SEMs are from Mars, clients are from Venus

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I'm not quite sure what the record for the longest client/SEM relationship is, but my money is that the average is around two years. This is to be expected for such a young and rapidly changing industry; when a client's spend increases tenfold, or an agency doubles in size, growing pains are bound to occur. What is unexpected is that few firms have completely digested what it takes to get through these pains to build solid relationships. We could blame the clients for the same, but it is usually poor form to do so. If anything, a solid sales leader should recognize early on which clients are better off with a competitor.

There are a number of self-help titles that could apply to the industry. I am pretty sure that most clients have a copy of The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. Hundreds of SEMs and other vendors swarm around this creature like no other, in hopes of posting a logo on the client roster. Clients rarely talk to the SEM first, and rarely return pitch calls. And clients definitely stop dating the SEM if ROI does not happen.

But when it comes to building a relationship, I prefer a different, simpler approach — and, apparently, UK-based Steak Media does as well. Having recently opened a New York presence, I had a refreshing conversation with CEO Oliver Bishop; Chrysi Philalithes, responsible for launching the New York office; and Noah Elkin, a colleague from my iCrossing days, now serving as Steak's VP of corporate strategy.

Off the bat, I was impressed that the team wanted to meet in person over coffee. I have always found introductory meetings by conference call to be very awkward and contrived. Furthermore, there is something about sitting around a table that stimulates a deeper conversation with those seated. As long time ad execs will tell you, more is learned at dinner than in any other meeting.

After quickly covering their search-led approach to digital marketing, we delved into what makes Steak different. After discussing their integrated approach and creative problem solving, we returned to the importance of relationships, or the lack thereof in the US market. There was something almost charming about Steak's observations on the matter. Once a new client signs on, “our mission is to earn respect,” says Bishop.

So how exactly is a relationship built? Through mutual respect, professionalism, intellectual curiousity and creative thinking to solve problems in an integrated fashion, as opposed to simply applying tactical Band-Aids.

Clients, such as Tina Shortle, marketing director for, agree. “Steak Media have proved to me that, alongside the formulaic and proven approach to PPC, they can deliver innovative solutions to make a campaign work as efficiently as possible,” Shortle says. “They have a thirst for knowledge about our business and our offline media to ensure an integrated and commercially focused result is achieved.”

And as they say, the proof is in the pudding. Just a few weeks later, I was not surprised to see Chrysi and Steak Media using these same skills to stand out from the crowd at SES New York.


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