Today we’re keeping it rolling with the Women in Gaming series and placing the spotlight on Sarah Blackburn. Sarah is Director at GameOn, an industry-focused marketing and PR agency.
Having been in the industry for 15 years, a lot has changed since she first walked through its doors. She reflects on that, as well as where iGaming needs to go and how she overcame challenges that she has faced.
So, without rambling any further, we’ll step aside and let Sarah take centre stage.
Affiliate Industry Review: You’ve been in iGaming for a while now. How have things changed in terms of gender equality since you first started in this space?
Sarah Blackburn: “Dramatically, but probably not nearly enough. I joined the gaming industry in 2005 and although I started my career working for one of the most progressive companies in gaming, the industry itself was very much a boys’ club. There were very few women that held any real position of seniority at that time and those that did, I was in complete awe of.
“The gaming industry could have coined the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, and my opinion is that many of the roles in gaming – in those first few years of my career – were often offered to mates first. So, there was an influx of male counterparts that played sport together, went to school together and socialised together.
“To get a foot in the door as a woman would have been tough. Plus, it was a party-hard industry and you had to keep up. That being said, my own personal experience is that I wasn’t directly affected by gender inequality as far as I’m aware, and most of my male colleagues and friends have always been incredibly supportive of me and my ambitions. Also, if it wasn’t for a core few, I would never have had the confidence to set up GameOn without their words of wisdom and overwhelming support.”
AI: What are some things that you would like to see change in the above respect over the coming years?
SB: “The hard work that the All In Diversity Project has done over the last few years has already made great strides for change and this can only continue. The support for equality, not just gender, from companies in gaming has also been fantastic to see.
“I personally would like the industry to come to a point where we are no longer discussing gender equality or sharing a story because the CEO job was given to a woman for the first time in that company’s history. That the narrative isn’t led by gender, but on how qualified that person is for the job. However, I do understand that unless we continue to push for gender equality, then change simply won’t happen.”
AI: What are the biggest career challenges you’ve had to overcome and which skills were key in achieving this?
SB: “This is a really interesting question. The biggest career challenge I think I’ve faced came soon after I set up GameOn Marketing, where within 12 months of launch we were faced with a global recession.
“People that believe the gaming industry is immune to this type of event have not experienced one as a supplier in this sector. PR is considered by many to be a luxury item and when budgets are cut, quite often the PR agency is at the top of the shortlist to go. It was a really worrying time, however we always had resilience, optimism and an open mind to changing the business that we love, that would best fit our future client’s needs.
“Over the last few years, we’ve worked really hard to become a “must-have” item by giving our clients as much added value as possible and I hope that when we’re faced with a similar challenge, we are much better equipped and harder to let go of.”
AI: On an affiliate marketing level, how do you see the industry evolving within iGaming as we enter the recession and beyond?
SB: “As mentioned above, recession is going to impact us all in one way or another. Unlike the last recession 11/12 years ago, there is so much more regulation in place. Players are much better protected and rightly so, and as more and more become “vulnerable” due to job losses, lower incomes etc, this will in turn impact affiliates and operators. Yet where there are challenges, there is also opportunity.
“I think COVID-19 and the lockdown has been a great example of how supportive the gaming industry is of each other. LinkedIn became a platform for people to share job searches, and for others to offer their time to give free mentoring and advice for those that needed it. I really hope that the recession will bring more collaboration and mindfulness. We’re all in this together, so how we act now, will shape our future business when we’re out of this.”
AI: Who have been your biggest role models throughout your career, either famous or not?
SB: “I have a very long list of non-famous role models that have impacted my career from Helen Summerscales, who was the MD of a PR agency and who taught me so much. Mark Blandford as a pioneer in gaming and who has always been a great support to me. Rob Dowling and Bruce Gamble for being a huge inspiration to me and giving me the confidence to launch GameOn. Hillary Stewart-Jones for being one of the first women I met in gaming and someone I looked up to from the very beginning. Sue Schneider who needs no explanation and should be at the top of most people’s list. Kelly and Cristina for the All In Diversity Project and their unwavering plans for a more inclusive industry.
“I’ve got so many role models and that includes many of my clients too. All of them striving to be better, that’s all we can try to do.”
AI: What one key piece advice can you give to young women starting out in our industry today?
“Be yourself. Adapt, evolve and learn as much as you can, but be the best version of you by being true to yourself. Your self-worth is crucial and only you can realise your true value. If you want more, go out there and get it. There is nothing stopping you and you have an amazing industry to lean on in order to get there.”