Commoditisation of search marketing may trigger “sweat shop” mentality, says newly appointed IPA search council chair

Search marketing has become “heavily commoditised” which could lead to a “sweat-shop mentality” in search teams if left unchecked, according to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising's (IPA) new search council chair Paul Mead.

Mead, who is founder and managing director of VCCP Media, replaces former IPA search chair and UK CEO of Aegis Media’s performance arm iProspect Chris Whitelaw.

Speaking to The Drum following his appointment, Mead said his remit will be to tackle major issues in the search marketing sector, many of which are in sync with the wider IPA's "commercial creativity" agenda ushered in under the stewardship of its new president Ian Priest.

This agenda, called 'Alliances, Diversification, Agility, Profit, Talent' (ADAPT), is designed to bring clients and agencies closer together to better understand each other's challenges and needs and therefore improve commercial creativity and evolve the ad industry as a whole.

The value of search marketing is one of the main areas to be misunderstood by the wider marketing community and therefore not assigned appropriate value, and this could have devastating effects on search teams if not rectified, according to Mead.

“There is a trend where paid search (PPC) marketing in particular, and natural (SEO) to a degree, has been heavily commoditised. That has led to this weird scenario where something that is technically demanding is often not valued in terms of the fee line.

“Some are managing paid search at incredibly low percentages, which has knock-on effects. The agency that is running it may have to get by on meagre resources and the team they employ has to be less experienced, and there is less training and development.

“If you get that happening in enough agencies you can get a kind of sweat shop mentality in the search teams – and that’s not good for recruiting new or retaining existing talent,” he said.

Meanwhile Mead will also focus on addressing other pressing matters such as to what extent search has become blurred with other marketing mediums including display and social, and how agencies and clients should adapt.

“The remit of search has widened significantly. It’s like I wrote for The Drum previously – it’s not really search anymore.

"Many in the space are not even using ‘search’ in their job titles – they are using ‘biddable media’ instead. It will be interesting to see how the IPA search group’s agenda evolves too – there is the opportunity to discuss where search starts and stops. Does our group’s remit, when it comes to paid search, end with AdWords, or does it also extend to Facebook ads and other forms of biddable media?

“Organic search too bleeds into so many other areas, and there is an education process still needed there for clients and agencies on how this is changing. If you’re an SEO manager your bosses will now be asking you what your content and social strategy is and how you are liaising with PR – search remits are widening,” he said.

The online ad industry has done itself a disservice by “pigeonholing” specific areas such as “performance”, which is now used to describe all biddable media, according to Mead. “To a degree these pigeon holes we create aren’t helpful. If you run a brand campaign it doesn’t mean that you’re not interested in performance, or use metrics to measure performance,” he added.

This summer Mead wrote a column for The Drum’s search supplement on the death of search engine marketing.

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