In this first installment of our interview series, we speak with Stephanie Harris, Owner and CEO of PartnerCentric. She shares her keen insights on the direction of the industry, how partnership is evolving, the role of data, and the future of partnership.
Tell us about PartnerCentric and what makes you different from other performance marketing agencies?
PartnerCentric is the largest woman-owned and woman-led performance marketing agency, with a fully-remote team. The remote element is important because we excel at building meaningful relationships for our clients in this landscape – since we already cultivate strong relationships virtually with each other on a daily basis. We have a robust in-house technology team that has successfully launched and integrated hundreds of programs seamlessly. We also have our own proprietary software, which includes a Dynamic Commissioning Engine, automated analytics and attribution tools. Our account managers have an average of 12 years experience across all verticals and their expertise span all major platforms and networks. They stay on top of industry trends to ensure that our clients are getting innovative strategies and custom solutions.
You re-branded a little over a year ago, what led to that and what were the goals of the re-brand?
Our primary goal for the rebrand was to ensure that our outside matched our inside, so to speak. I had acquired the organization after being hired as the first employee in 2006 and wanted to make sure that our new brand was aligned with our values and ethos.
This is a company with a long history and solid reputation and we wanted to move into the future with all of those positive attributes, while at the same time, re-emerge with our own voice, look, and feel. Not many companies have the chance to be both well-established, as well as fresh and new, and the rebrand was a great opportunity for us to re-introduce our brand as this authentic version of ourselves.
PartnerCentric, as a name, is very appropriate for us because we exist to create meaningful relationships beyond borders. By breaking through any roadblocks, our team helps our clients reach success as they define it. We believe in giving our customers the control, the power, the flexibility and the freedom to create the relationships that are meaningful to their business and that deliver strong results. We employ customized technology solutions and creative problem-solving strategies that connect our customers to the right partners and enable them to reach fast ROI. Our rebrand included a new website, new logo, new branding and offered us the flexibility to effectively communicate our new ownership, mission and purpose.
What have been the results/feedback on the rebrand?
The feedback has been very positive. We have been featured as an example of a successful remote company in Inc. and were also ranked number one for coolest remote companies by Glassdoor. That recognition has been great, but more importantly, our new brand has truly allowed us to align our vision and goals through our resources and valuable content we want to get out there to our clients, partners and prospects.
Since becoming PartnerCentric, we have been grateful to be nominated for three “2018 Agency of the Year” industry awards including winning the peer-nominated ASW Pinnacle Agency of the Year 2018 award. These accolades aren’t a byproduct of the re-brand, but acknowledgment from the industry that our evolution is aligned with the future.
What are the unique challenges of partnership compared to other digital media channels?
I would say there are a few unique challenges to consider. Partnership requires one-on-one relationship brokering, strategy, understanding, and rapport-building in order to have success. Additionally, you need to have full transparency to truly understand ROI.
This also is not a channel where you can just set a budget and then turn it off when the budget is depleted because the more budget is used up, the better you’re performing, and the better you’re performing the more the budget needs to be expanded. It’s also not a channel you can pause and then flip back on when you’ve got more budget and expect the same momentum. That’s like trying to stop a speeding car going from 100 mph to zero, and then expect it to be able to re-start at 100 when turned back on.
Finally, education is crucial in this constantly evolving space. There are always new and emerging models or categories of partners, new platforms and new technology advances, new and creative payment models, attribution logics, and so on. It is important not only to stay on top of the latest changes, but create them as well and disrupt the status quo.
Affiliate marketing and partnership have been around since the beginning of the internet. In your mind, how has the landscape changed?
In the beginning, you had a lot of mom and pop shops during the “Wild West” era of the internet. It was a “last click wins” game and couponers were the first wave of affiliate landscape partnerships. People were just getting used to transacting online, and it made sense that in order to increase acceptance and comfort with online shopping, brands offered discounts and promotions to incentivize shoppers to complete purchases online (where they had a lower cost of doing business.)
As the web and customer journeys have become more complex, it became clear that a “last click wins” model minimizes compensation for partners that play a big role in early stages of the customer journey. Further, the coupon and cashback worlds went through a period of rapid consolidation. As a result, more and more advertisers realized that the tracking mechanisms in place from the beginning of the affiliate industry no longer captured what was really happening with their customer base. They wanted to reward all contributions to purchase, not just the couponers being credited with last click.
This led to frustration in the space and the desire for other types of partners – influencers, content, referral, and so on. With this frustration, and the growth of new technologies, we’ve come to see an overall online partnership strategy. Brands should be able to work with any type of partner that can deliver the audience they seek. If they aren’t in a traditional network or don’t want to be paid on last click, then other agreements should be worked out. The biggest change has been that the original tracking constructs built for affiliate industry no longer make sense. Because of that, innovative technologies like Partnerize, who are dedicated to robust and accurate attribution models, can also act as a global payment processor and strategic partner, will make up the future of this space and its endless opportunities.
Data within the affiliate space has historically been rudimentary at best, i.e. CPC- and CPA-driven. Do you agree with that statement, and if so, how is the space being affected by maturing data and attribution models?
I touch on this above. The really exciting thing is being able to redefine what is mutually beneficial for both parties. For too long the industry has been held back by artificial constructs developed by the original tracking networks that dominated the industry. Those constructs may have worked early on, but both consumers and our industry have evolved. Requiring partners to work on a last click basis was limiting and gave an inaccurate view of incrementality. The rules are changing and this will likely continue.
What does the future hold for our industry?
The opportunities for the future are truly boundless. There are no limits to the ways in which we can work with partners as long as they have meaningful audiences for our advertisers and there are mutually beneficial incentive structures in place to deliver that audience. It is exciting to see the evolution and innovation occurring on our industry. We’re moving from a coupon and discounting channel to an efficient and transparent means of working with thousands of individual partners on a one-to-one basis in a variety of endless payment possibilities in order to deliver on the results both sides are looking for. The world will never run out of ways to create partnerships, to come up with new rules of engagement, and to offer something new and different to all kinds of consumer segments. This is what our industry is primed for.
More About Stephanie
Stephanie Harris is the owner and CEO of PartnerCentric, the largest woman-owned and fully-remote performance marketing agency in the space. A veteran of the industry, Stephanie got her start as an award-winning affiliate program manager, personally managing at one time some of the largest programs that are still in the PartnerCentric portfolio today. Her tenure and philosophy that in order to lead you have to know how to do every role, has given her a comprehensive view of the industry as well as the ability to propel it forward with vision, talent and drive.