Tackling M&A, industry challenges & Prolific North, with Martin Calvert

A “significant achievement” was recently hailed by ICS-digital, after the group broke into the top eight of the Prolific North’s top fifty digital agencies. 

The ranking is based on objective analysis conducted by Mustard Research, utilising multiple growth metrics and financial data independently assessed by Fame BVD, and ranks the top-performing agencies in the north of England working across SEO, PPC, web development, mobile and more.

Following significant inroads being made towards the the summit of the rankings, CasinoBeats spoke to Martin Calvert, marketing director at ICS-digital and ICS-translate, on what exactly this means for the group, as well as a number of key issues emanating across the gaming industry during recent times.

“It’s a really nice achievement that really stems from the trust our clients in gaming and beyond have placed in us – it simply wouldn’t have been possible without the projects we’ve collaborated on with operators and affiliates in 2020 and into 2021,” Calvert begins upon dissecting the placement.

“In a practical sense, being in the top eight against very hefty competition is an endorsement of our business model – not always shouting too loudly about ourselves, but focusing more on delivering value for clients. The lion’s share of our growth has always come from referrals and recommendations, and we don’t see that changing any time soon.

“Being part of the wider Spotlight Sports Group, there’s definitely a wider culture of going a step further for clients and this type of recognition helps confirm that we’re on the right track.”

“I think one of the biggest challenges for brands is knowing when and how to invest”

Before moving on to look at what he believe were the contributing factors to achieving the feat: “The gaming industry (along with many others) has had a rocky year in places but our clients showed a *lot* of resilience and chose to be notably innovative and ambitious.

“It meant that as an agency we’ve been challenged in a really satisfying way, speeding up the development and launch of new services like sponsorship brokerage, native advertising and the launch of ICS-translate as its own brand.

“New developments like these definitely helped us hit the milestone and we have to give full credit to clients for expanding their requirements – especially in evolving markets across the Americas.”

Continuing on this theme, the past year and a half, or so, has seen a multitude of unexpected challenges impact industries across the globe, with these continuing to be felt.

Continuing the conversation, Calvert changes tack to break down a selection of the biggest challenges faced by the industry during this timeframe.

“This is a great question. I think one of the biggest challenges for brands is knowing when and how to invest – when to make the big plays.

“That challenge becomes more acute when there’s a uncertainty about consumer demand, regulatory upheavals and no guarantees that sporting fixtures will take place.

“For brands without the deepest pockets, I’d predict that even as the economy rebounds and society opens up more with (hopefully) positive bettor confidence, there will be continued caution about making bigger and bolder investments.

“In terms of company mergers, I think the US will still be a hive of activity”

“That’s no bad thing in itself but as we’ve seen in the USA in particular, a few players are moving quickly in terms of partnerships and acquisitions. It’s important not to be too late to the party, or not sufficiently bold to capitalise on opportunities.

“In terms of challenges that I think will be shelved, I really truly hope we’ll get a return to a regular calendar of in-person industry events. 

“SBC and others in the space have done a very admirable job over the past 15 months by keeping momentum up through virtual events, but I think it’s fair to say that given the global nature of the industry, we’ve all missed the buzz and potential of physical events.

“Working in hotly debated areas like international SEO, I definitely enjoy having in-person debates about content, links, digital PR and the timing/nature of the next big Google update.”

Regarding the ongoing challenges across M&A, which show no signs of slowing down, Calvert looks ahead at which sector/s and region/s are going to be the target of industry incumbents through the remainder of the year and into 2022.

“I think it’s a fascinating time for the industry and I enjoy seeing all manner of big deals emerge seemingly out of nowhere. At the time of writing, I’ve just seen the BetMGM partnership with Wayne Gretzky announced – what a fantastic name to be associated with,” he continues.

“In terms of company mergers, I think the US will still be a hive of activity for the foreseeable future but eventually the number of available mega-deals will run out.

“…it’s certainly true that pressures can creep up”

“From there we’ll truly see the development of home-grown affiliates, and more land-based brands going online with more pace.

“I do think in mature markets we’ll see some more deals being made – not least as a way to plump up headline revenue figures for the larger brands who may feel they have hit a ceiling with their existing portfolios.

“Even with so many big money deals happening with two broad core Google updates announced for June and July, the rollout of core web vitals along with the continued drama of regulatory change, the rise of niches like esports and evolving bettor expectations, there will continue to be fresh opportunities for challenger brands to capture and convert profitable traffic.”

To conclude, Calvert looks at the practices that have been employed both on an individual and company-wide basis during this period of enforced remote working, as work and personal lives become ever more interwoven.

“We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve always had an element of remote working – we work in many languages and have partners in dozens of countries so that capability has made the adjustment to home working a bit easier,” he finishes.

“That said, it’s certainly true that pressures can creep up. We’ve emphasised that our teams should take time for themselves rather than bouncing from video call to video call, and there have been regular updates and advice from the 16 volunteer mental health first-aiders from across the group.

“Personally, I always make time to go for a midday walk and to block time free of calls and notifications to focus on particular tasks. The goal isn’t to be constantly present or to be quickest to respond to every message or email, but to be deliberate, measured and always have time to chat more informally. As colleagues can confirm, I do talk a *lot* of nonsense on many topics.”

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