Nov 16, 2020
Written by CJ Affiliate
Junction Live host and VP of Marketing at CJ Affiliate, Nicole Ron, is joined by Alexandra Pagar-Wolf, Director of Brand Partnerships for women's lifestyle sites, The Everygirl and The Everymom in the final installment of our four-part series that catches up with content creators as they adapt to the rollercoaster that is 2020. Alexandra shares The Everygirl's approach to relatable content, the challenges of sold-out products, and their focus on the good things.
Junction Live, taking thought leadership off the page and into the studio with some of the sharpest minds in affiliate marketing.
NICOLE RON: 00:12 | Hello, and welcome to this episode of Junction Live. I'm your host, Nicole Ron, Vice President of Marketing and Business Systems here at CJ Affiliate. I'm excited to dive into today's episode, which is part of a four-part series where I connect with a different content creator each time. In this series, we explore how things have changed for each content creator over the course of 2020, how they've adapted, and what brands need to know in order to find success when working in content. So, get your notepad out—our next guest has a lot of great information to share.
NICOLE RON: 00:49 | All right. So with me today, I have Alexandra Pagar-Wolf, Director of Brand Partnerships for the Everygirl Media Group which encompasses The Everygirl and The Everymom. Welcome, Alexandra. It's wonderful to have you here. And I'd love to have you take a moment to tell me a little bit more about your site, who your audience is, and what kind of content you focus on and why.
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 01:13 | Hi there! Excited to be a part of this today. The Everygirl Media Group is a lifestyle website that was founded for women, by women. And our media group has two websites, The Everygirl and The Everymom, and they essentially focus on all sorts of content that affects a woman's life—so everything from mental health, to career, to fashion, to beauty, to lifestyle.
So what we aim to do with both platforms is provide women the inspiration that they need for daily life and to give them the opportunity to come to either of our websites and see themselves represented in the stories that our editors are sharing and that we have from our submissions box from other real women just like them. Our goal is always to provide attainable and relatable content for every woman, regardless of her stage of life.
NICOLE RON: 02:18 | Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. And just for some context, can you tell me a little bit about prior to COVID—what types of brands, products, services, content really resonated with your audience?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 02:32| Over the past seven years, we've really worked with every kind of brand out there. Everybody from travel, to fashion, to lifestyle, to wellness, career—you name it, we've run the gamut. After COVID hit, we really needed to think about what was relevant to our audience, and that was really kind of what shifted. So in terms of pre-COVID, our audience was really active in the community. They were going out. They were at restaurants. They were traveling. Travel was highly important to our audience. Workwear attire, making travel work on a budget. Anything that had to do with public gatherings, events, weddings, all of that was so important. And now, we've had to really limit those types of partnerships and rethink them in a way that's meaningful for our audience, knowing that they are probably not going into an office every day and they're not spending a portion of their budget on travel, or they might have lost their job. So budgeting content is even more important than it was previously.
NICOLE RON: 04:00 | Got it. That's super helpful. In light of COVID—and I know we were all kind of in our bubbles come early February and even into the March timeframe of this year—I'm really interested to hear, when did you guys realize that there was a shift that was starting to occur due to the pandemic? Was it slow? Did it happen kind of all at once? And what were some of the things that cued you off? And then ultimately, how did you respond in those early days or even weeks as the pandemic really started to grip the nation?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 04:34 | Internally, as a team, we had started discussing the pandemic and our own personal fears as moms and individuals—we have folks on our team who have spouses that are medical professionals. So it was something internally, before March, that we had all been talking about out so we felt prepared in the sense that we had all been discussing this in terms of that this was coming, and likely things were going to be different in the future.
But we certainly didn't predict the way things happened when Chicago—which is where our office is located—started to really shut down and ask people to self-isolate, we realized very quickly that we needed to provide content that was targeting the safety of our readership and making sure that we were providing relevant content. So talking about everything from safety to sharing other credible news sources. Things that you can do to help yourself work from home more efficiently, ways that you can adjust your budget during this time, ways to stay connected with family and friends.
So pretty much when the lockdown in Chicago came into place, we really made that shift over. We added a "Stay at Home" section to our home page and stopped doing travel content, stopped entertaining content that was about mass gathering, and really focused on what we felt our team was facing in that moment, and using that as a catalyst to provide updated content to our readership that was relevant to where they might be in that particular moment.
NICOLE RON: 06:35 | So there's a large empathy with what your community was ultimately feeling and then using that to predict and be able to share the type of content that you thought would be useful during such a time of change.
I'm really interested to hear how your audience reacted and how you learned or continued to learn about what they were responding well to and perhaps areas that cropped up as new need as we got a little bit deeper into stay-at-home, unemployment, and all of those activities that occurred.
Can you talk to me a little bit about how that continued to evolve and what sort of response you had from your audience?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 07:18 | Yeah. So when we started launching our stay-at-home content, we used our social channels as a way to engage with our audience, to hear directly from them, and ask them to share their experiences. So we often use our audience as a way to just crowdsource data. So we'll put it out there in an Instagram Stories poll: “Is this important to you?” And we use some of that data to help drive. We look at the metrics in terms of clicks and engagement into the specific posts on what is resonating and what is not.
As things evolved, we really just looked at what was relevant. So when people were staying at home, how had their lives shifted? And as things continued to stay that way, what did people need to help their mental health, their physical health? We talked a lot about at-home fitness routines, adjusting to working from home, since our team—a lot of us had always done certain things like that. I'm just listening to the feedback from our audience through our social channels and our email feedback and through the website. Hearing what our audience was telling us that they needed and trying to provide that for them.
We had a lot of feedback about mental health content. That's something we've always featured. So we were able to work with experts in the mental health field to provide a good amount of content surrounding what people can do to help with anxiety during this time, how to stay connected, ways that they can seek help online through online therapy—that was something that was really relevant in the early days. Talking about grocery shopping and recipes for people who maybe didn't cook at home as much. All of those things were super important to us in terms of meeting our audience where they were currently and also making sure that everything we were doing and saying was promoting the safest option for our readership based on what the CDC guidelines and recommendations were at the time.
NICOLE RON: 09:41 | That makes sense. And was there anything that you saw crop up that was of interest that surprised you?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 09:48 | I think that how fast everyone was interested in really leaning into loungewear. Our team loved that because we all love loungewear and we're very passionate about finding the best loungewear. That was a fun one for us. Also skincare routine—we saw that really take a big spike at the beginning of COVID in terms of people not really wearing as much makeup but really investing in their skin and caring about using this time at home to work on that. Additionally, hobbies. Hobbies was a big one, but we weren't super surprised by that. But people really taking the time to invest in themselves and work on things that they hadn't had time for previously, whether it was teaching themselves new skills like coding or hand lettering or learning how to cook. That was really exciting in the beginning—seeing how many people were trying new things and really expanding their own horizon and comfort zone from home. That was nice to see.
NICOLE RON: 11:02 | Awesome. I know my athleisure wear collection has quadrupled, including what I'm wearing now, so I'm glad I'm not the only one.
How did you share or educate with brands these shifts in consumer need or behavior or interest during the time? And how did that ultimately change the way that you are either working with existing partners that you'd had longer-term relationships with or selecting new partners?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 11:33 | So we have always been incredibly transparent with our brand partners. It's really important to us that we set the expectation from the beginning about who our audience is, what they're looking for, what their needs are, and how we feel the best way to showcase their brand service product to our audience is. So we are very selective about who we partner with in terms of making sure that it's a fit for our audience aesthetically, price point, and brand messaging—all of that's really important to us.
So when we have those initial conversations with any brand partner, we really tell them that we want to take their goals and find a way to maximize them in a way that is really relatable to our readership. So sometimes a partner will come with a fixed set of ideas and we'll walk through with them what has, in that genre, performed well in the past from both an editorial content perspective and a sponsored content perspective. And then based on the current climate, how we think we can best achieve those goals. And we're just very honest about it and upfront.
Our traffic actually increased at the start of COVID. People were home where they were reading more, they were consuming more and that was their connection to others in a way that maybe they had been too busy for previously. So finding and just educating our brands on what was currently working and what the needs of the community was, is, and are, was the strategy that we took in terms of helping people understand how we could best showcase their content.
So I think that just really working closely with our partners and finding solutions that work within the same vein of what the original plan was but are adapted, and just being completely transparent and setting new expectations based on the current market is how we've been able to continue to work with all of our partners and help them understand how we can all get through this in a way that is still really meaningful and successful, but is also being really sensitive to the current situation that our readers are facing both with staying at home or maybe their adjusted finances and taking all that into account and producing an entirely new plan than what we may have had previously.
NICOLE RON: 14:18 | I know we've had to take a pretty similar approach on our side as well so I totally get it. How have you seen the brands that you work with react to the changes in either consumer interests or demand or the ways that you have adapted to meeting consumer need?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 14:41 | I think that for a lot of our brand partners, they have struggled with just the change in expectations, so if that has to do with stock or shipping times, that has been something we've had to face, especially on The Everymom with kids products’ fast sell-through rates. We can plan something and then something will be sold out and be completely out of stock by the time that we go to talk about it, which has proven to be challenging for our partners across the board and for us in terms of pre-planning some of the content pieces that we had originally thought about.
But I think that the partners are very open to being flexible, we're very open to being flexible, and we want all of our campaigns to be as successful for our partners as they are for our readers. So when something is maybe not going the way we had planned, we just always hop on the phone, we always have a discussion about where we're at, where they're at, what is doable, what is not doable. And then find a work around, whether that's shifting the content completely, just tweaking a couple of angles, pushing things out until something can come back.
If it's content that's just no longer relevant given the situation, we are always open to pivoting to find a way to make it relevant and come up with a completely new idea. So as long as our partners are open to that, we're open to that. And I think having really honest conversations about the reality and the expectation of what is getting engagement and what is not getting engagement is really helpful from an education perspective.
NICOLE RON: 16:35 | And has your monetization strategy had to adapt at all during this time?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 16:42 | We have always been very clear about how we work with our partners. We actually launched some new programs in January of this year, pre-COVID, one of which is our brand ambassador program, which is a year-long commitment with a specific partner in a category that provides exclusivity and a very natural integration and cadence of that brand's products or services throughout the year. It's an invitation-only program that we invite our partners to join. Basically, the threshold for invitation is that it's something our editors are already using and loving. So it's a very natural seamless integration and we had had that previously.
In response to the overall strategy after COVID, we certainly had inquiries from partners asking us if we were doing things differently. And we decided to keep everything the same because our traffic was increased, our user base was engaged, and we knew that we could still deliver results for our partners across the board. So we made that decision to keep everything in line. And that has proven to be the right decision for our company. We're really proud that we didn't have to lay anyone off. Nobody was furloughed. Our full-time staff just shifted to work-from-home completely. And that was a really important thing for us, that everybody be taken care of. Then we'd be able to operate the site as we had been.
The co-founders of the company, Alaina Kaczmarski and Danielle Moss, are really incredible women and their main mission in starting this company was that every woman should feel represented. And I know when the pandemic started, it was really important to them that our whole team feel secure, that they understand that Alaina and Danielle cared about their safety that was why we shifted to working from home. They pivoted really quickly to make sure that everyone was taken care of and that safety and health and family were the top priority. And I can't say enough about how that, in general, their outlook on this pandemic really helped our team come together and be able to maintain the same level of content, high level of content that we have been doing previously.
NICOLE RON: 19:24 | That's fantastic. Well, I think it shows, honestly, in the way that you guys are responding and thinking about having empathy for where other people are in their journey and situation.
I had a follow-up question for you on your monetization strategy. Can you tell me a little bit about the role that affiliate plays in your monetization strategy?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 19:47 | Absolutely. So we use affiliate as a purely editorial play. Affiliate is a really important part of our business on the editorial side.
So the way that we designate sponsored content and editorial content is that we are not taking brand pitches for dedicated editorial stories. If a partner is mentioned in an editorial story, we will use affiliate links, but those are chosen by each individual editor based on the needs of their story. And that's how we have been able to kind of separate the different pieces and parts of the business so that sponsored content and the relationships that we have with brands are really centered on these holistic, thorough, thought-out campaigns that encompass all of our brands and our channels, and are really detailed and dedicated towards their goals and making sure that we can help them achieve those, whether it's increasing their social strategy or conversion or brand awareness or just, for example, we partnered with someone recently on a scholarship program just to get applicants in their door. So whatever it is—that's how we keep that separate.
And then affiliate. The way that we do that editorially is that each editor on our full-time staff and our contributing editors across the country know that they have that flexibility to be able to pull from the brands that they feel best fit their piece. And they are able to work that into all of their content. And our site is optimized with shopping widgets to be really clear and easy to use for the end user. So when we do say, a listicle type roundup that is completely editorial, we'll use affiliate links in that and it's just very simple and streamlined for the end user. And then our Shop tab on our home page that we curate, which is our favorite products from across the web and a variety of given categories, we use affiliate in that shop tab as well.
NICOLE RON: 22:09 | So it's always content first with the monetization strategy being a complement to it, it sounds like.
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 22:16 | Yes, it is the most important to us that our content always be worthy of our mission. So when something's just not on brand for us, whether that's a partnership or an affiliate program, we just don't do it. We are very true to who we are, who we started out to be, making sure that we're providing a wide variety of options that are affordable and as quality as possible and aesthetically in line with what our brand feels is relevant. So that's kind of top of mind for us in everything that we do.
NICOLE RON: 23:00 | So there's a lot of integrity in the work that you guys do.
Do you have any advice for brands looking to partner with content creators like yourself that you think you can summarize as takeaways for them?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 23:13 | My number one piece of advice to brand partners is that when you approach a content creator, that that creator knows their audience. They eat, sleep, and breathe this day in and day out. And they are looking at their data, which is going to show them what is working, what isn't working, and they know that maybe a certain product is not going to convert with their audience or that the way to reach that audience and share that message may be different than what the brand had previously committed to, but I think being open to listening to the content creators that they are trusting and investing in to know how to best support them in their goals—that's going to be the most successful for everyone involved.
And I always try and explain to our specific brand partners that the campaign brief—that one-size-fits-all approach—doesn't necessarily work for every partner and that our site in particular, we're not an individual content creator, we're an online lifestyle magazine. So we have so many different voices, and all of our voices deserve to be heard. And when we approach it from that perspective of “this editor's opinion is X, this editor's opinion is Y”, that's a much stronger message than trying to get across a point that just may not fit the way that our readers respond to content.
So we always ask them to trust us. We will storyboard something out for them that we really believe in and show them what we think it could be, even if it's a little bit different from what they initially came to us with. And the majority of our partners really appreciate that transparency and our creativity and how we are thoughtful about incorporating their messaging into what we do and how we message things and how we might feel about a particular product or service.
So I always wish that brands just come into this content creator space with an open mind because each individual creator knows their audience. And if they feel passionate about the brand, it will show and it will succeed.
NICOLE RON: 25:54 | That's great advice. Did you find that you were starting to have conversations with a totally new audience or a different audience than who had previously used you in the past?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 26:08 | I definitely think we had a new audience find us from some of our stay-at-home content. And I think that it really reinvigorated previous readers to check back in with us on a more regular basis. And I think that the main reason for that is because our site was founded with a career focus, and a lot of people who are busy—our users, were always traveling, they were always out. And now that they were home more often, they were looking for ways to fill that time in a meaningful way.
So in the beginning, too, we saw a lot of people doing organizing projects. So we saw all that evergreen content we had had on the site spike in terms of people finding us through a particular need that they had, and then they stayed because they saw what we were doing and really enjoyed it. So that's been fun to see all of the different avenues people found us through. And as COVID has progressed, we've just continued to meet those needs. So when face masks started, the roundup of the best face masks that our editors are wearing, where we got ours, how we use them, or favorite hand sanitizers—all those things that you never thought you'd be looking for that now you are. Just providing that kind of content and leaning into what all those new users were looking for and making sure that we were expanding the content that we were providing in those particular categories as well to suit those increased needs, so everything that you'd be doing from home.
NICOLE RON: 28:03 | You mentioned that lots of people are finding themselves during this time and really picking up hobbies that perhaps they'd never had before. Did you pick up any COVID hobbies that surprised you that you didn't have prior to the pandemic?
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 28:19 | I have a 20-month-old son and I'm eight months pregnant with my second son, so my COVID hobbies were chasing my toddler around my house and trying to limit his interaction from scaling our Peloton. But I did make some bread in the beginning from my favorite cookbook from Half Baked Harvest. That was my original pandemic hobby. And I also love to garden and that was not a new one, but I did try my hand at growing all of my vegetables from seed, and that was not super successful for me but I did try. I think that the toddler had something to do with the failure of that hobby, but you never know. I don't want to take full responsibility for that failure.
NICOLE RON: 29:16 | Totally fair. I also picked up on the bread hobby. I did my own sourdough starter and was probably baking like two loaves of bread a week, so I definitely gained the COVID-19. [laughter] And then also, I'm a big gardener. I started more of an indoor garden during the pandemic as well, so very cool.
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 19:39 | The gardening hobby has been a fun one for me to share with the team because it's something I've always loved and seeing other people pick up on it across my own personal social media channels and networks and through the The Everygirl and The Everymom and seeing all of these people starting to love some of these things that I've always been doing. But a lot of my friends and family and co-workers didn’t has been really exciting for me. And I hope that our users and our team, in general, have really just gotten outside more, started to enjoy nature more. And I think there's a lot of positive that has come out of this, which is something that we try and translate through to our content is that this doesn't have to be about all the things that you've missed, you can find ways to make this about something you've gained as well. And that's always a nice way to look at it versus just a glass half empty.
And especially going into the holidays which we've been in full-planning mode for since June, we expect them to look different this year. We have also launched a foundation through the Everygirl—that's a new one for us—so that we can better respond to the needs of our community through charitable giving. So that's a fun thing that we have coming up. And I think that going into this back half of the year, just finding ways as this progresses to continue to be positive and evolve and make good things happen. That's kind of our goal for this end of 2020 and continuing with the pandemic.
NICOLE RON: 31:39 | Thanks for sharing that. Yeah, it's definitely going to be an interesting year as we kind of traverse uncharted territory and figure out a way to get people to still feel connected in light of a lot of these challenges.
Hey, thanks so much for joining, Alexandra. I really appreciate your time today and I think you've shared a lot of really great pieces of information and content that our audience will certainly find useful as they figure out how to continue to work with content creators as well as traverse Q4. So thank you again. I really appreciate it.
ALEXANDRA PAGAR-WOLF: 32:15 | Thanks for having me. It's been awesome to be a part of it and I love how this community of content creators really can come together to support each other during this time. It's always so nice to hear from other folks in the industry and what they're doing and what's working for them, and I think that we're all better when we work together.
NICOLE RON: 32:29 | 100%. Thank you so much!