SES – Signs of a Chasm Crossing from NY

    April 16, 2007

It was an incredibly packed week (and hotel) at SES NY. As you’ve probably noticed, I didn’t get a chance to do any blog posts while I was there. But the good news I had a chance to sort through my inbox and set aside some post worthy tidbits that I’ll try to catch up with in the next week, so I’ll try to make up for lost time.

One of the things I chatted with a few friends about was a strong undercurrent of change in the industry. On the last day of the show I had lunch with Greg Jarboe and followed that up with a Guiness or two in the lounge with Chris Sherman and Matt Bailey. Besides the obvious (Google’s purchase of DoubleClick, IPG’s purchase of Reprise and the recent purchase of Global Strategies by WPP) there’s just a feeling of transition to a new stage for the SEM biz. Jarboe referred to it as the "gentrification" of the business (Greg is so erudite!).

After, in a quick chat with Shari Thurow (yes, we ironed out the wrinkles of our spat) and Anne Kennedy, Anne nailed it for me. We’re crossing the chasm. Isn’t it funny. I’ve written at least one column saying this was the case and did a series for MediaPost indicating we were in for sea level change, but I had to be reminded about it.

Perhaps it was the validation of being surrounded by a bunch of other SEMs. For most of the time, I’m somewhat isolated from the SEM community here in Kelowna. From this vantage point, I speculated that we were ready to cross the chasm but I had the comfort of being somewhat removed from the day to day machinations of the industry. But last week, I was in the thick of it and in the flurry of activity, I was wondering what was going on. It took Anne to point out to me that it was just what I had postulated on a few months earlier. Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees!

There are a few symptomatic indicators that seem to indicate a chasm crossing is ready to happen:

The mainstream is adopting search, but they’re not sure where it should live. More and more companies are testing the search waters, but they’re hesitant to partner with an outside firm. Their answer, at least in the short term, is to build an in-house team to handle the campaigns. I’m getting this from all sides.

The major agency holding companies have all acquired search expertise. In order to try to stem the in-house tide, the IPG’s, WPP’s and Omnicoms of the world have all gone shopping for SEM expertise.

Awareness of search has moved up the C Level. For the first time, SEMPO’s Market Survey found that the executive team is not only aware of search, but keenly interested in it. This has been an ongoing frustration in the past for search marketers.

With all of the above happening, it’s going to be an interesting time in the search biz. Ironically, just as we’re waiting for the 800 pound gorilla to be crowned, another interesting observation I made last week was for the established search players to be rushing towards the next big thing. Google is stumbling over itself to rush past search, moving a lot of its focus to display, video and every other channel under the sun. I’m not so sure it’s wise to turn the spotlight from search. My gut feeling is it’s finally search’s time to shine.

Anyway, more posts to come this week..finally!