Nick Zelver, Owner & CEO at NCZ Promotions, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Having made the switch from affiliate manager to affiliate, Nick Zelver is putting the experience he collected his 15-year career to good use in the realm of casinos and forex - follow his story below.
How did your affiliate business take off? And, is iGaming your only vertical?
My affiliate business took off when I left my full-time job as an employee as an affiliate manager and started setting up deals and sending traffic through to forex and casino brands. I focus mainly on casino and forex but am also looking to branch out into other areas.
How did you first get into the affiliate space? And, were you always focused on the Gaming space?
I started working in affiliation back in 2005 after I got into online poker by starting at a customer support job for an online poker brand, Titan Poker. I worked with the affiliate program Euro Partners for 8 years including as a poker affiliate manager, bingo director and team leader of the entire English department. My focus has definitely been on the gaming space for the majority of my 15-year career - I have always had my energy put into gaming than anything else and it’s always been my most lucrative vertical and the one I’ve been most knowledgeable about.
How is your company structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
The company is structured to be managed by myself and a few other partners who know the business inside and out and the majority of the rest of my work is done by outsourcing through virtual assistants, and freelancers that provide me with content and any creative I need. I’m currently focused on two things, which include the content/social media aspect of the business where I make sure to put out the best quality content there is, while also optimizing the affiliate business that is making sure all sides are happy including the affiliates and the brands. When I am able to do this - the results tend to improve and I build up the right momentum to expand.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?
Communication is probably the best thing to improve on because so many times the issue is simply not letting the affiliate know if there is an issue. However, many times the brand or broker will come back to me after several months complaining about the value which could have been addressed way earlier. I think if these things are properly discussed earlier on - there would be fewer problems and more time can be spent on optimizing for results that generate strong revenues. Another aspect I’d like to see more of is to bring back a bit more innovation and creativity in the product. Being able to do something outside of the usual to differentiate the product whether it’s a tournament, leaderboard or an interactive mailer is what I think the gaming industry can really use right now.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
I think affiliates can definitely be more creative in bringing traffic to set them apart from others. So many times I hear the affiliates worried about the cost factor when really it's about taking a few risks. As with affiliate programs, putting together either competitions or leaderboards will not cost the affiliates a lot and bring better results.. It would just take a bit more planning and focus and I believe this can help the revenue go up two or three times as much as a result. I also think focusing only on the CPA or revenue share aspect of the deal is a mistake because most of the time - even if a brand gives a better deal, they don't necessarily perform better because they are lacking in something else. When a broker or brand offers you a really good CPA with no background check or requirement - you need to do your due diligence and ask why. Any program that doesn’t do this is something I would be careful of and make sure they are going to pay on time and at all if the numbers are not to their liking.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
I think my experience and willingness to share my knowledge is many times a valuable way for an affiliate to grow. I make it a point to always communicate with the affiliates and show them that I am trustworthy. As for my relationship with the brands and the sites I offer, I always make sure to ask them what they’re looking for and cater my traffic to their needs. I also have a very clear discussion with them where I make sure we manage expectations so that there are no issues later on. Another aspect of my traffic that is unique is that I manage various sources and deal with the people behind them myself, which saves time for the program and still brings in the results they are looking for.
Are you contemplating bringing in investors to scale or grow your business? Or, with such a big M&A market, have you ever contemplated selling the business?
At the moment I think it may be early for me to bring in investors as I have been at this for only a couple of years. Later on, when my business is a bit bigger this may be something I’d consider.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Affiliate business takes a lot of well-rounded people who can understand the psychology of the brands and what they’re ultimately looking for - being good at analyzing statistics is super important. Having a solid marketing strategy that will keep the numbers growing each month is also something that is a must in a team because once you reach the start of the next month you are literally starting all over again. Apart from that - this business requires a lot of patience because you do need to work with people from other time zones and also cultures, so while you may want the answers yesterday, you have to also give enough time for others to get you some answers. Understanding the product that you work with - knowing the features, advantages and benefits should also be a part of the team’s core skills because it would be very hard to address affiliates' questions without this.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
I think it’s being consistent and trustworthy - if a broker or brand wants to talk to me I am available. I don't claim to be the biggest in the industry but I’m very clear in what I offer and programs know what they’re getting and they know that if I give them an estimate of what I can deliver at the start of the month, I will most likely deliver or die trying by the end of that month too. My knowledge in a number of verticals is also convenient as I have experience with poker, sports, casino, and bingo and feel comfortable discussing, writing and delivering players to these without a problem.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day life?
The main technologies that I use daily are Skype, WhatsApp, and google sheets to get all my work done. I make sure my email systems are strong so that I always get messages within a reasonable time period as well. Otherwise - I am pretty self-sufficient in getting my schedule organized and managing my time properly without getting overwhelmed.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2020 and beyond?
I notice there are a lot of programs out there that continue to evolve and make the life of an affiliate a lot easier and more organized. I think for me I am not as involved in that world but think that once I grow to a level that I need it, having programs that pool together the stats of various programs and to get analysis automatically through graphs and charts is the best thing for all affiliates to use. I also think having a very robust calendar/planner that I can use to manage my time with my team and my family will be most important for me in 2020 and 2021. By having more AI - I think this will mean less time having to be spent on the data, and more time executing a plan to grow the business and increase the numbers.
Is the grass greener on the other side - have you considered going down the operator route?
I am not sure as the closest I ever got was being an affiliate manager so I don't know the numbers they generate. However, due COVID-19 I think everyone’s kind of reshuffling a bit and while there are probably benefits to being an operator - the changes due to regulations and limited travel may make things a bit harder. For my own personality, I think I would be a better fit at being an affiliate at the moment. We’ll see if that changes in the future.
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority in 2020, and why?
At the moment - my main markets are the English speaking markets which include Canada, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia. Not every brand has the possibility of working in these regions so there are also European countries I focus on both in gaming and forex which include Norway, Finland, Germany and French-speaking Canada.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business? UKGC, Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling regulating this space.
I completely understand why regulation is the way it is - so I make sure to always do what’s needed to follow those guidelines to the letter. That is the case both in gaming and Forex. I don’t really work at all with Sweden at the moment and regions like Germany and the Netherlands are still unclear and vary between brands. I do see the importance of regulation as long as it doesn’t go too far to the point that you’re spending more time on modifying your terms and conditions than bringing in players and revenue making sure it’s sustainable.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
I haven’t really had a chance to work with Asian regions so I don't know too much other than I think these are probably untapped great potential markets for the future that are less saturated than Europe and North America.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
I wish I knew more about back then about how to screen between a good and bad affiliate. I have had my share of bad experiences with both brands and affiliates and wish I would have spent less energy dealing with those. I also wish I knew about more of the conferences that would have added value for me - I love to travel and being able to meet more people face to face would have helped me get stronger relationships over the long run.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
I think it would be a combination of COVID-19 stopping everyone from travelling and not being able to continue to attend conferences which I enjoy so much. Otherwise it’s just small challenges along the way like misunderstandings with affiliates due to cultural differences or not having clear expectations from the beginning.
What are the main challenges for the sector in 2020?
Right now everyone’s figuring out how COVID-19 is going to impact their bottom line so dealing with the unknown is one challenge everyone is dealing with. Another challenge is limiting your mobility thanks to COVID-19 as there is no way to travel.
Lastly is the regulation side - having to be on your toes and shift or pivot in a moment’s notice due to changes in the industry means removing content very quickly, and also communicating these changes to the affiliates and having them make those changes very quickly as well.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
I think gaming is here to stay and poker has already shown to have made a great comeback, it has returned quite nicely and will continue to grow as will casinos. As far as travel restrictions - I think that’s a hard one to predict but my hope is that conferences will continue to be held either online or in smaller groups going forward so that business can continue to be done the way it always has. I also think casino and gaming in general’s numbers will grow because traffic will grow over the next 1-2 years with expenses going down and revenue going up. Affiliates will do more work from home so that means less time on the road or on aeroplanes and more time working on their next campaign.
How do you manage relationships with multiple operators?
I make it a point to not make promises I can’t keep and just be upfront with them so they are not being misled. Even though I know it’s a competitive world and everyone wants top spot - I try to explain how the decisions work so that they know what has to be done to get there.
I hear from affiliates all the time that they get 15-20 requests a day and unless you’re massive in size there’s just no way to give everyone what they want. Everything is done through phone calls or zoom meetings that make it easier for the brands to know where I stand and what they can expect from me. I also follow up with a detailed email that summarizes the conversation so that the key points are clear and something they can refer back to later on.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
I always enjoyed the iGaming events and think that as long as they can adjust to the social distancing factor, they will continue to succeed at bringing people together. As far as what they can do better is try to get more feedback from the affiliates and the brands and give them more relevant things to focus on such as lectures or presentations that will give them value. I think if these presentations were more streamlined to speak on the changes in the market and address real concerns affiliates have - you’d have a much better turnout and happier affiliates and brands.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
I have been to SiGMA yes and would definitely consider going if it was safe and helpful in growing my business further. I was at the Ukraine event a few years ago and thought it was excellent - well planned out and organized. I have not had the chance to go to Malta or Manilla but if things open up again, I will definitely consider going in the future.
Tell us a bit about yourself - after all, business is done with people, not just companies!
I’m 38 years old and started when I was 23 when I moved to Israel from Canada. I have always been interested in marketing and love to work with people. I have two kids and love dogs which are a passion of mine! I do have a 5-year-old dog named Roxy who helps me stay balanced by making me go on walks outside and avoid being indoors too much. My wife and I also have our own little dog daycare and we like to foster dogs from time to time as well.
What’s on your must-read list right now?
The majority of my reading is done online - but I usually check out finance pages and I’m a fan of biographies of interesting people. My must-read list which I recommend is “The things you can see only when you slow down”, by Haemin Sunim especially for someone who works in the affiliate space as that will give you a lot of great advice on staying balanced. There are also great business books out there that will help guide you through some challenges especially if you are in your first few years of running a business.
Which quote do you live your life by?
The main quote I live by is “ If you fail to plan then you plan to fail.” I usually come up with my own quotes rather than take someone else’s. I was taught in school that your biggest asset is always going to be your ability to earn an income, it’s not the assets you own. I also believe that hard work will always prevail over everything else together with a gameplan.
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