Engage Preview: Wil Reynolds and the Power of Data

If you’ve ever attended Portland’s Engage Conference (formerly Searchfest), you’ve probably seen Wil Reynolds speak. He’s a long-term Engage presenter, as well as the founder and director of strategy for Seer Interactive in Philadelphia.

With Engage right around the corner, PR Talk host Amy Rosenberg talked with Wil for a preview of his upcoming presentation and for a discussion about how data will change marketing forever. If you haven’t purchased your Engage tickets yet, there’s time. During the conference, you’ll join the area’s search and marketing all-stars for two full days of learning at Portland’s Sentinel Hotel, March 12th & 13th!

An Unexpected Career

Wil began his interview by referring to himself as a heads-down worker who’s not much into personal branding. However, this humbleness disguises his tremendous success. Seer Interactive, which Wil founded in 2002, is a search, social and analytics agency employing more than 200 people in Philadelphia and San Diego.

Wil never wanted to work in marketing or build a business. Instead, he went to school to be a teacher. When he started his professional career in 1999, times were tough. Wil spent 18 months knocking on doors before finally landing a job. A few years later, Wil’s manager at another firm declined his request to work through lunch so he could leave early for a volunteer opportunity. He quit soon after and started his own company. For Wil, entrepreneurship was a necessity rather than a goal.

These days, Wil’s immersed in data — specifically paid search data — which in Wil’s mind holds the key to so many business answers.

“When you understand that somebody’s looking for an answer, I think it’s a really cool job to figure out how to answer their question,” he said.

Taking Data Away From Search People

In what has become something of a controversial opinion, Wil believes the biggest problem with search data is that it got in the hands of search people. He thinks of Google as an “intent engine,” which contains customer insight that can help businesses build new products, better understand customer experience and so much more. As a result, this data belongs in the hands of key decision-makers at the center of a business. Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to extract meaningful data from all the digital noise. This is where Wil comes in.

By focusing on bringing meaningful data into one place, Wil’s team can answer client questions with speed and accuracy. “I thought I knew things before I got good at data,” Wil says. Most marketers fall back on their limited experience or best practices when making recommendations to their clients. While these recommendations may be correct most of the time, they will always lead a certain number of clients down the wrong path. Wil’s approach is different. By using good data that’s easily accessible, his team makes fewer wrong guesses and delivers better results for his clients in the process.


Data is the Future of Marketing

As Wil sees it, data mastery represents the future of marketing. “We like to build the engine that creates tentacles that other types of marketing can take advantage of if they’re willing to invite us in,” he says. Wil plans to expand on this theme during his presentation at Engage, where he’ll talk about how to use massive amounts of data at scale to better optimize all parts of your business.

This topic is especially critical for CMOs, who, as a group, are under attack right now. CMOs, in general, are not good at data and not good at answering questions the way CFOs are. This disconnect creates the impression that CMOs don’t bring the same value that other c-suite members do. This is also why CMOs are paid less than other c-suiters and are usually the first to go during restructuring.

When asked how Engage SEO and SEM attendees will react to his view that they shouldn’t own search data, Wil acknowledges the tension. He understands that his message is sometimes controversial because it invalidates the thing that makes search marketing pros feel valuable. But, in his view, this approach is all about improvement.

“I hope I put things to people in a way that makes them think a little bit differently, and that thinking leads to eventual change in terms of the work we do every day for our clients.”

Purchase Your Engage Tickets Today 

Listen to the entire episode to hear more from Wil Reynolds — including why he can’t wait for the next recession. Wil will also be giving the morning keynote presentation during the second day of the Engage Marketing Conference at Portland’s Sentinel Hotel. So purchase your tickets today. 

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About the guest: Wil Reynolds

Wil started Seer Interactive in 2002 as a one-man operation out of his living room. Today, Seer is home to over 200 employees across Philadelphia and San Diego. In his free time, Wil hangs out with his wife Nora, sons Rio and Niko and pup Coltrane. He also serves Philadelphia’s homeless and runaway youth at Covenant House, where he participates in a yearly sleep out.

Connect and follow Wil on social media:

This episode of PR Talk is brought to you by PRSA Oregon

Throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington, PRSA provides members with networking, mentorship, skill building and professional development opportunities – whether you are a new professional fresh out of college or a skilled expert with 20 years in the industry. Check out PRSAoregon.org for more information on how membership can help you grow and connect.

Josh Friesen
I'm a writer and content marketer at Veracity, telling client stories one post at a time.