Q&A with Lee-Ann Johnstone: "It's not a challenge, it’s a change"

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Gambling Insider sits down with Income Access’ Vice President of Business Development & Marketing to discuss the recent acquisition of the company and how it plans to integrate itself under the Paysafe umbrella.

Can you tell us a bit about your career and how you ended up in the gaming industry?

Around the end of 2003/2004 I became really interested in online marketing. Back in those days they were doing digital marketing placements on news sites. I started my career at Forward slash in Cape Town, South Africa, and then moved to London and since then I’ve been working in the gambling industry at companies like PartyGaming and Centrebet. I also launched GameAccount’s affiliate programme, so I’ve got a very good understanding of the entire gaming space.

Six years ago I joined the Paysafe Group, where my role was to grow and promote the NETELLER affiliate programme. I helped to build the programme infrastructure, in addition to managing the integration of Skrill, whilst also building that affiliate programme up as well. Last year when Paysafe purchased Income Access, I changed my role over to become their VP of Business Development and Marketing, running Income Access’ marketing under the Paysafe umbrella.

So I have been in the industry many years, working with a variety of different operators. From casino to poker to sportsbooks, I’ve got a very good understanding of the gaming industry and also of the payments industry, having worked for both NETELLER and Skrill.

What has been your overall impression of 2016 for Income Access and Paysafe?

2016 was a year of robust growth for Paysafe. The acquisition of Income Access really added to our portfolio in terms of providing a broader range of services for clients with whom we already had established relationships. We also saw the completed integration of Skrill and the NETELLER affiliate programmes, which has galvanised that growth.

It was really a year of identifying great synergies within the payments sector as well as the affiliate marketing sector. We were strong in both, so it was a really good synergy focus for us to make the Income Access acquisition and to bring those relationships together whilst giving an improved service to our clients.

How has your day-to-day role changed since you’ve moved over from Paysafe to Income Access?

At Paysafe I was working on a lot of the digital marketing content with NETELLER and Skrill in addition to managing the affiliate programmes. Now at Income Access I’m actually doing the business development and assisting with marketing for the technology side of the affiliate programmes powered by Income Access.

I’ve worked with Income Access on-and-off for the last ten years, so I understand the platform extremely well. That part of the integration was therefore very easy. We used Income Access for the NETELLER and Skrill affiliate programmes, so the software was already known to me. The business and the people were also very familiar, so it has been a smooth transition due to the knowledge and experience I’d previously acquired.

Have there been any challenges in this transition?

There haven’t really been any challenges because of the fact that I already had a very good understanding of the business and the marketplace. I suppose the only flipside is the fact that I am no longer managing an affiliate programme but am now managing the clients who use the technology to power multiple individual programmes. I bring a very deep understanding of how the technology should be utilised and how we should be servicing our clients because I myself have been an Income Access client.

It’s actually a really good mix and brings a great balance when joining the two companies together to expand our relationship as a bigger company.

To conclude, I would say it’s not a challenge - it’s a change. It’s a change from working on a single affiliate programme to working with multiple clients instead of one brand. This is probably the only real difference.

To what extent is Paysafe setting the agenda in regards to Income Access’ day-to-day operations?

Paysafe isn’t a separate entity: it’s our corporate company, our corporate culture, and I think that culture feeds into all the different businesses that are under its umbrella. At Income Access, we still set the agenda for our strategic growth and set the agenda for what our development focus is with our technology. This is because we are the people that really understand the Income Access brand.

Lorenzo Pellegrino, the CEO of Income Access and Paysafe’s Digital Wallets, sets the strategy for what our business vision is for the year as a whole, and then we bring those synergies together and grow the affiliate programmes individually. We have a big entrepreneurial culture within the Group, which means that at a senior management level, we’re given the opportunity to almost run free. We get to decide where we need to focus our efforts, as we understand the marketplace at a deeper level.

I think that is one of the nicest things about working at Paysafe: you are the expert, you understand the industry, and you’re put in a position where you can grow that business with freedom. As a company, we trust the smaller elements and make it work in a synergistic way.

In terms of digital marketing, which factors should you take into account when trying to stand out from the crowd?

I’m quite vocal about this. I write for a number of publications and I talk a lot about growing affiliate programmes because that’s really my area of expertise. One of the key things that I think is vital when growing an affiliate programme is to fully understand the data that your technology provides. That is something that Income Access is really focused on - in terms of helping our clients understand the data that they have and where to make improvements based on it.

Your data is important. However, you must then understand what to do with it, how to optimise it and how it can improve your revenue results. As a company, we have a multitude of clients and we understand the space well, so we can provide that as an added service to our client base.

Apart from just providing the technology we actually have strategic marketing input as well. The key thing is data, building relationships, making sure that you’re actually working with your affiliate partners in the right way and matching their traffic sources to optimise whatever your end result is in terms of your bonus promotions. It’s all about having a deeper understanding of using your technology to speed up your processes.

In our digital age, everything is trackable, which allows you to optimise really quickly. We develop our product range with what we call an end-to-end programme, which tracks everything from when the customer clicks on your banner to the time they make their first deposit.

We have attribution modelling built into our reporting, which is what I think makes us really strong as a business. Not only can we help you with your strategy but we can also support your acquisition, and we can provide you with the tools that give you the data, the insights and the analytics to make those decisions every single day.

The technology is quite advanced and that’s what we pride ourselves on. We know and understand this industry, not just for affiliates but how your digital media and your search marketing plays into that as well. It basically helps you to increase your return on revenue and return on your investment for all your digital marketing. You can choose to use it just for your affiliate marketing or you can use it for all your digital marketing to give you the big picture on what’s happening with your business.

Does Income Access have any other specific targets with marketing and sales for 2017?

Obviously growth is a big factor, we acquired the business at the end of last year with a focus to grow and increase servicing for all of our clients and to actually build on the relationships we already have. Due to the fact that Paysafe has relationships with most operators in the industry from a payments perspective, we can now leverage those relationships and actually push forward the growth of Income Access as well and the services and technologies that we provide.

I think the big focus for us in the current year and into 2018 is to bring the business under the Paysafe umbrella, encourage that entrepreneurial culture and push the business to grow at a really rapid rate.

Are you ever concerned with the number of acquisitions Paysafe undertakes and whether you’re losing or diluting the concentration of expertise in each sector?

Not at all, because each business runs entrepreneurially, so we give them the freedom, the budget and the resourcing to make that business grow within the Paysafe Group. I think actually having the backing of a bigger group behind you gives you a lot more leverage and there are far more relationships that you can pass between each other. There are opportunities, niches and new verticals that other businesses are bedding down that you can actually join, grow and service.

It puts us in a very unique position to grow very quickly because we have such a good infrastructure behind us. A smaller independent business has to put that entire infrastructure in place, whereas we’ve already got it as well as the full support of the company to push this forward. I think the entrepreneurial factor is a big plus point for us because we have access to those really good resources. Income Access is a 15-year-old business in this space. They know how to run affiliate programmes and what the technology should be doing, and are experts at keeping ahead of what’s coming.

Do you have any non-financial targets for 2017?

In terms of non-financial goals, product development is a massive focus for Income Access this year. Earlier this year we completed a deal with Fresh8 Gaming, which allows sports-betting operators to optimise their media. The integration also allows them to profile their players, giving them the odds and other data they specifically want to see. Product development is a huge part of our future growth for 2017 and we have some amazing things in the pipeline.

Thinking about data, reporting, analytics and how that is becoming even more important to run a successful digital campaign is something that we are very focused on, and, in turn, this will help us leverage our marketing resources as well. There’s no reason why we can’t provide the technology whilst also giving the insight and the years of experience that our team has.

In terms of bringing this all together, it makes you strong, as it allows you to optimise your spend, increase your leverage, and also gives you the ability to push your brands in markets where you didn’t have a presence previously. We’ve already got all of those relationships so it’s really about bringing together technology, products, relationships, services and making it all a part of the bigger package.

About Lee-Ann Johnstone

With almost two decades’ experience in digital marketing in a range of sectors, Lee-Ann oversees the Income Access marketing and business development teams at Paysafe Group. Previous roles within Paysafe, and at Centrebet and PartyGaming, honed her expertise in iGaming-focused affiliate marketing and acquisition.
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