Watching the Pitch on AMC really gives a lot of insight into how ad agencies work and also highlights how advertising agency takes a much different approach then a search engine marketing firm would.

AMC's the Pitch

If you’re not familiar with The Pitch, and most likely you’re not, it’s a reality series in which two agencies compete for a client’s services. They have one week to develop a successful pitch. For some of the agencies, these pitches are make and break. In fact, one losing agency eventually goes under. It’s an engrossing series I believe whether you are in marketing or not. There are villains, large egos, and misguided approaches.

One episode especially brought out how different an advertising approach is to what search marketing firm like Ad Hoc Marketing would take. The agencies are competing for a business that has a number of smaller businesses most of which are related to plumbing services or emergency repairs.  One agency comes up with a concept of a woman breaking a toilet with a bowling ball in order to have to call in a repair person. The idea is that she’ll l then be eligible to win cash from the company.

I’ve actually worked with companies who do emergency plumbing and so I know the approach I took. Get them in front of people who need repair work done quickly. I’ve also been on the other side, having to do without hot showers because the water heater is broke. So there is already urgency to getting the work done or my kids aren’t likely to shower much.

My approach was to look for the phrases people would be using when they have a plumbing emergency.  Once those were determined we incorporated them into the copy on the web site. The next step was to look at the site and assess what visitors would be looking for. They want experienced, licensed plumber who will take care of the problem immediately and not overcharge them.

Now I’m trying to denigrate advertising agencies because many do a great job. For one they are dealing with a different format. Commercials and print ad campaigns have to get the attention of people who may not even be interested in what they’re promoting.  Search engine marketing is about connecting with people already looking for what you offer.

I’ve always loved the advertising world, at least the one portrayed on television. From Bewitched, when I was young, to Thirtysomething. as I was older and now Mad Men, I love that world. It’s about people being creative. My job involves creativity, but not to that extent. Instead my job involves more research. Not just finding what phrases they are using but developing a persona based on this.  I don’t have to attract their attention. They’re already looking for my client’s products and services. Instead I have to find out what they want to do with those products and services.

Here’s how I would differentiate what an ad agency does and what a SEO firm does. The ad agency creates the desire in a person to purchase a particular automobile. As the one agency on the Pitch says, they are selling ideas. SEO is how that person will find that car for the price they want in the area they live. So SEO is about matching the desire the person has with the company that has what they want.

I do think search marketing firms have a better chance of justifying their work. If a site has analytics, then it is possible to see what phrases are driving traffic to a site (even though many phrases are lumped together into the dreaded ‘not provided’ category). Yet advertising agencies have the better reputation. They have the portfolios showing their work, they have DVDS with the commercial they created. They can bring something to the table in a meeting. And there are a lot of search marketing firms that have taken money from clients and brought nothing to the table.

The Pitch also shows the fragile state of the advertising industry. So much is riding on them getting these million dollar clients. One episode ends with the creative director leaving the United States to live in his villa in Italy. Much of the money that once been earmarked for advertising is now being used for search marketing campaigns. Commercials are being ignored as people fast forward them on the DVR’s and print media is in decline. These agencies will have to evolve more into hybrids that focus as much on SEO as advertising or they won’t survive. And search marketing firms will have to learn that they need to make a pitch to get a company and not just make empty promises of getting clients ranked number 1 for phrases that don’t really benefit them.

I’m curious as to how others differentiate between advertising agencies and search marketing firms. Most of my experience with ad agencies comes from television. And even I know it’s not a bunch of guys sitting around in suits and drinking scotch anymore.