Season 02 / Episode 024
PR and Affiliate Marketing are Merging, a discussion with Blagica Bottigliero
With Blagica Bottigliero - Director of Affiliate Marketing, JEBCommerce
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On this episode Jamie chats with JEBCommerce’s own Director of Affiliate Marketing, Blagica Bottigliero, about the convergence of Affiliate Marketing and Public Relations (PR).
We noticed a trend occurring over a year ago with more PR professionals and agencies entering the affiliate marketing space. It’s one of the reasons we set out to find someone with significant affiliate marketing AND PR chops to lead our Affiliate Marketing team. And Blagica fits the bill perfectly being a pioneer in the affiliate space (managing the Orbitz affiliate program back in the day) and having significant experience and success in the PR world with her time at Edelman. She also has significant experience in social marketing as well.
Oh, did we mention she won an Emmy for her marketing? It’s true.
On today’s episode we discuss the following topics:
- The general merging ofAffiliate Marketing and PR, and how that impacts affiliates, PR professionals, and advertisers
- How Affiliate Marketing and Public Relations are very similar in relationship building and pitching/recruiting publishers
- How the advancing technology of the affiliate channel can help PR firms and professionals track way more than they have before and protect the top-of-funnel publishers and track outside of pixels
- How affiliate marketing can increase the speed and reach of PR campaigns
- How we need to change our KPIs to measure in this new world
You can reach out and follow Blagica on LinkedIn.
And don’t forget to read our blog posts on the subject:
- Welcoming Public Relations to the Affiliate Marketing Party
- Affiliate Marketing Can Boost the Speed of Public Relations
- KPIs Need to Change With the Merging of PR and Affiliate Marketing
- Affiliate Recruitment and PR Pitching Have a Ton in Common
- Technology Available to PR Teams Through Affiliate Marketing
About Our Guest
Blagica’s been in some form of the dot com space for 20+ years. She and Jamie met back in their affiliate days. She was at Orbitz and he was at Coldwater Creek. After experiences on the brand side, agency side, startups and her own ventures, Blagica decided to come back to the eCommerce and Affiliate Marketing worlds last year (2021).
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[00:02:43] Jamie Birch: All right. Blagica, thanks for joining us, me, on the podcast again. I think you’re our first second appearance. Maybe after five, you get a jacket like Saturday Night Live. I don’t know if we’ve done that yet.
[00:02:55] Blagica Bottigliero: SNL, yes. Yes, yes. Woot woot, number two. Happy to be here.
[00:02:58] JB: Is it a green jacket, a gold jacket?
[00:03:01] BB: I think it was a purple jacket. It tied. It looked like a smokers’ jacket. That’s what they used at SNL.
[00:03:08] JB: Okay, that’s what it is. Yeah. So maybe once we get two to five, then we’ll do that. But, yeah, thanks for joining me. So I wanted to talk to you about what’s going on in the affiliate space. We recently put out some content on our website about the merging of public relations and affiliate marketing and what’s going on there. So talk to me a little bit about –
Well, before we go, for our listeners, we at JEB kind of saw this happening maybe starting at the beginning of COVID, these changes happening, public relations, PR firms being more active in this channel. That’s one of the reasons that we looked and recruited you. So maybe you can give listeners just a little background about why your unique CV, that puts you in a good place to lead our clients, our accounts and our team into this new. Then let’s talk about PR.
[00:04:02] BB: I loved working in PR. So for a part of my career, I had the good fortune to work at Edelman, which is I believe still the biggest independently-owned PR firm. I first started on the consumer side and went on the digital side. I got a bird’s eye view about how PR works and the machine behind PR, relationships, working with publishers, but more so working with the reporters, and the creators, and the editors of those publications.
What shifted within the space is clients and brands still love the coverage. They want PR. They want that morning segment on the Today Show or Good Morning America. Or they want that spot on an entertainment show or even a product placement in a magazine when you see new products launched. But brands now are so constricted with their budgets, and they’re able to see performance marketing come out from different channels of how they run things, whether it’s social media, paid, and so on. They are realizing, the clients, that they want to see more in terms of KPIs for their spend.
At the same time, what was happening from a publisher, à la magazine standpoint, whether you have the Vogues and Styles of the world, publishers were losing revenue when it came to the way that media agencies and media buyers were putting ads on on the web. Pixel tracking was changing. Google and Facebook changed the way in which third-party pixels and cookies were used for consumers and enabled consumers to block those ads or not let those types of technologies follow them on the web, thus eliminating a key revenue source for those publications.
So those publications have now shifted, and they’re shifting faster than ever to performance marketing, whereby an editor will write something about a pair of jeans, and they’ll rate the jeans or talk about the jean or the designer coming to about the jeans. Then the other part of that, that editor works with the commerce person to place a link to those jeans for the consumer to buy. But in return, if a purchase is made, the publication will receive revenue for that.
Why has that changed PR? Well, PR agencies are now being forced to understand how performance marketing works and provide that type of content but also linkage for the publication to have revenue from that piece of news or updates or what have you, enabling the PR firm to also provide that KPI back to their client in terms of purchase or purchase intent.
[00:06:26] JB: So now, they’re able to use the backbone of affiliate marketing to really show how these things are working where they haven’t before.
[00:06:33] BB: Yup. So in terms of bringing that to JEB, because I’ve had that kind of traditional experience to see how that works, kind of meshing that along with the sense of immediacy and understanding what the PR professionals go through, it’s a tall order to help your client get that awareness and those stories. But then adding in this complexity of performance marketing, it’s interesting, and it’s a challenge. It’s one of the reasons why I decided to come on and help merge the two together, in addition to continuing to build out the traditional affiliate marketing model and legacy that we’ve known for the last 20 years.
[00:07:06] JB: Before your experience with PR and social, you’re a true OG in the affiliate space. Give us a little bit about that.
[00:07:15] BB: Gosh. So early on, that’s when you and I met each other. Tangentially, you were over at Coldwater Creek. I was at Orbitz. We were starting affiliate programs. I mean, back then, it was truly trial by fire. We didn’t have any training. We didn’t have any guides. It was just figuring out how to put up links and how to track, and dealing with last click analysis and coupons being taken over from one affiliate versus the other.
So I feel fortunate to have been in the space early on when it started to understand the inner workings of working with publishers, relationships, recruiting. That is, quite frankly, how affiliate marketing is so similar to PR. You’re building a relationship. Affiliate marketing has been doing that for two decades. It’s just a different medium, if you will. So I’m thankful for that experience to see how it started. Quite frankly, a lot of it continues, but I’m happy to see so many technical advancements happen in the affiliate space.
I would argue that affiliate marketers, publishers are some of the most tech savvy people when it comes to the best way to optimize a product or service for a brand to sell it to the right people at the right time. I’d argue they’re better at it than most media buyers.
[00:08:29] JB: Yeah, I agree with you. One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed and I thought has been vital for affiliate marketing, but digital marketing, too, is we have thousands of affiliates, tens of thousands of affiliates that are trying to reach an audience in new and unique ways. So you have all these tests you get to participate in and see what works, what resonates with your audience. They’re always working. They are, I think, the tip of the spear in digital marketing. They eat what they kill, so they have to find ways to make conversions happen. Whereas some other channels, we don’t always have that need for that sort of response.
But with these two channels coming together more than they ever have in any way, what’s that mean for affiliate marketing?
[00:09:16] BB: Well, affiliate marketing also needs to step up their game. This is an opportunity for affiliate marketing to innovate the way that affiliate marketing has always innovated. It just hasn’t been as pronounced or as immediate or as front of news as before. Meaning, affiliate marketing is innovative with things like product feeds and APIs and whatnot. You are reading about that in the Wall Street Journal or in Vogue or seeing it take place at Khan from a trend perspective.
What’s happening now with affiliate marketing, you have seen it, and I have read it in the Wall Street Journal and in Bold Magazine, and it was paramount with publisher spotlights in Khan. That’s huge. That is I think what’s shifted so much. So many eyeballs, as they say, and so much awareness on performance marketing, where we didn’t get that before as a space. It’s quite frankly because of mass media. Because now, the way that people are taking content and absorbing it is in that affiliate marketing/marketing world, and traditional publications are talking about it, and investors are investing in it. We haven’t seen this type of VC cash in affiliate marketing in years. It’s because these investors see, “Oh, another revenue stream. Here’s another way to innovate in the digital marketing space, performance marketing. Let’s invest.”
Do I think that’s saturated in terms of investments? Maybe. But that is why affiliate marketers have to just accept the fact that they’ve always changed. They’ve always iterated and always been ahead of the curve. So now, it’s time to still stay ahead of that curve and realize other folks and other practitioners are coming to the party to also understand how to iterate. Speed is paramount to ensure that your clients’ program, what their goals are, are consistent, and that you’re achieving those goals in whatever way shape or form you need to, given the new world that we’re in.
[00:11:11] JB: Yeah. When you talk about stepping up, the one thing that I think of is all of us in the affiliate space for the last 10 years have been asking for a seat at the digital marketing table because often the affiliate channel hasn’t been. Well, with this influx of funds, this influx of a new channel, it brings a spotlight that we’ve been waiting for and asking for.
With that comes us having to step up, this channel having to step up, and understand what consumers are doing in the space, and be able to report on what that is, and really identify the KPIs that we want to track and the partners that are producing that, and optimize those in ways that we haven’t needed to in the past. I know I’m excited about this. What does all this mean for PR agencies?
[00:11:58] BB: Another opportunity. It’s another opportunity to service your client the way they need to be serviced and adjusting how you do things [like] partnering with people like us. We both understand how to build relationships and how to recruit. We both have different types of people we recruit and look out for. Both of us do dabble in that influencer space. But affiliate marketing could help that when it comes to affluent service, folks who are affiliates, who we reach out to on behalf of clients to become affiliates, who may not be like a large celebrity or large presence there. So collaboration with PR agencies I think is huge.
There are some PR agencies who just don’t have the skill set or the understanding of the technicality behind affiliate marketing, and that’s okay. We actually work with PR agencies today all the time, where some of our PR partners for our clients will go ahead and get the article placement, or they’ll get the coverage for our client. Then they reach out to us to ensure that there is a link for that publisher to ensure that affiliate revenue gets distributed to that publisher upon a sale.
So we work hand-in-hand with PR agencies all the time to maximize their efficiencies at the end. We’re both trying to be as efficient as possible for our client and work together to make sure we: A) reach out to a good mix of people and, B) technically help them implement a solution to make what they do a lot easier, so they can continue getting those placements for those editors while we help them technically on the backend while building out different types of relationships.
[00:13:28] JB: One of the things you mentioned earlier while we were chatting is a lot of commonalities between PR and affiliate, especially in the pitching and relationship building. So talk to that a little bit.
[00:13:38] BB: Gosh. When you are a publisher, you have that first personnel for the most part about who your audience is. The content you put on your site, the way that people interact with you, you most likely have email addresses and first-party data to know who [is] shopping on your site. Who’s taking in the content of what you’re looking for? That means a deeper relationship with that audience.
Similarly, with PR, you know your writers. You know your reporters. You know who covers different beats, as they say. It’s so incredibly similar [to] building that relationship over time and that trust. We have the ability to call up our contacts at RetailMeNot, and Rakuten, and Honey, and Capital One, all the way down to the new mom blogger, the travel blogger, the writer, the foodie, and tell them that we have an amazing new brand, or experience, or an offer, or exclusive for them. The same way a PR professional can call up a writer at The New York Times, or Vogue, or InStyle, or Food & Wine and talk about a new chef, or a new designer, or a newsworthy piece of content that the editor may want to put on the site. It’s the same thing. We’ve been doing it for decades.
I think to your earlier point about seat at the table, the overall advertising space, not just PR, the entire ad industry is finally recognizing those inroads. The key is to make sure that’s respected. Affiliate marketing was seen as not a very polished, sophisticated channel, and it is. It has been, and part of it is forced because of the national press and the articles written, and the analysis about the performance marketing space. I think it’s fantastic. There are similarities with the way that you operate. It’s just different, and I could say that the same way a PR professional knows their beat writer, affiliates know their publications. They know their affiliates.
By the way, like affiliate marketing may say pub. PR says pub. In the world of affiliate marketing, pub typically means publisher. Then in PR, “pub” usually means publication. So sometimes, the word “pub” gets used both ways as well.
[00:15:51] JB: Yeah. One thing you mentioned as well is KPIs in relation to this merging. We recently put out a blog article about that. But how do those roll in? Why is that important to the PR agencies coming in? Why is that important to affiliates?
[00:16:06] BB: Well, I always joke, and I say you give me a click or a coupon code, I can track the hell out of it. That’s what we can do in affiliate marketing. We can track return on advertising spend. We can track empty cart shopping abandonment. We can track that from affiliate marketing. We can track conversions. We can track the lifetime value of a consumer. We can track purchase intent. We can track sales. That type of data is so key for somebody placing that article within a publication because they can report that back to the client to help the client understand if that was worthwhile or how that did overall.
Or even in other examples, if there are 15 influencers, brand ambassadors, that a PR team is working with, we can also work with them from an affluencer, like affiliate marketing standpoint, and see, of those 15, who’s converting. Who is providing content and insight for their consumer to then convert and purchase something for the brand? All in all, again, it all helps the brand. Provides insight to that brand manager, that digital marketing team, to then, over time, hopefully you get more budget to put towards these efforts as performance marketing starts to show better ROI.
[00:17:13] JB: That’s one thing you talk about. All this stuff we can see. The technology now available through the affiliate channel to PR campaigns and PR firms and advertisers through those channels now is dramatically different. You talked about cart abandonment and things like that. Why is it important? Or what other values does affiliate [marketing] bring to the PR channel in regards to this technology, that if we have PR firms or PR pros listening now, that they may not have any ideas available?
[00:17:47] BB: So let’s say there is an article that is placed about – It’s summertime as we record this. Let’s say there’s a PR article about pizza ovens to place in the backyard of your home. That’s placed on a home publication, if you will, and affiliate marketing on link is able to track it. We can, with that information, understand what the user path was of that consumer. How long did they spend on the site? What else did they look at? Were there other complementary products that the consumer checked out from the brand website? Can we report that back to the PR team with, “Hey, here’s some similarities. Here [are] other angles you can take this piece of content.” Whether it’s other publications or talking about other products within the client site, that’s one way that we can also help enhance that experience.
We can also see what was the bounce rate? Did people click to the website from that article and basically go away? Was a separate landing page created for people coming from that article to make sure that the experience was seamless? Then that could also start being compared to other channels like paid social, paid search, SEO. Then over time, we can help that PR firm put together a bevy of really, really contextually relevant publications or sources for that client that are go-tos that we know work. Then over time, we can build the best experience from click to purchase, learning what happened after someone saw the article, absorbed it, and went to the website.
[00:19:16] JB: Yeah, and I think of some other things that they can utilize. I think of the cookie list tracking options that are now available through a bunch of different networks, LinkConnector, and others. I think of one of the most important that a few of the networks have, I think, Partnerize, Impact, ShareASale. They have the ability to protect publishers.
So if a PR firm and an affiliate agency are working with one publisher, and they may be top of the funnel, so now we have this technology we can protect the top-of-funnel. We can say, “If this affiliate is involved, if they are the introducer of this consumer because of this PR piece that was put out, we can protect that so that any affiliate that comes through after that doesn’t get credit for the sale.” So the very valuable top-of-funnel introducer is protected in that. They get that commission. It really shows more true reporting of what they did.
So even some of the platforms and networks have the ability to dice that order up and give the — Inform, or introduce, or in closer a different commission credit for that. So I think of that, and the preferred publisher, and then the cookieless tracking allows the PR firm to be unbridled with what they’re doing, knowing that the affiliate channel can track those things.
[00:20:38] BB: Yeah. To expand on what the cookieless tracking would look like, it could be Jamie10. It would be Jamie10 in terms of the code to use. The PR firm can just tell their partner, once they have to be, of course, in the affiliate program to be tracked vis-à-vis one of these networks who can track cookieless tracking. Then Jamie10 is just used for Jamie. Anybody else who uses it won’t get credit for it because, to your point, there’s protection there.
There are so many aspects that I don’t think are being discussed enough with ensuring that the person using the code or that has the code gets those commissions, gets the credit for those sales and protecting the brand and making sure if let’s say the brand has a limited quantity of something to sell, and they can’t use the code. That’s another perfect example. A lot of technology wins.
[00:21:27] JB: Yeah, there’s even creative. You can have shopping modules on other websites and things like that. Now, the last thing we want to talk about was speed and how affiliate marketing can boost the speed of public relations and the reach. Talk to us about that.
[00:21:42] BB: This is a fun one. Oh, my gosh. I remember when there’s pop culture moments. A celebrity wore these tennis shoes, or somebody was seen eating this hot dog brand, and it’s organic. One of the biggest coos and fun things to do in PR is to take a pop culture moment and just expand it. We all know about Twitter and the real-time Twitter experiences with Oreo, with Wendy’s, and Taco Bell, and those brands. There’s almost a competition with which brand Twitter handle was going to talk about something first. That’s still there. I think brands have gotten better at it.
But affiliate marketing can take that to another level. Example, let’s talk about beds. So let’s say Jennifer Lopez just organically said in an interview, “Oh, my gosh. I had the most amazing sleep. I just bought this new bed, and the brand is XYZ. Absolutely love it.” Or let’s say she posted it on Instagram on her own. That is amazing PR. The PR agency is going to want to do something with that piece of content, whether Tweet it, tell the client about it. The client will want to associate themselves with, “JLo loves my mattress.”
Affiliate marketing, we can help create a digital experience immediately to not just drive traffic to the website, hopefully, the client will make and record time for that mattress of where folks can get it. We can also get on the horn and get a hold of 50 to 200 publishers and partners and say, “Hey, guess what? This bed is going to hit the market. Or it’s on sale. Or we’re calling it the JLo exclusive.” JLo did not approve this message, by the way. JLo, I have no idea what bed she sleeps on. We can push that out immediately and have these publications pushing this offer or exclusive because of JLo mentioning the bed.
That type of speed is just – That’s the world we live in. I mean, come on. I sometimes have no time to cook, and I live in a little town of sorts, and I still sometimes get my Panera chicken Caesar salad delivered to my house because I can’t leave my computer. But I’ll have the app on the phone. Boom, it’s ordered. In 25 minutes, I have salad. That’s how affiliate marketing can work. We have this amazing virtual – I call it army of helpers.
They want the content because they want to bring that to the consumers whom they know really well, and they know their audience. They know what people engage with, whether it’s on Instagram, or Pinterest, or TikTok, or the web. We love being that person to make it happen. Because sales are made, our publishers earn a living, and we make the money. We love doing that, and then our clients also have an efficient sale. Win-win.
[00:24:26] JB: With a whole lot of data to go back to see what worked, what didn’t. The affiliates, like they were born, created, and evolved in a space of flexibility, and nimbleness, and agility, and testing new things. So when it comes to that social phenomenon, something happening in real-time, they were created to move at the speed of social and get that stuff out there. So awesome.
Well, this is a really exciting time. Is there any – Do you have any tips or anything for an advertiser who’s trying to figure out how to put these two together?
[00:25:04] BB: It can be daunting because I’ve been that person on the client-side, where you have a sliver, you have a channel of a bigger marketing budget within the company, and you’re trying to make it as efficient as possible, while you’re also learning new definitions and categories and trying to sort things out. You might hear about what’s an affiliate network. I don’t know what that is. Then what do you do? I don’t understand. Or you may be a client or a brand who has a great piece of content or news and [are] confused as to why an article won’t pick it up or why the commerce person is contacting you at a publication.
We would love to work with you and guide you through what that is and point you to the right partners when it comes to technologies or even PR agencies. We’re happy to do that as well. Feel free to reach out and send us a tweet, send me a tweet, send us an email. We love doing this, and it’s just an exciting time, as you mentioned, and it’s going pretty quickly. It’s just so great seeing everybody come to the party. Welcome. Welcome to the party.
[00:26:03] JB: Yeah, definitely. Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. I know you’re super busy with all our client work, and leading our team, and prepping for a trip, a vacation for the summer. So I will let you go. Thank you for chatting with us today and getting it out there. So, yeah, I will put in the outro how they can get a hold of you if any of our listeners want to continue this conversation with you.
[00:26:25] BB: Great. Thanks, Jamie.
[00:26:27] JB: All right. See you.
[00:26:28] BB: Bye.
[00:26:31] JB: Thank you, Blagica, for your time today. Appreciate you spending a half hour with me and our listeners, talking about this really intriguing and exciting thing going on right now. So if you’re a listener, you want to dive into more, we’re going to include a couple of ways you can reach out to Blagica and have those conversations with her one on one. But you can also go to our blog post at jebcommerce.com/blog. You can read all the articles we have about public relations.
We talk about how affiliate can boost the speed of public relations, the KPIs that need to change with the merging of PR and affiliate marketing, how affiliate recruitment and PR pitching that have a ton in common, and just the technology available to public relations, campaigns and firms that they haven’t had before, and just a general welcoming of these two channels merging together. So go to jebcommerce.com/blog. Definitely, in our show notes, we’re going to link to all those articles. We’re going to provide a way to reach out to us and to reach out to Blagica specifically. So we’ll get that word out there. But, yeah, we would love to help you.
If you’re wondering, “How in the world do these two things fit? How do I manage both of these things,” we would love to help you. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can just go to calendly.com/jamiebirch, and set up time with me directly. I’ll grab Blagica, and we can talk to you about your PR campaigns and how you can utilize all these different things, whether it’d be technology, or partners, or anything. How you can leverage those to make really good decisions and reach your main goals in 2022 and beyond.
So definitely, go to our website, jebcommerce.com/blog. Or if you go to our homepage, jebcommerce.com, you will see a link to all our public relations content. But definitely, check this out. Follow Blagica. She puts out quite a bit of content as well. But thank you so much for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, please share it in your social media, whether that’s LinkedIn, or Facebook, or Twitter. Get that word out there. Send it over to a friend who may be tackling this problem or this opportunity right now and not really sure what they need to do. We would love [it] if you enjoyed this to go to Apple podcast, or Stitcher, Spotify, or your podcast player of choice and leave us a five-star review. That really helps us get the word out.
So anyway, I hope you guys have a great day. I hope you’re enjoying good weather this summer, and let us know, email@example.com, if you need any help at all.