Charlotte Green, Director at ICS-digital & ICS-translate, gives an exclusive interview to SiGMA News on the marketing industry
How did you first get into the affiliate space, and were you always focused on the iGaming sector?
Our first clients back in 2009 were operators in the iGaming sector and in that time we’ve become what I suspect is the largest digital marketing agency with an iGaming specialism.
We successfully carved out a niche for ourselves, servicing betting, casino, and poker brands, and those skills soon became hugely relevant to the sort of affiliate groups whose ambitions equal those of even the most forward-thinking of operators.
After a few years, we started to expand into industries away from iGaming, including dating, travel, and finance/trading – all areas with a strong affiliate element.
The strong base we established during our early years in iGaming gave us the foundation we needed for that expansion.
Ultimately, the skills and knowhow that it takes to succeed in extremely competitive verticals makes it easier for agencies to switch from one vertical to another.
The top online dating or Forex trading brands want to compete for the top search terms just as eagerly as the iGaming brands, and we know what it takes to help affiliates succeed even in the most competitive areas of digital like SEO, PR and multilingual content.
How is your agency structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
We provide digital marketing, PR, online content, and technical SEO services through our ICS-digital brand, and translation and localisation services through our ICS-translate brand.
The ICS-digital business has a well-established structure that allows us to service household name brands spending significant amounts each month, alongside start-ups with smaller budgets.
ICS-translate was only recently launched as a standalone agency business, but has huge growth potential, alongside some very exciting clients with big ambitions.
We currently provide translations in 71 languages, and counting!
ICS-translate seems to be following a similar growth pattern to ICS-digital, having carved out a serious niche in iGaming but now seeing expansion into other verticals.
In terms of business development, we have a very talented sales and business development team here in Leeds, and I’m here to provide strategic support to them as well as support on the operational side of the two businesses.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
When it comes to digital marketing services, we see the biggest demand in the UK and US, followed closely by core European territories including Germany, Spain, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries.
We have also seen a huge amount of potential recently in South America, and our international focus allows us to effectively and efficiently service the growth plans of brands looking to pounce on the opportunities in that region.
When it comes to translations, we’ve carved out a really specific niche for ourselves in Russia, and we work with some wonderful Russian clients with serious ambitions.
What can you offer that others don’t? Are there any exciting plans in the works that you can tell us about?
I think what sets us apart truly is our international offering. We can take any service that we offer and provide it in dozens of languages, with a true understanding of local conditions, regulations, and what it takes to succeed in each territory.
That is something that not many agencies can boast, and we are genuinely proud of our international capabilities.
At the moment, in terms of exciting plans, we are focusing on how we can make our digital PR campaigns applicable to core languages such as German and Spanish, and also how to capitalise upon opportunities in the US, where our PR campaigns can really make an impact.
Is the grass greener on the other side - Have you considered giving white label casino or sports betting a go?
We wouldn’t want to dilute our focus – we’ve grown our business by being the best possible agency that iGaming affiliates and operators can partner with and we want to maintain our focus on doing this in new and exciting ways, with new services and creative ideas.
Are you concerned by the impact on the affiliate sector from shifting regulatory environments? (In particular UKGC, Sweden’s Spelinspektionen, and Germany’s 2020 State Treaty on Gaming Regulation)
Shifting regulatory environments are always something to be mindful of so you can react to them, rather than be fearful of them.
After all, if opportunities partially or totally close off in one territory, it’s time to start planning for another to open up somewhere else in the world.
Information is power and staying on top of regulation doesn’t always sound like the best use of time, but actually it’s a necessity, and a responsible thing to do as an affiliate, or as a business involved in advising affiliates.
What is the main thing that you’d like SiGMA readers to know about you?
That we can offer a really wide range of services to operators and affiliates, and we are also very experienced working with other agencies to help with areas, or language requirements, that they aren’t able to service for their clients. We are always open to informal chats about how we can help.
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?
We were actually acquired in 2018 by Spotlight Sports Group. Their investment has, amongst other things, allowed us to move to a much bigger office to accommodate our growing team - something which had been much-needed for several years.
What can operators & affiliates do to increase support from marketing companies?
I think the key thing I’d say here to operators and affiliates is just to be transparent and honest with the agencies you work with. If ever our clients think something isn’t working, we want to know that as quickly as possible, because our job is to provide the best possible service and return on investment for the brands we work with.
It can be easy to forget sometimes that you’re a human working with other humans, so if you feel like more support is required, just ask for it and see where it gets you!
If it doesn’t get you where you want to be, I’d say it sounds like you should consider where you’re looking for support from.
Which qualities and skills are essential in a marketing team/business?
I don’t think there’s anything ground-breaking to say here to be honest.
The essential skills and qualities in a business involved in marketing are the same essential skills and qualities involved in any business: good communication, a willingness to learn, and a desire to produce work that you can be proud of.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Technology plays a huge part in our daily working lives; that’s part of working in a digital business.
With our current switch to remote working, though, technology is playing an even more crucial role in our lives. That comes with its frustrations but we’re getting there!
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates & operators?
We’ve seen huge interest in the Asian market for many years from both operators and affiliates, and have actually carved out an interesting niche in Japan in terms of link building for core iGaming phrases there.
That’s a service we’d be very happy to have a conversation about with any brands with Asian growth ambitions.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
That it’s OK to say no, and that it’s OK to make mistakes. Over the years we’ve been asked to do certain things by prospective clients that we know deep down might not be the best approach, and actually it’s fine to say no in those scenarios – it’s fairer for them and better for you. In terms of making errors, it’s the best way to learn for the long-term.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
There have been various challenges that have been thrown our way over the years, but that’s no different to any business.
I prefer not to think of these as nightmares, but as unexpected opportunities to pause and rethink the way we’re doing things.
The situation we’re all finding ourselves in at the moment with coronavirus, for example, is hugely challenging, both professionally and personally, but we’re working hard to readapt to a remote working environment while changing our thinking to make sure we can keep servicing our clients, even though they may have a closer eye than ever before on their budgets.
There are also growth opportunities out there during times like these, but they are just a little bit more camouflaged than before, and take more thought and effort to dig out. So, I prefer not to think about the “nightmares”, but about the opportunities that come about when your business is heavily challenged.
What are the challenges in managing relationships with multiple operators & affiliates?
I think this goes back to the earlier point about transparency in that relationship between client and supplier.
There are challenges inherently built within any human to human relationship, and the best way to overcome these is by honest communication and feedback.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
Large iGaming events open up access to a wide range of potential clients, and make for great excuses to catch up with existing clients too.
We have found them most effective when we’ve filled our time with pre-booked meetings and speaking on panels rather than spending hours and hours each day walking around the various exhibitor stands.
With that in mind, I think anything that the large events can do in terms of making pre-booking meetings easier and facilitating that at the event with adequate spaces for formal/informal chats is very well-received.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
We were at SiGMA Malta earlier this year and it was a big success for us – definitely one of the events on the calendar that we would recommend to other service providers.
SiGMA Manila was on our radar as a potential before the coronavirus crisis stalled our immediate travel planning.
Tell us a bit about yourself – after all business is done between people, not just companies!
Despite living in Yorkshire now, I’m a big Chelsea fan and was sitting right behind the goal for that iconic Ronaldinho goal in 2005 at Stamford Bridge. That was a memorable moment for sure.
About SiGMA Expo:
SiGMA 2020 Malta will take place November 17th - 19th 2020 at the Malta Fairs and Conventions Centre in Ta’ Qali. Positioned at the cutting edge of a very competitive industry, the event has evolved since 2014 into the definitive iGaming showcase, operating on both a European and world stage. In 2019, SiGMA’19 welcomed over 400 sponsors and exhibitors, 200 industry leading speakers and a record-breaking 15,000 attendees from over 80 countries, and in 2020 this staple in the global iGaming calendar is set to grow even bigger. To become a part of Europe's leading iGaming event, book a pass or sponsor & exhibit.
For those planning to attend SiGMA events in 2020, this is the buzzing business environment to be expected: