Fern Potter on the Search evolution: From afterthought to forefront

May 2015

It's 9am and Fern Potter has already had a busy day. First there was a 5am call concerning a client several time zones away, then an early-morning gym session. For many of us, this would be more than enough reason to head straight back to bed and wait it out till the weekend.

But for Fern, there's no place she'd rather be than MediaCom's London HQ, where she's Head of Search and Biddable for EMEA. "The team I'm with are absolutely incredible and I want to ensure that I drive their careers and develop them, get them to where they want to get and what they want to achieve. That's the main thing for me; it's a lot about the people that makes me come into work every day, that's my biggest focus."

If anyone can provide an illustration of how to craft an enviable career path, it's Fern. Having started as an IT project manager, she leapt into search by landing a job at what was the UK's leading specialist search agency at the time. "I was interested in the industry; I liked the accountability, the measurement. I got the opportunity to start working in search eight years ago, and it's kind of a love affair from there that's developed," she laughs.

Fern moved to Sydney to work first for Columbus, Australia's largest performance marketing business, and then for PHD Australia. It was when she moved back to the UK that she joined MediaCom. While she's now back on home turf, you get the feeling that the adventure hasn't stopped. She's now responsible for driving the agency's programmatic offering across their global client portfolio, which involves transitioning the skill set of the entire team to a more programmatic approach.

It is the incredible evolution of search itself that has seen the responsibilities of Fern and her team expand in this way. "It is quite nice because when I started at search it was a bit of the afterthought. If there was a bit of media budget left it would go to search," she remembers. "But search essentially is the first programmatic way of executing media, so we've got such a solid skill set which can bring into different formats and different ways of buying media now. It's really, really exciting that we're at the forefront of it, an exciting space to be in I think."

This increased appreciation for the unique skills and capabilities of search has exploded the opportunities for collaboration across channels. "I think that makes it really exciting because there's so many ideas that come out of what we do that's beyond just a keyword," Fern says. Meanwhile, search itself continues to become more and more interesting with every new product release. "When I started, there was one ad format. And now there are multiple ad formats with multiple extensions and so many options and levers to pull and strategies to create."

Keeping up with the technology is an integral part of Fern's job; keeping up with the agency's demand for talent is another. "The good thing about search is it is a skill that can be taught," she says, "and so when we're looking to recruit it's all about the softer skills, the enthusiasm. We look at hiring innovative people that really want to be part of a business as opposed to just being kind of operational."

Even if a new recruit doesn't know everything there is to know about the discipline, it helps if they're a keen user of search in real life — though anyone could be forgiven for not being quite so keen as Fern herself. "All of us use it as second nature every day. There's a link that came out and you can see your whole search history and we were looking at it for the day. It was lunchtime and I'd already done about 60 searches! It's ridiculous!"

Search insights to help you understand consumers: The U.K. saw rises in 'social care jobs' and 'step by step'