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, ShareASale, 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. ShareASale and Skimlinks are the names 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 with affiliate marketing, and get on either a ShareASale or Skimlinks. Every one of my clients has seen the ROI on the monthly / annual fee. [Disclaimer: I wish I was paid by Skimlinks/ShareASale for this post]
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A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups across plant and intimate wellness