Search Firms Scramble to Hire From Advertising, Marketing Agencies

The search is on.

The fast-growing importance of search advertising in businesses’ overall marketing plans is pushing search agencies and optimization firms to hunt for employees in the traditional direct marketing and advertising arena.

“I believe we will see more and more people transfer their account management skills from other industries,” said Mike Taylor, London-based director of, which recruits search professionals for companies in Britain and the United States. “These could be from a direct marketing background or the IT industry.”

Some estimate that demand for professionals in search marketing exceeds supply by 20 percent. Account representatives and account managers are particularly sought after, as well as business development executives, copywriters and technical experts to execute campaigns.

“We look for smart people with either great client-facing experience with an understanding of advertising and marketing, or, for our analytics department, smart people with an understanding of how statistics are applied to advertising and marketing,” said Kevin Lee, chairman of search marketing firm, New York. “These people do exist in both direct marketing and traditional agencies, and we can teach them search marketing.”

High-profile hiring coups of executives from traditional advertising backgrounds include Ron Belanger, former vice president of search and affiliate marketing at Carat Interactive (now Carat Fusion), who was hired by Yahoo Search Marketing in late September, and Toby Gabriner, former president of Carat Fusion, who was hired as CEO of predictive marketing company Poindexter Systems Inc. in November. Also, Stephen Tortorici, formerly creative director of interactive for Y&R, New York, recently was hired as executive creative director at search marketing agency iCrossing, New York.

Executives with traditional advertising experience are valuable to search firms because of their ability to view marketing and media plans across all media and their experience in working with large brands and accounts.

“We’re focused on search, but we also look for candidates that have a diverse group of interactive and online as well as offline marketing experience … to be able to integrate those in a way they can really look at the client’s industry in a holistic way,” said Noah Elkin, director of industry relations at iCrossing.

Andy Beal, president/CEO of search marketing firm Fortune Interactive, Durham, NC, said he likes to hire employees from traditional public relations and marketing agencies because they “know how to handle large accounts. They know what to say, what the client is used to hearing, and they bring fresh ideas.”

Search marketing firms also are looking for forward-thinking managers and executives focused more on the big picture rather than simply executing a search campaign.

“You look for someone who does strategy or more long-term thinking, someone who has a brand background and knows how to insert search in all media,” said Dana Todd, executive vice president at interactive agency SiteLab International, San Diego.

Taylor agreed.

“[Search firms] need people with not only a good understanding of search, but also how search will evolve in the future and how it will benefit their clients,” he said.

Search marketers also seek these experienced, long-term thinkers within their own industry, but there are few who have many years of experience in such a young field. Those who do leave SEO firms and agencies are offered high salaries — figures that each company guards closely — on top of relocation expenses and performance incentives.

When Beal left WebSourced Inc. this year to start Fortune Interactive, other search marketing firms courted him immediately.

“I wanted to start my own company, but was tempted by very good offers from search marketing companies who were going to let me stay in North Carolina,” he said. “It was amazing what some companies were willing to do to bring me on board.”

Job boards feature numerous ads for people like Beal with “several years” of search marketing experience, which they typically cannot find because the industry is only about 4 years old. In addition, search marketers have trouble finding qualified individuals because they can’t pay as much as search engines and corporations with in-house marketing departments.

Though hiring competition has heated up, many companies still find qualified employees because they have built a name for themselves in the industry and often know how to differentiate their services from the new ones that are popping up. ICrossing, which is among the leading search agencies, has had no problem attracting qualified search marketing employees, Elkin claims.

“Our approach is less focused on a bidding war and more on a branding war,” he said. “We enjoy a good reputation and brand in the industry.”

Will Margiloff, CEO of Innovative Interactive, a New York performance marketing firm that owns search marketing shop 360i and search software company SearchIgnite — and was recently acquired by Japanese portal Livedoor — had a similar opinion.

“It is not always about the money,” he said. “One of the things that helps is having a well-known, well-respected firm run by smart people.”

Though Google and Yahoo are respected, Margiloff said, some employees think they can make a bigger impact at smaller search firms. Search agencies have effectively branded themselves as fun places to work where employees are allowed to think and create.

“I talk to people all the time who move to jobs that pay considerably less,” Todd said. “All you can do is find out what they really like to do and foster that.”

However, search executives are quick to note that today’s company cultures aren’t like the startups of the dot-com era.

“The difference between now and five years ago is that companies have figured out how to retain the fun of the job without going over the top,” Elkin said. “You can have fun without there necessarily having to be Ping-Pong and Foosball tables.”

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Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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