Affiliate Might Be More Like Detroit

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Written by Brook Schaaf

Last week I enjoyed my time at an entrepreneurs’ conference in downtown Detroit. Notable local speakers included Robin Terry, CEO of Motown Museum and grandniece of founder Berry Gordy, Jr.; Bud Denker, president of Penske Corporation (a $45 billion holding company); Chris Ilitch, CEO of Ilitch Companies (Little Caesars Pizza, Detroit Red Wings and Tigers, and others); and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the basketball legend and business magnate.

If you haven’t visited Detroit, your perception of the city might be tainted by outdated stereotypes (think “Robocop”). Downtown Detroit today is clean and sparse, with a slightly eerie feel from bricked-over windows and vacant lots where buildings presumably used to be. The small central park, Campus Martius, was in full bloom in unseasonably warm weather, and various streets bustled with activity day and night, from one of America’s top-voted riverwalks to the multiple nearby event venues. We had a wonderful time, topped off with a serendipitous meeting of the Velvettes’ lead singer and her son by one of the Temptations.

What struck me was how much each speaker was an advocate for the city of Detroit. Denker made a point to say that everyone takes everyone else’s calls when it comes to helping out the city and that the hat was often passed around. This boosterism has been going on for decades and its fruit can now be tasted.

This experience made me think of dissimilarities with affiliate marketing — not because the channel has lost glory as an economic power or cultural touchstone, but because we don’t collectively advocate or sacrifice for the channel to the wider world. Unlike Detroit, we often struggle to secure the necessary funding to conduct essential industry surveys, exemplified by the challenges faced by the PMA.

It’s worth considering that while we may have our fair share of challenges and less-than-perfect reputation, most other marketing channels have worse problems. Yet, we tend to dwell excessively on ours, like some kind of never-ending navel-gazing.

The Detroit I visited last week serves as a compelling reminder of the transformative power of advocacy for a shared vision. It challenges us to look beyond our industry’s limitations and focus our efforts toward a brighter future for affiliate marketing.

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