Ad buyers are struggling to find Amazon advertising talent

Agencies and brands are finding it harder to find people who know how to run ad campaigns on Amazon.

More agencies are reporting that while there are plenty of people who have some experience on Amazon advertising, there are fewer who actually understand the intricacies of what it means to work with the world’s largest online retail site.

There are plenty of executives who have knowledge of the search and programmatic sides of Amazon’s ads as part of a wider role, according to executives interviewed for this article. Few of those roles, however, are solely dedicated to the platform in the way some of those agencies employ people who specialize in social strategy on Facebook or performance optimization on Google.

And much like how those platforms first rose to prominence, the rapid growth of Amazon’s ad business over the last 18 months has left agencies and advertisers scrambling to keep up.

“There’s so few experts available that during the interviews we do there’s not much in common between the different candidates,” said Alistair Dent, managing director at iCrossing U.K.

PepsiCo is on the hunt for people who understand Amazon and think strategically about advertising and selling on the site, said Charlie Crideford, digital marketing lead for West Europe at PepsiCo. It’s similar to the sort of talent WPP, Publics and Havas have tried to hire this year to manage the flow of ad budget to the marketplace.

That knowledge is as critical to advertisers like PepsiCo moving more ad spend from in-store promotions to online marketplaces, as it is priceless to agencies searching for new ways to make money in a commoditized market. And it leaves both advertisers and agencies fighting over the same shallow talent pool.

“It’s equally challenging to find a senior Amazon expert or a junior,” said said Yulia Livne, e-commerce director at Mindshare U.K. “It’s possible to train a junior in a few months to become an expert in execution for Amazon, while a more senior amazon specialist must have experience in both e-commerce and media, and ideally in consulting — and this is a combination that is not easy to find.”

At Havas Group Media, there are three executives in its performance team whom the agency considers “experts” on Amazon’s ad business, said chief performance officer Matt Dailey. Those experts had some experience running campaigns on Amazon prior to joining Havas in 2018, said Dailey, who explained that their understanding of biddable media helped them grasp the nuances of the platform relatively quickly.

But most sessions on Amazon are happening close to the point of purchase. Because of this, there’s a need for ad buyers who treat it like a marketplace first and a place for biddable media second. It’s hard to find executives who not only can buy display and search ads, but can also optimize product pages, which are effectively Amazon’s version of SEO, and know how to serve ads to people so close to making a purchase. It takes a very specific person to meet and act on that.

“If we win another account that’s a heavy user of the Amazon platform, then we may look to recruit otherwise, we may bring in more paid search specialists who we can train up,” said Dailey. “That would mean we don’t get tied into going after this tiny group of people externally.”

It’s a similar story at performance agency iCrossing, which employs nine people it believes have specialist knowledge of Amazon’s ads. Rather than hire Amazon experts, the agency has trained its executives to become experts over the last three years.

“We’ve all seen what Amazon can do to an industry, and now they have advertising in their sights, no agency or client wants to be the one who missed it,” said Dent. “Everyone can list several traditional agencies that were too late to jump on the board the AdWords bandwagon.”

The challenges are slightly different at Marketplace Ignition, the Amazon-focused consultancy WPP’s Possible acquired last year. Despite having a business dedicated to running campaigns on the marketplace, it has found account directors to manage them the hardest to come by.

“What is critical though is finding the right mix … to ensure the client always feels confident in the team behind them,” said Eric Heller, CEO at Marketplace Ignition. “I know our internal team is eminently qualified with deep experience backing it up but, ensuring the person who is on every client call understands and can communicate all the work done and secure approvals for needed changes is one of the toughest hires.”

So far, most of the consultancy’s hires have come from its network, while the business has also benefited from being based in Amazon’s heartland of Seattle as well as its offices in New York and London.

Rather than attempt to find someone who can balance the paid, SEO and retail skills needed to oversee Amazon budgets, Roast has taken a different approach. The agency runs its Amazon team as a virtual team that sits across multiple departments so that it can pull on certain expertise when needed.

“Trying to find one new hire who can do all of these will be both difficult and potentially disruptive to existing structures,” said John Barham, head of paid media at Roast. “However as the importance of Amazon — and, the scale of client budgets going into the platform — continues to increase, it is likely that dedicated teams will soon become a necessity to stay ahead of the competition.”

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