By Andrew Kardon
Explaining affiliate marketing to someone unfamiliar can be a daunting task. I’ve been trying for years and sometimes people get it; most of the time they just nod their heads and move along. I think I know what Einstein must’ve felt like whenever he talked to anybody.
Okay, so maybe it’s not that confusing, but as the industry continues to grow, new pieces are continuously added to the puzzle. When I first started working with online coupons roughly 15 years ago, there were a handful of affiliate networks. It was fairly small and very straightforward.
Today, well, there’s a huge mix of everything. Tons of affiliate networks, CPA networks, networks that compile offers from all the networks, tools to create your own network, affiliate management agencies, account managers at OPMs, affiliate managers at retailers… you get the picture.
I definitely understand the core function of the affiliate networks. They’re the backbone of the industry. Without them, it’d be tough to keep going, as most major retailers wouldn’t want to deal directly with thousands of publishers. But I was always confused by the Affiliate Management Agency. What was the purpose of them? Why should I deal with someone at an Agency who then has to deal with someone at an affiliate network who then deals with someone at the merchant? That’s just one more person to play interference between me and the merchant.
Over the years, however, I’ve learned to see the value in Affiliate Management Agencies. There’s certainly a place for them in the industry and oftentimes I’d rather deal with them than go through the network. Some agencies are great, others not so much. There are pros and cons alike for dealing with an Agency.
What I like about programs managed by an Affiliate Management Agency
Personal Touch – Unlike a giant affiliate network with an army of affiliate managers, an Agency is usually a real small group with a mere handful of account managers. If you get a solid relationship going with someone at an Agency, you’ll find yourself getting faster service and quicker responses to your questions and requests.
Flexibility – Some retailers work directly with an Agency to run their affiliate program. That means if you get in good with the manager at the Agency, you have a much better chance of getting what you want. There’s more flexibility in terms of rev shares, exclusives, etc., when you’re dealing with a smaller company, rather than a huge corporate machine.
Less Cooks – Too many cooks spoil the broth, right? Well when you’re dealing with an affiliate network, you’ve got thousands of merchants to choose from. But that means you’ve got countless affiliate managers to deal with as well. You never know who to go to in terms of getting information on a new program. Often times you’re sending an email to a generic address, hoping it’ll get someone’s attention. Or you play phone tag with five different affiliate managers until you find the right one. With an agency, you have only a few hands to deal with, and generally you have a good relationship going with at least one manager so it’s real easy to get in touch with whoever’s running the program you’re interested in.
More Creativity – I find for the most part, that Agencies are more proactive when it comes to thinking outside that proverbial box. They’re more apt to send you tools and advice more frequently than the big networks.
They’re Hungrier – It’s a real competitive field out there in affiliate land, and the Agencies have to work umpteen times harder than the networks to get your attention and your business. That means they’re more likely to work way harder for you and fight for whatever you want.
What I dislike about programs managed by an Affiliate Management Agency
Another Layer – While it’s often easier to establish a relationship with someone at an Affiliate Management Agency, it can also be a bit clunkier if the agency is inexperienced. If you have an odd or truly unique request, they’ll often have to discuss it with the merchant before getting you an answer.
Experience – This one depends on the agency. New Affiliate Management Agencies are popping up all the time. When they just start out, there can be a huge learning curve for the company. Lots of bugs and kinks to work out. This can result is some real annoyances for the affiliate, and plays to the strength of a long-established affiliate network that’s had years and years to perfect running a program.
Size Matters – Sometimes size can matter. If an Affiliate Management Agency is ridiculously small, it certainly can have its advantages, the utmost being a personal touch. But what happens when there’s a family emergency and that key player is MIA for awhile? You’re pretty much out of luck.
Working with an Affiliate Management Agency can be a pleasure or a nightmare, depending upon the agency. Personally, I love to work directly with the merchants themselves whenever I have the opportunity. But when you do find yourself working with an Agency, hold them accountable. Their job is to help affiliates become more successful working with the merchant they represent. Understand their role and the value they bring as I’ve come to accept that there are a lot of pieces to this pretty big pie.
Andrew Kardon is the President and co-founder of JoeShopping.com and JoeVote.com, who’s been in the affiliate marketing game since 1998. His parents still have no idea what he does for a living.