From August 21 to 23, around 4,000 representatives of the performance marketing industry are expected to descend upon the New York Hilton for Affiliate Summit East (register here), the 18th affiliate conference hosted by founders Missy Ward and Shawn Collins. Over three days (plus a separate full-day SEO training course led by Rae “Sugarrae” Hoffman-Dolan), attendees will learn about their craft, discuss the hottest developments in the space (affiliate tax anyone?) and hobnob with potential business partners.
Between organizing the summit, sponsoring charity events and running her own affiliate campaigns, Ward miraculously found a moment of time to detail how far the Affiliate Summits have come since the first one in 2003 and what’s particularly exciting about this year’s trip to the Big Apple. She also shared some thoughts regarding wine pairings with AC/DC albums.
So how did you actually find your way into affiliate marketing? When did you finally get in business for yourself?
WARD: I’d like to say that there was something that drew me to affiliate marketing initially, but to be quite honest, I was forced to learn it if I wanted to keep my job. I was the VP of Marketing for Global Travel and I was basically told that I needed to launch an affiliate program to generate leads and sales, so I learned how to do it using the trial-by-fire method.
I figured the best way to start would be to become an affiliate of some of the most successful programs that were already in existence and then work my way backwards to learn the intricacies of managing a program. I started a few sites and before I knew it I was making money with my little experiment, and I actually liked what I was doing.
I’ve been an affiliate ever since and have also been an affiliate manager for both merchants and networks. In 2003, I started Affiliate Summit with my business partner and one of my best friends, Shawn Collins.
What was your inspiration for starting Affiliate Summit with Shawn Collins? What do you have against conferences on cruise ships?
Ten years ago, when people thought about affiliate marketing conferences, it was generally a negative connotation. At the time, the reigning conference was Affiliate Force, an annual cruise around the Caribbean.
Shawn and I helped coordinate those conferences, but we thought there were ways it could be done better. To make a long story short, Shawn and I offered out our opinions and were dismissed by the owner of that conference.
Shortly after the April 2003 Affiliate Force, Shawn and I decided to create an alternative. The purpose of Affiliate Summit is to provide educational sessions on the latest industry trends and issues and foster a productive networking environment for affiliate marketers.
While I personally have nothing against having conferences cruise ships, the venue just isn’t scalable and we have big dreams.
With 4,627 attendees, the 2011 Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas was the biggest ever. How many attendees are you expecting for Affiliate Summit East and what will be the makeup of the crowd?
While our Las Vegas event is typically larger than our New York event, NYC is gaining ground. We’re expecting 4,000 attendees this time around and there are over 150 booths in the Exhibit Hall and over 160 tables in our Meet Market this time.
This was our breakdown of attendees for our last show, Affiliate Summit West 2011:
What can affiliates get out of coming to the conference? What about merchants and networks?
Actually, the answers to the questions are synergistic. If you’re in the affiliate marketing industry, you will meet the people who can have a dramatic effect on your business.
Merchants and networks can meet affiliates that are a perfect fit for them, that they may not have ever knew they existed and vice versa. Special offers are can be made between the parties, that may not have taken place if neither party ever met face-to-face. In addition, the keynote sessions and educational tracks are filled with rock-solid and valuable information – you’re bound to take home a number of gems.
In a nutshell, it doesn’t really matter what your current business model is, you’ll be speaking to and learning from thousands of different people that will inspire new business ideas and solidify existing relationships.
What are you personally looking forward to at this year’s conference?
I’m pulled in so many different directions when I’m on-site during the show, but I try to make it to all the keynote sessions. This time around we have four keynotes: Marc Ostrofsky (August 21), Jon Spoelstra (August 22), Bryan Eisenberg (August 23) and Wil Reynolds (August 23). I’ll catch the rest of the sessions on video when they come out about a month after the show, which we make available to all of the attendees that are on Gold, Platinum or Diamond Passes.
I’m also looking forward to catching parts of Jeremy Schoemaker’s Local Affiliate Marketing Full-Day BootCamp that he’s doing to raise money for the AffiliateMarketersGiveBack.com Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. He’s been killing it in local for his business and the case studies that he’s presenting should knock the attendees’ socks off.
And of course, I’m looking forward to the parties — especially the ShareASale “Under the Stars” party and the buy.at party, which have become staples of our conferences.
What’s been the most striking change for Affiliate Summit over the years?
Wow, it’s hard to pick just one. I truly believe that Affiliate Summit’s success lies in the hands of our attendees. They’ve really helped us craft our agenda, and shape our networking events. Through a lot of surveying and listening, we find out what they want out of the conference, and do everything possible to deliver it to them. I also think that it helps that both Shawn and I have been affiliate marketers for years, which gives us a good sense on what’s going on in the industry as a whole.
Is it more fun to host Affiliate Summit in the East or the West? Come on, you know NYC is so much cooler than Las Vegas.
Considering I was born and raised in New York (just doing time here in Orlando now), I’m kind of partial to my home town. Plus, I try to catch a Yankees game if they’re in town and see my friends and family after the conference ends, so that’s a perk.
Can you explain the idea behind the Affiliate Summit Monthly Meetups?
We realized that affiliate marketers can easily fall into the lone-wolf trap so we decided to launch Affiliate Summit monthly meetups in cities around the world so that affiliate marketers can get together to network and learn from one another.
These events typically take place on the last Tuesday of each month and are open to everyone to attend, free of charge. They’re planned and hosted by folks who have attended Affiliate Summit before and anyone can start a group in their area. You can find a list of the events in our Affiliate Summit Group on Facebook.
How do you see Affiliate Summit growing in the future? More conferences… Perhaps in SPACE?
Ha — I like the way you think! Space would be cool, albeit cost-prohibitive. We’re currently focusing on the growth of our East and West shows and are looking at expanding in other cities at other times in the year.
Why are you switching up the Affiliate Summit logo? I like mountains…
I like our mountain, too! And, considering both Shawn and myself just got our Affiliate Summit logo tattooed onto our bodies during Affiliate Summit West 2011, our existing logo isn’t going anywhere. What we have done though is create theme-focused Affiliate Summit logos that we’ll be integrating in our marketing efforts throughout the year. Here are some of them:
Not only are you a wine lover, you’re also a huge AC/DC fan — so what’s the best vintage for listening to Highway to Hell? Back in Black? Do reds work better for the Bon Scott era while whites better accompany Brian Johnson tunes?
Not only am I a wine geek and huge AC/DC fan, but I’m also a very vocal advocate for breast cancer awareness. So, I’m fairly certain that if you asked Brian or Bon (if he was alive) they’d both agree that they’d prefer to drink Signorina Wine, which is my new wine that I just release to raise money for the Affiliate Marketers Give Back Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. It’s a fantastic 2008 burgundy-style blend with all of the grapes sourced from incredible vineyards in Napa. There’s just a few bottles left if anyone wants to pick one up to help #SaveTheBoobies!