The good news: They still don't get it

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The bad news: Maybe you don't, either.

Having worked in big brand agencies on both branding and direct response, I can see why many of my DR colleagues greet the decay of the big-name, TV-driven agencies with private, "See, I told you so" glee. Admittedly, it's not so tragic that some self-proclaimed brand-spot artistes are having the hubris beaten out of them while the Internet has righted itself and direct mail continues to grow.

But let's hold the laughter until we safely reach retirement age ourselves. If we repeat their mistake of not coordinating across all media to sell the client's product, we can wind up as obsolete as them.

I refer to the ingénue of today's direct marketing ball: search engine marketing. If you're not aggressively taking control of this issue, you're asking to fail. If you're handing it off to a third-party firm and thinking that's enough, you're still asking to fail. Here are facts every direct agency and client should know:

• Let's say your new, expensively redesigned, customer-friendly Web site is up. But you didn't use strategic parts of the site like page headlines and hidden image descriptions to showcase the phrases that people will Google, so all that beauty will remain unadmired. What you're missing is search engine optimization. In the meantime ... sorry you wasted $200,000.

• Have you grabbed the Google keywords that search engine visitors use most often in your category? If you don't, competitors will. Recently, a big-bucks sports car introduction was subverted by another car maker who bought its rival's name as its own keyword, then spirited the other car's enthusiastic searchers away to its own head-to-head comparison site.

• If you have locked up your main keywords on Google and Yahoo, your assets still aren't covered. Regular "organic" search hits convert nearly as well as the paid ones. Moreover, consumers are increasingly skeptical of the paid hits; they may be the banner ads of tomorrow. Again, think SEO.

• Got a TV agency, a direct agency, interactive agency and a search engine agency? Some clients have a dozen. Hot tip: Force 'em to talk to each other. Encourage them to work together, unless you think it's efficient to have your search agency not know you're running nationwide :30s to launch your new slogan this month.

• You've gotten customers from Google to your site, but you're losing them because your own search tools don't work. Who does Google bring to your site? Visitors who expect the thoroughness and speed of Google. The first thing they'll do at your site is type into the search box. If your site is like most, 50 percent won't find what they want. Bye-bye sale.

The point is simple: Make all your media work together so they all pull their weight. Just common sense? True. But the same was true 10 years ago when TV agencies heel-dragged on cooperating with direct marketers. We've always said we'd be too smart, and too humble, to make that mistake ourselves. Now that the shoe's on the other foot, we can prove it.

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