16 June, 2022

What makes Affiliates tick?

Trafficology speaks to affiliates Acroud and KaFe Rocks about their employees, and workplace culture

Affiliate marketing is becoming an increasingly indispensable arm of the gambling industry. More people than ever before are connected via technology and affiliate companies provide operators with a means of capitalising on that connection. But how do affiliates work behind the scenes? What makes them tick? We at Trafficology pondered these very questions.

Like any finely tuned machine, an organisation is only as good as the sum of its parts; and this mantra, it can be safely assumed, must apply to affiliates. In this context, we take parts to mean people, and an affiliate’s smooth operation to be reliant on a healthy working environment. So given this, we formulated a series of questions to put to two affiliates: Acroud and KaFe Rocks.    

We reached out to them and heard back from Robert Andersson, Acroud’s CEO and President, and Cordelia Morgan-Cooper, Head of People at KaFe Rocks. Each offered their unique perspective regarding an affiliate’s operation and, more specifically, its people. But to start off, we thought it was best to get a feel for these companies first.

Could you give us an idea of the size of your organisation? How many employees do you have? How many brands doyou serve?

Robert Andersson: Acroud grows and operates 30-plus comparison and news sites under strong digital brands in traditional and new verticals. We also develop and offer SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions in the affiliate industry, provide streaming services, and run the innovative gaming event — The Festival Series.

We currently have over 75 full-time employees and several consultants, falling under an umbrella of a medium-sized organisation.

Cordelia Morgan-Cooper: We are a remote team of 171 Rocketeers in nearly 30 locations — from the UK to Argentina and Uruguay. Our newest brand is time2play.com, but we also have USCasinos.com and online-slot.co.uk.

From a hierarchy perspective, would you say your organisation is quite free or is management fairly top down?

RA: Prior to the extensive change programme that Acroud has gone through over the past couple of years, the company had a hierarchical top-down organisational structure. And while this type of structure offers plenty of advantages, especially for larger organisations, it is also prone to bureaucracy, communication silos
and lack of collaboration.

Reasonably, for the ‘new’ Acroud, we have taken steps towards
a flat organisation with fewer levels of management between leadership and employees. Adopting this structure gave our employees more autonomy in the decision-making process, simplified our internal communication and enabled fast decision-making. 

CMC: We are relatively flat as a structure. We empower our Rocketeers to think for themselves and to collaborate constantly — teamwork is really important to us!

After getting a grasp on who we were dealing with, it was time to address the elephant in the room: Covid-19. Every company has been affected to some extent by the pandemic, but not all in the same way. We wanted to know what impact Covid has had on affiliates and how they’ve responded.

How about remote work, is that something your organisation allows, or perhaps even encourages? If so, was this something you were doing pre-Covid and why?

RA: Remote working was not something we did to an extent before the pandemic, but the Covid-19 crisis created a sudden need for our business and employees to increase working from home. Since then, Acroud has adopted a hybrid-work model with some days in the office and other days working remote.

CMC: KaFe Rocks has been a remote-first company since it was first incorporated in 2018 and remote work is core to our business. Being remote-first from day one has given us a global talent pool and a real competitive edge.

The pandemic hasn’t affected our culture so much, as we didn’t have to pivot or find new ways of working. Despite being a fully remote company, we do have an office space called ‘The Oasis,’ in Malta. It is more of a collaborative space for those who wish to catch up with colleagues face-to-face or need a quiet space to work from.

We’ve got a beautiful outside area with a pool and barbeque, a games room and a library. The Oasis is open to all our employees whether they are based in Malta or visit from abroad.

Following on from that; in this post-pandemic era, how have you found employee engagement, especially if they cannot interact in-person?

RA: Before the shift from the office to remote, everything was structured around having our employees in the office. Now, without face-to-face engagement and those casual meetings around the coffee machine, we had to redesign how we interact with each other to keep the company’s culture alive.

Placing emphasis on virtual events and video communications, we have found different activities and ways to keep people engaged and involved. In a sense, going virtual has also given us the ability to attract a more diverse workforce, and that drives innovation.

CMC: I am passionate about employee wellbeing and engagement, so this has been a real focus for our people team and will continue to be so. We hosted a digital reunion just before Christmas, which was a great opportunity for us to all get together over two days.

Our founders introduced the story of KaFe Rocks and our history, and we also had a really interesting motivational speech from Neil Agius, who has the world record for the longest unassisted sea swim; which really resonated with our Rocketeers with themes of resilience, teamwork and collaboration.

We also had some team-building activities as well to help everyone get to know each other. We encourage regular ‘round-ups’ where our teams physically meet and we, of course, hope that this year we can plan and host our whole company reunion in September (plans are already underway!).

Is your organisation fairly concentrated in one place or are your employees quite spread out, across different countries perhaps; and how does this affect your work, again, especially with Covid?

RA: Although Acroud is distributed with people working across the globe, we have our offices in Denmark, Malta, Sweden and the UK. Reasonably, these are the regions where our employees are concentrated.

Working across these different regions even before the shift to the hybrid-work model helped us evolve and adjust to the ‘new normal’ fairly easily. Primarily because Acroud has already incorporated the technology, data, access and security tailored for different working modes, enabling seamless virtual collaborations.

CMC: We are spread across the whole globe with multiple time zones. As a business we are output focused, so for us it doesn’t matter when the work is completed.

We are very flexible when it comes to working hours and understand that not everyone is an early bird or a night owl.

But moving onto the meat of our query, people are an essential component of any business and who a company hires can tell you a lot about how it operates. In this regard, affiliates are no different. In fact, people are especially important to affiliate brands. When your business is about making connections between consumers and companies, dedicated employees can make a big difference between success and failure.

What are you looking for when you hire a new employee? Obviously it’s different for each role, but generally, what qualities are key?

RA: In addition to the imperative skills and experience for a specific role, we look for passion and dedication. The candidate’s attitude towards learning, developing and growing is often what determines whether the candidate successfully secures the position. I believe that with the right attitude, one can achieve anything.

CMC: We celebrate individuality and want our Rocketeers to have fun at work! When it comes to values, trust, accountability, passion and teamwork are at the core of our business; so we really look to see these traits in everyone that we hire.

With so many affiliates out there, how can any one company stand out these days and how much do your employees contribute to this on an individual basis?

RA: Since January 2021, Acroud has been a different company from our direct competitors. With the acquisition of PMG, we have moved away from being just an affiliate company and have started offering B2B services, referred to as SaaS solutions.

This strategic move has created a new company with less exposure to SEO and other risks associated with the affiliate industry, while creating a more robust revenue platform for future growth. Also, within the affiliation area, we are shifting away from the traditional content and more towards innovative and rich media: streaming, podcasting and our live gaming event — The Festival Series — creating online and offline opportunities.

Ultimately, the success of this strategy is down to the individuals who make Acroud. Our employees collaboratively identify the most critical projects to work on and the areas where they can make the most significant contributions.

A business is only as successful as its employees, and that’s why the right attitude, passion and mindset, aligned with the company’s vision, is so important.

CMC: We are the lighthouse for reputable iGaming, so we always want to be able to demonstrate this.

At the start of 2022 we introduced our unlimited vacation policy to further cement our commitment to improving our Rocketeers' work-life balance, as well as 24/7 mental health support — it’s really okay to have a not-so-okay day. Our employee benefits are industry leading, and we really want to continue pushing the boundaries.

Trafficology: So what can we take away from this? Ultimately, how affiliates operate reflects the broader global business environment. A shift to remote work, as well as a more international outlook, are trends affecting companies across various industries; and Acroud and KaFe Rocks seem to have wholeheartedly embraced them. They have, either on their own initiative or prompted by pandemic-related restrictions, adopted what is in effect a virtual office — and seemingly with little impact on their day-to-day operations. While KaFe Rocks represents a company that implemented remote working from day one, Acroud successfully managed to pivot in response to Covid.

Another area that stood out was both businesses’ employee-centric outlook and flat hierarchy. It’s not hard to see how this structure might lend itself to affiliates. When you’re promoting a product or service to a large audience, input from a diverse team will undoubtedly serve you well.

Digital channels are driving considerable growth in the gambling industry, and affiliate companies are responsible for a lot of this. As a new generation matures and society continues to move more online, their role in securing new customers will only increase.

How they manage their people, therefore, will only grow in importance.

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