Head of PPC Gemma Howley: People are central to Search

May 2015

In the world of media, there are many who work on teams; then there are true team players; and then there are people like Gemma Howley, whose abilities take teamwork to another level altogether.

Gemma started working in search when she came to London in 2006, and the diversity of the city and the industry instantly captivated her. "I come from Leeds, she says. "I'd seen nothing but Leeds. I was a Yorkshire girl, so being thrust into a room full of people from all over the United Kingdom and beyond — you know, it was the first time I realised that I had an accent! All of a sudden, I was with all these people who speak differently and who think differently and have different experiences."

After two years at a digital-only agency, she moved to Manning Gottlieb OMD, attracted both by the clients and the integrated structure. "The prospect of working on the Virgin Media account was incredibly exciting for me. It seemed like a big girl's job!" she laughs. "Also working with all the other channels — TV, press, radio — was really compelling."

Last year she became the youngest head of department at the agency, suggesting that she's in exactly the right place. "I'm a PPC fan girl!" she jokes. "It's just how incredibly accountable PPC is. We get the brief, we plan it, we manage it, we implement it, we optimise it, we report on it, we do the analysis on it."

She relishes the level of measurability the channel allows. "It's also scary sometimes because all eyes are on you; there's no hiding anything. But you can see something through from start to finish, and you can see it grow. If anything's not going right you can make an action immediately and try and change the course of things. Equally if something's going well you can amplify that further. It's just the amount of control you can have — that's the real seductive thing about it."

Speaking of the seductiveness of search, what innovations have got her excited? "Audience-led search for me," she answers. "That's where we're heading and where all the developments are. Ultimately what we do is the same; we want to serve a relevant ad to someone, we want them to find relevant content, we want to answer their questions. But just how we do that is becoming so much more interesting. Search used to be: here's a list of keywords that we think people might search for and here's an ad that they might find interesting. But now we know potentially what a person is interested in, what products they've looked at, what searches they've made before, what devices they've come in on before, how long they've spent on our site. And we can tailor our approach differently depending on all those things."

The area is moving so quickly that finding talent is a big issue. "My tips for people who have just started working in search would be to read, learn, listen, be curious — because there is so much going on. In an agency setting, get involved with all other channels. Search, display, social — they're all working so much closer now than ever. There's so much we can learn and so much we can teach other channels. PPC isn't just doing PPC anymore; it's so much more than that."

In this, her predilection for collaboration stands her in good stead. "I think the best work that we do is integrated with the wider agency. You can only do that if you get involved with other people," she says. "We can do good work in isolation but we can do great work when we work with everybody else."

12,000 shoppers showed us how to supercharge Search ads