A theory is presented for the binding of small molecules such as surfactants to semiflexible polymers. The persistence length is assumed to be large compared to the monomer size but much smaller than the total chain length. Such polymers (e.g., DNA) represent an intermediate case between flexible polymers and stiff, rodlike ones, whose association with small molecules was previously studied. The chains are not flexible enough to actively participate in the self-assembly, yet their fluctuations induce long-range attractive interactions between bound molecules. In cases where the binding significantly affects the local chain stiffness, those interactions lead to a very sharp, cooperative association. This scenario is of relevance to the association of DNA with surfactants and compact proteins such as RecA. External tension exerted on the chain is found to significantly modify the binding by suppressing the fluctuation-induced interaction.