Episode #28 – The Performance Marketing Spotlight with Cary Pierce

About Our Guest

Cary Pierce is a seasoned professional in the performance marketing industry, currently serving as the Senior Director of Agency Services at Rakuten Advertising. With nearly a decade of experience at Rakuten, Cary has played a pivotal role in the company’s growth and development. A native Floridian, Cary is a dedicated family man, proud father of four children, one of whom is currently in college and two preparing for college in the fall. His background in economic development and social media consulting led him to establish an online marketing company, where he delved into affiliate marketing as a publisher.

Cary’s journey in performance marketing took him through various roles, including a stint at affiliatemanager.com, where he honed his skills managing affiliate programs across multiple networks. In 2014, Cary joined Rakuten, then known as LinkShare, which marked the beginning of a significant chapter in his career. Over the years, he has witnessed and contributed to Rakuten’s evolution into a global leader in online marketing.

As the Senior Director of Agency Services, Cary oversees operations in North America while spearheading global expansion efforts, with dedicated team members serving clients in the UK, EU, and APAC regions. His role entails fostering relationships with agency partners, facilitating collaboration, and driving innovation within Rakuten’s affiliate network. Cary’s passion for problem-solving and collaborative work culture aligns perfectly with Rakuten’s ethos of encouraging employee initiatives and fostering a supportive environment.

Cary’s enthusiasm for the industry extends beyond his professional endeavors. He eagerly participates in industry events like Optimism, where he engages with peers, shares insights, and stays abreast of emerging trends. His predictions for the future of performance marketing include a greater reliance on AI technology to streamline operations and enhance decision-making processes. However, Cary emphasizes the enduring importance of human connections and relationship-building in an ever-evolving landscape.

Outside of his professional commitments, Cary enjoys networking and connecting with industry professionals through various channels, including LinkedIn and the Martech Slack community. His dedication to advancing the performance marketing field while fostering meaningful relationships underscores his integral role in shaping Rakuten Advertising’s success.


Welcome back to another episode of The Performance Marketing Spotlight. In this episode, we’re diving into the vast world of performance marketing with our guest Cary Pierce, Senior Director of Agency Services at Rakuten Advertising. Cary brings a wealth of experience from his decade-long tenure at Rakuten and previous roles in the industry. We’ll explore his journey from creating an online marketing company to becoming a pivotal figure at Rakuten, discussing the evolution of affiliate marketing, the unique aspects of Rakuten Advertising, and the exciting future of performance marketing with AI and global expansions. Cary also shares insights on the new format of the Dealmaker conference, now called Optimism, infusing it with Japanese culture and innovative engagement strategies. Join us as we uncover the dynamics of performance marketing through Cary’s expert lens, and don’t miss his tips on embracing challenges and opportunities in this rapidly evolving space.


Marshall Nyman [00:00:02]:
Hello and welcome to the performance marketing Spotlight. I’m your host, Marshall Niman, founder and CEO of Nymo and Company. Each episode, I will be bringing you someone with deep experience in the performance marketing space where they highlight their experiences within the industry. Today I have Kerry Pearce, who is senior director of agency services at Rakuten Advertising. Welcome to the podcast, Kerry.

Cary Pierce [00:00:23]:
Thanks, Marshall. Glad to be here.

Marshall Nyman [00:00:24]:
Excited to have you on. Let’s get right to it.

Cary Pierce [00:00:26]:

Marshall Nyman [00:00:27]:
Can you introduce yourself to the audience?

Cary Pierce [00:00:28]:
Sure. Kerry Pierce, been with Rakuten so almost a decade now. Father of four, one in college, two going to be going to college in the fall. We got one going into high school, so knocking on the door, empty nest. So that’s a little bit about me. Oh, I live in Florida by the, born and raised in Florida. One of those weird aliens. I am almost a Florida man.

Marshall Nyman [00:00:53]:
Well, I’m a Florida boy, too. I spent my whole time growing up there. So very familiar with the nice warm weather. And it was good to just see you there a few weeks ago in Miami for PI live.

Cary Pierce [00:01:02]:
Yeah, it was nice. Yeah, it’s fantastic when I can commute to a conference by driving to it.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:07]:
Well, that’s why I’m looking forward to going to optimism.

Cary Pierce [00:01:10]:
There you go.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:11]:
Ride for me. So how did you get your start in performance marketing?

Cary Pierce [00:01:14]:
Let’s see. I had actually, I was in economic development for a while, and part of that was economic guarding, helping small businesses. And in doing that, I was doing a lot of social media consulting and helping with getting online marketing. And so I created an online marketing company. And in doing that, started getting into affiliate marketing through that and was, became a publisher myself. So I was doing way, way, way back in the day, doing some PPC marketing on behalf of some other that were in the industry. And then obviously there’s others that specialized in that. So I went from that and then showed that business and then went over to affiliatemanager.com and was working with them.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:50]:
Tell us about your time@affiliatemanager.com.

Cary Pierce [00:01:52]:
Dot that was a blast. Worked with John and Michael Nunez were there. There’s a couple others that I worked with. Mandy, who’s still around, Angie, who’s still around, Brenda, who’s still around a lot. Everybody that I worked with there for the most part, is still in the industry in one capacity, another, almost all of them still an affiliate. And we’ve all gone different ways and different experiences, which is exciting to see. But that was one where I had my agency experience working across six different networks, managing 13 programs at one time and really getting an understanding of that. And so that’s where I was, did affiliate manager for a few years before I moved over to Mediaforge.

Marshall Nyman [00:02:31]:
And in 2014 you join Rakuten, which was Linkshare at the time.

Cary Pierce [00:02:36]:
Yeah, which was link share. And there was media forge and there was, I can’t remember the paid search. So Rakuten, a parent company from Japan, was investing in the US online marketing. And link share was one of those. The media forge was the other. So I had gone, was doing affiliate management and had to move industry when I changed. And I was actually referring, let’s say I was referring clients to use display marketing that paid out on a performance basis model. I was managing affiliate program and said, hey, you don’t have display.

Cary Pierce [00:03:07]:
Here’s this product that you can display. So I was pitching it to my 13 brands, whatever I was managing, and a lot of them were doing this. And then I went, wow, I wonder, this is kind of neat. Let me go into this. And so that’s how I ended up at Rakuten via Mediaforge. So was there for a bit, did that for a couple years, and then mystaffiliate immensely wanted to get out of sales. That was my last sales for Raw. I went back into a management managing affiliate programs within Linkshare, which was turning into Rakuten advertising at that time.

Marshall Nyman [00:03:41]:
So can you tell us who Rakuten advertising is and what they do?

Cary Pierce [00:03:46]:
Rakuten advertising. Interesting. So it is, advertising is online marketing. So it will. It still is that same thing. So primarily affiliate is what we’re known for. It’s the affiliate network. So within that infrastructure, have the network work with a series of publishers, also work with our advertisers and agency partners, work with all of them, have different entities to help all of those be successful within the affiliate marketing space.

Cary Pierce [00:04:12]:
And we are global with that. We also have paid search, paid media services. We provide Rakuten TV, Vicky Viber, all these different types of online marketing vehicles that people can leverage. And that is the Rakuten advertising piece of all of Rakuten International. So online marketing across the board, but primarily affiliate is the biggest piece of that business.

Marshall Nyman [00:04:36]:
What makes Rakuten unique?

Cary Pierce [00:04:40]:
Multiple? So Rakuten Global? Well, let’s do. Let’s do this. Let’s do Rakuten advertising unique before I do well, man, let’s do Rakuten Global. Why not Rakuten Global company, right? Rakkatan.com dot what we are familiar with in the United States used to be ebates which is now Rackatin rewards, the rackatson.com dot. Very big presence here in the United States. But Rakuten.com is publicly traded on the japanese stock market. It is the only business that operates from an english speaking foundation, but it’s traded on the japanese stock exchange. Everybody else, obviously in Japan, or join the japanese language.

Cary Pierce [00:05:15]:
Everything within Rakuten.com is English. And Hiroshima Katani made that decision several years ago because he wanted to create a global company with that. There’s a lot of things they do from global. Rakuten sponsors the Golden State warriors. They have a couple of baseball teams they sponsor, used to sponsor FC Barcelona back in the day. Sponsored golf tournaments, tennis tournaments. Philanthropy is across. Rakuten owns Kobo, which is an e reader in Canada, which are somewhat Viber, a big messaging app which is in central part of Asia, Europe, Egypt, that whole region there massive.

Cary Pierce [00:05:48]:
There just multitudes. Rackets and mobile have rackets and banking rackets and travel. It is a giant, giant super company that has all these different entities. Now, the nice thing about that, from rackets and advertising standpoint, we have their leverage and expertise that we can rely on. Like Rakuten has a partnership. They’re one of the very first global companies to ever partner with OpenAI and Chat GPT. So we have a Rakuten version of chat GBT that we use internally across all of the Rakuten ecosystem. So they’re sharing between the different entities on best practices and how to leverage AI.

Cary Pierce [00:06:21]:
So that’s like a benefit from uniqueness. Rakuten advertising itself from uniqueness is that Linkshare foundation, which was an affiliate network built primarily to help those brick and mortar go to an online marketing. And it was headquartered in New York, second location, Chicago. Fashion was at its foundation when it was very, very early. Started on working with a lot of those brands. That’s still kind of a little bit of the core that’s in within the link share model, us doing the marketing, showing them everything they need to do. But now you’ve got Rakuten advertising from this technology and innovation, Rackaton.com parent company, and the merging between those two of advanced technology and full servicing capabilities and putting those together. So that’s kind of the uniqueness that we’ve got.

Marshall Nyman [00:07:09]:
Optimism is coming up in a few weeks. Can you tell us about the event and its evolution from Dealmaker?

Cary Pierce [00:07:14]:
Yes. So, yeah, this is very, very, very exciting. I was kind of not excited, to tell you the truth. About four weeks ago. I was like, fine. Why? I’m old school. I’m a dealmaker guy. Going to deal maker for a while, going to Philly Summit east, to Philly summit west.

Cary Pierce [00:07:29]:
That’s what I know. And then you try and new. I want to say that I’m someone who embraces new and change, and normally I do, but as soon as I heard this, it was, and that has all changed. I am full on excited for this optimism. This is going to be great. So this is another example of dealmaker is still going to have that core as the foundation to it. It’s like an institution within the affiliate market space. Tons of publishers are going to be there, tons of advertisers, tons of agencies.

Cary Pierce [00:07:59]:
We’re all going to be networking, meeting each other, developing those relationships, maintaining those relationships, finding new ones that is still going to be there. But we’re just going to have this additional experience of what Rakuten is that’s going to overlay within it, and we’re going to have these additional entities. I’ve been talking about Rakuten Kobo, Rakuten, Vicky, Rakuten Viber, all these other pieces, Rakuten logistics, Rakuten intelligence, all these things that could be advantageous for you and your team to find out about or your customers to learn more about. Right? That could be an instance where it’s. There could be not. So they’re all going to be there. In addition to everything that we do from an affiliate network, add on an overlay of. We’re going to have the optimism experience.

Cary Pierce [00:08:40]:
The rackets and japanese culture experience is going to be infused within this as well. And then having Jason Sudeikis is the main speaker that’s gonna be there. It’s gonna be pretty freaking cool to have that within it. So there’s, there’s, there’s that. The japanese culture, we’re seeing it, like, in the gamification of things. So if you go to certain events and you are on the app and you get, I went to here, I went to here, went to here. Then you can accrue points, and at the end of the event, how many points you have, you can then trade those in for rewards or redemption. And there’s all these different levels of scale so that you can get these things rewarded and get them.

Cary Pierce [00:09:18]:
And Amy and I are really excited about the temporary tattoo with this japanese art. I can’t wait to figure out if we can do it. Rakuten maybe we can. If there’s not a line, we can go there. But it’s a temporary tattoo that lasts for two to three years. That is the most non temporary, temporary tattoo I’ve ever heard of. So I’m kind of very intrigued. Like how many points can I accrue and still do my responsibilities to my company here? At the same time I want to be walking that tightrope while I’m there.

Marshall Nyman [00:09:48]:
So you were recently promoted to senior director of agency services at Rakuten Advertising. Would love to tell us what you’re currently doing in that role.

Cary Pierce [00:09:58]:
Yeah, for this one it’s been very, very fun continuing to develop what we’re doing from a North America presence. That’s my home base where I’ve started out with. Right where I originally started the development of agency services a few years ago. That has a very good foothold. I’m still maintaining my relationship there and in addition to overseeing the team and its expansion from support standpoint, the other big piece of it is twofold. So still maintaining management from North America services but then the expansion globally so have team members that are dedicated for agency services in the UK, got one in the EU and then we also have in Australia servicing the APAC region within that. So have regular meetings with them, keep them supportive, keeping the whole team together, sharing resources and sharing availability across and there’s a lot of our agency partners that aren’t just managing in the US, they’re managing across the globe. A lot of those that are overseas want to get exposure to the US market.

Cary Pierce [00:10:58]:
So there’s a lot of just helping with best practices across the servicing to all of our agency partners there and then the other side is still continuing to help and support Rakuten, the former link share Rackton advertising Develop more from what comes from a product standpoint from, comes from marketing standpoint exposure more and more and more from how we’re working with our agency partners because it’s been a recent development say recent in the history of Linkshare which is a couple decades old but the agency services and what we’re doing and how we do that unique with the services we can provide and providing more. So it’s half of me servicing our agency partners and the other half is me helping our internal team understand how we’re working with our agency services partners our agency partners as opposed to just a straight advertiser or just a straight publisher.

Marshall Nyman [00:11:50]:
What has been your favorite part of working at Rakuten?

Cary Pierce [00:11:54]:
My favorite part is and this is weird, right? So I’ve own my own business a couple times, worked on my own, been kind of like a silo solo I’ve done sales and so there’s a little bit of that. When you’re on your own, you got to figure it out on your own. So you how am I going to solve this market program? How do I solve this logistics issue? How do I solve this communication issue? When you, your brain gets developed to become problem solving in addition to doing what you do is core of your business. So I still have that mentality and it is fully supported, in fact encouraged. If you have an idea, share it. You have an idea and a process that you can improve. This can be from me bringing up a marketing idea, restructuring the business infrastructure, a legal situation. I have had all of these ideas and have brought them up with my opinions and share that with them.

Cary Pierce [00:12:49]:
It is always accepted. I want it coming the other direction as well. So that collaboration from a big but small, which affiliate is. Do you know what I mean? It’s big, but it’s still small. I still get to do that. So the same type of relationships and how I do that thing, it’s still that cooperative effort that exists within Rakuten advertising. And this is something I know Rakuten encourages and I think this is something that has evolved more so than what a link share originally was founded and we’ve evolved into a Rakuten advertising. So it’s been really cool to be a part of that and have that encouraged within me and that’s helped me.

Cary Pierce [00:13:29]:
Well, this is the longest company I’ve ever worked for in my entire professional career. So that does a lot right there.

Marshall Nyman [00:13:38]:
Affiliate and pr and influencer have been on a collision course. What are you seeing?

Cary Pierce [00:13:44]:
Yeah, this has been. It was on the collision course right before the COVID and the pandemic and we had the shutdown. We could, we were starting to happen then. And then once that happened, everything got turbocharged. And that absolutely did. And this is. There’s always been. Well, I was talking about this earlier.

Cary Pierce [00:14:02]:
Right. I think I’m one to embrace is new. And then I was worried about optimism. I’ve seen the light. I was never worried about this. I knew this was going to happen. Right. And we’ve seen this happen historically in different inferences and maybe it takes a little bit while for adoption, but we’ve had this from when Shareasale did leapfrog way, way back in the day.

Cary Pierce [00:14:21]:
Link connector development of what they were doing from the link technology, all these different technologies, browser extensions, those were fantastic. Over a decade ago, then they went away, then they came back five years ago. This is just part of it. All the publishers that we’re working with, publishers that we’re doing paid search, talking about card abandonment, email marketing, display advertising. Still there’s a ton and ton of new innovations and new publishers that come out. From a technology standpoint, this is just another type of creative of mommy blog. But it was 15 years ago. This is it.

Cary Pierce [00:14:54]:
This is the evolution of it. And again, that pandemic created more alternative entertainment that we would find via streaming, via our phones and all this stuff. And this is just part of it. And it’s just that collision so much is more of an awareness standpoint for those different agencies that are in there from the influencers there. So affiliate that, this small little giant thing that has been, we’ve been working here for a while, this is just us being that much more aware by others that didn’t know we existed before. And that collision course is happening. And it’s, you gotta embrace it, cause it’s not going away. So from an agency perspective, start to become aware of it, start to embrace it, see what you can do and help your partners with.

Cary Pierce [00:15:39]:
And the flip side from advertisers, definitely become aware of this, because it’s again, not going away. So lots, lots more within that, definitely.

Marshall Nyman [00:15:50]:
What are some challenges as a channel continues to evolve?

Cary Pierce [00:15:57]:
It is that the technological advances from one piece, who’s going to do a walled garden? We hear this all the time from a technology standpoint, from the browsers, Google doing what they’re doing, shopify with their Shopify extensibility, you know, Shopify’s got, I don’t know, is it 15% of all websites, 20% of the all e commerce, however big it is. And they go, I already have extensibility. Everybody just catch up and everybody’s got to catch up. All these types of little things that come in from a technology standpoint, maintaining that there’s going to be more and more and more pieces to that link redirect, because the Google browser is what they’re doing. So we’ve got to develop our technology. At the same time. You have to be on top of technology and the changes that are happening and the means by which you can get a customer to be exposed to an offer from an advertiser, that publisher, where they are, how they’re conveying it, are they, that piece of it tracking online to in store all that technology stuff you have to do at the same time, what we were talking about earlier, all of the different means by which a publisher, an affiliate can get in front of a customer and supporting that, because that’s going to continue to evolve as well. It’s just going to keep spreading, spreading, spreading, spreading.

Cary Pierce [00:17:12]:
So from a network standpoint, from a servicing standpoint, for us to help from facilitating all these types of things, we have to be aware of both and working dedicated across both.

Marshall Nyman [00:17:25]:
Any predictions on the future performance, marketing or maybe where things are headed?

Cary Pierce [00:17:31]:
Some of the predictions, I do see more coming in from an AI perspective and not so much to where it’s going to be a replacement, but where you’re going to have to as a manager, as somebody who’s managing with an affiliate or someone who’s paying attention to it, whether this is an agency standpoint or an advertiser standpoint, or from a publisher standpoint, being aware of all the changes that are happening from a technology focus and then the new means by which you can promote and then be rewarded from a performance basis for that promotion, that’s going to continue to go on. You’re going to have to start using AI to take over some of those tasks that you need to do on a week in, week out basis to where you can focus on learning and relationship, because that’s the one thing that’s not going to change with this. More publishers coming in, more technology coming in, more advertisers, more agencies. But at the end of the day, there’s still thousands of advertisers trying to get exposure to hundreds of thousands of publishers who are all pinging them all the time like crazy. And the best way to get that exposure is to have a relationship to where you can talk to them and have a handshake and say, this is what I do. This is what I do. Way, much easier than the multitude of all those emails that get sent on a daily basis that nobody reads. Using the AI is coming.

Cary Pierce [00:18:58]:
Use that to take a lot more off of your plate from a day to day so that you can continue to focus on those things. Because we’re still going to have to go to these conferences, we’re still going to have to shake hands and meet and learn what is happening that way is one piece to it and the relationships that makes it easier to do all that other stuff. And I think leveraging AI to support that is going to be the next evolution from a management, from the behind the scenes type of.

Marshall Nyman [00:19:22]:
But final question, what has been the best part of working in the performance marketing industry?

Cary Pierce [00:19:30]:
Straight up, this gets said so many times, so cheesy. It’s the people. It totally is. I mean, I do get jazzed about the technology developments. I do get really inerted out a lot of those things. I get to use Excel spreadsheets, which I like to. I get to do my anomaly, looking for different things, looking for patterns, do my vlookups, do my roas or ROI calculation that I learned way back in the day in college. I love doing that piece of it, which is that itches my nerd button a little bit.

Cary Pierce [00:20:06]:
But for me it is talking, meeting people, collaborating, creating win win scenarios, having these conversations, getting excited about seeing people’s careers develop, watching people move within the industry and grow and get experience and see the industry grow. So it’s, that has been, that has been a big, big piece of it. And the fact that I work at a company that not only lets me do that but encourages me to do that has been pretty fantastic.

Marshall Nyman [00:20:35]:
Well, big thank you to Kerry Pierce for joining the podcast this week. Some great insights into his background and working with Rakuten advertising. What’s the best way for listeners to connect with you?

Cary Pierce [00:20:46]:
Yeah, easiest way. Kerry Pierce so Carrie, dot pierceackaton.com. Also on LinkedIn, you can find me from Kerry Pierce there as well. Those are probably the two easiest way to reach out for those that are on the martech slack. I’m in there as well, so you can find me in the Martech slack if you’re there. Outside of that, those would probably be the three primaries I recommend, and you.

Marshall Nyman [00:21:10]:
Can find them at optimism in a few weeks.

Cary Pierce [00:21:13]:
That’s right.

Marshall Nyman [00:21:14]:
Make sure to reach out. I’m looking forward to seeing you there again. Thank you to Kerry Pierce and to our producer, Leon Sonkin. If you’ve enjoyed this content, please give us a like and a follow. Thank you for listening in. I am Marshall Niman, host of the performance marketing spotlight and founder and CEO of Naimo and company, signing off. Thank you and have a great day.