Having both been at the UK-founded performance marketing network for about eight and a half years, Affiliate Window’s managing director Mark Walters, and chief operating officer (COO) Adam Ross, admit that coming from an entirely unrelated background actually helped them business-wise.
The duo manage the company along with chief technical officer Peter Loveday, and are responsible for six other departments including compliance, technical services, strategy and development.
Despite not having a career history littered with performance marketing firms and a lengthy track record of kick-starting affiliate programmes, Ross said this meant they were able to look at the company with ‘fresh eyes’ – and it must have helped as the firm has 200 brand advertisers and is making fast tracks across the US and Ireland.
“What is interesting about this I guess is that we didn’t have aspirations of running the business. We had an understanding of wanting to deliver something better,” Walters said.
“With the team that we had and the people we were recruiting we found that the best people were those from outside the industry.”
While head-hunted Walters has a strong commercial and management background spanning 20 years, with a focus on traditional media such as magazines, long-time IT lover Ross admits he initially fell into the wrong career, despite his passion for computers and the internet.
From Dentistry to COO
After studying dentistry at university for three years, Ross decided to walk away from the branch of medicine and head to the big smoke - where he asked his London recruitment agent to convince the Affiliate Window founder to take him on.
“I was just applying for loads of different things and then I came across a job at Affiliate Window - it was this incredible mix of technology and business; the two things I was most passionate about,” Ross said.
“The CEO at the time and founder, Kevin Brown, didn’t want to see me at first so I had to get the recruiter to persuade him as I had no experience, but when he met me he liked me and by the time I got off the tube from the interview they had offered me the position. The rest is history.”
On entry to the firm, which at the time only had a handful of employees and now has 220, Ross was initially responsible for technically integrating the clients onto the network. Due to his ‘deep technical understanding’, Ross was then pulled into the key accounts team before working his way up to COO over the years.
Having been brought on a couple of months after Ross, to secure more brands for the network, Walters soon moved over to a client services role and then took up the managing director position in 2009.
Expanding Presence & Competition
While founded in 2000, Affiliate Window’s parent company Digital Window Ltd, sold a majority stake of the business in 2009 to European media companies Axel Springer and PubliGroupe – both also own zanox.
Walters said although business is doing well in Ireland and growing fast in the US, they are not ‘up there’ in the big US network realm just yet as the big challenge is getting the company name out there. Walters also let slip that they are eyeing a new market, but would not confirm which one just yet.
“There is definitely a big opportunity for us in the US. Although I don’t think we have aspirations of taking on CJ (Commission Junction),” Walters begins.
“We want to facilitate the opportunity for advanced in-territory advertisers who are looking for something that is going to be much more performance and data related, and much more service intensive, as well as facilitating global opportunity through our existing clients.”
Affiliate Window has clients such as ticketmaster, ticketsnow, British Airways and Skype and Walters said they are about to finalise a ‘very big exclusive global partnership’, within the US travel sector.
“Ticketmaster is vast. If you look at some of the partners we have it seems that we have cornered the ticket marketplace and now we are starting to develop some of this into travel and retail as well,” Walters added.
US Insights & Differences
Walters said the opportunity to speak to senior people in the ‘friendly’ US is ‘very prevalent’ and they are very willing to listen.
“What is actually surprising is that over here (UK) it is so much more advertiser led. They are the people who are driving forward the industry; they have specific wants and needs and if they don’t get them they will go find a provider who has them,” Walters said.
“Whereas in the US, it seems a little bit more whereby we are going and explaining to them the opportunities and they are saying ‘this is what I have been looking for’ - you feel like saying ‘why have you not been investigating and pursuing it?’”
Walters said he feels that in the US, if there is no direct need then networks do not necessarily need to innovate and publisher-wise, if they are not being leveraged against the quality of their traffic, then they can to some degree ‘just get along with what they have’.
He said the key difference is that in the UK this is constantly being reviewed. From the quality of traffic and the level of new customers compared to old, to the average order value – Walters stresses that the innovation aspect and data analysis is needed to make justification and dispel myths.
Despite the competitive performance marketing industry, Walters said the company does not have concerns about retaining clients and will continue to invest heavily in new technology and mobile tracking and reporting tools.