An affiliate marketing expert with over 10 years in the industry tells Thoughtmix all about her personal secrets to success.
Written by Gemma Robinson. Edited by Steve Bryant and Jasmine Lee.
We’re thrilled to spotlight Gemma Robinson, our incredible Account Director here at Thoughtmix, as she marks an impressive milestone—10 fantastic years in the dynamic world of affiliate marketing! With over 12 years of client-facing expertise, Gemma has skillfully managed a diverse portfolio of brands, ranging from SMEs to global giants. Her extensive experience spans many verticals, both in the UK and worldwide, showcasing her versatility and strategic prowess. As a dynamic Account Director, Gemma brings a wealth of skills to the table, excelling in client relationship management, data analysis, and business development. Beyond her professional achievements, Gemma is a passionate charity fundraiser (she’s raised over £15,000 for a variety of causes!) and is a big fan of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Join us as we talk to Gemma about her illustrious career and her secrets to success in the affiliate world.
How has affiliate marketing changed over the last 10 years?
The perception of the affiliate channel has changed completely during my time in the industry.
When I first started out as an Account Manager, affiliate was seen as the underbelly of the marketing mix and we really struggled to secure budget from brands as the channel wasn’t always taken seriously. There seemed to be a belief at the top level that affiliate was cannibalising sales and de-valuing brands with voucher code strategies, and it sometimes felt like a struggle to prove our worth as a channel. As traditional affiliates have diversified their offering and new affiliate types have come into the space, we’ve been able to offer a full funnel marketing channel able to achieve multiple brand objectives at any one time; and I think this makes affiliate such an important part of the overall marketing strategy for any brand.
More recently as the cost-of-living crisis hit, we have seen an increasing number of brands explore the full potential of the affiliate channel to drive revenue on a CPA basis with activity that would have otherwise sat within other channels on a CPC or fixed fee basis. For the SMEs we work with, being able to pivot activity into the affiliate channel to pay on conversions rather than paying for clicks has been an essential tool for protecting margins. I also think the shift in perception for the affiliate channel has made it easier to work with other channels as we have something offer to accelerate performance across the board. Our joined-up approach with PR agencies, Influencer Teams and Paid Media Managers for our clients delivered incredible results in 2023, particularly for content and influencer revenue growth. I think the last PI Live was indicative of how the industry has grown; it was undoubtedly their best-ever show – entirely sold out. If they extended it by another 2 days, I still don’t think I would have been able to fit in all the meetings and attend all the sessions I would have liked!
Your biggest highlights of 2023?
2023 had some real pinch-me moments; I delivered presentations that I genuinely think have been the best work of my career, and it feels like all the hard work I put in over the past 10 years really came to fruition over the last 12 months. We have delivered record breaking results for our clients, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we achieved this year. Having also stepped into an Account Director role last year where I contributed to the progression of our emerging talent, I have loved seeing their knowledge base and expertise grow – we’ve seen some fantastic work come from members of the team who started out in affiliate with us and it’s amazing to see their confidence increase week on week.
How about highlights from your career overall?
On a personal level, I worked on a project that was shortlisted for a Chartered Institute of Marketing award and to see the blood, sweat and tears that goes into a start-up recognised at such a high level was a real highlight. Seeing numerous colleagues win awards for Best Managed Programmes and Rising Stars over the years have always been special moments; when the people around you work so hard, it’s so nice to see that acknowledged by the rest of the industry. I have also been able to support a huge number of charities over the years through corporate fundraising, and it’s always been great to use the non-marketing elements of my Event Management degree used for good!
How many brands have you worked with in affiliate?
I tried to count the number of brands I have worked with in affiliate before I left my last role and while I couldn’t, I am sure the number is in the hundreds. Over the last 10 years I have run campaigns for over 30 fashion brands ranging from fast fashion giants to luxury fashion, to niche and even band merch – which if you know me, you know I love working on. My beauty brand clientele has included skincare, tanning products, haircare, lasers and anti-ageing – and I have become a brand ambassador for each and every one, always buying their products. I’ve worked with sex toy brands, DNA kits, kombucha, e-learning, subscriptions and meal kits, business cards, tan through swimwear, dog selfie t-shirts, photo gifts, mattresses, homewares, baby brands and everything in-between. 10 years of agency experience has been varied to say the least!
What are the biggest lessons you have learned?
I think my strength as an Account Manager has always been the relationships I have built with my brands. Taking the time to really learn about the brands you work on and striving to become an extension of the internal team will take you so far in this industry. As an agency associate for a brand, you become their representative for a huge number of publishers and when you are fully invested in everything that makes their products great, it makes your campaigns so much more effective.
Secondly I believe accountability is key, you won’t always see the results you want and sometimes mistakes are going to happen – I have never encountered a problem that couldn’t be fixed by holding your hands up and saying we’re sorry this has happened, this is what we’ve done to rectify and this is what we are putting in place going forward. For agencies especially I think transparency and trust are critical to delivering the best for your brands.
Do you have any advice for junior marketeers?
Network and get to know people – affiliate marketing is a very social industry and it’s full of interesting people who were all new to the events at some point, so don’t be afraid to go out and introduce yourself – I have always thought the affiliate industry has always been especially welcoming! This channel is built on relationships, and as people move around roles in the space, your number one tool will always be your network.
Work together with publishers to achieve brand objectives – you, the brand and the publisher all have the same goal and when you set people up for success, everyone wins. Take time to communicate the wider objectives to your publishers – the more information everyone has, the better you can adapt your strategies to achieve client KPIs.
Thank people always – whilst sometimes we might need to have constructive conversations about why placements haven’t hit KPIs; I think it is far more important to thank people for their work and celebrate all the wins, big and small, on a programme.
What do you enjoy about agency life?
The collaboration and experience I have gained working in an agency are unrivalled and you’re never working with just one account manager, you’re working with the extended team of experts. We have such a good depth of experience within our team with people who worked in house with brands, or a network, or a publisher and with other agencies – between us there is always someone with a great idea or solution for whatever project you’re working on. I love having the team to bounce ideas off and at Thoughtmix we are exceptionally good at knowledge sharing, so a win for one client is a win for all our clients where we replicate successes.
Tell us about your first year at Thoughtmix…
2023 has been the biggest year in my whole career for my professional growth. I have learnt so much from having such diverse experience within the team, and the level of energy and passion we have for the channel makes it such a great place to work. What I really love about the agency is whilst we have individual portfolios, our Thoughtmix clients get input from the entire team. The knowledge sharing and collaboration is second to none, and that has really got me thinking creatively outside of the box. We have one of the most supportive environments to work in – a win is a win for everyone, and every single win is celebrated. I have produced some of my very best pieces of work at Thoughtmix and achieved record breaking results for our clients that I am so proud of, which wouldn’t be possible without the team of colleagues encouraging me to keep aiming higher. It’s been an amazing year, and I am excited for 2024 and beyond.