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Hey, High-Level SEM Management: Keep One Foot in the Weeds

Published: August 23, 2012

Author: Sean Marshall

Don’t get caught looking in from the outside.
Management is a funny thing. A necessary evil of sorts. When I first approached our CEO about leading our burgeoning team of account managers (roughly 5 strong at the time), he was reluctant to endorse the move. Simply put – he didn’t want to take the “account” out of account manager. I can’t say I blame him. It’s been nearly two years since he OK’d the move, and as we’ve grown and added account managers as fast as we can find them, I’ve found myself running into the same problem.
The value of management (in our case, at least) is that placing strong performers in management positions enables us to scale. While it might feel like losing a valuable asset, the idea should be that one person’s knowledge in turn benefits a dozen people. With good training, it’s as close to cloning as you’re going to get. Now, while this might sound great in theory, the realities of the search landscape act as the proverbial “monkey wrench” in this scenario. How long can you be the standard-bearer of a dynamic space like search…if you aren’t doing search every day?
The answer is pretty simple: don’t stop being a search marketer. All of our managers, myself included, must retain at least one client of significance. “Significance” might be an arbitrary measure, but the basic idea is that the account in question keeps you fresh. The client must want to grow and leverage a multitude of strategies and tactics to accomplish this goal. (You aren’t exactly staying fresh if all you’re doing is buying brand keywords.)
One thing that managers never lose, regardless of how deep in the PPC weeds they are, is the ability to relate to clients. At PPC Associates, we like to call this the emotional quotient (EQ). If anything, this skill only improves as one backs out of the day-to-day operations of specific accounts. If one has any designs on relating to clients without having his/her hands firmly on the wheel of the account, he/she better be a great relationship manager. Clients have incredible BS detectors, and they’ll sniff out a lack of understanding of their business and overall objectives.
Nuts-and-bolts SEM (or the IQ side) is where people get stuck. Good EQ never goes out of style, but today’s IQ is tomorrow’s example of “what not to do, ever.” It’s probably unreasonable to expect a manager managing a single account to keep pace with an account manager working on two or three, but one is still better than zero. I often tell folks I’d rather hire someone with less experience working on multiple accounts at an agency than someone with more experience working on a single account. (That said, the in-house hire is probably very good at the things that matter most to this one account.)
As far as the agency dynamic goes, it’s important to provide clients with an outlet outside of their day-to-day contact. This isn’t to say that our account managers don’t know what they are doing (quite the contrary), but it’s important to take a step back and survey the field every once in a while. It’s easy to get stuck in the weeds, and given how tangled they can be in PPC, it can be hard to get out of that mode. Taking a step back, only to realize the next layer of account management knows nothing about search, defeats the purpose of this entirely.
Paid search pros have a nagging fear of getting pigeonholed as SEMs forever. Most up-and-coming SEMs (myself included) view management as a means to diversify their skills and to continue to grow in this field. While there’s much to be learned in managing a team of account managers, it can lead to something far worse than being pigeonholed: forgetting SEM altogether. Don’t fall into that trap.
Sean Marshall, Director of Client Services

1 S Wacker Drive
Suite 2250

Chicago, IL 60606(650) 539-4124


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