For those working within performance marketing, rapid change and movement is something we’re used to. The industry has shown itself to be adaptable and flexible during uncertain times, and to reflect this, it’s important we focus on bringing in fresh talent to keep things moving.

The coveted Performance Marketing Awards Rising Star award seeks to recognise up and coming talent that is paving the way for innovation and positive change.

It’s no secret that, in the past, the performance and affiliate marketing industries have earned a reputation for being dated and insular. The Rising Star award is a chance for those who are new to the industry to be recognised and to show off their talent, to inspire other new and seasoned names alike.

Sponsored by Just Media Group, this prestigious award recognises key attributes in performance marketing professionals at the early stages of their careers, including natural talent, work ethic, enthusiasm, creativity and innovation.

The standard of entries received this year was extremely high and tasked with interviewing the shortlist are three highly esteemed members of the judging panel, including last year’s winner, Mel Blue, Director of Affiliate Marketing at Optimus Performance Marketing.

Joining Mel will be industry veteran, Jim Nichols, alongside Executive Chairman of Envolve Tech, Mark Smith.

One winner will be decided by an algorithm of 70% for each of the three judges’ scores, while a crucial 30% is reserved for the final industry vote.

Here’s a chance to meet this years’ candidates, along with some words from peers on their progression in the performance marketing industry.

Here are this years’ candidates:

Raman Gill, Business Development Manager at CJ Affiliate

Raman’s role at CJ isn’t her first within the channel – she worked at Awin for six months prior to joining CJ in November 2019 as Business Development Executive, before being promoted in 2020 to Business Development Manager.

From whichever way you look at it, Raman has gone beyond the ordinary to achieve excellence in terms of business results, company culture and the promotion of the affiliate channel.

Since joining CJ, Raman has successfully onboarded 49 new clients, 45 of which completely new to the affiliate channel – a telling statistic that shows Raman has pushed her role to its maximum, presenting not just the benefits of CJ, but the channel, attracting new blood to affiliate marketing.

Raman is a founding member of CJ’s global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Group; this, as well as her training as a mental health first aider to assist her colleagues during the weary lockdown periods and beyond; her nomination as CJ’s Dare To Think Big: Global Team Player of the Year; or even her relentlessly over-achieving against sales targets alongside all of her additional commitments to the business described here.

Her peers said: “It’s clear that Raman is a rising star within performance marketing, and we look forward to seeing her shine.”

Smita Pillai, Customer Success Director at

Smita has only worked in the partnerships and performance marketing industry for three years, but in that time has made a significant and lasting impression both professionally and personally.

Alongside maintaining and growing’s existing roster of clients, and driving new organic revenue streams, recent highlights for Smita include building on the company’s relationship with HelloFresh, directly securing the extension of their contract period, and overseeing the migration of Swarovski onto’s platform. She also helped strengthen the relationship with agency partners such as Acceleration Partners, Optimus, Reprise and Planit.

Smita’s team has tripled in size since she joined, and is steadily growing. She has fostered strong ties with’s other departments and regions, increasing cross-region knowledge sharing and collaboration.

As’s Diversity and Equity Ambassador, Smita cultivates a more empathetic, diverse workplace, in which people can thrive. Her involvement has directly helped’s DEI response evolve and grow over the past year. She is also passionate about creating a positive presence in the wider industry. As well as being a member of AllBright, the networking group for female business leaders, she is a familiar face at industry events and a thought leader in the marketing press.

Smita’s peers said: “It is Smita’s passion for personal growth and development – crucially for her team as well as herself – that set her apart. She nurtures talent by creating a space in which people feel safe and comfortable while empowering them to develop their own leadership skills, in the knowledge they will have her support and encouragement as well as constructive feedback and advice.”

Francesca Dakin, Partnerships Manager at Vamp, previously Senior Influencer Partnerships Manager at Awin

When she joined the industry in 2018, Francesca immediately immersed herself into the affiliate climate. In 2020, Francesca embraced the opportunity to drive and shape Awin’s influencer strategy as Influencer Partnerships Manager. Francesca started this role as the sole member of the influencer division – pitching and managing end-to-end campaigns, securing budgets, and providing consultation and education to Awin colleagues on the value of influencer marketing. 

When Awin launched a series of external webinars, as a passionate advocate for the influencer space, Francesca jumped at the opportunity to host one, presenting Awin’s influencer key stats and securing industry figures to participate in a panel. Francesca participated in a panel at the Influencer Marketing Show on a subject she is passionate about: Social Good & Activism within the Influencer Channel.

Awin dedicated more resources to the influencer division for the first time as a result of Francesca’s early success. Francesca coordinated management and training, and led strategy to ensure greater campaign results, part of which was implementing a unified influencer campaign approach. Traditionally, influencer campaigns via Awin often involved liaising with advertiser affiliate departments in silo. Francesca started to initiate meetings with advertisers’ affiliate teams and PR agencies to ensure content, PR and affiliate strategy supplemented one another and resulted in 360 campaign management.

When nominating her, Francesca’s colleagues at Awin said: “Alongside her career, Francesca has a natural flair for creativity, having an established blog and social following, giving her first-hand experience of being a social content publisher. Francesca spearheaded affiliate growth strategy for her accounts, championing diversity beyond traditional incentive publishers – introducing new content, editorial publishers, and influencers.”

Francesca has now moved further into the Influencer Marketing industry having moved onto a new role as Partnerships Manager at Vamp.

Nicole Wellman, Senior Manager, Client Services at Rakuten Advertising

Nicole manages a portfolio of high-profile brands including Net-A-Porter, H&M, Microsoft and MATCHESFASHION. With clients focused on international growth, she works with teams across seven time zones with as many as 18 contacts to ensure alignment and efficiency to drive strong affiliate performance.

Due to her exceptional account management and people skills, Nicole has recently joined the leadership team and now manages six account managers. Whilst overseeing her demanding client portfolio, she has supported this team to grow and develop in their roles which has resulted in two recent promotions.

As a confident speaker, Nicole regularly participates in leading industry events. In 2019, she took to the stage at the Influencer Marketing Show to discuss the challenges of measurement drawing on her attribution experience. Last year, she spoke at PI LIVE on how to design a high-performing affiliate marketing programme. She is an active member of the Rakuten Advertising International Collective – a group of affiliate experts with the aim to promote affiliate marketing as a strategic digital marketing channel.

In less than six years at the company, Nicole has had seven promotions reaching the title of Senior Manager ahead of her 27th birthday. She has proven herself to have a unique skill set. Not only does she manage a demanding portfolio of leading brands, Nicole mentors and supports junior team members and encourages her peers to look at the industry through an alternative lens. She continues to challenge measurement and push the boundaries of affiliate marketing to drive success for her clients, team and the wider industry.

Her teammates said: “Nicole’s career trajectory has gone from strength to strength. She’s someone who is constantly learning and will quickly become a subject matter expert, much like she has for her key global accounts. Nicole brings a certain energy and positivity in everything she does, and it’s really impressive to watch her grow both professionally and personally.”

Amelia Ensell, Account Director at Wavemaker

With just four years media experience, Amelia is Wavemaker’s youngest ever Account Director. During her time at the agency her tenacity, passion and hard work have delivered substantial successes for clients and helped shift the industry’s behaviours around inclusivity.

Finding innovative solutions for growth has been a key area of focus for Amelia in her new role as Account Director. Recently, Huawei set Wavemaker the challenge to identify new growth areas for promoting their growing product range. Working closely with Twitch, Amazon and Twitter, Amelia spotted an opportunity to tap into gamers for the first time, a growing audience amongst their laptop community, pioneering the first ever test with Xaxis and Anzu on in-game advertising for Huawei. Tapping into a rich gaming community, the campaign was able to drive a staggering 128% uplift in ad-recall vs standard display.

As a leading player in the development of Wavemaker’s Inclusive Planning approach, Amelia is passionate about diversity and inclusion. Partnering with Nationwide and the IAB, she recently led a workstream to publish a guide to help small and diverse media partners carry digital ad investment from large brands and agencies; and has worked tirelessly to bring different diverse publishers, including Able, Jamaica Gleaner and Jewish News onto Nationwide’s digital media plans.

Amelia’s peers commented: “Amelia is an exceptionally talented member of the Wavemaker team, her ‘can do’ attitude and relentless drive to make sure the work we do positively impacts our industry and the communities it serves makes her a critical member of our business.”

Jacob Woodhouse, Partnerships Manager at TopCashback UK

Jacob is a positive, witty and well-liked member of the TopCashback Partnerships team, consistently being named one of the company’s high-performers. Despite the turbulence of the last 18 months, Jacob has taken everything in his stride and has been eager to take all opportunities that come his way. This positive approach has seen Jacob rewarded for his efforts and given further responsibilities including taking ownership of key, strategic projects whilst keeping stakeholders abreast of performance, managing some of the company’s biggest commercial partnerships, as well as taking managerial responsibility of junior team members.

Jacob’s team also stressed that his technical knowledge is second-to-none. They said: “With his ever-growing confidence he has become an essential knowledge bank and is regularly the go-to-person to ask for advice and help, not just by junior team members but by other teams internally too.

“Jacob also demonstrates the importance of keeping up-to-date with wider industry initiatives and local market news, so much so that he hosts a section in our weekly team meetings around updates and trends that the team should be aware of. This ensures not only a knowledgeable team, but also enables us to react to trends by planning in additional campaigns, driving further value to our advertiser partners. It also ensures key offers reach our members at the best times and generates additional revenue for TopCashback, over and above our original forecasts.”

Jim Nichols was keen to stress the importance of acknowledging the individuals that are driving positive change in the industry, something the Rising Star award does. He said: “Each of our nominees has vision, tenacity, and a deep commitment to helping others grow and progress. Thank you to each of these individuals for their outstanding contributions to our industry.”

Who should be crowned 2022’s Industry Rising Star? Vote now for your winner. Voting closes at midnight on Wednesday 20th April.

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