A majority of marketers want to bring search strategy in-house rather than using agencies or SEM companies, according to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization. But there's a problem: a dearth of talented people for crucial jobs.
"It's a buyer's market," said Jeannette Kocsis, director, online marketing at Harte-Hanks. "It's hard to find people who are qualified.""For many marketers, there's a crisis," said Kevin Lee, CEO of Did-it.com, a search marketing provider. "When a marketer hires someone to do in-house search, they need to find a jack-of-all-trades."
"Clients are in the same position as agencies," said Sarah Fay, president of Aegis Group's Isobar, which owns iProspect, an SEM agency. "They are looking for a person who has all of the attributes but can also roll up their sleeves and do the work."
Fay, for one, believes marketers will continue to use SEM specialists but will increasingly want an in-house employee to handle search strategy as well as manage the agency relationship.
No matter how SEM relationships shake out, talented, experienced search executives are in an enviable position, job-hopping within the search world between marketer, agency and search engine companies.
At a recent Search Engine Strategies conference, one search professional told BtoB he had been approached by no less than five companies regarding job opportunities in two days of walking the exhibit hall.
Meanwhile, search growth rates continue to skyrocket. SEMPO reported last week that search advertising spending was up 44% in 2005 to $5.75 billion (see top story, page 3).
One marketer looking for search personnel is Jeanne Hopkins, director of outbound marketing at b-to-b marketer Symmetricom, which designs, manufactures and markets atomic clocks. Hopkins has overseen paid search and search engine optimization, which Symmetricom uses aggressively in its marketing mix. Her plan is to hire someone to handle search and e-marketing for the Timing, Test & Measurement Division, where she successfully instituted search, as she moves to the company's Telecom Solutions Division.
"We're trying to find someone who has the awareness with basic fundamentals in business," Hopkins said. "They have to understand the relationship between marketing and sales."
Like many marketing and agency executives, her goal is to find someone with broad-based industry knowledge and a very basic understanding of the difference between paid and organic search, rather than search experience. The rest can be learned, Hopkins said.
Bob Van Rossum, president of MarketPro, an executive search and staffing firm specializing in marketing personnel, said the job market for search marketing specialists is growing more competitive every day.
"There aren't many people out there with a lot of experience in that area," Van Rossum said. Companies are hiring writers with experience with keywords to handle keyword optimization, he said, "and they are looking for people who understand what the keywords ought to be. The latter skill is harder to find." Van Rossum added that in six to nine months it will be worse.
"The Fortune 500 has not identified the need for these people," and currently outsources much of its search requirements to agencies and SEM companies, he said. "[But] they will start to pull the function in-house."
Anyone without the budget to pay these people will feel the pinch, Van Rossum said. "As the search engine marketing talent community gets increasingly tighter, it's the small to medium-sized marketing/interactive agency that will not be able to keep up with the increasing costs," he said.
Another way the search juggernaut is changing the landscape is how it is prompting executives to cross over from other disciplines.
Take Marty Abbott, formerly eBay's technology VP, and Michael Fisher, previously VP-engineering and architecture at PayPal. Both joined Quigo Technologies, a contextual search company, last year. Quigo in turn lost its senior VP, David Jakubowski, to MSN, which hired him in 2005 as GM-search strategy.
But there are not an infinite number of such search veterans, so many companies are forced to "home grow" their own specialists.
"It's reaching a level where we need to be extremely creative," Fay said, refering to the hiring market. "If your only solution is to find people who have experience in search, then it's a crisis."
Fay said entry-level and senior-level hires are easier to identify. "It's the middle level that is hard," she said. "We're not a mature enough industry to have grown up enough people to the midlevel."
That's why iProspect has a highly structured hiring and training system in place, and why it spends time grooming managers. "We typically find that the best route is to groom from within," said Robert Murray, president of iProspect.
"While the search marketing space grows, it's hard to get good people trained," said Danny Sullivan, editor, SearchEngineWatch.com, a search marketing Web site. Sullivan said, "If they're good, others want to poach them."
Search executives say many people are being poached, and traditional agencies are fertile ground.
"The great sucking sound out of the agency world is Google," said John Battelle, chairman of Federated Media Publishing.
"[Google is] hiring hundreds of people and they are hiring away from agencies," he said. "People in the advertising department at Google will tell you nine times out of 10 they used to work at an agency or a major client advertiser."
Dana Todd, exec VP and co-founder of Sitelab, isn't quite as worried. "The skill sets are out there," she said, adding it makes sense to hire traditional marketers, direct marketers and financial analysts for these jobs. Technical skills, copywriting and math are all important, she said, but even crossword puzzle enthusiasts and librarians may possess the necessary skills to become search marketers.
"It doesn't take a genius to figure out performance-based advertising on the Internet is exploding," said Michael Yavonditte, CEO of Quigo, whose employee count has doubled in the last 12 months. His company currently has 25 positions open.
"Traditional agencies are on the wrong side of the macro-trends in the economy," he said, adding that talented agency executives "want to be on the right side of the trends."
Even search agencies are finding it necessary to outsource pieces of work to fill in the gaps.
"In the past year, we outsourced SEO to another company, and that worked really well; but now we have gathered that knowledge in-house," said Rachel Lyubovitzky, VP-general manager at Searchfeed, a search provider. The company has also farmed out campaign tracking on a short-term basis.
Cam Balzer, director of search strategy at Performics, DoubleClick's search division, said his approach is to move existing employees into temporary positions. He said Performics is big enough that it can "bring some of the specialists out of teams like copywriting or bid strategy, if the account teams aren't growing as fast as the client base."