Becky’s Affiliated: The secrets of top affiliate management, featuring Adnan Maslo

adnan-maslo-secrets-of-top-affiliate-managementThere are a lot of online gambling affiliate programs out there, just take a stroll through the next iGaming Business Affiliate Conference and see for yourself. In a sea of booths, branding, sponsorships, parties, freebies and seals of approval, it’s a real challenge to shape an affiliate program that truly stands out from the rest.

In my former life, as a Senior Account Manager for, I used to deal with just about all the affiliate programs in existence at the time, so I know what makes an excellent affiliate program and very closely linked, an excellent affiliate manager.

In my current life, I have identified who I think is one of the very best affiliate managers and one of the best heads of an affiliate program in the entire business – that person is Adnan Maslo of Affiliate REPUBLIK.

I’m not alone in feeling this way about Adnan and his work, just take the last iGaming Affiliate Awards as an example: Adnan took home Best Affiliate Manager-Casino and Best Affiliate Manager- Overall and at the 2013 Awards Affiliate REPUBLIK took home Best Newcomer: Affiliate Program.

When I asked Adnan for an interview on the subject of affiliate management awesomeness, my original plan was to summarize the key points, but his answers were clearly straight from the heart and flowed so well that I’ve decided to keep them as is.  I hope you enjoy his words as much as I did.

Becky Liggero: Adnan, it looks like everything is going really well for you and Affiliate REPUBLIK in sunny Barcelona- congratulations!  Can you tell us, from an affiliate program perspective, what is the trick to consistently delivering the best service to affiliates, year after year?

Adnan Maslo:Four to five double espressos a day? Joking aside, it is really hard work and time-consuming as well, even when you are doing it right.

From an affiliate program perspective, we always make sure that the basics work, and they are the backbone of the program. They are: effective internal communication, timely and useful materials for our affiliates, easily accessible statistics, timely payments, and open external communication.

Effective internal communication is imperative for the program to work. As a small team, we are fully aware of each other’s responsibilities in the program as well as currently assigned tasks. We divide our responsibilities and tasks in the way where we take advantage of our individual strengths, and in this way we save time. Also, when needed, we are able to jump in and offload tasks from a colleague’s queue in order to provide timely service to our affiliates; everybody is always aiming for the same goal. A cool thing about this is that the team gets to interact with pretty much all of our affiliates, sooner or later. We like this, we are social by nature and we do not have the attitude that this is “my” account and that is “yours”; we do work as a team. When you have a team like that, the effective internal communication comes into its own when your team member simply nods “I’ve got this” while you are on the phone talking to an affiliate, they help you before you even get of the line – you know things are good when it works like this.

Another thing worth mentioning is the open external communication, this means that we are clear with our affiliates – in good and bad. Sometimes we did not have enough time to make all marketing assets for a new game release, or a promotion is missing some details or is not covering all player segments – so we tell our affiliates that.

If we get a request and it would simply take too long to make it happen, I prefer to say that we cannot do it rather than give false expectations. We want to make everything happen, but sometimes we just do not have the resources to do so. Keeping open communication and keeping the right expectations with affiliates is key to making sure they know how much we can help and when we cannot.

BL: Those are some excellent points.What about from an affiliate manager perspective?

AM:As an affiliate manager you are constantly communicating with many affiliates and people internally in the company, so time is our Achilles’ Heel. Here, communication skills and planning are the two weapons you have to master in order to be successful. One has to plan tasks in a way to optimize time; I do so by grouping similar tasks per day or week so that I do not have to shuffle back and forward with my focus.

Communication is a soft skill that comes with the person, it can be improved with time, but you will burn if you are not able to develop it. This is mostly because you have to keep the same quality of communication no matter how stressful it gets at the office or if you are at a wedding reception hiding somewhere in a corner to have a quick skype call.

BL: Agreed, communication and time management are certainly keys to the best affiliate management.  At this stage in your career, you’ve not only managed affiliates, but also built up two affiliate programs from scratch- what were some of your biggest challenges along the way and how did you overcome them?

AM: My biggest challenges came from side effects of growth. When a company is growing, people in it change roles, resource priority shifts quite a lot, procedures change and also evolve in complexity, and to top all of that, you have new employees constantly entering your workflow. These challenges do not sound like many, but they are very strong individually and failing to overcome any one of them will jeopardize the success of a program/organisation.

For me, everything starts by understanding the strategic company goals so I know what to aim for in 1 and 3 years from today. Then, I stay in close communication with the leaders of each department in order to anticipate what is coming next for their teams. This way I will know how many resources I can get allocated to our needs from time to time, keeping our expectations realistic.

I stay in ownership or control of procedures that touch my team, this way I make sure that we are able to do it and that the workflow is manageable with the set times and resources. At the same time, this lets me stay on top of our team’s internal workflow because we have to adapt to the shift in resources that happen a few times a year while the procedures evolve.

When we have new employees in any department, it is important for me to make sure I share our team’s role and help share the company’s vision so that they do not feel lost or lag behind others. We are only as fast as our slowest gear – so it is important to bring the new employees right up to speed as soon as possible so that they fit with the faster gears.

Overall, I think my ability to see the bigger picture just helps our team swim with the flow and adapt quickly to the changes in a growing company.

BL: Growth and change is a challenge many of us face in our respective companies and that’s some great insight- thank you.  When you sit down and think about how to make your program stand out from the rest, what are the three elements highest on your list?

AM: First and foremost, it is people. The people are the ones who build and keep long-term relationships and will always be the integral formula for a success of a program.

Secondly, it is important to build an affiliate brand that people recognize. This is really hard because there are new brands that come and other brands that go. It is hard to stand out but important to do so in our crowded space.

Third, but not the least, is the integrity of the program. In an industry that has seen a lot of turbulence over the years, it is imperative to stick to what has been promised.

People, brand and integrity, the rest falls into place afterwards.

BL: Yes and we can see these three element reflected in what you’re doing at Affiliate REPUBLIK.  As a program that works with the European market, from a broader perspective, what do you see as the future of iGaming affiliate marketing in Europe?Where is the industry headed?

This is the tricky question that all of us are trying to find the answer to. There is not a lot of room to play when Google is setting so many rules for the game. There has been a visible shift where a few strong affiliates are getting stronger grips in some markets, but I have also seen brand new kids on the block showing up in top results for great keywords in the most competitive markets. It’s mind-blowing how these 20-somethings can outrank some veterans considering that everyone is cleaning up diligently as the mother Google says.

Now, I usually avoid talking much about mobile but it is clear today how much more traffic is coming from mobile. We all need to realise that soon this could take over as the primary channel for acquisition and therefore we will see more and more affiliate sites optimised for mobile and adapted to the desktop, rather than the traditional other way around that we have seen so far.

As content has became king, only affiliates with continuously updated content will be able to keep their high positions and this will make affiliates play a larger role in the retention, especially in those markets that are dominated by a handful of affiliates. So, there is a path where we see brands’ relationships getting stronger and more codependent with affiliates.

On the other hand, affiliates are very expensive and they are producing lower and lower results due to many changes over the past two years. This makes it hard for the programs to sustain profitability over the long term and makes more and more programs reach out and buy media directly. If programs find alternative channels that can deliver players at a lower cost, then there is a path where the programs are not going to be equally attentive as today because the upper management will shift resources away from affiliation.

There are operators that also talk about creating their own affiliate networks inhouse because it would be more cost-effective in the long run.

I have almost given up predicting long term as our industry depends on so many factors, even legal regulations that I did not mention here, so I put my energy towards producing the best results we can today with what we have.

BL: I like that attitude.  Now before signing off, can you tell us what do you have up your sleeve at Affiliate REPUBLIK for 2014?

AM: This year has been the most anticipated year for me; we have so much cooking that I do not even know where to start.

First of all, our new casino has been in live testing for the past few weeks and the feedback is even more positive than we aimed for. The new brand should be added to Affiliate REPUBLIK by May 1st. The new platform that we have built for this new casino brand provides us with great tools for our marketing needs. It will be very easy for our team to work with multiple markets and execute our marketing campaigns. If everything works out well and we manage to recruit the right people in due time, then we should be adding yet another brand to Affiliate REPUBLIK before the end of the year.

Another exciting thing is that there is another person that I would like to join our team this year, a well established and well respected name in our industry. I would be thrilled to see that person working in my team as I know it is somebody I can trust and somebody that would make us even stronger. Stay tuned for updates!

BL: Adnan, it’s a been a pleasure and the fact that you set aside time to do this interview amidst all the other initiatives on your plate is much appreciated.  We’re all looking forward to what you’ve got in store for us this year.