As the plane left the Windy City and headed back home, to the City of Brotherly Love, Dick and Jane settled back into their seats and contemplated the previous week's activities. With so many seminars to choose from each day, Dick and Jane had decided they would attend different sessions to maximize their time. This is their recap...
The SessionsJane: I decided to focus on the Advertising and SEM Tools sessions, since they seemed the most pertinent to my current professional focus. All of the sessions were both educational and enjoyable and, for the most part, I felt as if the conference gave me valuable tools and insights to help me do my job better. The sessions about Search Behavior were definitely the most thought-provoking and provided me with an overwhelming amount of information to share with my clients.
Not that I thought we were the only ones experiencing those annoying and brain-numbing issues we encounter, but it was validating to hear people verbalizing the same problems we stumble with. We're not alone! While not much of a consolation, it was somewhat reassuring to hear. I also really wanted to know why a certain nameless search engine has such an incongruous editorial process with such arbitrary standards; I finally corned one of its reps at a post-session cocktail hour and got a semi-satisfactory answer over a watery Hilton martini.
Dick: I spent most of the week checking out the sessions dealing with new media and emerging technologies. Having some prior experience with blogs and podcasts, I found it great to have the chance to boost my knowledge to the next level and get information on some of their more abstract applications, straight from thought-leaders and experts in the field. And while concepts like tagging and book search may seem logical enough on paper, sometimes it takes an open exchange of ideas to really bring these ideas to life and allow one to gain a sense of practical application of who's using what... and how.
Before long, I realized that the real value of these sessions often comes within the question-and-answer time following the panel discussions themselves. This was a great opportunity not only to get that nagging ultra-specific question answered, but to give me a clearer sense of the overall pulse of the industry. It was also useful to listen to issues and problems others are having, get an idea as to their attempted resolutions, and pinpoint exactly what led to their ultimate success or failure. I was shocked to find out how many companies experience the same pitfalls and snags that we do; if anything, it was good to find out we're not alone in our world.
The Exhibit Hall
Jane: The exhibit hall was a bit underwhelming. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting to get out of it--- but rather than engaging exhibits, most seemed little more than corporate chest-pounding. There were plenty of companies who came to show off their tools and technology that "can help make my job easier," but none that really wowed me. There was, of course, plenty of swag to go around; we all love the pens, balls and gadgets that are given away.
I do have one specific complaint for exhibitors: please don't send people to work your booth if they can't hold an intelligent conversation about your offerings! Upon entering the space of one particular company, I asked the attractive, well-dressed man what his organization was all about. My question was received with a vacant stare and an emotionless description I could have read off the splash page of their Web site. Needless to say, I don't even remember the company's name. So I suppose the lesson here is to make sure the people representing your company can help you put your best foot forward. Otherwise you may be doing yourself more harm than good.
Dick: Ah the exhibit hall; all the hyper-visual/auditory assault of downtown Toyko, just without the soba and pachinko. Perhaps I was walking the floor during high-traffic times, but it seemed that I was in someone's way no matter where I was standing, and conversation was near impossible.
Sensory overload notwithstanding, there was no shortage of "tchotchkes" and free sample publications that I may or may not subscribe to. Perhaps it was due to the chaotic nature of it all, but people didn't seem all too intent on having any type of meaningful conversations in the hall. Most exhibitors seemed to be more or less collecting business cards for a post-SES sales blitz of sorts (my voice mails from the following week confirmed this suspicion).
Much like SES itself, the exhibition hall is something of a "get out what you put in" deal. There's certainly some good information to be found; if you're attending, just be prepared to wrangle your way through the masses to find it. If possible, do some pre-conference research and identify your plan of attack. Without any set course of action, expect to do a lot of meandering.
Jane: The conference was definitely the most beneficial one I attended this year. It was a great mix of information-gathering and networking. Whether you are new to SEM or a seasoned professional, this is a conference you shouldn't miss.
Dick: SES was a great overall experience and can certainly be pivotal to the professional development of any search engine professional. Like most other events of this nature, the value isn't necessarily the hard facts one can absorb (though based on my conversations with SEM novices, the sessions did offer a solid fast-track program for beginners) but rather the overall industry knowledge one gleans through a combination of attending information sessions and panel discussions, identifying hot industry trends and maximizing all available networking opportunities/peer interaction. See you next year!