I’m one of the founding Board Members of SEMpdx, Portland’s Search Marketing Organization, and since 2007, we’ve run SearchFest, which has evolved into (we think) the premier regional search marketing conference anywhere (with apologies to the folks in Dallas, Minneapolis, and some other places who also do a really great job). We were very surprised to hear that the good folks from Hanapin Marketing were bringing their Hero Conference to our city. Many SEMpdx Board Members were in attendance, for we were very curious how another organization would approach and program a conference with Portland as the backdrop.
The Hanapinians put on a real good show.
It’s clear that the importance of Paid Search is increasing dramatically as organic forms of marketing become much more difficult to implement and execute. I attend SMX Advanced every year, and at that show, I’m able to spend the whole 2 days within the paid search track…so it’s not like I can’t get a full “Paid Search” experience at a major conference. However, the roots of SMX lie in organic search and even with a dedicated Paid Track, Paid Search Marketers are still a definite minority at SMX or any other conference. At SearchFest, we’ve generally had either 1 or 2 PPC sessions, but within the framework of a one-day conference, we’re not able to dedicate more sessions to Paid because we need to cater to a general audience.
HeroConf offered 4 different tracks with a huge amount of diversity amongst the sessions. Many of the presentations were extremely good. Of the sessions I attended, I give strong kudos to Larry Kim and Manny Rivas presenting on RLSA; Chris Goward’s Conversion Optimization talk; Frederick Vallaeys on AdWords Scripts, and awesome keynotes from Tim Ash and Andrew Goodman. The food and parties were excellent, and the Voodoo Donuts were a nice local touch (though an event at one of our best brewpubs would have given local attendees a better flavor of Portland than going to a Comedy Club).
If I were to quibble with one thing (an issue that many conferences are equally guilty about), it would be the length of speaker presentations. At SearchFest, every speaker speaks for a minimum of 30 minutes and in some sessions, speakers get the full hour. Larry Kim also spoke at SearchFest and he was able to convey to our audience perhaps the richest PPC presentation I’ve ever seen because we gave him the full 30 minutes (and he presented quickly in order to fit everything in). Fifteen minutes isn’t enough for a speaker of Larry’s caliber, and I’d personally love to see what Larry could do with a full hour.
Ultimately, there’s a couple reasons why the Hero Conference is growing each year. First and foremost…it’s an excellent event. The buzz about it is very positive and as they jaunt to new locations for each conference, they’re going to generate a large amount of awareness. Also, key to their success is how smartly they’ve positioned themselves in the conference marketplace. Almost every ticket purchased to Hero Conference is the end result of a decision where a non-insignificant expenditure gets outlaid for “employee education,” not to mention a 2-3 day work absence. For a Paid Search employee, Hero Conference is an easier sell because it’s easier to establish the ROI on attendance when 100% of the conference is paid search. While SMX has no problem filling seats for its most excellent shows, it’s likely more challenging for a PPC employee to get leave to attend a conference that’s perceived as being much more relevant for SEO.
I believe Hero Conference will grow and evolve over the years and that Hanapin Marketing has launched a brand that will not only benefit their core business but offer a separate revenue stream for the stakeholders involved.