We introduce you to the leading affiliates
Our platform is all about helping program managers to find new affiliates – more importantly it’s about finding the most relevant bloggers and affiliates to recruit. The platform provides outline affiliate analysis, including social and email details; as this is a relationship industry, it pays dividends to understand publishers more fully. That’s what led us to plan this series of interviews.
This article is on someone with a long history in affiliates – who I first met back in his days as affiliate manager for BT.com, Chris King, now a prolific travel and rail blogger.
CAN YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF AND YOUR PROJECTS?
I’m Chris P King and started my first publishing project in 2011. Attracted by the freedom of passive income, I’ve run my business while travelling extensively in Asia and living in Japan.
Today, I have multiple projects pursuing my passions and the ‘lifestyle entrepreneur’ dream.
THAT WAS QUITE A JOURNEY FROM HEADING UP AFFILIATES AT BT TO JAPAN FOOD TOURS—WHAT WAS YOUR PRIME MOTIVATION FOR SETTING UP?
Now you’re taking me back, Chris. It’s been well over a decade since I left the corporate world, and it’s been an incredible journey. Freedom was the prime motivation for going alone. We only have a short time here. I needed to live the life I wanted to live.
The freedom to travel—which I’ve always loved and done throughout my life—and create a location independent business swept me off on adventures in Asia. After catching an overnight train from Hanoi to the mountains in north Vietnam, I met my future wife.
We’re now happily married with a beautiful family living in Japan.
TRAVELLING AND LIFE IN JAPAN
Japan is a fascinating country and the perfect place for me to discover and follow some of my favourite passions—travel, travelling by train and food.
From six months travelling in Japan—much of it by Shinkansen bullet train—and five years living in Osaka (known as the ‘nation’s kitchen’ for its culinary diversity and the people’s love of food), I’ve experienced a lot of Japan’s extraordinary food culture.
Discovering Japan’s best food and drink experiences is very difficult for visitors. For sure, you need a guide to navigate you around the myriad of places to eat, and order for you (unless you can read and speak Japanese?!).
FOOD TOURS JAPAN
One evening whilst out sampling some of Osaka’s izakayas (Japanese-style pubs with delicious food) and tachinomiyas (standing bars with food), some tourists asked me if I could recommend some dishes and places to eat. A few hours later, while tucking into some kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers of seafood, meat and vegetables) and beers, Food Tours Japan was born.
At that moment, I realised I could ‘scratch my own itch’ to delve deeper into Japan’s gourmet culture and provide a solution to help like-minded travellers. Food Tours Japan adds value by curating the best food tours in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and throughout Japan with an editorial layer of insider knowledge.
There’s no better way to reach the soul of a place than through its people and food. And the food is the primary reason why people want to visit Japan—the world’s number one food destination.
Whether you’re looking for luxurious kaiseki (multi-course meal) with geisha and maiko entertainment in Kyoto, or, tucking into succulent seafood at Tokyo’s famous Tsujiki and Toyosu markets, or, feasting on Osaka’s savoury soul foods—look no further than Food Tours Japan.
THE TRAVEL SECTOR HAS BEEN HIT PRETTY HARD IN 2020; HOW HAS YOUR BUSINESS BEEN IMPACTED?
Unfortunately, following my passions has come at a hefty price. I could see the writing on the wall, however, and did an immediate pivot into new areas which I’ll come on to later.
In April, our overall year-on-year business revenue was down over 99%. I didn’t bother looking in May.
Food Tours Japan has struggled massively this year. From late January things started going pear-shaped, and we’ve barely made any revenue this year from travel tours.
Of course, travel revenues across the board on other projects have suffered a steep decline. After a disastrous few months, however, some of it bounced back with a bang.
Travel is still in a precarious situation, and we’re not waiting around for it to pick-up. That’s been our position since mid-March.
HAVE TRAVEL AFFILIATE PROGRAMMES CLOSED OR PAUSED AND MADE YOUR TASK EVEN HARDER?
Yes, things have not been made easier. We’ve seen our partners:
- – Completely go out of business
- – Close projects and websites
- – Pause programmes for six months
- – Drop commission rates by over 50%
Less demand for travel driven by closing down borders, and government ineptitude and heavy-handed decision-making; however, has hampered our efforts more.
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS OR PREDICTIONS FOR TRAVEL IN 2021?
I have low expectations for travel in 2021. Optimistic travel forecasts from a few months ago are being drowned out by further restrictions on freedom of movement and ever-changing government rules.
2021 CROSS-BORDER TRAVEL PREDICTIONS
Global airline traffic will not return to 2019 levels till at least 2024. A recent forecast by Fitch suggests 2021 air traffic in Europe at 55% and North America 60%-70% of 2019 levels. I think these forecasts for next year are too optimistic.
People want to travel, but they have diminishing control over whether they can. Added to this; steep declines in disposable income, rising unemployment, health passports and mandatory pre-travel tests and incoming vaccinations (which some people won’t take)—together the outlook for cross-border travel is bleak.
With different rules and restrictions in place across countries, affiliate managers will need an international approach for recruiting publishers. And with some travel sub-sectors performing better than others, recruiting travel affiliates by sub-sector is vital.
2021 UK DOMESTIC AND INBOUND TRAVEL PREDICTIONS
In the UK, domestic travel will fare better with the local demand for coast and countryside staycations. Cities, however, will struggle if 2021 cultural, sporting and music events continue to be cancelled.
London, Edinburgh and places which rely more on overseas visitors will struggle more. And currently, Britain is not an attractive destination for inbound travel.
A PwC hotels study is predicting the ‘most volatile outlook for fifty years’ with 2021 forecast hotel occupancy rates of 52.4% in London and 59.2% in the regions; which compares to 83.4% and 75.4% in 2019 respectively.
I want to be more optimistic. Travel is close to my heart, and I love the industry. And many of my friends and business partners are suffering right now.
YOU SAID EARLIER YOU PIVOTED; WHAT DID YOU DO?
I sensed things would not be good long-term, so I went with my intuition and pivoted immediately. While I’ve become a ‘jack of all trades’ running an online business, and fancy myself as a copywriter—I’m a marketer more than anything else.
FOOD TOURS JAPAN
On Food Tours Japan, we published Japanese culinary and food and drink content. We have the expertise, and there’s a lot of inaccurate and poorly written English content out there. To date, the ROI has been poor; but we now know, what will work in the future.
One day, I entered a cafe, and there was an electric scooter inside. Electric bikes are standard in Japan, but I’d never seen an e-scooter up close. The cafe owner raved about how convenient they were and how it had transformed his life getting around the city.
We already had some content on Green Abode about electric vehicles, scooters and bikes. And cleaner air and less pollution in cities is something I’ve always been passionate about, so I decided to develop more content in that space.
After doing a lot of research, we’ve produced some solid electric scooter and electric bike articles and are working with various partners. We’re promoting Pure Electric discounts and special offers, and their whole range of e-scooters and e-bikes.
Electric scooters are an exciting place to be with innovation from Pure Electric’s e-scooter range; best-selling players like Xiaomi and Ninebot Segway; and stylish brands like Unagi, Inokim and SoFlow. Similarly, cutting-edge and practical electric bikes are released all the time. Plenty is going on to keep us occupied.
I’m thankful I can do SEO, content strategy and affiliate marketing consultancy when exciting projects come up. Across the past year, I’ve helped a US publisher Everyday Carry to double their traffic from organic search and optimise their content to drive higher conversions.
I’ve also got a train travel project, which has been challenging this year. We’re selling rail passes, train tickets and rail tours across Britain, Europe and Japan.
The Train Hacker picked up around July and August; however, we’ve sold a fraction of our usual Interrail and Eurail Passes (Europe), and virtually no JR Passes (Japan). Hopefully, train travel will grow back more robust in the long-term.
What’s the best way for advertisers to make their offer attractive enough for you to feature?
I’m more focused on our content strategy and where we’re going. We’re more interested in long-term initiatives which reward us for our first-rate content and high conversion rates.
LONG-TERM COMMERCIAL MODEL
The best commercial model we’ve had so far is a 40/20/40 share. 40% if we’re the initiator, 20% for an assist and 40% for a convertor. It’s an excellent model—especially for content publishers— and I’m surprised it’s not available more.
We’ll also promote advertisers who pay assists. One piece of content might take me one week, and there’s nothing more demoralising than driving high unpaid assists and low sales.
We do work on short-term promotions, though. If it’s an all-round good deal and easy to implement, we’ll promote it. If the advertiser wants more traffic (like from paid search) and we’re unsure it will work, we’ll insist on assists or extra payments.
WHAT WAS THE BEST AND WORST RECRUITMENT MESSAGE YOU’VE RECEIVED?
The best recruitment messages are from potential partners who have done the research, identified an opportunity for both parties, and request a meeting.
Once we were asked to promote industrial onshore wind turbines, that’s probably the worst. And we get all sorts of crap and nonsense from companies contacting us from our sites.
We still get cold and irrelevant recruitment messages from advertisers via networks. A scatter-gun approach with no sorting and filtering doesn’t work. Effective publisher recruitment requires segmentation and tailored-messaging.
YOU USED TO BE AN AFFILIATE MANAGER—WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND TO IMPROVE AFFILIATE RECRUITMENT?
Affiliate manager’s need to be incentivised to drive sales and CPA. And to do that, the affiliate channel must be in a sales team. To grow the channel, salespeople need quarterly targets and bonuses, which gives them motivation and ownership to grow their publisher base.
When I started in affiliate management (18 years ago!), we were in a sales team. We didn’t have software like Publisher Discovery back then. I spent a lot of time trawling through search engines, creating lists of publishers and sending them to our networks to recruit.
We focused on recruiting a diverse range of publishers; which drove more sales, spread our risk, and looked good in presentations to our sales managers (and kept their prying eyes at bay!).
Indeed, we would have utilised Publisher Discovery’s competitor publisher analysis, and taken opportunities to use tools which delivered excellent incremental sales results. And here we come full circle again; affiliates is a sales channel.
WHAT ONE PIECE OF OTHER ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO NEW AFFILIATE MANAGERS?
Develop and nurture relationships to achieve positive results for both parties.
Starting with effective communication—have face-to-face meetings or get on the phone. Do prior research before meetings; be inquisitive, ask questions, find out where the publisher is going.
Get to know everything about your business partner; both their work and personal life if they’re willing to share. Take them out for a drink; it always worked for me (Haha!).
About Chris King
Chris P King is a lifestyle entrepreneur with a portfolio of websites in travel, food and drink and health. He also has a consultancy business which specialises in SEO, content strategy and marketing, and affiliate marketing.
Chris has worked in digital media and marketing for 21 years. He’s currently working hard at his copywriting skills. Chris lives in Japan and enjoys family time, travelling and eating.
See more on Chris’ websites:
Connect with Chris P King at LinkedIn.
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