5 Attitudes of Agencies & Brands Towards Affiliates and How to Change Them.

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This is a guest post from Tony Wright, CEO and Founder of WrightIMC.  His contact information is at the bottom of the post.  I met Tony years ago at Pubcon and have been talking to him about the value of Affiliates and why they are a great compliment to any marketing channel and agency.

Tony works with numerous agencies on different levels and hears a million different viewpoints.  His article below will help you as an Affiliate or Affiliate Manager/Agency learn how to work with other Agencies and combat the 5 main negative attitudes towards this amazing channel and help to turn a negative attitude into something positive.

2015 PPC strategies
By @nevenova / purchased from DepositPhotos.com

Turning a Negative Attitude Towards Affiliates into a Positive One.

I started working in an advertising agency – well, it was actually a PR firm that also did advertising – in 1998. Despite woeful lack of qualifications, I was appointed to lead the digital team for this very large agency. My life before had been as a journalist – writing stories about gardening and restaurants, eventually moving up to writing about murder and car wrecks. Even though I had a Master’s Degree, a thesis written on e-commerce and all the ebullient confidence of a cocky 25-year-old, I knew nothing about how brand advertising worked and the politics involved.

I learned my lessons quickly. It didn’t take too many client meetings where I spoke out of turn or said something stupid that I realized I needed to listen and learn. I may have thought I was better than these old fogies (both agency side and client side) who I felt had been doing things wrong for 20 years. But they made the rules. And I had to learn these rules or mire in obscurity for the rest of my career.

In the ensuing decade and a half, I’ve learned more than my share of these rules. I’ve also watched the rules continually change as disruptive technologies and techniques rocked the world of those luddite Mad Men (and women) that loved to make me look like a fool over lobster bisque and wedge salads at our frequent lunch meetings. Of course, the agency always paid for these expensive lunches and then billed them back to the client – but that’s for another post.

I had a client first request my assistance on a “legitimate” affiliate marketing programs sometime around 2003. Before that, I had seen Amazon’s unique programs…and of course, as an SEO I had watched as the adult industry implemented some form or commission compensation for years. But that was for the porn guys. My blue chip, big name clients actually paid me to keep their names off of those sites.

Needless to say, my colleagues and I viewed Affiliate programs (or incentive programs, as we called them then) as rife with brand-damaging implications. But a big client has a way of being right, even when the agency doesn’t think they are. So I wrote my first terms and conditions for affiliates for a technology company that year. I had no idea what I was doing.

Since then, I’ve become good friends with many great affiliate marketers like Adam. I now see the value for the client and that Affiliate Marketers can and do add value when programs are managed correctly. The digital footprint that can be expanded by affiliate marketing is endless – and if done right, everyone wins.

The digital footprint that can be expanded by affiliate marketing is endless – and if done right, everyone wins.

But we all know there is a dark side to this industry. Agencies, especially large, old school agencies, are often asked to help shepherd an affiliate program with little idea of the implications of their sweeping rules and requirements or have the knowledge to know what is actually going on within the programs. When they set up attribution lines, have someone audit a program or learn about the dark side of Affiliate Marketing, their gut reaction can be a bad one for legit partners or the program.  Unfortunately, if you want to work with these larger companies (and you do), you have to put yourself in my shoes 16 years ago – you have to learn to listen to and understand their concerns and show them the value that you can add by being one of their Affiliates or gaining their trust to have them outsource their clients’ programs to your agency.

I’ve come up with five attitudes that many advertising agencies have towards affiliate marketing programs – and how I think Affiliate Marketers and marketing firms should deal with these attitudes. But before we get into those, if you take nothing else from this article – remember what I said just a minute ago. Big clients have a way of being right, even when they aren’t. It’s advertising – where perception is the ultimate reality.

Big clients have a way of being right, even when they aren’t. It’s advertising – where perception is the ultimate reality.

negative views of affiliate marketing
By 72soul / purchased from DepositPhotos.com

The Different Ways Agencies View Affiliates and Affiliate Marketing.

Attitude #1: Affiliates never have the brands best interest in mind: Most agencies view affiliates as hired guns who will do anything – including break any rules or damage the brand – in order to make the sale. Affiliates who ask questions beyond self-serving like “can I bend the rules just a bit” or “can you make one exception” those are the ones that are more likely to get special attention and promotions down the road.

Advice for Attitude #1:  When you start to work with these agencies as an Affiliate, instead of looking to bend the rules, if you see something that you think might damage the company in the rules, or something already happening to the company or client, point it out to the Agency. Chances are the agency or individual running the actual program doesn’t see it or didn’t know about it and you can make a friend for life as well as earn higher commissions and get better response times with questions since you are helping them.

Attitude #2: Affiliate Marketing is something we can just “turn on” or “turn off” when we want: This is probably one of the most dangerous attitudes in the affiliate world. As soon as you get everything set up to start making money, the company shuts down the program. The reason? The results weren’t quick enough and didn’t meet the initial goals established. Of course, the most obvious answer is quick wins – but this isn’t always possible.

Advice for Attitude #2:  The best way to handle this is communication when you see a program folding that you think can work. Explain, in business terms that benefit the company, why they should keep the program going. Most will listen to coherent arguments – although if they are on a budget cycle you might expect the program to shut down temporarily. But be patient and keep you stuff. If your argument is logical, budget can be found in the next quarter or so, usually.  If you wrote a ton of high quality content and they know SEO, remind them that it takes time to index and these are the keywords you are going after.  If that still doesn’t work and the agency won’t listen, you have another option. Go directly to the marketing department within the company and let them see your site, how you add value and work out a deal directly with them.  If they still say no, find a competitor to promote and send your traffic to someone who values you and your sites as a partner.

Attitude #3: Affiliates all use black hat techniques and don’t follow the rules: I don’t know an advertising agency that helps manage affiliate marketing programs that hasn’t run into this. The recent changes in Google’s Aglorithm have made agencies skittish or trusting the brand with those not directly under their control which causes this fear of having an affiliate program.

Advice for Attitude #3:  For God’s sake, follow the rules set out by the company or agency and don’t try to take short-term advantage of a naive corporation. This means adware that can steal or poach or redirect traffic, ranking for or bidding on their brand + coupons or other extensions or other things that can add little or no value. If you do it right, you can have a gravy train that runs for years. Do it wrong and you’ll make a quick buck only to have the spigot cut off very quickly and the program shut down. Affiliate programs that have quality partners that bring in new customers or customers who have a choice in where to shop that can bring in business for the companies keeping the program and your ability to earn commissions live for years.  It also makes the Marketing Firm look good so everyone wins.

Attitude #4: My clients don’t want to use affiliates:

Advice for Attitude #4:  This is ok, affiliate marketing isn’t for everyone. But if there is a company that you want to work with, don’t be afraid to approach them and show them what they are missing. It may be they had a bad experience with the channel a long time ago – or they are only working with certain proven affiliates. If you think you can sell the product, ask to do so. You’ll be surprised how many times the companies will say yes.  You can also tell the marketing firm that you rank for these terms, that they are relevant and ask for a custom deal where they pay you for your sales but don’t have a program open to everyone.

Attitude #5: Good affiliates are difficult to manage:

Advice for Attitude #5:  If you are getting screwed, get out. Don’t claim to be getting screwed when you aren’t. If you think you deserve a sale you didn’t get, have your evidence ready to go. If you think you deserve more money because of the volume you are driving – you very well may be. But if you can’t demonstrate that from a perspective that benefits the company, you won’t have a chance of getting more money unless you’re sales are responsible for a significant portion of the company’s overall gross.

Just as an example, one program that I know of had an Affiliate that was killing it – making tons of money off of sales, but felt they deserved more. The Affiliate became very vocal about this. In the big picture, however, this Affiliate’s sales represented not a half of a percent of the company’s gross revenue. The hours spend managing this difficult individual weren’t seen as “worth it” and the affiliate was kicked out. Don’t be that guy.

Know where you stand in the pecking order of the entire company’s revenue stream – which unfortunately in larger companies is most likely pretty low. If you are a small guy, but you can provide value and show that your traffic is yours and the company does not have access to it without you, you can also make that point and send your sales elsewhere.  Don’t get defensive and be a pain.  This is a business channel.  Provide your value, be friendly and professional.  If the Agency still doesn’t see the value, move on.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the article. If you’d like to discuss any of the points here or learn more about how my agency can help you, follow me on twitter @tonynwright or visit our agency site at www.wrightimc.com. *Images were purchased at Deposit Photos.

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3 thoughts on “5 Attitudes of Agencies & Brands Towards Affiliates and How to Change Them.”

  1. Adam,
    Thanks for inviting Tony to share this post.
    As a “newbie” in the industry, this was very telling for me. On our end (we represent a network of influencers whom we are now looking to engage actively in affiliate programs), we see that many of our influencers & bloggers have a bias against the affiliate programs. The question of “legitimate” programs hangs heavy, with many of our influencers still feeling stung by some past unsavory or otherwise unsatisfying experience. But, like you, we see the opportunities and are thankful for the affiliate managers like Adam that work so hard to create the real-deal, legitimate & clean programs where everyone can win. 😉

  2. Squarespace.com used to have an affiliate program, which they promoted in a tweet in January 2013 but it seems they axed it sometime during 2013 as the link they tweeted squarespace.com/affiliates now resolves to their home page. I have been unable to find any further information on why it was canned or if / when it may be resurrected. Does anyone else here know?

    1. Hi Gail,

      I’m not sure what happened to the program. You may want to try reaching out to their marketing team to see. If you know the network it was on you could try asking them as well.

      Hope that helps.


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