Ian Sims – Rightlander: Understanding affiliate compliance as a critical discipline…

In 2018, industry affiliate marketing programs are building up their compliance capabilities, as all-around sector advertising faces further scrutiny from regulators and wider stakeholders.

SBC speaks to affiliate marketing veteran Ian Sims, the Founder and Managing Director of Rightlander compliance software. Sims details why data and tech-led dynamics are the best tools to bridge the affiliate-to-operator compliance divide.     

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SBC: Hi Ian, you have completed a busy opening to 2018, securing Rightlander’s new industry clients in Income Access, GVC and LeoVegas AB. What do these partnerships mean for your business current and future operations?

Ian Sims (Rightlander): It’s been a fast start to the year that’s for sure! Having prestigious names on board early like Party Casino, Leo Vegas, bgo and Kindred have helped immensely in raising the awareness of Rightlander and sparked a flurry of requests from some of the industry’s biggest names. I expected compliance to be of interest to companies obviously in the current climate but it’s quite a challenge. Since Rightlander launched to operators in January, we are now scanning over 4 million affiliate pages every month and delivering reports to variety of operators in the sports, casino, forex, poker, lottery and bingo verticals.

The tie-in with Income Access is a particularly exciting development. The Income Access team are very in-tune with the compliance and marketing needs of their clients and between us we have been (very!) actively demonstrating Rightlander’s capabilities. We are currently working on an integration of the Rightlander software into the IA platform for seamless reporting and landing page monitoring.

SBC: In 2018, why do industry affiliate programs need to allocate resources and development towards compliance matters. What is the compliance factor/dynamic that our sector should try to solve?

IS: It’s interesting listening to clients and how they each deal with compliance. The increased urgency placed on operators to monitor affiliate compliance by the UKGC, whilst a positive development overall in most people’s opinion, has caused two headaches: how to fit it into existing budgets and work-flow and also how to interpret the guidelines effectively.

Often through necessity, the task has landed in the lap of the affiliate manager who is more in tune with (and probably keen on!) marketing on a day to day basis rather than policing. Not many people aspire to become a traffic warden when they are at school, so the issue is obvious. That is a challenge that Rightlander has tried hard to address: by delivering “alerts” rather than asking clients to keep logging in and reading reports helps reduce the workload (although even the standard reports do this as they only show affiliate pages that mention their brands!). It’s easier when the client has a team of people as the tasks can get shared out but not everyone has that luxury.

We also have clients with dedicated compliance officers and not surprisingly, this is where we find engagement and awareness at it’s highest. It seems a natural approach for the larger companies, particularly as compliance will not just stop with the UK: Sweden in 2019, The Netherlands, the US and other jurisdictions are already pursuing that path and will no doubt become a priority sooner rather than later.

The one thing that we really would like to see, however – and it will come as the compliance landscape becomes clearer – is more operators singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to knowing what to look for and to ask of affiliates. Affiliates would also appreciate this immensely and it would just help remove confusion all around.

SBC: From your personal experience working as an affiliate and further helping operators, has ‘industry affiliate compliance’, ever been truly defined or understood by existing stakeholders?

IS: As a generalisation and with exceptions, probably not – but the understanding of the requirements is improving. I think this is largely because the ICO and the UKGC don’t really fully know themselves, to be honest. When a problem arises, sure it can get analysed and a decision was taken but a lot of the advice is quite open to interpretation. We are actually holding a free Compliance Workshop for clients on the Tuesday of iGBLive, mainly for this purpose – to help clients understand how everyone is doing it, what they are searching for and most importantly, how they are using the data supplied by Rightlander to take the appropriate actions and also to demonstrate to the UKGC that they are taking it seriously.

SBC: In Rightlander, you have created a software to track and monitor industry affiliate compliance. Do you worry that Rightlander will become some form of ‘judge/jury’ component between affiliates and operators?

IS: Rightlander doesn’t really track compliance as such…it tracks dataWe’ve been very careful to stress to operators that Rightlander provides them with data, based on search criteria they define, in order to assist them in making compliance decisions. Compliance decisions should never be made by technology in my opinion: that’s asking for trouble. Then again, I haven’t yet met an operator that doesn’t want to check each page before they take action against an affiliate anyway.

As for affiliate reaction, most are able to see the benefits that this offers them so I’ve only encountered negativity towards Rightlander once. We provide free access to each affiliate to the data the operators requested, along with descriptions of what they are looking for so although it’s frustrating to see affiliates who don’t get it, it’s ultimately their business model and their decision as to whether or not they want to engage with compliance or not.

SBC: With more betting operators, focusing on ‘responsible marketing’, compliance demands and sustainable acquisition models. Are the days of ‘out-and-out’ player acquisition over?  

IS: That depends entirely on your definition of “out and out”! I think if you base your marketing on freebies, bonuses and generally appealing to human greed then I think your job is getting a lot tougher. If you take more of the “influencer” approach then although guidelines will dictate how you do that, I think the landscape is clearer.

As for “sustainable”, I think the main threat to that is not so much compliance as consolidation (M&A). The player base will always be there as long as gambling remains legal and as players see less and less attractive offers, they are likely to start basing their decisions on other things like service. That could have a knock-on effect in that they stay loyal longer. So there are pluses and minuses but overall, I think there is still a very healthy pool of potential players out there. In theory, compliance should make for more loyal and better-informed players which surely has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

SBC: Finally, looking ahead how do you see your software developing in the coming months? What can we expect from Rightlander?

 IS: The key development will be the move into other territories. We have a large proxy/VPN network which allows us to scan from 40 territories to produce geo-targeted reports but right now, we are focused on the UK. I would also like to see us build in a bit more engagement between the operators and the affiliates so that the operators can see quickly which affiliates are most likely to be trusted to act compliantly, as I think this is the single most important thing for affiliates who want to continue to work with operators in regulated markets.

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Ian Sims – Founder & Managing Director – Rightlander 

Industry affiliate marketing, compliance and player acquisition practices will be discussed at the upcoming ‘Betting on Sports Conference’ (#boscon2018 – Olympia London-17-20 September 2018). Click on the below banner for more information…