Working with Ad Agencies

Dec 4, 2006 - 4:16 pm 0 by
Filed Under SES Chicago 2006

Working with Ad Agencies

Moderated by Danny Sullivan. The idea behind this session is to try and cover ways for specialized marketers to communicate with Ad Agencies.

Janet Driscol Miller, from searchmojo. She gives an overview of how they have grown in a year, primarily due to partnerships with ad genies. There are natural synergies between search and ad agencies. Many traditional marketing agencies are looking for a more holistic solution for search. SEM firms may specialize in Paid Search, and need to partner with SEO specialists. The benefit for both is an exchange of services. Challenges: how to find the right partners; operational issues including project coordination and sales team knowledge of SEM; pricing and contractual issues.

How to choose the right agency partner. Should be relative to your size, agencies you can grow with. They should have a track record of success. Boutique agencies are less likely to have SEM experts on staff. Do your homework – remember that your brand will be associated with this company. Don’t be afraid to cold call when trying to find partners…networking works very well. Networking will be where you find your best partners.

Solving operational issues: create an integrated process flow, use regular updates and planning; dedicate a representative to work with them. She likes to get a process plan template and work her own process into it in order to set proper expectations. Pricing issues: should you lower your prices to allow the agency to markup? She never does. Try and work with the agency to find other ways for them to make their “cut.” Contractual issues: try to keep your brand present. Present your firm as a “trusted partner. Reference client work. Use mutual non-disclosure agreements – try not to limit yourself if possible, but absolutely use these. You do not want a partner to build an in-house group off of what they learn from you. Go for a blanket services agreement with the agency, and append the agreement with a statement of work.

Always use the KISS method. Don’t limit your agency scope to just ad agencies…use interactive agencies, marketing services agencies, PR agencies, etc…evaluate your relationships on a regular basis. She found that she got 21% of her business over the last year from agencies.

Peter Hershberg from Reprise Media. Working with Agencies: Transparency versus Opacity. Transparency gives them full client visibility, where opaque options use “White Label Partner.” Both have pros and cons. In transparency, there is a direct client relationship. There is influence over decisions and budgets. This also gives more “credit where credit is due.” Negative issues include that you have 2 different clients, the agency and the client. Also, you have to establish credibility twice, and sometimes resell your services to the client if they do not “take the agencies word for it.”

Opacity pros and cons: Pros are that it is a less intensive service relationship, and an incremental sales channel. Downside is that there is less credit for work, as well as less influence over strategy. Also it is project work versus ongoing work, without an opportunity to discuss results with client and establish a more long term relationship. Many agencies fear change. Clients are however demanding search, and many agencies lack SEM services. Then what often happens is that the search performance outshines other marketing, and that the years of experience the agency has with them becomes obsolete. So in some cases they actually suppress the SEM success data. Mechanics of a positive relationship include everyone working to their strengths, without for example the ad agency picking keywords. Joint pitches and proposals go a long way in terms of highlighting capabilities. Goes hand in hand with coordinated execution.

Scott Orth from Selytics. Will go over some case studies. They created Selytics with the goal in mind of partnering with agencies. A corporate HVAC company: problem – online had no connection with online. Their directory listings, page titles and META Description did not reflects corp. marketing message, and the traditional ad agency felt they should manage ALL marketing. They realigned organic campaign to follow offline plans, and matched up a new online campaign with other initiatives. The result showed that they streamlined the branding and marketing message; traffic from search jumped 15%, and they actually had to pause marketing due to unprecedented product demand.

Next one was a home building product company. The problem was that the traditional agency tried a paid search plan as a part of their overall media management. No organic focus on the website, and thus disappointing search results, and the leads to the site were largely unqualified. They solved this thanks to the marketing agency letting them take full control of the online element. Again, they aligned online with offline focus. Great results: Increased organic search positions by 63%, corresponding traffic by 21%, and increased PPC visits by 350% without additional funding. The goal is to make the traditional agency look good too. There is a benefit to TV and radio, etc, so they wouldn’t try to take from that budget. Tie the online piece to online to make everything cohesive.

How to make working with agencies work: realize and set expectations that offline and online marketing differ. You have to be straightforward – it is hard to market to marketers. Don’t compete: work together. The client gets better results and then everyone wins. It is all about success, and you have to be able to show the client that online and offline can work well together.

Sara Holoubek, “Free Agent” and also a member of the SEMPO BOD. “How to play nicely in the sandbox, (or not).” Goes over her view of the Ecosystem. Staring with SEM agencies, there are those that just want to be business partners, and those that are uncomfortable but play nicely, and those that are threatened by agencies. Agencies, on the other hand, go from those that don’t even want to know about search, to those that do, but don’t know how, and those that offer only PPC, and those that are threatened by SEO.

Being a business partner: deal structures include referrals, preferred outsource partner, or even white label relationship. Work best when “ownership” of SEM project is agreed upon, information on goals and budget are freely shared, partnership might lead to purchase of SEM, and there is full transparency. Be aware of repeated requests for search 101 sessions, agency politics, and clients that “play both sides.” She gave an anecdote of working with an agency that offered PPC, and how she got repeated requests for SEO 101. She got to the session and found 25 people in the meeting from the agency including the CTO – they were obviously trying to get their own thing going.

If the agency feels threatened, deal structures are different: it is often a forced situation, the advertiser has insisted on SEM, and there can be political preference. Works best when each party has a formal contract, each party has direct contact with the client, and the client is aware of the dynamics and mages all agencies. Be aware of agency politics and competitive blocking.

Tips for success: Understand the annual budget planning process – agencies and partners can get a seat at the table. You can encourage folding in search early, and you should work with partners by providing annual proposals early. Secondly, pay attention to politics within the agency and between the agency and the advertiser. Look out for large conglomerates having potential internal friction, or for career ambitions as well as the typical client/agency friction. Last “ learn to speak CMO,” remember than many CTO/CMO’s didn’t necessarily start with a marketing background.

Todd Malicoat from and David Wallace of SearchRank on panel also, for QA only. Todd gave a short introduction, saying that he is here to learn as well, as he feels he has probably “broken all the rules” that the other panelists gave. David recommends placing content on your website that informs visitors if you are an SEM that is looking for partnership relationships.


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