Last week, my buddy John Doherty posed a great follow-up question to my post on how diplomacy often trumps technical ability. Simply put, he asked me how I go about building a foundation for said diplomacy when I begin work with a new brand. Fortunately for me, I recently started working with HSN, so the memory is fresh in my mind.
Step 1 actually begins before you agree to work with a company (and this is true regardless of whether you’re looking at an in-house position or an agency/freelance client). I spent well over a month evaluating HSN to figure out if it truly had the type of culture that would facilitate the various facets of both SEO and paid search (I manage both sides of the search coin for them). Only after I spoke with enough internal stakeholders and read up on their recent history and executive leadership did I finally decide to take the plunge. And four months in, it seems to me that my skeptical and measured approach to evaluating the company has definitely been rewarded. It’s been a fantastic work experience!
Step 2 is all about making connections. I spent about 50-75% of the first month of employment reaching out to stakeholders and setting up intro meetings, lunches, etc. Since HSN is an online retailer we have a ton of merchandising stakeholders, each of which required individual attention. And there’s also the PR team, the social team, the analytics team, the dev team, the executive team (both on the digital side of the business and the traditional TV network side). Oh, and let’s not forget about finance, accounting, legal, tax compliance. And how could I forget the various existing agencies, and our Google reps, and, well, you get the picture. Like an old buddy of mine used to say, it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you.
Step 3 is about asking the right questions and getting the right data. Interestingly, these two things are sometimes one and the same. One of the first things I did (and always tried to do when I was on the agency side) is request access to our analytics data. If/when we didn’t have certain data segments that might be useful, I started to inquire about what it would take to get them.
I also spent a lot of time asking my analysts and other cross-functional colleagues about the lay of the land. What was my predecessor like? Why did he leave? Who’s into SEO. Who’s doesn’t have a clue or a care about it? What do the executives like? What do they not like? Who really calls the shots? What pitfalls should I avoid to stay out of hot water? How much appetite for risk is there? Frankly, this is an ongoing initiative, and I’m constantly learning new things about the history of the company, the future plans of key stakeholders, and for that matter, about other key stakeholders I didn’t even know existed (HSN is a pretty big organization).
Step 4 is well, the technical stuff. What’s really wrong with the site? What does the content and link landscape look like? Is there a major site redesign or migration on the horizon? I didn’t get into this aspect of my job in earnest until well after a month of being at the company. Why? Because the way I figure, I’ve got plenty of time to crystallize my viewpoint on what needs to be fixed and what the short and long-term opportunities are.
But I only get one shot to make a remarkable first impression with the myriad of colleagues that will ultimately ensure that my search program is a smashing success.
I hope this helps, and if you have any follow-up questions, please don’t hesitate to share them via the comment section below.