A Day in the Life of Outrider

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ST. LOUIS -- DM News associate editor Giselle Abramovich was invited to spend a day at search marketing consultancy Outrider's office in St. Louis. The WPP Group PLC-owned GroupM agency offers strategic planning and management of search campaigns for clients like Sears.

Outrider's office is in the Plaza's Old World Village, amid restaurants, trendy stores, hotels and lively nightspots.

Here is an account of Ms. Abramovich's day Sept. 14 meeting executives -- jeans de rigueur -- at this busy agency:

10 a.m.: Cindy Kerber Spellman, Outrider marketing manager, takes me into a conference room to discuss RSS as an emerging technology. At this meeting, Andrew Barnett, Outrider manager of organic search, stressed that RSS is a first-class marketing tool.

"For consumers, RSS feeds are compelling," Mr. Barnett said. "They allow people to quickly review a large number of sites in a very short time by spotlighting updated content, and subscriptions are voluntary and easy to cancel. Unlike e-mail, there is no spam, and blogs ultimately place control in the hands of the customer.

"For publishers, RSS allows for the instant distribution of content updates to people who have already expressed an interest in them," he said. "From blogs to the BBC and the New York Times, publishers have swiftly embraced RSS because they can forge additional connections to subscribers and drive additional traffic to their sites."

Sears is testing the waters with RSS feeds on its site at www.sears.com. The client has seen a slow, steady growth in signups since it was implemented in mid-May. Sears has a page that asks consumers to check boxes for categories that interest them. They next add a custom feed to their feed reader, and then every time they log onto the Sears Web site they get promotional offers based on their interests.

11 a.m.: I meet Joseph F. Cowan, a senior client service lead at Outrider. Mr. Cowan said Outrider often has multiple accounts -- say, one for RSS, another for a search campaign and so on -- with one client. The way results are presented depends on the client's relationship with the agency and the services it receives.

"The most important aspects of my position are communication with the client and Outrider staff," he said. "Each needs to understand the other's goals and requirements in order to run a successful campaign for the client and for Outrider to operate profitably."

Mr. Cowan works with many pharmaceutical clients, so his background in biochemistry is a plus. When taking on any new account, Outrider considers what type of clientele or customer the company seeks. For pharmaceutical clients, it would be actual patients and their loved ones.

"It is important to cover all of the categories," he said. "Also, it is important to ascertain that ads are designed so that patients and loved ones click on the ads designed for them."

The client service lead is to advocate for both the client and Outrider, giving enough time to the client and its needs without going over the budgeted hours.

"The CSL is the one who speaks directly with the client, sort of like the middle man," Mr. Cowan said.

Outrider gives clients documentation explaining what needs to be done in a campaign and why. The account manager compiles the document, and the client service lead presents it to the client.

Noon: Lunch with the Outrider team at an Italian restaurant, Marciano's. Diners included Ms. Spellman, a tech person, the office manager and Chris Copeland, senior partner and managing director of Outrider, or, as Ms. Spellman said, the head honcho.

Outrider has offices in St. Louis, New York and Chicago, and Mr. Copeland noted that the agency has 50 to 60 clients, half of which are Fortune 500 companies. Mr. Copeland believes human interaction sets Outrider apart from other search agencies.

"The savvy marketers will look to the latest technology for vigilance but recognize that humans provide the true intelligence," he said.

1:30 p.m.: Outrider invites its search engine partners to the office every four to six weeks for employee training. On this day, Google's training team was there. Before entering the training room, Andrea Zurich, agency training program manager at Google, Mountain View, CA, briefed me on the program. We spoke by telephone because Ms. Zurich was too ill that day to come to St. Louis.

"The Google advertising training team has been around for about a year and a half," she said. "We basically provide an educational opportunity for some of our top strategic agencies."

Ms. Zurich said that Google trains on a high-level overview of Google, its ad platform and any enhancements made to it and the company's consumer products as well. Google hopes to make Outrider employees as aware as someone on the Google sales team regarding Google products. Any frequently asked consumer question is addressed.

After such training, Outrider employees look over the campaigns they are working on to decide which could benefit from Google tools, Ms. Spellman said. They then make the recommendation to the advertiser.

2:30 p.m.: The topic of conversation in the training room was optimizing contextual advertising performance across the Google content network. Outrider employees were told this could be done through six simple steps: grouping ads by theme, matching keywords to ads, writing compelling ad text, knowing the user, using the data to build knowledge and testing.

The three Google team executives discussed the products that could help throughout the six steps. Google also discussed content targeting and answered the FAQs of advertisers: How do I know which sites I will appear on? What if there are sites I can't or don't want to appear on? Can I track content targeting?

3 p.m.: Next I visited the desks of Erika Moersch and Kersten Rohrbach, account manager and search specialist, respectively, at Outrider. The women explained their roles in reporting back to clients.

"Search specialists work on reporting and pulling data together," Ms. Rohrbach said. "Sometimes I take care of bid management and creative writing, too."

Ms. Rohrbach said her workload consists mostly of preparing monthly reports and implementing campaign strategies based on the results of the reports.

Ms. Moersch said her main responsibility as an account manager is analyzing the data and determining what caused the results. She also recommends the next move for the client.

3:30 p.m.: Outrider is looking into connecting with market researcher comScore for branding research. The two companies let me sit in on a teleconference where comScore pitched its services. However, the information was not for public consumption.

4 p.m.: It was a long day for Outrider's 20 or so employees. Who better to the rescue than Google -- sponsor of the happy hour for all. Off to the Drunken Fish ...

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