Overture Extends Reseller Program to Ad Agencies

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Yahoo's Overture Services said yesterday that it has opened its third-party reseller program to ad agencies, which have been slow to embrace search marketing.

Overture's 3-year-old Ambassador program has signed more than 100 reseller partners, mostly specialized search engine marketing firms. Through the program, qualified partners are certified to sell Overture ad products and gain access to more customer support. They are also given access to Overture sales, training and account management tools.

"[SEMs] were pioneers in search by driving the third-party management," said Dan Boberg, director of strategic alliances at Overture. "Now we're seeing traditional agencies get involved and be able to manage campaigns."

Overture certifies resellers based on their search marketing expertise, service quality and meeting a spending level with Overture. Certified Ambassadors are also required to sell more than one Overture product, not just paid listings.

Ad agencies were slow to build search marketing expertise, which required more tech savvy than creative resources. However, search has grown to represent a big chunk of Internet ad budgets, accounting for 40 percent of all online ad spending in the second quarter, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. While they might have previously outsourced clients' search marketing, some agencies are building their expertise.

Earlier this month, aQuantive's Avenue A/Razorfish announced the formation of a search marketing division in order to better integrate search with other online ad efforts. The company said the division represents the No. 1 purchaser of paid search terms.

Avenue A/Razorfish Search and DoubleClick's Performics are designated by Overture as Strategic Providers, the top level of its Ambassador program.

Through the Ambassador program, Overture provides training on its products, including seminars at its Pasadena, CA, offices. It will forward sales leads to Ambassadors and help craft specific sales pitches for clients with proposed keyword lists and budget forecasts.

"It's been growing very quickly," said Boberg, who declined to specify the percentage of sales that originates through resellers. "It's been one of our fastest-growing channels."

The program has been expanded to Overture's new ad products, like its Local Match paid listings for local businesses. In addition to SEMs such as Range Online, Overture has partnerships with small-business aggregators like ServiceMagic and Homegain.

Boberg said he wants to expand the number of partnerships in this area, since Overture does not plan to develop a large sales force to reach local businesses. One potential sales outlet is local phone companies, which already sell their own ad products to local businesses.

"We've always tried to look at them as partners," he said. "I think we've made a lot of progress there, and we'll continue to make progress."

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