Women In Partnerships Interview Series: Stephanie Harris, CEO Of PartnerCentric

Named PerformanceIN’s Top 50 Industry Player three times, Stephanie speaks about executive leadership, culture-building remote environments, democratizing data analytics, and the future of the tenured affiliate space at forums such as Affiliate Summit East/West, Capital One's Women in Business Panel, and on
Tony Cohn
December 19, 2023

A veteran of the industry for two decades, Stephanie Harris got her start at Scholastic, where she pioneered the first affiliate marketing program for the now 100-year-old company. As the first employee at Schaaf Consulting in 2006, she was integral to advancing the agency by piloting multiple award-winning affiliate programs for some of the most preeminent brands in the industry. 

In 2017, Stephanie Harris followed her vision and orchestrated a buyout of the company to create PartnerCentric.  

Named PerformanceIN’s Top 50 Industry Player three times, Stephanie speaks about executive leadership, culture-building remote environments, democratizing data analytics, and the future of the tenured affiliate space at forums such as Affiliate Summit East/West, Capital One's Women in Business Panel, and on

Q: What challenges do you face as a female CEO in the affiliate marketing space?

Being a female CEO in this industry means that you not only need to be an expert in your business and the industry at large, but also knowledgeable about the technologies your team is employing. So when you're striking up vendor agreements, strategic partnerships, and referral relationships, you can come to the table on the same playing field. 

That can be an intimidating landscape for female leaders, who perhaps came from more of a marketing background, because we didn't necessarily ‘grow up’ on the technology side of the industry. However, it is an integral part of overall business success.

Q: How do you think other companies in the affiliate industry would benefit from having more women at the very top?

Women in the workplace often face a unique series of challenges, from advancing their careers in male-dominated industries to dealing with difficult office cultures and balancing professional responsibilities with caregiving ones. 

With that said, women have a unique perspective and set of skills to bring to the table. Fostering a culture from the top that acknowledges contributions no matter where they come from cultivates an inspiring environment.

Q: What advice would you give to other women in this industry who aspire to be in a position similar to yours one day? 

You don’t need ‘permission’ to speak - a good idea is a good idea. Consider folding in other aspects of the business to make yourself more well-rounded and feel informed in various scenarios. As an example, if you are from a traditional comms background, educate yourself on the financial side to arm yourself with the ability to run a P&L.

Q: Who are some female leaders you admire?

I greatly admire several women in leadership who have made significant strides in their respective fields and have become inspirational figures. Among them is Nicky Senyard, the CEO and founder of Fintel Connect, whose innovative approach to fintech has left a lasting mark. Her ability to listen to her instincts, forge her own path, and achieve what others may deem impossible is truly commendable.

Another standout leader is Sarah Bundy, the founder and CEO of All Inclusive Marketing. Bundy's entrepreneurial spirit and dedication have propelled her to the forefront of the marketing industry. She exemplifies the qualities of a visionary leader, navigating challenges with resilience and fearlessness.

In the realm of business and innovation, Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, stands out as a trailblazer. Her journey from a creative idea to building a globally recognized brand showcases a determination to challenge conventions. Blakely's ability to trust her instincts and pursue the unconventional has set her apart as a leader who paves the way for others.

What unites these remarkable women is their shared commitment to trust their instincts, charting their unique courses, and accomplishing feats that many might perceive as unattainable. Their stories serve as powerful reminders that perseverance, intuition, and a willingness to take risks are integral components of successful leadership.

Q: Why did you start PartnerCentric?

I joined Schaaf Consulting as one of their first employees in 2006 and rose to CEO by 2015. I understood from the ground up where I wanted to take the business, what it could be capable of, and the opportunity to build an agency rooted in transparency and technology to empower our clients. In 2017, I bought out the founding partners, and PartnerCentric was born. 

Q: Please tell us more about your recent study on managing an affiliate program in-house vs. managing a program with the help of an agency:

According to the most recent ANA report, the number one reason companies in-house their marketing is cost. No surprise there. However, we’ve found that the fully-loaded cost of an in-house team is not all that different from agency fees. Seeing a line item in a budget, brands may take the total value out of context.  

Our client teams, for example, have access to a dedicated partner recruitment team, our PRM platform that houses all of our data-backed learnings, negotiation levers, pricing about every partner we have worked with, and every placement over decades. On their own, these insights would be challenging for a company to replicate. Add to that all of our proprietary FUSE technology, and you can see why performance increases. 

According to a recent case study, on average, our clients who had in-house programs were previously averaging 30% YoY growth in revenue. By the end of their first month of management with PartnerCentric, those same clients averaged 494% YoY growth in revenue and an average of 353% within the first six months.

We do understand that it’s in the culture of many companies to do things on their own, and we appreciate that as an independent company. For those clients, we offer a “Graduation By Design” program where we will audit the program, overhaul it as necessary, set up the clients to license our technology, and ultimately manage the program independently. For those clients, we’ll do a quarterly check-in and benchmarking to make sure they’re seeing forward progress, and we can also step in quickly should any resource challenges come up.

Q: What is the Incrementality Index, and how does it help brands grow their affiliate programs?

The FUSE Incrementality Index is the culmination of years of technology development to answer the question, “Which partnership investments are incremental and which are not?”  

For example, the technology can dynamically evaluate affiliate partners’ propensity to generate new customers:

  • Who are the partners that are influential early in the purchase path and don’t require multiple touchpoints to close the sale?
  • How effectively are partners reactivating potential customers who fell off the purchase path?

Further, the FUSE Incrementality Index can unlock the industry’s current struggle with the GA4 migration. Interestingly, we see that higher incrementality scores lead to improved performance in Google’s new measurement framework. 

From our initial 25+ clients utilizing the solution, we’re identifying that higher incrementality scores lead to improved sales and ROI.  

Q: Where do you see the affiliate marketing space headed next year?

  1. Heavier Weighting Towards Content: With more advertisers beginning to embrace multi-touch attribution, content sites will see more days in the sun. Costs will increase due to higher demand, but with better insights from solutions, such as FUSE, it will mitigate redundant and wasted media spend.
  2. Content Creators Will Seize The Day: With more time spent on YouTube and TikTok, influencers will continue to garner more eyeballs. Affiliate marketing will be an innovation game, providing them with more ways to monetize their audiences and more ways for marketers to scale their influencer marketing investment.
  3. Insights Can Differentiate: Marketers who have deployed better solutions to turn data-backed insight into action will be well-positioned to win the game over their competitors.  

Q: What is next for PartnerCentric?

We continue to iterate our proprietary tech with modifications and enhancements to meet client and industry needs. Our Incrementality Index benchmarks will be public-facing and readily available for marketers to quickly understand where to optimize incremental growth by category and content partner.

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