Digital Ministry have just released their final wrap of digital people for 2010. We’re happy to say that it features First Rate’s own Head of Business Development & Marketing – Tom Skotidas.

Congrats Tom, and very well deserved.

It’s quite the line-up of 28 of the industry’s most experienced and talented people. Denise Shrivell of Digital Ministry mentions that with such a diverse spread of expertise across digital channels, the major issue raised has been ‘measurement’ – with other issues such as an increasing talent void, social media and diversifying revenue streams being the much debated factors.

Read Tom’s entry at number 14 below or view the full roll call here Digital Ministry Roll Call 2010

1.  How, where and when did the digital industry find you?

I discovered online bulletin boards and chat channels while at university in 1992, and quickly got addicted to the “online” world.

I got professionally involved in digital in 1996, when I started using AOL’s messaging functions to conduct 1-1 online direct response for my agency at the time.

2.  What is your current role and what do you actually do?

I head the marketing division of First Rate. This includes driving Brand & PR, Client Account Direction, and Business Development.  I have a team of senior account managers who help me implement all of the above.

3.  Can you give us some insights into First Rate, your market position and forward plans?

First Rate ( launched in Sydney in 2006, and since then has become one of Australia’s largest search marketing agencies, with dozens of blue chip brands as clients.  We specialise in SEMSEO, and Conversion Rate Optimisation.  Actually, we are one of a handful of agencies that do enterprise-level work in both SEM and SEO.  This allows us to offer significant cross-channel insights and tactics to clients that retain us for both.

Our forward plans are to continue leading the market in search marketing.  We have clear, innovative plans in place to grow our clients’ search engine dominance, and online market share, over the next 12 months.  At the same time, we plan to grow our client base within our core market, the Fortune 500.

4. What insights can you offer regarding search & digital marketing strategies today?

Since 2004, I have worked with hundreds of marketing managers and reviewed the work of hundreds more.  More than 90% are too busy chasing new digital channels with unproven ROI models (e.g. social media being the biggest one) when they have not yet nailed their 3 biggest channels (SEOSEM, and Display).  My insight is this: disciplined marketing managers who don’t get overly-excited about the latest craze have an amazing opportunity to invest in proven, dominant channels and generate ROI that drives their business and makes their CFO happy.  At the end of the day, just think about the opportunity cost.

5.  Take a punt on the next ‘big thing’ in digital?

* The integration of Display / TVCs into Paid Search
* iPhone / Android Mobile Phone Apps
* Mobile Search

6.  What trends do you think the digital marketing industry will see in the next 12 months?

Currently, 3 trends stand out for me:

* One is the increasing attempt at integration of SEO and SEM.  I have noticed that an unusually large number of pitches that First Rate has been invited to, call for a dual SEO+SEM presentation.  This is encouraging, as it tells me that more marketing managers are started to think of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) a lot more, rather than just thinking of natural and paid silos.
* The second is the increasing adoption of SEM bid management & optimisation technology.  Up until six months ago it was rare to hear marketers discussing SEMtechnologies such as SearchIgnite, Kenshoo, or Efficient Frontier.  Today that discussion is growing, and I predict that SEM technology will become a key feature in most SEM programs by June 2011.
* The third is the emerging integration of iPhone Apps into digital marketing programs.  We are going to see an acceleration of this trend – to the point of becoming mainstream – when Android grows its market penetration.

7.  How do you see the digital and other media evolving in the next 5 years?

I see the following evolutions:

* The mainstream integration of TVCs into Display Advertising
* The emergence of more paid advertising models among social media websites
* The integration of Paid Search into more devices, such as iPads and TV sets

8.  What does the digital/interactive industry need to do better, right now, to position itself in the broader media landscape?

Digital agencies, and especially search agencies, need to divorce themselves from ATL agency partners (i.e. ad agencies or media agencies), and start going to market as a full digital / marketing solution.  This type of agency and channel independence will fuel large transfers of budget to digital.  Otherwise, digital will continue to be thought of as an add-on to ATL.

9.  If you were starting a new business in our industry today, what would it be and why?

Although I don’t intend to start a business in this field, I have often thought that starting an agency that specialises in Acquisition eDM would make for a solid business.  Using eDM for acquisition (as opposed to in-house email marketing) is a channel not very well understood by most marketers.  This agency would need to be full service, offering end-to-end strategy and tactical implementation (including email and landing page design).

10.  Where do you get your industry information from?

Subscriptions to dozens of publications, LinkedIn, Twitter, the Google and Yahoo teams, and my peer network.

11.  What industry groups or networks are you a part of?