SEM Agencies Courting Big Marketers Find Education Key

Search engine marketing (SEM) agencies increasingly face the challenges of introducing SEM to traditional marketers.

Recent reports from JupiterResearch and SEMPO confirm that SEM agencies now control more spending from an increasing number of clients, and both found that larger advertisers were more likely to outsource more of their budgets.

The challenge for agencies courting these marketers is to get them comfortable with search, since its tactics and metrics are unfamiliar, said Ron Belanger, VP of Carat Interactive. He said marketers’ familiarity with other media comes from years of experience with data and trends in those channels, which makes them comfortable allocating budgets to those media.

“The primary challenge involves the simple fact that search marketing has not been a large part of anyone’s marketing legacy,” Belanger said. “With search, it’s still new enough that budgets tend to be smaller, and results scrutinized more closely.”

Most SEMs agree that the keys to making clients feel at ease with search marketing are education and transparency. Agencies say it’s important to set clear expectations about how long it will take to get results, how long those results will last, and how results will be measured, to avoid disappointing clients.

The fact that SEM is an ongoing process can be a foreign concept to clients more accustomed to placing television ads and seeing immediate results, said James Hering, SVP and director of interactive marketing at Temerlin McClain.

“With TV, 80 percent of the work is in planning the buy. Search is just the opposite, with 80 percent of the work coming after the campaign begins,” he said.

Because search is so dynamic and fluid, Hering advises that goals should also be fluid. Clients with a clear understanding of what it takes to create and manage a successful SEM campaign will be more willing to continue with a campaign even if results are not immediate, he said.

“Trying to set only a single target level can lead to false expectations and too rapid a decision to cut things if they don’t meet a single goal,” Hering said.

As important as setting goals is to success, more important may be who sets those goals on the client side, Carat’s Belanger said. “Goals should set at the top, by executive management,” he said. “Too often, goals are set at the manager level, and are not always in line with what the corporate strategy sees.”

In other words, clients should start with the business objectives they have outlined to their investors, and then apply search tactics to achieving those goals, he said.

Marketers also need to be made aware that search marketing efforts are most successful when coordinated with other media spending, both on- and off-line, said Heidi Browning, media director at Organic. She points out that search not only ties together cross-channel ad campaigns, but it is also the link between offline ads and a client’s Web site, since that is the way most people will find a site they hear about offline.

“Advertisers need to think of search as part of a holistic marketing plan. Search is the glue between all of their other marketing efforts,” Browning said.

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