MEC's performance activation director Helen Hambly: Spellbound by Search

May 2015

Some people harbour an unhealthy fascination with Fantasy Football; others are fixated on Candy Crush. We've all got our own pixel-based addictions, but Helen Hambly seems even more reluctant about revealing hers than most. "This is where my inner geek comes out," she laughs. "My team find my love of search query reporting quite amusing. I'll still do a search query report from time to time — but not outside of nine to five!"

Helen's secret digital indulgence underlines her absolute suitability for her job as performance activation director at MEC, the agency where she's worked for five years. "After I left university I went into the charity sector, and I ended up helping out with marketing strategy. I wanted to research new ways to reach the charity's intended audience versus the traditional media they used. All of their budget was going on yo-yos and balloons! That's when I discovered PPC, and in a geeky kind of way I became captivated by it."

She started her media career at i-Level before jumping at the chance to join MEC. "In hindsight, it's probably the best decision I've ever made. I went from a specialist digital agency to a full-service agency, so I had the opportunity to be involved in shaping the search team," she says. Her years there have conveniently coincided with the channel's incredible recent trajectory. "I'm fascinated by how search has become an integral part of people's everyday life. We're very fortunate that we work in an industry where we're able to get so much valuable insight."

For anyone else who finds they're spellbound by search — and dubious about the marketing performance capabilities of yo-yos — Helen has a few words of advice. "You need to be analytical, but you also need to be enthusiastic. There are so many new opportunities for reaching our target audience, so you've got to be willing to constantly trial and test new things," she explains. "Also I would say you need to be a nice person, because more and more search is becoming central to clients' media plans. You have to communicate with people across agencies and across teams. Gone are the days of people wearing Jurassic Park t-shirts, sitting at their computers and just not communicating or collaborating. You need good people skills. The client wants to see the search team, get the detail and get the insight."

The intrinsic dynamism in this area seems to be a huge part of the appeal. "There's a quote, 'The pace of change will never be as slow as it is today.' That's exciting, but at the same time — incredibly scary!" she exclaims. "Compared to other industries, this industry is relatively new so there are so many more opportunities available to you. Whilst in the past it's maybe not had an image as one of the fun media channels, I think we're in a really exciting time for search. As long as you're enthusiastic and pushing your clients to try new things, you'll be successful and you'll enjoy it."

When asked to talk about her predictions for upcoming trends, Helen reveals she can't wait for new advancements in the measurement of in-store footfall driven by search. "The thing I'm incredibly excited about at the moment is testing betas around ROPO — research online, purchase offline." But she acknowledges that in this thriving space, you can never be sure of what's coming next.

As consumer decision-making gets more complex, automation helps to simplify