Rachel Schnorr is the vice president of the Merkle SEM team of paid search shopping and data feed professionals. She has 10 years of experience overseeing digital programs for Fortune 500 and IR top 500 companies all around the world.


In This Episode

Rachel Schnorr, vice president of SEM at Merkle, a global performance marketing agency, delves into the psyche of turning into a leader of a team and reflects on how her company keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive even with 5,000 employees.

Topic Timeline:

1:47 The Challenges and Impact of the Platform Providers

A little bit of granular optimization, a dash of right tactics, and a smidge of people-based marketing.

3:29 Persona-Based Marketing vs. People-Based Marketing

It’s more than just an evolution or a name change.

7:11 Key Metrics

Some of the biggest metrics include lead generation, sales and brand awareness.

9:04 Facebook Challenges

Everyone has to follow the same rules and stay vigilant so that ad accounts don’t get shut down.

11:01 Becoming a Leader

Becoming a leader involves learning how to motivate and engage those around you.

12:32 Work Hard
Be diligent, stick through harder projects, and opportunity will follow.

14:06 Good Communication
A student of others, Rachel continues to build relationships to create clear communication within her business.

15:05 Impacting Others
Allowing others to grow personally and professionally is where Rachel makes an impact.

16:05 Scale, Efficiency, Innovation
Even in a Fortune 500 company, the entrepreneurial spirit lives on.

Understanding how to motivate and engage and lead others when they’re different from you, that’s definitely been one of my biggest growth areas.

– Rachel Schnorr

Show Transcript:

LR: Welcome to Modern Ontrapreneur. Today, we have Rachel Schnorr, who is the vice president of the Merkle SEM core team of paid search shopping and data feed professionals. She’s got 10 years of experience overseeing digital programs for Fortune 500 and IR top 500 companies all around the world. Thank you so much for being here.. Today, we have Rachel Schnorr, who is the vice president of the Merkle SEM core team of paid search shopping and data feed professionals. She’s got 10 years of experience overseeing digital programs for Fortune 500 and IR top 500 companies all around the world. Thank you so much for being here.

RS: Thanks for having me.

LR: Yeah. So, tell us what I just said. What does that mean exactly?

RS: So yeah, currently I’m serving as vice president of SEM for Merkel’s media agency arm.

LR: And Merkle is?

RS: Merkle is a global performance marketing company, so we have about 5,000 employees globally. We’re now a part of the Dentsu Aegis Network, and we are two main arms of our business, so we have a media agency side where we do full service media, campaign management, and then we have a database and technology and marketing enablement side of the business.

LR: You’re a giant advertising agency that works for giant companies, and you run the entire search engine marketing part of that business.

RS: Yeah. In particular, what my role is now ‒ for the past four years I’ve been in this role ‒ is focusing on leading and engaging our team. Certainly, it’s overseeing client delivery and success at a high level. A lot of it is kind of managing and engaging our team, the resource management component, what’s changing in the industry that we need to be focused on, how are we sharing and constantly learning and innovating together.

LR: Yeah. So most of us are in the trenches, click, click clicking on Facebook ad platforms, and trying to figure out how to set up Google Analytics, right? It sounds like you have gotten yourself in a position in your career where those people probably work for you, and so I’m curious what it looks like from your perspective, where this industry’s going and what are the challenges that the providers, the platforms we are facing and how are they going to solve those challenges. What is the impact that’s gonna have on the people like us who click into these platforms day to day.

RS: I should note that I started as a baby analysts clicking into those platforms day to day.

LR: You mean you weren’t born as a VP?

RS: So absolutely, you can never move past the importance of getting the tactics right. So, it’s not gonna be as fun or sexy to talk about. The granule optimization needs to happen every day. In particular, some of the areas where we’ve been challenging ourselves to focus on taking our practice forward, is around the area of people-based marketing, if you’re familiar with that term. So how are we, in addition to optimizing for keywords or ad copy or landing pages or AB testing, in particular, how are we challenging ourselves to really understand our audiences, our clients’ audiences and create messaging that is specific and unique to those individuals, and truly try to leverage the increases in technology that Google provides and other platforms provide to get a much more individual and customized people-based approach to marketing. We try to do that in SEM and then in many of our other channels as well.

LR: It sounds like an evolution, hopefully more than just in terms of terminology, from persona-based marketing, right? That’s what we were talking about a minute ago. So what’s the difference?

RS: So, this is more based on individual customer data that companies have. So leveraging, how do you leverage your customer list and funnel that into your various marketing channels to help you make smarter decisions and, wherever possible, actually market to those individuals when you see them in market. So, persona is having a decent understanding of your average customer sets and creating major buckets. And this is working off of that, but wherever possible, “Hey, I have some identifiers that tell me I know this person, so I’m going to make that even more specific choice. I know what’s most relevant to them and I’m going to put that ad or that keyword or that creative in front of them as a result.”

LR: And what sort of data are you collecting and basing those sorts of decisions on?

RS: Well, obviously, Google Adwords being the providers, Google Analytics provide a lot of data. They provide the ability to understand demographics and target based on audiences. But then it’s also working off of the client’s email list or customer data as well to activate. So it’s the combination of those two things.

LR: Can you give me a full on, on the street example of a campaign that you’ve taken from a closer to one size fits all or larger buckets to something where you’re literally targeting per tiny little buckets of few people.

RS: So, several years ago I would say where we were was, you had your account for an advertiser, and you had campaigns focused on different keywords or different segments of your business. Those things are still there, and then increasingly in the past few years, Google and Bing, and other platforms, have allowed the ability to target based on demographics, or you had the ability to tag someone who had been to your site. And so that gives you a better layer of information. And then I would say where we are now, or where we’re continuing to try to go now, the true people based is uploading a list of customers who have, say, in the retail example, who have purchased from you and they’ve purchased from particular categories that you know drive really strong lifetime value. So, there’ll be repeat customers. One, you can bid more aggressively. You want to be more present when Google alerts you that these customers are in market, and then two, how do you tailor the ad copy or whatever messaging it is, and the landing page experience, to those individuals? In particular, if they’re out there searching on terms that are still relevant to your business, and they would have the opportunity to purchase from a competitor, you want to obviously be as present and visible in multiple channels as you can.

LR: It’s an interesting conversation because I’ll admit, I thought that having a Fortune 500 advertiser in here, you’d have a very different world than the one that we experience on a day to day basis, but it actually sounds awfully familiar. How do you make that decision about how specific and targeted to get?

RS: One, it still has to be scalable. If you slice and dice it too much, it gets unmanageable, and then two, the data that you have is not significant enough to make good decisions off of. You have to always keep those things in mind. We want to get as targeted as possible, but then you don’t want to chop things up too small. Ways that we’ve tried to find the balance is we work with our clients to say, “What are your top one or two most important goals or most important customer segments, and let’s really focus on how we can do our best job of marketing to those individuals and accomplishing whatever goal you have.” We’re not going to do this with 15 different segments.

LR: So your customers, your clients, what are the key metrics they’re looking for in terms of success out of you?

RS: Whether it’s retail or lead gen, we have clients that are very focused on a KPIs, kind of more immediate, whether it’s sales driven conversions, clicks, leads. Then we have clients on the other end of the scale that are a bit more branding-focused and awareness-focused, so they’re concerned about traffic volume, about things like impression share, share a voice.

LR: And even in search engine marketing, which is your wing of the business, there’s folks that are spending money on branding in there.

RS: There’s a little bit of branding as well as direct response in, I would say, every account, but there are definitely accounts that skew more towards the awareness and branding and then more that really skew towards the direct response, and I would say, in particular, the mobile channel is the one that gives everyone the most challenge, because mobile is becoming a device that we now purchase from more and more, because it’s a part of our everyday life. But mobile is not a purchase first channel, like someone’s searching for something on a desktop is, it’s a research channel. Connecting those dots continues to be a challenge for everyone, and it’s true connecting the dots across channels as well. So I think that’s a big challenge that we’re facing as things continue to get more fragmented, either by device or just by channels. The fact that we use so many devices means that our experience with brands is so all over the place.

LR: Yeah. And so you’re looking at the data things like cost per click, cost per acquisition, stuff like that on a what, daily basis?

RS: Yeah, absolutely, inter-day. Yeah.

LR: Or even inter-day.

RS: Yeah. ROIs is an important one for our clients who measure sales and revenue driven through the channel. So it depends. Yeah, if you have a campaign that’s really important to you or during seasonality, we’re looking at it multiple times a day for sure.

LR: Multiple times a day, yeah, for retailers especially. So just out of curiosity, one of the challenges that our customers tend to have with some of these platforms without naming names, Facebook, is just getting our freaking ads approved and not having our stuff randomly shut down for who knows what sort of violations and it’s not like we’re even doing anything wrong. Then turned right back on again, and it just feels like some of these platforms are so young that they’re having a hard time managing the situation. I’m just curious, do you experience that or do you guys call Mark?

RS: No, no, we still have to go through most of the same hoops. I mean, we do have great teams of representatives from Google, Yahoo, from the engines, but we just, I think it takes vigilance and we fight the same type of disapprovals anybody else would. I’m more so in the paid search space and less than the media space, so I don’t want to comment on something incorrectly about like Facebook ad disapprovals, but we certainly deal with that, especially in the protected fields on Adwords, whether it’s medical supplies or weapons or alcohol, things that Google regulates. So we’re always having to work around, or just ads being disapproved because they think there’s a term flagged in there that isn’t actually what the ad’s about.

LR: It’s a valuable perspective just because I think that many small entrepreneurs think that life gets completely different when you get bigger. Obviously, you have a budget and you have people that are calling you back from Google and stuff like that. But you’re still battling the entire world, just like the rest of.

RS: I wouldn’t say it’s all that different. I mean, there’s still different financial constraints on a large company than a small one. So, I think, at the end of the day, our lives are probably a lot more similar than you might think.

LR: Than they are different. Yeah. As we already discussed, you weren’t born a vice president of a Fortune 500 company, so you got there somehow. What piece of advice would you have given your younger self as you were kicking off your post college life that would have made that a smoother experience?

RS: I think it took me probably longer than it should have to realize the difference between how I’m wired as a person, how I communicate, how I work, how I see things, how my brain works and how others are. There was, at some point, a light bulb moment where I realized the way that I do things was not always the way everyone else does. It’s obviously a very basic concept. I went through some pain managing people or trying to lead teams, where you try to apply an approach that makes sense to you. It doesn’t land well in the other person. I mean, it may sound cliche, but for me, a lot of the personality or work style tests have been really helpful for me, for example, like the DISC profile. Just something as simple as that helped me to start to think in terms of that, “Well, I’m sort of coming at things from this direction because these are the types of things that are important to me, and here’s why this other person on my team is responding totally different.” And so understanding how to motivate and engage and lead others when they’re different from you, that’s definitely been one of my biggest growth areas. I’ve just realized more and more how important that concept is.

LR: And so what do you think your unique skill set is that has had you be so successful at such a young age?

RS: So when I started my career, I was in a startup, it was called RKG, it was an SEM boutique agency. We were about 20 people when I started, and I just continued to work hard by myself. Being a part of a growing company in a fast growing field, there were opportunities for growth, and so just doing that positioned me well, and being willing to take on new challenges. I think that’s been a huge part. I think you just can’t underestimate the importance of just being diligent and willing to stick through some hard things. That’s something that I do feel like I see more often in, I mean I’m not that old, but in the younger generation, even just in the past few years, there’s a different willingness to sort of stick something out or to be on a project you don’t like. I think just managing your own expectations and having a longer term view is important. For me there were several times I didn’t know what was around the corner and several times I’ve wanted to give up, many times, and just being willing to stick through that and apply yourself. It’s important to truly see people and get to know people. For me, my team is one of the most important parts, and it’s really why I do what I do, and so I think just taking the time to really get to know people, and the personal aspect of the work that we do can’t be removed from it. I think that’s what makes it meaningful, and that’s what helps you learn more about yourself and learn more about others and connect well. Clients are still people at the end of the day. You’re still having a human to human relationship there.

LR: Yeah. So it sounds like you’re largely, at this point, focused on leadership and client management.

RS: Yep.

LR: What do you feel like your kind of personal cutting edge is? What are you learning right now? What is your next challenge?

RS: Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about just good communication, so it’s fascinating. I think I’m always trying to be a student of others. I just soak up, I’m always observing whatever’s around me. What story am I telling about the work that either I’m doing or that our team is collectively doing, and how am I inspiring others through that, and just really cleanly communicating what we’re all working towards together. Communication is an area where I am continuing to challenge myself to grow, just building relationships with others and I think that’s important as I’ve become a part of a large company that has many different areas that I was not familiar with before. So, I’m constantly building new relationships or do you need to get buy in from this person over here that I don’t have a relationship with. So communication is really important.

LR: Can you imagine what you would like your legacy to be? You know, 20, 30 years from now when you look back on what you’ve accomplished with this part of your life? What would you like for people to be thinking about you?

RS: Ultimately, I’d like to just be remembered as someone who always tried to do their best, was kind, gave others opportunity. That’s one of the things that I’m most excited about is when I have the opportunity to help others do and be better than they thought they could, because that’s what others have done for me. It’s so easy to kind of be buried under your task list, pressures from clients, people, whatever. So, allowing someone to grow professionally and personally and being able to be a part of that in any small way is something that’s really meaningful and I’m honored to get the chance to do that. I would just hope that, wherever possible, I would continue to take those steps to do that with whomever I come across.

LR: Yeah. It’s hard to characterize a 5,000 person company as an entrepreneurial venture, but I think that probably even in companies that large, that spirit has got to exist or you become irrelevant quickly. Yeah. What do you feel like it means to be an entrepreneur today?

RS: The scale and efficiency have to go along with innovation for anything to be sustainable. If you have an awesome idea but it’s a super customized one and it’s not going to be easy or financially possible to repeat it, then that’s going to be really difficult. And what gets me really excited is thinking about, just even as I take a step back and look globally, I just think there’s a lot of optimism, and you think about the technology that’s now available to address human problems across the world that we haven’t had before. A modern entrepreneur is someone who identifies a way to solve problems that are really meaningful. And I think people will really get behind that and be really inspired by that. So, if you have something that is scalable and repeatable, and has some sort of efficiency to it, and then it’s working for a good purpose, for the common good of society or your company or whatever, I think that’s a recipe for a really strong idea to continue to go forward.

LR: Beautiful. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk.

RS: Thank you.

LR: I really appreciate it. Would you sign our wall?

RS: Sure. Of course.

LR: Appreciate it. Thank you.


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About Ben Cogburn
As Ontraport’s Traffic Manager, Ben Cogburn spends most of his time in our parking lot. Just kidding, he’s our resident digital advertising guru. As a geology enthusiast, Ben graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Environmental Studies. So to say that he likes rocks is an understatement. You can find Ben hanging out with his rock collection, playing video games or hunting down new figurines to add to the impressive display he has on his desk.