Company News

Blake Cantrell Joins TUNE as Vice President of Partnerships

Nate Ivie

Today I’m pleased to announce Blake Cantrell has joined TUNE as our new Vice President of Partnerships. Blake is an industry veteran, working at some of the most well-known companies in the space and interfacing directly with brands, publishers, and agencies alike. As part of his welcome to the team, I asked Blake a few questions about his new role and his outlook on the industry.

Blake Cantrell, Vice President of Partnerships at TUNE
Blake Cantrell, Vice President of Partnerships

Can you give us a rundown of your experience in the affiliate industry?

I have been active in the affiliate space since 2006 when I began my career at CJ Affiliate. While at CJ I managed a large team and high-revenue portfolio spanning multiple lines of business.

From there I jumped to where I was a founding member and leader of the Channel Partnerships team. At Impact I created mutually beneficial, revenue generating partnerships with agency and tech partners alike. I was also able to build internal alignment across GTM teams, CS, Support, and more in order to create a frictionless partner path for all parties.

What led you to decide to join the TUNE team?

Throughout my interviews with the TUNE team it was clear that everyone I spoke to is eager to grow the business with a high level of integrity and a spirit of collaboration. It is extremely important to me on a personal and professional level that any work be done in a thoughtful manner while treating both internal and external partners with transparency, consistency, and equality. I believe that this approach aligns with the TUNE approach as well. Simply put … the willingness to be a good partner.

What will you be doing at TUNE?

In my role at TUNE I will be scaling up the network offering. This will include product enhancements, recruiting and onboarding partners of all types as well as helping to facilitate partnership growth. It will also be essential to work closely with all internal teams to gather feedback, establish joint processes in order to serve our partners and have a shared understanding of where we are strong and where we can improve. This is a large undertaking but very exciting as TUNE is nimble enough to create a truly unique network.

What are the biggest learnings you’re bringing to TUNE from your previous roles?

Listen to partners. They are always happy to tell you what they want and need. There is no need to guess or to have the most advanced tech or build AI in to every function. While highly advanced features are always exciting the majority of the players are dependent on easy to navigate and dependable tracking, reporting and payouts in order to build high growth partnerships.

How has affiliate marketing evolved since you started out?

When I began, affiliate was the Wild West. Trademark bidding rules were not in existence, cookie stuffing was rampant, and in many ways the entire industry was still figuring itself out. It is now 18 years since I started and the level of sophistication in technology and partnership types has advanced by light years. Brand to brand partnerships, the rise of influencers, sophisticated tracking and attribution have all changed the game for the better. That said, the core remains the same in that only mutually beneficial partnerships brokered by thoughtful players on all sides will be able to continue to push the industry forward.

How do you see the growth of influencers and creators changing the industry?

Content creators have been pegged as “the next big thing” in our space for the last five plus years but are just recently starting to make a significant impact across the industry as both the technology and understanding of how to work with this new partner type has evolved. Moving forward, I expect that there will be a day of reckoning as large brands see diminishing returns on massive influencer spends with relatively limited reporting outputs. Robust tracking and payment based on value is at the core of affiliate, and when applied to the influencer category could help provide additional insights, control, and value to brands while helping to expand reach and influence.

What’s the next big thing in affiliate marketing?

For better or worse, AI will be the next big thing in all of digital marketing. From content creation, analytics, marketing, and even creating company mission statements … AI will soon be pervasive. For even the casual observer who has played with ChatGPT it is easy to understand how AI could help shorten research times, automate a number of functions, and level-up the affiliate industry across the board. That said,  it is concerning that the transparent and creative partnerships that are currently brokered today by thoughtful players in the space could begin to look more like programmatic ad buys or other campaign-based strategies that are pay to play. Why is this concerning? Because it will stifle innovation. Some of the most powerful partnerships in this industry have and will continue to be brought about by intelligent people speaking to each other one-to-one. If AI can support those conversations without eliminating them, then I am all for it.

What’s the top challenge you see in affiliate marketing today?

The biggest challenge I continue to see is setting correct expectations for advertisers both big and small about how affiliate can add value. Many small and/or new-to-market programs with little brand equity expect to launch high-revenue programs by only using influencers. On the flip side, larger established brands are seeing the value of the affiliate channel being chiseled away by internal attribution tools. The last-click attribution model based on sales revenue only will never allow for a true read of the contribution of affiliate. Not only is a full funnel strategy a requirement (both in the affiliate program and coordinated across all digital marketing teams), but so is a flexible, collaborative attribution method. Affiliate partnerships contribute in so many more ways than bottom-of-funnel sales that need to be tracked, recognized, and rewarded in order for brands to see the full value of the channel.

How can TUNE help the industry address this challenge?

TUNE is in a unique position to help guide brands on the best way to create meaningful partnerships based on their business needs. TUNE is not a massive, one-size-fits-all solution for partnerships like many of the players out there. Rather, TUNE is a nimble organization that is eagerly soliciting customer/partner feedback and continuing to iterate their product, process, and people practices in order to service ever-changing client needs

What are some of your immediate goals as you join the TUNE team?

I am extremely eager to do a deep dive on the product and existing partnerships as this will help me to understand where to focus my efforts first. While I have some strong ideas about where to begin, I am eager to hear from the TUNE team and our partners directly about what they feel is needed to help elevate the TUNE Network.

What gets you the most excited about the future of partner/affiliate marketing?

There is always something new around the corner that you can never predict, which keeps the industry exciting. A new advertiser vertical, a new promotional method, or even a small change from Google that completely upends all previous best practices. The challenge now is to not only navigate these external changes but do the best we can to try and drive the industry toward new best practices so that all players can benefit.

I’m excited to see how Blake can help supercharge TUNE’s partnership efforts in the coming months. His first opportunity to represent TUNE in the market will be at PI Live in Miami from April 16th through the 18th. You can reach out to Blake at [email protected] to schedule time to meet with him and the TUNE team!

Nate Ivie

As VP of Sales at TUNE, Nate’s team focuses on enterprise sales for TUNE, an industry leading platform that provides brands, agencies, and affiliate networks the infrastructure to track and manage their partner marketing activities. Prior to TUNE, Nate worked in sales and client services at Tippr, one of the early group buying platforms, and Efinancial, an online life insurance brokerage. Nate received his BA in Social Sciences from Washington State University.