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PR’s Continued Adoption of Affiliate Strategies Brings Opportunity and Competition

Dec 29, 2022 by Madeline Kaufman

Lauren Kleinman, founder of Dreamday PR and co-founder of The Quality Edit, got her first taste of affiliate agencies in 2015, when she was on the founding team at Ritual, a direct to consumer vitamin company. At Ritual, she managed the company’s PR strategy and agencies. She was also searching for an affiliate agency but couldn’t find one she trusted with the premium supplement that did not discount. On the PR side, Lauren worked with several top-tier agencies, but none of them understood the impact editorial inclusions had on the bottom line of the company. “It felt like we were only getting halfway there,” Kleinman said. At the time, PR agencies did not understand affiliate marketing, and the coupon and loyalty publishers that affiliate agencies were offering did not have the audience Ritual was looking for.

Ritual’s partnership with Buzzfeed was one of the company’s first affiliate partnerships with content commerce publishers. For Kleinman, a light bulb went off. She saw they were utilizing affiliate links and the testimonial was performing so well–accomplishing brand storytelling while also driving clicks and revenue.

“In the background, I saw that publishing was evolving from traditional to commerce, and there were learnings on what could be done differently on the affiliate and PR side,” Kleinman said. That’s when she started to look at how the company could “meet publishers where they’re at and help them to understand the business opportunity in partnering with brands in a direct capacity,” she said, adding that’s what she felt was missing from PR agencies. Additionally, she saw a chance to editorially highlight what was interesting or new about the brand.

“Performance PR,” a term dubbed by Kleinman and one that is pending trademark, is the answer to what she was searching for years earlier. At its core, performance PR “sits at the intersection of affiliate marketing focused on top-tier publishers and commerce and consumer PR,” according to Kleinman. Dreamday is working to modernize traditional PR into one holistic scope, because the team sees affiliate and PR as interwoven and synergistic.

The main catalyst that has made performance PR grow is the rise of content commerce and mass media publishers like CNN, Forbes and Condé Nast doubling down on their affiliate revenue operations. These publishers were higher up in the funnel than traditional affiliate industry veterans and came from highly-influential, legacy titles. “A lot of luxury brands, or brands that are really building a specific identity, are very tuned into the top of funnel placements,” said Jessy Klein Fofana, the founder of LaRue PR. “This approach of storytelling to affiliate has worked really well for the brands that are really protective of a specific identity and storyline for their company or business.”

In addition, traditional media companies have grown to expect affiliate pitches when hearing from agencies, whether on the PR or the affiliate side. “For a long time [with] those media pubs, there was a wall between commerce and content and it was really hard to work with,” said Jamie Birch, founder of JEB Commerce. “That wall has come down, and now if someone wants content, the first question the editorial team asks is ‘what is your affiliate program?’ We have to work with those media companies a little different, but a lot is the same.” There is now a clear and inherent value in combining these two tactics.

Pitching and publisher interaction are the main ways that differentiate performance PR agencies from traditional affiliate or PR agencies. Assembling a contact list of both editorial and affiliate managers is essential for performance PR agencies to ensure you get the information where it’s needed. “A traditional PR agency would only be pitching traditional PR contacts, sometimes commerce contacts as well, but they’re definitely not focusing on affiliate marketing contacts–relationships I have been building for the past 8+ years,” Kleinman said.

Secondly, Dreamday is focused on editorial and awareness value, while still communicating why partnering with the brand is a smart business decision. “Most affiliate agencies are really cut and dry with their pitches,” Kleinman said. “They will share that you can partner with this brand and receive this commission rate, but nothing is exciting or interesting about why you’d want to partner with the brand. Our pitches are concise but editorialized, so it provides a lot more context and is just a lot more compelling.”

Finally, there is always a business component to the pitch. “We pitch commerce editors [on] what’s interesting about the brand,” Kleinman said. “We always include affiliate links. We understand how to be competitive with our offer based on the success that we’ve had with that publication on behalf of that brand, so we’re not really walking into the pitch blind,” Kleinman said. Performance PR agencies are seeing growing interest for their services because they are merging together the lists of both affiliate managers and editorial staffers and painting a larger business and editorial picture.

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