Olga Nelyudova's profile photo shows a grinning runner breezing through the Barcelona Triathlon, while the personal statement found on her company's website reveals her first job was working in a pioneer camp in Russia. Clearly this is a person who isn't afraid of steep challenges — which no doubt is how she came to take on the role of head of search at Mindshare, one of the largest agencies in the UK.
Olga leads a search team of more than 30 people with calm authority in the face of constant change and upheaval. And from the sound of things, she wouldn't have it any other way. "Search is always growing and innovating. If you look at the recession — when in general there wasn't much year-on-year growth — we didn't experience any slowdown at all." Glancing to the future, the pace seems set to continue; she's now in charge of the integration of paid social into her department, which will result in one of the biggest biddable teams in the country.
"What I have always loved about search is that pretty much anything you do is measurable. None of it is fluffy guessing. Everything — any idea — can be proved with numbers," she says. Is the reason this appeals because she's a maths person or a science person? "I think it's because I'm a realistic person!" she laughs. "All of the clients and companies we work for want to see numbers. But definitely I do have quite an analytical, structured mind."
It appears that Mindshare is the perfect place for such a mind as Olga's to flourish. "The feel of the company and the values in general are very healthy," she affirms. "It feels almost like an independent company with the buying power of a big group — that definitely is very appealing. The mix of clients _ brand clients, direct-response clients — and the complexity of some of the clients makes it very appealing, too."
What's more, the agency fosters a setting where the central importance of search is undisputed. "I don't think we have long to go before search is at the heart of planning," Olga explains. "From the Mindshare point of view, that's where we're trying to get to. We know that search is massive and we know that we have so much data, so how can we put this data at the heart of the planning process?"
It's a hugely exciting time, with the scope of search marketing's influence visibly expanding. "There's been an overall shift in the mentality; everyone's started thinking bigger than just keywords," she explains. "Marketing is definitely moving to focus on audiences." At the core of this shift of course is data and emerging opportunities to use audience signals to guide strategy. "It's always been about data in search," Olga explains, "but now actually it's about having enough data to position search as almost the first place to go when we start thinking about the general campaign, and being able to interpret the data so it's relevant and understandable for clients."
Finding new ways to access, organise and use data gets Olga excited. In particular she's enthusiastic about the opportunities of Universal Analytics. "Devices and channels develop much quicker than people can find a solution for seeing the whole journey, but with Universal Analytics I think we're getting very close to understanding the actual whole picture."
Her passion for search suggests she's not too sad to have left the job at the pioneer camp behind, and she's keen to encourage others to enter the field. When asked what keeps her awake at night, her answer comes instantly: "People! The channel has grown much bigger than the supply of talent. There are so many brilliant ideas and things we can do, but from an operational point of view, finding the right people is quite a challenge. Search is definitely the place to be though. If there is any industry where you can be challenged and constantly learning things, and at the same time never be left without a job, this is it!"