Episode #24 – The Performance Marketing Spotlight with Meg Kernahan

About Our Guest

Meg Kernahan began her professional journey in a conventional sales role shortly after graduating from college. With the digital landscape rapidly unfolding before her, Meg seized the opportunity to delve into the burgeoning world of paid social, cutting her teeth on platform giants like Facebook meta in its early days.

Her innate curiosity and drive to expand her expertise led her to explore various other marketing channels. She took a keen interest in the burgeoning field of content marketing, skillfully managing newsletters and crafting content that resonated with brand audiences.

With each new channel Meg encountered, she gained a more comprehensive understanding of the marketing funnel. Her approach evolved into one that was fiercely performance-driven and heavily reliant on data, enabling her to fine-tune marketing strategies with precision. Meg’s multifaceted skill set and her trajectory of growth within the digital marketing sphere highlight her as a dynamic, progressive marketer with a rich understanding of the connections between different marketing channels and the data that powers them.


Joining Marshall this week is Meg Kernahan, Senior Manager of Commerce Partnerships at the esteemed Conde Nast. Meg brings nearly a decade of experience in performance marketing, and she’s here to share her journey from a traditional sales role to becoming a pivotal figure at one of the world’s leading media companies. From her early days navigating paid social channels to spearheading affiliate programs and now, strategizing commerce partnerships for globally recognized brands like Vogue, Wired, and GQ, Meg’s insights are a treasure trove for anyone looking to understand the ins and outs of affiliate marketing and content monetization.

Get ready as we discuss everything from the interplay between PR and performance marketing to the evolving challenges and opportunities in a publishing powerhouse. We’ll also delve into some common misconceptions about working with content publishers and explore Meg’s predictions for the industry’s future. Stay tuned as we shine the spotlight on the dynamic world of performance marketing with our guest, Meg Kernahan, right here on Performance Marketing Spotlight.


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 highlight their experiences within the industry. Today I have Meg Kernighan who is senior manager commerce partnerships at Conde Nasty. Welcome to the podcast, Meg.

Meg Kernahan [00:00:27]:
Thank you. Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Marshall Nyman [00:00:30]:
Glad to have you on. Let’s get right to it. Would love for you to introduce yourself to the audience.

Meg Kernahan [00:00:36]:
Sure. Like you said, I’m Meg. I joined the Conde Nas team last summer. I’ve been in the digital marketing performance marketing space for almost ten years now. I’m remote based out of Carbondale, Colorado, which is just outside of Aspen. So came here for the skiing, stayed for everything else and love to be outside as much as I can, hike and bike and kayak, things I never thought I would do before I lived here. So it’s been a great experience all around.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:05]:
Colorado is amazing.

Meg Kernahan [00:01:07]:
Pretty lucky.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:09]:
So how did you get your start in the performance marketing space?

Meg Kernahan [00:01:12]:
Yeah, so I started kind of more in a traditional sales role right out of college and then was able to move in and get some more insights as things evolved in the digital space. I started and actually paid social and working on kind of Facebook meta back in the day and then slowly started exposing myself to more different channels. So I started moving into newsletter and managing that content marketing for brands. And just really the more channels I learned about and the more exposure I got, the more I got this kind of holistic view of the entire marketing funnel and really was able to then drill down into very performance driven and data driven elements within that channel.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:58]:
And then you ended up on the brand side at collective hemp. Tell us about your role there.

Meg Kernahan [00:02:03]:
Yes, so collective hemp, it was a small CBD startup focused on the european market since the US had been pretty saturated at that point. So I came on board as the director of brand development. So I oversaw the development of two different CBD brands and I really was involved in everything from designing the brand, the brand look and feel, sourcing, packaging, creating the logo. Well, working with artists to create the logo, I’m not that talented. To working with manufacturers to kind of align the production with our sales forecast. Really got like a full experience to understand what goes into running a business and building a brand from the ground up. And it was just such a valuable experience overall. And of course right before COVID happened, we had just started looking into tapping into affiliate as a marketing channel and strategy.

Meg Kernahan [00:02:59]:
Since we had seen such success in the CBD industry, in particular there. But then of course, COVID happened, kind of had to pause operations then. But overall it was a really great experience, like I said, just to get that really deep dive into creating a brand and understanding what goes into building a product and getting it out to market.

Marshall Nyman [00:03:21]:
And then you transition to a more specific affiliate type role at Backbone media. Tell us about your time there.

Meg Kernahan [00:03:27]:
Yes, I started at backbone not long after COVID, actually as a on the media strategy side. So I was working on kind of media planning and buying and backbone media is a great agency based here in Carbondale that focuses really on both the paid and earned media side, specifically in the outdoor industry. So affiliate was relatively new to them as an agency. They just saw such great opportunity and kind of this overlap between the two areas. So I came on board on the media side and then the person who had kind of started affiliate there moved on to another opportunity and backbone kind of tapped me into take over kind of managing that line of business for them. So it was, I’m super grateful to backbone for that opportunity because it’s just led me to where I am now. So I was able to kind of just jump right in with some existing clients and then eventually grow the line of business and the team overall. So when I started it was just myself and then built it to a team of ten across backbone and their sister agency rigor.

Meg Kernahan [00:04:33]:
So it was more very much on the clients merchant side of the relationship. So managing affiliate programs for merchants, working closely as well. If there were shared services across our pr and media teams to really understand there is a lot of, you know, we’re not duplicating efforts, but building upon them.

Marshall Nyman [00:04:51]:
So you got a little brand and agency experience.

Meg Kernahan [00:04:54]:

Marshall Nyman [00:04:55]:
Then you decided to move to the publisher side, working for outside. What made you want to make the switch?

Meg Kernahan [00:05:00]:
Yeah, I really just wanted that full 360 view of the affiliate relationship, honestly. So I felt like I learned a lot on the brand side throughout all of my experience and wanted to see learn more about the publisher side of things. So I thought that the experience I had on the brand side would transition really well into putting together a strong publisher experience overall. So the opportunity came up to join outside and I came on board really to streamline their affiliate strategy across their portfolio of brands. They had gone through a series of acquisitions, kind of building up this larger portfolio. So folks had kind of operated independently or doing different strategies. Some of their titles include like Outside magazine, Backpacker, Ski Mag, Women’s running, very endemic in the outdoor space. And so I kind of came in to really streamline that strategy and manage the affiliate relationships as well as work with the Gear teams to make sure that we’re monetizing content in a really strategic, beneficial way overall.

Marshall Nyman [00:06:07]:
And then last summer you joined Conde Nass. What led you to make the move?

Meg Kernahan [00:06:11]:
Yes, honestly, it was the, the draw of the Conde titles and the opportunity to work on such like a global and renowned set of brands was really exciting to me. So to take that experience kind of to the next level. So I started in July managing affiliate partnerships across the portfolio of brands. Titles like include Vogue, Wired, Bon appetit, architectural Digest, allure, GQ. So just a huge portfolio of really established, well known brands, really spanning like so many different interests and categories and audiences. That was really exciting to see how the strategies could one be holistic across those, but then how each kind of vertical has its own kind of nuances and little, you know, ins and outs that you learn as you get deeper.

Marshall Nyman [00:07:03]:
Into it and in your role as senior manager. Commerce partnerships, what do you currently do?

Meg Kernahan [00:07:10]:
So I manage all of our partnerships from the affiliate side. So I sit centrally and work with each of our titles to really be strategic about how we monetize and optimize our content. So we’re still very editorially driven. You know, our affiliate relationships won’t influence what products we cover, what brands we feature. However, it’s very much driven by where we link out to and supported by those affiliate relationships. So I work really closely on the editorial side to understand what they’re producing, what’s been working well, what resonates with our audiences, and then kind of take that out to our partners to say we can really optimize here with a deeper partnership in place. If we’re a lot more collaborative together, we can grow your business in this certain way and just really try to make it a mutually beneficial growth opportunity all around.

Marshall Nyman [00:08:03]:
What are some things brands or agencies should take into consideration when looking to work with Conde Nest?

Meg Kernahan [00:08:09]:
Yeah, I think this is a tough one because there are so many, like I said, kind of these different verticals that can fall in. So there’s definitely a lot of gray area to this. But I think really looking at that full experience of pitching to both kind of the editorial side as well as the affiliate side, to really make sure that you’re getting kind of both ends of the team and then also looking at it holistically, then to say we have this kind of big fuzzy pr moment coming, how can we support that with affiliate and really looking at it in this kind of full circle approach, I think will be a lot more actionable for us on our end to then take that out and do something with it in a very productive way. But I think first and foremost, as we are so editorially driven, still getting product in hand, product for testing, seating product, is always going to be super important to make sure that our teams are very familiar with brands, what’s coming down the pipe and allows us to create a lot more in depth reviews as well.

Marshall Nyman [00:09:13]:
What are some things brands can do to increase their opportunities of possibly getting editorial coverage?

Meg Kernahan [00:09:19]:
Yeah, that’s a great question. One that I get a lot. I think, like I said, getting the product in hand, we’re really focusing on a lot of that firsthand review in our, in our content. Not only does it service our readers very well, but Google also prefers it. So that’s been a big part of our strategy. So pushing for that. And then I think I’d recommend having a very clear kind of goal that you’re hoping for. You know, if you’re looking just for editorial coverage, we can tap in the right team to cover that.

Meg Kernahan [00:09:51]:
If you’re looking for a flat fee partnership or, you know, consideration for a CPA increase, just being very clear with kind of the goals and what resources you have behind it will just make it a lot easier for us to kind of put a more elaborate plan together.

Marshall Nyman [00:10:07]:
What has been your favorite part of working at Conde Nast?

Meg Kernahan [00:10:11]:
This is a cheesy answer, but it’s true. I just love the people I work with. It’s amazing to be just surrounded by such really sharp, really smart, really forward thinking people. Everyone I’ve worked with has just been so talented and I’ve already learned so much just from. Just from working with them and seeing how they operate and where we can do more.

Marshall Nyman [00:10:35]:
We’re seeing a lot of crossover with affiliate and pr these days. As a content publisher, can you share your perspective on what you’re seeing?

Meg Kernahan [00:10:43]:
Yeah, I think probably a few years ago, it used to seem like affiliate was almost the golden ticket to help encourage PR earned coverage, and I think people still see it as this kind of like easy win in a way. But honestly, affiliates kind of become the baseline in a lot of ways. If there’s not an affiliate program supporting these PR moments, it’s a lot more difficult to get traction. So I just see the two really merging so much closer together than ever before. So I see it as, you know, breaking down this kind of brand awareness piece with the performance kind of lower funnel element and bringing the two together for a very full approach when it comes to kind of building brand awareness as well as conversion. So I think it’s definitely becoming closer and closer as years go on.

Marshall Nyman [00:11:34]:
What’s a major challenge that you face as a content publisher?

Meg Kernahan [00:11:39]:
I think a big one for us is, you know, it’s not like we can easily flip a switch and change a link out. I think it’s been challenging where maybe there are increases in place or certain opportunities that are just a little short term, where we can optimize for a week. And honestly, that’s a lot. It’s a lot of work on our end to be able to change links out, swap out content, put new products in a piece of, or if, you know, a program shuts down or cuts their commission rate. It’s a lot of manual work on our end to go in and change those things. And so we’re kind of constantly in flux and trying to get ahead of some of these shorter term changes. So I think what I’m hoping for is to kind of use affiliate to look at more of a long term strategy, building consistency over time with our audiences and understanding that there can be a brand awareness component that maybe, maybe a couple months down the road leads to a huge increase in conversion. So I think it’s a little tricky to liken it to something like Google or Facebook where you can toggle budgets and turn things on and off.

Meg Kernahan [00:12:49]:
It’s just not how content works for us. So trying to look at that long term and understanding the fluctuations that go into it, it’s a lot of manual work on our end.

Marshall Nyman [00:13:00]:
Absolutely. Any predictions on the future performance marketing or maybe where you see things headed?

Meg Kernahan [00:13:07]:
Yeah, I think kind of like I was alluding to earlier, I think there’s going to be just this bigger merge between upper and lower funnel happening, at least on the content side of affiliate. I think it’s just such an unknown territory as we’re looking at the cookie list future, you know, the cost of cpms on other channels increasing. I think that deeper kind of communication between a brand and the consumer is going to be more and more important. And so tapping into content to be able to tell that story in both a way that supports newness with performance and making sure it’s a really kind of 360 approach in terms of how that positioning is looking. So I can see that kind of getting a bit fuzzier in a way, but ultimately more cohesive and comprehensive as it goes on.

Marshall Nyman [00:13:59]:
What is a common misconception people have about working with a content publisher.

Meg Kernahan [00:14:04]:
Common misconception. Honestly, I think that it’s a misconception that the right commission rate will guarantee you coverage. I think we still are just so editorially driven that we need to make sure that what we’re recommending is something that we can truly stand behind. And that’s what drives performance, because our audiences really trust us, so that when they’re making a conversion, it’s because they trust the recommendation. So just having that rate in place won’t necessarily be enough to get that inclusion there. So hopefully working towards communicating that there’s still that need for testing and relationships and pr isn’t going away, it’s just merging together in a closer way.

Marshall Nyman [00:14:54]:
And final question, what has been your favorite part of working in the performance marketing industry?

Meg Kernahan [00:15:00]:
I personally really love that it’s this sweet spot between kind of a creative approach mixed with data to inform your strategy. I think it’s not just numbers, it’s not just creativity, it’s really both. And I just love that there’s really ways to kind of tap into both sides to do something really amazing and really unique. So it’s been personally a sweet spot for how I think and operate. And I think we’ve seen a lot of growth in the industry because of that as well.

Marshall Nyman [00:15:31]:
Amazing. Well, a really big thank you to Meg from Conde Nast for joining the podcast this week. Some great insights into her background and how you can best work with Conde Nast. What is the best way for listeners to connect with you?

Meg Kernahan [00:15:45]:
Oh, good question. I will share a link with you, Marshall, if you want to share that out as well. I have a Google form that I use to collect all of this information that then gets sent directly to me and my team so we can go through and review exactly what the opportunity is. Fair warning, I’m a team of one, so my inbox gets inundated very quickly. I would love to get back to everyone. I just can’t always do it, so don’t be shy. Follow up, you know, make sure that you’re cutting through the noise and would love to work with obviously as many people as I can. So that form has been a good solution for that.

Marshall Nyman [00:16:19]:
Again, thank you to our guest, Meg Kernighan, and to our producer, Leon Sonkin. If you’ve enjoyed this content, please give us a like and a follow. Thank you for joining. I’m Marshall Nyman, host of the performance marketing spotlight, and founder and CEO Naimo and co signing off. Thank you.