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It’s the client! Get the Search Guy on the phone…

Looking at notes from SES NY, I came across a discussion of how Agencies employ people like me for their search expertise, yet don’t always know how to handle that “secret” when dealing with the client. Do they allow transparency, telling the client they have a search guy on board, or do they pretend to have all the expertise in house? And if they hide the association (as they frequently do), how does that serve the client when in fact, the closer the SEO is to the client, the better and more cost-effective the SEO? I loved this part and wish I had been there:

Sara Holoubek, a free-agent consultant, moderated the session. She asked the agency panelists to comment on the issue of transparency. Should clients be told that their Agency of Record is sub-contracting to a search expert? Should the search marketing firm have direct access to the client? Or should the agency keep the relationship under wraps and “white label” the search services as their own?

Amy Auerbach, former VP Group Director, Media Contacts feels that in general ad agencies and media buying companies just don’t have the search marketing skills and competencies required—particularly in the area of search engine optimization (SEO)—so she believes that partnering with search experts is absolutely necessary. But, according to Auerbach, the bigger question is, will the ad agency bring the SEM firm into the project at the appropriate time. She admits that there is risk associated with partnerships and when push comes to shove… many agencies tend to be conservative and keep tight control over the client relationship.

The challenge, according to Dori Stowe, former president of Tribal DDB Health, is that to be successful, the search marketing expert must be fully integrated into the project very early on. She believes that this requires transparency. Dori thinks it’s important to have a full disclosure policy and to be able to honestly say to your client, “Let me get my search expert on the phone.”

This is one of the reasons I went public with a professional profile as an SEO last July. Better than saying “Let me get my search expert on the phone” is saying “Let me get John Andrews, my search expert, on the phone”. Sure there’s some liability for having picked the search guy, but if you pick the right search guy, that liability is more than offset by the benefits of holding both the search guy and the client accountable through transparency. I’d hate to burn my reputation with your client under any circumstances, but in the face of account management blunders you might make, I can’t say I worry as much about your reputation with your client.

Of course, such transparency can be threatening to some firms and their managers. I think it follows the age-old truism: A people hire A people, and B people hire C people.

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3 Responses to “It’s the client! Get the Search Guy on the phone…”

  1. Matthew Brown Says:

    Even better, I don’t hesitate to call *another* search guy, even though I’m the search guy in-house. And I’m upfront about who it is and why I want a second opinion or just may not know. And of course I do the same for others who want my take on a situation.

    If you’re not harnessing the collective intelligence of your contacts in the community, you may not be doing the best job. I agree it’s that agency model where you have to look like the expert to earn your fees that causes this situation.

  2. IncrediBILL Says:

    I have both outsourced all sorts of technical expertise over the years and have been the outsourced consultant on projects and transparency has never been an issue.

    As long as all parties are aware of the ground rules, and your agreements prohibit both the client and the consultant from going direct with each other, or any other employee of your firm for that matter, for a period of 12 months at the end of the project, you should be protected.

    I would be more concerned about a client finding out you’re using a consultant later and thinking they were misled, or ripped off, so being upfront and transparent is my recommendation.

  3. Kirby Says:

    I was approached by an agency this week to handle their out sourced SEO. At the meeting, when I asked them how they handled this very issue with the client, all I got was a blank stare, followed by “Well of course we don’t tell the client about you.” It was a short meeting…