It is easy to see how it can happen. After all, clients are critical to the success of any agency or network. They’re the ones who pay your fees, or your override; they are the proof when pitching to potential clients that you know what you are doing. 

Without clients, you have nothing. Affiliates, on the other hand, they will follow the clients. You get the best clients and as a result you get the best affiliates. 

But it is short sighted.

The relationship you have with you affiliate base more often than not will define how successful your programme performs. So why as an industry does the focus seem so heavily weighted towards clients?

Now, working at one of the top affiliate sites in the country I would imagine we get a better level of service than most. With some networks we have a publisher manager, a person there to push our cause internally. But even the top affiliates, who I would imagine make a great deal more revenue for networks than any one client, fail to get the level of service that a client would expect.  I still see things that shock me.

Only a couple of weeks ago one of my team, working on a presentation for this account manager’s client, asked for help working out how to use a network’s reporting system. She was told they were too busy to help! Can you imagine a Tesco, a Sky or a Debenhams being told the same? If this happens to an affiliate of our size, I wonder how bad it must be for the one-man-bands, the start-up affiliates- the people I often hear championed as the future of the industry.

Three things I would love to see networks take action on:

1. Reporting

This article is not about naming and shaming, more to create some debate. But there are some systems we work with where you feel that people designed these systems to work against you. From irrelevant columns added that you need to delete manually, to systems where you can’t pull more than a month’s numbers at a time, it can be so frustrating when you have less than a month to dedicate to getting some data.  

Now considering affiliates (unlike clients) have no reporting done for them, you would think it would make sense to make the systems easy to use. I can only think of two networks in my two years at TopCashback who have asked for feedback on their systems. I can think of about 4 reports that we would probably use daily but are not available on most networks.

2. Affiliate Rights

We see networks working closely together with bodies such as the IAB, widely lauded for their work in professionalising and standardising the industry. But most often, this deals with professionalising affiliates. Where is the action when merchants are behaving badly? You only have to look around the forum to see complaints about clients not paying for 8 months, commissions being cut with no notice, or absurd terms and conditions. Often when you question the response you get ‘we have told the client this isn’t ideal’. Perfect.  Forceful.

Are we to surmise from this that posting a voucher code incorrectly is a more serious offence than failing to pay affiliates for the best part of a year? I imagine that work is being done behind the scenes and it is more a case of not washing dirty laundry in public, but at what point should affiliates expect help?

Affiliate transgression = expect removal or suspension from programme/network.

Client transgression = ‘not ideal’.

3. Affiliate Spamming

Again going back to the professionalism. It seems that promotional methods are scrutinised more than ever, which is good for a transparent industry. But is there any control over merchant promotional methods? I have lost count of the number of email newsletters for programmes I’ve never even had any input on. It’s basically just spam, quite often without the chance to unsubscribe. If an affiliate is joined to the programme it’s fair to contact the email that is registered. But adding every person in the company regardless of whether you have met or worked with them, for me, should not be allowed.

And when you do email, make sure it is for the affiliate. Why email affiliates things that are irrelevant to them? Surely it shouldn’t be too hard to segment the email database? If the affiliate isn’t allowed to promote the offer or doesn’t use creative why are they being sent it?

So Will it Change?

I think for some networks it will. I think they have shown in the past that they value their affiliates and will look at ways to improve their service. But for some it needs a change of culture. It has to come from the top that your affiliates are as much a client as your clients. They still need help and resources just like a client. They might not always shout as loud, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. There will always be moans and some people will never be happy, but too many of these are genuine (and avoidable) for my liking.

I have been told many times by many different people ‘we want to be the publisher’s network’. I would love to see some practical and pro-active steps towards this happening.