Episode #15 – The Performance Marketing Spotlight with Hunter Capobianco

About Our Guest

Hunter Capobianco is an experienced affiliate marketing professional having worked on both the network and publisher side of the industry. As the Director of Business Development for CNN Digital’s Commerce team, Hunter is responsible for managing the relationships and monetization of CNN Coupons, CNN Underscored, Content Licensing and other commerce-based revenue opportunities. Since joining CNN in 2019, he has helped accelerate significant growth through new and existing partnerships.





In this episode of the Performance Marketing Spotlight, host Marshall Nyman interviews Hunter Capobianco, the Director of Business Development and Partnerships at CNN. Hunter shares his journey of getting started in affiliate marketing after college and his experiences at CJ Affiliate before moving to CNN. He discusses the unique offerings of CNN underscored, CNN coupons, and the challenges faced by publishers in the performance marketing industry. Hunter also gives insights into what brands and agencies should consider when introducing a product to the CNN team and shares his favorite parts of working in the performance marketing industry. Plus, he provides a glimpse into his upcoming speaking engagement at the Affiliate Summit West. Join Marshall and Hunter as they explore the world of performance marketing with a focus on content, commerce, and the power of affiliate relationships.



Marshall Nyman [00:00:04]:
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 Hunter Capo Bianco, director of business development and partnerships, commerce at CNN. Welcome to the podcast, Hunter.

Hunter Copabianco [00:00:28]:
Thanks for having me, Marshall. Pretty excited to be here today.

Marshall Nyman [00:00:31]:
Of course. Super excited to have you on. Love to just jump right into it. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience so they can get to know you a little?

Hunter Copabianco [00:00:39]:
So you know, my name is Hunter. I’m director of business development here at CNN Digital, working specifically on the commerce team. A little bit about me born and raised in Massachusetts, went to college in Vermont before I ended up moving out to Chicago, then to Atlanta, and now back to where I reside up in Portland, Maine. So been living in quite a few different states over this last decade here and have been working in the affiliate industry since my career began right out of college.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:12]:
Well, I got to say, Portland Maid’s got some good food, a lot of it.

Hunter Copabianco [00:01:16]:
It’s hard to choose sometimes where to go.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:20]:
Well, love to know how you got started in performance marketing.

Hunter Copabianco [00:01:23]:
Yeah. So I graduated college, as a lot of people did, probably around that time, unemployed. And I was trying to figure out what it was that I was going to get into in terms of a career. I loved my studies within the business school up in Vermont, and so I definitely wanted to pursue a career within a related field. And one day there was a recruiter that reached out to me on LinkedIn asking if I would be interested in interviewing for an affiliate marketing agency based out of Westboro, Massachusetts. And that agency was CJ affiliate. So I one day got ready to go in for an interview, threw on my only suit, only to realize that when I got to the building and the office, I was actually scheduled for a phone screen and not an in person interview, which was pretty embarrassing. So I took the call from my car at the offices where they were interviewing me and then was asked back for further interviews after we had laughed about the incident.

Hunter Copabianco [00:02:31]:
And that was pretty much a little bit of a butterfly effect and ended up getting the job. And that was my beginning at CJ within the affiliate space.

Marshall Nyman [00:02:41]:
Well, that’s a golden, you know, you make a mistake and it turns out to maybe kind of be in your favor.

Hunter Copabianco [00:02:48]:
Exactly. That’s the way I look at it.

Marshall Nyman [00:02:50]:
So you got your start at CJ, you were there for four and a half years. You had a really great run. Would love to hear about the different roles that you had while you were there.

Hunter Copabianco [00:02:58]:
Yeah, I started on the publisher development side of the business and actually would stay there through my entire tenure at CJ. Initially, I was brought on to support a team of other pub dev managers to help them grow their respective portfolios of publishers. After a little bit of time, of course, I got promoted into the next level where I started to take on my own portfolio, and that’s where I really started to oversee all these different types of publisher models. So whether it was coupon deal, it was cash back content, mobile apps, site abandonment solutions, I pretty much had seen it all. And right around that time, that’s when I eventually moved out to Chicago. And over there, I pivoted into a bit more of a business development role. Still on pub dev, but focusing on bringing in new business. And I really found a niche there within the content space and managed quite a few recognizable names I’m sure that you would know, like Box Media, Conde Nast, consumer reports, and then CNN.

Hunter Copabianco [00:04:06]:
And all of these mass media publishers were starting to get into commerce content and launch their own versions of review sites, recommendations that they would then monetize through affiliate. And so I was there to sort of coach them on some of the best practices, as well as introduce them to the right retailers and brands that CJ had in the network. And after managing those programs for a couple of years, one day at a conference, the CNN team sort of tapped me on the shoulder and said, hey, why don’t you come over and do this for us? I thought they were joking and they weren’t. So we started talking a lot more over the next remaining months, and then I eventually packed up my life in Chicago because I took the job at CNN and moved down to Atlanta, where I was based for about three years.

Marshall Nyman [00:05:01]:
Awesome. That’s the best way to do it. Have them find you. So what was your favorite part about working at CJ?

Hunter Copabianco [00:05:12]:
I think it’s probably going to be something that a lot of people say, and I know there’s probably some other former cjrs that have been on this podcast that are listening to this, but it’s the relationships. I go to any conference these days, and I’m just met by a sea of current and former CJ coworkers. Some of my best friends are there and have come from there, and it’s actually where I met my wife. So it’s kind of funny to say, but that job that I didn’t know what I was getting into for four and a half years, forever shaped my life and I still hold those relationships very close.

Marshall Nyman [00:05:55]:
Well, I was going to say relationship marketing before you said you met your wife through this. So I think it’s definitely relationship marketing at its finest.

Hunter Copabianco [00:06:03]:
Yes, absolutely. It’s a small industry, so it’s great.

Marshall Nyman [00:06:09]:
Yeah, I think that’s one of my favorite parts about the industry. True is just all the networking and how close everybody is, and it makes for a lot of fun.

Hunter Copabianco [00:06:17]:
Yep, absolutely.

Marshall Nyman [00:06:19]:
So we’re at CJ for four and a half years. Told us obviously that CNN came knocking on the door, couldn’t turn your head away. So what made you be open to moving to the publisher side? Obviously coming from the network, making a little bit of a leap. Love to hear about that.

Hunter Copabianco [00:06:36]:
Yeah, it was one of those opportunities I just couldn’t say no to. I was at a point in my career where I was ready for that next challenge. I wanted to learn something new and I wanted an elevated sense of responsibility. And I knew that by going to a major publisher that was still in its infancy in terms of affiliate, I could really have an impact. And so I went over and started as a manager of business development. And my goal there was to onboard us to new affiliate platforms as well as increase the amount of affiliate relationships that we had within our program and then to, of course, coordinate and work with editorial, the other biz dev leads, as well as other team members to make sure that we were then looking at the relationships we had the data that we were collecting to see how we could continue to grow that program. So I have always liked the business development side of it, and that was another big draw for coming over to CNN because you always get to do something different. And it’s never like I was repeating the same things over and over again, kind of on my toes and figuring out how to establish new great partnerships that work for both sides of the business.

Marshall Nyman [00:07:56]:
Great. Obviously, I think CNN’s a healthhole name for a lot of people, but would love for you to dive a bit into the commerce side of the business with CNN underscored and CNN coupons specifically.

Hunter Copabianco [00:08:08]:
Yeah, absolutely. So as I sort of mentioned at the beginning, I represent the commerce team for business development and partnerships, and commerce has a few different arms under it. So there’s CNN underscored, which is our flagship product. It’s our reviews and recommendations site. There’s CNN coupons, which is more of our deal focused product that we have. And then, of course, we have sponsored content, licensing opportunities, distribution and anything else that we can look at in terms of partnerships or relationships to help monetize the traffic that CNN digital receives, but with a commerce focus. And so our commerce team, to sort of take it one step further, is separate from the core CNN news and journalism team. We were essentially propped up in the beginning as a means of funding and supporting journalism, which is, of course, CNN’s core mission.

Hunter Copabianco [00:09:12]:
And so what we were able to do is, through these new revenue streams, is help to support that. And by doing so, we ended up creating our own team of service journalists. And that’s exactly how we look at our writers and our editors that are dedicated to commerce. They’re out here every single day looking for the best new products, services that might help you as a reader live a more satisfying and fulfilling life. And so we sort of created that new journalism identity within this commerce realm here at CNN.

Marshall Nyman [00:09:46]:
Awesome. So what would you say makes the CNN underscore offering unique?

Hunter Copabianco [00:09:52]:
I think what we’ve done a really great job at is specific to say on the content side first is that we just have a really good way at how we approach our reviews and the tone of voice. I see ourselves as very practical. We are reviewing products the way that you might use them in your everyday life. We don’t necessarily get overly scientific about it because we want to be able to apply to everybody. And so sometimes all you’re looking for is just a brand new water bottle. And when you’re thinking about what water bottle to get, some of the common things that you want to look for is make sure that it’s durable, that it keeps the liquids in it cold or hot, and that it’s easy to drink from. And beyond that, I don’t know how much more we need to get into. It is just a water bottle at the end of the day.

Hunter Copabianco [00:10:43]:
So I do like the way that we approach our reviews in that sense. On the business development side of the house, though, what I think we’ve been able to sort of curate and grow over the years is that when we’re working with you as an affiliate or a partner, whoever it might be, whatever that brand is, we’re really diving into the data and we’re trying to figure out where we can make the most beneficial partnership between advertiser and publisher. So what is the data telling us, and how can we sort of respond to that? And we do a good job with that on the biz dev team. Just trying to ensure that we’re nurturing those relationships.

Marshall Nyman [00:11:22]:
Great. What are some of the biggest challenges faced working as a publisher in the performance marketing industry.

Hunter Copabianco [00:11:30]:
I think for content specifically, it’s a very competitive space and so we’re all trying to get more traffic. That is of course how we are able to monetize what we have. It’s because people are reading and coming to our content and our pages. And so getting that space through search is very important for us. And how can we continue to work through the various algorithms that come through these different search engines to make sure that our content is surfacing? And then outside of that, what other means of distribution can we tap into? So whether that might be through various social apps, it may be through some distribution partnerships at other news or commerce aggregators. We want to try to see what else is there to help grow and.

Marshall Nyman [00:12:22]:
Drive more traffic, a lot more publishers jumping into that. So I can imagine it getting more competitive.

Hunter Copabianco [00:12:29]:
Oh yeah. But it’s good to see too. I think that’s again, what sort of makes this such a fun space is that you end up talking to the same folks, everyone’s working towards the same thing. And I do feel like on the content side, we are pretty good at helping out each other to meet those same goals.

Marshall Nyman [00:12:49]:
Yeah, I’m sure when you were just getting started at CJ and you were doing some of that publisher work, the amount of publishers that were in the pool then versus looking at the content publishers in the pool now has just increased dramatically.

Hunter Copabianco [00:13:01]:
Definitely. I was told what content was when I first started at CJ and I had no idea what it meant. And now here I am almost ten years later.

Marshall Nyman [00:13:10]:
Yeah, it’s almost like the Holy Grail for affiliate marketing right now, honestly.

Hunter Copabianco [00:13:15]:

Marshall Nyman [00:13:18]:
What are some things that brands or agencies should take into account when first introducing a product to your team?

Hunter Copabianco [00:13:23]:
I think first and foremost is just understanding just a little bit on the face of who our audience is and our brand guidelines and making sure that whatever product is being presented to us is something that’s going to be a fit for that audience. And that’s where on the business development team we take a lot of time in researching the various brands and products that are presented to us and reach out to make sure that they’re trusted, they’re reviewed well, and that ultimately we think they could benefit the readers of CNN underscored. And so once we’ve sort of established those base guidelines, and we’re happy to have conversations about those too, by the way, with whoever might be interested, then we’ll go to the editorial team to present that there is this new product that we think could be a great service to our readers, and ultimately it’s editorial’s final say on whether or not they actually want to review or write about that product. But the best that we can do is make sure that we’ve at least presented that opportunity.

Marshall Nyman [00:14:29]:
So probably some relevancy and uniqueness to the product for it to crack.

Hunter Copabianco [00:14:34]:
Exactly, yes. Just something that we think that might help people a little bit more every day.

Marshall Nyman [00:14:42]:
Perfect. What is your favorite part of working in the performance marketing industry?

Hunter Copabianco [00:14:49]:
I’ll say a little bit that because it is such a small industry and going back to all the relationships that we’ve established over the years, it really helps me anyway to be able to bounce new ideas off people, to see what’s being tested, what’s being looked at, understanding the insights, the trends. I think having those close relationships enables all of us to grow and create new types of opportunities and drive this whole industry forward. I mean, when you can have such a small group, but at the same time well connected group of people, all working towards the same goals, which is to increase the budgets that come into performance and affiliate marketing relationships, I think that’s only going to drive us all forward. It’s going to help us grow our businesses and it’s a great way to do it.

Marshall Nyman [00:15:43]:
Awesome. And what do you think is a common misconception that brands have when trying to work with a publisher?

Hunter Copabianco [00:15:50]:
I think it’s that it’s not just about paying and receiving commissions. That’s only a fraction of what having an affiliate or performance marketing relationship is. And that’s why a lot of brands might initially get into it. But really what we’re looking at there is the other half, is all of the data and the insights that come from having an affiliate relationship intact. Because what we’re doing by looking at this consumer behavior, as they’re clicking on these links, they’re making product purchases, we are learning about our audiences and our readers and what they engage with the most, what they might purchase the most, or what they respond to the most. And by observing and studying all those insights, we can then make better editorial decisions to put out content that’s just much more relevant for those readers. And so it’s this sort of lifecycle process where the data feeds the content and the content feeds the readers, and so the readers keep coming back, providing more data, more content, and it just goes round and round. So I do think that yes, there is the commission component on paying and receiving those, but there’s just so much more there that we’re able to capture from all of these data insights awesome.

Marshall Nyman [00:17:17]:
Well, really appreciate the insights. Excited to get the new year kicked off with you. No affiliate summits coming up in a few weeks. Exciting time of the year for everybody in January. A lot of affiliate planning. I believe you’ll be there as well.

Hunter Copabianco [00:17:32]:
Yeah, I’ll be at ASW, so feel free to try and hunt me down and see if we can’t set up a meeting to ever. Might be interested. I’ll also be speaking there up with a few other folks and we’ll be talking about the benefits of search for long term and short term content. So excited to get up there on the big stage and share some more insights with everyone as well as hear some new ones.

Marshall Nyman [00:18:00]:
Saw that you were a speaker. Awesome. Congrats on that. A big thank you to Hunter from CNN for joining the podcast this week. Some really great insights into his background and how you can best work with CNN on their different products. What is the best way for listeners to connect with you?

Hunter Copabianco [00:18:16]:
Hunter yeah, I would say just reach out to me on LinkedIn. I can be pretty good at responding there. And then from LinkedIn I like to usually funnel to the rest of my team and get everybody involved depending on what your needs are and how you’re trying to work with our business. Again, we’ve got a lot going on, so reach out and let’s see what we might be able to do.

Marshall Nyman [00:18:39]:
Awesome. Again, thank you, Hunter, really enjoyed having you on today. 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.

Hunter Copabianco [00:18:53]:
Thank you.