Watch it back: How to win Budget and Influence Stakeholders (PI LIVE Europe 2023)

This year Webgains had the privilege to sponsor the Main Stage at PI LIVE Europe. Over the two-day event we collaborated with event organiser Hello Partner to deliver a stunning speaker program to an auditorium encompassing nearly 500 seats.  

Our own slot in the agenda saw us deliver a panel discussion – ‘How to Win Budget and Influence Stakeholders’. It’s not every day you get the opportunity to speak directly to hundreds of our industry’s brightest and best, so we thought long and hard about our topic and panel structure.  

We brought together a group of experts made up of Network (Ben Eversden, Webgains), Publisher (Caitlin Hibbert, Linkby) and Brand (Hannah Lewis, Lounge). We hoped this dynamic trio would give a balanced and multi-faceted interpretation of a topic we felt would address a common industry pain point, and provide actionable tips, adding genuine value to those listening.  

Ami Spencer, COO, Webgains (LinkedIn)

Hannah Lewis, Head of Search & Affiliates, Lounge (LinkedIn)
Caitlin Hibbert, Head of Partnerships UK, Linkby (
Ben Eversden, Senior Account Director, Webgains

Announcing the panel on the Webgains Main Stage at PI LIVE Europe

Keep the conversation going

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about any of the content in this panel or are ready to start your affiliate program with Webgains…

You can watch the full ‘How to Win Budget and Influence Stakeholders’ panel recording from PI LIVE Europe 2023 below and continue reading for our written synopsis of the session. 

Watch our full session recording from PI LIVE Europe 2023 below

We’re getting bigger but we’re not bigtime…yet 

The affiliate channel is worth as much as $20 billion, doubling by 2031, and digital ad spend will increase by 45% over the next 5 years.  

Whilst it’s a force to be reckoned with, affiliate is still lagging behind other channels such as social and PPC. In fact, brands only allocate an average of 9% of their digital marketing spend to affiliate marketing at present. As Ami (host) pointed out, this leaves a whopping 91% of budget being spent elsewhere!  
Given that affiliate marketing is performance based and entirely scalable, it stands to reason that we’re actually underperforming, and we need to command a bigger slice of the pie! 

Identifying and influencing the stakeholders 

The affiliate channel is all about relationships. That is a constant that stretches from publisher to advertiser relationships all the way to in-house relationships such as those between an affiliate manager and a CFO. In total, three standalone themes emerged here.

Our panel in action
1. Education is key

Our panel was quick to point out that these stakeholders are often not from the world of affiliate marketing. That means we need to adapt our language and communication style when talking to them.  

This is something that Hannah (brand) had particularly clear opinions on. At Lounge, for example, this affiliate team can’t function without the buy-in of three positions – CEO, CFO and CMO. And, just to make things a little tricky, each needs to hear different things that speak to their own business objectives. While the CMO wants to know that affiliate can support new customer acquisition and brand awareness, the CFO and CEO are thinking more about bottom line revenue, growth and efficiency.  

So, as per Hannah’s point, you need to be able to separate out the needs of each decision maker and sell the channel into them accordingly. Fortunately for her and brand-side affiliate marketers everywhere, our channel is particularly diverse and dynamic with something to appease almost everyone.  

“There’s a pre-conception that it [affiliate marketing] is more vouchers and bottom of the funnel activity when, in reality, it is so full funnel.” – Hannah Lewis, Lounge

The PI LIVE audience look on during the panel
2. Use forecasting

Ben continued with a scary but unsurprising statistic that as many as 43% of CFOs reduced marketing spend in 2023. His top tip for making sure that affiliate isn’t one of the channels to get cut down? Forecasts.  

Forecasts are something that Webgains, as an affiliate network, do on a regular basis for our clients and they can really appeal to key stakeholders such as CFOs. Typically, Webgains delivers two forecasts – one for business as unusual (BAU) and another an optimum forecast. 

“More often than not, you won’t reach the ultimate performance, but you’ll find a happy medium. That is going to help upsell the channel.” – Ben Eversden, Webgains

3. In-person is always best

As we said before, key stakeholders extend beyond your internal C-Suite. For instance, brands must connect with and understand publishers and vice versa. As Caitlin (publisher) said, this is ideally done in-person as there is so much more understanding that can come about this way. Finally, Ben (network) suggests that this is something both parties should lean on their network to help with. 

Barriers to budgets

Talking and educating can often only get us so far. As affiliate marketers, we know the value is there but how do we secure the budget and increase it? Our panel highlighted three ways to do this.  

1. Prove the value

Ben (network) sees a common misconception that affiliate marketing works exclusively on a last click model. The huge diversity of affiliates, driving awareness and sales throughout the funnel in weird and wonderful ways, puts this to bed. Perhaps introduce your colleagues to some examples of this, asking your network to provide an introduction or case study. 

Hannah’s (brand) experience is that you won’t get very far unless your whole team is singing off the same hymn sheet; a cohesive strategy and shared goals are a must. Lounge do this, in part, by leaning heavily on their affiliate network and have put a lot of time into building a solid network/brand relationship that’s proved invaluable in their channel success. 

2. Align with other departments

The panel could not understate the importance of affiliate teams not only collaborating with PR but also with other interested departments such as e-commerce, social media, or influencer. It is inevitable that the activities of one team can be of benefit to another. Only by communicating and aligning can we ensure that budget is optimised.  

“It’s so important to know how to work collaboratively with PR.” – Caitlin Hibbert, Linkby

An example of this was offered up by Ben at this point whereby Webgains met with a luggage brand who brought along their PR and Comms team. The result in this case was aligned vision and everyone seeing the value, signing off thousands of pounds worth of tenancy on the spot. The best part? That budget did not come from the affiliate team but rather from the PR and Comms balance sheet. This example just shows how intertwined different teams are today and how more budget for affiliate marketing doesn’t necessarily have to come from the affiliate team every time.  

“We need to be inviting multiple teams to come along because the channel is expanding to other areas.” – Ben Eversden, Webgains

Panel host Ami Spencer delivers questions to our experts
3. Managing Underspend

The affiliate channel stands out for its ability to be reactive when required. This agility is something that the whole panel agreed on and explained with different examples:  

Hannah (brand) remembered an occasion where Lounge were struggling with organic performance with new products and campaigns. They needed a new tactic and fast results so turned to affiliate and, through content marketing, got the exposure they needed. Similarly, Ben (network) pointed to a brand who approached Webgains feeling that they had peaked in paid search and needed to reach new audiences in a different way, via affiliates.  

The quick turnaround, low risk content marketing that Lounge has benefitted from has often come through Caitlin’s team at Linkby. Caitlin (publisher) explained that brands using Linkby can upload content and get coverage within a week and sometimes within a day. For example, UK beauty brand and Webgains client Give Me Cosmetics wanted to shout about their 6th birthday and secured articles in both The Mirror and The Manchester Evening News within three days via Linkby.  

“We’ve got a huge resource of media decks and opportunities in our back pocket. So brands should be reaching out to their network to drive growth.” – Ben Eversden, Webgains

There’s also the benefit of a varied publisher mix. Something that brands can easily tap into via their affiliate network. Ben (network) says that “we can be tactical in investments. If that’s voucher or cashback partners and that’s where you need to lean on your network for advice.” According to Hannah (brand) that’s exactly what Lounge did when they really needed to push conversions by turning to the student channel with a suitably aggressive discount strategy. 

Communicating Success

The panel’s final topic was around leveraging success in order to unlock budget and scaling opportunities. Here, there were three themes which emerged with each expert delivering some sage advice and examples.

1. Benchmarking

Getting results is one thing but effectively reporting that uplift is a different challenge. Network-side, Ben’s advice is to get your network to benchmark goals throughout the journey: “not everyone has the option to invest time into the channel but if you give us the budgets, if you give us guidelines, we [the affiliate network] stick to that and we can check in once a quarter and see how we measure up.” 

2. Comparable metrics

For Hannah, from the brand’s perspective it’s about taking the data you have and looking beyond CPA to look at other important metrics such as customer acquisition rates, lifetime value, and CPC. By pulling this information together, you can create a holistic view and compare affiliate to other channels. Not only can this show the power of affiliates, but it also brings it into context with alternative channels that key stakeholders might have more experience in. 

3. Listening

Weighing in from the publisher’s angle Caitlin explained how at Linkby, it’s about “getting that data and insight from clients to ensure that our platform is set up for success.” An example of where this has paid off being the addition of deeplink functionality to their platform. After realising its importance for clients, this has now been rolled out and integrated with all major affiliate networks including Webgains. 

The art of listening extends to the network also. As Lounge have demonstrated by using Webgains local experts across Europe to launch programs in six different markets to date. Remember, that a network can deliver a lot more than just affiliate marketing advice but also information about what digital marketing strategies might work well in various markets too.  

Key takeaways

As time was running out for the session, the three panelists were asked to deliver a single piece of advice as a final takeaway. Here’s where they went: 

“Lean on your network. For key stats, key data, network data, insights and experience.” – Ben Eversden, Webgains

“Don’t be afraid to test your environments or audiences.– Caitlin Hibbert, Linkby

“You’re the expert in your channel, so market yourself internally.– Hannah Lewis, Lounge

Keep the conversation going

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about any of the content in this panel or are ready to start your affiliate program with Webgains…