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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).
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 -
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.
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. ;-)
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 .
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.