Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Danny Sullivan's Departure from SES/SEW

There has been a lot of activity already mentioned about Danny's sudden announcement that he is leaving SES/SEW so I'm not going to excerpt any of Danny's comments on why he is leaving. I first got a hint that this might be the case during SES Latino in Miami when I went sailing with Danny along with Daron and Brandy from Webmaster Radio, Massimo Burgio, Jessie Stricchiola, Vanessa Fox from Google and Rebecca Kelley from SEOMoz.

When you have a tight group sail for hours on end watching the sun dance on the horizon, race a few dolphins across the bay and eat fabulous seafood at a seaside restaurant, you cant help but have some great conversation and gossip just a little bit about the industry, and after a lightning storm held us captive onboard Daron and Brandy's beautiful yacht (until 4:00 a.m.!) a LOT of industry gossip was bantered about. It was the first time that I began to imagine life without Danny on the SES circuit, a circuit that I have been a part of for many years and have been intimately involved with during the past several.

I've also been lucky enough to work along side Danny as a SEW Forum Moderator, participate as a speaker at Search Engine Strategies, work the SES after hours crowd as the 'Official SES Party Coordinator' and even attend his 40th birthday party.

Through the years, I've had the priviledge and honor to call Danny both a friend and colleague and the impact Danny has had on a big part of the SEM community is far reaching and quite amazing. I think that I owe the successes that I've had today to two men, two great resources and one great community - Danny Sullivan and Search Engine Watch and Brett Tabke and WebmasterWorld and their respective forum community members both those I've learned from online, but more importantly to those that I've learned from offline - where the real nuggets of information are and the best introductions that can be made happen and can potentially be life changing. The best information that I've ever gleaned has been from the conference circuit and from the participants of the global conference community. The first SES conference that I ever attended was SES San Jose at the Doubletree hotel when GoogleDance I was held and there were maybe 600 attendees...now there are around 6,000.

I had been contacted by Jefferson Graham - the author of the USA Today article on Danny that had recently come out, unfortunately between travelling and working on a very large new project (more on that later) I didn't have the time to spend with Jefferson talking about Danny and his impact on the search community, I'm rather wishing I had made the time now. Anyway, I might have talked about how SES has had quite a pattern of growth and Danny Sullivan has been a major part of that growth... so I agree with Danny 100% and fully support his decision to leave and understand his reasons and rationale why. I truly don't think Incisive Media knew how big of a repercussion this is going to have in the search community. But they will.

So what's in store for Danny? Well for one, Danny has many, many resources, resources that I'm very certain Incisive Media underestimated and did not factor in to their decision to not keep Danny on board whatever the stake. Danny has the respect of the SEM community and if the blog explosion that occured today is any example, then we're sure to see a loyal following behind Danny in his next foray. He would also have access to a major contact list that is an enviable who's who in corporate America as well as in the mass media in order to get the word out. Many venture capitalists would back Danny in a heartbeat, I know this because I've got several VC's as clients. ;)

As a conference promoter for the PubCon conferences by WebmasterWorld I know first hand how difficult it is to throw a search marketing event. First you need a venue, and one that can accomodate the number of attendees that most assuredly will make a showing, then you have to find a date that doesnt go head to head with another internet marketing venue that may possibly split attendees, sponsors and exhibitors between two major events (very difficult), then once that is finalized, is the venue even available during your prime conference timeslot? Many of these venues demand 18 months of planning time to coordinate large crowds, not to mention hotel availability or any hotel guarantees that the venue may demand (regardless of natural disaster or terrorist threats). Let's not even get into speaker scheduling, keynote availability, vacations, transportation logistics, airfare cost consideration to attendees (conference in Bora Bora anyone?) and then marketing costs to actually push the event.

Unfortunately for Incisive Media, they ultimately shot themselves in the foot, because the most logical thing that Danny could do if he were to compete head to head with Incisive - is to compete head to head with Incisive by coordinating a competing conference on the exact same dates that SES shows are scheduled and force the speakers, attendees and sponsors and exhibitors choose which venue to align themselves with. Its gutsy, but who do you think all of the aforementioned would go with? I know where I would go and judging by all of the outcries in the blogosphere by the search community, I'm guessing thats where they would too. This would make sense for several reasons, (1) Most larger companies have already factored the SES timeslots and locations into their budgets. So no difference to attendees and we already know these cities work. (2) Competitor elimination - a new conference run by Danny at the same times could literally kill the existing SES show, especially if attendance declines dramatically and SES is on the hook for a large scale venue, (these hotel/convention center contracts are negotiated 18 months in advance).

I'm sure that Danny is going to write a book or just maintain a low profile for awhile while he sorts things out. In a note that I received from him today he states "At the moment, I'm just kind of sitting back to get comfortable with the leaving part". So I dont think that he is going to rush into anything and I imagine that he will spend a lot of time sorting through offers and opportunities. I do hope he stays with the conferences though.

As for me, I'm not sure that I will stay on with SEW as a moderator or continue to run the party circuit for SES, I'm waiting to see what Elisabeth Osmeloski and Chris Sherman do, whether they will stay on board and run the forums without Danny or follow Danny's lead. Regardless, it will be a very different place