The Search Marketing Human Capital Problem

Do you know where I can find a good search guy?

Disclaimer: The word “guy” in this instance is used as a non gender-specific term commonly used by those seeking to hire the elusive search marketing professional. “Search guy” is, therefore, not an affront to the women’s movement or meant to indicate gender bias.

Ladies, please don’t send me an angry email about how there are more than “guys” in the business, I know that. This business would be an intolerable bore without you, and I thank you.

The reality is most people trying to hire “search guys” haven’t the faintest idea what they want. Can you imagine such lunacy in today’s day and age? Lately, I have been getting more calls than usual about where to look for search talent.

As it happens, I do have some thoughts on this matter.

Moderate Sarcasm

Later in life, I am sure everyone in the business now will look back on this time and giggle. Do you remember those two guys that started that company with the funny math name? Then they tried to turn advertising on its head and… What was that company’s name?

For now, everyone is scrambling to find search talent in the business. Small search firms are growing. Big agencies are looking to bring staff in-house or acquiring smaller firms at an alarming rate. Brands and search engines alike are scrambling to bring the expertise in-house, and the largely unregulated search industry can’t train new people fast enough.

At the recent Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, I joked about how just being able to spell s-e-a-r-c-h m-a-r-k-e-t-i-n-g meant an immediate $30,000 annual salary bump for prospective junior employees. Oh, how truly unfunny that situation is for employers looking to fill positions.

Go Big or Go Home

I am not saying I have any experience in this arena, but believe it or not, letting people new to the trade ease their way into the job is not a terrible way to go. Transplanting media folks into paid search? Hold on there, turbo, make sure your staffer isn’t trying to fast track a raise and promotion elsewhere.

When it’s time to build up resources, think past the hopeful “need for knowledge” instant gratification curse. Many of the folks with top-notch search engine marketing knowledge are coming out of very small firms.

Often, while their knowledge of search engine advertising or optimization is above board, they won’t have a solid understanding of corporate protocols and big business life. This type of candidate is not a management shoo-in and will need some time to adjust to a new life and ultimately decide if “big corporate” life is for him or her.

In other words, don’t skip the basics, and start them out small. Your new “search guy” might never develop a taste for the big life.

Business Offspring

The kids grow up kind of quickly, don’t they? Many search marketing firms have experienced explosive growth along with the industry. Remember, with explosive growth comes volatility. One of the most common mistakes rising-star, professional services firms make is hiring executive talent without thinking strategically or realistically about their needs.

If you need some rock stars (and you actually hire them), be prepared for some rock-star thinking. Up to now, you have thought of your business and employees in much the same way you have raised the kids. While independent thought is encouraged, it is your house. Now you want to reach the next level, so how do you get there without new blood?

Stop thinking about the kids and start thinking about dollars and sense. If you don’t want people to help you grow, you shouldn’t hire thinkers. If you like your house small, just hire more Indians and let the chiefs go elsewhere.

Grey Flannel or Clown Suit?

Professional development is tough enough without overcomplicating things. Many prospective employers try to re-purpose roles within an organization in an attempt to fill in the blanks.

The search business is still pretty volatile. Some providers are laying people off faster than you can say, “The Series A money just ran out.” Just because these folks are available, that doesn’t mean you should scale up to accommodate a short-term demand.

Many employers have discovered (the hard way) trying to fit the wrong person in the right job can fast track you into a worse situation. Hiring twelve sales reps from a search engine and calling them account executives in an agency is not a solution; it’s a recipe for disaster.

Repeat after me, sales representative does not equal account executive. Some agencies have successfully placed search advertising in the media department, but a traditional media planner might not be a search engine advertising account manager, either.

Filling the Jobs and Competing

Many prospective employers are getting them young and training them up. You can target recent graduates for employees and interns when they are in season. That’s a good plan, but you have to contend with the learning curve, and there is a high potential for an identity crisis when they decide, “Search just isn’t for me,” or “Thanks for the training, I’m off to a better paying gig that I am not qualified for.”

Poaching has always been a time-honored tradition in search, advertising, and elsewhere. When a prospective employee approaches you, spend some time finding out why this prospective employee doesn’t fit in his or her current role. Bottom feeders in the business also regularly send out “spies” to go through the interview process to catch up on a competitor’s laundry needs. Keep your dirty clothes in the hamper during interviews.

Remarkably, everyone does not want to work for Google. At the end of the day, it’s hard to compete with Google’s free-food, dog-friendly, dry-cleaning-delivered, free-work-love environment. Believe it or not, that work atmosphere is not for everyone. Emphasize your strong points and do your homework with prospective candidates. Find out what is important to them and make sure you have a match before pulling the trigger. More on search training: Up Your SEM Knowledge Now!

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