SEM Agencies: Working with Ad Agencies

Apr 13, 2007 - 1:31 pm 3 by

Moderated by Sara Holoubek, a “Free Agent Consultant,” as well as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO.

First speaker is Janet Driscol Miller, from searchmojo, in Charlottesville, VA. They have had a great experience in partnering with Ad Agencies. There are natural synergies between SEMs and agencies. Agencies are seeing requests for SEM/SEO, and many do not have in-house expertise, and this can be difficult to build. SEM firms offer full-service marketing through partnership. This means low-cost lead generation, and allows the SEM firm to focus on SEM and leave the sakes to someone else. Also, working with agencies leads to an increased possibility for acquisition.

There are major challenges, though: you have to find the right partners. Each needs to pick the right SEM/Agency for them. There can be operational issues such as billing (SEMs often have a different type of billing structure that agencies). Some recommendations: relative to your assize. Track records of success. Boutique agencies are less likely to have an SEM person of staff. Do your homework: remember the brand is now associated with the agencies. Don’t be afraid to cold call/network with agencies. She heard another panel where an agency person said “one of the happiest days of my life was when an SEM firm came through the door,” which made her very happy to hear.

Solving operational issues: create an integrated process flow. Use flow charts and project plans and insert SEM process into it. One problem that is common is that an agency will redesign and client site without informing the SEM, which can lead to major issues. She emphasized regular updates in training. Can the agency sell your service? It is important as an SEM to enable that. Train them regularly in the basics, and then they can always call you in on a sales call. One way they have achieved this is through handbooks. They created handbooks to all partners, specific to their needs and processes.

They also recommend dedicated account managers. The SEM will assign an account manager to each partner, to facilitate easy and rapid communications, Use co-branded marketing activities to promote the partnership. For example, use an email announcing the partnership to the agency list. So, should you lower prices to allow for agency markup? Not always needed, and this depends on the fees. She never lowers the fees for any body. She finds that SEM firms are in high demand, particularly by agencies, so she doesn’t feel the need. However, she does find ways to make the partnership mutually beneficial. You can work with the agency if needed to find creative ways to compensate, such as perhaps using a PPC setup fee instead of adding to the management percentage of ad spend fee. They are always open to testing models.

Contractual issues can exist. Try to be transparent versus white label in the approach. You can keep the brand presence, and maybe represent the firm as a trusted partner. Otherwise what may happen is someone meets with her and then Googles her name and finds out she doesn’t even work for the agency. Thus, you should always be transparent if possible.. Mutual NDAs are recommended – otherwise there may be situations when the SEM ends up training the agency to do their job. Make it easy: use a blanket services agreement, and append service agreement with a statement of work, instead of starting from scratch.

In summation, try to make it easy to work with agencies. Do not limit to only ad agencies: there are interactive agencies, marketing services, PR agencies, customers. Remember to evaluate the relationships on a regular basis.

Peter Hershberg from Reprise Media next. He will present: Working with Ad Agencies: “Transparency versus Opacity.” Just in case, he defines Transparency as “Full client visibility.” Opacity is “white label partner.” Pros and cons of each: transparency first. Pros: the client relationship is open. Can help influenced decisions over marketing and budget. Also, there is more credit for work. The downside: Two clients, agency and the client/brand. This leads to the need to establish credibility twice. It can be challenging for the agency partner to articulate the value proposition.

Opacity has pros and cons as well. Pros: There is a less intensive service relationship. This can be an incremental sales channel without being involved in the Business Development. At the same time, you will not be getting credit for the work, and there is less influence of strategy. Search may not be automatically integrated into the broad campaigns. Also, the issue of having project work versus ongoing, and this may not have an extended shelf life.

What are some of the major reasons agencies prefer an opaque relationship? Many agencies fear change. The client demands search, it is outperforming everything else…so what if the clients knew? This makes the years of experience with the client obsolete. He showed an example of an agency that actually had to hide the effectiveness in SEM so that they wouldn’t lose the other media. There are downsides for SEMs as well: Retail business, through an agency, case study: they got a ten-to-one return on 100K product, and were never able to cite it as work/success.

He shows a mini case study for a major electronics retailer. They felt strongly about SEM being integrated and actually brought them into the meeting with the agency. The results were excellent, thanks to the total integration. He cannot share specific results, but they are “killing it.” In the end, he feels transparency is in everyone’s best interest. Everyone is able to work towards their strengths. It allows for joint proposals and pitches. It can be very powerful when a specialist goes in with the ad agency to a cline to pitch the new business. Also, the coordinated execution helps the rest of the project.

Scott Orth from GTS Services in Portland, Oregon. Shows a Reebok TV commercial on slide titled, “why cant we all get along?” It is the Terry Tate commercial (office linebacker). Very funny… the idea is that if you are an SEM working with a traditional marketer, you may have issues with conflict. But aren’t we the same anyway? He shows traditional marketing and their online equivalents: PR = SEO. Media Buy = PPC. Creative/storefront design = Website. In the example he showed, he felt that the emphasis on driving traffic to the site to see more Terry Tate videos was not strong enough (they had a brief image of the domain at the end of the ad under other verbiage). People tend to search for ideas within the media piece and search around that.

He does a short case study about work with a Corporate HVAC company. The environment included three players: SEM, Web Development firm, and traditional agency. The problems: working independently, ad and brand messages were not integrated, the site design was based on web and technical details, and the primary SEM goal was the increase of traffic.

So, after the creation, problems were: Directories, Titles and META descriptions were not reflective of the global message. Imagery and content did not match. Solutions: traditional agency lead the initiatives and shared media plans. The SEM realigned organic SEO and PPC campaigns to match up with offline campaigns, and they had a three way partnership to do a full site redesign, focused on SEO and usability. Results: Streamlined branding and messaging. Traffic from search jump 53%, which was incredibly successful because it was global brand that already receive millions of visitors. The interactive tools they designed were also an instant success. Lastly, targeted conversion increase 59%.

The secret to success: knowing who to blame for mistakes. Learn to point fingers, trash-talk traditional marketing. Finally, communication, how will the client know their traditional agency suck without you telling them (laughs from everyone – he says obviously he is kidding with these). So how to make it work? We’re on the same team, sharing different skills – remember that. Share plans, brainstorm together! Give regular presentations. Assist in sales pitches…doesn’t only mean that you have to go to the pitch, but at least work with them in the creation of the pitch. Remember, it’s all about success – use test campaigns. He also feels you can “get in the door” with PPC, show some success, and then move towards organic once they are convinced of the value of search. He feels that PPC best aligns with traditional media so it works well at the onset.


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