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Iva Pawling, a channel President at Francesca’s and Co-Founder of Richer Poorer & Jessy Fofana, Founder of LaRue PR

Oct 6, 2023 by Michael McNerney

Iva Pawling, a channel President at francesca's and Co-Founder of Richer Poorer grew the business in part through development smart, strategic distribution agreements. Partnerships that in some ways reflect the affiliate agreements that now drive a good portion of business. 

NOTE: Join Iva on our October 16th webinar to hear more about how she uses affiliate as story telling device. 

“I think the consumer is a little tired of the whole storytelling piece,” she said. “Nobody is disrupting anything anymore so it’s about ‘why this product is good?’ or ‘why do I come to you?’” That branding pitch has to be succinct as well, especially in an era when so much is competing for consumers’ short attention spans. 

Still, that storytelling has to be strategic for today’s consumer, Pawling said. 

But the “how” of delivering that message can be left up to influencers or other affiliate partners, Pawling said. Just as she wouldn’t force a script on a brand ambassador, she’s not going to control every aspect of an affiliate partner’s approach. 

“The best content is what they know works well,” Pawling said. “So give them that control; give them some guardrails as to ‘this is what’s important to deliver, now do it how you do it best to your audience because you should know them best.’”

From a customer lens, Pawling said the company views publisher relationships and affiliate relationships similarly, though they obviously don’t operate the same way. 

“We look at it as where can we get the most eyeballs on the brand,” Pawling said, explaining that a trusted mom-and-pop boutique and a popular influencer can have a similar impact because their audience converts at a high rate. Even if that doesn’t drive revenue at scale, those are important relationships to cultivate and help grow brand awareness, Pawling said.

Despite the notion that PR is the soft side of marketing and affiliate represents the harder side, Pawling said affiliate for Richer Poorer, franki and francesca’s, affiliate now sits pretty evenly between the digital spend and the brand spend sides of the business, but reports into the brand team. 

LaRue PR also sees an opportunity in striking that balance.

“There are really great people deep in affiliate and really great people in PR,” Klein Fofana said. “The secret sauce is melding the two.”

LaRue PR began exploring affiliate marketing about five years ago and has been “hardcore focused on” those opportunities for about the last three years, said Jessy Klein Fofana, La Rue’s founder and CEO. 

Before LaRue’s interest in the space, the clothing brand Richer Poorer was also not concentrating on affiliate. At the time, it was a largely unexplored idea that PR could work hand-in-hand with affiliate toward many of the same goals, said Iva Pawling, the president of Richer Poorer, franki and wholesale under francesca’s group of brands. (Richer Poorer was acquired by francesca’s in the spring of 2023.)

“That PR and affiliate and affiliate were coming into one world was very new,” Pawling said. Richer Poorer was a client of LaRue and “when Jessy brought that [idea], I was like ‘Oh my god, you’re a genius – that’s where PR needs to be going.”

LaRue didn’t approach affiliate from the digital marketing, “performance purist place,” but rather from the perspective of a public relations tool. 

“It was sort of encroaching on our turf and because of that, we embraced it,” Klein Fofana said. That perspective continues today, particularly when working with top publishers, she said. Though there are plenty of agencies and affiliate organizations that may approach affiliate from the opposite angle – more performance-focused, LaRue has always come from a storytelling point of view, Klein Fofana said. As an agency, LaRue is primarily starting conversations at the top of the funnel with premium publishers because the focus is a more traditional PR strategy. That’s not to say the mid and lower parts of the funnel aren’t important, but building a narrative remains key for top publishers who want to continue their commitment to editorial integrity. 

For both Francescas and LaRue, affiliate is a brand building activity because it allows them to differentiate and position products effectively. That is drives a measurable sale is almost secondary.