Expert Insights

A New Threat to Earned Media: Affiliate Marketing

By: Lindsey Hartman, Executive Director
Jen Kron, Executive Director

It’s no surprise that in the ever-changing media landscape where legacy titles are folding and resources are being reduced, outlets are looking for new ways to stay relevant and profitable.

But, what may surprise you, is a new revenue strategy that outlets are executing that is blurring the lines between earned and paid media more than ever before, called Affiliate Marketing.

Not to be confused with television network affiliate feeds or stations, Affiliate Marketing is a form of performance-based marketing where a business or brand compensates publishers for sales of its products or services that result from the outlet’s promotion of said products or services.

Here are five things to know about this new threat to earned media:

  1. What does an affiliate story look like? An affiliate story looks much like an editorial product news or round-up story that you are reading every day on your favorite sites. Like other forms of paid content, outlets want these stories to resonate with their audience (remember, they’re looking for readers to click through to buy goods!) so they make them look as editorial as possible, based around angles that their audience is interested in.
    Here’s an example, of an affiliate story on Looks editorial, right?
  1. What types of outlets are executing affiliate marketing? Most affiliate content is built around consumer products and services that can be purchased online. With that, online consumer lifestyle media have been employing this strategy the most, but online news and business outlets, like Business Insider and Money, are also using affiliate links in product stories. Even CNN is playing in this space – they have an entire section on their site called Underscored that is dedicated to this content.
  2. Who is writing these stories? On-staff writers and editors, who are on the “eCommerce” or “shopping” beat. Because of the success publishers are seeing regarding revenue returns, they are investing more and more in hiring these writers – publishing groups are hiring them to work across titles, specific outlets are hiring them for their staff, some publications have groups of these writers – not just one.
  3. Are editors who are writing these stories pitchable? Yes, eCommerce and shopping editors can be pitched directly and will consider story ideas. They have been hired to solely pump out affiliate content. And, sometimes, depending on the story and if the outlet has an affiliate partnership, an editorial contact may bring in an affiliate writer to cover a story.
  4. How is an affiliate partnership disclosed? Publishers are required to disclose that they are compensated for sales of items that result from their coverage. You will find disclosure language at the top or bottom of a story that contains affiliate links. Disclosure language varies by outlet. For example:

So, what should earned media pros do about Affiliate Marketing? EMBRACE IT. These partnerships are working hard, driving revenue for both brands and publishers. As the industry continues to evolve, we need to evolve right along with it. Partnering with our clients’ Affiliate Marketing teams to build complementary strategies is one new way to do it.