledge in this Munch & Learn on Brand Collaborations.

JR: Always happy to have lunch. 

AT: Well, I didn’t, I don’t even know if we got your munch, right? 

JR: Oh, it’s probably Croissants all the way to get into a croissant. 

AT: Oh, we didn’t do a Crossiant… 

JR: I’m all for Pastries so but you know what, I love Peaches also. 

AT: Ha. So this was a Peach of a Munch & Learn. So thank you! And we’ll catch you in the community.

JR: Thanks for having me.

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