Affiliate Summit East (ASE) 2023 Recap

Author: Joe Sanfilippo

One of the biggest networking events in the affiliate marketing industry, Affiliate Summit East, was back in full force this year and the team at Today’s Business was there to soak it all in. If you didn’t get a chance to attend the show, have no fear, the TB team is here to fill you in on the biggest trends going on in the industry.

What were the biggest trends from ASE 2023?

  1. Social Whitelisting is growing in popularity

Numerous publishers were talking about their social whitelisting capabilities. This seems to be a growing trend as it can be a great win-win collaboration between brands and publishers. Advertisers who are already investing in sponsored content with a publisher are able to tap into social whitelisting from the partner to drive more traffic to their sponsored content. This works for everyone because brands who are spending a lot on social ads get fresh new creatives to test and also get that 3rd party credibility to help sway consumers to complete their purchase. This helps the brand by getting more touch points with the publisher’s audience and it helps the publisher by helping create more traffic on their site and earn more affiliate commissions. One publisher mentioned to us that they are working with brands that are spending nearly half a million dollars each month on whitelisting ads.

  1. Product sampling to editors continues to be a winning tactic

At Today’s Business, we are constantly striving to send product samples out to editors as we have seen the success it has created by the thousands of content placements we’ve secured for our brands. Here are a couple of recent wins from this approach.

We know that if you have a good product and you can get it in front of the right people at the right time good things will come. Quite a few publishers have confirmed with us that sampling is key with their editors because the organic content creation is so heavily driven by the editorial team so being top of mind with product samples definitely goes a long way.

  1. Money talks: Brands should have dedicated consistent affiliate flat fee budgets 

I don’t think this trend will ever change but feel like it needs to be stated again. Publishers are almost always going to prioritize the advertisers that generate the most income for them. How that income is generated doesn’t necessarily matter so long as it is there. Pubs told us that their most important metric is Earnings Per Click (EPC) but they also put a major priority on brands who have dedicated paid placement budgets. We had multiple publishers say that they like to see brands spend money with them across the funnel and through different channels. For example, they like to see brands do upper funnel brand awareness sponsored content coupled with display ads, social whitelisting, and lower funnel content. It’s always important to keep in mind that big publishers are often publicly traded and have to keep earnings high for stockholders and also that many of the people on their teams earn commissions so they are trying to make money to feed their families. We had multiple publishers ask us to confirm that our brands had budgets before scheduling a meeting with us.

  1. Having an editorial angle is very important

If you aren’t running sponsored content with publishers then you need to impress the editorial team. Having strong editorial angles such as notable founders, interesting stories, or working off of popular trends are great ways to catch their eye. Editors want people to read their stories so anything that has a great appealing headline and a corresponding story that will engage readers is your best bet. Editors are busy though and get hundreds if not thousands of pitches per day so you need to handle the creativity for them and be short and concise with your pitch to get their attention.

What were the best seminars at ASE 2023?

  1. How to Optimize Partnerships Between Publisher and Brand.

Speakers: Elisabeth Chambry – InsideHook; Kara Kamenec – a360 Media;  Emma Grace Moon – Praize; Jessica Seib – Rolling Stone

Optimizing with our partners is key to our brand’s success within the affiliate channel. After the seminar, our team left with key takeaways to improve our publisher relationships and grow our affiliate brands even more. The most prominent and consistent information given by publishers in the space is the focus on longer-term, consistent relationships. Justifying a return after a single placement or sponsored post can lead to issues, as it’s critical to advertise through multiple channels when looking for overall success with a publisher. Embracing long-term partnerships results in both parties being incentivized to collaborate in a more holistic and rewarding manner.

  1. How Publishers Can Diversify Revenue in the Affiliate Channel.

Speakers: Camilla Cho – Vox Media; Leilani Han – NY Times Wirecutter; Lindsay Grillot – Ziff Davis; Albert Murillo – Vertical Scope

Similar to the seminar regarding optimizing partnerships, publishers are looking to diversify their revenue by partnering with brands across multiple channels of their sites. This can include social whitelisting, sponsored posts, article inclusions, ads, etc. A big takeaway from this seminar, however, was the relationship between publishers and the editors, specifically how they communicate across their teams to ensure beneficial partnerships with the brands they feature. It is crucial for brands to include unique product value when trying to get publications interested in the product. In addition, educating the publisher about the specifics of your brands is key for writers/editors to understand the brand’s vision and purpose. Lastly, providing case studies/information in your communication/outreach will further incentivize a beneficial partnership and a more specific plan of action for how to grow revenue in the channel.

  1. The Future of Content Creation: ChatGPT and Your Partners

Speakers: Lynda Mann – Featured; Merin Pasternak – Blavity Inc., Stephen Regenold –; Rashmi Singh – Raptive; and Mike Malazzo – Forum Brands

It’s no secret that Chat GPT has taken over the AI conversation, giving many publishers, advertisers, agencies, etc. new efficiencies for their business. It has also brought about various challenges that the affiliate industry now has to tackle. What our team learned from listening to the seminar is consistent with what we have been hearing in the industry as a whole, which is cautiously optimistic. Delving into AI for many publishers has been extremely successful in terms of the efficient work habits it can produce, however, brands and publishers specifically do not want to lose their voice or integrity with their audience. Another challenge is with the specific regulations that automated content may not be in line with, such as plagiarism, FTC guidelines, etc. The key focus moving forward is to avoid many of these hindrances by using Chat GPT and AI to optimize work processes, but relying still on writers to generate content featuring the integrity and original voice of the publication/brand. This in turn increases the long-term value of good writers that are featuring unique, new, and interesting content.

  1. How to Produce High-Quality Content that Builds Trust at a Low Cost

Speakers: Reid Webb – The Daily Beast; Neha Anada – Money Group; Jessica Seid – Rolling Stone; Jessica Spira – Heart Newspapers

It is always insightful to hear the perspectives of the publications we as an agency work with on a daily basis. This seminar gave light to details that we wouldn’t typically have access to such as the size of their editorial team and various details regarding the structure/daily processes of the publications. One big takeaway our team had was the need for publishers to build out a separate shopping component from their main sites. A great example of this is CNN Underscored and Scouted for the Daily Beast, which are the specific shopping destinations for these sites covering reviews, roundups, etc. Publishers see this as a way to target specific keywords that might not work as well within informational content, however, still align content with the views and interests of the original readers. Another big takeaway our team had was the importance of positive customer reviews for brands and products. The Daily Beast and Rolling Stone explained that due to the small size of their editorial teams, and how spread out their members are, it is nearly impossible to engage in hands-on testing of every product sample they receive. As a result, they rely heavily on user reviews. This affirms the strategy of investing in high-quality, thorough, and positive brand reviews.

  1. How CNN is Leveraging TikTok to Grow its Commerce Business

Speakers: Haley Kinne – CNN; Hannah Lauson – CNN

TikTok is one of the fastest-growing platforms in the entire world, and utilizing it within e-commerce has proven successful for many publishers. CNN Underscored specifically gave a step-by-step of how they grew their business via TikTok, and we wanted to share a few takeaways. A distinction that is very important when looking at CNN vs. other publishers is that they have a consistent voice/message across all of their content. This is crucial for an audience to know what to expect and stays in line with the authenticity and integrity of the brand. In addition, publishers should be producing high-quality content that shows the products they are featuring and why they are unique instead of telling the audience directly. It creates more engaging and organic content and is much more tailored to the TikTok demographic which is usually skewed much younger than an editorial-based audience.

The last key takeaway goes in line with this, as many of the articles containing the products featured on the TikTok page will not resonate with their new demographic. Leaning into the younger audience by asking them for specific brands to feature, as well as linking out to a custom landing page, allows a tailored approach to TikTok’s target demographic, generally increasing conversion rate and performance throughout.