Incisive Media, which purchased the Search Engine Strategies conference when it was near the height of attendance, killed the brand entirely last year in place of a new ClickZ Live event. But now, after what seems to have been a disaster of the first ClickZ Live show, the company is scrambling back to revive SES.
The Rise & Fall Of SES
Conflict of interest time. My company, Third Door Media, competes with Incisive in the event space. For those who don’t know, I’m the guy who programmed the first SES conference back in 1999, back in the day that SES was owned by Internet.com, Alan Meckler’s company. And I ran it all the way through 2006, after Incisive Media purchased SES along with the old search site I used to run, Search Engine Watch. If you want the backstory from my perspective, see these:
- 10 Year Retrospective: Search Engine Strategies To SMX: Search Marketing Expo
- Happy 10th Birthday, Search Engine Watch – A History Of The Site
I don’t have a lot of good feelings about Incisive Media, since it’s a company I felt decided to come into the search marketing space without any background and without any interest in approaching the area with real respect. It was just another vertical to make money on, in my assessment of Incisive’s thinking. I also found the company so confused in its business approach that I quit my contractor relationship with it out of frustration, as I wrote after posting news of my departure:
My post wasn’t some attempt to drive them to the bargaining table. In fact, I became so frustrated with the company on other issues that I originally resigned back in July before we even had any serious negotiations.
At the time I left, I produced the largest show that SES ever had, SES NY with a self-reported figure of over 8,000 attendees. Incisive successfully drove that figure downward to 3,500 by 2012. I’m not sure where it was for 2013, as I never saw a self-reported figure. But it’s pretty clear from the self-reported figures (which will be as rosy as anyone could expect) that the brand change to ClickZ Live announced last year didn’t make things better (I’ll get to this below).
Search Isn’t In Trouble Just Because Incisive Has Woes
Apparently, SES has been changing over all these years to appeal to a broader audience because, you know, search is ever-so-much broader itself. To quote one of the many posts Incisive made to hammer this point after the brand change:
For years, SES Conference & Expo brought the search marketing industry insight and resources from top brands and innovative minds. But the industry evolved to care more about topics than just SEO and PPC. And over time, SES’s content evolved, too.
Now don’t get me wrong. Search marketers will benefit from understanding things beyond search marketing. Silos can be bad. Not all search marketers are just search marketers. But search marketers, in my opinion, also appreciate having shows that are focused just on search. Because search — which makes up about half of all online ad spend — is a huge, complicated subject. It deserves that attention.
I’d also argue that Incisive’s dropping attendance wasn’t a sign that search was over, or too narrow, but rather that the company wasn’t doing enough quality programming about search to maintain its audience versus competitors in the search space. In particular, our own SMX conference series — where our shows are focused on search — have grown, grown, grown.
Sadly, some have misinterpreted Incisive’s woes (dropping attendance, restructuring after debt, rumored to try and sell pieces of the company, trying to deal with debt again) as a problem in the search space. As I responded to one such assumption:
I think it’s an overreach to look at SES making its second rebranding (first from Search Engine Strategies, then to ClickZ) and say that there’s something wrong with search, that this is somehow a sign that search is in trouble, or that search is too siloed, or that you can’t be too siloed, etc. Why SES is shifting may have less to do with some industry change and more to do with challenges that Incisive Media in particular faces.
Don’t get me wrong. I think a good search marketer understands other disciplines. I think plenty of digital marketers have to wear search marketing hats in addition to other hats. Maybe the shift to ClickZ Live will work for Incisive. But if you’re trying to seek a trend in all this, all I can tell you is there are plenty of people who want, and crave, events that are focused deep on search. For us, we’re happy to keep providing one.
ClickZ Live Fails To Reverse SES Attendance Slide
But how did the new ClickZ Live do? Well, the programming head Mike Grehan resigned the day before the event even started. The show itself had over 2,000 attendees, based on self-reported figures. If you believe those, then the “success” that Incisive wrote about ClickZ Live’s debut was that it was one-third the size of what it was at its height. The rebrand didn’t grow missing audience figures. Actually, they seem to have gotten worse.
So on to today’s news. Apparently, SES is back. Confused? So’s Incisive, as you see when you go to the SES site:
There, SES is still ClickZ live. That’s different from today’s news that Incisive has put out:
This is a rebirth of Search Engine Strategies, the original search marketing conference. The first Search Engine Strategies took place in November 1999.
In recent years, Search Engine Strategies expanded its agenda beyond search to cover more aspects of digital marketing and rebranded as the SES Conference & Expo. And the SES Conference & Expo series has since rebranded to ClickZ Live, with the first event taking place in New York in April.
The idea behind the new Search Engine Strategies event in Atlanta (and coming to additional U.S. cities soon, including Denver on October 16) is really a return to its roots, with the emphasis on organic and paid search. It is brought to you and programmed by Search Engine Watch and our parent company Incisive Media, in association with SEMPO.
Search is a huge driver of business (search accounted for 43 percent of all Internet ad revenues in 2013, $18.4 billion, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau) but is extremely complex, so attending a Search Engine Strategies event is a great way to stay up to date, stay competitive, and stay visible in the search engines.
It’s a rebirth? Did you not know six months ago that you were pregnant with this? And if so, wouldn’t it have made more sense to have announced these new one-day shows as part of your event strategy, rather than formally killing the SES brand and stomping on its grave with all that ClickZ stuff?
And what’s this association with SEMPO stuff? As I wrote last year in 10 Years Later, Do We Need SEMPO?, that organization has felt lost and without a purpose. Is the new purpose to be helping Incisive bring back a search conference that it killed?
If You Really Want A Search Conference…
Look, bottom line, people should go to whatever event they feel gives them good value. I love it when people come to ours and enjoy that. But those who find a home at Pubcon or Mozcon, that’s great. And if ClickZ Live is working for some, and this new SES to replace the SES that Incisive killed works, that’s great.
But if you want a real rebirth of the original search conference, that’s our own Search Marketing Expo. That’s where much of the team that helped create, found and drive SES to its original success started afresh to do the things that couldn’t be done at the old place. And it’s been working.
FYI, today’s the early-bird deadline for our SMX Advanced conference happening in Seattle next month. Book soon, because that show always sells out, and it’s headed that way again — no joke, no hype. When the tickets go, they go. Our SMX London show happens this month, if you’re in Europe, and it’s already having a record year in ticket sales. Search remains hot, folks, if you provide the quality programming people want.
For those who want great programming beyond search, we have an entire new conference series on marketing technology coming. MarTech happens in Boston this August, and those of us here at Third Door Media — the publisher behind Search Engine Land and these events — are thrilled to be bringing it. We also have our annual social media marketing show happening in November. It’s still called SMX Social, but it will be shifting in the near-future to the Marketing Land name — so that SMX remains, as intended, our successful pure search marketing series people can depend on.
Postscript (May 15, 2014): We’d heard rumors that one of Incisive’s business strategy changes would be to try charging speakers to be on panels. That apparently has turned out to be true. ClickZ Live: Pay To Play or BYOB from Jenny Halasz details how copy pitching this was on the ClickZ Live speaking page, until removed shortly after her post:
The copy said:
Vendors are encouraged to submit speaking proposals. However, please be aware that there will be a fee involved for all vendors who wish to speak at the event.
In Halasz’s post, one of the commenters Tony Wright notes he was approached with a $10,000 price tag:
I received a call from Incisive about a speaking proposal I sent in quite a while ago. Like you, SES was where I started speaking about search, and I used to love that show. I hadn’t been in about 2 years, and I thought ClickZ San Francisco would be a good one to get back into the show. Yesterday, I received a call from a rep at Incisive asking about my speaking pitch. I was a bit taken aback, because usually they just send you an e-mail telling you that you that you are selected as a speaker. The rep told me that she thought my pitch would fit. I was happy. But then she told me that I would need to pay to speak. The cost would be $10,000. I was floored.