Head of Affiliates Ryan Henderson tells Gambling Insider why the Global Gaming Awards judges voted Unibet the Digital Acquisition Program of the Year
One of the fiercest competitive categories in this year’s Global Gaming Awards was the Best Digital Acquisition category, which pitted the best affiliate programs and affiliates in the industry against each other to determine who had achieved the best 2016 in the eyes of a panel of 60 executives from the gaming industry’s biggest and most successful companies.
When the voting had concluded, and the judges’ marks counted, it was Unibet that was crowned the winner, a huge accomplishment in coming out on top ahead of all of the other biggest and brightest operators and affiliates in digital gaming.
Gambling Insider sat down with Ryan Henderson, Head of Affiliates at Unibet, to find out what made the judges give Unibet the nod over its competitors.
How did you get involved in the affiliate industry?
Way, way back in 2004 I interviewed for an affiliate marketing role with Pinnacle. The idea of getting involved in such a fun industry, focused on sports, poker and casino and working purely online, suited my career aspirations perfectly. I was lucky enough to get the role and was very quickly in at the deep end; dealing with affiliates driving huge volumes (this was back in the heady days of the US market being a target for affiliates). The industry was exactly what I had hoped it would be, so I’ve been involved in the industry ever since. I’m happy to say that 12 years on, I still work closely with some of those original, non- US, partners. Being a small part of the development of their businesses is one of the genuine pleasures of the job.
What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis?
No day is the same, which is one of the things I love so much about the affiliate business. Generally though, my morning starts with managing the overnight communications from affiliates and affiliate managers based in non-UK time zones. I’ll then review the previous day’s numbers and take any follow-up action required with our affiliate team Leads or local country affiliate managers. I’ll have lunch at my desk, working on any emails that have come in during the morning. I try and reserve my afternoons for internal and external meetings (so I have time to max out on caffeine beforehand) and for project work. As part of a large organisation, there are many ongoing projects that require my time and input. As head of affiliates, I try and involve myself in as many conversations with affiliates and affiliates managers as possible. That support takes up the rest of my day, then it’s off home to spend time with my wife and baby son – a good way to clear your head after a hectic, but productive, day in the office.
How does Unibet Affiliates attempt to differentiate itself in the affiliate market?
I’ve worked for quite a few gaming brands in my 12 years in the industry. The team I’m lucky enough to lead now are hugely professional and take great pride in the bespoke assistance we provide our partners. With over 11,000 affiliates, that assistance is time consuming and often challenging. However, we firmly believe that every partner is unique and ultimately both sides benefit from this approach, which is why we dedicate ourselves to making sure affiliates are treated on an individual basis. This has definitely paid dividends.
In your opinion, what is the key to maintaining a strong relationship between affiliate programs and affiliates?
It’s often quoted when affiliate managers are asked this questions but it is always the same answer because it is the truth: Communication. Reflecting this, we’ve just launched a new website (www. unibetaffiliates.com) that allows our partners to subscribe to news articles that are relevant to them, as well as keeping them informed through weekly and monthly emails. Our Facebook group is also full of relevant updates, including announcements of company news that we think Affiliates will appreciate and that also provides more substance behind the performance numbers of the Unibet Group.
Which new trends do you think will have the biggest impact for affiliates in 2017?
Can I still say mobile?! I was working for a mobile poker and casino brand in 2007 and at the time the phrase “year of the mobile” was on everyone’s lips. With the launch that year of smartphones, followed by tablets and other internet connected devices, the “year of the mobile” has certainly come and gone. We’re now driving over half of group revenues from mobile devices and, while I think it’s a little premature to declare the desktop/laptop dead, the shift to mobile is only moving in one direction.
For our European partners, licensing is an increasing challenge. Not only is the cost element impacting on player net revenue, but in Romania, we’ve recently been helping Affiliates obtain the necessary Affiliate license to operate there. A process that wasn’t on anyone’s radar as recently as two years ago.
I’m also going to throw Virtual Reality (VR) into the mix here. Although still developing, the recent activity around augmented reality (Pokemon Go) and the increasing focus on VR from key technology companies means we will for sure see this becoming more than a niche product in 2017.
How are you looking to develop what Unibet Affiliates offers affiliates in 2017?
We never stand still. As a company we’re lucky enough to have some exceedingly bright and innovative people working for us. We have grand plans for next year but as for details? Well that would be telling…
Are there geographical markets that you will be targeting in 2017?
Despite the challenges (see my previous comments), we’re looking forward to working closely with European regulators and governments to open up additional markets in 2017, and beyond.
How much support does Unibet offer its affiliates?
Comprising a central team of five affiliate manager specialists, 12 affiliate managers providing localised support in our core markets and a further six dedicated managers in our Emerging Markets, our affiliate support epitomises the company’s values of “friendly passionate experts” who “delight through relevance”.
Recognising that some partners require more support than others, as part of the team above we have recently hired a key accounts manager. Working outside the rest of the team structure, her role is to understand key partners as if she was working for them herself. In this way we’re able to be proactive, anticipate their needs and build on already great performance.
What is your attitude to affiliate segmentation? Do you approach all affiliates with a similar plan or is it more tailored?
No business can use a one-size-fits-all approach. Consider your own habits when buying online, you expect a personalised service from any and all touchpoints throughout the process. The team regularly reviews accounts and they are managed accordingly.
What is your attitude to affiliate corporate responsibility? Do you think affiliates should be held to the same standards as operators?
While I agree that affiliates should operate responsibly, it’s not realistic to expect them to be able to operate to the same CSR standards as operators. We hold far more information about our players and have a raft of analytical processes here that help us tackle, for example, problem gaming patterns early on. As a result of our approach, we were recently awarded a “Socially Responsible Operator of the Year 2016” award.
If you could make one sweeping change to the affiliate industry, what would it be?
Magic wand time? I’d regulate all markets under the same taxation structure, opening up the US and removing unlicensed operators. At a stroke operators and affiliates would be able to know that their investment of time and money would be rewarded. Operators would all be fighting fairly for a share of wallet, players would be clear about the safety of their funds and the number of Affiliate programs that pop up, offer 50%+ rev share and then close down would be minimised.