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The Draw of the North; Creative Talent

The Draw of the North; Creative Talent


I spent the latter part of last week working in first Manchester, and latterly Leeds. A break from the London routine and gratefully received, particularly as my reason for sojourn was to visit and present to a number of digital agencies in the North. I also attended the IAB / A4U Roadshow event on Thursday evening in Manchester.

Two things leapt out at me during my trip to the North; first the presence of young talented gifted individuals at all the agencies I visited, among them Zeal Digital, Brilliant Media (both Leeds) and RO-Eye in Manchester. I mean not to patronize and don’t.

The industry we are in is an environment for the most part of young gifted talented individuals so this comes as no surprise. Look at what affiliates, merchants, technology providers, networks, and digital agencies have done in this space – mind-blowing. You’ll know who you are. These agencies in Leeds and Manchester are lean as well, so the talent, youth and gift are more prominent and facing. Everyone’s on the money.

Those in the know are all about KPIs, TSU, OD and a wealth of other acronyms for maximizing value and therefore revenue.

Network Presence

Secondly the obvious lack of network presence on a full time basis in these regions. All the networks in the UK are based in Central London, and having an HQ in the Capital is understandable – a lot of agencies, and advertisers work in and around the South East. At the event a couple of people were adamant that attendance was critical as this is the annual get-together when a number if networks are represented in the North West.

In the words of Tyson Pearcey (, now Head of Performance – Aegis Group), ‘this is a comment, not a statement’; it’s what I saw in the last 48 hours. Ironically it’s the first time I’ve been to either city in 4 years. Some of the bigger guys spend a lot of time in London as we know, but where’s the parity? The growth of the affiliate industry in the North – agencies and affiliates in particular – coupled with the presence of merchants, means there ought to be some more permanent presence of a network or two, methinks.

Roadshow in Manchester

The event itself was very good. Well organized and well attended. Good presentations from Webgains (sponsors), RO-Eye (newly installed Commercial Director Nicky Iapino and Account manager Michelle Anthony) – slick take on effective account management, and a panel consisting of IAB, AMC Chair, TopCashback, (who I didn’t get to chat with and really wanted to) RO-Eye and Webgains.

RO Eye Presentation

Bit of good old-fashioned heckling from some old school affiliates asking reasonable questions about protection against networks going into administration (DGM) and a few beers. Met some quality folk, and definitely moved on from the sticky carpets of the Wetherspoons of old when London’s industry get-togethers were getting off the ground. Good job A4U.

Manchester Roadshow

Travel Chaos

I’ll tell you one thing about the North – difficult place to leave! Literally. Train out of Leeds there were rumblings of an ‘incident at Newark’… hmmm… 90 minutes later we crawled into Doncaster where the train terminated. It turned out ‘youths’ had dismantled a signal box and before you know it Health and Safety chaos. I got on (then swiftly off) a train heading back to Manchester, and promptly onto the next train through heading South. Now sat, butter aplenty, in first class with a selection of standard class ticket holders awaiting the Revolution. Bring it on. I’ve got a ticket and a seat reservation for a train that no longer exists, and the rest of the ‘normal humans’ are battling in the other carriages for air, let alone seats. Dealing with a handful of savvy punters with books on fair play, I do not think the rail staff would have the knowledge, let alone the nerve.

Admittedly that won’t come fast as we trundle towards Newark, where I anticipate we’ll see the young offenders waving, and throwing things, as we pass. Although it’s most likely they’ll be indoors having had their tea, and getting ready for bed.

If you could grant yourself the fantasy of reading this in real-time, I am with many, sat about 5 miles North of Newark. The tannoy announcement was simply that ‘in a number of minutes we will be moving again’. One thousand is a number. Approximately 12 minutes ago we were due into Kings Cross – London – and I would now be shuffling towards the Thameslink. As it is, the magnetism of the North prevails.

That said, I could right now be rattling over to Manchester via all sorts of out of the way places (but not like magical mystery exciting adventure places), stopping to let on and off random eccentrics or vagabonds patrolling the outer limits of regional outposts in their capes and clogs. Then what?

Northern Digital Sector

I salute the Northern Digital Sector (NDS); lots of stuff for the new acronym book over the last week: RPSL, CGM, CPO. To the uninitiated that’s Revenue Per Lead Sold, Contextual Geo-demographic Marketing, and Cost Per Outcome. As well as Total Situation Understanding and Over Delivery.

I’ve begun to understand once more the core pillars of our business community: relationship management (I was fired by DGM for being ‘too focused’ on this), as well as full grasp of client business and P&L;, (be that client either affiliate or merchant), and the ability to understand and communicate other metrics such as conversion rate, CPO, pricing, messaging, delivery objectives, growth targets.

These things, over and above flat commission opportunity is the granular moment to build true long-lasting, revenue-generating relationships between affiliates and merchants. There will always be parties who start the conversation with commission, but the good ones get quickly onto the other KPIs, and the best are all about everything working together. I love it when I meet someone who doesn’t know what KPI stands for – that’s why this business continues.

Two real situations of late: 1) ‘can you help us get higher up the Google chart’, and 2) ‘can you get us involved in Affility Marketing?’


I shit you not. Anyone with any statements like this I love! Both prospects became live clients, and we taught them so much and then they left and did it for themselves. Mild flaw in the business model there, but live and learn all.

Well best sign off, it’s 1957, and we’re 4.5 miles North of Newark. I’m beginning to understand why some people don’t leave London. I might fly next time I head North.

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Matt Brown

Matt Brown

I'm Matt Brown. I run Hatmatic - a digital business consultancy which I set up in 2005. We pr

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