Following a shock departure from the helm of affilinet and the subsequent acceptance of a lead role spearheading Acceleration Partners’ Europe expansion, Helen Southgate has taken her fair share of our headlines in recent months.
Amid the noise of industry hearsay and PR-vetted press releases, however, we’ve yet to talk to Southgate directly about a busy and, in some respects, turbulent few weeks.
Hi Helen, first of all, congratulations on the move to Acceleration Partners - how have things been going so far?
Helen Southgate: Great. I’m three weeks into my new role as the UK managing director and have been out visiting various advertisers, networks, agencies and publishers. The best thing about my new position and Acceleration Partners is I get to work across all strands of affiliate marketing.
Are you now looking to grow a team here in the UK?
HS: Yes, there are two of us already, myself and Jas, a senior consultant. I’m looking to build out the team over the coming weeks and months with another senior level consultant and a data analyst as well. From there, it really depends on what projects we are working on. My vision is to have senior, experienced consultants across the UK team.
This is Acceleration Partners first expansion outside of the US, so presumably quite a challenge awaits?
HS: I am ready and look forward to the challenge. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning right? Acceleration Partners are incredibly well respected and the leading independent agency in the US. They are considered the good guys in a market which at times has been like the Wild West - I want to bring that same ethos to the UK.
Acceleration Partners has a unique culture; they are a 100% remote workforce which has led to a high proportion of women and parents working at the business, incredibly low staff turnover and exceptional and experienced people on the team. There is a real focus on people and professional development from training to investing in employees’ well-being. I’m extremely impressed with what I’ve seen so far and excited to extend Acceleration Partners’ culture to the UK.
Has this been a major transition from your former role at affilinet?
HS: It’s different in a positive way. I now get to work more closely with industry partners on a consultancy basis. I’m excited about the opportunity to dive into the details of clients’ digital marketing strategies and develop programme strategies to meet their goals. I’ve worked for startups before so I know the challenges ahead and I’m excited to have the opportunity to lead the company’s expansion into the European market. Having autonomy to set the strategy and direction of the business was a big factor in my decision to make this transition. I want to help advertisers run exceptional affiliate programmes, and now I can do it without being hampered by the inherent conflicts of interest that arise with network-based affiliate programme management.
In light of your departure from affilinet ahead of its acquisition announcement, there’s naturally been speculation that you were aware ahead of time. Was that the case?
HS: No, I had no idea. I was in Boston when the news broke and I awoke early to a flurry of text messages on my phone.
So, aside from an exciting opportunity presented at Acceleration Partners, were there any other motivations for moving on from affilinet?
HS: As the UK managing director, I am setting the business strategy and making decisions on technology advancements and people management. Now I have a chance to completely take accountability for these areas in a way that I believe will be successful. While there are always risks involved when taking on a new role, I’m confident we have the right structure and vision to deliver on our goals.
As a professionally neutral observer now, what was your perception of the way that acquisition announcement was handled?
HS: I think the challenge with these types of mergers is that they are incredibly sensitive, and in many cases, only a few people are aware of the situation. This meant that the majority of the affilinet team found out the same day as we all did so it came as a shock, but there are usually reasons for this that are unavoidable. I think it’s clear that the merger makes commercial sense for both sides; affilinet has an incredibly hardworking, capable and passionate team so wherever they end up I am confident they will be successful.
In the long term, will the scale of this merger create an opportunity for Acceleration Partners and other competing networks alike?
HS: The beauty of the Acceleration Partners’ model is that we are platform and publisher agnostic. We are in a unique position to advise brands with a completely independent perspective, I think that is a huge opportunity in an ever-changing, fast-growing marketplace. The industry is sorely lacking in thought leadership and people who are willing to challenge the industry to be better. Robert Glazer, Acceleration Partners’ founder and managing director, is well respected for this in the affiliate industry and I think we will make a great team as we motivate the industry to do great things here in the UK and in other regions. In terms of networks, there is one less competitor in the space now which leaves a huge opportunity for other networks and platforms to step up. I’m excited to see that there are some really innovative and exciting things happening. I think we’ll see much more competition in the future which will provide more options to advertisers and publishers which can only be good for the industry.
So what’s Acceleration Partners’ “game plan” for the next year or two here in the UK?
HS: Acceleration Partners has worked with some of the most recognisable brands in the world to help them get the most out of their affiliate programmes. I look forward to working directly in-market with advertisers in the UK and Europe to provide a unified global strategy as well as local expertise to drive more value and better results from their performance marketing channel. I plan to build on Acceleration Partners’ strategy of putting the brand first and focusing on driving profitability, performance and transparency.