Season 5 | Episode 1

Proving value to the C-suite with Kerry Curran, former chief growth officer at Gen 3

Partnership economy podcast season 5

Welcome back to the Partnership Economy podcast! We‘re starting Season 5 off strong, welcoming Kerry Curran, the former Chief Growth Officer at Gen3 Marketing, the oldest and largest affiliate specialty agency in the world. Kerry is a veteran of the marketing and partnerships space with over 17 years of experience and insights that she brings to this conversation. Kerry and host Todd Crawford discuss understanding consumer behavior in relation to affiliate channels and how Kerry has seen this shift over her career. They also discuss proving the partnership channel’s value to the C-Suite, understanding how consumers interact with affiliate content, and much more!

Episode transcript

[00:00:04] Canned Intro Welcome to the Partnership Economy. This podcast explores the power of partnerships through candid conversations with industry leaders. Join our hosts! Dave Yovanno, CEO and Todd Crawford, Co-founder of, as they unpack the future of partnerships as a lever for scale and an opportunity to put the consumer first. 


[00:00:25] Todd Crawford Welcome to season five of the Partnership Economy Podcast. I just want to thank everyone for all of your support. In the previous seasons, we’ve had almost 200,000 downloads, and we’re ranked as a top 30 marketing podcast on Apple. So thank you for all of your support, and please feel free to share our podcast with your friends and colleagues. I’m your host, Todd Crawford, and I’m excited about the fascinating conversations in store for this season. And speaking of fascinating conversations, today we’ll be speaking with Kerry Curran, the former Chief Growth Officer at Gen3 Marketing, the largest independent affiliate marketing agency in the world. Kerry is a seasoned digital marketing veteran who previously held several executive roles at Gen3, GroupM and Digitas. Today, Kerry will share her knowledge from over two decades of experience. She started her marketing career in 2003 and eventually made it to GroupM as Director of Client Development. There, she led a team responsible for growing revenue through SEO, paid search and social for enterprise clients. She drove double digit growth for the GroupM’s media programmatic unit tripled growth for their performance marketing agency. In today’s episode, Kerry and I cover an array of subjects spanning from the challenges of scaling the affiliate channel and proving its value to the C-suite, to better understanding how consumers interact with affiliate content, and how it is meeting consumers exactly where they are in their buying journeys. Plus, we’ll hear about Gen3’s recent research study on growing the value of the affiliate channel that they released last year. I hope you enjoy. Hey Kerry, welcome to the podcast. It’s great to have you on. 


[00:02:05] Kerry Curran Great. Thanks, Todd. It’s great to be here. Thank you for having me today. 


[00:02:10] Todd Crawford Yeah, we’ve got a lot to unpack. But before we start going down that route, why don’t you kind of give us a brief overview of the company, your role and any relevant history you want to share? 


[00:02:21] Kerry Curran Sure. Thank you. So I am Kerry Curran and I am the Chief Growth Officer at Gen3 Marketing. So Gen3, for those who haven’t heard of us, we are the oldest and largest affiliate specialty agency, but we’re actually a full performance marketing shop. We also offer search social and programmatic, so influencer. But we work with clients of all sizes and all business challenges. So lots of experience there. 


[00:02:52] Todd Crawford Awesome. And part of the reason for this podcast today is, you recently put out a study Gen3 did, and we certainly don’t have time to go through all of it, but there are some interesting tidbits that we want to share with everyone that I think the a pain and an opportunity that many of us share. But I guess first, when did you produce it and what what what was kind of the genesis of it? 


[00:03:20] Kerry Curran So, the paper was released at the second half of last year, and the, you know, the genesis was that I came from 18 years in the media buying and performance marketing world and coming over to affiliate, I saw that there was just so much more opportunity to include affiliate earlier on in the media strategy or integrating it into the media strategy. So the goal of the research paper was really to identify, you know, the one the gaps between consumer behavior and brand advertiser planning and kind of why or what the barriers are for greater adoption or not just adoption, but increasing the value or the prestige, or aligning the perceived value with the actual value of affiliate marketing in all of the different publisher types and benefits for a clients or for brands. So we worked with London Research last year and surveyed over 2,000 consumers and, 250 marketing senior marketers. So, director level and above. And so, you know, one of the questions that we’ve been talking about is, is the the challenge or, you know, it seems like, every brand, every retail brand most likely has an affiliate program, but the opportunity to maximize it and really integrate it as a key part of the media and advertising strategy is the challenge that we’re trying to overcome. So, you know, you mentioned that diving into kind of the barriers, what the question we were talking about is when we asked the brand advertisers, how significant are the following challenges in trying to increase your affiliate marketing and grow your channel? The the top barriers were reliance on other established digital channels, lack of knowledge within the business, lack of awareness of affiliate marketing, and just lack of understanding from the executive team. So a lack of executive buy in. And so, you know, there’s such an old perception that’s not up to date with the new perception. And there’s there’s so it’s yes, we both know there’s so much benefit and value to be had. So how do we change that mindset of the CMO and senior marketers that are recognizing the incredible value? 


[00:05:56] Todd Crawford This is a 55 page report. And, it is so it’s pretty dense. We’re not going to go through all of it. You can download it yourself at And I, I looked in it. There’s a hero banner and it’s one of the three as it goes by. So if you don’t see it right at the top of the page, just give it a second and you can download it for free. So yeah, it’s definitely a lot of great information in there. And and as you as you mentioned, we’re kind of kind of zero in on the challenges of just getting, you know, how can we grow this channel without a, the ability to spend more but be potentially more resources to better manage the channel? I know a lot of people listening to this are, you know, the single affiliate manager on their team team of one or within the marketing team. And, there’s a lot to do. I think you mentioned the C-suite buy in. I think it all starts there. Right? If they really I’ve seen CEOs at 100 percent get it, and they understand the resources and the budget and even like the fluidity of the budget, meaning, you know, if I tell you you can only spend 100,000 dollars a month, that’s crazy. If I could spend 150 and we know what the return on ad spend is because we’re paying 8 percent commissions, right? So why would you not want to spend more to drive more revenue? It’s unlike other channels, you know, the response is not guaranteed. The cost is incurred regardless. Right? With with programmatic or search or any of these channels. So I think a lot of people feel this pain. And a big part of it is kind of educating the C-suite because they just sometimes are have preconceived notions about it. You know, I hear, you know, we have over 3,000 clients on our platform. So I hear, you know, they don’t believe it’s incremental or they feel like it’s mainly coupon sites. And so they just have a very narrow view of it. And, the one thing I think would be the first thing to point out to the C-suite is that you really can’t think of affiliate as a channel like you do paid search or programmatic, which is very two dimensional. It’s keywords in search engines and it’s display ads chasing customers on the internet. There’s not a lot of nuances there. And with affiliate, you’ve got varying types of affiliates that play different roles in the funnel and in consumer awareness. And also the appeal by the consumer can be drawn to one group or all groups. And so they kind of play together in a more full funnel. And that it’s not so much left click anymore. And I think that really compounds measuring the doing my air quotes here affiliate channel because it’s you can’t really see it as one channel. At the very least you kind of break it up by the partnership types. Find out if I’m working with coupon sites, which ones seem to be driving the most value from working with loyalty? Which one seem to be driving the most value if I’m working with content publishers? Which ones are driving the most value? 


[00:09:13] Kerry Curran In our research, we found that all publishers types, even the coupon cashback sites, were at some point referenced as a point of inspiration. So it’s not from the consumer side. And so with over 2,000 consumers and all every single publisher type for affiliates was included in that. First, where do you go for inspiration? And so it just reiterates that you can connect with a, your target audience at any, anywhere, when you’re present across the affiliates. And I always think about. The you know, the ultimate marketing win is putting the idea in the head of your target consumer before they know that they need or want your product or solution, right? And so that’s where having your content with this, you know, your brand and your promotions across a diverse publisher mix. You increase the potential to connect with your target audience, whether they are intentionally or unintentionally looking for something to purchase or something to sign up for. So, you know, by including all of the the affiliate publisher types in your media strategy, you know, you’re saying with keywords are very reactive because they have to already kind of be in that mindset. But with affiliate, you can you can put your your product or solution in front of them. They don’t even realize and then kay stay with them throughout their journey as they do their research and consideration and ultimately purchase because you’ve you have a comprehensive had strategy ensuring that you have a diverse publisher mix. 


[00:11:02] Todd Crawford I think, again, you know, the fact that there’s more than one type of affiliate, and there are certainly brands that really lean into discounting that’s kind of their business model that that perceived discount is ever present or, you know, comes up quite often and there’s other brands that want to stay away from it. But again, that’s not the whole channel. And, you know, the biggest challenge, I think in an economy with, you know, granted it’s doing well. It’s improving. But I think consumer sentiment is still that it’s not doing well, that deals are what drive, conversions are purchase behavior. And so, you know, the biggest challenge of of shying away from that is that you’re conceding that sale to another site because the consumers most is either highly interested or it’s already made the decision to buy something. And now they’re doing research and looking for the best deal and affiliate of all types kind of fill into that. I was talking to one of our existing customers that went through some economic business challenges and, dramatically cut their budgets, and they wanted to cut affiliate altogether. And I was like, I got on a call, though, and I’m like, this is odd that you think that way, because that’s the thing that most people don’t cut. They would cut dramatically programmatic and paid search because they know what affiliate can drive. And it’s also the most cost efficient channel. Most of the time, most brands are getting more a better return on ad spend through this channel than any other channel because they can control it first of all. And secondly, you know, if you can pay less, you would, right? If you could pay half the cost of keywords that you’re buying, you would. 


[00:12:52] Kerry Curran Right, right. And especially the pay for performance aspect to your point of like, you’re only going to pay the publisher if the action that you’re optimizing to occurs, that sale or that lead gen. So it should be a no brainer. And, you know, back to what you’re saying about the sales and discounts. Another in one of my favorite questions in our paper was when we asked about the effect of online deals, which, you know, coupons, discount, cashback, loyalty rewards when shopping over 75 percent of this of the 2,000 people surveyed reported that they’re more likely to make a purchase. They always search for a deal. They’re more loyal to brands that offer those deals. That deals inspire them to try new products and brands, and they’re reminded of brands that they maybe forgot about. Or they will consider switching brands and they will add more to their cart, you know, and it’s like, oh, spend 25 or 75 or 100 dollars to get free shipping. Like, who doesn’t go through and try to find something else to buy. 


[00:14:02] Todd Crawford So extra pair of socks with the shoes or something I just did. 


[00:14:06] Kerry Curran Yeah, exactly. Because I’m like, oh, if I can, you know, 7.95 for shipping or 15 dollars for a pair of socks, I’d rather get the pair of socks. But so and all of those aspects are key strategies behind other channel initiatives. Right? Like even going back to the, you know, the old days of advertising, it’s you want brands to try or cut customers to try your brand. Do you want them to switch from your competitor to your brand? You want them to stay loyal and you want them to spend more. And the fact that you can achieve all of those things through your affiliate strategy, to your point, it should be a no brainer. 


[00:14:48] Canned Intro If you’re enjoying this podcast, we’d love to see you at Impact’s Partnership Experience, our annual sold out event that returns on June 17th to 18th at pure 60 in New York City. Join us for two days of networking, exclusive content, and special perks like a craft beer tasting, bookable meeting spaces, and of course, breathtaking waterfront views. As a special treat to our listeners, we’re offering 20 percent off tickets when you use code TPE20 at checkout. To secure your ticket, head to the episode description or go to And if you’re interested in how to be a sponsor, please email Now back to the show. 


[00:15:36] Todd Crawford You have a lot of touch points in the consumer journey from both of those. You know, at the end of the day, you might have ten touch points that list does take affiliate out of the mix. That was organic search, paid search and programmatic and maybe email or some other other touchpoint. In most cases, you paid for every one of those touch points. With affiliate, you can see affiliate upper funnel or mid funnel, and in most cases you’re not paying for that affiliate touchpoint. And I think that’s something that either brands don’t have insights because what they’re doing is looking at it also as a channel. So they see affiliate touchpoints. They don’t see what affiliate or what type of affiliate content. And, you know, one of the great reports that we provide is this if I’m looking at individual affiliates, I can see for whatever period, let’s take a month. This affiliate participated in 1 million dollars in revenue, meaning they were in the consumer journey where 1 million dollars of revenue was derived. But we only paid them on half a million because they were last click. And I think, you know, that’s something that when you start to look at it that way, if you look at that with programmatic, it’s we paid for all these touchpoints, even if they didn’t convert or, you know, and so every impression and every click has a cost. And in most cases, I mean, some affiliates are paid on CPC, but in general most are paid on a CPA. And you know, you only incur that cost when they, however the program is designed are the, you know, again, air quotes here the winner. And then that commission is generated and and you know what the commission is as a percent of sale. So your return on ad spend is already set. And I think the other thing is you can take that even farther and go, well, here’s all the transact, all the revenue that they won and we paid a commission on. And of that, this percent, 50 percent of that, they were the only touchpoint, which I think is really interesting. And we do track other channels so you can even get more insights, like there were no other paid channels involved. And that’s how you understand the real value of partners. And, you know, instead of working with 20 coupon sites, you might say, we’re only going to work with five because based on all this analysis, these are the five that drive the most value. And that that is that optimization that gets the program, I think. And then and and this is this is another thing that’s tough. I think a lot of affiliate program managers struggle with selling this up, you know, to putting together the data in the right way and presenting it and explaining it and selling it internally so that the budget at least stays the same, but hopefully grows, and maybe they get more resources. And obviously that’s where an agency like Gen3 comes in, because that’s what you guys do all day, every day. In addition to running programs or co-managing programs with with internal resources. 


[00:18:46] Kerry Curran Right. And so you’re right that in our clients that have the leadership that truly understand the value and invest in both the resources on their side, but also in our partnership, they’re the ones that understand the impact. And, you know, with one, I was speaking with one client who, you know, she measures her affiliate performance in her same, you know, dashboard with her other performance media channel. So she knows how it works altogether in other cases. You know, we have worked just with the affiliate team, and so we have to work with them to help them provide that that insight and that information to share it up the ladder and make sure that their their leadership understands, you know, the potential. And so, you know, there’s a lot of different approaches that we take to make sure that we’re demonstrating that that these sales are or these customer acquisitions are due to, you know, the efforts that we collectively took and the publisher mix that we’re you know, that was part of the strategy. So, but when there’s brand marketers or affiliate marketers who have a a VP or senior manager who, you know, wants the credit or, you know, doesn’t want to take away from other marketing channels, which, you know, that was the number one barrier of reliance on other channels. They’re so comfortable with their meta investment and their Google investment that that they’re afraid to cut back there and shifted over. And so that’s where, you know, the more going back to what we’re saying at the beginning, you know, that you can get the affiliate planner a seat at the table when, you know, when you’re looking at your your business strategy and your your marketing and growth goals, but also, so that’s something that we’re, you know, we work with our clients to really try to help them do and help them to be able to vocalize, you know, look, look at what we’ve achieved here. 


[00:20:54] Todd Crawford Yeah. I think the other challenge and you kind of danced around this or. But what’s the source of truth that the marketing team is using is a Google Analytics? Is it Adobe? Is it an e-commerce platform or some internal databases that they built? And then as a manager of the of the performance channel, I need to say how is the data similar or different and why? Because it’s probably not going to match 100 percent. And then you say you have to be able to speak to it and understand the differences so that you can, in a worst case scenario, defend the channel. But obviously in a best case, you advocate for the channel and get more budget, get more resources so that you know the potential of this channel can be reached. 


[00:21:40] Kerry Curran And you had mentioned earlier of, you know, the brands that have maybe one affiliate manager on the brand side. And, you know, those are brands that are like, oh, we’re doing affiliate or we don’t need a sophisticated partner because we have our one affiliate manager that manages it all. And, you know, it’s like your you know, that I think that’s the the challenge. Again, going back to the genesis of the paper is how brands need to maximize the potential of the publisher mix. And that’s, you know, when we we just went through all of our award entry creations and the consistent theme for our team. So I would ask them, what allowed you as a Gen3 employee or you as a as an experienced affiliate marketer, helped us achieve these extraordinary business results? And the number one theme that they kept mentioning was our publisher development team. And what our publisher development team does is evaluates and builds relationships with all the different affiliate types, publisher types, niche marketing market. You know, the the upper funnel, mass media, the coupon sites, the the partners that that help you get back the abandoned carts. And when you’re just managing it in-house or you just have one person, you know, that’s like, oh, we’re doing affiliate, check the box, but you’re not, you don’t have access to the broad portfolio, the universe of publishers available. And that’s that’s where the success comes into play. Is that mix and like to your point of like you don’t need 15 coupon sites, but if you have five really good ones or, you know, it’s like finding the right publishers for and the right content for driving your business results and continually continuing to measure and optimize that you can’t do when you’re just doing it in-house with one person. We have so much data around the best, commission rate or, you know, what’s what, where we have negotiated special negotiated rates. So we often onboard a new client and drive savings right away by adjusting their commission rates on their existing partners before we even start, growing their partnerships. So it’s, there’s there’s so much additional value that comes to your point of having that collective knowledge that you could get from from an agency or, you know, from your teams that impact as well. 


[00:24:09] Todd Crawford That’s the thing about this channel. I think it keeps so many people in it, is that there’s always something new and different. You know, if you’re buying keywords, you know, you’re analyzing data. And if a keyword isn’t performing, you maybe stop bidding on it or you you don’t worry about being number one. And there’s, you know, there’s no human involvement there. You’re not really talking to people at Google about your keyword buying. And, you know, really, should I keep buying this or not? Right. It’s it’s not like that. Where is this is more times than not, actual direct conversations with somebody on a publisher team about the opportunity or talking about the data that we both can see and what’s good and what could be improved. And I think that’s what keeps people in this space so long, is that they they just love the relationships and the the dynamics. I guess closing this out, the other thing I just wanted to unpack a little or explore a little is this overlap now or, potential overlap with creators, right? The the influencer channel, PR influencers and affiliate influencers, which, you know, for those that don’t know, I mean, when when people started talking about influencers ten years ago, all the affiliate managers raise their hand. And when we’ve been working with these guys for years, a lot of them were YouTubers, right? And they do product reviews, product comparisons, product recommendations. They they use brands as sponsors to other content that they’re creating, and they’re able to put the link in the description with maybe a promo code. That’s vanity. And those have always worked well. But now we’re seeing these new social media platforms, which I guess created this influencer channel. But there’s a tremendous amount of overlap. And I think, you know, brands that are at least coordinating those, those efforts are also missing out. 


[00:26:03] Kerry Curran Right. Well, and to your point, it’s. The going back to the whole benefit of affiliate of the track ability, the optimization capabilities, because you can measure what’s performing. You know, it’s the finding the creators whose content actually sells your product because you’re tracking that, you know. It allows you to, really lean in and build those relationships with with the creators that are selling. And one of the approaches that we take is to find those more the smaller niche creators that maybe they have 10,000 followers or, you know, 20,000 followers versus like, let me go spend on the Kardashian level creators. And, you know, you can have multiple small creators, can drive a lot of sales and build those really those relationships over time. And you get those, you know, that they’re able to the harder they work, the more money they’re going to make. So you’re both, you know, it’s a mutually beneficial partnership versus a huge upfront investment. And maybe they’ll maybe it will sell my product, maybe not. So it’s I think we’re going to see the shift towards, more and more to the point of the creators and influencers having that affiliate link. Maybe it’s more of a hybrid approach as they get used to not getting paid upfront. But I think it it just just like the benefits of all affiliate initiatives, the more you can track and figure out what’s actually working or, you know, as you said, earlier, advertising that works like we we can really see what’s driving your sales all the way through to your website. And so that’s, that’s the benefit there. 


[00:27:54] Todd Crawford Well, it’s also what resonates with the consumers, right? They’re not excited to see more programmatic ads following them around. Right? I mean, they might be excited to have the courtesy paid search result at the top of the page when they’re searching for something that you might be selling or providing as a service. I don’t know if we’re excited, but it’s convenient. And then, but but with the types of affiliates, especially the, the ones that fall under the influencer kind of umbrella that are actually helping people make informed decisions. There’s there’s no end to the number of studies that say this is exactly what consumers want. They don’t want ads. They want content. They want information that educates them so they can make an informed decision. And I don’t know of any other advertising. Right. That does that. 


[00:28:44] Kerry Curran Right. Right. Right.


[00:28:45] Todd Crawford So that’s really the consideration there. And you were talking about, you know, that I think people got super excited, but pay per post started to kind of fall flat because they’re spending all this money and they really couldn’t track it well. And so they started a question like, should be doing this channel. And there there’s kind of, as you pointed out, going down to the micro-influencers and having a platform that allows you to literally coordinate dozens of them at once and a campaign and look that there’s nothing wrong with, we call it Post Plus, where it’s a hybrid. I pay a little bit for post and a back side of of a trackable link or code to pay on a commission. Then you’re you’re mitigating the risk for the brand. You’re not paying as much out the door with no real guarantee of results. So I think, again, it needs to be some coordination here, because the PR team is probably working with the larger influencers and has a big budget pay per post. Only the influencer team is also in that, but maybe a little little in the mid tier. And, and you know, coordinating with the affiliate team because frankly they’re sometimes working with the same partners and they don’t know it. And they’re double paying them and published the partners aren’t saying anything about it? Right? 


[00:30:06] Kerry Curran And so yeah, I think that’s you know, it ties everything back together of the integrating or ensuring that you have your affiliate and your influencer strategy as part of your broader planning and making sure that it’s your point, like you’re leaning into influencers where they work and affiliates where they work, and making sure they’re you’re not doubling efforts and really maximizing that potential. 


[00:30:35] Todd Crawford Well, if we keep going on here for a while. But I think the best advice is to go ahead and read the the study that you guys have, take it from And then if you have questions, follow up with your team, because I’m sure you guys are happy to answer any questions related to that or help brands better understand what they should be doing for budget and resources. 


[00:30:55] Kerry Curran Definitely. Great. Well, Todd, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure. I always enjoy speaking with you. And, thank you for having me on today. 


[00:31:08] Todd Crawford Whether you’re an established brand or just starting out, a partnerships channel can be key to your overall success. With limited resources and budget constraints. Diverse partnerships, especially those you can leverage when working with an agency, can be cost effective and help contribute to the growth and diversity of the channel. Unlike typical digital advertising, where you pay regardless of the outcome, you can begin to explore partnerships that target consumers where they are most likely to convert. If you’re a brand that understands the true power of this channel, I highly encourage you to continue the conversation with your team and upper management so that more of us can begin reaping the benefits of this amazing channel by increasing the level engagement from your C-suite. Thanks for listening and I look forward to next time. 


[00:31:52] Canned Intro 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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