Talent supply and demand

It might be the middle of summer vacation, but the topic du jour is search engine marketing training. After a few years of employee drought, the rain has finally come. And when it rains, it pours. Just about every interactive newsletter I read has ads for a search engine marketing training program, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) Institute has recently launched a new course, and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is touting its search training program via direct mail. (Disclosure: I sit on the SEMPO board of directors).

For those who haven’t felt the talent pinch, count your blessings. It is hard enough to find someone with functional skills, such as sales or account management, let alone someone with search experience to boot. So kudos to those who now aim to put these needed skills in the market.

Now with the feel good out of the way, let’s take a deeper dive into what is really going on in this industry. Demand for talent is simply a signal that a search engine marketing practice needs to service a brand that needs to serve ads to customers who want products. The very same demand that drives keyword prices also drives the need for solutions, and so we find ourselves in an inflated market. When resources are scarce, some search engine marketing (SEM) agencies are willing to pay a premium to land talent, just as Web development agencies did during the late 1990s when cost per thousands (CPM) soared.

Anyone who lived through dot-bomb remembers a time when we couldn’t get enough talent. Your department of five grew to 50 as firms rapidly built offices across the globe in a massive land grab. I remember when chairs were such a scarce resource that we all wrote our names on a piece of tape and stuck it to the back, just in case someone decided to split with your chair while you were in a meeting. Minutes after an employee quit, we swarmed like vultures over his desk to claim speakers, headsets, lamps or anything that was in short supply around the office.

Then one day there seemed to be more chairs than people. No longer were we sitting in long factory rows of interactive talent. We stopped complaining about our loud neighbors. In fact, there were no neighbors after the layoffs, bankruptcies and eventual market crash turned Wall Street darlings into the butt of every joke.

While I am not suggesting a massive industry downturn, I will point out one fact: There are a heck of a lot of SEM agencies fighting for the same talent. And with the recent consolidation and layoffs, there is a little bit of d?j? vu playing in the back of my head. What happens to all this flood of newly trained employees as firms are acquired? Or go bankrupt? Or start handing out pink slips?

Of course, this scenario is not likely to happen tomorrow. However, responsible firms will ensure that their new recruits not only receive solid search training to benefit the company’s short term needs, but functional experience that will benefit the employee for many years to come.

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