The majority of people who work in search will tell you they fell into it by chance, but you'll do a lot of looking before you find someone with as random an entrance into the profession as Bryony Sanderson.
"You know, I've never met anyone who ever intended to be in search; I think most people end up there by a happy accident and I'm definitely the same," she reveals. It all came about when a former housemate who worked in marketing referred her to his contact at a search agency. "I turned up for what I thought was an interview and they handed me a contract and said, 'Come in on Monday.' I'd never heard of search but I turned up. A series of unexpected, unintended situations stuck together and yes — here I am!"
Specifically, the "here" she's referring to is the desk of Performance Activation Business Director at MEC, where she's had no fewer than six promotions in five years. What advice does she have for others who wouldn't mind repeating her scintillating success? "I just think enthusiasm is so critical," she replies. "It's okay if you don't know anything about search, it's also okay if you're not hugely numeric or if you don't think you're a technically minded person; if you have a lot of enthusiasm and proactivity it will go a long, long way. You have to have a kind of willingness to pick it up, learn from people who know better than you, try things out and not be afraid of failing. The joy of optimisation is you try it and you try it again before you get it right. My advice is, keep your chin up. Bravery will go a long way."
She also cites devotion to details as a common denominator driving success in the field. "Even if there's a diversity of the kinds of skills you need, it is still a data-led channel so you have to be able to pull out trends in numbers to be able to analyse things, and having that attention to detail helps you to do that. Clients have moved on a lot in how they perceive search; once upon a time it was seen as very much a backroom activity with lots of nerdy guys in t-shirts who'd be crunching numbers. But it's a very client-facing channel now. I think if you have really clear attention to detail, a senior client can see that all your recommendations are spotlessly accurate and there's a lot of confidence in what you're saying."
As for diverse skill sets, Bryony's is a perfect case in point. She studied Chinese and German at university, but her fluency in those languages rarely — if ever — enters her day-to-day work life. "I do come from a words background and I'm probably more of a verbal type person, but every day I get to use both sides of my brain — right brain and left brain — and that's what I think is really good. I'll spend a few hours doing data mining and spreadsheets, and then switch that up for a meeting immediately where I have to go in with a load of new clients to try and encourage them to change their website strategy. The large volume of variety I think is definitely something that I really enjoy and appreciate. It keeps things fresh and I don't know many other people who get a chance to switch between those kinds of skill sets so easily."
You have to wonder what might have happened if her former housemate had worked in nursing, or zookeeping, or theatre. In any event, it's probably safe to say that Bryony — not to mention her agency, clients and industry — might owe him a favour.