The “Complete Marketer” Search Agency Model

photo credit: craigCloutier\

Most larger Internet marketing agencies and in-house shops are configured as departments of specialists. It’s no wonder! In today’s complicated world PPC, ORM, social media, link building, affiliate networks, analytics, content creation, video, public relations, SEO, vendor and account management (whew) all require experienced and nuanced practitioners.

AIMCLEAR takes a different approach than most agencies in that literally every employee in the shop is trained long-term to strive for functional fluency in all departments and specialize in several.  We build complete”marketers here, trained to independently analyze clients’ objectives, determine appropriate marketing-mixes of goals, strategy, channel-tactics while crafting key performance indicators (KPIs).  Everyone here can research and deploy integrated campaigns spread across mainstream and niche’ distribution networks of various models.

When hiring we look for super-smart people, passionate about marketing and possessing a willingness to unselfishly take on labor-intensive tasks. We covet candidates’ potential to someday-train others, contribute entrepreneurial energy, grow in thought-leadership, build personal brand and speak in public.

We seek those excellent few who have a fanatical desire to be more than a one-trick-pony. In exchange we make it our goal to help everyone become as valuable as possible, to us now and for the rest of their careers.

In-House & Affiliates As Models
I come from a small business in-house background, working in the late 90’s for my own e-commerce endeavor and then a < 10 million in revenue .edu.  Hurtling into Y2K it was less of a big deal to handle all aspects of a search engine marketing operation. Crazy-wonderful days and nights were spent moving adroitly (most of the time) between channels and tasks. Yes…those were heady times indeed as a millennial industry was born.

The “full service” concept grew out of necessity then, as there was simply nobody else to help. The known marketing universe was exploding, as we post-BBS pioneer-geeks took over the world.

As the decade progressed, this hybrid-guerrilla mentality bubbled-mainstream in audacious next-gen affiliate marketers–mom and pop basement operators who made millions D.Y.I.  Now small-business in-house and independent affiliate marketers, to my mind, remain the most complete Internet marketing sharks in the world. In such a complex environment, the classic hybrid approach takes a special individual indeed.

Decisions, Decisions…
When we founded AIMCLEAR, to build out my personal practice, we thought long and hard about narrowing the scope of services offered. There were 2 primary considerations. 1) It’s much easier to brand a more focused product.  “Northern Wear” is easier to brand than “northern, southern, eastern & western wear.” 2) HR: Realistically it’s much easier to hire employees possessing singular skill sets.  Clearly to duplicate the work I’d been doing on my own by team-building in Duluth, Minnesota would require months or even years of training.

We recognized that a decision to build complete marketers is a decision to grow more slowly and deliberately.  We believed then and know now the reward: special employees and candidates seem to recognize the amazing opportunity at hand when driven to strive for “completeness” in their trade.

Demographic Research: The Thread that Binds
The first skill taught to our first employee (and everyone since) was keyword research. After listening to hours of Jim Collin’s “Good to Great” series of audio books driving back and forth to visit Minneapolis clients, I had it in my head to build AIMCLEAR on a foundation of skills that had a chance to be best in class.   Keyword research (and now buzz pocket mining) was and will always be the most fundamental front-end skill for SEM.

Absolute study of verbiage people use to ask questions, along with the ability to research and document what interests folks chatter about, are timeless keys to all marketing channels. No matter the media or method, the art of marketing is about honestly working customers’ perception of brand in demographic segments where the true value of products lines up with actual demand.”


No Channel is an Island
Every SEM discipline is inextricably interrelated and no channel exists in a vacuum. For instance we believe it’s impossible to create integrated marketing strategies in social media without considering SEO & PPC, even if it’s to rule out certain channels as not viable. Serving PPC Ads in social environments like Facebook can sure have socio-viral implications. So far as reputation management goes, the entire Internet is one big ORM puzzle for which PPC, social and SEO can play tactical roles.

These overlaps and many others illustrate why it’s so crucially important that specialists in every channel learn to identify how their favorite channel-tactics are symbiotic in how they affect other nodes.

Mad Men Talking
In 1994 I asked a retired 80-year-old sliver-haired ad agency-owner Mad Men guru, the difference between public relations and advertising.  His answers astounded me.

“There’s no difference,” he purred ” with a sweet age-induced vocal resonance. “Both involve the art of working customers’ perception of brand in market segments where the true value of products lines up with actual demand.”  “It’s important that every shop employee, from administrative assistants to CEO, understand the interconnectedness of all channels to support strategic objectives.”

In clarification he explained, “Both PR and advertising are forms of marketing.” Each includes “channel with idiosyncrasies,” costs, areas of strength and weaknesses and great for different tactics.  While PR appears to be free and therefore more desirable than buying billboards or television commercials, in fact “nothing is free.”

He understood that public relations is more about “socializing” messages, by bringing “events” to life on many nodes to the public’s attention. If they like it they’ll “pass it along” to others and the message can become self-perpetuating.  “Son, PR is a channel just like radio, direct mail and TV. PR is a channel,” he used to chortle.  I learned early that the entire marketing universe is made up of channels working together.

Search & Modern Mad Men
So it is the same today in search. Google, Yahoo and Bing organic SERPs are channels.   We know they’re not free because it takes resources to get there. YouTube, LinkedIn, AdWords, Facebook (PPC & Organic), Email and shouting out the front door of our office building are all channels.

The things we do in MySpace & Flickr are channel tactics. The objectives pursued with channel tactics are sewn together by a strategy. There needs to be a strategic reason to pursue any channel that can be quantified by goals. Everybody in the shop operating on any node of a campaign needs to be functionally fluent enough to work in accordance.

The essence of marketing has not changed much since Mad Men days.  Advertising, public relations, broadcast or Bing SERPs, it’s entirely about matching customers who have somehow demonstrated they might care our products’ true value. Demographic research has improved the near absolute level.

While many shops are tooled to distribute specialists who come together,  each of our goals is to become a complete marketer, a hybrid who grows to aspires to understand the larger picture.

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