Optimizing keywords, match types, bid prices and ad copy. Managing multiple campaigns with Google, adMarketplace, and Yahoo/Bing. Translating and understanding performance reports and trends. Communicating with clients in a language that is easy to understand. These are the day-to-day actions of a digital agency's search marketing team. But for all the technical challenges these teams face, the biggest may be hiring the right people.
With larger portions of advertising budgets migrating to digital, agencies must find top-notch talent to manage campaigns at greater scale than ever before. This is crucial to a campaign's success, and directly related to an agency's ability to retain and grow client relationships. As clients get increasingly aggressive with managing profit margins and demand more from their partners, agencies are left with little room for error.
I recently spoke with several of adMarketplace's agency partners to find out what character traits they look for when assembling their search teams. As technical as search marketing can be, I was surprised to hear the emphasis on personality traits over technical skills.
As simple as it sounds, MediaVest's Jeff Gores seeks out candidates who are thinkers. Search-related or not, Jeff wants to know they don't just regurgitate information, but acknowledge and absorb it.
"I don't even care if their direction is wrong, just as long as they can show me that they can string along thoughts to come to a conclusion," he said.
With the ability to think comes the need to understand the bigger digital picture. PHD's Heather Molina explains that when operating within a bigger agency, individuals must understand the interconnectedness between their work and the team's overall media strategy. Team members must understand how the entire agency is charged with working for the client, not just concerned with their piece.
"Even though things may be 'silo-ed' operationally, they are deeply connected from a strategy level," she said. "How does what they are doing feed back into the overall goals for the client that we have established?"
This concept plays hand-in-hand with what Resolution Media's Kristen DeLotto values: Intuition. She looks for someone who can anticipate client questions and requests, "who is always prepared for what will likely be thrown our way because they are so in tune with the client and their business."
This intuition is essential to building strong client relationships, and ultimately retaining business. Molina understands the need for her team to have the ability to "guide a client in a space that is living, breathing and always evolving." Intuition is "what clients expect from us as their agency: to have such an immersed understanding of their business that we can operate seamlessly with them, and explain to them what their opportunities are."
Mindshare's Danny Huynh looks for candidates who are visionaries in their own right, as "one must have the ability to deliver today's needs and layer innovation for tomorrow's opportunities," he said. SEM is truly a "test and learn approach, and employees should be fearless in their quest for learning." When data is collected from test campaigns, team members must be able to tell a story out of the data.
Everyone interviewed values strong communication skills; if one doesn't have the ability to clearly communicate his or her thoughts or vision, the agency could be underestimated by the client. Mindshare's Jonathan Cho feels that "in our business the ability to communicate effectively—written and oral—is critical to our success. This comes from building confidence through industry knowledge and practice speaking internally and with clients."
Also crucial is having a personality that fits, since a team must be able to rely on and trust each member for support in such a fast-paced, ever-changing industry. Gores said that "if we didn't like each other our group would implode. I don't care what kind of personality it is necessarily, but as long as it is one that fits in our group."
Cho looks for people who put the team before his or her own agenda: "With all of the curve balls we get thrown by current clients, as well as the constant new business we pitch, having someone commit to the needs of the team first is paramount. This shows in their work, and ends up improving overall team morale."
But team cohesion cannot occur without accountability. Huynh explained that his team's best members are those who set clear, achievable goals and work towards them, without excuses. Taking responsibility for one's actions, while understanding how individual work affects the entire group, ultimately ensures that a team will work together well.
They must be able to multitask too, however.
"This industry is fast paced and we can't really afford to dedicate a lot of time to one specific task or project," DeLotto said. "We need to be able to balance everything even though at times it is a heavy workload."
You may notice that no one mentioned media-specific skills—these can be taught and are learned over time. While senior-level hires may require search and optimization experience, overall the most valuable team members are highly-ambitious thought leaders who have an inherent ability to fit in with a group yet are also able to lead others.
Anthony Tsigourakos is the Director of Agency Sales at adMarketplace, which delivers search performance at scale outside of Google, Bing and Yahoo. adMarketplace's date-driven technology optimizes bids by both traffic source and keyword for the Internet's largest marketers and their agencies. With over 250 million searches performed each day across its network, adMarketplace.com is the leading company exclusively focused on search syndication advertising. Anthony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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