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11 Reasons Advertising Agencies Hate Search Engine Marketers

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 8 years and 328 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

At some point, ad agencies will be forced to come to terms with the fact that they will have to accept and work with search engine marketers even if they have to bring them in house. I must admit to having a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to traditional ad agencies, because I’ve been totally shot down every time I tried to have an abundance mentality with them. Since I fall somewhere in between affiliate marketing mercenary and corporate stooge, I love comparing the two worlds – the personalities involved, and the lifestyle associated with each. It is truly an intriguing comparison of people that share a lot in common, but can also be polar opposites.

Perhaps the egos involved with advertising agencies has forced MOST all the people in their industry to maintain the “I know everything mentality” that I have run accross on more than a few occasions. There are certainly some egos in the SEM field, but I think the “old money” attitudes of many ad agency execs is what really chaffs my gaff the most. I’m all for burying the hatchet, however, because they need our ideas and insights as much as we want to spend their branding dollars. With this in mind, I have some speculation on 11 of the top reasons why ad agencies hate search engine marketers.

For items 8 – 11, I was lucky enough to enlist the assistance of “caveman”. Please see the end of this article for his complete bio info, and big thanks go out for him bringing his unique sagely perspective to my ramblings. With introductions complete…on with the mudslinging!

11 Reasons Ad Agencies Hate Search Engine Marketer’s

1. SEM’s are direct marketers
Search engine marketing folks are generally held directly accountable for their spending and its return. While I’m sure the same is true of an ad agency at times, they have no problems billing a couple hundred per hour to pay an intern to design a schnazzy billboard that will sit on the interstate and have no trackability whatsoever. There is no way to track the effectiveness of a billboard ad. SEO may be tough to track…but not quite as tough as watching people’s eyes from a hidden tree while they cruise by at 70 miles per hour (I couldn’t think of many other ways to track a billboard).

  • SEM’s can work without pants on
    It is a joke in the search engine marketing field, but absolutely true. I am sitting here reaching a potential audience kicked up in my favorite home office chair with jeans and a t-shirt (yes I will save you the imagery of being pants-less). I suppose there are freelance ad agents as well, but since there are not a lot of large SEM agencies that are much good yet, most SEM’s have the freelancer attitude.

    3. The “freelancer attitude”
    Supply and demand is the big reason now for the animosity between ad agencies and SEM’s. Most any SEM that has been at it more than a year is nearly begging for a break from the pile of work. When you have too much work, you can choose one of two things -

  • Take on more work, get more behind, and become more stressed.
  • Raise your prices, act aloof, and try to discourage people into using others. Surprisingly, there is some level of intrigue that the second action elicits. I suppose it is based around the concept of elitist marketing/ pricing. Anyways, this is the reason most good doctors, lawyers, SEM’s, Ad agencies, PR people, auto mechanics, and any other top person in their profession can sometimes come across as being a dickhead. I was recently told that the WBP site comes across sounding high and mighty at certain points. This was definitely not intentional; it just only usually gets rewritten when we realize that we’re near the maximum threshold of taking on new business. It’s not that I’m trying to be a jerk and make people feel unimportant when I sometimes don’t call or e-mail people back. It’s that the phone and e-mail box are off the hook every damn day! I WISH I could squeeze more hours into a day.

    4. SEM’s don’t have to get pissed on by Madison Avenue jerks to “make it big”
    Most of the people in the SEM field are extremely happy to be here. Even the veterans have only been around for 10 years or so, so they’re not going to make anyone walk to Brooklyn to get them a piece of cheesecake. I think this is the “old money” attitude at play. Someone who spent 30 years working their way up the corporate ranks is much less likely to have patience and understanding for a new hungry marketing newb.

    Having been in the 3rd or 4th wave of SEM I have been very happy with how the 1st and 2nd genr’s have responded to my thoughts and ideas. They are all extremely friendly, and they remember what it was like to be the new guy on the block. With this same regard, I am very happy to help next waves of SEO-hungry folks when I can rather than try to give some silly hazing ritual and act like SEM is some magical rocket science that takes a lifetime to learn. Link building is the “mail room” of SEM, and even most of the biggest SEM’s still do link building in many ways (they just give it fancy names like “linkbaiting”). I haven’t been around there much, but I would doubt there is much of an “abundance mentality” on Madison avenue.

    5. SEM’s are often associated with affiliate marketers
    While this is not inherently a problem, affiliate marketers are often mercenaries with very low levels of merchant/ brand loyalty which is a very scary concept to 9 – 5 corporate drones. The idea of exposing a brand to the mercy of other website’s copywriters, bloggers, and lord knows whoever else is petrifying.

    6. Big egos at stake
    We know we want to spend their money, and they know they need us to do it effectively. Everyone wants the big markup and no one wants to budge on discounts, kickbacks, or project control. Both sides want to do the proposals and have the client relationship. Nobody wants to do the “grunt work”.

    7. SEM is a threat to ad budgets
    We know that spending in search marketing is constantly on the rise, and it probably will be for some time. The ad agencies know they need to be migrating their budgets to new media. This doesn’t make the billboard or print ad managers very happy obviously. They create resistance that is felt through the entire agency. If I felt a threat to what I was best at I would probably feel that way too. Evolve or die. We still need your print expertise, but you’re going to be better at both if you spend time to understand the web. Co-mentor an SEM junkie – teach them timeless applications from the print world in exchange for learning about web marketing. The tighter you squeeze your budget the more it will slip away.

    For items 8 – 11, I was lucky enough to enlist the assistance of “caveman”. Please see the end of this article for his complete bio info, and big thanks for his bringing his unique sagely perspective to my ramblings.

    #begin caveman#
    8. Advertising used to be fun
    Back in the day, advertising used to be fun. Yeah, client service will always have its share of pain, but in the 70’s and 80’s, advertising as a business was still permeated with a bit of a gunslinger mentality. Employees were rewarded for risk taking and clever rule breaking. And the parties were legendary. But the late 80’s brought a wave of cost cutting and corporate downsizing that shifted the power to the bean counters, and by the 90’s, advertising as a business was a shell of its former self. One can’t help but wonder if today’s ad execs don’t look at the SEM/SEO world with more than a little bit of envy. Surely it reminds them of days gone by. The SEM world today is, after all, more fun, crazy, and challenging than advertising ever was. And we’ve certainly got more than our fair share of gunslingers, rock stars, and well, you know.

    9. Anything you can’t brag about is bad (and so are the people involved)
    Advertising people love to make a big deal of their exploits, when talking to friends and family. “Hey, you gotta come over so I can screen my new beer commercial. We shot it down in Mexico. It’s really cool, and the client’s gonna run it on the Super Bowl!” Fair enough, I used to do that. But now, as an SEM, I’m stuck trying to explain to people at a party what “SEO” means. Assuming that I want people to know what I do (hehe), the conversation usually starts with, and ends with, me trying to explain SEO. It’s not easy, believe me. (And I can tell you from experience, don’t start by telling people that Google’s search results can be manipulated.) Listen; there are entire threads at Webmaster forums devoted to determining how to explain SEO and SEM to friends and family. Ad people have got wind of this, and this makes them disdainful of us. We cannot easily brag about what we do.

    10. Web ads are tiny, and tiny is despicable
    Ad execs hate tiny. Tiny is bad. Tiny is weak. And tiny means low budgets. In advertising, executives are measured by the size of their, ummm, ads. Print ads are big. Billboards are HUGE. TV ads are big, bright and sexy (especially beer commercials)…and they last for at least 30 seconds. Is it any wonder that ad execs are disdainful of those whose stock in trade is two and three word text link ads, or banner ads measured in, well, pixels. Let’s call it what it is: Ad people think we have tiny … ads.

    11. It’s easy to hate what you don’t understand
    Ad people are often insecure, and tend to hate what they don’t understand (Todd’s point on direct marketing a case in point). In SEO/SEM, our business is understanding: Organic listings, SERP’s, blogs, pings, trackbacks, nofollow’s, algorithms, META tags, PageRank, LocalRank, BlockRank, IBL’s, IP’s, SE’s, PPC’s, ROTFLMAO’s … OMG it’s enough to make your head spin. Well, not your head, but certainly the heads of ad people. ;-) I’m not saying ad people aren’t smart. The good ones are brilliant … at what they do. But they’re specialists: Creative people create, PR people spin, Media people plan, Researchers research, Account people handle. But SEM’s do everything from creative writing to analytics to algorithmic assessment. Yikes, how intimidating is that? No wonder they hate us.

    Of course, I’m just kidding about all this. Sorta. ;-)

    #end caveman

    Caveman’s BIO:
    Caveman (who sometimes also answers to “Scott”) has worked in marketing since the late 1970’s. Prior to becoming a Web entrepreneur and SEO consultant, he held positions as a senior marketing executive at several large advertising agencies, working with top international marketers. His current company, which he founded in 2001, focuses on online direct marketing and SEO for a limited number of clients. Scott also serves as an outside consultant to various members of the financial community, and is currently a moderator of the .
    Search Engine Promotion forum at WebmasterWorld .

  • -Footnotes from Todd
  • Personally, I have tried on several occasions to reach out to advertising agencies with very discouraging results. I’ve spent a lot of hours preparing for and attending incredibly fruitless meetings where I have become discouraged beyond belief for a variety of reasons. This is one of the main reasons I really enjoy medium size “mom and pop” companies that can get things done. There is often very little red tape, quick reaction time, and the ability to learn and develop their own creative SEM ideas that do not conflict with the overall strategy. These are my favorite clients to work with and the people I most enjoy making money for. I do like the idea of working with big brands on occasion, but I suppose with big brands comes some bigger problems. I think the relations between SEM’s and agencies can improve and I’m certainly willing to try in places that I can add value and not be just milked of my intellectual property.

    So the question becomes, “How do we reduce the malevolence between SEM’s and Ad agencies”?
    Managing an advertising agency isn’t all beer and skittles. After fourteen years of it, I have come to the conclusion that the top man has one principle responsibility: to provide an atmosphere in which creative mavericks can do useful work.

  • -David Ogilvy
  • David – put “ad agency” in your title tag, and call me when rise above Leo:)

    Inspirational discussions

    More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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    • http://www.wolf-howl.com graywolf

      When I was a corporate stooge I used to butt heads with advertising people all the time. All of the people I dealt with were print people and designing for print is a radically different experience. Copy is written completely differently, you can’t just grab it from a word doc cut and paste and call it a day, people scan online instead of reading, the formatting and even complete content has to change sometimes. And every designer I ever worked with submitted portrait oriented designs when screens are all landscape proportions.

    • Andy Hagans

      Great piece Todd.

      Man as much as we annoy them, THEY annoy the hell out of us :-)

    • scoreboard

      Great entry, Todd and Scott. Two things I have found over the last few years with agencies is that 1) the local agencies are more pliable and 2) the corporate clients who hire the agencies wish they would get on board with search. The latter have gone straight to developing in-house staff or bringing in guys like us to do it…but they are getting kinda pissed that they see all this money going to agencies every month and there is nothing being deployed to the hottest sector and most targeted prospects.

    • http://www.brokerblogger.com Bill Kelm

      For 20 years I worked from time to time with all sizes of traditional Ad Agencies. One major one I called on placed $170,000 per year with one big client of theirs in online and offline directory advertising that I sold-marketed for the one publication I represented in my own independent contractor advertising-marketing rep firm. That particular senior account executive at that ad agency was nice and reasonable, but most ad agency people were not (for many reasons).

      I agree with everything said in your great post, especially “At some point, ad agencies will be forced to come to terms with the fact that they will have to accept and work with search engine marketers even if they have to bring them in house.” I know you know that that it is happening already. There is a big push by the ANA and the AAAA for “accountability”. So instead of me doing a very long comment post here, I hope you’ll forgive me for providing a link to one of my blog posts on this very subject, that I think you will find interesting. I really am not looking for “link love” in all the wrong places, but if you feel my link offensive, please delete it = http://www.brokerblogger.com/brokerblogger/2005/12/mass_mktg_is_ou.html

      The other piece of information that I think you’ll find interesting is an artilcle on the AAAA (American Assoc. of Advertising Agencies). Please make special note of what its Chairman of the Board said, Andy Berlin said, and Susan Gianinno said = http://www.theindian.co.nz/testing/plugin/newsexpress/default.asp?plugin=Brefs.asp&page=793&g=Entertainment.Industry&p=50&n=37482 . I see some analogies between SEM agencies and traditional ad agencies, but like you said, there are some MAJOR differences too.

      The major challange, from my experience with ad agencies, is they not only have to adopt SEM wholeheartedly, but they have to stop looking at it as their “competition” and adopt the proper attitude of it being what it is, a MAJOR COMPLIMENT to their business in achieving the advertiser’s ROI accountability demands.

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    • http://www.high-search-engine-ranking.com.au John Leach

      A timely and accurate picture that really points out the arrogance of Ad agencies. You will find an article I scribed a while back I titled “Why aren’t advertising agencies more attentative to client needs?” which you will find at http://www.pressbox.co.uk/Detailed/19023.html
      Regards,
      John Leach

    • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan Kanellis

      Great post boys, let the accountability of SEM reign!

    • http://www.prominentplacement.com Stacy Williams

      You are soooo right on! I spend 14 years working at ad agencies before I started my search marketing firm 5 years ago. So I speak their lingo, I understand them, I used to be one of them. After trying for years to work with them (and actually working with a few agencies — including my old employer — on a handful of clients), I have come to the conclusion that they’re not worth the effort. I avoid them like the plague now and vastly prefer to work directly with the end client who doesn’t have all the hang-ups and territorial issues that agencies do.

      Here are two more reasons SEMs don’t like agencies:
      1. They get your invoice, then turn around and bill their client, then wait to receive payment from their client, and THEN they pay you. So payment takes twice as long. Even if you bill the same retainer fee every stinking month, it’s apparently a surprise when they receive it because they never plan ahead and bill their client ahead of time in anticipation of your invoice.
      2. There’s a lot of turnover in the advertising business. So even if you do connect with a more enlightened person at an agency — someone who really gets search marketing and can successfully sell it in to their clients (which is rare!) — I guarantee you, that person will be highly in demand and will be recruited away within the year. Or they’ll get tired of the agency biz and go freelance or move to Alaska or something. Sometimes they’ll bring you with them, but often, all the time and energy you’ve spent building a relationship with “an agency” goes down the drain when your key supporter leaves.

      My two cents…
      Stacy

    • sly

      These are some really important points that all of you have posted. I’m relatively new to the SEM workforce, so please forgive my ignorance, but doesn’t it make sense that someday all worthwhile ad agencies will have a SEM department in-house? In order to fully service their clients and optimizing their advertising efforts, isn’t it their duty to provide this ever-expanding service? I personally see these ad agencies swallowing up smaller SEM firms to make that transition. It would take too much work and effort to create from the ground-up, I’d think.

    • http://www.brokerblogger.com Bill Kelm

      Re: Stacy Williams comments = She definitely knows the traditional ad agence world! I agree with all she said, especially “..but often, all the time and energy you’ve spent building a relationship with “an agency” goes down the drain when your key supporter leaves.”

      There always was, and is, much turnover of people and clients at traditional ad agencies. I saw it for 20 years even though I only worked with ad agencies vs. for them. I just hope that turnover of clients of SEO & SEM firms don’t follow that same pattern over a long time. I think the key is that “people buy from people”. So if an “agency person” or “consultant” builds a strong enough relationship based on ROI performance there is a better chance that the client will follow that person vs. the company he or she worked for.

      Re: what “sly Says” = “I personally see these ad agencies swallowing up smaller SEM firms to make that transition. It would take too much work and effort to create from the ground-up, I’d think. ” I not sure what “swallowing up” means as it could mean “acquiring” or “digesting” by “putting out of business”. But, it could also mean that traditional ad agencies agressively recruit good SEO’s who don’t want the challenges of being an entrepreneur. That’s one way an ad agency could buid it “from the ground up”. Those talented SEO people who are not entrepreneurially inclined may work for SEM firms now, but as more and more ad agencies somehow adopt SEO-SEM into their offerings, there is a danger of them going to traditional ad agencies unless more SEO-SEM firm adopt a more “integrated” approach into, at least, some of the things that ad agencies provide.

      Mike Grehan talks about this when he says: “However, by using integrated marketing techniques to create awareness, build your brand, and create end-user demand, you can pull your clients into the search engine charts.” ( http://www.clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3575856 ). Now, I know that Mike has BIG clients with BIG bucks for TV, etc.. However, I believe that small, medium and large SEO-SEM firms can learn, and do, offline things like print, radio, or anything offline that is reletively inexpensive and generates “impressions” that lead to “traffic of good intent” for clients with smaller or even small marketing budgets. That would certainly help if, in fact, there really is a “sandbox” effect for new sites. It would also help with established sites that have competitive keywords.

    • http://www.webtodd.blogspot.com WebTodd

      great post! welcome to the future ad agencies

    • http://newnimproved.blogspot.com Sunil

      From my blog post:

      Clueless geeks

      The Web (where else?) has broken out into a rash of ranting geeks parading themselves as frustrated, misunderstood creative souls.

      Jonathan Trenn’s blog took to me Todd Copilevitz’s Celebrating cluelessness.

      Todd says, “But what is missing from every one of these examples? An understanding that working in consumer controlled media requires a fundamentally different approach. Not a single agency has embraced emerging technology enough to disband their interactive groups and integrate them throughout the rest of the teams.”

      I always thought we were in a “consumer controlled media”.
      The consumer can chose to turn the newspaper page, switch TV channels or click away from your site.

      Todd goes on, “If this is really the future, wouldn’t you want these talented people touching everything your agency produces? All these examples are variants of the same old model where great campaigns flow down from Mt. Creative.”

      No. They should touch only what they do well.

      Sorry, but we just can’t let the ground engineers sit in the cockpit and pilot the aircraft.

      In the early ‘90s, as a cub copywriter I was taught that the idea had to work across print, TV, outdoor and radio. The Web is just another medium. Sure, it has its own set of rules but credit us “clueless” folks sitting on top of Mt. Creative with this much: we understand human behaviour and at times we come up with decent ideas.

      In fact while we are at it let’s do a role reversal and let these digital geniuses first think of a great concept that works across different mediums. Then write a headline for a print ad, a radio script, a TV commercial. Go on to design a logo, craft a layout, choose a typeface. Do a direct mail piece. Write copy for the Web, sit with the tech guys, decipher their jargon and so on and so forth.

      Technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

    • jonathan chambers

      Whats your view of the new search engine http://www.theworldwideworld.com? They have invented a patent-pending product called Adlinks. Ad agencies place them under certain text on advertisements that appear in the physical world (NOT the online world), and consumers can then type the AdLink into a central Internet search engine.

    • http://www.thenextwave.biz/tnw David Esrati

      The main reason agencies hate SEM is there are quantifiable results generated with the web- as opposed to most agencies desire for winning awards for “creative” that doesn’t sell.
      I got in a pissing match on Ernie Schenck’s blog over the claims of a “new media god” who doesn’t have a site that indexes- if you want to see egos at work- it’s worth a look:
      http://eschenck.typepad.com/ernie_schenck_calls_this_/2006/09/bruce_bildsten_.html
      and guess what- I was able to quickly go to the top of Google with this guys key phrases- go figure.

    • http://www.high-search-engine-ranking.com.au John Leach

      As the ad agencies appear to be waking up from their self induced coma and realise that what I have been trying to get through their arrogant thick heads for over 6 years they are realising its probably a little too late for them to capitalise on the www as an advertising medium. The www advertising and ROI has in many industries overtaken the traditional advertising.
      To say that they lacked foresight is an understatement.
      Well advertising people, we don’t anymore need your help in assisting your clients because they are bypassing you on a daily basis as my business absolutely demonstrates.
      Couldn’t happen to a “nicer” lot of people and you will (won’t) get what you deserve in the future!!

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    • http://www.seoandmore.com Priya Shah

      I SOOO totally agree with you on agencies. They never feel accountable for pissing away thousands of dollars on ads you can never track. And the worst part is these very, clueless guys won’t hesitate to diss search marketing, and internet marketing in general simply because they DON’T GET IT! Some of the biggest ad-gurus in my country can’t even operate a computer, so to them, the internet is “useless.”

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    • Jeff

      Great discussion, but far too black and white. There is a middle ground, and it is interactive agencies. I work at a very successful interactive agency, and I feel like we aren’t represented at all in your forum.

    • Pat

      Very interesting, sitting in on your anger therapy group. Now that you have vented about ad agencies, why don’t you get smart and put together a sales pitch that speaks directly to agencies…in their language instead of your internal lingo. What you’re dealing with is probably less arrogance than ignorance on our part. Sometimes we cannot understand the terms you people throw out — they work like tacks on a highway. Ignorance is easier to cure than arrogance.

      One thing we in agencies have learned that many of you guys have not yet is that in order to communicate effectively, you have to speak Japanese to the Japanese. But more than that, the most successful advertising writers speak human to human.

      Speak to the level of the least informed without being condescending. They’ve got the means to buy your products — why would you speak to them as if they are outsiders? Speak in the spirit of seeking common goals, but speak patiently, because you’re speaking to people who don’t have the same expertise you do.

      And speak to us in person. When we pitch a new account, we make an appointment, sit down with our prospects, and talk person to person. From you guys, we get emails that maybe are expected to make us hyperventilate. Put your shirt on and come to see us.

      Now go one more step for ad agencies. Make it easy for agencies to earn a commission. For years the mass media gave agencies a 15% commission for the expertise and the clients they brought to the table. Today, many media are cutting out the agency commission because they want to keep them, forcing agencies to either mark up media costs, which we don’t like having to do, or find media channels who still value our input enough to preserve commission structures.

      Hone your pitch until you can walk into an agency and lay out your offer in human terms of how it will make us look better to our clients.

      And offer media commissions.

      That could be a big start toward making you guys heroes with agencies. And that would be a lot more productive than forming an online club to whine about us.

    • Christopher

      Good story.

      Most ad agencies I have worked with have been full of egos who care about selling the advert and winning an award at Cannes, or at least locally.

      They think selling product is degrading.

      many are sleazy and they have no problem selling inferior products.

      Most ad people are also not as talented as their ads (I can’t remember how many times it was more about ‘keeping the client happy’ or being ‘controversial’ than selling product.)

      Ad people are generally d***heads

      Nice article.

      Christopher

    • http://www.fuelingnewbusiness.com Michael Gass

      Many Ad agencies don’t “get it” with even their own Websites. That would be a great place for them to begin. Many agency Websites are almost invisible.

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