Serena Faber Nelson moved from TV producer to follow her passion for puppies as a full-time dog-blogger. Here she shares how she differentiated her blog early on, forms genuine relationships with brands organically, and her secrets of a successful media kit.
Pretty Fluffy is an apt name for Serena Faber Nelson’s blog about the joys of having a dog in your life. It’s deliberately light and joyful – both in subject matter and in color scheme – and it was exactly what Serena needed at an emotionally fraught time in her career as a television producer.
“Pretty Fluffy was born out of a need for escape. I’m a trained journalist, and for the last decade and a half I was working as a TV producer for lifestyle shows, like cooking shows, some pet shows (my favorite), and in 2010, a medical documentary series.
“We followed people through their journeys from really rough things, like being diagnosed with cancer and going for treatment, or people who’d been in motor vehicle accidents and were going through multiple surgeries. We were shadowing doctors and got to see what they were doing in these life or death situations.
“For me, that was really confronting. I decided I needed something outside of work that was fun and light and joyful.”
Serena had just gotten married, discovering StyleMePretty along the way, which she said gave her the idea to start her own blog in 2010.
“Pretty Fluffy came about and grew from there. Now it’s my actual job.”
Turning your fun blog into your day job
In 2010, blogging had just started coming into its own as a valid career choice as several blogs across industries separated themselves from the pack and began turning into professionally-run businesses. Blogging in any niche was becoming more crowded, and Serena knew immediately that she needed to differentiate her dog blog from all of the others out there.
“My biggest epiphany, early on in blogging, was when it occurred to me that what I love doing, and what’s most helpful, is creating our own content. Making your own content is how you stand out, but that’s even hard now because we’re bombarded with these beautiful blogs, and you start to subconsciously start to replicate what they’re doing.”
Serena developed DIY and how-to posts, which she beautifully photographed and formatted for Pinterest and Instagram. Pet projects, printables, and especially dog treat recipes became the blog’s bread and butter content, as well as articles on dog nutrition and favorite, thoroughly puppy-approved, toys.
But she’s always trying something new to see how her audience responds.
“Over the years, we’ll try new category ideas and we’ll give something a go, and you don’t just do it once. You try it a few times over the course of a few months and if it’s not resonating, you leave it – they’re not into that. If things are working, do more. If they’re not, let them go.”
She also takes a curated approach to planning her content calendar, making sure there isn’t too much of any one type of post.
“This comes from my media background: look at the mix at any one time. If you’re staring at your month's content, you don’t want to have every slot filled with product reviews. You want product reviews, recipes, DIY tutorials, tip-based articles. You need a mix of light and heavy, and visual-heavy posts versus sit down, have a cup of tea and read it. You have to consider balance.
“Especially these days. Someone might be sitting at a desktop with all the time in the world read, or they could have their smartphone in their hand at the train station and have two minutes to scan. You need a good mix of stories as well as layout. You have to plan it.”
Content is everything. And your readers are everything. That’s always what’s at the top of my mind.
Throughout all of this content runs the through line of her brand: it’s all about the lighter, fluffier side of loving dogs. But Serena doesn’t shy away from more serious subjects if delving into them can help her audience, like safety when dog-walking alone at night (an opportunity to review Revolar wearables), or how to prepare your dog for a new baby (a post written partially in response to the mommy-blogs that focus entirely on dog-proofing the infant, rather than the well-being of the dog). As much as her own photography and her own recipes, posts like these make Pretty Fluffy feel personal, genuine, and heartfelt.
Create your own blog graphic with the Puppy Pics Blog Graphic template.
The need to build a strong, original brand early on has only become more important for bloggers in the last 7 years. And Serena has some advice for newer bloggers entering into a much more crowded market.
“Start creating your own content and for every 20 pieces of content, maybe one is going to go viral and get shared. That’s where you start to build. Then take feedback from your audience on what they want to know more of. We had these treats that took 2 minutes to make, and it wasn’t super cute, but it was fast and doable, and people loved it and shared it.
“With Facebook and Pinterest, it’s so easy to repin and share. That’s what you need to start working on and slowly build it. Once you have that content and audience, then you can reach out to brands to work with and create the business side of your brand.”
Building relationships with brands organically
Establishing relationships with brands is daunting, especially for newer or smaller blogs that may not have high numbers. Serena’s advice is to “introduce yourself” by including your favorite brands in your content.
“The best thing you can do, if you love a brand and want to work with them, is to include them in your existing content.
If it’s a product, include them in your Instagram. Promote them. Tag them on Instagram. Do a top 10 favorite product post and reach out to them. You can even include an idea for a new post. But you have to put yourself in their seat and ask what you’re offering to this brand.”
This won’t always work.
“Sometimes brands have their marketing stuff set up 12 months in advance and turn you down. But there’s no harm in asking.
“The idea is to get on their radar and discuss with them what their needs are. Then look at your blog and how your strengths can meet those needs. You can put together amazing ideas and stylized shoots and whole campaigns, but maybe all they want is help building their email list for a new product.”
And if you don’t have “the numbers” you think you need – don’t be so fast to count yourself out of the running. Brands care about audience size to an extent, but they care just as much (if not more) about engagement and fit.
“I read somewhere that ‘you only need 2000 die-hard fans.’ It’s true.
“Numbers are important, as are engagement metrics, and the site structure to back it up. But if you’re not creating content that resonates with an audience you already have, you won’t get results.
“Brands come to you because they want to get their name out there to the audience they want to reach. You can have 100k people view a blog post, but it’s those 2000 die-hard fans who are going to look at the product and hit ‘add to cart.’”
When asked what her advice would be for bloggers just starting out, she says “don’t compare your start to other people’s middles and ends.”
“Don’t get discouraged. It’s much better to have 100 or 1000 people who love what you do, rather than 100,000 who have a vague interest in you. Be proud to be a micro-influencer. Work out what makes you special and offer that to brands who are a good fit.”
When to send your media kit
When Serena features a new brand on Pretty Fluffy, she makes sure to let the brand know.
“That’s something most people won’t do. They’ll do all the content and all this work, but they don’t tag them or email the brand right away to say ‘hey! I featured you!’
“I’ve developed a lot of good relationships with brands that way.”
And then she sends her media kit.
The PrettyFluffy media kit includes six main sections:
- About Us & Our Readers – who they are, what they do, audience demographics and interests.
- Statistics & Social Media – pageviews, unique views and social media followers.
- Praise & Happy Clients – testimonials from past partners.
- Brands We’ve Worked With – a visual list of brands.
- Advertising Options – services and advertising packages.
- Booking Schedule – when banner ads are available.
Each section is beautifully designed using original images from the Pretty Fluffy blog, along with a brand-consistent logo, font and design elements.
Serena’s rule of thumb: “The more information a brand has about you, the better.”
How does all of this work in real life?
“If I see a really cute dog toy, I want to put it up straight away so people can see it – and then I reach out to the brand to let them know. It’s more genuine that way. It’s on my site because I love the product. And then you’re already on the right path. You’re not trying to meld your brand to fit with theirs, or trying to make it into a business opportunity first. Then you can move on together if it’s worthwhile for both of you.
“I get lots of emails from brands just thanking us for the feature. Other brands see the value and want to work with us.
“If they’re seeing traffic coming to them from your promotion, the next logical step is to continue that for both of you. It’s all organic.”
Balancing brands and staying true to yourself
These days, most blog revenue comes from sponsored content, like product reviews and shopping guides and vendor features. But those partnerships only work because the blogger has earned the trust of their audience – and that requires a delicate balance of selling to brands while putting the needs of that audience first.
Serena compares working with brands to old-fashioned product placement.
“There was always product placement in media. I’ve worked on TV shows where we were doing a renovation and we had to have shopping bags from the Home Depot store in the shot, had to have the paint can tilted a certain way so viewers could see what brand it was. Coming from that background of commercial television, I’ve seen how that’s already integrated.
“Where I think it can get muddy – it depends on the content you’re writing about and how legitimate it is. If you were a journalist covering politics, you wouldn’t put suggestions about what tie the Prime Minister was wearing and where to buy it.”
“But when you think about bloggers, people want to know what a fashion blogger is wearing, or what makeup the beauty blogger uses to get the look. Our audience wants to know the best way to clean a house with pet hair.
“If you’re answering these questions and doing it in a genuine way that works with brands, that’s the best way to go about it. As a blogger, if you’re ever at a point where you’re feeling like you’re being a square twisted in a round hole to work with a brand, it’s a warning that it’s not the right fit. Leave it!”
How to make visual elements unmistakably you
The moment you land on a blog, you can see a good indication of whether that blog is making money or is about to – according to the level of polish on the visuals. Professional logos and high quality photography are the obvious signs, but there are subtler cues at play. Serena says she decided long ago “that everything needed to be as cohesive as possible.”
“When you look at our website, Instagram or Pinterest page, you get a strong sense of our identity as a brand. That’s the number one thing. As most brands will say, using certain colors as a theme helps. But we also like light and bright, airy photography. If we’re doing a shoot and giving notes to the photographer, lots of white natural light. Our images, colors and palate represents what Pretty Fluffy is about – pretty, light, joyful, not too serious.”
At the end of the day, she says it comes down to what feels right to her – as it always has.
“My blog has grown from things that I like into this brand. The brand started with a lot of me, personally, and it continues to grow in that way.”
The logo, the color scheme, the photography and the content – they all contribute, in a cohesive way, to the brand. But the brand is a reflection of Serena Faber Nelson as a person, and it’s that personal component that keeps her audience as loyal as, say, a dog.