Rob Crigler is the Director of Interactive Marketing for Orkin (NYSE: ROL), overseeing online media, DRTV, web dev, Internet yellow pages, SEO, and SEM. Rob has over 20 years of marketing experience, and he has been working in the interactive space for so long that he can actually remember days of the Internet long before the domination of search by the “Do No Evil” empire. He is currently focused on connecting the dots between the impact of offline advertising (for example, TV advertising’s influence on search) and online to help optimize all marketing efficiency. Rob formerly served as Director of Search Engine Optimization for Avenue A | Razorfish, and he has been quoted numerous times in publications including The Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, DMNews, and Target Marketing Magazine.
Below, Rob offers insight into running multiple agencies and integrating all of the programs to maximize the impact across all of your marketing efforts, what search really means to the future of marketing, and of course where to consume the best and most meat in Atlanta (Rob is blessed with genetically great cholesterol).
How did you get your start as a search marketer?
I was working at a small engineering marketing firm which was a very eclectic group of mega-nerds. So that you can better understand the environment, the guy I worked with the most was an EE from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and his favorite joke was that his college roommate dropped out of RHIT to go to MIT.
I worked on brand and positioning strategies from everything from semi-conductors to satellites. Due to the highly technical nature of the things that we worked on, our company got plugged into Internet projects right away. The things we tackled were mainly mainframe enablement, which was simply allowing enterprise systems to be accessed via a web browser. It turned out that this was not so simple. The technology was rather tricky as the big hardware world is a state environment and a browser is stateless. You just can’t randomly jump around in a mainframe application like you can in a web browser.
I really began so see the power of the Internet when we worked on ecommerce applications. On the B2B side, pricing was often individually negotiated rate which varied not only by customer, but by product line as well. The only way the customer could see what price they would really pay was to connect their order to the pricing systems in the legacy hardware. When customers had access to their true negotiated pricing plans instead of just seeing list price, online sales exploded.
What was missing was a way to access all of this newly web-enabled information, and I was put in charge of the task group to figure out how to best leverage search technology using things like ht-//Dig and Alta Vista which are now long-gone memories. I quickly realized the power that the search engines held. Having the best solution or product in the world does not mean a thing unless people can find you, and search gives you an opportunity to strategically shape your message all along the continuum of consideration.
For the first time, you could really see mass consumer behavior all the way from early consideration to purchase. It was a Rubik’s Cube moment for me. All of the marketing dots lined up, and I knew the more I learned about search, the more I could change the dynamics of how an organization’s marketing program would perform. I started telling anyone that would listen that search was going to change the world, and they of course looked at me like I was crazy.
SEM wasn’t really a consideration when I started, so I focused on search engine optimization. I plugged in hard and began consuming everything I could about how search engines worked. I gained a reputation for being able to make things “magically” appear at the top of the search engines. I eventually ended up leading the SEO practice for Avenue A | Razorfish, where exposure to clients in finance, pharma, consumer packaged goods, telecom, entertainment, travel, and consumer services was an ideal testing ground to understand the true drivers of business in many different industries.
Along the way, SEM grew up, and I had to explore how the pieces of search, both organic and paid, fit into the overall marketing strategy. While everyone today seems focused on the return on investment of search (which, of course, is still tremendous when done right), I think the most important part of search is the utility and application of the data to efficacy of all marketing programs online as well as offline.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Moving Orkin forward on the interactive side has been my biggest challenge, and as far as I am concerned Orkin has the three toughest challenges in marketing. First, we are big company, and moving massive companies is always like steering a battleship. We are not exactly agile. Second, we are over 100 years old, and our systems and infrastructure have evolved over time. Technology has been assimilated through the years, and not all pieces play together the way a company founded in the last decade would. Of course, a long-lived company that is as successful as Orkin also has had the opportunity to get used to doing things a certain way, and as you can imagine that way is not based around the Internet. Throw into the mix the fact that you have multiple agencies (PR, media, brand, interactive, yellow pages, etc) and things get complicated quickly. You have to be relentless or things can get stalled out. And third, we are geographically diverse, with a footprint that has hundreds of service locations covering United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Asia, you naturally have communication issues and marketing issues that vary greatly with the locale.
Ultimately, someone has to be minding the big picture else you wind up competing against yourself, and everyone and their agency will be running off doing different things. If you don’t have someone responsible and accountable for turning all of the online dials and clearly setting the direct for your online strategy as well as making sure your strategy lines up with all of the other marketing programs that are being executed, your online strategy will fail.
What has been your biggest success?
Interestingly enough, Orkin has been my biggest success. I have had the luxury to execute my strategy with unwavering support from the CMO and President of the company. Some early wins created the clout I needed to build out what is one of the best teams in interactive marketing which today help me to deliver results that are truly astounding. When you have the opportunity to turn all the dials, SEM, SEO, online media, and offline DRTV in unison, the positive effects are simply magnified. Even the inertia of a 100+ year old company cannot slow the power of the Internet.
Please list three things companies should be aware of when embarking on a search optimization plan.
1. IT won’t understand why little things you want to do make a huge difference. Fight the battle diligently. Never give in. There are vast sums of money at stake, and when you execute at a level beyond the competition that got stymied by their IT department, you will get more than your fair share.
2. The best brand experience your company will ever have is putting it squarely in front of consumers that are actively engaged in searching for your product or service. Make sure it happens every time anyone searches.
3. Sweat the details and don’t take shortcuts. Make sure you have clear objectives for every page and understand how it fits in the conversion funnel for every product or service, and then aggressively execute.
How do you see the future of careers in search evolving?
The near-term change is that search marketing is going to get a seat at the big executive table. The results and value proposition that search marketing represents are too great to ignore. In the next 10 years or so, I think you will see search marketers begin to occupy the top marketing jobs traditionally held by the “gee, doesn’t that ad campaign strike you with full force” brand marketing types. The reason is simple – accountability. The information we consume and use to make decisions on a daily basis as search marketers is a much truer representation of what really happens in the consumer world than any tracking study or brand saliency study. Observing what really happens when millions of consumers leave a real-time trail of clicks is far better and far more actionable than calling up a few hundred people and asking what they say they are going to do. Want to know how well your’ brand is doing against your competitors’ brands? Want to know how consumers are responding to a new product, service, or offering? Want to know the most important attributes a consumer considers before handing over their money? All those data points are available in search, and they are just sitting there waiting to be used not only for your online campaigns, but for your entire marketing program to cash in on as well.
Any advice for those looking to build their careers?
Give back. The search community is small, and many of the leaders in the industry today learned by sharing their wins and losses in the search school of hard knocks with the community. Find an organization like SEMPO and volunteer Answer questions on forums. Blog and share your knowledge. Search is a karma driven space. Help when you can, and someone will always be there to help you when you need it.
And, on the lighter side… What’s your favorite city and why?
Even though I grew up in Amish country, I am a big fan of the west coast. It just takes longer to get there riding in a horse-drawn buggy. Hermosa Beach always gives me a great vibe when I am there. It is just a laid-back community that resonates with my inner beach bum, surfer spirit. Atlanta, on the other hand, where I currently live (actually, I live north of the city in Duluth – home of that kooky run-away bride woman who faked her own abduction) is not high on my favorite cities list. However, once you get over the whole I-will-fake-my-own-abduction-to-avoid-getting-married thing, Duluth is a very nice community.
Do you know of any outstanding restaurants you could share with readers?
As my son says, “Daddy likes meat.” And, if you are a carnivore and happen to be in Atlanta, you cannot go wrong at Fogo de Chao (http://www.fogodechao.com). It is just a stones-throw from the home office, the meat is great, and it just keeps coming until your cholesterol reaches 400 or you explode. There really is nothing else quite like it.
If someone were to offer to buy you a drink, what should it be?
Grand Mariner is a good nightcap for me, but I have been known to drink the occasional vodka and tonic or a good cabernet will also hit the spot.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would love to be a TV talk show host, but I am afraid I have a face for radio. I just think it would a lot of fun to meet a bunch of kooky people and ask them kooky questions and get paid kooky bucks to do it. But hey, if Conan can do it, maybe I have a shot?
What profession would you not like to do?
Phonebook delivery man – I just don’t see a future in it. I am banking heavily on this Internet thing taking off.
What are you reading right now?
I have books strewn all over my house. Currently, I am reading “Up Your Business,” by Dave Anderson and John Maxwell, which is just a no-nonsense guide to getting things done and holding yourself and your people accountable. This was my wife’s recommendation (thanks Amanda), and while I must say the title was not exactly a grabber for me, the book has been a page burner. Very interesting and applicable content for challenges faced in any large organization. Great practice advice to up your game with respect to hiring, managing, or simply executing. Don’t let the title fool you. There are more than a few gems in this book.
Thanks very much, Rob.
Duane Forrester is an in-house SEM with Microsoft, sits on the Board of Directors with SEMPO, can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites and is the author of How To Make Money With Your Blog. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.