From this week’s Crain’s News
By Brigid Sweeney March 18, 2013
Despite the cloying name, mommy blogging has been serious business for years—and no one knows that better than Danielle Wiley.
Ms. Wiley, a former senior vice president at Chicago-based public relations firm Edelman, launched Sway Group LLC in 2011 as a talent agency to represent some of the nation’s most popular mommy blogs and help them navigate contracts with big-name brands, including Deerfield-based Walgreen Co. and Oak Brook-based McDonald’s Corp. Now she’s joining with Los Angeles-based blogger network Launched Productions LLC to create Massive Sway, which she says, at 40,000 strong, is the world’s largest network of female bloggers.
Mommy blogging, which began in the late “90s as electronic diaries that captured the triumphs and travails of raising children, has become increasingly sophisticated and commercialized. As the most popular bloggers established presences with readers that fall somewhere between celebrity and best friend, brand marketers began to recognize that these women are trusted voices and often young, articulate and stylish to boot. At the same time, some bloggers seeking to monetize their work began accepting payment or free merchandise in exchange for product reviews.
That’s where Ms. Wiley comes in.
“Bloggers kind of straddle this line between journalist and spokesperson, and the fact is that the spokesperson part is a lot more enticing to brands,” she says.
Ms. Wiley also realized that a significant portion of a brand’s PR fee went to researching which blogs were appropriate for sponsorships: Do readers have children the correct age for, say, Pampers? Have bloggers mentioned using similar products before? Do they swear? Meanwhile, the bloggers themselves were inundated with questions from big agencies about their rates, which they had no idea how to answer. “It was very clear that this space was ripe for a middleman,” Ms. Wiley says.
Indeed: In its first year, Sway pulled in $1 million in revenue. (The company is paid by corporate clients and then pays its bloggers out of that revenue.) Ms. Wiley says she had her first $200,000 revenue week in March and expects 2013 revenue to exceed $5 million.
Quantifying blog readership can be a dicey proposition, but a few of Ms. Wiley’s clients bring in millions of page views per month. Rebecca Woolf, a Los Angeles-based mother of four and blogger at GirlsGoneChild.net, is a Sway client who has garnered hundreds of thousands of monthly page views, book and television deals—and the attention of countless marketers.
“I get 100 pitches a day,” Ms. Woolf says. “The most important thing about Danielle is that she wades through all the stuff and she knows what I would say no to and doesn’t even send it to me.” Ms. Woolf says her blog-generated income has increased 20 percent year over year (she declines to give a dollar figure), a boost she attributes to Ms. Wiley’s liaisons with companies including car seat and stroller manufacturer Graco and Honest Co., an eco-friendly line of baby products.
As more bloggers try to make money, other intermediaries have popped up. Boulder, Colo.-based BlogFrog closed a round of Series A funding in 2011 backed by former executives of Google Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. And Belmont, Calif.-based BlogHer, which began as a support network and conference series for bloggers, increasingly has moved into creating sponsored content.
Critics worry that the market is becoming oversaturated and could lose the honest, original voices that made mommy blogs popular. “The future of blogging, at least in the lifestyle and parenting category, needs to be defined by more actual content and better content,” says Stephanie Schwab, a principal at New York-based Crackerjack Marketing. “I think there will be a little bit of a shakedown in the next couple of years as the bloggers who got into it solely to get rich realize there is no easy money.”
Ms. Wiley agrees and employs a full-time quality assurance rep who reads every sponsored post to ensure that the blogger has hit the key messages. She also is unveiling sophisticated tracking software that allows bloggers to count the number of impressions, or mentions, each post receives across the Internet. That’s critical to media-buying agencies, including Publicis Groupe’s Starcom Worldwide and WPP’s Mindshare, which calculate “buy rates” based on those impressions.
“One of Danielle’s unique aspects is that she was both an early blogger herself (at FoodMomiac.com) and has an agency background, so she’s really capable of making the appropriate connections,” says Lainey Canevaro, PR agency Ketchum’s Midwest brand practice director, who has worked with Ms. Wiley on several projects.
From this week’s In Other News