Paula, Pedro, and the Right Brain of Search

At the OMMA West conference in San Francisco last week, I had a debate with someone over whether the proper term for search engine marketing professionals is "search geeks," "search dorks," or "search nerds" (I'm partial to the first). Maybe we relish the geekiness a little too much--so much that we forget how creative SEM is. It might also explain Rishad Tobaccowala's troubling advice.

Tobaccowala, Publicis Groupe Media's Chief Innovation Officer, said in an OMMA keynote that if he were graduating college today, unless he had an offer from Google with an enticing stock option package, he wouldn't work in the search industry. "It's all math and machines," he said. He even implied that many search engine marketing jobs can and will be replaced by technology.

Jobs that technology can replace probably should be replaced by technology. For instance, bid management technology, especially as it grows more sophisticated, can replace some day-to-day functions of media managers. Does that mean the media managers' job will disappear? I think the reverse is true; that agency will be hiring, and the job will be more interesting.



With the technology in place at an SEM agency, for example, the agency can handle a far higher volume of keywords than would be possible otherwise, and can bring on more business from larger clients. The media managers in turn will spend more time plotting strategy, studying offline trends, and analyzing data that could impact future campaign performance. They will engage in the higher-minded work that's more fulfilling to them and more valuable to the client, and more media managers will be needed.

Still convinced it's all math and machines? Meet Paula. Paula heads up the copywriting team at my firm, having worked her way through the ranks. She's a gifted wordsmith and plays a starring role in an industry that lives and dies by linguistics--the words that help people find what they're looking for, the words that excite them to visit one company's site over another's, the words marketers use to describe and differentiate themselves.

In baseball, pitchers have three specific characteristics to master with every pitch: velocity, movement, and location. For search copywriting, every pitch must also invoke the best of a few select elements: engagement, branding, and the call to action. For Pedro Martinez, it's an 85 mile-per-hour changeup on the inside corner. For Paula McAleese, it's an 85-character text ad that engages the consumer, establishes or reinforces the marketer's brand, and inspires the consumer to take that relationship with the marketer to a deeper level.

Engagement? Inspiration? Relationships? This is search engine marketing?

You can't dismiss one thing Pedro and Paula have in common: they're artists. Artistes, even. Pedro's confined to working with a baseball 9 inches in circumference and launching it across a rubber mat 17 inches wide. Paula is confined to 25 characters for a title, 70 characters for ad text, and 35 characters for a display URL in Google (and similar restrictions in other engines). For Pedro and Paula, they prove their excellence precisely by overcoming those limitations and doing more than anyone thought possible with the tools they have. For Pedro, this results in a World Series ring and an eight-figure contract. For Paula, it results in clients shattering return on investment goals, along with her own career success.

Paula's not the only artist I work with. At the office, the creative types (copywriters, Web designers, and art directors) stand out instantly. For starters, they dress cooler than everybody else. They consistently send me the best links and book recommendations. These right-brain-oriented, creative, vintage-clothing-wearing, food co-op shoppers work in search engine marketing. And unless they're really good actors (some may have even worked in the theater), they're having a pretty good time doing so.

Perhaps Rishad's a little defensive. He noted repeatedly how hard it is to find the best talent, and if SEM firms are hiring creative workers too, he'll have even fewer of the best candidates to choose from. I'm friendly with people at most established SEM firms, and these companies tend to hire very well.

Rishad, you asked me, along with everyone in the room at OMMA West, to write you if we're looking for the next challenge and have the talent and passion to take it on. I'm now privileged to extend the offer in return.

The left-brain-inclined do the math and want to work in search. The right-brain-inclined see the art to it, and want to work in search.

Paula, I'll ask you now, is it all math and machines?

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