Kim Salvino, the Head of Publishers at buy.at U.S., has been a standout within the affiliate industry for many years. Both her ethics and her positive fire have won her fans throughout the industry. I count myself among them. After several nominations, Kim won her first Pinnacle Award for Affiliate Manager of the Year in January. I caught up with her this week to get her unique perspective on affiliate marketing. Enjoy!
This is your first win in four nominations, how does it feel?
In one word? Amazing! This is my third nomination for Affiliate Manager of the Year, and the company I worked for in 2008 was nominated as 2009’s Exceptional Merchant of the Year. The nominations alone are a huge honor. To be a winner alongside some of the greatest AM’s in the industry, such as Melissa Salas and Carolyn Tang? It’s an absolute honor and very humbling.
How did you get into affiliate marketing?
Completely by accident! I worked for the company since 1998 when I applied for a position as an Internet Marketing Administrator in 2005. The position consisted of administrative work, like processing invoices and managing the company’s existing affiliate marketing program. I had no prior affiliate marketing experience, but I had managed the company’s ecommerce team within the Contact Center, which provided me with an intimate understanding of our 10 ecommerce websites and product base. Heather Blackburn, the company’s Internet Marketing Manager, took a huge chance on me, and I’m forever grateful for it!
I’m also thankful for the many people on the ABestWeb forum. I lacked experience, but I came with the goal to have an award winning affiliate program. I asked questions, read A LOT and soaked in as much as I could. I read Shawn Collins’ affiliate management book and took to the forums to share information, encourage interaction, and grow my program.
Within the first 30 days, thanks to the information shared by Kellie Stevens of Affiliate Fairplay, I had removed my largest affiliate because they were proven adware purveyors. It was scary. Here I was an extremely green AM, and the first decision I had to bring to my boss was to remove our top earning affiliate! The decision showed affiliates that we were serious about requiring partners to respect and follow our program terms and conditions and ultimately lead to record-breaking revenue growth for the program. Within 3.5 years, the program grew from generating $675k in revenue to over $10 million annually.
What are the differences between managing a program for a merchant and managing a program within a network?
In many ways, they are different and the same. A good affiliate manager/network representative knows that without strong affiliates, there is no program or network. That said, when you are working as an in-house affiliate manager, you have direct influence internally and can handle custom requests with ease.
As a network representative, I can counsel merchants on best practices, but I’m not able to force them to provide creative in specific sizes, police and enforce their paid search terms, and all the other pieces of the puzzle that make an affiliate program award-worthy. I have worked with merchants that are completely hands off and struggled to get them to provide the bare minimum for their program, and I have worked with some wonderfully driven merchants willing to bend over backwards for their affiliates.
I wish I could automatically instill the love I have for affiliate marketing and an understanding of the value it can drive with the proper settings, but merchants really have to come to the table understanding the potential value and with a commitment to maintaining the program. You don’t become great by being idle. It isn’t enough to set up a program and let it run unmanaged. You have to be dedicated to making it successful and this requires ongoing tweaking.
Is there a cultural difference in affiliate marketing between the U.K. and the U.S. markets?
Affiliate marketing is much more prevalent in the U.K., and affiliates are very approachable. In the U.S., affiliates tend to be wary of sharing their promotional activities, either because they were burned by a merchant in the past, or because what they are doing isn’t on the up and up. In the U.K., there are affiliates who come into Affiliate Window offices and give presentations to merchants. They really want to work with others to explain their business, increase revenue, and move the industry forward.
In the U.S., it’s difficult to get an affiliate on the phone for five minutes! I’d love to see affiliates leave their silos and be more involved, communicating proactively with their merchants, and attending industry events. In my opinion, another big difference is the existence of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).
The IAB has published best practice guides and holds members accountable for adherence. I know we have the Performance Marketing Association in the U.S. and that they have been hard at work fighting and educating others about the Affiliate Tax. I would like to see the PMA grow to the level of the IAB and publish U.S. best practices. I would like to see the PMA have the same influence that the IAB has over affiliates and merchants.
Your current role is as Head of Publishers. What are the three things publishers want most from advertisers?
I would have to say the top three things publishers want from merchants are:
- Transparency – Please list valid contact details and be responsive when a publisher reaches out to you. If you expect a publisher to respond and to share information, you must be willing to do the same.
- Fairness – This is harder to define, but it boils down to simply doing the right thing. Don’t pay 0.5 percent commission and offer a 15 minute cookie duration. Reward your affiliates for the quality traffic they send that results in sales for you. Don’t delay transaction approvals. Recognize that affiliates send you traffic, and it’s your job to convert that traffic. Put effort into improving your site conversion and everyone wins. Don’t make program changes without the courtesy of 30 days notice.
- Basic Program Building Blocks – Ensure that you have clear and policed program terms and conditions, fresh, converting creative, a regularly updated and well categorized datafeed, suggested keywords, and top selling product information.
How do you get advertisers to see affiliate marketing as more than just a coupon channel?
We encourage merchants prior to their program launch to put together a list of requirements.
- Do they offer coupons to consumers?
- Will they allow coupon affiliates to promote them?
- Will there be any restrictions with regard to coupon postings?
- Is there a paid search policy? Is it clear?
- Will they allow trademark bidding/trademark plus term bidding/display URL stance?
We discuss with them that different types of affiliates need different types of tools. If you want to work with content affiliates, offer to provide articles and custom content. If you want to work with paid search affiliates, provide an approved keyword list. If you want to work with coupon affiliates, provide specific coupon codes for the affiliate channel, and unique codes for different affiliates. We encourage the merchants to provide the types of tools for their program that attract the affiliates they want to work with most.
buy.at/Digital Window has won the Publisher’s Choice Awards for five years in a row in the U.K., how do you translate that success to the U.S.?
Since we are owned by the same company, we have the same level of support and dedication overall. We have representatives on the IAB and are dedicated to the overall improvement and growth of the industry. This carries over into the practices that the U.S. follows— our no spyware and soft click cookie requirements, for example. We are also constantly working to improve our interface. There are some VERY exciting things in store for buy.at U.S. this year, and I’m excited to see the industry’s response when everything is ready to roll out.
The Mom Community is very strong in the affiliate industry, why does it attract so many fantastic women entrepreneurs?
I think the affiliate industry attracts fantastic entrepreneurs in general. There are many work-at-home dads who excel in this space as well, so I wouldn’t assume it is only the Mom Community that is thriving! That said, the entrepreneurs that do exceed are those that are willing to work hard, to constantly improve their promotional methods, and that aren’t afraid to evolve. The attraction of affiliate marketing in general is the ability to work for yourself, knowing that the amount you put in is directly tied to what you will get out of it.
What opportunities has the industry brought you?
I was very blessed to fall into affiliate marketing. As a result of attending industry events, being active within the community on forums, and as a podcast participant for Merchant ABCs and Affiliate ABCs, I have met some amazing people. They have contributed to the success of my programs, have molded my thoughts on best practices, and have been there for me even on a personal level. There are members of the affiliate marketing community that I consider family and I hope they consider me the same.
When I made the move from in-house program manager to work for buy.at, my reputation in the industry greatly aided me in being offered the position. I’ve also been able to speak at industry events such as Affiliate Summit and have articles published in FeedFront and in Internet Marketing from the Real Experts. It’s an industry of which I am proud to be a part.
You do a lot of bowling at Affiliate Summits in Vegas, why is that?
It’s certainly not because I have any bowling skills! The fine folks over at GTO Management have put on the Strike Out Breast Cancer bowling event for years now, and it’s become one of my must-attend events at Affiliate Summit West. With donations going directly to Affiliate Marketers Give Back to benefit breast cancer research, it’s an event I strongly encourage anyone to attend. Don’t be scared off by the wee hours the event is scheduled for —you’ll be surprised at the second wind you’ll find once you’re letting your hair down amongst friends, regardless of your bowling skill level.
Do you see opportunities for affiliate marketing at the local level in Baltimore?
Absolutely. I see opportunities for affiliate marketing all around us! Specifically, I would love to see local news sites abandon the display marketing method and move towards the affiliate marketing model. Rather than charging advertisers per view or click, I would like to see them testing the CPA model, learning that they could find greater benefit in referring sales rather than just traffic. I think we will continue to see our local Affiliate Summit and Meetup groups grow as people seek genuine ways to supplement their income or to leave a job they are unhappy in altogether.