Monday, December 10, 2007
A particularly brittle response to the SES Chicago experience was just proferred by writer Mark Simon on MediaPost. I take issue with some of it, so here are my comments. I'll have to cut and paste liberally because they put these things behind an annoying reg-wall that 90% of my readers won't likely bother with.
M.S.: ...you'll forgive me for wondering whether the whole idea behind SES Chicago is to give the industry a hellish endurance test. After all, who but the few, the proud, and the totally search-obsessed would be willing to run the gamut of massively delayed flights, subzero Chicago winds, and crushing traffic jams to attend this thing?
Because I survived this grueling annual ordeal, here are a few observations gleaned from my experiences at the show:
Traffick: There's no point in anyone trying to argue this one. As much as I want to be loved by the SES organizers, facts are facts. Each year it's been a crazy ordeal getting from Toronto to Chicago and back in December, and this is for 59 minutes in the air! Colleagues from Victoria, BC took two days to make their way through multiple storms to enjoy a day's worth of activity. On top of that, any longer than two days in the Chicago Hilton gives me a nasty cold. This may be affecting my mood right about now. But then again, people do come out every year. Chicago's a big market, and other times of year have other things booked. Still, this act is wearing thin on even the proud and the obsessed, so a rethink is in order for 2010. I'm sure 2009 is already booked, by necessity.
1. SES keynotes keep getting weirder and weirder. I'm not talking about Northwestern Professor Don E. Schultz, whose keynote on SES Chicago Day 1 provided a good, highly relevant top-down discussion of search as a critical evolution from "push" to "pull" marketing. I'm talking about Seth Godin, whose keynote address kicked off Day 2. I like Seth but found his keynote little more than an elaborate promotional stunt for his latest book, "Meatball Sundae." Again, Seth is a bright, funny guy and I generally agree with a lot of things he says (especially his 2005 comment that "SEO is Worthless"). But my hope is that SES reins in its alarming tendency to hire mainstream marketing celebrities and starts getting some speakers with some actual hands-on search campaign experience to do its keynotes in the future.
Traffick: Among other things, Godin was talking about the futility of old-school companies trying to simplistically graft new media onto fundamentally broken models and communications assumptions. I don't know if Simon restricts his views to a very narrow part of this changing consumer environment or what, but I actually find Godin's advice practical for some day-to-day decisions, and tactics, for my business and for client businesses. I have ever since I learned to make emails "personal, anticipated, and relevant" in 1999! I work with old-school companies who get it, some who don't, web pure play retailers, and completely untried, but bold and groundbreaking, web startups. The distinctions Seth makes ring very true to me. I have no sense that he hasn't been there. In fact, I use particular strategies in his discussions (eg. flipping the funnel) to apply to these endeavors, because he does a better job illustrating them than the nouveau sprinkles-and-cherries people can. The praise for Don Schultz is well-founded - excellent speaker - but a bunch of the concepts relating to permission and the "TV-industrial complex" were pioneered by Godin or at the very least popularized by him. I find Godin the opposite of weird.
Pedagogically or whatever, it's also rather inane to suggest that we have hands-on SEM's as keynotes. Really! So we've got a conference full of cutting edge tactics that is supposed to be framed and inspired by yet another tactician? That's just not what a keynote is. A mix of inspiration and celebrity with the tacticians is the correct mix.
2. SES has got to change its name. As my colleague Dave Pasternack has noted several times, ...
Traffick: I'll stop you there and let this (rather tactical) point speak for itself, without addressing the tedious, long-winded critique of panels involving tactics that many attendees pay for like clockwork, year in and year out.
3. Where the heck was Yahoo? Google, Ask, Microsoft, and Looksmart all had a big presence at SES Chicago. But Yahoo's absence caused a good deal of after-hours speculation that Yahoo had decided to turn its back on the show because search really isn't a big part of its future. Yahoo's absence was a surprise, given that Ron Berlanger, its vice president of agency development, is on SES' board. I doubt that Yahoo is any less dedicated to search than it was a year ago: in my view, it simply had decided that the time and expense of attending wasn't worth the ROI this time round. But it was disturbing to see one of search's major players take a pass.
Traffick: I think they were at Pubcon.
4. Has the world maxed out on search shows? Maybe it was the cold weather, the timing, or the fact that SES Chicago overlapped with PubCon (which happened in much warmer Las Vegas), but SES exhibit hall traffic was definitely lower than I remember from prior SESs. This can't be good for the exhibitors whose dollars support this show. In fact, I had more than one conversation with exhibitors who were seriously thinking about canceling future SES bookings; only time will tell whether this talk was the usual show floor grumbling or an indication that the search trade show business is about to get much smaller.
Traffick: It doesn't take a genius to see that with the proliferation of conference series, and two major ones scheduled head-to-head, there is going to be some fallout. I thought I noticed an ever-so-slight drop in attendance from last year. But SES London more than doubled in attendance last year - so it's more a question of saturation in the United States, where many of the shows are relatively easy to get to and can start to cannibalize one another (even within the same series).
I'll agree with Simon on this point: SES Chicago was unduly stressful because of a sense of dislocation (largely with our past, but also with the future). But all change can be stressful. And in any case, such considerations are farthest from the minds of most ordinary attendees (whose dollars also support the show), as opposed to the nattering insiders such as Simon and myself.
Labels: ses chicago
View Posts by Category
Andrew's book, Winning Results With Google AdWords, (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed.), is still helping tens of thousands of advertisers cut through the noise and set a solid course for campaign ROI.
And for a glowing review of the pioneering 1st ed. of the book, check out this review, by none other than Google's Matt Cutts.
Posts from 2002 to 2010