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Growing pains: A better way forward for fast-rising performance PR

by | Mar 24, 2023 | Public Relations

Amidst the New York Times’ positive quarterly earnings call in early February was the sustained success of one of the best news media acquisitions ever. Wirecutter, the product recommendation brand it acquired in 2016, showed 20 percent growth in the quarter, its affiliate revenue a major component of the $72 million in “other” revenue the company earned in Q4 2022.

Wirecutter pioneered the mix of unimpeachable editorial standards while making money through affiliate links for its recommended products, creating a gold rush of competitors. Now, consumers can choose between NY Mag’s The Strategist, CNN Underscored, and many other standalone sites. In addition, publications like Gizmodo, Vogue, and many others are now including affiliate links.

That means performance PR—the strategy of working with publications to supply these pay-for-performance affiliate links—is big business

Of the estimated $13 billion estimated to be spent on affiliate marketing in 2023, about 40 percent (or $5.2 billion) is generated through performance PR. Publications still retain editorial control but reap benefits if their editorial content leads a consumer to make a purchase. It’s a win-win, and publications are investing increasing resources and inventory to performance PR as part of their plans for the future.

It’s a healthy and transparent ecosystem

Reputable publications providing guidance to that shopper about the brand or product in question has an undeniable influence on that buyer’s journey. And if a consumer is searching for information about a brand, one of its products, or even just for its category generally, Performance PR articles are sometimes ranking on page 1 of Google results. This impact is compounded exponentially when those same articles are designed to entice consumers to click to convert right then and there.

It is difficult to overstate how valuable performance PR can be for a brand

Affiliate marketing agencies, which have long managed pay-for-performance campaigns, practically invented this tactic. But increasingly, traditional PR agencies are looking to handle performance PR for their clients, especially considering more and more publications are declining traditional product pitches in lieu of working directly with the parties responsible for performance PR. This middle ground of affiliate marketing and PR means multiple players are vying for business in this burgeoning space.

Here’s why performance PR is best handled by companies already doing affiliate marketing:

  • Performance PR is only one facet of a comprehensive affiliate marketing program that must work with laser-like precision. Affiliate programs must have the full funnel of affiliate contributors, including performance PR, loyalty partners, rewards partners, influencers, and many more. Embracing this holistic strategy opens up a brand’s ability to maximize incremental revenue and new customer acquisition.
  • Affiliate marketing agencies possess the unique combination of partner strategy and planning expertise to maximize contributions from all of these affiliate categories. Only recently have traditional PR agencies begun to engage with Performance PR contributors, which is again only a single facet of a thriving affiliate program.
  • Affiliate marketing agencies have already established relationships with many ecommerce editors and writers. Traditional PR agencies increasingly find editors at many publications who prefer working with those already invested in performance PR.
  • For the shrinking traditional product PR that does not include pay-for-performance linking, affiliate marketing teams are more than capable of adding that to their arsenal to pitch traditional PR inventory as it is a seamless part of the campaign. Put another way, it’s much easier for a performance PR campaign to include traditional outreach than vice versa.
  • Traditional PR agencies don’t have the same comfortability and connections with the editors who manage the affiliate relationships at these publications. Performance PR is about speed and providing value to those editors, attributes at which affiliate marketers excel.

Ultimately, PR agencies are as invaluable to their clients as ever

They provide holistic communications strategy, brand building, crisis communications, and more. But the rise of performance PR means those doing traditional product PR will find it harder to succeed in a world where editorial sources prefer pay-for-performance linkage.

Brands depend on performance PR as an important sales channel, so they must work with the right partners with experience in both performance PR and affiliate marketing to make sure the program is as successful as possible.

Kristina Nolan
Kristina Nolan is VP of Media Service at DMi Partners.

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