Lee-Ann Johnstone, CEO of AffiliateINSIDER, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Lee-Ann Johnstone, is an award-winning digital marketing strategist who was also voted as one of the Top 10 Most Influential Women in iGaming, speaks about AffiliateINSIDER, their culture, mission, and about their training program, how to manage and work with different partners, and why affiliate management is a rewarding career – follow her story below.
How did you first get into the affiliate space?
Around two decades ago I changed careers and entered the world of online marketing. I thought it was a really interesting area to explore. I had been working in marketing for about five years and was really looking at the next big trend. Back then the internet was a new thing, a new shiny tool; I left my role as Head of Marketing for a small financial services company and joined an online media company and I started my career all over again. I did a lot of media planning and buying first, then moved over to working with ad networks. Then I moved over into working with publishers and partners.
Since then, I have worked with the agency side, network side, clients’ side, and affiliates’ side. So, I’ve got a 360-degree view of how the affiliate industry has developed from the very beginning to where it’s today and how we are going to be moving forward.
In 2019, you have been voted one of the Top 10 Most Influential Women in iGaming by IGB Affiliate. You are also an award-winning digital marketing strategist. What does this mean to you?
It means quite a lot because it’s the result of a lifetime’s worth of work and learning. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m so keen to help others develop their careers in this industry and why at AffiliateINSIDER we have created our AMPP training course, which stands for Affiliate Management Performance Program. I’m very keen to help new people come into the industry and learn how they can build successful careers like I have in affiliate marketing, because I really believe that in the digital landscape, it’s one of the most interesting spaces to work in.
It also means quite a lot that in this position, which I’m fortunate enough to hold, I help other people learn and develop their programs and careers too. This also means being an ambassador for the industry. It’s obviously humbling to be thought of as somebody who’s influential but the main thing is that I want people to still know that they can approach me at any time and ask me questions because a rising tide lifts all boats.
That’s really what I think my function is here, helping the next generation of digital marketers come up through the ranks to learn, innovate, and grow within our industry based on the knowledge and expertise that I want to share.
When and how did AffiliateINSIDER take off? What is AffiliateINSIDER and what do you do at AffiliateINSIDER?
Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question because I don’t think we have really taken off yet. We’re still very much in beginning as we’ve only been going for a few short years now. To be honest, I don’t really do very much. If you look under the bonnet of AffiliateINSIDER, my team is really fantastic. They propel and move the business forward, but they’re also an incredible support structure that allows me to step outside of doing the day to day management and keep abreast of what’s happening in industry trends and to contribute to the conversations that are happening inside our industry.
At AffiliateINSIDER, I speak about affiliate marketing, I help people understand affiliate marketing a little bit better, and really support the brands and the partners that work with us to grow their affiliate programs. However, it’s not just me; it’s actually the entire AffiliateINSIDER team that contributes to that story.
Tell us a bit more about AffiliateINSIDER’s culture, mission, and values.
At AffiliateINSIDER, we have a culture of continued development and learning. We encourage our team to keep learning and developing their skills because without learning, testing, reiterating, and optimizing those tests we can’t actually help our clients to grow.
Our mission is to evangelize the world to affiliate marketing.
I think that’s pretty simple.
We are very passionate about this industry and about making sure that people who want to use the performance model understand the strategy and the planning metric that’s required in order to make that model successful for their business.
In terms of our values, we are honest. Honesty and a direct approach are probably something that clients most expect when they deal with AffiliateINSIDER, whether that’s through working with a media team, our content team, or our agency team.
We also have a very strong remote working culture which obviously was as a result of the pandemic. I think the one thing that you can always be sure of is that you will get a direct, honest approach to whatever problem it’s that you’re trying to solve. So very much working collaboratively with our clients to deliver the KPIs and the support that they need.
At AffiliateINSIDER, you organize training and coaching for affiliate managers. What can you tell us about these programs? How do they help and benefit attendees? Who are they ideal for? Can you provide any examples?
The AMPP, which I created about two years ago, is really something special and a little bit unique. It’s for affiliate program managers who really want to level up, who want to understand the frameworks that contribute to building a successful affiliate program, and for those who want to get the confidence that they need in order to really present and market their brands in a better way. This program is really a coaching program and it’s ideal for anybody who is in an affiliate management role, you know one or two years in, or even somebody who’s five or six years into that role, and actually wants to step up to the next level. It’s really offering a mix of the sort of frameworks and guidelines that we offer to our clients and our agency, but also helping affiliate managers to understand the environment that they’re working in and to develop the skills that they need in order to drive their programs forward.
I think in terms of the benefits for attendees, the testimonials speak volumes. If you look on LinkedIn and type in AMPP, one of the nicest testimonials that we’ve had was from Rebecca Ciala, Head of Affiliates at Hollywoodbets.
She’s been on the course and she absolutely loved it. She has really posted some lovely stuff about us on LinkedIn and why that course has helped her in so many ways.
Nowadays, many brands work with a number of affiliates and managing all of them might not be so straightforward. From your experience, how can brands successfully manage and work with different affiliate partners? What strategies should be employed?
Yes, that’s true. Working in affiliate marketing isn’t so straightforward anymore, simply because we have so many different channels that partners perform in, it’s not just websites anymore. The development of social media platforms has really allowed more and more people to enter into the affiliate and performance marketing space. Figuring out what your strategy is, because there is no one-size-fits-all program anymore for all the different types of content, curators, and publishers that you can work with, can be quite tricky to navigate. The key thing is that brands need to understand how to work with different types of partners. They need to be flexible to actually allow those partners to have the space to test and try new things, and to figure out how best to partner with the brands that they’re working with.
There also needs to be forethought and planning. We’re living in a very unstructured environment; things have changed so much over the last two decades in terms of online. It’s very important for partners to collaborate with the brands that they choose to promote. It’s also important for affiliate managers to really look at the data available and use it to make informed decisions about how they want to work with their partners commercially. That one-size-fits-all commission model or remuneration plan just isn’t enough anymore to work with partnerships in a really engaging way.
So, keep an open mind keeping your commercial’s fluid moving with supply and demand, and really just having open relationships with affiliates is incredibly important to make sure that your program is going to be successful ongoing
Why is affiliate management a rewarding career choice?
If you want to work in an environment where no one day is ever the same, then affiliate management is the career for you. I always say it’s not a job, it’s a vocation. Most people fall into affiliate marketing and affiliate management by accident, but the ones who end up staying are the ones that are truly passionate about this industry. I think it’s a little bit like marmite, you either love it or you hate it. However, if you’re lucky enough to learn from a mentor or somebody else that’s as passionate about the industry as you could be, then I think that sets you off for a successful career.
The fact that affiliate managers have to know a little bit about everything is also quite rewarding because, like I said, no one day is ever the same. Today, you might be dealing with a little bit of admin, tomorrow you might be doing a commercial deal of a lifetime and the next day, you might be jetting off to an event. It really does have a little bit of everything in, and you get to experience a lot of different types of digital marketing working in the affiliate space.
It’s a rewarding career; it’s not an easy career because it does take a lot of skill. It’s not just about customer support, account management, relationship management, or sales. There are a lot of different techniques that are involved in working in this career. It’s important that if you are going to enter this career, you understand that it really is a full-time job. It’s not something that you can just try and become very good at very quickly. It’s something in which you need to invest time and effort, and continuously develop yourself and learn because the industry is changing around you all the time.
What are the required skills needed to make a good affiliate manager?
That’s a very important question because there are lots of different types of affiliate managers. There are affiliate managers who are incredibly good at looking at data, analysis, and optimizing campaigns based on the numbers. There are those who are incredibly good at building relationships and at getting new sales and deals. Both skill sets are very important to have within your team. Depending on what kind of personality type you are, you will kind of gravitate towards those two different avenues of affiliate program.
I think the skill set is definitely a little bit of analysis, understanding digital marketing, the ability to build relationships from scratch, without having any kind of warm intros or leads. I believe that being outgoing is definitely advantageous but it’s not required because even an introverted person can be a really good affiliate manager. I think that specializing in a certain venue of affiliate program management is quite important because you can be somebody who’s quite technical and who deals with the sort of ad operations of an affiliate program, or you could be somebody who’s quite creative, who wants to create campaigns, deal with the designers, create exciting content, and maybe manage events. So, I think thinking about what your skill sets are, where you fit within your company and within the structure of your affiliate program is also very important.
How can affiliate management be improved?
That’s a very easy question. I think that affiliate management is always improved when there’s an open dialogue. I also think that having transparency in your program and being attentive to your partnerships will really make a good affiliate program. Moreover, it’s what affiliates are going to want to engage with. I think that there’s a lot of work to be done in the industry in terms of transparency, in terms of understanding data, because we work across multiple platforms as well, and sometimes not all the data is available for us to make informed decisions.
I’d like to see people consider affiliate marketing and the performance channel as less of a channel that requires a budget and more of an open-ended commercial partnership. So, allowing affiliates to try new things and to just get a little bit creative and not doing only things the way that we’ve done before. You need to have an open mindset.
How do you see the future of affiliate marketing?
The future is bright. I think we’re heading into a really interesting time in the online world where things like the metaverse or crypto are coming into the fore with NFTs.
I think it’s going to be quite exciting to see how these areas are navigated and it’s certainly going to be interesting to see how technology is going to keep up with these new trends. So, seeing how we are going to be able to integrate these things into our everyday marketing strategies and how our partners are going to actually integrate and use these new channels and types of integrations that we can have with our consumers.
I think the future of affiliate marketing is going to be incredibly interesting but it’s going to be fast paced. Therefore, keeping up with trends and integrating them into traditional marketing tactics is going to become quite interesting. So, I think it’s a really good time to join the affiliate space right now.
How has your experience at SiGMA expos been?
We attend SiGMA every year because it’s a great opportunity to meet with partners, publishers, and affiliates. It’s also a great way to understand what’s happening in the industry. I also had a great time in November in Malta, which is always a lovely place to visit. In November, I was a moderator in the panel entitled “The Challenges of Localization for the cross-border Affiliate” and a panelist in the panel entitled “The importance of a marketing gamification strategy“.
We really do enjoy getting out there and meeting people in the industry so that we can listen and hear how other people are experiencing this space and learning and innovating within their businesses too. So, it’s a great opportunity to network and just keep learning as well. We love attending events and I’m really a big fan of SiGMA.
Tell us a bit about yourself — after all, business is done with people, not just companies! Your hobbies, favourite book, favourite quote, whether you are into Gaming yourself, etc.
Strangely enough, I enjoy the outdoors. I live very near the coast. I’m an absolute water baby. You’ll always find me in the water, on the water, and near to the water. My hobbies are standup paddle boarding (SUP), scuba diving; I just love being by the beach and I’m very lucky to live by the seaside.
My favorite quote is an old African proverb, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is very dear to me because obviously I was born in South Africa, but it’s also very, very true. So, it rings true in affiliate marketing where often in order to experience that growth you can’t go alone, you have to go with your partners.
My favorite book. I haven’t actually read books in a while. I read a lot of industry, thought leadership, and entrepreneurial talk books. However, one of the best marketing books that I’ve ever read is The Business Model Canvas, which is a great book for affiliate managers or digital marketers to read in terms of strategy and planning. That’s probably the last book that I can think of at the top of my head.
I also believe that business is done with people. So, I am quite approachable and I really do love meeting people at events and hearing about what they’re doing and how they’re learning. I believe I’m quite a sociable person by nature and by heart. I am looking forward to meeting lots of new people at events.
Read more about SiGMA Affiliate Grand Slam here.
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