With the credit crunch letting leash on the UK and global economy, we have started to see numerous changes transpiring as organisations are forced to make redundancies and limit marketing spend. Some companies are choosing to reduce affiliate marketing commissions and even close programs entirely. However, The Co-operative Travel is a reinvigorated company with a new website and a dynamic Affiliate Manager who has exciting plans for their affiliate marketing activities.

Claire Court has been the company’s Affiliate Manager for over two years. She was recently involved in the redevelopment and launch of the group’s new website.

In the following interview with Sinead Hernen, Claire discusses her role as well as her thoughts and views about the future of affiliate marketing and The Co-operative Travel’s response to the credit crunch.

Claire, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to talk to me. The Co-operative Travel is part of The Co-operative Group.  Please can you start by giving our readers a brief overview of how these two entities work together?

The Co-operative Group is the world’s largest consumer co-operative. You may have learnt something about our ethical values from the recent TV campaigns. We were the first major high street travel agent to offer customers the opportunity to offset their flight emissions in store and do not support the third runway at Heathrow or any other runway developments unless there is a clear sustainability case. It’s really rewarding knowing I work for a company which is so socially responsible and, as we’re owned by our members, we’re not working to satisfy hungry shareholders.

Our travel business is also the UK’s largest independent travel agency, so we’re not tied to one particular tour operator. This allows us to source and sell the best offers from all major operators, flight and hotel suppliers. We’re similar to a travel comparison website.

The Co-operative Travel TV Advert

Describe your role as Affiliate Manager at The Co-operative Travel.

My role as affiliate manager is extremely varied. I’m not only responsible for managing our new affiliate program, but also for price comparison marketing activities and partnership deals.

What does a typical day for you involve?

My day normally starts with struggling on to a busy tram from Altrincham to Manchester and praying I’ll get a seat!

The first thing I do when I get to the office is check the previous day’s sales. After that I’ll reply to emails, prepare for my meetings and then prioritise and get started on my to-do list.

It’s important I action affiliate queries promptly, which range from requests for creative and copy to liasing with new publishers.

We are a small e-commerce team of eight, so we work very closely together and all help out with whatever needs to be done from reporting to writing website copy.

You have recently upgraded your website and launched a new affiliate program. What changes have you made and how do you feel these will benefit your affiliates?

The new site is performing fantastically well, exceeding all targets and the response from our affiliates has been positive. The development work we undertook included removing the telephone number from affiliate traffic to avoid leakage.

The next task is to introduce phone tracking for some key affiliates. The Co-operative Travel program launched just after Christmas, so it’s still in its infancy. At the moment we are focusing on recruitment and understanding our affiliates’ requirements. We still have a lot of work to do with data feeds, dynamic content, search box creatives etc., but it will happen.

What impact (if any) have you seen since your new website was launched?

The functionality of the site has resulted in increased conversion rates; the homepage changes based on customer’s search requirements. It also features TripAdvisor reviews, Google Maps and Google Weather, and soon there will be a ‘calendar view’ search results page.

You have worked in online marketing for over five years now, first at AOL, then Littlewoods Shop Direct and now The Co-operative Travel. What changes in online marketing have you witnessed during this time?

My roles within each company have been so different that it’s hard to compare. Whichever company I’ve worked for, the principles of online marketing remain the same; advertisers want to drive quality traffic to their website, cost effectively with trackable, measurable results. Online marketing feels more accessible and flexible than ever; we’re seeing a lot more CPA propositions which three years ago would have most certainly been CPM.

From a Co-operative Travel point of view, we’ve become much more joined up in our approach and now work closer than ever with our colleagues in the offline and marketing teams.

You will have heard that many marketing departments are amending their online strategies to survive the credit crunch. Tell me about any changes your team may have had to make.

Like most online marketing teams, we are working to tight marketing budgets and every penny counts. We can’t afford to trial new activity on a whim; we have to be certain that any investment we make will drive ROI. That said, I’m in a fortunate position in that I don’t have a set affiliate marketing budget as all costs are treated as cost of a sale.

What are your predictions for the role of affiliate marketing this time next year?

Growth. Especially given the current economic climate, there will be even more focus on the affiliate channel as it is so cost effective. From a customer point of view, discount/voucher code and cashback sites will become even more popular, especially as consumers are made aware of these sites through tabloid newspapers such as the Mirror and TV programmes like GMTV which have their own cashback websites.

Do you have any tips for publishers who would like to work more closely with you and your programme?

Please get in contact – I would love to hear from you. I have a very hands on approach so you can either deal with me directly or with Becky Howard, our Aaccount Manager at Buy.at.

Finally, what top tips can you offer to other Affiliate Managers?

I can only speak from personal experience but I always like to stay involved with my affiliates and affiliate networks where possible. I prefer direct communication as it allows both parties to become much closer to your brand, strategy and objectives. I have a weekly conference call with our Account Manager at Buy.at and any queries or requests that I raise in between are dealt with immediately or on the same day.

If you would like to get in touch with Claire you can email her at claire.court [at] co-operativetravel.co.uk or contact becky.howard [at] platform-a.com . You can join The Co-operative Travel affiliate program by visiting Buy.at.

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