Episode #13 – The Performance Marketing Spotlight with Tara McCommons

About Our Guest

Tara McCommons is VP of Sales and Marketing at LinkConnector, an award-winning performance marketing network providing innovative technologies and services to support a reimagined way for merchants and affiliates to build strong, sustainable relationships. For nearly 20 years, Tara has been providing company-wide leadership and operations management while also taking a hands-on approach to identify and optimize merchant and affiliate relationships. Her diverse background spanning both corporate and start-up environments uniquely positions her to intimately understand and grow LinkConnector’s customer base. Tara is a speaker at industry conferences including Affiliate Summit and AM Days, and was recognized as one of the Top 50 Industry Players in 2020 by PerformanceIN (now Hello Partner). Tara served 3 terms as a Board of Directors Committee Chair with the Performance Marketing Association and is quite passionate about the people and entrepreneurial innovation that continuously moves our industry forward.



In this episode, our host Marshall Nyman sits down with Tara McCommons, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Link Connector. Tara shares her journey in the industry, starting from her initial introduction to affiliate marketing to her extensive experience working with Link Connector for close to two decades. She sheds light on Link Connector’s unique approach to affiliate marketing, its niche focus, and cutting-edge technologies. Tara also shares her involvement with the Performance Marketing Association and her predictions for the future of performance marketing. Join us as we dive into the world of performance marketing with Tara McCommons.



Marshall Nyman [00:00:02]:

Hello and welcome to the performance marketing spotlight. I’m your host Marshall Nyman, founder and CEO of Nymonco. Each episode I will be bringing you someone with deep experience in the performance marketing space where they will highlight their experiences within the industry. Today I have Tara Mccombins from Link Connector who is vice president of sales and marketing. Welcome to the podcast, Tara.

Tara McCommons [00:00:26]:

Hi, Marshall. Thank you. I’m honored and excited to be here.

Marshall Nyman [00:00:31]:

Well, very excited to have you as well. And let’s get right to it. Would love for you to introduce yourself to the audience so they can get to know you.

Tara McCommons [00:00:39]:

Sure. So I am Tara Mccombins and I am in North Carolina. I have been in North Carolina for a long time. Went to college in North Carolina. University of North Carolina at Wilmington and originally from Pennsylvania. So something unique that I’ll say that I know. You know, Marshall, that your team member Michelle, she was like, what? But I was born in Wilkesbury, Pennsylvania, so I know Pepper Jam helped to put Wilkesbury on the map there. But love North Carolina.

Tara McCommons [00:01:15]:

And I have a daughter who is 17 and we are starting to tour colleges right now. So my husband and I are about to enter a whole new chapter with parenthood. And I am vice president of sales and marketing at Link Connector. And I’ve been at Link Connector for going on 20 years now.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:39]:

Amazing. Well, I definitely love the Wilkesbury area. If anybody’s been up there, I know there’s a lot of affiliate marketers from that area.

Tara McCommons [00:01:49]:

Shocking to me. Yes, I know. Thanks to Jam. Yep.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:52]:

And I’m on the opposite end of things with the kids. Minor little tiny ones. Just getting started with preschool.

Tara McCommons [00:02:01]:

Yes. Hold on to those years. It goes by too fast. People always told me that, and it is so true.

Marshall Nyman [00:02:08]:

Yeah, my oldest just is getting so big every day. It’s crazy. But would love to know, how did you get your start in the Performance Marketing space?

Tara McCommons [00:02:19]:

Yeah, so it was a while ago, 2004 to be exact. And as I mentioned, I’m in North Carolina and I met my husband here in North Carolina. And we knew Toots humphreys and Choots is one of the co founders of Link Connector. And he had reached out to me about this opportunity for another company that he had started. And my husband and I were shareholders of the initial company that Toots and Ernie had, and I respect Toots and Ernie tremendously. So listened about it and read the business plan and had no idea at the time what affiliate marketing was. I was coming from a technology background also financial mix between corporate and startup environments. And what really stood out to me about Link Connector at the time was just a groundbreaking opportunity for e commerce and online marketing, which was something at that time that was really gosh, just starting to take off.

Tara McCommons [00:03:41]:

So I thought it through thoroughly and accepted the position, and it’s been great ever since. So always learning something new.

Marshall Nyman [00:03:54]:

I got to assume it’s a pretty good decision if you’ve been there for almost 20 years.

Tara McCommons [00:03:58]:

I know, yes.

Marshall Nyman [00:03:59]:

It’s probably one of those things you look back on and glad you made that call at the time.

Tara McCommons [00:04:06]:

Yes, there’s so much to learn. And that’s one thing. I immediately just became asking questions and learning and taking notes and just immersing myself in asking a lot of questions, especially being on the front lines at the time with advertisers.

Marshall Nyman [00:04:29]:

So the audience would love to know a little bit more about Link Connector and what do they do?

Tara McCommons [00:04:34]:

So, Link Connector is an affiliate marketing network, and we launched in 2004. So I was, I think, at the time like the 7th team member, but we have been providing the technology services and hands on support for merchants and affiliates to have profitable and lasting relationships for 20 years. And we have many merchants that have been with us for 1012 plus years. So we are very much about the longevity component there and helping to take a hands on role in introducing our affiliate relationships with merchants and really helping merchants to understand the value that the diverse group of affiliates that we have that they can help deliver based on the goals that the merchant has for their program.

Marshall Nyman [00:05:35]:

Are there certain types of merchants that you see perform best on your network or? It really depends.

Tara McCommons [00:05:43]:

Yeah. So we have a broad range of merchants across many different verticals and all different sizes. Marshall one thing that I think is unique to Link Connector is that we do have many niche merchants from a category standpoint. As an example, we have quite a few merchants in the education vertical that have leaned on Link Connectors technology to foster relationships, performance driven relationships with content partners that they have, business development relationships, bringing them into their Link Connector program. So education is a strong niche with us, as well as sports and recreation software merchants, technology merchants. So we have a lot of unique niches.

Marshall Nyman [00:06:40]:

Awesome. So just like Naimo, I would say Link Connector is more of a boutique type of company. What would you say differentiates you from other networks? What really makes you stand out?

Tara McCommons [00:06:55]:

So I would lead that with our people. Link Connector is a privately owned company. So many of our team members are shareholders, and many of our team have been helping steer Link Connector for a very long time, some over ten years. So I think it’s rare that you have the expertise there and the institutional knowledge of what’s worked and what we’ve learned from that, and helping to introduce innovative ways for merchant and affiliate relationships to thrive, in many cases, some ways that once weren’t thought possible. So our people and then the technologies that we have, we have a lot of very innovative technologies. For example, the cookie list tracking we have that we call that Naked coupons, but that has really been a difference maker for some of our merchants that may also be on other networks and have wanted to kind of grow their reach within Link Connector. So leaning on our cookie list tracking technology to bring in influencers content creators, podcasters into their affiliate programs and really benefiting from the reporting capabilities that Link Connector has, and then the affiliate relationships will be the third thing that really sets us apart. We take an extremely hands on role, just like we do with our merchants, but with our affiliates.

Tara McCommons [00:08:32]:

And it’s not uncommon that we get merchant referrals from affiliates that would like to promote that merchant within Link Connector. So we’re very customizable when it comes to our fee structure for our merchants, right down to the relationship level, which really comes through when we get those referrals from our affiliate partners.

Marshall Nyman [00:08:57]:

Awesome. So like to shift the conversation a little bit more from Linked Connector to your experience at Linked Connector. As you mentioned in the beginning, you’ve been there for almost 20 years, so we’ll say 20 years. Yes, I think it counts. And then we’d just love to hear about your journey there, the different roles you’ve been in.

Tara McCommons [00:09:17]:

Yeah, so I started off as Director of Sales, and I was a team of one at the time. So really having to, like I said initially, learn there’s so much, there continues to be so much to learn within this industry and help to create some processes and help to also introduce what affiliate marketing is to advertisers. So I was very hands on in bringing on some of the very first merchants that Link Connector had. And we kind of had a chicken or an egg dilemma in the sense of, okay, we have these merchants, but we need the affiliates as well. And as you know, Marshall affiliates, it’s no cost to sign up. So we would have a lot of affiliate applications and such, but didn’t have the same hands on focus in growing those affiliate relationships as we did initially on the merchant side. So that caused me to shift gears a little bit and work with the affiliate relationships and helping then to introduce our merchant opportunities that we have and understand a lot about. What is it that the affiliate needs in order to, A, have an interest in promoting this merchant and then B, get active with them, and then lastly, really be able to thrive.

Tara McCommons [00:10:53]:

So that was invaluable for me to really understand from an affiliate’s perspective what’s important that merchants provide and helping then to introduce those relationships.

Marshall Nyman [00:11:10]:

I’m sure the conversations changed a lot over the last 1520 years where what you were telling people then, what you’re maybe telling people ten years ago to what you’re telling people now? The whole sales of affiliate I remember when somebody was first trying to explain it to me, it was just over my head. And I think now it’s easy to explain. I tell somebody what affiliate is and the next one they go, oh, like an influencer. And I’m like, yes, exactly. Probably a very different discussion you’re having now.

Tara McCommons [00:11:38]:

Oh, so much so, yes, I remember well. Vanity codes, can you provide a vanity code? A slightly increased commission and now yes, it’s evolved so much.

Marshall Nyman [00:11:50]:

Yes, definitely. And it’s great to see that. And the industries has come a long way in general. I know you’re also very active in the industry, you attend events definitely always see you on the circuit. I know you were on the board for the PMA and you were also recently, a few years ago at least, recognized by Performance in as a top 50 player in 2020 specifically for your work with the PMA. So would love for you to tell us about your experience and being involved with the PMA and some of the stuff that they’re up to.

Tara McCommons [00:12:25]:

Yeah, the Performance Marketing Association is definitely very near and dear to my heart and to link connectors and that’s one thing part of our overall mission to really help move the industry forward and take an active role in that. And the Performance Marketing Association is definitely an excellent resource for that. And I had the privilege of serving on the board as Membership Committee chairman for three terms and it was a great experience to be able to collaborate with so many amazing minds and difference makers in our industry and competitors too. So that’s one thing that I personally enjoy with the PMA is just the opportunity to really be part of something bigger than just link connector. It’s an industry as a whole and as you know so well, Marshall, there’s not enough of us, I feel like so helping to collaborate together, share insight, share perspectives to create then these best practices, documents and white papers that help to really elevate our industry and help it to continue to evolve. There’s so many different players, if you will, especially on the publisher side, that I am thrilled to see now also be part of the PMA.

Marshall Nyman [00:13:58]:

Yeah, I think it’s a great organization and anytime you can help advance the industry and then also just further network with people in the space, I think it’s always really positive. And my experience has been great as a member, so I encourage people to get involved if they’re not.

Tara McCommons [00:14:20]:

Yeah, and one thing too is you get out of it what you put into it. But it’s a great resource just to kind of listen as well. Like that Slack Channel is great for staying on top of trends and just kind of understanding what others may be experiencing, throwing out a question. So all the way from kind of being a sponge and listening to really getting involved and serving on the councils and the board as well.

Marshall Nyman [00:14:50]:

Yeah, and they’re also very involved with a lot of the industry events live, affiliate Summit West. And you know, if those are things that you’re also attending, then maybe reaching out to the PMA, stopping by the booth would be good.

Tara McCommons [00:15:07]:

Absolutely. And yes, for those listening, if you’re not a member, whether you’re an affiliate, an agency, a network advertiser, you’re missing out. So definitely it’s thepma.org and the membership cost is very minimal depending on your company size, but the benefits are invaluable and one of which, as you stated, Marshall, just being involved in the industry events from Pi Live to Affiliate Summit is some complimentary and discounted registration passes for those conferences with the PMA membership.

Marshall Nyman [00:15:45]:

Yep. Plus they put on some events. I know at Affiliate Summit they’re going to be doing a breakfast on one of the days. So great way to get together with people in the morning and have a quick bite before you jump into all the definitely take a look at the PMA. So switching over, I want to talk a little bit about some of the stuff, specifically around the industry and where performance marketing is headed. So any predictions on the future of performance marketing?

Tara McCommons [00:16:22]:

So I see nothing but continued growth, especially now with the evolution that we’ve seen and even more so over the past year or two years. But a lot of the content publishers getting into this, mass media publishers from New York Times to CNN, and I think that has helped a ton to elevate our industry and help those that weren’t aware of it. And again, everything from affiliates to brands to really see the power of this and the diversity of it. And I think that it’s just going to continue to grow. And I’m married to a sports fanatic, so sports are always on our TV and but baseball, my husband, I overheard it. One of the players, Marshall, he’s, I think out there near you, but Shohei a Japanese baseball player, but he is like the next Babe Ruth, being able to do it all essentially from pitching to hitting. And I’ve always used a sports analogy with affiliate marketing in that affiliate marketing can give a brand so many different positions, if you will, all in one. It’s a one stop shop to be able to find those partners that can help introduce a brand, that can help influence the purchase decision, that can help convert the user and help retain that customer as well.

Tara McCommons [00:18:13]:

So I think there’s a lot of growth that we’re going to continue to see in the affiliate space and especially now with ecommerce tightening up, for sure.

Marshall Nyman [00:18:23]:

Definitely. What is one of the most common misconceptions you hear about performance marketing?

Tara McCommons [00:18:31]:

So one of the main ones, I would say is that it’s really just loyalty partners and coupon partners. And that’s so not the case. Yes, loyalty and coupon do play a pivotal role, and that’s a whole different conversation. But there’s so much more paid search as an example is something that is a big strength of link connectors. We have the parallel tracking capabilities for our search affiliates, but that’s often eye opening for a merchant that didn’t realize that through their affiliate program they have the ability to lean into experts that are essentially search agencies, but they’re paid on a performance basis. So very cost effective. So I think the biggest misconception is just not understanding all the different diverse segments that an affiliate program opens a merchant up to. It’s basically a toolkit for an advertiser to be able to really grow their ecommerce reach and revenue and have control over how they do that.

Marshall Nyman [00:19:46]:

Yeah, I think the program is really what you make of it at the end of the day. So if you want those partners in there, you can have them, if you don’t want them in there, you don’t have to have them. But I think there’s no shortage on the different types of partners outside of just coupon and loyalty. And I think that’s one of the nice things about affiliate that I’ve seen really over the last few years is just the types of partners, there are so many new ones that you would have never thought maybe work on an affiliate basis and now they’re leveraging the channel. So really excited to see that.

Tara McCommons [00:20:15]:

Yeah, and along those lines too, sometimes when merchants do have that AHA moment about there is so many different types of affiliate partners available, they also may have direct relationships that they didn’t consider could be brought into the affiliate program. And I know we see a lot of that on the influencer side, but now by bringing those relationships into the merchants affiliate program, it’s a win win for both parties. The partner gets so much of the transparency into the performance where their promotion is converting to be able to scale that more so. And now the merchant has the ability to again have that all measured within their affiliate program and link connectors and affiliate network being able to facilitate the payment there and offer decreased pricing in those cases. Too great.

Marshall Nyman [00:21:18]:

And my final question, what has been your favorite part of working in the performance marketing industry?

Tara McCommons [00:21:26]:

So certainly the relationships is a big thing and beyond that, because I think that’s you and I talked about that a little bit. Marshall but that’s definitely a common thing, all of the amazing people that we get to collaborate with. But one of the biggest things that I really like about the industry is just the sharing of knowledge that is out there and more and more resources I think, that are coming about that help to offer those different perspectives. The case studies, your podcast. Marshall I’ve been seeing more and more folks doing the podcast and just a lot of the education that is out there that really seems to have grown a lot, I think over the past year specifically. And I did see affiverse. They do an amazing education around affiliate marketing, but being part of SEMrush and that just does a whole lot to really amplify the affiliate marketing industry.

Marshall Nyman [00:22:35]:

Definitely. Well, a big thank you to Tara for joining the podcast this week. Really great insights from her background in performance marketing. Tara, what is the best way for listeners to connect with you?

Tara McCommons [00:22:47]:

So on LinkedIn. Certainly email it’s my first name, last name@linkconnector.com, or through Link Connector’s website as well. And we will be at the Affiliate Summit conference coming up too soon in January. So looking forward to seeing you there, marshall and other PMA members. And big thanks to Naimo and Co for being one of the sponsors for the PMA networking brunch as.

Marshall Nyman [00:23:18]:

Oh, thank you. Yep, just booked my hotel last night on a Cyber Monday special.

Tara McCommons [00:23:23]:

Oh, fabulous.

Marshall Nyman [00:23:25]:

And ready to head out there in a few weeks, I guess six weeks from now. So looking forward to it and seeing you then. Again. Thank you to Tara for joining. If you’ve enjoyed this content, please give us a like and a follow. Thank you for joining us. I am Marshall Nyman, host of the Performance Marketing Spotlight. Signing off.