Season 4 | Episode 9

Strategies for successful collaboration in the modern influencer landscape

Jonathan Claydon is an affiliate and partnerships expert, having worked in the industry for years in a variety of niches. Today he is the Chief Development Officer at Acceleration Partners – the world’s largest partner marketing agency. According to Jonathan, there is a shift happening in the industry. Brands are increasingly looking to measure the impact of influencer marketing and understand what impact influencer marketing has on customer acquisition, rather than just measuring brand awareness. He and host Todd Crawford discuss assessing the value of the content holistically by amplifying user-generated content after the campaign launch to maintain momentum and authenticity. They break down this shift, the difference between influencers who move products and those who build awareness, and more. We’ll be taking a short break for the holidays. Stay tuned for the S4 finale coming in January 2024. Happy holidays and New Year from Dave, Todd, and the team!

Episode transcript

Canned Intro [00:00:01] Welcome to The Partnership Economy. This podcast explores the power of partnerships through candid conversations of industry leaders. Join our host, Dave Yovanno, CEO and Todd Crawford, co-founder of as they unpack the future of partnership as a lever for scale and an opportunity to put the consumer first.


Todd Crawford [00:00:25] Welcome back to The Partnership Economy podcast. I’m your host, Todd Crawford, and we’ve got an exciting conversation lined up with a fellow partnerships expert, Jon Claydon. Jon is the chief development officer at Acceleration Partners, where he leads the growth strategy and development initiatives for the agency. His entire career has been spent in the partnership space, first working at a large network, then for a brand before founding Streamline Marketing, one of the leading firms in the affiliate industry for over seven years before then being acquired by Acceleration Partners. He’s a thought leader and previously held the Chair of the Advertiser Council for the Performance Marketing Association. When he’s not working, you’ll probably find Jon exploring his passion for travel, adding to his whopping list of 57 countries. Today, we’ll be taking a deep dive into creators and influencers and how they fit within The Partnership Economy, how these types of partnerships have shifted to drive and be measured on a performance basis. Plus, some tips on how to launch a successful influencer campaign and how to get the most of it after it’s gone live. I hope you enjoy. Hey Jon, welcome to The Partnership Economy podcast. It’s great to have you on. How are you doing?


Jon Claydon [00:01:40] I’m doing great, Todd. Thank you so much for having me. It’s always great to chat with my friends at Impact and looking forward to this conversation.


Todd Crawford [00:01:48] So this is another opportunity to really explore how creators and influencers fit within, alongside, affiliate and other types of partnerships. Before we dive deep into this, I’d like to just first level set with who you are, where you work, and some of the services that you guys offer. Just so everybody knows where Jon is coming from in this conversation.


Jon Claydon [00:02:18] I’m the chief development officer at Acceleration Partners. Fancy title. I work on larger strategic initiatives for the firm, and if you’re not familiar with Acceleration Partners, where the world’s largest partner marketing agency, the 350 plus employees across 16 countries, and we’re very much the leader in this sort of enterprise market when it comes to managing partnership marketing programs. So what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years for the company is essentially spearheading our influencer initiatives. And we initially built a practice internally hiring folks that have an influencer discipline in their background, but also had some background in affiliate as well, because we knew that there was going to be a really big crossover between our existing affiliate client base and folks that wanted to influencer within that. So we built up a fairly sizable practice pretty quickly just with internal interest from our clients. And then we recently made two acquisitions in the influencer space, two companies called Influencer Response and Volt. Influencer Response is a more traditional influencer agency where they work with what we would consider to be more macro creators. And then Volt is a social media agency. But really what they do is what we call amplification of content. So once it’s actually created by those influencers putting media dollars behind it to drive acquisition. And so now I’m responsible essentially for our go to market strategy and the overarching executive function of the influencer group within AP which is over 60 people at this point. So it’s a sizable piece of our business and we’re growing very quickly then obviously very excited about and bullish about the opportunity that we have in the space to continue to do that.


Todd Crawford [00:03:51] Yeah, we’re super bullish about it too. And as part of that excitement, we recently last month announced, well, we had acquired a company called Activate, which was a SaaS influencer platform, and we’ve now built out all of that capability that you would need to run influencer campaigns into our platforms. This concept of working with creators alongside affiliate. There’s a lot of overlap that I think traditional influencer teams don’t understand with affiliate and affiliate is stuck in the pay for performance and traditional influencers, pay per post and not a lot of tracking to conversion. So where there’s overlap, I can see that. And I think on the from the affiliate perspective, it’s easier to see. But I think there’s a lot of challenges around the payment models. And so I guess just from how you guys have been talking to your clients, how do they see influencer and affiliate co-existing?


Jon Claydon [00:04:57] So I would say at a high level, what we’re seeing in the market is this sort of fracturing of influencer work. And what I mean by that is there’s the way that influencer has traditionally been done where it’s primarily paying content creators for the fixed fees for a post, and it’s done on social platforms. And historically that’s been owned by the brand or PR team. It’s largely awareness driven and it’s a branding exercise and there’s a ton of value in that. I don’t think anyone that is has used a phone or is in digital recently is unsure of the value that influencer pays in terms of contributing to branding and commerce in general. But there’s been this one side of the industry that’s been entirely focused on essentially the awareness play and where we’re seeing the market kind of break is there’s now this new area that’s being created I think is being driven by macro conditions in terms of brands being required to actually get some sort of measurement understanding of the value of the influencer campaigns, their run in. But also there’s a market that’s been generated which is performance based influencer, right? And so we’re actually driving revenue and customer acquisition through the channel as opposed to just the awareness and branding play. And so with that fracturing, there’s this sort of uncertain element of this budget as to where it should sit and who should own it. And is it the PR team that knows how to do PR stuff? Are they going to have to figure out how to become direct response marketers? Is it the influencer agency that can make beautiful content and they can do it with the right color hue and the right background and do it to the brand style and guidelines like they’ve always done it, but then have to now figure out how to drive revenue from that. Or is there another team? And what we’re finding is those budgets are going to the growth marketing team, and that’s where traditionally affiliate is sitting within our client base and they’re making a play for a sizable amount of that budget and ownership of this more performative type of influencer work. And I think for the big clients that we work with, there’s concurrent campaigns that are going on, right? So we’re working with creators that are really oriented to driving customer acquisition and they have a brand team, a PR team, an existing agency, whatever it may be, and they’re still doing the big branding awareness PR type stuff, very curated, very editorialized. But we’re driving the actual revenue performance from it and it started where we might get 10 percent of the influencer budget they have allocated for the year. And as the results have come in, that’s ratcheted up quite quickly and aggressively, especially once they start to see the results from it and also the quality of the content. And now it’s maybe somewhere it’s like 50/50. And in terms of the allocation that we’re getting.


Todd Crawford [00:07:34] Yeah, I think the idea of paying proposed, I can understand especially a lot of the creators do put a lot of work and then you have the partnerships team which are beholden more to a philosophy of pay for performance. And I think the big challenge is obviously with the large publishers, they’ve got enough demand and it’s all about branding. So it’s a paper poster, “See you later.” But when you start getting into the micro, I think it’s an easy sell, but there’s somewhere where you start to get in that middle where you’ve got to actually maybe have a conversation and convince them. You guys work with a lot of enterprise brands and so Paper Post is something they can easily budget for and and include. The brand building is worth it. But the mid-sized brands and smaller brands, branding isn’t as important to them. It isn’t a priority, I guess you could say they’re really are looking for revenue and so they’re more interested in working on a revenue based rev share basis with some of their techniques or strategies around putting together a campaign or a program to drive it on a performance basis.


Jon Claydon [00:08:39] I would say even the enterprise brands that we work with, yes, they certainly have brand budgets, but in terms of the folks that we’re working with and our goals and objectives for the campaigns, it’s very similar in the sense that we are driving revenue and customer acquisition. And even though we do have larger budgets with those clients, we’re still going to be working towards hitting a CPA target or CAC target or ROAS target with the campaigns. Even if we are doing fixed fee based work. I think there’s a fundamental difference in the type of content that’s created from influencers who are able to move product versus those that are branded. It’s just a different exercise and some are very good at it and others aren’t. But in terms of working in a concept where you are really trying to lean heavily into the performance side of things and potentially look at doing RevShare types of models or things like that, there’s a few different types of engagements and typically when we build out these programs for clients, we tier our creators, right? So you have folks that are starting out on the smaller side. We would consider them to be nano or micro-influencers, and generally speaking, the type of engagement with them might just be something where they’re able to promote the brand and we pay them a commission, and it’s as simple as that. And as they perform, evaluate how you can continue to compensate them down the road, maybe as their audience is scaled. Or as they develop just really great content for you that you can repurpose for other uses for that middle of the ground type of creator. We’ve had a ton of success going into those engagements and working in what we call hybrid capacity, and they may say, I want 10,000 dollars to create Instagram reel and three story slides, and we will counter that with maybe half of that amount plus a commission rate. And we find a really nice alignment there. The creators are in that commission. Brand sees results from it. It lessens the initial sort of outlay from the brand side in terms of developing that content. And it really incentivizes the creator to develop something that’s going to perform well and then to reinforce it and re expose their audience to that content in whatever way they may choose to.


Todd Crawford [00:10:44] Yeah, I think the thing that you hit on there is the brief, as they call it, right? What you want from the influencer. I think the brief is key to also just attracting the right influencers because the strategy there is you can get creators to apply. Hey, I saw the brief, I’m interested. And then of course you can reach out to the ones that you’ve worked with in the past and say, We’d love to work with you again.


Jon Claydon [00:11:06] The brief is really important in terms of making sure that you’re setting expectations of what you want from creators. But I do think something that that some brands get a bit over their toes on is they will be so controlling with the brief itself that it doesn’t allow for authenticity with creators in terms of the content they’re actually generating the one thing that we see time and time again for these influencers who are actually capable of generating sizable amount of revenue and performance, you really got to let them do it in their own voice. If it’s too scripted, if it comes across as salesy, if it’s not super aligned of their audience, it isn’t a good fit. Usually those influencers will actually turn down those types of opportunities to begin with because they know it’s going to alienate their audience and they don’t want to do that. That’s much worse for them than whatever money that they might get from the brand for a one off transactional campaign. But you really need to let them do it in their own voice and let them know really what they do best. But making sure that you have clear objectives and goals and understanding with those creators, sharing with them what you’re expecting to get from a return perspective in terms of the expected outcome of that campaign. If I’m paying you whatever it is, it’s a commission, a hybrid model. If it’s just a fixed fee, we like to actually explain to our creators that we’re expecting a certain return on this investment. The brand is expecting that sort of return, right. We want to 2x ROAS or whatever it may be, or this is our CPA target. We were pretty transparent with them and we’ve established relationships with thousands of creators to this point. We have a pretty deep understanding of how we expect them to perform and when their way offer that it doesn’t work. Typically we’re able to get back to them and actually ask them to do another post or additional content, and they’ll do that because they want to ensure they’re able to deliver for for the clients they’re working with. And so it’s like any sort of partnership, it’s setting objectives upfront, understanding what each party is trying to get out of the relationship, and then ensuring that you’re mutually working towards that same goal. That’s where we find the most success.


Todd Crawford [00:13:02] I want to talk a little bit about what happens after a campaign goes live. Some of the other value that a brand can get and some of the costs associated for the brand, right? The content that the creators create is valuable in the post, but a lot of the briefs part of the deal is that you get access to that rights to that content for a period of time, and then there’s promoting that. So maybe you can talk about some of those strategies or best practices like how to get the most out of a campaign. It’s not just what the creator posts. There’s some costs and activities that the brands can be doing on top of that, right?


Jon Claydon [00:13:40] If we think of the the value of that content, the organic reach of that content only has so much inherent value, and that’s how you ascribe value to what you’re willing to pay that creator that could go viral with a post and you expect them to reach out to 2000 people and all of a sudden it reaches 5 million. That’s great. That’s a needle in a haystack scenario that we don’t expect to happen too often. So brands that are smart, they look at the holistic value of that content, not just what it drives organically. And so we have brands that use that UGC on site for product reviews, right? There is this sort of third party authoritative value to it that we all know and understand. So they’ll take that content, they’ll put it on site and it increases conversion dramatically on product pages or creators are talking about specific products. We’ve had clients take influencer content and put it in TV spots, but one of the ways that we really drive acquisition and directly measurable revenue through the channel is what we call amplification. It’s otherwise known as is dark posting or allowlisting or white posting. It’s got a few different names and they influence in an industry. But essentially once content has been created, you will negotiate some sort of fee structure with that creator if you want to use it through paid media. And essentially what we do is we get access to the influencers handle. We take brand dollars and we’d boost that content across social platforms. So if you’ve been scrolling through Instagram stories and you see a sponsored post come up from an influencer, they might look like somebody that you would follow. And they’re talking about a product that you might be interested in, or maybe a product that you’ve been to a site and looked at, but you didn’t buy it. That’s amplification and that is the brand directly paying for that piece of influencer content to be served up to you in an ad format. And brands drive a huge amount of revenue and volume through that type of activity and you can really understand the ROI from that. And so when we think of investment that brands are typically making into influencer campaigns, once they get them to scale, they might carve out half their budget for the actual content creation itself, working with creators. And again, that’s, that’s free product, whether that’s commission, whether that’s fixed fees. But then they’ll take the other half of that budget and they’ll probably put it towards media to take the best quality content and the highest converting content and get in the front of the right customer at the right time with the right message to really drive conversion. And we find that to be an incredibly valuable way of of leveraging these creators. And so when you look at the holistic value that you’re getting at the channel, you might be getting a 1x ROAS or 2x ROAS on the organic content itself. And that’s generally a pretty good campaign. But with you’re able to drive amplification behind it, that becomes five, six X with the highly targeted ways of using these social platforms capabilities to really drive that conversion.


Todd Crawford [00:16:31] Well, so that’s even with the added expense, the return on ad spend still goes up. That’s a very important point here, and I think a lot of companies that are starting to do this at scale, it’s important to understand that amplification is like you, you’re missing out a big part of the value if you don’t have that in your budget. So if you say we’ve got a campaign and we’re going to do 100,000 dollar budget, which includes the gifting, which includes the compensation, you either need to add 50,000 for amplification or you need to work with your influencers. So that you’re saying half what’s the least 20, 25 percent maybe?


Jon Claydon [00:17:12] Yeah, I think the great thing about that type of campaign is that it’s very flexible and it can be scaled up and scaled down very quickly. So when we do this stuff and we work with communities of creators across the full spectrum and we might test 50 pieces of content in a given month and you put a couple hundred dollars between each piece of content and you’re very quickly going to find the four or five that are converting and working really well. And again, as long as that’s performative to the brands CPA or CAC or ROAS goals, they’ll keep spending. And a lot of the D2C brands in the space spend enormous amounts of money with this type of material. And interestingly enough about it, it generally tends to be cheaper to buy that media than if the brand were to buy directly. So CPMs are lower and the click through rates and conversion rates from it are generally 20 to 30 percent higher than at the brand is buying that media directly. So we’re seeing a pivot from traditional social media buying where the brand is actually the the handle that’s buying this content to pushing this through the amplification side because it just performs so much better. But I wouldn’t say that you necessarily have to carve out 50 percent of your budget or something along those lines, but being able to test with some budget is always valuable. And generally speaking, once we do this and brands see that this is performing, you know, 20, 30 percent points higher than their existing paid social, a lot of that budget tends to shift over pretty quickly.


Todd Crawford [00:18:34] That’s a good point. The in the other thing is if you if you set aside 50 percent, you’re not dumping it in one go. You’re doing what you said you’re testing. Maybe you test four, five pieces of content. It does. None of it does well. So you don’t spend the rest of the budget. You spend maybe 1,000 dollars. And you said, look, this isn’t going anywhere. Let’s hold out. Let’s wait for the next campaign.


Jon Claydon [00:18:58] And I think that’s really valuable for brands. They’re hyper fixated on the direct response element of creative work and really wanting to understand where every dollar and penny is going to, and they’re going to measure the amplification and media revenue that’s being driven. But we know that’s only a fraction of the true value that’s being driven from these campaigns. And you look at we’ve done you have some clients who have built out sizable creator campaigns and they were just doing the sort of organic side of things. And it’s harder to measure that, right? We understand the challenges with that. The way that you engage with social platforms there isn’t necessarily clickable link in a lot of that content. It’s only so many people get to link and bio all the challenges that are inherent with it. But we’ve had some clients that have ran stuff and it wasn’t necessarily it was working, but it wasn’t necessarily maybe up to the expectations they were hoping for. And so they shut it off. And then all of a sudden you see the entire site traffic start going down and volume and performance, right? So that actual halo effect of creative work is a lot larger than what we’re able to track and measured. But the amplification side of it is the most attributable way to do it right now. But one of the things we love about Impact and the plug for your system, Todd, is that we do see the full attributable value of attribution when it comes to creator campaigns. And a lot of this stuff is really upper funnel, right? It’s oftentimes introducing a customer to a product for the first time or brand. And so we’re able to see that if an influencer starts that conversion journey from a customer’s perspective and they may originate with a piece of content they see on Instagram, they click on a like bio, they go check out the brand, they’re going to convert two or three weeks later, and that could be through an email campaign, it could be through an affiliate, it could be through some other channel. But we know that it originally comes back to that influencer that started that journey or they’re intersecting with that customer journey at some point during the customer purchase path. But how we measure it in some way that we can at least go back to the board who’s breathing down our necks, asking us to really measure every single dollar? Being able to see the attribution side of things is so valuable for us when we run these campaigns.


Todd Crawford [00:21:05] Yeah, and I think it also is helpful to make sure they there’s a lot of influencers that are driving a lot of value. They’re really good at engaging with the consumer and educating them and helping them make the decision to buy. The insights are really the key to optimizing these partnerships because if you keep working with influencers and you’re getting a deal because you’re offering them the opportunity to earn on a rev share and that doesn’t come out in the wash, they’re not going to lean in on the next campaign. And so you need to be able to understand where that beyond last click upper funnel, mid funnel support or influence is happening so that you can you can keep them engaged because nobody works for free, at least not for a long after a certain period of time.


Jon Claydon [00:21:52] No, they don’t. No, they don’t. It is nuances in the industry like every professionally managed influencers or influencers that are doing this for full time capacity. They generally have prebuilt rate cards and things like that. They expect to pay for everything. There’s some dollar value that has to be negotiated in any sort of engagement and generally speaking, they’ll have some sort of fee structure that they have in place for usage rights is what we call that. Essentially, whether you use that content again through amplification or if you put it on site or TV commercial, whatever it may be, they generally have some sort of pre-negotiated fee structure, but smaller micro creators, they sure, they could ask for something and you might give them something in exchange for that, but they’re going to be much more receptive to you allowing for that exposure because it ultimately helps them out. And interestingly enough, we’ve tested oftentimes it’s the guy that’s or the woman who’s sitting there holding their phone up doing a selfie type video, just talking really authentically. That ad content generally performs oftentimes better than the highly produced, highly professionalized macro influencer type of stuff that frankly looks like an ad. And that’s what ultimately we’re trying to get away from with that type of content from a media buying perspective. And that’s why the stuff that’s authentic and just looks natural converts so much better because it doesn’t it’s not in your face. And everyone everybody hates ads now, working with micro nano creators to develop that content. And the testing that through amplification is incredibly effective.


Todd Crawford [00:23:19] So I want to shift to one last thing that I think especially people that are eat, live and breathe their influencer program, working with creators that I find when I talk to customers that are really starting to look at scaling this channel, don’t realize because it’s not really something you can do on most influencer platforms. And that’s this concept of an always on in addition to running campaign. So you’ve got your product launches and your seasonality where you want to have a campaign based coordinated push. And then there’s this idea that, hey, there’s a lot of great influencers that are always looking, find products they like and want to recommend, and if there’s already a commission associated, which is very in line with how affiliate works have added, you can be in our influencer program, there’s a product feed that you can search for and all of them have commission rates associated with them. And if you find something you like, maybe there’s a mechanism to request it, but maybe you’ve already bought it and now you just want to see where you can get a link to promote it. I think that’s something that’s not really part of the standard operating procedure for a lot of companies, as I said, because a lot of the functionality isn’t there when you’re within a creator platform. But I think it is extremely powerful and can create this undercurrent that’s constantly driving revenue with little to no work, right, giving creators just an opportunity to find your products and services and promote them organically.


Jon Claydon [00:25:00] Again, I think this goes back to the sort of shift that we’re seeing in the influencer industry broadly. It’s historically has been very transactional in nature. Again, from these branding or PR teams. It’s we have a brief and this is the campaign and we’re trying to promote this product and it’s for this period of time and it’s a one and done or maybe a handful post, but it’s, it’s transactional. This always on concept is really something that our clients are leaning into very heavily because once you establish relationships with these creators, you want to give them an opportunity again to continue to promote the product and the brand, especially when it aligns to their audience. And their audience is engaging with that content and likes what they’re developing with it. And so we’re in from a commission perspective or in some sort of always on capacity is is really valuable. And most of the clients that we’re working with, they’re really thinking of it as building this community of creators that they can tap into at certain points during the year. But they always have this ongoing underlying undercurrent of this campaign that’s available to them that they can use at any point. That when you have a base of 100 or 1000 creators and you have seasonality, things that are happening, holiday promotions, new product launches, whatever it may be able to then draw from this roster of talent that you have you already have an established relationship with. You can tell the folks that are actually driving really good performance from the content that they are creating. And then you can say, okay, look, I have got an extra hundred thousand dollars to spend this month because we’re launching this new product. I have a thousand creators that have been joining my program and these are the 50 that are producing the best content that’s converting the highest rate. I’m going to go give each one of them two grand or however you want to split it up to actually develop content in a dedicated manner for a specific campaign. So you marry both worlds where you do have the briefs and the campaign oriented structure of the more traditional influencer campaign. But you have this always on community of creators you develop that are constantly driving or having their conversions for you. They’re able to tap into and those are the types of campaigns that our clients are building. It’s oriented at community more than anything else. It’s not transactional, it’s not one and done. They’re really trying to have access to this ecosystem at any point they can draw from, and it’s been incredibly effective for them.


Todd Crawford [00:27:15] We have again talked about a lot of stuff and there’s probably five times more stuff we could talk about. But I’d greatly appreciate you coming on as always. I love talking about this creator economy with you and and the broader partnership economy and appreciate all your insights.


Jon Claydon [00:27:32] Always a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me and really enjoy the conversation.


Todd Crawford [00:27:37] Collaborating with influencers and creators might look different in today’s landscape than in the past. From payments shifting from pay per post to paying for performance to the teams that manage influencers to clearly setting guidelines within the work you want influencers to do. Jon shared a few best practices to keep in mind to make your influencer campaign successful, such as assessing the value of the content holistically by amplifying user generated content after campaign launch to maintain momentum and authenticity and remember, collaborating with creators works great when you give them creative freedom to be authentically themselves in their content. When you and your influencers share a common vision, the potential for driving the performance you desire is limitless. Whether you’re a brand looking to harness the power of creators or a creator looking to make a meaningful impact, understanding how influencer programs fit in the world of performance partnerships can be extremely beneficial. Thanks for listening and I look forward to next time.


Canned Intro [00:28:41] Thanks for listening to The Partnership Economy brought to you by If you enjoyed today’s episode, be sure to subscribe to the show and rate and review it on Apple Podcasts.

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