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Arlyn Davich, Little Fish cofounder: "Affiliate is the scalable version of PR"

This interview is part of Martech Record's Advertiser Speaker Series, editorial content supported by Partnerize.


Arlyn Davich considers herself an entrepreneur at heart. Now the co-founder of Little Fish – a company that helps consumer businesses augment their executive teams with Fractional and Interim Chief Marketing Officers – Davich has founded, scaled and sold multiple companies and led Walmart’s brand incubator.

Her career began at a public relations firm, where she earned a promotion in her first week on the job because recognized and solved a massive inefficiency. At the time, PR firms were sending print pitches to different outlets. She remembered that her mother had helped her father’s company set up an electronic mail merge, so she called her mom and had her explain the process over the phone. The idea allowed the PR firm to customize its pitches for dozens of media outlets and editors and maximize efficiency.


That was the moment that Davich says she fell in love with public relations. But she didn’t love that working for a firm meant having a strategy handed to her.


“I felt like that was kind of unfair – how could I be accountable for results when I’m not involved in building the strategy?” she said. She wanted to be more involved in the decision-making process and better understand the quantitative side of marketing. That desire ultimately drove her to attend business school.


“At the time, PR was very qualitative and wasn’t really valued in a lot of executive suites because of that,” she said.


Affiliate, however, “is the scalable version of PR,” she said. It works in a similar way to a tactic that Davich and her team used to use: For an earned placement, they would mock it up, cut it out, place it on white paper, make prints of it and physically mail that print out to everyone they wanted to see it.


“Affiliate…is the scaled-up, modern-day extension of that – putting earned-style media on steroids and being able to quantify the impact,” Davich said.


In business school, Davich focused on both entrepreneurship and starting companies as well as on marketing. That’s when she realized her strength is in leading companies where marketing drives the business.


Davich joined Walmart shortly after it acquired Jet.com and just before it acquired Bonobos. The incubator launched a portfolio of D2C brands amplified by omnichannel distribution, which allowed the team to see which playbook played out the best across various categories.


Affiliate is more effective in some categories than others, Davich said. But at a high level, the playbook came down to: hiring the right team of people who know affiliate, working with publishers that would be incremental, partnering to build compelling content for readers, figuring out the unit economics that work for both parties and ensuring that PR and affiliate can work “hand in glove,” Davich said


That playbook hasn’t changed, but merely expanded in her current role, Davich said.


“I think before we were more on the cutting edge with these strategies and now these strategies are becoming more mainstream,” she said. “More publishers have recognized the sort of blurring of church and state and are taking a more proactive stance on their e-commerce divisions or their affiliate divisions. And affiliate divisions are more used to working more closely with the editorial divisions to have those tighter connections.”


Though there’s a wider base of publishers working on affiliate now, there’s still not a lot of depth of affiliate in some categories, Davich said.


Little Fish clients span health, fashion, finance, beauty and home categories. She and hear team implement the “Little Fish Operating System”: their proven model for accelerating growth. “We started Little Fish so we could do the work we love across a portfolio of clients but demand is now far exceeding our capacity” she said. “As we become more of a go to destination for consumer businesses looking to grow and executives looking to go fractional, we’re experimenting with different ways of scaling our operating model."


“We’re just dipping our toe into the water, figuring out how we can train other people who want to go fractional in our Little Fish Operating System and service more clients.”


Stream our past advertiser speaker series interviews below:


Jon Leiberman, VP of Content, Social & Influencer at Demandbase talks about how crucial content is for B2B Marketing.


Ian Yung, SVP of Growth at Tonal on what the role of a growth leader is and why it is important.


Elisa Charbonnel, Director of Paid Media at Disney+ on "aff-play" the confluence of affiliate and display marketing.


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