As the President and Editorial Director of JFL Network (formerly known as TechnoBuffalo), Jonathan Rettinger delivers consumer electronics news to a monthly audience exceeding 21 million viewers. This includes content on platforms like The Apple Circle, Money Rush, and his personal YouTube channel, @jon4lakers.
With over 16 years of experience, Jon has been reviewing tech on YouTube since he started back in June 2007. A lot has transpired since those early days on YouTube, driven by technological advancements, shifting industry trends, and evolving audience preferences, which have collectively led to a more competitive and diversified content landscape. Maintaining his momentum, Jon now places his focus on engaging discussions about smartphones, laptops, and other mobile devices.
In Part I of this engaging Q&A session, we explore Jon's perspective on what constitutes a 'perfect pitch', his advice to new creators, and his observations of the ever evolving tech industry landscape.
What are the essentials for a brand collaboration pitch? Or to put it another way, what’s the best way to catch your eye?
If I’m a brand and the creator comes to me, there are a few things that I would need to know. First, why would I work with you? What are you doing in this space that’s unique? Is your voice unique, and is your voice authentic? The next big thing, and I can’t overstate the importance of this, is the creator a professional? Are they going to deliver what they say they’re going to deliver on time? Are they going to deliver the quality they say they’re going to deliver?
Creatives make a lot of mistakes thinking that they are unique and the only ones in this space. There are a lot of other people like us, and the brands can take those dollars, take it right down the street and get very similar results.
To the creators who are reading this, treat it like a job. Treat it seriously, and know that it is fleeting, and if you get a reputation for unprofessionalism, for delivering late, or not producing quality, you’d be surprised how bad that can be.
What are some common mistakes you see in pitches directed towards you, especially those that you find counterproductive or off-putting?
There are a few, and I should preface this by saying I’ve been in this space for almost a decade and a half, so I've been doing this for a really long time, and I’ve seen it grow from nothing to where it is now.
Brands oftentimes either assume creators don’t know their value and try to undervalue them, or the brands don’t know the creator’s value. I’ll get pitches from brands… ‘we want you to review our product, we want you to make three videos, here’s what’s required, and you can keep the product when you’re done’. It’s like, I can’t pay myself with a free product. I can’t pay my staff with a free product. That alone is probably one of the biggest [mistakes], not realizing that the audience the creator has fostered has value.
The other is, all these brands thinking they came up with, for the very first time, a CPA deal. I have this ingenious idea! You sell for us and we’ll give you a cut of what you sell! I mean everybody is doing it. I probably get ten of those a day, like it’s the first time anyone ever heard of it! I mean, a lot of creator’s CPA deals can be very lucrative and worthwhile, but when it’s presented like they're doing the creator a favor, often that has typically rubbed me the wrong way.
The other is just very generic outreach. Hey there! Hey friend! Greetings of the day! Clearly just one of hundreds on a bcc. That’s the other one.
It’s interesting how you mention that it’s positioned as a favor - we picked you, congratulations! Could you expand a little more on that specific point, and the YouTube creator economy?
Sure. Being a creator is such a cool and unique opportunity. Everyday I wake up happy and think this is a job. Unbelievable. For a lot of people who are either younger or new to it, their eyes are so very wide open. ‘I can’t believe that I get to do this. This is so Amazing’.
I still feel that way, but being a little more grizzled and as somebody who’s made a lot of mistakes, I kind of have the benefit of having learned from those mistakes. You do see things coming.
So when a brand reaches out there’s almost an innate feeling of ‘I have to do this on a product I don’t really like, I have to do a free video, I have to compromise something I didn’t want to compromise’. This is how it goes, and you see a lot of almost predatory types of outreach emails.
I’m a big advocate for creators knowing their worth. And if I can put things in perspective for people, not every brand is a Samsung, or an LG. But if you just take any brand that makes a commercial for TV they’ve got to hire writers, they’re hiring production, a studio and you’re looking at a minimum of a million dollars to create a 15-30 second commercial. If you get a creator, well now you’re paying one percent, or two percent.
And beyond that, you know the creator’s demographics, you're going to hit 60-70% of the brand’s demographics, whereas with a commercial you're lucky to get maybe 5-6%. So creators have a lot of worth. It always hurts me when I see creators underselling themselves and not knowing the value that they bring to the table.
Where are you most receptive to being first approached by a brand? By email, Twitter, YouTube comments?
I try to be responsive to YouTube comments but we have so many videos I don’t see them all. I read every single email that comes in, I read every single DM, messages on Twitter, Instagram. So I’m happy to look anywhere, but I’m usually quickest to respond to email, and I think when it’s personal, like ‘Hey Jon, I like the video you did on something’ then it’s genuine outreach, not just a form, you know, insert creator's name.
I find myself being a lot more responsive to those brands, and if it’s something that I’m genuinely interested in… for example I got pitched to go check out a neuro water scooter. That just sounds incredible! It’s just a cool opportunity. Yeah, sounds awesome!
You started off in a very different space from where you are now. You are doing a lot of consumer tech, mobile reviews etc. What’s the percentage breakdown of cooler stuff within the tech world, such as the aqua scooter, vs smartphones for you and your brand personally?
The phones are nice because there are always new phones coming out so there’s always something fresh to talk about. The content very rarely ever gets stale. Having said that, you can only innovate with a rectangle so much, right? The camera is slightly better, it’s slightly faster! Same as last year. Enjoy.
So I’m somebody who loves branching out, loves technology, and loves to have a variance in the products that I’m talking about. I’m also looking to tell stories too, with consumer electronics as the palette to tell stories. How consumer electronics have changed within my life, impacted my family, or tell stories where I made a huge mistake and learned from that.
Is there such a thing as a pointless pitch? And conversely, what constitutes a perfect pitch?
Is there a pointless pitch? I think if it's something that is so far out of my lane, I’m aware of what I can do and what my shortcomings are. If a brand is pitching me for me to review a piece of furniture, or make a video on a floral arrangement, I’m not the guy for that. You’re not going to get a good ROI on that, my audience isn’t going to like it, it’s pointless for us to continue the conversation unfortunately. If it’s completely out of scope, I would say it’s a pointless pitch.
I think the perfect pitch is when a brand says ‘we know who you are, we’ve watched something that you’ve done, we like your style and this particular video, we have a product or an idea that would be a really good fit, would you like to collaborate?’
I think something like that would be the perfect pitch. There’s a collaboration side of it, it’s not just ‘here are some bullet points, say it exactly as we wrote it, and we’ll send you a check’.
What would be your advice for a younger creator, someone just starting off, looking for brand deals, for funding, to build an audience?
As someone who used to be in that position, I took every brand deal. I couldn’t believe people were paying me money, and I took a lot of brand deals that were products that I didn’t genuinely like and that I didn’t find interesting. I took some short term gains, but I paid the long term price. The channel plateaued for a long time because there were other people doing more interesting things, and it was a struggle to come back from that.
So certainly there’s an argument to be made that getting some dollars now is certainly worthwhile, but as soon as creators weigh that against long-term perception of an audience to your channel, and how YouTube perceives the channel… I’ve made a lot of mistakes over my time and that was definitely one of them.