As the holidays approach, consumers are likely to come across gift guides naming the top ten items for [insert relationship]. It’s likely some, if not most, of those gifts have affiliate links.
These items have trackable links that lead users to sites where they can purchase the product. Publishers earn a commission when consumers purchase recommended products from these links. Typically this is mentioned in language on the site.
Many recommendation sites include products with affiliate links, like The New York Times’ Wirecutter or CNN Underscored, but they state that items are tested rigorously before they are recommended.
Wirecutter, for example, notes: "We earn money through subscriptions and various affiliate marketing programs. That means we may get paid commissions on products purchased through our links to retailer sites. However, we recommend products based on our independent research, analysis, interviews, and testing."
Pitching with Affiliates
Yet some publishers recommend only products with affiliate links. Accordingly, media relations pros pitching items that lack those links may be shut out.
Alyssa Garnick, founder of Agean Public Relations, estimates it's “25-50% harder" to garner media placements for a product that lacks an affiliate link. Adds Priscila Martinez, founder of Los Angeles-based The Brand Agency, products without an affiliate network sometimes are “precluded from opportunities, even [when it is] a superior product.”
On the other hand, in the experience of Jennifer Magaña, PR division lead, Beyond Fifteen Communications, getting turned down on a pitch because a product lacks an affiliate network "is more a rarity than the rule." She adds that most gift guides are not affiliate marketing-only outlets.
Still, as a result of the caveats surrounding product mentions and gift guides, it's important PR pros know their options, including working with affiliate marketing. Says JBC partner and managing director Melissa Duren Conner, affiliate marketing "should supplement your earned opportunities, not replace them."
Transparency dictates that media pitches for products with affiliate links include details about the seller's affiliate network and commission structure. The copy resembles a regular pitch, but includes phrases like Products are also available on affiliate networks, including X, Y and Z.
More and more publishers are using affiliate marketing to diversity their revenue streams. One study shows 84 percent of global publishers use affiliate marketing, though it's unclear how many restrict media placement based on such links. Even more staggering, there are 11,000+ affiliate programs.
On the down side, companies that use affiliate marketing give up a percentage of sales revenue to the network and publisher. The commission structure varies among affiliate network platforms, but small and medium-sized companies may find the percentages a barrier to entry.
Still, for companies that can afford affiliate marketing, there are benefits. Martinez argues clients "make up for [lost revenue] because affiliate links "drive so much conversion.”
At this point, PR pros are educating companies about affiliate marketing. Martinez compares the process to discussions PR pros had years ago about the importance of launching a social media presence.
“We’re on that same trajectory,” she says, “where we’re educating our clients as to why they have to be competitive in the [affiliate marketing] space.”
For those companies that remain hesitant, Martinez recommends starting slowly, with Amazon Associates, whose commissions range from 1 to 20 percent, depending on the product category. “Dip your toe in and see the vast difference that you're going to get when you are pitching” a product on a network versus without, Martinez advises.
Pitching an Affiliate
As noted, some outlets, particularly those with commerce editors, write only about products with affiliate links. In other instances, writers may debate including a non-affiliate product in a guide or story, while others will simply skip the back and forth and preclude the item from inclusion, adds Martinez.
And with tools like the Chrome extension Affilitizer, it’s easy for reporters to find brands and products with affiliate programs to recommend.
Now that Amazon sponsors Oprah's Favorite Things, “the scales have officially tipped,” Garnick argues. “Products need to be [on affiliate networks], not just for selling but for pitching and placements in media.”
Some companies enlist PR agencies to guide them along the affiliate path. Typically these firms deploy staff trained in composing language about affiliates in media pitches and educating companies about the affiliate onboarding process. In addition, some will negotiate the commission structure with affiliate platforms on the seller's behalf, Martinez says.