The importance of affiliate marketing in a PR world: a partnership that pays

A column by Kathryn Byberg, Managing Director and Founder of Little Leaf PR Agency

The first thing I ask any new client who wants PR support for their brand is ‘Do you offer an affiliate marketing programme?’. You might ask, what has affiliate marketing got to do with PR and the short answer is that when it comes to online PR coverage in the USA and UK, it can be a game changer, and it’s becoming ever more important in the rest of Europe too. Affiliate marketing is a critical component of any brand’s overall e-commerce growth and it can be the key to securing online earned coverage in top-tier publications

First things first, what exactly is affiliate marketing?

It’s a type of performance-based marketing by which brands reward publishers for driving traffic from their site to the brand’s site by offering a commission on any sales generated.

And many big online publishers, like Buzzfeed, Vice and Good Housekeeping are turning to affiliate marketing to fill the gap left behind when advertising budgets from brands started to dry up.

Without the need for extensive financial investment, affiliate marketing is a valuable way for publishers, publications, influencers, bloggers and other partners to make money, but all in a low-risk, financially viable way for the brand. No one makes any money unless sales are generated.

In today’s world where consumers are shopping online more than ever, this is essentially what makes affiliate marketing so successful and why it is a must-have tool in any PR strategy.

Let’s look at a “listicle” online, like a round-up of the best sex toys for clit owners. On any of the big online media publications such as Cosmo, Women’s Health, and Bustle, they rarely link readers directly back to a brand or retailer’s website instead, they link to the brand’s website via an affiliate link. These links are fed through a third-party affiliate network, such as Awin, Shareasale, Skimlinks and track what publication or online source the traffic is coming from and whether a sale was generated or not. They then let the brand know how much commission is owed to the publisher.

Networks also make it easier to track how much value affiliate links are providing to your brand. With an affiliate network you can also see at what point in the sales funnel the affiliate link was clicked. They can also see if someone clicks an affiliate link but doesn’t buy straight away, and comes back to buy at a later date. This sale can still be attributed to the affiliate link.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see that affiliate marketing is not just beneficial to the publisher who is potentially going to earn money but it’s also a great option for brands.

When the pandemic hit, many brands pulled their advertising budgets which many of the big media publishing houses and websites relied on. In times gone by a brand would have pumped money into online or print advertising and in turn taken the risk that it might pay off and be successful or it might tank. With affiliate marketing, a brand only needs to pay money if sales are generated.

From the publisher’s side, their affiliate managers track which websites are generating commission, and encourage the editorial teams to link to these sites. If your website has a high cart value and a solid conversion rate, then the chances are the publisher will notice this and be inclined to publish more about your brand.

What we’re also starting to notice is that big media publications are partnering with their preferred brand to offer big sales throughout the year, offering big deals similar to Black Friday or Amazon Prime Day. These kinds of sales are a great way for brands in the sexual wellness space to get involved and not only gain sales but also secure top-tier mainstream coverage in publications that perhaps would have previously not been willing to feature them.

The interesting thing about affiliate marketing is also that while news publications are a big player in the game, they haven’t monopolised the market. Smaller publications, influencers, bloggers, and product reviewers, all can sign up and benefit. The good thing for brands here is that each avenue offers a different, varied audience, each one as valuable as the last.

Since affiliate marketing is having a variety of people and publications spreading the word about your business or brand, often in a positive positive way, you essentially have a group of brand ambassadors, advertising your brand. Companies can build relationships with influential bloggers, social media influencers and media contacts to help drive organic traffic to their site.

As many businesses struggle to recover from the impact of COVID-19 and are facing a looming recession, affiliate marketing is a valuable channel for getting specific products in front of relevant, interested audiences and should be a consideration in any effective PR campaign.

This powerful e-commerce tool can keep a brand at the forefront, increasing brand awareness, driving revenue and gaining customers – one click at a time.