How We Partner with Brands to Travel and Change the World
By Maria Russo
I am constantly asked by people: “How do you get to travel so often and do the nonprofit work you do in Africa?” My answer is always “hard work” but to get specific it has everything to do with finding the right partnerships with brands. The Culture-ist has been around since 2011 and during that time, we’ve traveled to over 35 countries (not counting where we’ve sent our writers) mainly through sponsorships and brand partnerships. These partnerships have allowed us to cover exactly what aligns with our values and philosophy. And we feel really good about partnering with the brands that we collaborate with because they in turn share similar values. In other words, we don’t need to sacrifice who we are and what we believe in to make money or to travel to a place for a media project that will generate money for us in the future.
One of our coolest partnerships came last month before we traveled to Rwanda to meet the 100 women farmers our nonprofit, Humanity Unified International, will be working with over the next year. This project has been, by far, the most amazing thing I’ve been a part of since launching TC. But it’s been costly. Since we began working in Rwanda in November 2014 all expenses have been paid through money from our savings – flights, accommodations, food, transportation, shots, insurance…you know the deal, travel is crazy expensive.
We knew this time around we would need to take a photographer/videographer with us, which would add to our costs greatly. Having worked in media for so long, we knew that without stunning images and a video to tell our story, it would be difficult to pique people’s interest in the project and even more importantly gain their trust.
We were lucky enough to find Arnelle Lozada, a videographer/photographer who was willing to come to Rwanda to document the project and also help us secure a brand collaboration to cover expenses. She had worked with Blurb – a self-publishing platform that allows users to create their own photo books – in the past and really loved the people and level of professionalism and flexibility that was given throughout the partnership. She reached out to Blurb for us and her contact there loved our proposal, which was essentially content production on our end: video, vlog, photos and a couple articles (this one is not part of our agreement, I just loved the experience so much I felt compelled to write about it). And obviously from their end, we would be paid for our work. This partnership made every detail of the trip we had dreamed about happen. Because of our partnership with Blub, our on-the-ground expenses were low and we were able to take a brilliantly talented photographer/videographer with us. The most powerful part of this partnership was that it allowed us to continue our work in Rwanda without the stress and strain of having to worry about money. It also gave us the most amazing videos (watch above and below) and photographs to share the story of our amazing women in Rwanda.
As content producers, we need to embrace partnering with the right brands because, I believe, it is the way talented creatives will be able to move away from being “starving artists’ and towards being a powerful influencer that offers brands a fresh, authentic approach to advertising. Gone are the days when one-page spreads in a print magazine drive people to purchase a product or travel to a certain destination or hotel. Millennials want to see that brands are doing their part in helping to make the world a better place and they also want to be engaged, intrigued and awed by advertising.
Oh and if you think advertising is a dirty word or practice, erase that from your mind – asap. Commerce is an important part of our economy and part of keeping commerce healthy is by promoting goods and services. But why not make this important element of capitalism an art, one that moves away from in-your-face-marketing to one that tells an evocative story and hopefully supports something that is changing the world for the better. It’s the age of the influencer, my friends, so get out there, perfect your art and get paid to do it.
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