In a recent article on PerformanceIN, Helena Barroso Zarco, account director at Acceleration Partners, discussed how we as an industry should be collaborating more to increase the new talent coming in whilst maintaining them within the affiliate channel. A few points were raised, such as the candidate's experience, the consequences of recruiting while expanding globally, and action points for companies to consider when recruiting. Zarco concluded that the industry should look beyond the traditional criteria and instead view the potential of candidates regardless of background and embrace the value of the affiliate industry.
This discussion got us thinking about what we can do to encourage more talent coming through at a time where fresh ideas and creativity is much needed in performance marketing. Looking beyond senior roles, there are a lot of account managers, directors and executives who are making a significant impact to the industry in a very short space of time, whether coming in from another sector or straight from graduating at university.
So, what’s being done currently?
A number of companies in the performance marketing space have been offering and are continuing to offer apprenticeships or placement schemes for people looking to enter the industry for the first time. These schemes give them the chance to learn the ropes and understand the core values of how affiliate and performance marketing works. UK publisher TopCashback offers placement schemes for new candidates, allowing them to learn the nuts and bolts of affiliate marketing as well as receive support in training and development.
To get an honest perspective on the placement and how other companies should be encouraging new talent into the industry, we caught up with Darren Garrod and Charlotte Wornell who have both completed a 12-month placement with TopCashback. They discuss their experiences and thoughts on the affiliate marketing industry and tell us what they learned during their time at the company.
What was your role at TopCashback as part of your placement year?
Darren Garrod/Charlotte Wornell: Partnerships executives.
What were your initial impressions working for the company and stepping into affiliate?
DG: In my first week, TopCashback hosted affiliate drinks in Manchester, which was pretty surreal to see everyone from the industry get together. I actually ended up doing karaoke with the owners of TopCashback, which at the time seemed unbelievable. Through some client meetings and learning everything internally, I found the first few weeks in affiliates really intense both from an industry learning perspective and a picking up internal systems one.
CW: When I first started at TopCashback I was a little overwhelmed. It was hard to come to grips with the role, industry and company all at once, as there was a lot to learn. At one point in my first week, I remember thinking “what have you got yourself into” as my manager was trying to teach me about the industry but it seemed pretty confusing. However, I instantly felt so welcomed by the company, which really helped and made the transition into working life a little bit easier. Right from the start, the company treated me like any other employee and I felt a level of mutual respect, which, to be honest, I didn’t expect to feel so early on. This made my overall first impression of the company really positive.
Did you know about affiliate marketing before starting your role?
DG: The world of affiliates was completely new to me. I’d never been taught anything about affiliate marketing at university and being honest, prior to my interview at TopCashback, I had no clue what it was or how it worked. It’s safe to say I was pretty blown away by the affiliate model – how everybody is a winner and the relationship is mutually beneficial to equal proportion.
CW: I personally had never heard of affiliate marketing so had no idea what I had set myself up for. I would still slightly struggle to explain and define affiliate marketing to friends and family now if I’m being completely honest as there’s so much to it. It took me a little while to come to terms with the affiliate marketing model but now I’m really fascinated by the complexity yet simplicity of it all.
How did your role develop over the course of your placement? What skill sets did you gain during your time at TopCashback?
DC: I think the real development comes after your first few months, where you go from initially going to meetings with other people in the team, barely saying a word, right through to going to meetings alone and solely managing the relationship. That’s a lot of responsibility for an intern. For me, I really gained presentation skills. Every meeting you go to you are usually presenting data and strategy to clients. I think being able to read that data and come up with profitable suggestions for the advertiser is a real skill I’ve taken away. Equally, I’ve learnt some valuable, hard skills, like developing my Excel ability – something I was terrible at in my interview.
CW: At TopCashback, you’re given a lot of responsibility right from the start but I would say that over the course of my placement how I used and implemented this responsibility shifted once I had a wider understanding of the industry and company offering. This meant the role naturally developed as you start to be more proactive and assess the bigger picture. During the year, my technical skills improved dramatically (such as using key tools, reporting, analysing data etc.), for me, it’s the personal skills I have taken away that I will value the most. This includes the ability to build strong, lasting relationships, learning how to communicate effectively with a range of people (both written and verbally), and having the confidence to make key decisions but then also taking accountability for them. Overall, I’m confident that I’ve adopted a range of skills that will help me not only in future jobs but in my last year of study.
What was the most important thing you learned about affiliate marketing?
DC: For me, it was the fact that we’re all trying to achieve the same thing, just on behalf of different companies. The advertiser wants profitable sales, the publisher wants to drive that and the network wants to be the go-to party to facilitate the two. Ultimately, we’re all trying to help the advertiser grow sales, or awareness or whatever that KPI may be. I think this makes relationships so important and that’s the biggest takeaway for me personally – the importance of relationships in affiliates.
CW: The most important thing I have personally learnt about affiliate marketing is that it is a process. From working publisher side as an account manager, I’ve seen how results don’t always just happen overnight, so an account needs time and energy in order to grow. I have seen how there is a lot of potential in affiliate marketing when used effectively, so being proactive and experimenting with new opportunities can be vital in the process to encourage success. Essentially, every party is working towards the same objective so it’s important for everyone to equally invest in the process.
Having completed your placement year, have your views on affiliate marketing change for the better or worse?
DC: I don’t think I had any preconceptions of affiliates because I didn’t know much about it prior to my year at TopCashback. Because of that, my opinion has only grown favourably to the industry. The question of where the industry will be in 10 years particularly fascinates me.
CW: While I also had very little preconceptions due to a lack of pre-knowledge, over the 12 months my interest and love for the industry continually grew as I learnt more and more every day. While I do feel there are aspects of the industry that need work, it’s safe to say that overall I was pleasantly surprised with what the affiliate marketing industry had to offer. I have definitely been left with a positive overall view of it now my placement has finished.
How did TopCashback support your development during the placement year?
DC: It might sound a bit basic, but just by letting you do your thing. The fact you’re on a placement year really doesn’t matter much, not in terms of responsibility anyway. TopCashback has a great company culture and the fact that they trust their staff and in particular placements, allows you to innovate and bring what you have to the table - rather than following a rigid structure. Having said this, your manager and even the directors will likely become your friends, so despite them allowing you to do your thing, they’re still there to help. James Little, for example, I sat opposite him and asked him about 40 questions a day (sorry James) and he answered every one with enthusiasm.
CW: TopCashback were supportive in so many ways throughout the duration of my placement. They not only helped me develop a strong understanding of an industry I knew very little about
but from day 1 they have greatly helped me focus on my own personal development and learn new things about myself. While the responsibility you’re given at TCB can be daunting at times (as at first it does feel like you’re thrown in at the deep end), it was definitely the best way to learn quickly and make the most out of my 12 months. I always felt comfortable asking questions to my team, managers and colleagues from wider teams, which made the whole learning process a lot easier. More importantly, I felt confident enough to openly share my thoughts and personal insights into company/industry issues, which I feel not all companies would take the time to listen to (especially when regarding placement views).
What sort of criteria should companies be looking out for when recruiting new talent?
DC: I think in most roles in affiliates, you need to be hiring enthusiastic extroverts. From my experience, affiliates are all about the relationship. Having clients that you class as friends is invaluable to that business relationship. This makes sociable people important to hire, in client-facing roles anyway. I think companies should also lookout for people who have an existing knowledge of the industry. If I had even a small amount of affiliate knowledge prior to joining, I’d of been able to get to grips with stuff so much quicker.
CW: In my opinion, personality is key in the affiliate marketing industry. Personality is such an essential part of the industry as, from my experience as an account manager, success can be heavily dependent on the relationships you build, and more importantly maintain. While knowledge and technical skills can be taught, it’s a lot harder to teach personality, likability and passion. Companies should be looking for future candidates who express an enthusiastic, confident personality and people who are willing to learn and work hard – especially as the industry can be pretty intense at times.
Do you think placement schemes are a good way to introduce emerging talent into the affiliate marketing industry?
DC: 100%. I think placement years work well for both the company and the intern. It gives the company the chance to see how that person would (or wouldn’t) fit into their organisation before making a long-term decision and equally gives the placement an insight as to what affiliates entail. I think students are generally keen to learn something new too, it might be difficult to explain affiliates to somebody coming in who wasn’t willing to learn something completely new.
CW: I strongly support the idea of placement schemes in the affiliate marketing industry. As the industry is quite unknown and not widely taught in education, a placement scheme is a great opportunity to introduce and educate students who are keen to learn and express the desired skills and personality for the industry. While students may lack knowledge of affiliates and need support and guidance putting these skills into practice, it’s a great opportunity for companies to train potential future employees from day one and find people who fit in well with the company culture before hiring them permanently. I also think that students can help companies as they can offer fresh ideas and perspectives about how to maximise performance.
Lastly, do you see yourself working in affiliate marketing again in the future?
DC: For sure. Affiliate is a very fun industry and TopCashback is doing great things so I could definitely see myself in affiliates after uni. I’ve actually started my own company in the form of vape.co.uk, which is essentially an e-cigarette company, looking to simplify things for people trying to quit smoking. So, if that were to take off I’d likely pursue that but I think affiliates is where it’s at for me if not; it’s been too fun not to return.
CW: I can honestly say I had the best experience working at TopCashback and I am so grateful to have had been given the opportunity to work alongside such a great team. The industry is so much fun and I believe it has even more to offer, so I’d definitely be keen and open to returning to affiliates after I complete my studies. After doing a placement I definitely feel more prepared and confident for whatever the future holds so I’m looking forward to what is next.