Stephanie Harris of PartnerCentric: 3 Non-Intuitive Marketing Strategies To Grow Your Agency

Kage Spatz
Jul 13, 2020 · 9 min read
Stephanie Harris

Fear has a time and a place to be respected, but it doesn’t have a seat at every table, and it has a voice but it shouldn’t always have THE say.

As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Stephanie Harris.

Stephanie Harris is the owner & CEO of PartnerCentric. She is a proponent of work-life balance with one of the industry’s earliest fully-remote workforces and is noted as a PerformanceIN Top 50 Industry Player, Forbes Council contributor, and industry speaker. She is also the driving force behind ControlSuite, a platform delivering control and accountability in the affiliate marketing channel.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a college student in the early 2000s, I had majored in English Rhetoric and business, thinking a career in marketing or publishing would be a great way to channel my passions and strengths. During my sophomore year, I got a great internship in my college town with a PR firm who tasked me with developing and editing their website pages, and I had to create a portfolio based on that work for the college credit. But I hadn’t given up my thoughts of publishing, and for that summer I started applying to publish house internship programs. One such program was with Scholastic Inc., and upon seeing this portfolio and experience on my CV, a young manager (who would later become a mentor and a favorite client) picked me to join her in their Software group, which would later become the online division. She liked the website and writing work I’d done and thought I’d be a great asset to build out Scholastic’s first affiliate marketing programs, at a time when many businesses were just starting to look at this new channel. That summer, I made amazing relationships with some of the earliest affiliate partners, got a crash course in the original affiliate technologies and platforms, and began managing my first affiliate program. After college, I was recruited back to that online division of Scholastic for my first full-time job, and in the course of it had inadvertently become one of the earliest members of the performance marketing industry. Getting to Owner & CEO of PartnerCentric from that first job is a path that took many twists and turns from there, but my first exposure to affiliate marketing began with that PR internship.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?

During that first experience with affiliate marketing in my internship, I was tasked with creating a monthly newsletter, writing it up, and sending it out. I had never done anything like this before. I spent hours and hours putting together on paper the layout and the first month’s copy of updates to be sent to new affiliates in Scholastic’s programs. I had been receiving newsletters from other companies via email (as I had subscribed in order to do my research), and I assumed that this hand-drawn, hand-written, hand-crafted (!) newsletter I’d just put all of my energy into for a full week would be taken by the design department and turned into an e-newsletter. I so proudly showed my boss what I had come up with and she said, “this is beautiful, and you worked so hard on this, but you do know we have a software program that we send emails out from right? Some of this information is already outdated, so if you use that, your turnaround will be so much faster.” Well, I was so embarrassed, and looking back on it, it’s a funny memory at my own naivete. But it was also a real lesson for me — never assume, always ask. Marketing is about communicating and sharing your value props with your ideal customer, and the information changes so quickly so you’ve got to prioritize speed AND quality!

What makes the company you are marketing different from others in your space?

PartnerCentric is the only woman-owned (WBE certified) and fully-remote performance marketing agency in the industry. We have employees all over the US and have always had a remote model, which allows us to recruit talent from anywhere, not just one geographic area. This ensures that we have cultivated a true team of experts and our account managers are the most tenured in the industry with an average of 12 years of experience. As elaborated on below, we are not only an agency that provides premium strategic support that comes from years of experience but we are also the only agency that combines that support with proprietary technological advancements and tools that are created in-house and provide unprecedented transparency and clarity to our clients to help them reach and exceed their goals. We don’t accept the status quo, we see barriers and we figure out how to move beyond them (buying, building or inventing solutions) to ensure we can deliver on our strategy.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! We’ve begun to transform ourselves in the last three months from a traditional agency model that is labor-intensive with intangible value, to a forward-thinking business that blends both intangible and tangible solutions and services that reinvent the way brands market their businesses. It has been important for us to re-emerge in a post-COVID world as a tech-focused and future- thinking organization that helps our clients survive and thrive now and in the future. Our newly launched Control Suite enables our team to employ Technology Enabled Account Management (TEAM) so we can advise our client brands to make smarter, more informed, and predictive decisions when it comes to their investments in the affiliate channel.

There are so many unknowns when it comes to the next year and brands can’t rely on “business as usual” to see them through. It is our job as a premium agency to come up with the solutions to help businesses excel despite economic changes and we are up for the challenge!

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Frankly, I’m not sure I’m one to give advice on this. Just like everyone else, especially in the recent climate, I’ve faced the burnout that comes from burning the candle at both ends, where both my business and my family have needed me more than ever. What has really helped me, and I think will also help many other marketers out there, is the notion of creative disruption. Yes, this has been a terrible time for many different reasons, but so many consumers and organizations were so complacent before this crisis. In the wake of it, I’ve seen (more than ever) an appetite to take risks, to seek new ideas and solutions, and to adapt to new ways of doing things. People are more receptive now than they’ve ever been to something novel, to take a risk, to get themselves where they need to be. That is a thrilling opportunity for any marketer — because minds and hearts and wallets are open to new ideas. It is not a time to pull back, it’s a time to lean in.

As you know Google and other search engines constantly update their search algorithms. Do you believe that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is still an important part of any long-term marketing plan today?

Yes, SEO is still an important part of any long-term marketing strategy but with some caveats. In the past, SEO “experts” sometimes relied on questionable measures to increase a site’s organic ranking. These included clickbait headlines, backlinks from spammy sites, keyword stuffing, etc. Additionally, sites were often not optimized for mobile and were slow and unreliable, which would get flagged by Google’s algorithms. Since then, we have seen an evolution of SEO where old school tactics that used to win the day, just don’t work anymore. With Google able to distinguish rich content from optimized spam, marketers need to ensure they are providing true value through their SEO efforts.

Can you share some basic Search Engine Optimization tips you have for less experienced marketers?

In order to have a higher organic ranking, marketers should be creating rich content (blog posts, videos, FAQ, infographics, etc.) that speaks to their target audience and to their brand’s own expertise. Once the work has been done to figure out what the needs are for their audiences, marketers can come up with topics that they know will resonate with them and will be relevant to what they are searching and querying for anyway.

Once you have the content ready, then you can employ some simple optimization techniques and there are also WordPress plugins that aim to make SEO easy for beginners. “Quick win” elements to consider include adding page titles, meta descriptions, header tags, and image alt text. Also, ensure that your site is properly optimized for mobile, has great user experience, and has fast load times to keep visitors on your site.

What “Non-Intuitive Marketing Strategies” have been most effective for you in your industry?

1. Brand Connect Opportunities

An example of this is a recent partnership with a leading eyewear brand and a campaign we ran with doctors. They were converted into non-traditional “marketers” and earned commissions when a patient of theirs signed up for the eyewear brand via their website. The overall tip: think beyond traditional norms — most people don’t think of the doctor community as affiliate marketers, but they have a strong connection with the end consumer, and see a real value in the product.

2. Recruiting and Optimizing Advanced Technology Publisher Partners to Reach your Audience in Advanced ways

This provides a better user experience for the customer and the brand is able to find social media content, tag their products, and add them to beautifully curated galleries on their websites. The overall tip: Seek out partners that approach their work with a desire to improve and innovate on experience, in order to get the best results.

3. Non-Profit, Community-Focused Approaches

Brands can and do allow customers to donate to the causes they care most about when they make purchases. This builds customer loyalty while also focusing on the charitable aspect. As a bonus, it also tends to increase Average Order Size (AOS). The overall tip: It not only feels good to do good, it often gives a halo effect boost to the marketing tactic.

If you were only allowed to run paid ads on 1 platform (in your industry) over the next 12 months, what would it be and why?

If we could only run paid ads on one platform over the next year, it would be LinkedIn because we can build a stronger brand awareness there and have more capabilities to specifically target enterprise-level companies and decision-making level professionals who are interested in what we offer.

As a professional marketer, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

This is a hard question to answer, because all of us wear so many different hats, and care about so many different things in the different spheres of our life. The common arch within my spheres is that I’ve never backed away from something because of fear. That’s when I know to double down. I’m not afraid to fail; I’m afraid of doing nothing. I’m afraid of complacency, and I’m afraid of not going for it, when I know it’s right. I’m afraid of having an attitude or making a decision based on niggling fear. The world would have so much more opportunity, so much more kindness, and a truly abundant number of powerful and strong individuals — raising future powerful and strong individuals — if there was a movement to eliminate fear-based decision making. Fear has a time and a place to be respected, but it doesn’t have a seat at every table, and it has a voice but it shouldn’t always have THE say. Fear holds a lot of people, a lot of businesses, and, ultimately, our world back from its potential.

What quote would you say has inspired you the most in your life or career?

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” — Nelson Mandela

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

About the Author: Kage Spatz is a Forbes-ft. CEO & Marketing Strategist for Good. Leverage the same US-based SEO/PPC/SMM Specialists outsourced by an NBA franchise, the Fortune 500, & top-performing agencies everywhere. Apply today to better support your clients tomorrow & beyond with Spacetwin.

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Reverse engineering success with data-driven marketing strategies for long-term organic growth. Apply today:

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Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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