As I mentioned in my last post, public relations became even more valuable in 2020 as the effects of the pandemic strip advertising budgets with subscriber-rates already dwindling. For any brand launching products in this coming year, hoping to win awards, or just looking to see a return on their investment, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with affiliate marketing,
Once a buzzword for the silicon valley bros building marketing funnels for life coaches, affiliate marketing is now one of the hottest areas of media.
You see, media outlets have been thrust a quadruple edge sword this year: advertisers fearing mass layoffs are pulling their ad spend. With economic peril falling on most, subscribership has exponentially deceased compared to declines of previous years. Layoffs are hitting media hard, and the opportunity for evergreen product mentions are occasional at best. Plus, media outlets who have transitioned to hosting events to supplement decreasing subscription revenue.
In 2020, outlets like the New York Post, who previously never wrote product roundups, now have commerce teams dedicated to product-centric stories. Things like “Best body oils for summer,” “How to spice up your date night from home,” or “the bougiest bongs you didn’t know existed” are all topics that commerce editors and writers are working on.
When you see the word “Commerce” in an editor or journalist’s title, there’s about a 99% chance we’re talking about affiliate marketing.
Consumers want premium, expert-backed stories but don’t want to pay for it. Journalists and editors need to be paid. Advertisers are willing to pay. But, oh, wait, those same consumers who don’t want to pay for their content, well they don’t want to see advertisements on every page. Media outlets have had to get smart over the years: first we had native advertisement like banner ads; next we say the rise of the advertorial – or an advertisement that is meant to look like an editorial story. These have to be clearly marked that they are advertisements for consumer transparency.
Now, especially in 2020, we’re seeing the rise of affiliate marketing. Don’t let this post fool you. I may encourage my clients and those seeking PR to sign up with affiliate networks, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re particularly good. I’m sure at some point the FTC is going to get involved with affiliate marketing because oh my gosh, it is murky. It is dirty. I cannot in my conscious create a post about affiliate marketing without going over the hazards of this area of marketing.
The Downside of Affiliate Marketing
The reason consumers turn to media outlets in the first place for product recommendations is authority. If Wired.com, a famed technology outlet, recommends a pair of $60 headphones as the biggest value, that means something because most editors at Wired get gifted $300+ headphones. Same thing with Allure. If Allure recommends a lipstick, that recommendation carries more value and authority than a celebrity endorsement because these are people who review and write about lipstick for a living. Most places like The Strategist, Buzzfeed and Heavy, where affiliate marketing makes up most, if not all of their product features, will often times include a product without ever once trying it. Every outlet has commerce editors and every commerce editor has been guilty of including a product without trying it. However the authority is usually not diminished because these factors are not disclosed and any informational on affiliate marketing is written in some vague jargon at the start of the outlet.
I mean, this is why affiliate marketing has risen over the years. Now outlets don’t even designate who is affiliate market and who isn’t so they blend paid content in with evergreen content with few being the wiser.
When it comes to finding out what a magazine truly stands for, or how deep their morals go, look as far as their affiliate program (though, they try to make it as discreet as possible because outlets don’t want consumers to know just how broken this system is).
Need a concrete example? Just last month, one of my BIPOC educators was asked to provide her expertise to Shape Magazine for a story. In her commentary she recommended a product that she sold on her own store and included the link in the submitted copy. Shape’s editor removed my client’s link and linked back to a UK-based brand founded by two straight, white, male billionaires. Not even four months after Shape, along with every media outlet, pledged allegiance to anti-racism and dismantling systemic injustice, the editors of shape are back to using a Black woman’s work and words to promote a white founded company. But why? Why would a media outlet take a dump so hazardously on their own published ideals? Affiliate my dears. Affiliate marketing is king. Moral compass and efficacy be damned if a brand is offering 15%+ of sales to an outlet.
Though lets be clear, this is not a reflection of the editors or journalists who are often times just trying to survive and keep their job during the next wave of media layoffs. Affiliate departments are different than editorial and editorial just has to play that ball game.
The Benefits of Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing however can be super beneficial for a few reasons. Affiliate marketing is what has kept journalism alive the last year. While advertising is the backbone of media, no one likes to look at the backbone. Readers don’t come for the ads; they come for the writers and experts and editors and content. Those are funded by ad dollars. The biggest advertisers for media outlets – places like sporting events, travel services and chain restaurants, have had to pull their advertising budget this year, especially as many of them have endured significant layoffs this year (advertising in one publication can cost $200+K; that’s a lot of salaries and therefore makes for terrible optics). If outlets didn’t adapt with new income streams, more magazines would have folded this year.
For publicists, affiliate marketing can be love or hate. It’s awful to see an editor love a great and deserving brand but exclude them because they’re not willing to give up all their income to Amazon or Skimlinks. However, affiliate linking can also be the gift that keeps giving. If you form a relationship with someone who is always sourcing affiliated products for stories, all you need is a great product that wins their favor. They’re going to include products they love because they have to include products daily. Affiliate is never make or break – if an editor loves a product they will find a way to include, regardless of the affiliate or not. But affiliates mean they can mention a product whenever its relevant not just when its pertinent.
This could be the difference between one mention and multiple mentions per month. Example: A beloved CBD & CBN capsule that isn’t included on an affiliate network will definitely get included in “Best CBD for Sleep” because it’s hyper relevant and consumers need to know about this product. However if that product is also now on Skimlinks, it will be included in roundups of “Travel Essentials,” “Sleep essentials,” “Best things for a night time routine,” and “best CBD for wellness”. Many more doors open with affiliate marketing.
If you’re looking to explore affiliate marketing for your brand, I suggest starting with Skimlinks and work your way out. Skimlinks is the name I’ve heard the most from commerce departments. Well besides Amazon, but my vice clients are often limited here. If you have a custom affiliate link program – it may help with boutique outlets but your publicist probably won’t spend hours trying to set up affiliate networks. If you’re interested in PR for 2021, look into affiliate marketing and if you’re serious about Affiliate marketing, get on Skimlinks. And I should probably say, I’m not affiliated with Skimlinks at all but gosh it makes my life so much easier when my babes are willing to shell out the monthly fee to be listed.
For brands looking to get a jumpstart on PR for 2021, MAVPR is offering $1,000 off your first month if you sign on before January 15, 2021.
To learn more about becoming a client, please visit: https://www.melissaavitale.com/become-a-client.html
Why PR Is an essential for 2021 and how to make the most of your campaign
By Melissa A Vitale
To say that 2020 wasn’t the year we anticipated back when we were so doe-eyed and naïve on December 31st 2019 is a gross understatement. As business owners, we had to confront our worst fears this year: what would happen to my business if I were to contract the novel coronavirus? We’ve probably all faced are fear of dying with every cough we had. This year has been an absolute roller coaster to put it as eloquently as possible. Despite all that, two unsuspected industries came out swinging: legalization and the end of the War on Drugs swept the 2020 election during a year where cannabis sales reached record heights. Sexual Wellness and Pleasure-tech brands also made out like bandits this year. Most intimacy companies reported spikes in sales from 300 – 800% when compared to the year prior. As an exclusively vice-category publicist with the same M.O., I still can’t believe how universally consumers turned to masturbation, pleasure, cannabis and CBD when faced with the unpredictable. If there’s one thing we learned in 2020 its that when the times get tough, people turn to their vices for help.
As the year rounds off, we’re faced with a lot of decisions going into 2021: for many business owners, reassessing investment in consumer awareness and marketing is at the top of the list. When last year started, a majority of marketing budgets were allocated for tradeshows, event sponsorships or advertising at in-person venues like sporting arenas, airlines, subways and more. The past year has forced entrepreneurs and executives
In December of 2019, I wouldn’t have told you Public Relations is a marketing essential, even though I’m a publicist who has seen how PR can transform a brand. If you have a big launch in the first few months of the year, then yes, public relations will be an essential part of a powerful debut. This year, everything is changed. As I’m looking at gift guides of 2020 and making predictions for 2021, I honestly don’t know if a brand can experience consistent, turnkey media coverage without a publicist with the current media landscape.
PR Is more valuable than ever before
Public relations is more valuable than ever before. As a result of media ad spots being abandoned by major industries as they grapple with layoffs, advertising costs have skyrocketed. Last year, a product placement in an outlet like Well & Good carried an advertising cost of about $8,000. In 2020, that cost has gone up to between $20,000 - $50,000 for a single product placement or article mention. A publicist places products without advertising fees, allowing brands to avoid escalated advertising fees. That means brands without public relations efforts for 2021 may be looking at spending $20K for a single placement.
Dedicated hours to creating relationships with your brand
Before 2020, media coverage for a new startup was relatively simple. A few hours of research and some serendipitous follows on social media and you could be on your way to having a brand profile in Allure or Fast Company. However, for any entrepreneur or executive who has a primary role outside of their company’s media relations, maintaining consistent coverage takes hours of time, and creativity to create fresh brand stories that reflect the audience interest of the current newscycle. Typically for a brand to see consistent coverage in top tier outlets, there needs to be at least 20 hours of journalist pitching just to see two placements a month. While entrepreneurs can easily pitch their brand (and often times, journalists like to hear from startup founders personally), they just don’t have the bandwidth to maintain those hours while running their business. I’ve been blessed with press-worthy clients who come to me with an impressive resume of press coverage before working with a publicist. But in my experience, I have yet to see an entrepreneur that can maintain the same caliber of consistent coverage when compared to a publicist who dedicates their full-time job to media relations.
Now going into 2021, for the reasons I’m about to get into, we’re now seeing that 25 hours is the bare minimum for a brand to reach that minimum of two placements a month with 35+ hours recommended for more lofty press goals.
The state of Media going into 2021
2020 has gutted the media industry. Think of the last time pre-pandemic you were surfing Business Insider or NYPost. The advertisers you saw a lot of were national chain restaurants, airlines, travel destinations, sporting teams and events. While many of these industries are surviving, advertising while debating layoffs is a big public-relations no-no.
Media subscribership is already down and has been over the last ten years. Every year we see another publication fold. Many of us remember receiving Departures, Money Magazine and other publications that have gone digital-only or have closed all together. For every story that gets published, there can be one writer (either staff or freelance) plus two-three editors. When layoffs come to media houses, it’s the writers and editors that feel the changes, not the executives and creative directors. One editor being taken off staff can create a bottle neck of stories that transform the focus on what pitches get accepted.
You cannot talk to a journalist or editor for long before you’ll hear the battle stories from the media industry during a pandemic. Freelance commissions took a hit starting in March and continued throughout the year. Many media outlets experienced lay-offs that wiped out entire departments. Every media outlet is being asked to cover both evergreen topics like “best beauty buys for fall” and “What industry trends to expect in 2021” while also covering the political climate like the 2020 presidential election, social justice movement including creating resources for dismantling systemic injustice for their audiences and of course, the pandemic. They’re supposed to do this with less budget and resources than they had in 2019.
Unless a brand is a big advertiser or working with a skilled publicist who knows which media outlets have bandwidth for features, it’ll be increasingly difficult for brands to secure consistent feature coverage throughout the year.
Affiliate is King
Advertising still motivates media but the who and how have transformed significantly. Previously, banner and native ads and advertorials were the top form of revenue for media outlets. Airlines would buy out banner space throughout places like Forbes, GQ and more. Advertising packages on the website or in an advertorial usually have a $20K starting price tag leaving it an inaccessible option for most startups. While affiliate marketing has been on the rise the last handful of years, now it’s the main focus of many media outlets when it comes to product recommendations.
This trend is still true: having an affiliate program won’t determine if your brand will or won’t be successful in press. A good brand working with a reputable publicist will be able to garner media coverage even without an affiliate program or retailing on popular affiliate sites like Amazon or Target. However, an affiliate program can determine to what degree of success a brand enjoys with media relations. If a commerce editor of writer loves a brand retailing on Amazon or in an affiliate program like Skimlinks, their products be included in any number of roundups. For instance, a CBD oil on Skimlinks can be included in stories about sleep aids, relaxation, even yoga and fitness essentials. A CBD brand without affiliates will likely only see features on affiliate-forward sites for roundups like CBD products or in a story that doesn’t depend on affiliate links. Affiliate links always broaden the possibility of potentials to feature with.
Now with COVID, affiliates are some of the main focuses of outlets whose advertising partners have pulled back their budgets. Sites like New York Post.com, who have historically never published product roundups, now have entire commerce teams. For those not in the media relations trenches, when you hear or see “Commerce Editor” or “Commerce Writer” you’re likely talking about affiliate or advertising programs. Everyone is trying to make money these days, so affiliate-forward product roundups still carry a lot of weight in terms of recognition and consumer traction.
Luckily for CBD, cannabis and sex wellness brands with limitations on affiliate programs, there are other things brands can do to amplify their press opportunities for 2021.
Branding, Consumer Experience & Celebrity Endorsements
Not only has media shifted, but media relations have also taken a drastic turn. The consumer experience of the product has become key. Before, a great brand didn’t need the top-of-the-line branding or an entire suite of branded marketing materials like mailers, tissue paper, product cards and more. An exciting company with an enigmatic CEO could charm press at events, tradeshows and desksides. With everything virtual, the product experience does most of the talking when introducing brands to press. A brand that creates a themed sendout with a beautiful, branded package, matching hand-written cards and a collection of themed products is more likely to not only get shown off on social media but journalists are more likely to remember a meaningful introduction like that when writing upcoming relevant stories.
I have to make one advisement with mailers and consumer experience: Prioritize eco-consciousness over design. Press get tons of mailers throughout the year and if they get a couple at a time, they can really see how much waste comes from each mailer. You can find easy ways to be eco-friendly while still maintaining a desired brand aesthetic.
Twenty years ago, a vice brand could only partner with an A-list celebrity in their wildest dreams. In the final six months of 2020 alone, celebrities like Cardi B and Cara Delevingne have signed on with or have endorsed sex tech companies while celebrities like Martha Stewart and Kristen Bell have launched their own lines of CBD products. This is good news for our industry: celebrity endorsements is a huge step in the right direction of raising awareness and abolishing stigma. For bootstrapped startups though, this news is deflating. It shouldn’t be that newsworthy that a successful global brand can afford a celebrity endorsement. Often times accessible, quality brands who are bringing new consumers to the market more than the high-end products endorsed by celebrities, are getting passed up for coverage because the product doesn’t include a chance to have a zoom interview a celebrity. Luckily, despite some of the more foreboding tales of woe of this post, there is enough media to go around for all the brands. Which is why for brands who aren’t working with A-List celebrities, public relations is so important for 2021.
For brands looking to get a jumpstart on PR for 2021, MAVPR is offering $1,000 off the first month for brands signing on before January 15, 2021
To set up an introductory call to discuss your goals and receive a proposal, please visit: https://www.melissaavitale.com/services.html
Melissa A Vitale Public Relations
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups in artificial intelligence, sexual wellness and legal cannabis.